"Cody couldn’t breathe. After the vicious hit, the defensive end pinned him to the turf. He tried to push off the overpowering weight, but he didn’t have the strength. Suddenly, a huge hand grabbed the linesman’s shoulder pads and tossed him like a rag doll to the field."
Published: August 2015
Cody’s worst day, was the day his brother – his best friend, left to join the Army. Boomer’s worst day was yet to come.
In high school, Cody followed his big brother’s blocks on the football field. Now, it is his time to lead. Cody and his girlfriend, Kim, embark on a journey to reveal the hero beneath the scars and bring Boomer home.
Cody couldn’t breathe. After the vicious hit, the defensive end pinned him to the turf. He tried to push off the overpowering weight, but he didn’t have the strength. Suddenly, a huge hand grabbed the linesman’s shoulder pads and tossed him like a rag doll to the field.
“You OK, Little Bro?” Boomer asked.
Cody’s chest expanded as he sucked in a deep breath of air. Boomer leaned over him with his face partially concealed by his football helmet and hidden by the shadows cast by the overhead stadium lights. Cody could see his brother’s eyes filled with worry.
He didn’t answer. He extended his hand. Boomer pulled him to his feet. Jogging back to the huddle, Cody stole a quick glance at the scoreboard. He wasn’t worried about the points. They were down by five. A touchdown would still win the game, but they only had time for one more play. One more play against their archrival Panthers. Their season wasn’t built on how many games they won, the only thing that mattered was if they beat the Panthers. That, and the fact that this was the last high school football game he would play with his brother, made Cody want to take a time-out and make it last a lifetime.
The tight end ran the play in from the Coach. Cody called the play in the huddle, but he knew it didn’t matter. The real play would depend on how the defense set up. The goalposts seemed like miniature toothpicks across the field. He wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. His heart was pounding so hard that it hurt. He slid his hands under the center and surveyed the defense. He knew it was going to be a blitz. He stepped away from the center and motioned his running back to stay in and block. Back under the center, his voice broke as he tried to bark out the count. He gripped the football and started to back away. Rising up for the block, the center’s heel stepped on top of Cody’s foot. He stumbled. Falling, he managed to pivot and get his hand down to keep his knees from touching the turf. The running back blocked one of the blitzing linemen.
Cody scrambled. Time slowed down. He felt like he could see every player on the field. The wide receiver streaked down the sideline. Cody rolled with him.
He could hear the defensive end coming up on his blind side. Instinctively every muscle in his body tightened for the impact. Boomer charged in front of him. He heard the deafening collision of two mammoth bodies.
The wide receiver pulled away from the Panthers safety. Cody planted his back foot and threw the ball as hard as he could. He lost it in the stadium lights, then watched it spiral back to earth. The wide receiver and the Panthers safety together looked back over their shoulders. The Panthers safety slowed and the under thrown football drifted into his hands.
Cody collapsed to one knee. He wanted to scream to drown out the cheers from the Panthers bleachers that echoed in his football helmet.
Boomer grabbed his brother’s shoulder pads and yanked him to his feet.
“Come on, Little Bro.”
Cody tugged off his helmet. He couldn’t meet Boomer’s eyes. He felt like someone pulled a pin and all the air had left his body. He struggled to put one foot in front of the other. When he reached the sideline the flash from the camera blinded him. When his vision returned he saw Kim, the girl with the camera.
In the locker room shower, the steam was thick as fog. Cody let the cascading water mask his face and feelings. The disappointed and frustrated crash and smash of his teammates’ fists and helmets against lockers had stopped. What voices that were left were subdued and then finally silent. He dried off, then wrapped the towel around his waist. The locker room was empty except for boy-man giant sitting on the bench. Cody walked down the aisle and collapsed next to his brother.
“You’re only a sophomore,” said Boomer. “Next year you’re going to be so frigging tough.”
“You won’t be here next year.” Cody rubbed his bruised ribs. “I wanted this game so bad. I wanted us to win.” Pain and frustration coated his words, “I screwed up. If only I let the ball go a second sooner.”
Boomer’s massive hand massaged the back of Cody’s neck.
“Whoa. Where’s this coming from? How many times have I told you, you never get down on yourself?” Boomer squeezed the back of Cody’s neck and gently shook his head. “You played a great game. That’s what I’ll remember.” Boomer groaned as he pushed up from the bench. “Get dressed. Let’s get out of here.”
They walked together across the deserted high school parking lot. The fire-engine-red Ford F-150 truck gleamed under the stadium lights. Cody tossed his bag in the back of the truck then sat in the passenger seat. Boomer pulled his towel from his bag. He wiped off gravel dust that settled on the truck, his face mirrored in the shiny hood.
Boomer got in and started the truck, then pulled out of the lot. His head was round like a pumpkin, his hair cropped short, his ears seemed too small for such a large head and his nose was slightly bent from being broken more than once. When at ease, his natural expression was a slightly tilted up smile with a boyish inquisitiveness reflected in his brown eyes. He wasn’t really a giant, but at 6 foot 5 and 260 pounds, he seemed that way when he walked the high school halls.
Cody powered down the window. The cool autumn breeze couldn’t blow away his feeling of despondency, nor could the tires humming on the two-lane asphalt country road as the high school lights retreated into the background. He could still see the football falling short into the Panthers safety’s hands and hear the cheers that weren’t for him and Boomer.
Cody shook his head and mumbled, “Shit.”
“Let it go.”
Cody stuck his head out the window. The wind blew tears from his eyes.
The truck’s headlights illuminated the stop sign. Instead of turning left for home, Boomer turned right.
“Where’re you going?” asked Cody.
“You need to chill.”
The country road followed the bends of the river that led to the small town of Grand Rapids. Most of the stores lining Main Street were closed, and tonight the town seemed as subdued as Cody’s feelings. A few cars were parked in front of O’Malley’s bar, and at the Dairy Queen at the end of the block. Boomer stopped at the flashing stoplight, then drove into the darkness at the edge of town.
Boomer slowed, then turned onto the gravel road leading down to the rapids. He turned off the headlights and drove by feel, pebbles crunching under the tires.
The harvest moon bathed the rapids with ashen hues. Boomer turned off the engine. “Come on.” He didn’t wait for Cody to follow.
Cody slipped going down the steep embankment. He dug the sides of his shoes into dirt, then jumped the final few feet to the riverbank.
Boomer was already in the river jumping from one rock to the next. A large granite outcropping rose up from the water a third of the way across the river. Boomer jumped and grabbed the edge, then hauled himself up to the flat surface. He sat on the edge, then looked back at his brother.
Cody strained to see the rocks beneath the surface of the rapidly flowing water. The first time he saw Boomer go out to Buffalo Rock, he really thought his brother could walk on water. In spring, when Walleyes run, the rocks are completely submerged by melting winter snow. But in summer and fall, when the water level falls, if you knew where to look, you could see the stepping stones. He jumped to the first rock and felt cold water seep into his gym shoe. He skipped to the next one. Now both shoes were wet. A cloud passed beneath the moon and suddenly it was like he was wearing dark sunglasses. He stood still waiting for moonlight to return while listening to the river.
Boomer reached out his hand. Cody locked his hand around his brother’s forearm and Boomer lifted him up to the boulder. They sat side by side with their legs dangling over the edge. Cody fell under the spell of rippling water. The riverbanks were lined with tall trees that stood like dark silent sentinels. Beyond the rapids were islands in the stream and the distant glow of a city where the river merged with the lake. A breeze stirred and trees rustled. Cody inhaled the river’s primeval scent of mud and decaying leaves. He rested back on the boulder, cupped his hands under his head and tried to see stars through moonlight.
A graduate of the University of Toledo with a degree in Journalism, English and Psychology, O'Leary's critically acclaimed realistic coming-of-age stories focus on teenagers facing a family crisis. He is the author of Penalty Kick and More Than A Game.