As the game resumed with the signal of the start to the second half, Bobby managed to make it back to the sideline right as his fellow cheerleaders finished up their halftime routine. Out of breath and soaked with sweat, he followed the rest of the squad over to the water table. He was sure some were giving him funny looks but he didn’t care. For all they knew he really was sick. He didn’t need to explain himself. Besides, the cheer squad was stacked this year with talented guys, so it wasn’t like they missed his presence much anyway.
Bobby grabbed a bottle from the table and took a long sip of cold water as he let the world fade away for a moment. The roar of the crowd grew dull and the electricity pulsing throughout the sidelines became unimportant. He took in a deep breath of the cool night air and held it for a few seconds. When he released the air from his lungs the world around him blasted back into focus with hyper energy. He found his heart rate had returned to normal and his excitement for the game renewed.
He noticed there were people scrambling all about on the opposing team’s side. They were clearly trying to figure what had happened to their star quarterback. Bobby sighed with relief because he knew nobody had found the body yet. They probably thought #17 had ditched his team and left the stadium for some reason. It was odd, but #17 did have a temper as was known to skip out on practice if things weren’t going the way he wanted. Their coach must’ve figured this to be the case because he sent out the backup QB to start the second half—much to the dismay of the home crowd who let their feelings be known with a series of boos. The game was going to resume without #17, just the way Bobby had hoped. This was the best case scenario.
Their backup QB had little playing time under his belt—only getting on the field during the regular season when he got called in for mop-up duty during a blowout. Playing in a championship game with this kind of weather wasn’t going to do him any favors in regards to building his confidence. Bobby’s team, on the other hand, was brimming with confidence. They knew the opposing team was shaken up with the loss of their star player. And since the backup QB’s skills weren’t anywhere near where it needed to be for this type of game, his team would only pass when absolutely necessary. The rest of the game was going to be a cakewalk.
Bobby watched the game with glee and cheered his heart out whenever the cheer squad took the field during breaks. And as the third quarter rolled into the 4th, the momentum from the first half had completely changed sides. Bobby’s team now had a 10-6 lead with less than half of the final quarter to go. But the score didn’t reflect the whooping their defense was putting on the poor backup QB. All they had to do was get a few more stops or force a turnover, then they could let the remaining time run out and celebrate their first championship.
While his team continued to put a hurting on the other team—and they had the championship all but in the bag—Bobby started to get a nagging feeling. The reality of what he’d done had finally set in. The cheer squad was warming up for their celebration routine, but he couldn’t stop thinking about #17’s body pressed into that tiny stall. If someone were to find the body in the next 20 minutes, Bobby’s whole world would come crashing down. There would be no celebration. No trophy. No giant cheer number. Only cops and interrogations and screaming, and weeping friends and family. It would be a catastrophe. The biggest story to ever hit the town. It would be the top news story for the next year or more. And Bobby’s family. Oh god, what would his family think if he were found to be the culprit? If he were found to be a murderer?
Was there a camera in that hallway? He couldn’t remember. Panic. Don’t panic. They don’t know anything. There was no camera. They won’t find the body yet. They can’t. Bobby repeated these phrases of reassurance over and over in his head. All he had to do was get on that damn bus and leave this terrible town and the memory of what he did forever. All he had to do was—
A roar of jeers ripped through the stadium. The hometown team’s fans booed with everything they had while the fans of Bobby’s team met their energy and then some with cheers of their own. Someone pulled on Bobby’s arm as a sea of people rushed the field.
“Come on!” one of his cheer mates shouted, his voice barely audible over the crowd.
It was a whirlpool of chaos. Everything was happening so fast.
“Aren’t we going to do our routine?” Bobby asked another one of his cheer mates.
The girl shook her head. “Who cares? We won!” She vaulted past him and pumped her hands in the air in triumph.
Bobby looked around at everyone screaming and cheering. The football players, the whole coaching staff, and the cheer squad all mingled together at the middle of the field in celebration with their fans. Bobby caught the losing team sulking off through the tunnel toward the locker rooms.
“Shit,” he muttered to himself.
They had to get out of there before someone found #17’s body. Panic was returning tenfold. There was no way they would leave before someone found—
Suddenly Bobby was lifted in the air.
“And let’s hear it for the guy who believed in us more than anyone!”
A few linemen had Bobby up on their shoulders and were parading him around the field as the rest of the team, coaching staff, and cheerleaders all clapped and hooted with excitement. All the worry he’d felt washed away. This was all he ever wanted. They finally recognized all the hard work he put into making the team great. And they didn’t even know half of what he had done for the team. But that was okay. All those long hours of helping clean up after home games, of helping out around the team’s practices, of cheering the hardest and loudest at each and every game. They finally acknowledged the things he had done. And that was more than enough for him.
The weather took a turn for the worse and they had to cut the celebration short. As much as Bobby hated the thought of ending the night so suddenly, he knew this was the best thing that could’ve happened. It was a two-hour drive back home, and with the snow picking up in intensity, the team skipped the showers so they could leave before the roads got too bad. And before he knew it, Bobby was sitting on the bus, exhausted from all the excitement. He knew they would continue the celebration at a pep rally on Monday at school, so there was no sense feeling down about ending tonight’s celebration early. Even so, there was a little bit of melancholy in the air. This was it. They would all be graduating at the end of the year and after that, no more football. No more summer training. No more pep rallies. Bobby wasn’t cut out for college which meant he would have to do something else with his life. He would have to find a new passion. No matter what, though, he would always have this night. He would always know he helped the team win the big game. And not just helped but did more than anyone else to ensure they won. Nobody would ever know the lengths he had went to, but that was alright. Deep down, Bobby knew he was a champion, too.
The snow fell with a heavy silence as the bus began to pull out of the parking lot. Bobby rested his face against the cold window. There was a low murmuring as some of his cheer mates talked amongst themselves in hushed tones. But everyone was drained from all the excitement so most sat in silence or even closed their eyes to get some sleep. Bobby felt a warmth rise up from his belly and spread throughout his body. The bus turned onto the main road and Bobby’s eyelids grew heavy. He watched lazily as the snowfall danced around against the window. And just as he was about to fall asleep, a blinding flash of red and blue lights knocked him back to full alertness. Four cop cars screeched past toward the stadium. Bobby no longer felt tired.