1 – First Flight –
Brody woke up with a start, pushing away the sheets he'd clutched tightly all throughout the night. He raised his now free hands to his eyes, which were sore and itchy.
Probably still tired from staring at the ceiling all night, he remembered. Just when had he finally fallen asleep? His bones felt heavy, filled with a year's worth of worries.
Brody Delatour had just woken up from a nightmarish weekend to find himself right back at square one.
At least, it felt like square one to him.
No matter how he looked at it, he'd spun around till he was back at starting position. Both figuratively and literally, going by the night before.
What else was a person aside from their situation? It was what people saw, and it was what he could see when he looked in the mirror. That is, if he could ever see outside of the heartbroken mess inside his head.
He buried his head underneath the 5000 thread count sheets and shook vigorously. This morning they felt less like a luxury and more like a straight-jacket, but he knew what awaited him in the real world would feel much more like a prison.
As if on cue, his alarm clock blared out, startling him. It clearly wasn't pleased that it had missed jolting him out of the few hours of sleep he'd wrestled from his quietly hysterical state earlier, it sounded angrier than usual.
After a night spent in deafening silence whilst a thunderous march of ideas made it's way through his head, he'd managed to find some rest. Now it was just another Monday morning in Fairfax, Virginia.
Emphasis on the just.
Deciding there was no use stewing in his misery, he hauled himself out of bed and made the best use of his brain's autopilot. By the time he was at school, ready for 5AM rugby practice, he was ready to be an observer in his own life. At least for a while.
At least until the ache in his gut went away.
He wasn't late, but he was behind a few of the guys who liked to treat everything as a competition. Brody was only a month into his sophomore year, but rugby season was less than two weeks away. The students who had stayed in Fairfax over the summer had kept to a steady practice routine.
He was usually there for at least half of them, even when he was finally feeling the cracks form in his perfect façade of a life.
When school started, practice had ramped up to every week day and there were guys who seemed to take that as a win, so they showed up as soon as dawn broke.
As he entered the locker room, he said hello to Varsity team captain Kash, who was reading over his play books. Fellow varsity newbie Zay, who still hadn't lost any steam since they'd been promoted from junior league a year early, was watching something on his phone. Brody looked over their heads, trying to find one person in particular.
The person he could spill his guts to. The person he would spill his guts to.
But he wasn't anywhere in sight.
They were already out on Wicker Field by the time he'd arrived. Tate Donovan, Brody's best friend since practically the first day of high school, gave him a friendly nod as he jogged onto the field. Their coach liked to start them off with drills, so there was little time to talk between passing, running, tackling and even more running.
In all of that was the pressure.
"Good pass, Delatour."
"Shift a bit to the left, Anderson. Try matching Brody's pace."
"Goodness sakes Zay, I said match Brody!"
"Nice tackle, Brody."
"Brody, keep that energy-"
It was then, in the hold of Coach Bennet's gruff tone, that something inside him seemed to break. The emptiness had been replaced with an angry knot.
One that would no longer accept that this be written off as just another Monday.
He stopped running and dropped the pearl white ball he had been clutching at like a small child. It felt almost novel, dropping a ball, but his heart soared at the prospect of what he was about to do.
"No dreaming on the field, Delatour!" Coach Bennett shouted. On another day, those words would have struck fear into Brody's heart. He would pick up the ball and straighten his form, play harder than he had ever played before. All to make up for the infraction.
But this wasn't just another day. Coach Bennett swore as Brody started to walk off the field. He slowly but surely put one foot in front of the other. Walking away.
"Brody! Brody!" Tate shouted, rushing after him. "Brody!"
He didn't turn around. He was afraid that if he did, this would all turn into another moment he couldn't go through with.
"Brody Delatour, report to the guidance councillor's office. I repeat, Brody Delatour, repo-"
He got up in a hurry and practically fled from the classroom. It hadn't even been half a day before everybody knew about his 'outburst' on the rugby field. As soon as he'd noticed, he'd busied himself with finding away to free his mind from the curious stares of his fellow students and the angry stares from his team mates.
He'd had to turn his phone off from the sheer amount of notifications that kept popping up, notifying him of the latest short or reshort he'd been ted in or blip he'd received.
"You know why you're here, Brody," Mr. Irvington, the guidance councillor, was saying. Brody's hand dropped from where it had been tracing the outline of his phone in his pocket. He'd never gone this long without browsing through picsquared before.
"I don't, to be honest," he said. The first words he'd said to anybody all day that weren't 'I'm fine' and 'I don't want to talk about it'.
"Coach Bennett has expressed some... concern, over your behaviour yesterday."
"I quit the team," Brody felt a pang of excitement as he said it. The words were freeing, in a big way. It had felt the same when he'd e-mailed Coach Bennett and Kash yesterday. When he'd made it official.
"I know that, but he's afraid you're not in your right mind about this."
"I'm fine," Brody said, shifting in his seat. It wasn't until then that he looked Mr. Irvington in the eye. He wished he hadn't. It made him feel crazy.
"He says you're one of the best players he's had in years, and that the team are very worried about you."
"Why?" he asked, a bit surprised at his calm tone. Before he'd spoken, he'd felt his anger flare up. It made him want to lash out.
But now that he'd spoken, he felt something different, like his train of thought had switched lanes.
"Coach Bennett says you've been coming to practice late, and sometimes you're off in your own little world."
"I was early," Brody said defensively. Suddenly, what he was escaping from didn't feel as bad as what he'd walked into, yet something other than shame and fear kept him in place. "When I quit, did he mention that?"
"Not only that, but your scholastic transcripts aren't very good," Mr. Irvington continued, paging through a file he had on his desk. "I understand that you transferred here from a private school, so you might be used to easier work. But you have to know that if you don't shore up your grades with some extracurricular activities, you'll never get into a decent college."
He paid closer attention to the councillor's expression. The words made sense, and Brody had almost bought into their concerned tone.
But he suddenly felt like he knew better; something was off. There was more behind this than was being said.
"I went to private school through middle school, but I started high school here," Brody said, feeling taken aback again by his own sincere tone. "Like everyone else."
"Did Coach Bennett tell you to get me back on the team?" he asked.
"No, but I am concerned for your well-being," the councillor shifted uncomfortably in his seat, finding anywhere to look that wasn't Brody's emboldened stare. They settled on a pile of club application forms inside a plain red document tray. There was a handwritten sticker on the tray, written out in fancy cursive script.
"I'm still a sophomore," Brody reminded them. "Why can't I just do better at school?"
He wasn't much of a bluffer, but he hid all of the anxiety about his terrible grades as he spoke. It almost sounded like he meant it.
"That's all well and good, Brody," Mr. Irvington said, his tone a degree more conciliatory. "It's just good to have a few extracurriculars as well."
"All I need to do is join a club or whatever, right?" Brody asked. The councillor blinked a few times before nodding very slowly.
"You should remember however that sports are a vital part of every school's ecosyst-," Mr. Irvington was saying, but Brody wasn't listening any more. His eyes were focused on the stack of application forms.
He picked one up and started filling it in with the pen that was attached to the councillor's desk via a frazzled piece of string. It didn't matter which one, so he barely looked at it. As he did, he watched the councillor's expression harden.
"Coach Bennett just wants a one on one with-" Brody got up in the middle of the councillor's plea and read the form carefully.
"I just have to get this to the club representative, right?" he asked. Once again, Mr. Irvington nodded. "I'll do this and shore up my grades, I promise."
The thrill he felt as it all came together surprised him. He'd never seen an adult slump over in defeat at something he'd done.
There was more to it than that too; figuring out what was happening with little a clue, now that was a thrill.
Of course, now he had to shore up his grades and join the...