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Running into Coverage Ch.05

Marcus and Hadley make it official yet very unofficial
The common trend for this is a one, Estragon. Thank you x … I seem to have lost count! As always, your thoughts, comments and feedback is always appreciated.

Enjoy

M

****

Pendicon Field was packed to the brim with raging fans as they waved crimson banners and silver flags, chanting cheers and toasting beers. The Cougars were playing the Lions and it was expected to be a bloodbath. The underdog of the season managed to creep up to third in the division, making them only two games behind the Cougars. With the playoffs in closing, every game counted more than the last. Being on home turf, Marcus knew they had the advantage. He stood on the sidelines, tapping his cleats on the grass, anxious to get on the field as the anthem was being sung. His helmet dangled at his side, the words barely trickling from his mouth as he focused on the first run of plays.

With his mind cleared, Marcus waited for the Lions to kick off, before rushing the field with the rest of the offense. He knew the game was going to be tough to the bitter end, but something kept him focused and confident that the Cougars would come ahead. Up in the stands, his parents had flown in from Sonoma and were sitting mid-way up off the forty-five yard line. It wasn’t often that they were able to make it out for games, but when they did, it made all the difference in the world. When the Buckeyes had gone to the Rose Bowl, because it was televised his parents had decided to go. While playing for Houston, they never made it down to catch his first seasons in the NFL. Resentment didn’t fill him, but he often got tired of them never coming to watch him play the game he loved. They worked hard and wouldn’t accept anything from him so they could retire early if they wanted to.

A sliver of amusement coursed through him as he thought about what was going on over by the forty-five yard line. Not only were his parents in town to watch the Cougars play, but Hadley was sitting with them. Closing his eyes, Marcus had to fight the urge to smile at the current state of affairs. Three weeks had passed since that dreadful day and yet their ‘friendship’ was something more to them than either would openly admit. Even though they weren’t officially together, both didn’t see anyone else, openly or on the side, or even talk about the subject. Hadley knew he was constantly being bombarded by women wherever he went, especially with the Cougars winning and heading into the playoffs. Even so, she never let it show to him that she was upset. Nor did he, fully knowing that she was out meeting with more people as she started networking on days they weren’t able to meet up. At the end of each day, if they weren’t sleeping in the same bed, they at least made the effort to call or text to each other. It might have been an unwritten agreement between the two, but it was definitely an agreement.

As Pelton signaled the fair catch and caught the ball, Joey Seton patted Marcus on the back of his shoulder pads and together they ran out onto the field. Even if the Cougars lost against the Lions, they were still guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, which could make breathing in the locker room easier. Nothing in the world could shake his confidence right then. He stood in the formation waiting, and as the ball got snapped to Seton, he ran to a potential gap, passing one of the defensive linemen and jinked to the sideline. A Lion rushed him, pulling at his jersey until he fell close to the forty-third. Seton passed the ball to Tjenko, and the pass gave the Cougars fifteen yards to play with.

As the plays went on, Hadley pursed her lips and took another long sip from the light draft. Seeing Marcus taken down with no penalty called was enough to make her want to drink; after watching enough hours of Sports Center the game started to make sense. She would never admit it to him, though she was willing to bet that he already knew that.

Marcus’ parents had come into town that Friday evening, and she had taken the Sunday off in order to come to the game with them. Unfortunately, because of her erratic work schedule she wasn’t able to meet up with them the night before for dinner, and had to meet them at the stadium. She had openly displayed her annoyance with her job and Marcus when he simply laughed at her work schedule. Rather than being upset, he had been understanding. Something that she would never get used to with him, even if he gave her a hard time with it all. He always had a casual view of things; however they turned out, it seemed like it didn’t matter to him.

Taking the bus up to Rockford had been long and interesting. She sketched out a few lines that could be a start to something new, but kept them in the sketchbook in her bag. When she sat on the bus, she knew she was in it for the long haul with devoted Cougars’ fans. While she drew on her sketchpad, her ears opened up with natural curiosity for the ranting and raving of the fans sitting all around her. When Marcus had mentioned his parents coming to town, she didn’t think anything of it. The other night as they lay in his bed together, she could see right through him and how important it was for her to be there with them. It prompted her to talk to her boss and switch shifts.

Meeting up at the entrance to Pendicon Field could have gone one of two ways. Marcus had prepped her to walk into the stadium being bubbly and energetic. He said any other way, would only cause his parents to wonder what he was doing in his spare time. Hadley knew that Marcus was being a smartass about it all, but he also only saw things with a black or white mentality, never seeing the grey in between. Hadley lived off that, and as she walked up the front stairs leading to stadium, it was the only option available to her. There she saw a man who looked nothing like his son except for his body structure and a woman who bore a strong resemblance to his physical features, causing her to step back for a moment. They were both well-dressed and laughing with each other before she got to them. Much like his son, Norm Jennings was tall, but lanky where Marcus was muscular. To prepare for the cold, he wore black dress pants and a warm wool jacket. Felicia Jennings was also wearing dress pants but rather than a big jacket, she wore a thicker blazer and added a crimson scarf to keep her neck warm. But also to show support for her son.

Hadley recognized them immediately and walked up without thinking about how she would introduce herself or what they would talk about for the entire game. The bottoms of her boots clacked as she walked over to the Jennings’. Predictably, she was wearing a short frilly skirt but kept her legs warm with a pair of lacy tights. Her small feet were tucked away in a pair of grey boots she had treated herself to as soon as she sold an art piece in Chicago. It had happened on a whim, and she still couldn’t believe her luck. One of the regulars at the coffee shop mentioned a website that promoted local artists from fashion to painting. Hadley got home that night and reached out to the group, sending pictures of her work. Within a couple of days someone purchased one of her smaller pieces and she was able to buy something nice for herself, in the form of another pair of boots on sale.

As she walked up to his parents smiling, it was his mother who laughed outright causing Hadley to falter. Norm quickly responded to ease the air, extending a hand to her, “you must be Hadley.”

Hadley nodded while Felicia apologized, “I’m sorry, excuse me.” She glanced over at her husband and lifted a brow before turning back to Hadley. “We’re twins.”

Not understanding her, Hadley stood in confusion. Felicia walked over and patted the arm of her crimson cropped jacket. It took her a minute to connect the pieces before she started laughing. Looking at both of Marcus’ parents she spoke in between laughs, “Team spirit!”

Now with it being half-way through the first quarter, she sat next to Felicia on the far end and watched as all-pro Tremaine Jackson sacked the Lions’ quarterback. With it being a full blown Chicago winter, the air was freezing. Hadley was still adjusting to the temperatures and climate differences from Seattle and felt no shame in laughing at the shivering antics Norm griped about.

Patting her husband’s knee, Felicia spoke to Hadley. “I always forget how exciting the live games are.”

“Believe me, I’m not one for sports and can’t get over the fact that I’m missing work right now for one.” The women laughed together as the ball traveled thirty yards in favor of the Cougars. Norm smacked his own knee in approval.

“Marcus mentioned this morning that you were going to come to dinner this evening.”

“Yes. I had wanted to meet with you all last night and didn’t want to miss another while you are visiting.” As the words left her mouth, Hadley was a little shocked at herself for saying the truth out loud.

“He talked a great deal about how you were out at an opening or something last night. Were you showing your own works?”

“Unfortunately, no. I had heard about another artist who was displaying several pieces and was curious about what their theme was or if they had one. It was supposed to be a night of meeting fellow artists I guess, but I ended up paying more attention to the art on the walls.”

“I imagine it must be difficult finding representation or a place to house your artwork.”

“It shouldn’t be all that hard, people keep telling me it will happen when it’s right. I’m not really bothered and am sort of enjoying exploring the art scene first.”

“I take it you have seen Marcus’ condo.”

“Oh yes, it surprised me at first but now I’m used to it.”

Norm dropped his elbows to his knees and leaned forward, “the poor kid, Felicia would take him all over to look at some pieces.”

Hadley laughed as Felicia playfully smacked his shoulder. “You were right there with him on plenty of those visits, Norman, and you know it.”

“Sure was, thank god they served wine.”

Raising their son on the sunny side of Sonoma County had its many perks. There was a valley of vineyards, however the towns in between were eclectic; each holding a creative charm that brought out the inner enthusiast in many residents. Often Felicia would pack her son and husband in the car on a weekend and they would drive along the coast, stopping at different towns, rummaging through shops and picnicking at parks. Once Marcus was old enough and began playing sports on a higher level, those trips slowly ended. The family would spend time watching him play, or figure how to get him to the next level for the state championship. She and Norm had worked very hard in making sure they could provide for Marcus so that he could get selected for a good college. Getting to actually watch games was difficult with their schedules, as they both seemed to work more than a standard sixty-hour week. When he was drafted, Felicia hired an assistant for a few days so that they could attend a game when he played for Houston. Since he had been playing for Rockford, they had only made it out for a single game last season before attending that Sunday.

“Marcus has always had a great eye with everything he does. It shouldn’t surprise us that his job is to actively find an open spot on the field and run to it.”

“That would be difficult too, who would voluntarily place themselves in the line of three hundred pound tacklers?”

Norm laughed at Hadley and was enjoying how uninhibited she was. She spoke what was on her mind, but was also very welcoming and genuine in regards to not only his son but he and his wife. During half-time all three got up to stretch their legs and walk around the stadium. All of them claimed hypothermia had settled in. Hadley found herself completely relaxed around Marcus’ parents and couldn’t believe that when the game ended there had not been a moment of unwanted silence or one uncomfortable moment. As they stood near the closed concession stands, keeping warm and talking about the 23-10 win over Detroit, Hadley’s phone started to ring.

“Congratulations, Marcus.”

She was greeted with a warm laugh. “Thanks. You survived the bloodbath.”

Hadley scoffed at him, the noise interrupting a conversation his parents were having. “The game wasn’t that bad, you won.”

“Bloodbath Jennings. How did it go?”

Keeping her voice low, she laughed before speaking. “It’s a wonder they survived you. Are you almost ready?”

In the background she could hear a bunch of lockers slamming shut and guys shouting back and forth to each other. “Yeah, you can start walking down to the private lots. My parents have the passes to get in, but call me if you have any trouble.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll see you in a few minutes.”

****

Marcus stood by a cement pillar with his arms crossed over his chest waiting as everyone came down to meet him. Even he couldn’t believe the turn of events in the game causing the Cougars’ victory. The Lions had gotten the first touchdown early in the second quarter and kept the lead up until the half. Coach Soliano went over several tactical errors in the locker room and got the guys amped to get back on the field and on track. By the third, the defensive line was able to read through and break down the Lions’ offense with several unexpected interceptions. Mid-way in the quarter the Cougars finally got up on the score board with a touchdown, which quickly became two. By the end of the fourth it was the Lions who aimed for a field goal just to earn extra points for the game even though it was a lost cause.

When he saw his parents walking with Hadley, a tightness formed in his chest, finally admitting to himself that he liked seeing the three of them together. They were talking about something until reaching him; Norm came around and clapped his shoulder before hugging his son.

“Great game, Marcus. One more to go.”

Marcus nodded at his father; Felicia stepped around to hug and congratulate her son. Hadley stood behind them watching until he wrapped his arms around her for a quick embrace. All day he had ached to see her, and knew some of his tension of not seeing Hadley added to his focused game on the field. Several times during the drive to the city, he had wanted to reach over and hold Hadley’s hand but didn’t.

He did however, kiss her neck when removing her jacket at the restaurant. Hadley shot him a death look but he played dumb by shrugging his shoulders. A reservation had been made at Boka, a highly prized eatery that was expensive and still casual. He picked the restaurant not only because it was one of his favorite spots in Chicago, but because he knew Hadley would love it. The exposed brick on a few of the walls were carefully decorated with single votives, the off-balanced drapery made the interior feel whimsical. Soon enough the table was filled with a couple of starters and a bottle of wine as they all relaxed from the tension of the game. Oddly, the topic of football was barely discussed until dessert.

“Now Marcus, have you figured out whether you want to go to Kathy’s restaurant opening in March?”

Marcus took his time sipping the whiskey before answering. Both he and Norm had chosen to drink something other than wine. “I don’t really know, I will probably end up going. When does she need to know?”

“She sent you an email a few weeks ago; I would think she’ll need to know by at least sometime after the first of the year.”

“I didn’t get anything from her, but I’ll write her tomorrow before I drop you guys off at the airport.”

Marcus dropped his hand to Hadley’s thigh and rubbed lightly. She turned up and looked at him, “Who’s Kathy?”

Smiling, “my aunt. She’s—”

Felicia interrupted before Marcus could explain. “My closest friend Kathy is opening up a small eatery outside of St. Helena. It’s going to be attached to a vineyard, so there will also be tastings in a wine room. She’s invited the family for a private party before it opens to the public.”

“That sounds amazing. I didn’t realize your whole family was so entrepreneurial.” During the game, Felicia had talked about her job of running a financial consulting firm, and Norm had his own construction business.

“It should be, knowing Kathy. She’s been working with her lawyers for how long?”

Norm leaned back in his chair. “Two years. It’s been a serious hassle for her. It’s looking pretty good though, your Mom and I drove past it the other day.”

Hadley tried her hardest to listen to Marcus talk about his ‘aunt’ Kathy and her restaurant but was transfixed by the warmth spreading from her thigh. After the entrees had been served, he lowered his hand to rest just above her knee. She thanked God they were sitting because she would have been weak kneed to begin with. Throughout the dinner, they had exchanged glances numerous times. When she left to use the washroom, he stood up and pulled her chair for her. Hadley felt like they were on an actual date, only his parents were there. That should have added pressures to her, but she felt fine with them. Her own family was all over the place in a world of dysfunction, and to see other stable people calmed her. As soon as she got to the bathroom she forced herself to take deep breaths to relax and snap back to reality.

Friends do polite things for each other. They go out, meet each other’s friends and families. Repeating that over in her head and applying fresh lip gloss, she returned to the table only to find her glass of wine refilled. Placing the napkin back in her lap, she decided she had been polite enough to Marcus for the night. “I didn’t need another glass of wine.”

His hand fell back to her thigh. “You sure about that one?”

She thought it over for a minute. “What if I wanted a martini or something else?”

Felicia and Norm were watching their son with open curiosity. Hadley laughed at the inscrutable look on his face. “It could have happened, you know.” She took a sip of the chardonnay. “Thank you for the wine.”

Marcus leaned to whisper devilishly in her ear, “You can always make them take it back.”

Shaking her head, she said softly. “No. This is perfect.”

Hadley chose to sip the glass of wine instead of dipping a spoon in the table’s shared white chocolate panna cotta. Felicia was savoring the pomegranate flavoring before she spoke. “Hadley, did Marcus ever tell you about his grandfather?”

They had talked about their families before and she remembered him briefly saying his grandfather was an inspiration but never fully said why. “A little bit but not too much.” Marcus’ hand stilled as he leaned an elbow on the table.

Felicia reached over to her son and patted his hand. “Playing in the NFL is in his blood. When Norm’s father was young, he played for the Rams when they were in Los Angeles. Norm, you should tell her the story, you always tell it best.”

As Norm cleared his throat, Hadley dropped her hand to Marcus’ and curled her fingers around his. “My father grew up outside of Long Beach on the LA side, tossing around a ball like everyone else did. A year or so after high school, he got to play for the Rams as a walk-on. It was a fluke really, he was late to meet with someone about a construction job and wound up talking some guy’s ear off while paying for gasoline.”

Marcus nodded his head and added, “He always could talk to anyone.”

“Anyways, somewhere beyond Mary Janes and probably women they started talking about football. It turned out that he was talking to the General Manager of the Rams at the time. He walked out with an invitation for a tryout that he eventually did well at. Next thing anyone knew he played two full seasons for the Rams. It didn’t last though, as he got drafted for the Korean War and had to quit.”

No wonder Marcus was passionate about playing for the Cougars, or playing at all. Utterly bemused, she asked what position he played. It was Marcus who squeezed her fingers back. “He was an end, a pass-catcher, like Marcus. After Mom passed away we moved him closer and he started watching Marcus play. It’s a damn shame he didn’t live to see the Buckeyes win.”

A little later the SUV pulled up to Hadley’s apartment complex and Marcus got out and walked her to the front entrance. The frigid air caused both of their hands to remain in their pockets; the shrill sound of his mother’s laugh filled the path as his parents laughed hysterically trying to sort out the seatbelts.

Shivering from the cold or from something else, her voice stammered. “Today was too much fun, thanks Marcus.”

Bending down, he wrapped her in his arms and held close for a minute. “Of course, I’m glad you were able to get the day off.”

“Me too.” Looking up, she wanted to stand on her toes to kiss him but didn’t think she should. “You should get back to your parents to make sure they’re alive in there.”

Wanting nothing more than to follow her into her apartment, he sighed with reluctance and nodded. Dropping his lips to hers, they kissed briefly, the action bringing warmth to her cheeks. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She tore herself away from him and left before either could get swept away. Marcus walked back to the SUV, and already knew the conversation that was in store. Felicia waited until he was buckled up to say anything at all.

Rubbing her husband’s thigh, she said. “She’s wonderful, Marcus.”

Heat crept up from his neck and filled his own cheeks. “She’s a real smartass, but I like her.”

Norm laughed at his son. “It takes one to know one. I for one would like to see more of Hadley.”

That was the thought that burned deep in his own mind, because Marcus had wanted to see more of Hadley too.

****

“You thinkin’ about who you’re inviting for Friday night yet, Jennings?”

Hot water splashed down Marcus’ face, and trickled down the drain in the locker room. Fabian’s voice boomed in the large space as he shouted from another side and still Marcus didn’t hear it. They had just played the last game of the regular season against Indianapolis and were both showering the grime from the game. It was a close game, but the Cougars managed take the Colts down late in the third and come ahead 30-27. He turned in the shower and let the scorching water run down his back, soothing a deep red mark that was bound to turn into a large bruise.

It was from a bone jarring hit from the side and he fully intended on taking more Tylenol than needed, but it got the ball down the field thirty-one yards, enough yardage to score a touchdown with the next set of plays. There were loud catcalls and bottles popping throughout the locker room, but none of the noise registered past the pounding in his body. The tackle was fierce and he was thankful the team would have a week off until their next game.

Shutting off the taps, he heard Fabian call out again. “J—you hear me, man? Are you takin’ anyone Friday?”

Fabian was referring to a function that all of the players had to attend in support of the team coming in first in the Division. The coaches came into the locker room with the players right after the game to congratulate them for a comeback season. They mentioned the practice schedule for the week in addition to the gala. Because the following weekend would be devoted to weeding out other teams for the wild card, the Cougars would have another bye week. Practices would continue of course, except for the two-a-days which wouldn’t happen in the post-season. The gala was a black tie event, which meant he would need to rent a tuxedo, something he wouldn’t mind doing.

“I’ll see if Hadley can make it out.”

Rubbing his coarse hair with the towel, he thought it over and hoped she didn’t have anything planned for that night so she could go. Much of the fun with being involved in a sports club was the celebrations for all of the team’s hard work. If she could go, she would be able to see all of the players and coaching staff having a good time outside of the madness on the field. Several of the guys had already met her on multiple occasions, so it wouldn’t seem so unusual to ask.

“I don’t get you guys, man.”

Wrapping the towel around his waist, Marcus walked off of the tiled floors. “What’s not to get?”

Fabian shut off his own shower. “You guys act like you’re together but you’re not.”

“I already told you, we’re friends.”

His teammate scoffed at his casual response and knew his friend better than that. “Friends with benefits.”

“What the hell, Fabian. What does it matter to you?”

“Because she’s cute and feisty as hell. If you don’t do somethin’ someone else will.”

“No one is fucking doing anything with her.”

“Then why the hell aren’t you?”

Marcus ran a hand through his drying hair, trying to remain calm. Whenever he thought about this subject it always pissed him off. Hadley was so damn independent, he didn’t know what she would do if he started a relationship conversation with her. Last week when she spent the day with his parents and then sitting at dinner, something changed between them. Since then, he was anxious until they spoke. All throughout the week, she had sent him messages or started calling him before he got the chance. The Cougars’ last games were at Pendicon Field, so he was able to drop by her apartment or studio whenever practices and meetings let out. They were friends but it was more than that, the way she gripped his hand at the dinner table that night reassured him.

“Look man, I don’t want to piss you off.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t thought to myself, don’t worry about it. Hadley’s different from any other girl I’ve dated, slow works with her.”

“Then do what you gotta do.”

****

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