This back-story takes place roughly two years before the start of Foxhole Court, during the twins' senior year at Macon High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The Ravens offered Andrew a contract with them but were rejected. Now they've come in person to see why.
Apologies if it reads rough; the original version was from Andrew's POV and I rewrote it with the help of copious amounts of wine.
"Was that really what we came all the way down here for?"
It was a wonder he heard the words over the rest of the locker room chaos. Aaron's hands went still on his shoelaces and he looked up. The infamous Kevin Day had somehow elbowed free of the fawning Macon High Eagles and was crowding Andrew at his locker. Andrew's grin was ear-to-ear, but it was a toss-up as to what Andrew found more amusing: Kevin's stunning lack of survival instincts or Kevin's thinly-veiled rage.
"Three guesses and the first two don't count?" Andrew asked.
"Stop being obnoxious."
"Oh, I haven't even started being obnoxious yet. Wait a moment and you'll see." Andrew slung his racquet across his shoulders and wagged the butt of it in Kevin's general direction. "You know, you could have saved yourself an apoplectic fit or two if you'd listened when I told you I wasn't interested. Your stupidity is your problem, not mine."
"But yours is mine," Kevin said.
"I think he just called me stupid," Andrew said, wide-eyed with feigned shock. "Give me a moment to recover. I haven't felt this shamed in a long time." He tipped his head back against the locker and shushed Kevin when Kevin started to speak. "A moment, I said. Nice to see that hearing problem is an ongoing thing. One too many balls to the helmet, I think? You'll want to retire before it becomes permanent."
Kevin slammed a hand into the lockers a breath from Andrew's face. The locker room went silent; awkward tension replaced the excited atmosphere. The curious stares of their teammates was an unnerving weight on Aaron's shoulders and it was all he could do not to shrug it off. He risked a single glance back, searching for Kevin's other half, and found Riko on the far side of the room. Riko's easy smile was gone; he watched Kevin now through hooded eyes. Aaron dragged his attention back to his brother before Riko noticed the attention.
"You should be ashamed of the way you played tonight," Kevin said, low but angry. He was keeping his voice down to cut the rest of the Eagles out of their conversation, but Aaron was sitting just close enough to understand. "Tell me it's the medicine. Tell me you'll be better than this if we take you off these drugs."
"If you what?" Aaron asked, startled into speaking.
"Deaf and deluded," Andrew said, sounding delighted. "This isn't a ten-step program, you know. It's kind of a permanent thing."
"Not if we don't want it to be," Kevin said. "We can overturn the ruling."
"A couple signatures for the judge, a photoshoot with the lawyers—"
"Riko always gets what he wants. So do I."
"There's that Raven arrogance we've heard so much about." Andrew loosened his grip on his racquet enough to drop it and leaned forward into Kevin's space. He shaped his forefingers and thumbs into a frame and considered Kevin's face through it. "I've seen cheerleaders with more modesty. Does it help you sleep at night thinking you're better than everyone else?"
"How do you sleep when you're such a failure?" Kevin shot back.
Andrew tapped a finger to his temple. "I count sheep."
Kevin made a frustrated gesture and lowered his hand. "I refuse to take you back with us if you're going to play all of your games like you practiced tonight. You have no place on the Raven line if you're not willing to be the best."
"What a hypocrite," Andrew said, "considering you've built an entire career around being second best."
Aaron watched them stare each other down, wondering if that was that and Kevin would finally get the hint. He leaned over and tugged at his laces again, but he kept his stare on the two standing just a couple feet from him. Andrew gave up waiting for Kevin before Aaron did and turned away. He gave the combination lock on his locker a couple spins to open it and dropped the lock near his racquet. He had one hand on the latch to tug his locker open when Kevin spoke again.
"You're worth it."
It was barely a whisper, but Andrew went still.
Kevin only gave him a second to respond before pressing on. "You have so much potential I can taste it, but you're squandering it. You could be Court. You could be the greatest goalkeeper in the game. You could have everything, but you won't even try. You sabotage yourself at every turn instead. Watching you play like you don't care who wins makes me sick to my stomach."
"We're done here," Andrew said. "Go away."
"Not until you tell me why. I need to know. Look me in the face and tell me you don't care."
Andrew obediently turned to face him. "I don't care."
"You don't mean that. You can't be this good and not feel a thing." Kevin flicked Aaron an impatient look. "Tell him I'm right."
"What's the point?" Aaron toed out of his shoes and kicked them aside. He peeled his knee-high socks off so he could undo the straps of his shin guards. "He always knows when I'm lying to him. It wouldn't do you any good to drag me into this."
"It's not a lie. He—"
"—is a Minyard," Aaron said, "and Minyards don't get higher than rock bottom. Now leave us alone."
Kevin stared at him like he wasn't sure who he was looking at, then whirled on Andrew. "Fifteen minutes," he said. "Spend fifteen minutes on the court with me. If you still want me to go after that, I'll leave. Coach Felder," he said, turning away before Andrew could answer, "I'm borrowing your court and your goalkeeper, but you'll need to loan me some gear. I didn't bring any of mine."
"I told you to go away," Andrew said. "If you make me say it a third time they'll be carrying you out on a stretcher."
"Mind your manners, Minyard," Felder said.
"Coach?" Aaron asked.
"The other Minyard." Felder snapped his fingers at the nearest dealer. "You're about the same height. Get out your away gear and make it quick. As for you," he raked Andrew with a scathing look, "get that expensive racquet off the floor and get down to the court. And if I see you disrespecting school property again you'll be benched."
"Not the bench, Coach." Andrew mimed scrubbing away a tear with one gloved fist and scooped his racquet up. "Anything but that."
"I'll take a backliner with me." Kevin motioned at Aaron. "Put your shoes back on."
"Don't tell me what to do," Aaron said.
"He said strap up," Felder said.
Aaron scowled but did as he was told. It took only seconds to tighten his shin guards and tug his shoes and socks back on. He grabbed his racquet and followed Andrew back to the court. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the Eagles followed close behind them. By the time Aaron reached the court door the team had taken over the home benches to watch. Andrew crouched at the home goal to wait, so Aaron took up his place on first-fourth. It didn't take long for Kevin to change out and join them, and he brought a bucket of balls with him.
"Begin," Kevin said, and he proceeded to slaughter them.
Aaron knew Kevin was good. It was hard to play Exy and not know Kevin's name and reputation. Aaron had never seen him play before, though, and he was not at all prepared to face him on the court. When the initial shock wore off he put every ounce of energy he had left into the fight. It did absolutely no good. Kevin broke past him time and time again, and Kevin scored on every shot he aimed at the goal.
Aaron had never really given a damn about Exy. He learned it because it got him out of the house and kept him out of his mother's reach, and he stuck with it because he was good at it. He didn't necessarily like his teammates and the words his coach liked to throw around—teamwork, passion, dedication—were just words. They meant nothing. But for one small moment, Aaron was impressed. He wondered if Andrew felt it too, but he crushed that thought as quickly as it formed. It didn't matter. It wouldn't matter.
The indifference he clung to couldn't last, because Andrew was starting to wake up and push back. Andrew lost eight goals before he slammed one of Kevin's balls right back at him. The blue neck guard Kevin had borrowed kept it from crushing his windpipe but the force of impact was still enough to make Kevin stumble a bit. It had to hurt, but Kevin's mouth twisted in a quick, fierce smile. The game quickly escalated from there, both in violence and speed, but the twins weren't strong enough.
Riko was standing in the inner court behind the goal and he banged on the wall when their time was up. Kevin caught the ball on the next rebound and dropped it to one side as useless. Aaron slowed to a grateful stop and rubbed at an aching shoulder, but Andrew set off immediately for the court door.
Kevin intercepted him and hooked a finger through the grating on Andrew's helmet. "You're still holding yourself back. Why won't you just show me what you're capable of?"
"Is it a hearing problem or a horizontal learning curve?" Andrew asked. "Refer back to the part where I don't care."
Kevin didn't fight when Andrew tugged his hand loose, but he did say, "Didn't you have fun?"
Andrew thought about it, then said, "No. Not even a bit."
He tapped two fingers to his temple in a mocking salute and left. This time Kevin let him go. Aaron collected the scattered balls from around the court and brought them back to the bucket. By the time he made it back upstairs Andrew was already in the shower. Aaron put his gear away and washed up as quickly as he could. There was no reason to stick around after that; they'd been finishing up their post-practice talk when Riko and Kevin showed up uninvited. Aaron checked in with Felder just in case and got a grumpy dismissal.
Andrew was already halfway across the parking lot when Aaron left the locker room. Aaron caught up with him at the car. Nicky was waiting for them in the driver's seat with the engine running and the heater on. He twisted around to eye them when they were both in the backseat.
"I was about to send in a rescue squad," Nicky said. "Why'd practice run so late?"
"Oh, you know," Andrew said.
Nicky huffed at that unhelpful response and faced forward. The rest of the Eagles were sticking around to hound Kevin and Riko some more, so it was easy to get out of the parking lot and on the road. "Good thing I don't have work tonight or I'd have missed the start of my shift. Tell your coach to give us a heads-up the next time he wants to punch a hole through people's schedules, would you?"
"There won't be a next time," Aaron said. "Nicky, tell Andrew he's a terrible liar."
"First off, that phone tag thing got old about ten months ago," Nicky said. "Second, why should I tell Andrew something he already knows? Andrew makes up outrageous lies because they amuse him, not because he thinks he's fooling anyone. I think. I might be wrong. I don't understand all the fine print of that woo-hoo." Nicky twirled a finger near his ear to indicate Andrew's questionable sanity and grinned at Andrew in the rearview mirror. "Why, did I miss something good?"
"No," Aaron said. "Not much."
"Just the usual nonsense," Andrew said. "Don't be jealous, Nicky!"
Nicky accepted that without argument. "Speaking of jealousy, Roland called earlier and..."
Aaron tuned Nicky out in favor of watching the world go by out his window. It was late enough the street lights occasionally cast his reflection on the glass. He studied the outline of his face, the curves and angles he and Andrew had in common. They were twins, whether they wanted to be or not, whether they could stand each other or not, and it was as much a blessing as a curse. A childhood apart meant nothing, and Andrew's drugs were inconsequential in the end. Aaron still saw himself on every inch of Andrew's skin and in the tiny gestures and tics they shared. He always knew when Andrew was lying.
He'd just never before seen Andrew lie to himself.
"Aaron?" Nicky asked. "Did you hear anything I just said?"
Aaron slanted a look across the backseat at Andrew. "Not even a bit."