The mood after losing the game was grim. Disappointed fans slowly shuffled out of the stadium to the parking lot. Mt. Jackson continued celebrating their victory as they whistled and cheered, boarding their bus for the return trip back to their school.
Gibby watched the argument on the field from a distance while heading towards the ambulance waiting at the visitor’s end zone. The entire team was angry and shouting, but the Butler twins were physically separating Ethan and Tanner in the center of the mob.
“Hey, kiddo, are you ready to go?” Jonathan called to Gibby from the back of the ambulance.
By the time Gibby reached his dad, the coach had put an end to the fighting on the field and sent his players into the school’s locker room.
“Sure, what did you think about the game?” Gibby ask as he climbed in and pulled the heavy doors closed behind him.
Jonathan shook his head and chuckled as the driver started the engine, “I think your team needs a little more practice on how to play together.”
“My team?” Gibby balked at his father’s teasing, which brought a deep laughter from Jonathan as the ambulance pulled into the line of traffic leaving the school as they headed back towards the hospital.
Ethan took longer in the shower, letting the hot water wash over his tense muscles. Anger coiled his chest, making his pulse roar in his ears. He was mad at himself and didn’t want to face his teammates.
When he stepped in the locker room, it was empty. Everyone else had quietly slipped away while he had been in the shower trying to calm the rage that was roaring inside his head. Nobody waited for him. The team didn’t given him high fives or pats on his back like they normally did. He had cost them the first game of the season. Mt. Jackson was their biggest rival and he had handed them the victory that should have belonged to Shepherd’s Crook.
Coach was still in his office, but he didn’t look up when Ethan leaned against the doorframe. “Go home, Conroy.”
Ethan stood there watching the man scribble notes into his playbook. He waited, but when the man didn’t say any more, he turned and walked out into the cold crisp night.
The parking lot was empty, too. Ethan’s black Camaro sat alone behind the gym. Scuffing the toe of his shoe on the gravel, he gazed at the abandoned field. The big stadium lights were all off, only the two outside lights near the school’s athletic department lit up the night.
Taking a step towards the fresh cut, green grass of the football field, movement near his car caught Ethan’s attention. His eyes struggled to focus as a dark figure stepped out of the shadows.
“What are you doing here?” Ethan growled at Amanda.
Her skimpy uniform drew his eyes to her long legs as she leaned back and pulled herself onto the hood of his car. “I’m waiting for you.” She purred, trying her hardest to imitate a magazine model.
“Why?” He demanded, stalking over to where she was seductively sprawled across his classic car.
Her blond eyebrows furrowed as confusion crossed her pretty face. “You always drive me home--”
“God damn it, Amanda,” Ethan snapped, “If you’re going to break-up with me just fucking do it and get it over with!”
She gasped. Her lower lip suddenly quivered. Even with tonight’s loss, he was still the star quarterback of their high school football team and she wasn’t about to let Ethan go without fighting for what was hers.
Ethan ran his fingers through his wet hair, his hands balled into fists, black hair sprouted between his clenched fingers. Anger flooded his body, making him shake. He wanted to scream, but he wouldn’t with Amanda watching him.
“Get off my car,” Ethan’s voice betrayed him and cracked.
“Look, I know that you’re mad about losing the game, but--”
“Fuck the game, Mandy,” He shouted smacking his balled fists against his forehead. “How could you cheat on me with Tanner?”
Tears suddenly laced Amanda’s eyes as she fought to explain to him. “Cheat on you? No, Ethan, I was trying to convince Tanner to keep his stupid mouth shut.” She shook her head as she slid off his car. “I was trying to protect us…all of us…from someone finding out about…” She didn’t have to finish for Ethan to understand. If someone discovered that their group had been cheating on test and quizzes they would all be in a lot of trouble.
“So you’re not breaking up with me?” His low whisper was almost lost in the wind.
“No, babe,” Amanda wrapped her arms around him, breathing in the fresh clean scent of his soap and shampoo. “We are not breaking up, in fact,” she waggled her eyebrows as she pulled at the hem of her skirt, hiking the material higher on her thighs, “I think I know how to make you feel better with a little private cheering up.”
Ethan growled and let her lead him to his car where they climbed into the backseat together.
“Hey, Dad, are you sure it’s okay to use the therapy pool?” Gibby asked Jonathan for the hundredth time.
“Yes, I told you that Dr. Warner said it was fine.” He answered his son while continuing to pack his dinner for the nightshift. Gibby watched him wrap the tuna sandwich before placing it inside his the lunch bag. “He wouldn’t have given you your own patient pass if it wasn’t okay.”
Gibby glanced down at the laminated card that held last year’s school picture that Jonathan had, until recently, carried in his wallet, “But I’m not a patient.”
Jonathan set his bag to the side and looked at his son nervously swiveling on the high stool at the kitchen bar.
“You might not be a patient right now, but you still need therapy.”
Frowning before Jonathan could finish, “C’mon Dad, don’t start.”
Jonathan held up his hands, “I’m just saying that I think you could benefit from talking to one of the psychologists at the hospital.”
“No more shrinks!” Gibby shook his head as auburn curls bounced around his forehead.
Taking a deep breath, Jonathan tried a softer approach. “What about a counselor? Maybe they have someone at school--”
Gibby’s face flushed red, “Fuck no! You can forget about that right now.”
Jonathan decided to drop the subject. There was no point in upsetting his son any more than he already was. It hurt him to see his only child struggling and to be helpless to do anything about it.
With his bag packed, Jonathan turned to leave, “I just wish you had someone to talk to…” He stopped at the door and looked back at Gibby, “So, what are you doing today?”
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Gibby smiled at the idea of enjoying the last rays of the autumn sun, “I was thinking about mowing the lawn and then riding over to the library to check out a few books.”
Jonathan smiled, “Sounds like a good plan to me.”
The smell of chlorine assaulted Gibby’s nose. It was hauntingly familiar. Used to hours spent in the water, standing here in the thick moist air that filled the pool’s enclosure had his skin tingling, longing to be wet. He closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation that felt like home.
The therapy pool wasn’t deep enough for diving, but at four feet, it had a decent edge for flip turns. Spotting the round disc at the bottom, Gibby toggled a few of the switches near the door until the only light on was the one radiating from the bottom of the pool. Shimmers of white, licked at the ceiling and walls.
Leaving his satchel on the three-tiered bench, Gibby slowly peeled away his damp hoodie and dropped it beside his towel. Shoes and socks followed, then his jeans. Opting to wear swim trunks in place of boxers suddenly seemed like a bad idea. The thought of riding his bike commando had him snickering at himself.
Before the fire, Gibby was comfortable with his body and changing in a locker room was no big deal, but now, he chose what was quick and would cover his scars if he needed to make a fast escape.
Dipping his toes into the warm water pulled a moan from deep in his chest. It felt so good. Longing for the water, and unable to wait even a moment longer, he stepped off the tiled edge and sank into the delicious heat. Gibby closed his eyes as his arms and legs floated in the rippling water.
It was heaven. His body trembled as hot blood rushed to his groin, straining his erection against the wet material of his swim trunks. Water sloshed over the thick scar tissue on his back. Catching his left elbow with his right hand, Gibby stretched his shoulder and back, before doing the same on the right side.
Doing a couple of stretches and somersaults in the water, Gibby felt relaxed enough to swim a few laps around the pool. He kept a slow pace, unlike the frantic speed he was used to when he was training.
Trying to push the thoughts out of his mind, Gibby rolled onto his back for a session of backstrokes. His lean muscles glided him through the water. With his ears slightly underwater, the muffled sounds of someone speaking scared him.
Opening his eyes, Gibby yelped when he noticed someone standing by the edge of the pool. He could only make out the outline of a person, standing in the darkness. Gibby almost collided with the wall. His feet dropped to the bottom of the pool as he broke position. Wide blue eyes watched him from the side.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Gibby shouted at Tanner.
Tanner grinned as he suddenly kicked off his shoes, “I could ask you the same question.”
“W-w-what are you doing?” Gibby stuttered when he noticed the boy shucking out of his clothes.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Tanner said as he continued pulling off his socks and t-shirt. Gibby’s pulse raced as Tanner turned his back to him while he pushed his jeans down his well-muscled legs before draping them too over his belongings.
Gibby sank lower, keeping his shoulders and neck submerged, hoping the water distorted the view of his scars.
Tanner didn’t come prepared to swim. He turned around as he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his gray boxer briefs and watched Gibby for any reaction at the sight of the bulge of his groin. Tanner’s hands hovered there at his hips, before snapping the elastic band against his skin. The sound echoed off the high ceiling. Gibby gasped, he hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath waiting for the boy to slide the material down his body and was disappointed when he didn’t.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Gibby growled, fighting to keep his voice steady.
Tanner waggled his eyebrows and smirked, “Neither are you, Robinson.”
Water sloshed around Gibby’s lips as he suddenly gasped at Tanner saying his name.
“I have a patient pass--”
“There’re no patients after six o’clock,” Tanner taunted Gibby.
Without testing the water, Tanner suddenly leapt through the air, pulling his knees to his chest, cannonballing into the water with a huge crash. Water spilled over the edge, puddling onto the tiled edge. Emerging from the waves, Tanner swam laps around Gibby still hovering in the center of the pool.
Tanner’s chest was tan like the rest of his skin. Gibby’s eyes kept darting lower, trying to catch a glimpse of the rest of his body below the water.
“My mom’s a nurse here at the hospital.” Tanner spoke as he continued to circle Gibby like a shark closing in on its prey. “She doesn’t see very well at night, so either my dad or I drive her home after work. It’s kind of a perk that I get to swim a couple of laps while I wait for her to finish her shift.”
Gibby wondered if Dr. Warner knew that he used the therapy pool, but he wasn’t going to turn Tanner in.
“That’s really nice of you.”
The smile that curled across Tanner’s face was breathtaking. “My parents are kind of cool, so I don’t mind helping out.”
Tanner’s eyes never left Gibby’s as he swam closer. Gibby’s heart raced. There was no way that Tanner couldn’t see his scars, but his eyes never dropped. Gibby noticed other kids at school trying to catch a glimpse of his grotesque burns, but not Tanner. His blue eyes were soft and warm as his tongue nervously licked at the pool water clinging to his lips.
Ring! The unexpected sound of a cellphone ringing broke the spell. Tanner jumped back several feet as Gibby gasped for air before clutching at the front of his chest.
“Crap, that’s my mom.” Tanner muttered swimming to the side of the pool. He easily lifted his body to the edge and pushed himself out of the water. Grabbing the phone on the third ring, Tanner’s voice sounded thick as he answered her, “Hey Mom, yeah, I’ll be there in a few minutes…okay. Bye.”
His tone was gentle with his mother. It made Gibby smile.
“You have to go?”
Tanner nodded his wet head; blond curls clung to his face. “Yep, I’ll see ya at school.”
With that, Tanner pulled on his jeans and shirt over his wet underwear and was gone.
Well, it's Monday and another chapter of Shepherd's Crook. Today, we see Gibby and Tanner together, away from school and the prying eyes of the rest of the group... what do you think? I hope you like it. Let me know.