Epilogue

"Not bad, men," Alderman told his team in the locker room after the game was over. It was the first time all week he hadn't referred to them as ladies. "Not bad, but far from good. You're going to have to pick it up if you want to have any kind of respectable season. The only reason you won tonight was because the other team was soft! Do not get cocky, goddamn it! Cassidy!"

Cassidy snapped out of his daze upon hearing Alderman bark his name and sat up straighter. The muscles in his back protested and he fought back a wince. "Coach?"

Alderman narrowed his eyes and glared at the freshman for a long moment before nodding slightly. "Get a goddamn shower," he said finally. "Then go home and get some sleep. You've earned it." On that less than derisive note, Alderman stormed out of the locker room.

X

"Hey, he's alive!" Spencer said loudly as Cain and Cassidy entered the hall from the locker room.

Every student from Weaver House who'd come to the game was waiting for them, Claire included. A part of her couldn't help but feel like she should be trying to get in another hour or so of conditioning before going to bed, but overall she was enjoying herself, and enjoying the thought of what her ex-coaches would say if they saw her loitering in the hallway with her housemates, waiting for their friends . . . or other housemates.

"Great game, guys," Sabrina told the two football players.

"Thanks," Cain responded. Cassidy gave a slight nod and started walking back toward the exit, ahead of the rest of the group.

"You feeling okay, Cassidy?" Tamara asked. She and Natalie had changed out of their cheerleading uniforms before joining their housemates.

"Fine," Cassidy said. "Let's go home." He continued walking. Claire followed, a little too quickly and ended up stepping on Cassidy's heels. She flinched when he turned to look over his shoulder at her, but instead of giving her an angry look he just looked tired and turned away. Nevertheless, Claire waited until he had a few steps head start before she started walking again.

By that time Natalie had stepped up behind Cassidy, even closer than Claire had been. She seized his shoulders causing Cassidy to look back again, this time with a very annoyed expression on his face.

"You really took a beating out there, Cowboy," Natalie told him with a sly smile. "How about a massage when we get back to the house?"

Cassidy started walking again. "No thanks."

"You sure? You seem awfully tense." Natalie had to jog to keep up as Cassidy started walking faster.

"I'm sure. I just want to go to sleep."

"You know I could –"

"No."

Claire giggled. She couldn't help it – she didn't know why she found this so funny but . . . perhaps it was watching her two least-favorite housemates annoy one another that she found so amusing. Claire and Natalie hadn't gotten off to any better of a start than Claire and Cassidy had. Natalie reminded her of one of her teammates from over the summer – a girl Claire had come to loathe.

Natalie turned toward Claire and glared. Claire glared right back, her lower lip jutting out slightly as it always did when she got ready for an argument.

"He's not feeling the greatest right now," Cain cut in before Natalie could react to either Claire's laugh or Cassidy's blatant rejection. "It would probably just be best if you left him alone for awhile. Come on. Let's go home." He fell in step beside Tamara.

Somehow, over the course of the walk home, Claire found herself beside Cassidy. She wasn't quite sure how that happened – every one of his strides was at least two of hers, and she'd given him a decent head start so she wouldn't incur his wrath again by stepping on his heels, but somehow she ended up beside him.

"You enjoy the game?"

Claire looked up at Cassidy then glanced around to make sure that he hadn't been speaking to anyone else. "Um . . . yeah. I had a good time."

"I'm glad."

They walked in silence for several minutes after that. Claire wondered if it would be too obvious if she tried to move away from Cassidy, and decided that it probably would be – to him at least. The others were having their own conversations, bantering, joking, and not paying attention to the only two housemates who weren't participating.

"I'm sorry about the other day," Cassidy said suddenly.

"What?" Claire looked up at him in surprise.

"I'm sorry about the other day," Cassidy repeated. He glanced down at her and elaborated. "Monday."

What happened Monday? Oh . . .

"I won't bring it up again," Cassidy told her then looked pointedly away.

"I – um –" What am I supposed to say? "It's – I –"

Cassidy sighed. "You don't have to say anything if there's nothing you want to say."

Claire shut up and they began to walk in silence again. She stole a glance at him every now and then, wondering . . . wondering if there would be some expression on his face that would reveal what Cassidy was thinking. There never was, but there always seemed to be something going on behind his eyes.

"Did you enjoy the game?" Claire asked when she couldn't take it anymore.

Surprise lit Cassidy's eyes for a moment. "Yes," he said after a slight hesitation.

Claire looked up at him doubtfully. "It looked really painful. And very difficult."

Cassidy shrugged stiffly. "Most things worth having are."

"Yeah . . ."

Claire knew exactly what he meant.

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Hey, sorry for the big delay in posting this. I've been really busy lately, but I'll try to keep these stories coming the best I can. Thanks for reading!

- H