From here on out the timeline gets a bit shaky.. I'm trying my hardest to line the rewrite up with the newest draft, but there are likely going to still be inconsistencies (and typos). Also, since I have no experience with what happens in this part, there is a good chance I've botched it and a better chance it's offensive in its inaccuracy? I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
Timeline: One year before the events of The Foxhole Court. Part one was here.
That weekend Nicky showed up at the girls' room and invited Dan out for dinner. It was a completely unexpected gesture, but Dan knew better than to turn down a chance to get to know her newest teammates. She accepted her roommates' offer of luck and disappeared after Nicky down the hall. Allison wanted to wait up for her, not trusting the cousins with her friend, but Renee believed Dan could handle herself. They compromised and stayed up until midnight, spending part of the time on a movie and the other half comparing their fall schedules. They were asleep before Dan came home but found her fast asleep on the couch when they woke up.
Dan slept until late afternoon and woke with what she complained was the worst hangover of her entire life. Allison ignored her misery in favor of quizzing her, but Dan could barely remember the previous night. She begged off her roommate's curiosity, more interested in the medicine and water Renee offered her, and Allison eventually had to give up. It wasn't until a few days later that Dan admitted her memory was still in pieces. She didn't know what she was missing, or how or why, but since nothing seemed to have changed between her and the cousins she told Renee she wouldn't worry about it.
Matt moved into the girls' room the following Friday. Allison went up one side of him and down the other, completely unimpressed by his so-called weak will. Matt listened to her lecture in silence, refusing to defend himself, and kept his stare on the carpet at Allison's feet. Dan looked like she wanted to say something, but she kept her mouth shut. Renee went to dig spare pillows and blankets out of their closet, and the three watched as Matt made a nest on their couch. After he'd gotten comfortable, the girls locked themselves in the bedroom to argue in whispered voices. Dan wanted to get Abby involved, whereas Allison thought that would be unfair.
"Unfair," Dan echoed incredulously. "Unfair? How is that," she jabbed a finger at the wall separating them from the living room, "at all fair?"
"Come off it, Dan," Allison said, propping her fists on her hips defiantly. "It's not like you mind having him over all the time."
"It's not about where he stays. It's what they're doing to him."
"They're not chasing him down with needles and bongs," Allison said.
"They know better than to do those things around him! It's his room too!"
"So, what, they should stop because it hurts his feelings?" Allison arched an eyebrow at Dan, looking almost pitying. "Let 'em do what they like. It's not going to hurt anyone."
Dan's expression darkened. "Like it didn't hurt Ian or Kirk?"
Allison's mouth thinned to a hard line. "That was different."
Ian and Kirk started with the girls, but they died in a car accident at the end of their first year. The school lost seven athletes in one go, a consequence of them drunk driving and carpooling from after-party to after-party. Wymack hadn't reacted well to the loss, and he'd sat his team down for a long talk the day after the boys' funerals. They talked about responsibility, partly, but mostly how they could meet each other halfway to keep the Foxes safe. Both he and Abby were willing to let the team crash at their homes for celebrations, and they were happy to play designated drivers no matter what time of night it was.
Drugs, however, remained a gray area. Officially, Wymack didn't want any of his players doing drugs, and Abby would likely tear their ears off should she ever catch them at it. Off the record, though, Wymack only said, "I don't approve of drugs, since I've seen them tear a whole lot of good families apart. However, you could say the same for alcohol, and no one in the world's gonna get me sober. To each his own and agree to disagree. Just be safe, don't hurt anyone, and don't you dare get caught. The second you break one of these three rules is the second I stop conveniently looking the other way."
It was permission to do what they liked, so the Foxes did. Most of the boys stuck to pot and painkillers, but Reggie and Damien dabbled in coke every chance they could get. It didn't mean much for the girls, since Allison didn't mind the smell of weed and neither Dan nor Renee had much reason to see the boys outside of practice. Matt was a different story entirely. He'd suffered an out-of-control addiction for years, courtesy of his wealthy, drug-abusing father, and he hadn't been out of rehab long enough to face his roommates' addictions.
"They're asking for trouble," Dan said at last.
"At least they're here where we can keep an eye on them."
"And where they're hurting Matt."
Allison drummed her fingernails against her forehead and exhaled slowly through clenched teeth. "Again," she said. "It's one against the majority. You can't ask them to stop just because it's bruising your little rehab project out there every time he sees them light up. Tell him to grow a pair—you don't see Renee crawling inside herself every time she sees Matt's track marks, do you?"
Dan shot Renee a quick look to see how Renee reacted to such a backhanded accusation. "Do you even look at lines before you cross them, or do you just crush them underfoot?"
"Everyone reacts to addiction differently, Allison," Renee said. "Faith pulled me through, and it holds me together whenever I think I might be too weak. Matt hasn't found an anchor yet, so it's difficult for him to keep a center when they're playing devil's advocate. I'm not," she said, holding up her hand when Allison looked about to argue, "asking them to stop. We've all lived through terrible things and have had to find our cures where we can. I won't take theirs from them. I sympathize with Matt for his unhappy position, is all."
A knock at their suite door cut their argument short. They heard the couch creak through the wall as Matt got up to answer. Dan stalked out to meet her guests, raring for a fight, and Renee and Allison followed after. They expected to see Reggie or Damien here to taunt Matt about his retreat. The two were hell on Matt's sobriety, finding Matt an easy target upon which to vent their frustrations and inner demons.
When Matt opened the door, however, Nicky was standing on the other side. Nicky looked a bit thrown to see Matt there, but it only took him a second to recover. His pleased smile said he didn't mind the surprise.
"Evening," he said cheerfully. "Am I interrupting?"
"Not really," Matt said.
"No? Well, that's boring," Nicky said. "It's Friday night, you know?" Nicky looked to the girls, then past Matt at the couch. He clucked his tongue against his teeth as he studied the makeshift bed, then shook his head and turned on Matt again. "This looks like a fate worse than death. How about a knight to save you?"
"Do I really look like I need saving?" Matt asked with a gesture at his all-female company.
"You want my honest answer or my polite one?" Nicky turned in the doorway and motioned for Matt to follow. "Come on. We're heading out of town to get a couple drinks. You should come with."
"We?" Matt asked.
Aaron and Andrew stepped up behind Nicky, dressed head-to-toe in black for their night on the town. Andrew ignored Matt entirely in favor of surveying the room. His smile was all teeth and he rapped the back of his hand against Nicky's shoulder. "Oh, Nicky, Nicky," he said. "That didn't take long at all, did it? Guess he forgot to pack his brakes—could've used them on that fall!"
Matt bristled at Andrew's mocking tone. "What didn't take long?"
"You hiding out in here," Aaron said. "We thought you'd last two weeks at least. Guess not."
"I'm not—" Matt started.
Andrew didn't let him finish. "We're leaving now!"
He wheeled out of the doorway, but Nicky and Aaron didn't follow. Aaron propped his shoulder against the doorframe and turned an expectant look on Matt. Matt turned away, still looking a little offended by how easily they'd seen through him, and started back toward the couch. Nicky snagged his elbow to drag him to a stop. He was still smiling like there was nothing rude about what his cousins had said.
"You are coming, aren't you?" Nicky said.
"Now, Matt," Aaron said.
It was the first time Aaron had bothered to call any of them by their names that week. Maybe that was what sealed the deal, because Matt glanced back at Aaron. After a moment he pat his pockets in search of his wallet.
"Don't bother," Nicky said, correctly interpreting the gesture. "It's on us, and no one's gonna ID you where we're going. Okay? Out you go." He let go of Matt as Aaron turned away and left. Matt glanced at Dan one last time before following. Nicky started to follow, but Dan crossed the room in a second and caught his shoulder in an iron grip.
"You be careful with him," she said, low but so fierce her voice carried.
Nicky's smile wasn't kind, but it was at least sympathetic. "Easy, sister. We know, okay? Aaron's got an eye for people like Matt. Trust us."
"Who would?" Allison asked.
Dan couldn't be so indiscreet. "Don't give me a reason not to."
"Such devotion!" Nicky tapped Dan's hand until she took the hint and let go of him. "How long have you two been dating, anyway?"
"Four, huh? Then we'll take extra-special care of him just for you."
With that he wheeled away and set off down the hall. Dan looked a little like she was regretting this already, but at last she closed the door and locked it.
The next time they saw Matt, he was a delirious mess on Abby's living room floor. His arms and face were raked raw in places, self-inflicted wounds in his panicked withdrawal, and his skin was so pale and slick Abby could barely keep a good grip on him. Abby's face was bruised in a half-dozen places from stray elbows and fists, but she grimly held on as tight as she could. Betsy Dobson, the team's psychiatrist and Abby's best friend, had hold of Matt on his other side. Her legs were tangled with his, likely to keep him from kicking either of them. Renee couldn't understand a word Matt was saying; it was twisted through with too much hysteria and desperation to be at all intelligible.
Dan threw herself at him, crying for some sort of explanation, and practically climbed into his lap to hold on. The choking guilt in her voice made Renee's heart hurt. Dan had trusted Nicky with Matt last night, and this was how the cousins repaid her faith. Rage would come later, Renee knew, and she knew she needed to be there when Dan broke. For now, Dan would keep herself together for Matt's sake.
One of the women had to move to make room for her, so Abby carefully disentangled herself. Dan fell into her space easily, threading her fingers into Matt's hair and pulling his face into her shoulder. Matt wrapped an arm around her so tight Renee heard Dan's back pop all the way across the room. Matt was still talking, but now Dan's shirt smothered most of it. His tone still carried, though, and Renee swallowed hard against the lump in her throat.
Abby and Betsy exchanged looks, and Abby crossed the room to guide Renee out of it. They went down the hall to the kitchen. Abby opened a cabinet door and tried lifting down cups, but her hands were shaking too badly. One slipped from her grip and bounced off the counter. Renee caught it as it sailed off the edge and took the other before Abby could drop it too. Abby slammed the cabinet door shut, then opened it and slammed it again for good measure. Renee set the cups down and placed a calming hand on Abby's arm.
"Sit down," she said, so Abby went to sit at the table. Renee collected enough cups for the rest of them and filled all of them with water. Three she left on the counter for now; the others she brought to the table. She pressed one into Abby's shaking hands and sipped from the other. "What happened?"
"Speedballs," Abby said hoarsely. "They got him up on crackers and speedballs."
Renee closed her eyes to let that sink in. Dread and horror were stones in her chest, crushing the breath from her lungs. Crackers were a candy drug, a current craze with clubbers looking for a quick and temporary high. They were only mildly addictive, but even they would be razors on Matt's wavering resolve. Speedballs, though? There was no quick fix after something like that. Renee still remembered how they felt. More than that, she remembered what it was like coming off of them. Matt was right back to square one after everything he'd sacrificed to get this far.
"Please tell me you can stand in the same room as him," Abby said, and Renee opened her eyes again. "I don't want to make this hard for you, but you're the only one who's been there and back again. You're the only one who can understand what he's going through right now. Dan can give him everything she's got, but they're going to need your help. Can you do that?"
"I'll do my best."
"Don't be," Renee said.
"I'm sorry," Abby said again, because they both knew she was asking a lot. Abby scrubbed her face and looked away. "How could he be so stupid? How could they be so cruel?"
Renee couldn't answer her. The best she could do was reach across the table and take one of Abby's hands in hers. She gave Abby's hand a hard squeeze and got to her feet. When Abby looked at her, Renee smiled, willing Abby to believe her, willing all of them to believe in Matt.
"He's going to be all right," Renee said. "Matt's strong. He's not going to let this stop him."
"I wish it was that simple," Abby said, but her hands were a little steadier now. Between the two of them they managed to carry all five cups back to the living room. Dan couldn't take hers, and Matt was too far gone to notice his drink, but Betsy accepted her glass gratefully. Then there was nothing they could do but be there for Matt—if he even knew they were there.
Wymack showed up on Abby's doorstep around dinnertime. It had been a while since he looked this haggard—not since Ian and Kirk died, Renee thought. She started a tea kettle in the kitchen, and it wasn't long before Betsy, Abby, and Wymack joined her there. Abby glanced from Renee to the door and back again, a silent plea for privacy. Renee left the room but didn't go far. Matt was asleep for now, but his brain would wake him up soon enough as he hit the next valley in his withdrawal. Dan was catching what rest she could, and Renee didn't dare disturb her. Instead she took up a post a few feet down from the kitchen doorway.
"Where are they?" Abby asked.
"They're at the stadium," Wymack said. "They had two choices: sleep there or get a hotel. I'm not letting them back to Fox Tower anytime soon, and they sure as hell can't stay here. I do need to borrow your spare bedroom, though. Randy Boyd called to say she's touched down at Upstate. I offered to pick her up from the airport, but she wanted to have a rental car handy."
"You told her?"
"I didn't have to," Wymack said. "Apparently Andrew got her number from Matt's file or something; he called her from the bar to tell her what he was going to do. She said Andrew acted with her blessing and doesn't want any of them punished for this."
"You can't be serious," Abby said flatly.
"She apologized for any inconvenience it might cost us to have Matt going through rehab right now," Wymack said, with a noticeable edge in his voice, "and promised to compensate our team and Betsy for the hardship. I told her it wasn't necessary and that we neither wanted nor needed her money, but she said we could write her check off as a donation."
"Money doesn't make this okay!" Abby said stridently.
There was a short, sharp pause. Renee imagined Wymack trying to hush Abby before she attracted attention from the Foxes.
"Nothing's going to make this okay," Wymack said at length, "but we've got to believe she knows what she's doing."
Renee had heard enough. She went down the hall as quietly as she could and crouched against the wall near the living room doorway. Matt was groaning in his sleep now, and the rustle of cloth said it wouldn't be long before the sound woke Dan up. Renee propped her elbows on her knees, laced her fingers together, and pressed her forehead to her knuckles. She focused on every strong memory she had of Matt, from his easy smile at their first introduction to his aggressive playing style to the night he'd finally risked asking Dan on a date, and prayed and prayed and prayed.
The doorbell interrupted her some indeterminable time later, and Renee stretched out the kinks on her way to open it. Matt's mother was a sight to see, a professional boxer who almost matched Matt's generous height. She was dressed in jeans and a bomber jacket, with a backpack slung over one shoulder, and she nodded at Renee in recognition.
"Morning," she said.
Renee hadn't even realized the sun was coming up. "Good morning."
Wymack, Abby, and Betsy had stepped into the hall at the sound of the bell, but they kept their distance and said nothing in greeting. Wymack gestured to indicate the living room, and Randy slipped past Renee to investigate. The doorbell had woken Matt too, it seemed, and even in his terrible state he recognized his mother. He was begging by the time Renee stepped into the doorway, heartbroken and desperate and needy. Randy stretched out on the couch with him, burying him between her body and the cushions, and held him close. Dan watched from a few feet away, looking white in the face and exhausted.
Renee went to her and caught hold of Dan's arm. Dan came to her feet with only a little resistance, and Renee tucked Dan closed to her side. "Come on," she said. "I'm taking you back to the dorm to get some sleep."
Dan dug in her feet, but not for long, and Renee guided her out of the house without a look back. A rental car was parked behind Wymack's at the curb; Dan's car was still in the driveway behind Abby's. Renee got Dan's keys from her and waited for Dan to get settled in the passenger seat before starting the engine.
They were halfway back to the dorm when Dan hit her door. Renee kept her eyes on the road. Dan groaned something thick and unintelligible in the back of her throat and lashed out again, beating the inside of her door until Renee thought she'd break every bone in her hand. She didn't stop until Renee parked at Fox Tower, and then both girls sat still until she could breathe without choking.
"I'm going to kill them," Dan said, voice raw.
"Randy okayed this," Renee said.
The look Dan shot her was horrified. "No."
"Coach said so to Abby and Betsy," Renee said, gazing out the windshield as she tried to make sense of it. "Andrew told her what he was going to give Matt, and Randy gave him the green light. She doesn't want any of us to hold him accountable."
"Fuck her," Dan said hotly. "The next time I see him, I'm going to wring his neck, and you'd better not try to stop me."
Renee looked over at her, weighing her friend's words and wondering where the line fell in a situation like this. She thought about forgiveness, about being the better person, about trusting people's good intentions even when one couldn't understand. Then she thought about Matt's bloody face and Dan's heartbroken guilt, and she settled on the religious code most convenient to the situation.
"Leviticus," she said. "An eye for an eye. Maybe you can't exact an even retribution, but perhaps you can extract some measure of repayment. I will let you try, Dan."
Dan's expression tightened with cold resolve. "Good," she said, and she slammed the car door behind her on her way out.
Dan got her chance two days later when the cousins were the last ones to arrive for afternoon practice. Wymack had been waiting in the locker room with the upperclassmen, but someone from facilities arrived and couldn't wait around for Wymack's convenience. Wymack didn't look happy leaving his Foxes unattended, but he hurried the other man into the stadium to show him the trouble spots they'd opened tickets on. He was gone maybe thirty seconds before the Foxes' freshmen waltzed in.
Dan had been sitting tense, a coiled spring of rage just waiting for a trigger, and she moved the second Andrew stepped into her line of sight. The others all knew what had happened by now, and while they didn't really care about Matt's situation they were happy for a reason to fight. Juan came off his chair with a whoop, and the locker room exploded into chaos.
Renee stayed back for a minute, content for now to play referee. Her intent gaze followed Andrew as he moved, cataloguing the way he fought. He had a nasty, undisciplined style likely learned the hard way. His height was a serious disadvantage, but he'd tailored his fighting style to compensate: he put emphasis on being quick and devastating.
He was going to win this fight, Renee realized with something that was but shouldn't be impatience. The only reason he hadn't done so already was because the roiling bodies around them made it hard for him and Dan to stick with each other. It didn't seem fair that he could do such a thing to Matt and then best Dan here. Renee forced such thoughts aside as unhelpful and unbecoming and finally waded into the fray.
Allison was closest, so Renee hauled her aside with a hand on her elbow. Allison started to swing, realized who'd grabbed her, and fell out of the way as fast as she could. Renee caught Seth's fist when it came too close to her face and gave a warning squeeze. He scowled at her for stopping him, but Seth would never hit a woman. He wrenched his hand free and barked a couple angry words at his roommates. None of them were listening, but Renee didn't have time to wait for them. She went for every pressure point she could find and forced her teammates to clear a path. Finally she was where she needed to be, right between Dan and Andrew.
Andrew went still immediately, looking bright-eyed and amused by the untimely interruption. Dan tried to shove Renee aside, but Renee reached behind herself and caught Dan's wrists. She leaned against Dan, back to chest, and forced Dan out of Andrew's reach. Dan struggled to get loose, but Renee would always be too strong for her. Eventually Dan gave up and gasped ragged curses against Renee's shoulder.
"Enough," Renee said, looking around the room at her ruffled teammates. Her gaze settled on Andrew's smiling face last. He was having the time of his life, or so it seemed. "That's enough, all of you."
"Oh, okay." Andrew shrugged and turned away.
"Fuck you!" Dan yelled at him. "You can't do shit like that."
"No?" Nicky managed a cheeky grin despite his split lip. "Matt's mom says otherwise. Coach already told you, didn't he? So there's no problem."
"No problem?!" Dan echoed incredulously.
Andrew spun and put a finger to his mouth. "I don't want him on your couch, captain! I don't want him skulking on the defense line. What a mood-killer! It's so annoying."
"You—" Dan started.
Andrew didn't let her finish. "Matt's been in this hole once before, yes? If he wants to, he'll climb out! If the climb doesn't kill him, he'll remember why he got out of that hole the first time. For a team that loves to bet you're awfully afraid to gamble. Curious!"
That caught them all off-guard, and Allison was the first to react. "You expect us to believe you did that for his sake?"
"Oh, no." Andrew waved that aside with a flap of his hand. "I did it for me! He was making life troublesome."
"We didn't hold him down and shoot him up," Aaron said. "The choice was his, and he said yes. He was weak. You're lucky we were the ones who cleaned up behind him."
"Lucky," Dan spat. "Go to hell."
Nicky slung an arm arm around Aaron's shoulders and turned his cousin after Andrew. "Guess that means we get first dibs on the locker room? We'll see you all down on the court!"
Renee waited until she heard the door close down the hall before letting go of Dan. Dan stalked to the far side of the room to pace and seethe. Renee decided to make herself scarce and went to change into her uniform. She was done dressing and working on her laces when Dan and Allison finally showed up. Dan didn't return Renee's searching look but angrily shoveled clothes out of her locker onto the floor.
"You're no match for him," Renee said as gently as she could. "I couldn't let him win."
Dan ignored her and peeled her shirt over her head. Her sides and abdomen were stained dull red in a half-dozen places; she'd be sore every step she took on the court and covered in bruises by the end of practice. Allison wasn't as bad off since she'd had most of the men between her and the cousins, but a glancing blow left color on one high cheekbone.
In the end, physical discomfort had nothing on the acidic tension between the Foxes. Practice was almost unbearable, and it took most of the afternoon before Dan would say anything to Renee. She refused to acknowledge the cousins whatsoever, choosing personal outrage over her position for the first time since the summer of the girls' freshman year. Wymack could have called her to order—they all knew Dan would do anything he asked her to—but he settled for group punishments instead. They skipped scrimmages in favor of exhausting, miserable drills and ended practice with a six-mile run around campus.
Renee wasn't sure Dan had forgiven her yet, but she matched Dan's pace as they took off across the parking lot. If Dan pulled ahead of her, Renee would obediently fall back, but Dan said nothing about having Renee at her side. Seth and Allison were close behind them, since the only thing Allison hated more than long runs was looking slower than the men on the team, and the rest of the Foxes stretched out behind them as a long, broken string.
Renee ran the first five miles in silence, then looked over her shoulder for the cousins. They'd taken up the far rear, unsurprisingly.
"I'll see you at the stadium," Renee said. Dan glanced over at her at that, but Renee only gestured over her shoulder and peeled off to the side. She slowed to a walk, ignoring the look Allison sent her on her way by and the snide remarks from the men as they passed her moments later. She waited until Aaron and Nicky finally passed before falling in beside Andrew.
"This is unexpected," Andrew said. "To what do we owe this undeniable honor?"
"I'd like you to apologize to Dan and Matt," Renee said.
He laughed. "Oh, no. Minyards don't apologize! It's not in our blood."
"Maybe you'll make an exception just this once," Renee said. "Good intentions don't change how much you've hurt them. Apologizing is the right thing to do."
Andrew quirked a brow at her. "Weep, weep, a tear for their bruised feelings. Really, Renee! Why would I care about doing the right thing?"
"For a nice change of pace?" Renee suggested, smiling. "You might like how it feels."
He laughed again and slanted a look at his cousin. "Nicky, do you hear her? What a strange, strange child we have among us."
"She's sweet, if a little naïve," Nicky said. "I think I like her."
"How lost you are," Andrew said to Renee. "How sorely misplaced."
"Do you think so?" Renee asked.
"Should I?" Andrew asked.
"Seriously, though," Nicky said, looking back at her. "How'd someone like you end up here?"
"Grace of God," Renee said.
"Boo, wrong answer." Andrew waved her words off like they stank. "I despise Christians. Such blind creatures have no right to give others advice."
"If you'll forgive my curiosity, what have we ever done to you?" Renee asked.
Andrew only smiled, but Nicky said, "Don't take it personally. Andrew hates everyone."
"But you might prove amusing, at least for a little while longer," Andrew said. "Goodbye, black sheep, baa baa lamb."
With that, he was off like a shot, running like he hadn't already gone the better part of six miles. Renee watched him hit full speed in just a couple of strides and contemplated giving chase. In the end she settled for running the last quarter-mile in silence. Her thoughts were company enough, even if she didn't yet know what to make of them.