SON NEFES was a story written for fun, a take on the cousins' first year from Renee's POV. The original version was written back in 2009 when the story had some significant plot differences. I thought I could just tweak lines here and there to make the story work with the current timeline. Instead this is a quasi-rewrite. It took 5300 words to keep 2800, and this is just the first scene.
The entire thing will likely read a bit disjointed, as Son Nefes was intended to be a collection of scenes instead of an actual Beginning-Middle-End story. I guess we'll find out the hard way? Will try to post the rest of it at regular intervals. Apologies in advance for all the typos and profanity.
Timeline: One year before the events of The Foxhole Court.
The month leading up to Andrew's first day was the shortest summer vacation Renee could remember, probably because she spent half of it soothing Dan's fraying nerves. Allison had taken it upon herself to collect every scrap of gossip she could find regarding their new defense line and, although she hadn't been out of high school long enough to forget how malicious and imaginative teenagers could be with their rumors, she was quick to spread everything she found to the rest of her line-up. Renee's numerous attempts to deter her met deaf ears.
They knew what they were getting into—had known since Wymack made them vote on Andrew's contract—but the closer her teammates got to June the easier it was to forget why they'd agreed to this. Wymack and Abby's sudden reticence on the matter did little to help things. Andrew, Aaron, and Nicky had moved into Abby's house for a few weeks following the twins' graduation from high school. Abby refused to spread ill-will to the rest of the team by offering her honest opinion on the lot, and Wymack neatly rebuffed Dan's best attempts to pry. Renee was sure Dan hadn't had a full night's sleep in weeks.
By the time Wymack recalled his team to Palmetto State University for summer practices, the Foxes were an anxious, angry mess. Waiting for the cousins to arrive only worsened their attitude. Wymack said he wanted all of his Foxes accounted for before he brought the freshmen by, but the last of them had checked almost an hour ago and the cousins were still missing. Renee was too caught up in her reading to mind the wait, but she couldn't miss the growing tension in the room. Dan had checked her watch ten times in the last fifteen minutes. At the eleventh quick peek, Renee finally reached out and clasped Dan's hand. She didn't lift her gaze from her page but gave Dan's hand a small squeeze.
"Relax, Dan," Renee murmured. "They'll be here."
"They're late," Juan said. "We don't have all day for this bullshit."
"They've got two more minutes, and then I'm out of here," Dwayne said.
There was no way he'd really defy Wymack by dipping out early, but Dan still shot him an angry look and snapped, "You're not going anywhere. Sit still and shut up."
Renee glanced up from her book and considered her grumbling teammates. Seth, Dwayne, and Damien were slouched on the far couch. Reggie and Juan had two of the chairs. Renee and Dan had two cushions on the other couch, and Matt sat on the arm of the couch at Dan's side. Renee's stomach knotted a bit as her gaze passed over the team's only sophomore. Matt was the second-tallest of the Foxes, trailing Seth by a spare half-inch, but he'd looked so small last year. A month and change with his mother had straightened his shoulders and fixed his posture, but Renee wondered how long he could last before his teammates broke him down again. She didn't know if she could stand another year with Matt sleeping on their bedroom floor.
The click of stiletto heels heralded Allison's return from the restroom. Six pairs of eyes followed the hem of her impossibly short skirt as Allison crossed the room to the couch. Allison reclaimed her spot on the empty cushion at Renee's side and flicked a cursory, contemptuous look across the open pages of Renee's book.
"They're still not here?" she asked. "This is bullshit."
"See?" Dwayne demanded.
"Patience is a virtue," Renee said.
"Who needs those these days?" Damien asked. "They ain't got you anywhere better'n they got me, right?"
Dan shifted as if to get up. "I'll call—"
The outer door opened down the hall, and the Foxes exchanged quick looks. Reggie, the most outspoken senior against the cousins' recruitment, slouched a bit further to hide how uptight he was. Seth elbowed his side for such an obvious giveaway, and the two scowled at each other in exaggerated annoyance. No one had time to say anything else before Nicky Hemmick sailed through the doorway.
His arrival shifted the mood in the room two degrees to something ugly, and Nicky's toothy ear-to-ear grin said he'd expected the looks on their faces. His snug black tee was emblazoned with the rainbow letters "GET THIS STRAIGHT—I'M NOT" and it'd drawn every eye in the room. He wore enough woven bracelets on his right wrist to cover a third of his forearm, and sunshine-yellow sunglasses pushed unruly black hair out of his face. He surveyed his new teammates with an intense interest, and the small jerk of his chin said he found at least one of them to his liking.
"I knew this wasn't going to be a total loss," he said. Renee couldn't help but admire his courage. Nicky wasn't facing her, but maybe he had a sixth sense for picking up on a friendly face. He swiveled her way almost as soon as she'd smiled, and he nodded a cheery hello. The thump of the door heralded someone else's arrival and Nicky sent a distracted look over his shoulder. "I've met Dan an' Matt. For the rest of you: I'm Nicky. I'mma be one of your backliners this year, 'cause Lord knows I love a rearview best."
Seth made a noise like he'd thrown up in his mouth a bit. Reggie made a furious gesture but couldn't put words to his outrage. Juan was the only one with enough wits to speak, and then all he managed was a venomous, "Coach didn't say he recruited us a faggot."
If looks could kill, the one Dan turned on her teammates should have seared the skin from their bones. "Fucking enough."
"It's all cool, cap." Nicky gave an expansive shrug. "If I let every asshole get to me I'd never have a good day."
"What'd you call me?" Juan demanded.
"He called you an asshole," was a bored response, and one of the twins stepped up beside Nicky. Judging by the cool look on his face, this one was Aaron. Nicky was quick to prop his arm on the shorter man's shoulder, and Aaron didn't try to dislodge him. Aaron met Juan's glower with an unimpressed stare and said, "That wasn't news to you, right?"
"This is Aaron," Nicky said. "He's a bit rude sometimes, but at least he's honest. You remember Aaron, right, Dan?"
The look on Dan's face said she remembered him well—and what he'd said about the Foxes when Wymack went calling on the cousins. Renee heard about it at length on more than one occasion. How Dan hadn't worn a line through their carpet with all of her furious pacing, Renee would never know.
"Hello again," Dan said, but Aaron didn't even look at her.
This is going marvelously, Renee thought a bit ruefully. She closed her Bible, tucked it under one arm, and got to her feet. She crossed the room to the cousins and offered her hand. Aaron gave her a once-over before turning his attention elsewhere, but Nicky stepped away from Aaron to take Renee's hand in a firm, warm grip.
"Renee Walker," Renee said. "It's nice to meet you."
"Starting goalkeeper," Nicky said.
"Not for long," Aaron said.
Nicky's smile begged forgiveness for his cousin's attitude and he gestured to the Bible. "What faith?"
"Catholic," she said. "Are you religious?"
"Sometimes," Nicky said. "Dad's a Baptist minister, so some of it was bound to rub off. So long as you don't try to save me from my man-loving sin, I'll forgive you for belonging to the wrong church. Deal?"
Renee smiled. "Sounds fair. Why don't you two come in and sit down?"
"Yeah, let's get this over with," Damien said. "You guys are fuckin' late."
"Yes, well." Nicky didn't bother to explain but headed for the remaining chair. Aaron trailed him across the room, but neither of them sat. Aaron took up a spot behind the chair and Nicky slumped against the side of it to give Matt a considering look. He didn't look for long before speaking again, but the next words out of his mouth weren't in English. Aaron shook his head at whatever Nicky said and said something that sounded decidedly unfriendly.
Matt shifted a little uncomfortably, but Renee didn't know if that discomfort was due to the blatant interest in Nicky's stare or the looks his roommates were sending him for catching Nicky's eye. A bit of vicious rudeness would redeem him in their eyes, but Matt didn't have it in him to be awful for no reason. Instead he said, "That's German, right?"
"Sure is," Nicky confirmed. "Macon only offered Spanish and German, and why would I put myself through more Spanish?" He waved it off as an obvious choice. "Since we all studied it, we run a bilingual household. I can't afford to fall out of practice while I'm in the States and it keeps things interesting. What about you? You good with your tongue?"
Matt didn't have a ready response for that or the welcoming leer on Nicky's face. Dan had no problems staking her claim, though, and she laced her fingers through Matt's. Nicky grinned and lifted his hands in self-defense. "Easy, sister. Look but don't touch—I get it. You don't mind if I look, right? Good, good taste."
A string of German at Renee's side set her heart tripping. Renee couldn't remember the last time someone successfully sneaked up on her, but the by the time her shoulders tensed in instinctive warning Andrew was already at her elbow. She knew relaxing her guard was a healthy development; she hadn't had to be hyper-aware of her surroundings since her adoption. Despite that, dismay at being startled was a prickling heat in her throat. Renee would have to work through inappropriate reaction later. For now she took stock of the team's newest goalkeeper.
It was a hundred degrees outside, but Andrew had come in a long-sleeved black shirt and boot-cut jeans. A skull cap was pulled down low on his head, nearly hiding his eyebrows, and his hands were crammed into his back pockets. He stared wide-eyed at his cousin, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the gathered Foxes, and rattled off something else. Nicky gestured and responded, and Andrew's answering smile was all teeth.
The creak of the door opening a last time had both Andrew and Renee glancing down the hall. Abby and Wymack entered together. Andrew acknowledged them in a glance and then looked at Renee as if noticing her for the first time. Renee looked for the lie in his expression and came up short.
"Oh, how indecisive," Andrew said.
"I'm sorry?" Renee asked.
Andrew gave a knowing nod and grinned. "So I've heard."
There was a strong chance she'd just been insulted, but Renee offered him her hand and a smile. Andrew batted her hand aside without hesitation and sailed across the room toward his family. He sank into the chair they'd left him and immediately began picking at frayed threads on one of the arms. Renee headed for her place between Dan and Allison and was halfway there before Wymack and Abby stepped into the lounge. Wymack dumped an armload of paperwork on the entertainment center and took a headcount in a sweeping look.
"All right," Wymack said. "We're all here—"
"Finally," Dwayne muttered.
Wymack made a fist at him. "—so let's get the boring shit out of the way. Names and ranks around the room."
Abby passed out paperwork while the Foxes talked. Dan went first since she was captain, and one by one they introduced themselves. Dan's spiel was the longest. By the time it was the cousins' turns the Foxes had shortened their greetings to names and court positions. Andrew was the last one to go and all he said was "The other Minyard!"
"We don't need three goalkeepers," Reggie said, sinking further into the couch and scowling across the room at the cousins. Dan pinched the bridge of her nose in a search for patience. Allison was less subtle in her irritation, but her aggravation had nothing to do with Reggie's inability to let this argument go. The Foxes had put money on how long it'd take Reggie to pipe up with another complaint. Allison had changed her bet at the last second and put the fight further into this meeting. Ten bucks wasn't much, but Allison had always been a sore loser.
"We've talked about this," Wymack said.
"We don't need three goalkeepers," Reggie insisted.
"Oh, such a long face," Andrew said, and mimed wiping away a tear. "No worries! I'm just here for morale."
"We are fucked," Juan said.
"That's new," Seth said, heavy with sarcasm.
"Coach said you signed off on him," Nicky said. "Unanimous, right?"
Seth stabbed a finger in Nicky's direction and glared at Wymack. "Funny you told them all about us and forgot to warn us about the fag. I'm not changing out in front of him."
Wymack stabbed a finger toward the back door. "Get out. You can spend the rest of this meeting in my office. As in now, Gordon," he said when Seth just stared at him in angry confusion. "You have been here long enough to know I won't tolerate slurs in this locker room. From anyone," Wymack added with a cold look around the room. "I took on your anger issues willingly, but no one pays me to put up with your prejudices."
Seth looked a heartbeat awake from arguing, but at length he lurched to his feet without a word and stomped out. The office door shook in its frame with how hard he slammed it behind him. Wymack turned on the rest of the seniors, who busied themselves looking anywhere but at him.
Nicky raised a hand. "If it helps, most of you are too ugly to be my type."
"Stow that," Wymack said.
Nicky rolled his eyes and huffed something in German. Aaron sent his cousin a sidelong look, unimpressed and unamused, but Andrew laughed. Whatever Andrew said in response, Nicky didn't find it as entertaining. Nicky flicked his manic cousin a quick look before glancing over at the seniors' black expressions. The two went back and forth for a minute under Wymack's watchful eye, and then Nicky offered a smile Renee didn't believe for a second.
"But hey, Coach, no problem, right?" Nicky said. "You took a chance on us by signing us, so let's do you a favor in return. Let us use your changing room in turns, us and them. Everyone wins."
"Yes," Dwayne said.
"No," Wymack said at the same time.
Andrew laughed and leaned forward on his chair. "Oh, Coach. It's so boring watching someone feign indignation on our behalf! Be smart, would you?"
Wymack eyed him a minute, obviously suspicious of the cousins' motives, then said, "We will talk about it later."
It wasn't a yes, but it was enough to mollify the upperclassmen and take a little tension out of Nicky's smile. Satisfied his team was temporarily cowed, Wymack returned to his agenda. Renee listened to his speech about academic records and summer schedules with only half an ear. She'd heard this spiel twice before, so there was no harm in letting a few stray details slide.
Most of her attention was on her newest teammates, and she glanced between them. Nicky looked genuinely fascinated by everything Wymack had to say, whereas Aaron seemed only vaguely interested in the papers in his hand. Andrew had dropped his paperwork on the ground as Abby handed the sheets to him and now sat cross-legged with his hands on his ankles. His thumbs beat an uneven, rapid rhythm on his pants legs.
Renee knew better than anyone how deceiving appearances could be, but the Andrew sitting in their locker room looked incapable of the atrocities Allison linked him to. Part of that was undoubtedly attributed to his medicine—everyone knew Andrew was medicated and what he'd done to earn those pills, even if no one could name or explain his drugs with one hundred percent certainty. Uppers, some guessed, so he was too manic to feel violent. Anti-psychotics, the rest said, to make him a little more human. Maybe it was neither; maybe it was both.
It was only a matter of time before Andrew caught Renee watching him. She smiled; he answered with a lightning-quick, toothy grin and didn't look away. Renee knew she wasn't that interesting to look at aside from her multicolored hairstyle. She idly wondered if he was testing her, daring her to be the first to look away. It was a simple power game—childish, Dan would say, because Dan would never understand—and one Renee saw no reason to win. She held Andrew's stare for a minute, long enough to acknowledge his challenge, before dropping her gaze to the papers in her lap. When she looked up again, Andrew's attention had moved on, and he didn't glance her way the rest of the day.