The Soccer Player
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Ben admired his reflection in the mirror, and brushed his blond hair back with a long fingered hand. He looked sharp. The guys and he would have some fun at the party tonight. Maybe Jerry had invited a few good-looking chicks. Yeah, helps my image to get one off in the corner and smooch a little. Gotta keep the guys thinking I'm a super-stud. Can't have 'em guess it's Mac I wish I was kissing.
His thoughts turned to the game coming up in two days. Yeah, better have fun tonight. With the final match coming up, the coach would be all over them if they didn't get a good night's sleep before. He shuddered. Why did it have to be those hicks from that little country school in competition with them for the championship. The coach had said the teachers in their school never gave failing grades to the team members so they could play, and they played so rough it seemed like the ref's whistle never quit blowing. Ben hated the biggest guy on their team for he never missed a chance to rough him up, used his hands, too, when he thought he could away with it.
He heard a car horn out front and dashed down the stairs, glad his father was out. "Hiya, Mac. Where're the other guys?"
"We're picking up Ron. Mick's at his house. The others will be at the drive-in getting some stuff, so we'll go to Jerry's from there. His folks are out of town and he's got a case of beer iced down."
The team partied until Ben looked at his watch. "I gotta run. My old man's goin' to go ballistic if he hears me comin' in this late. Can you drive, Mac?"
Mac's head jerked up; he blinked bleary eyes. "I ... I guess so. Shit, I'm almost totaled."
Ben kept his arm around his friend to keep him upright as they walked to the car. He shoved Mac in the passenger seat. "Gimme the keys, Mac, I'm in better shape than you. I told you not to mix your drinks like that."
"Hunh? Oh." His head fell back against the headrest. Ben fumbled in Mac's pocket for the keys. He lowered the convertible top, hoping the cool air would keep him awake as he drove. As he started the engine, he looked over at his friend who was snoring softly. God, he's so beautiful. I better take it slow so a cop don't stop us. If I get a DUI, my old man will ground me until Mac and me leave for college, and if I put a dent Mac's new car, he'll kill me.
He drove well under the speed limit, even on the highway back into town from the subdivision where Jerry lived. Just then a junker with a powerful engine and glasspack roared past, the lights on high beam. "Asshole," Ben muttered to himself. He paid no attention to the screech of brakes, the car making a U turn, but seconds later a car with high beams was tailgating him. He came to full consciousness fighting the wheel when the car behind bumped the rear of Mac's car. He slammed on the brakes, but not in time to keep the car from diving into the deep ditch.
Oh, shit! Mac's gonna have a fit. How we gonna get out? He said his folks were outta town, and if I call my old man, I'm dead meat.
The door beside him was snatched open and he felt himself being pulled roughly out. "Well, well, looky who we got here. The star of the team." The sneering voice sounded vaguely familiar.
"Yeah," said another voice. "Looks like his buddy done passed out. This guy's the only one can keep us from winnin' the championship. The rest are wimps. Now we got 'im, how 'bout fixin' him so he can't play?"
"Good thinkin'. Let's bust his leg. He won't be so fast then."
"With what? We ain't got nothin'."
"Ain't nobody to your house, Sam. Let's take 'im there. Get that rope and tie 'im up, an' get outta here before his buddy wakes up."
Ben tried to fight them off, but his arms and legs couldn't seem to do what he wanted. A minute or two later he was thrown into the back seat, the doors slammed, the car roared off.
"Wha ... where?" Ben mumbled as he was dragged out of the car and along the ground by his feet.
A huge hand slapped his face. "Go on back to sleep, Star. We're gonna take good care o' you."
His eyes closed when his feet were dropped.
"How you gonna do it, Johnny?"
"Let me think a minute, damn it. I wanna make it good."
"Look, there's the choppin' block. I'll hold his leg on it and you can bust it with the flat o' the axe."
"You a good man, ol' buddy. Gimme another drink."
Sam lifted the bottle and took a long pull. "Shit! It's empty. Lemme get the other one." He staggered to the car and fumbled the pint jar from under the seat, then held it out. "Here."
Johnny took a long drink, dropped the bottle and wiped his mouth. He let out a loud belch. "Damn! Gotta start getting' better stuff 'an 'at."
"Don't go knockin' my old man's shine. 'Sides, I brewed this batch myself. Made it special. Best there is."
"Hope the Feds don' ever fin' your ol' man's still."
Sam grinned a half-drunken lop-sided grin. "Feds!" He snorted. "Them guys so dumb they can't find their dicks when they gotta pee. Le's do it."
"Gimme 'nother drink firs'." He chugged the rest and tossed the jar into the weeds. "Yeah, man. Get ol' super star's leg up there and hol' it."
Sam pulled the lower part of Ben's right leg as far as he could across the top of the large section of tree trunk, then mumbled, "Wait up. Lemme get my belt 'round his leg and this ol' rag unner it. We don't want no blood getting' on things. My ol' man sees it I'm done fer."
"A'righ'" Johnny mumbled. He picked up the axe, staggering under the weight of it in his hands. "Hol' 'im, Sam."
Sam looked up as Johnny lifted the axe above his head. Not so drunk as Johnny, realization came. "No! Wait!" But the axe descended. Sam staggered back, his ears ringing from a terrible scream as he looked in suddenly sober horror at the bloody part of Ben's leg his hands held.
"Oh, shit, you dumb fuck! You done cut his leg off, 'stead of bustin' it." He dropped the leg and ran to pull his belt tighter to stop the blood oozing from the stump. "Help me asshole. Can't let leave 'im here. If he dies, we done murdered him."
"Wha', wha' we gonna do?"
Sam scratched his befuddled head. "Gotta take 'im to the hospital."
"I ain' sayin' take 'im in. Drop 'im in the parkin' lot near the door where somebody'll fin' 'im. This late ain't nobody gonna see us."
Ten minutes later, they had pushed Ben from the car near the emergency entrance. Sam drove to the far end of the parking lot and stopped. He breathed a sigh of relief when a maintenance man came out and let out a yell.
Ben came slowly back into the world. His drowsy eyes looked around the room, coming at last to rest on his father's face. He's crying, Ben thought. He never cries. Wha ... what's going on? He tried to turn and let out a yelp of pain.
His father jumped up. "Don't move, son."
"Wh ... where am I?"
More tears rolled down his father's cheeks, he grasped Ben's hand tightly. "You're in the hospital, son. Who did such a terrible thing to you?"
Ben shook his head. "What? I remember leavin' the party and somehow Mac's car got in a ditch. Somebody pulled me out. I don' remember no more." His eyes closed, a gentle snore passed his lips.
The nurse took his father by the arm and led him out of the room. "I'm sorry, Mr. Dietrich, but rest is the best thing for him now. If it's any consolation, however it was done, it was clean. The doctor only had to trim the stump a little. Ben will heal fast."
He grabbed her arms, tears flowing. "Dear God! He's only just turned eighteen. Why the hell didn't I stay home tonight?"
"Please don't blame yourself, Mr. Dietrich. I'm sure there's nothing you could have done to make a difference. There's a policeman waiting to see you."
The officer was middle-aged. He looked at Ben's father, shaking his head. "I'm sorry as hell, sir, but these kids and their drinking. We found the other boy with his car in a ditch. He was sleeping it off. He finally remembered your son was with him when they left the party. Your son say anything yet?"
Ben's father shook his head. "Too doped up to say much. Said he didn't remember anything after he was dragged out of his friend's car."
"Tough. I hope he remembers something later on this morning. If he don't, most likely we won't ever find who done it."
"You've got to! What kind of monster would take a nice kid like Ben and deliberately ...." He gulped and didn't finish, tears streaming afresh.
"We'll do our best. The sheriff's office is comin' on this, too, in case it happened out in the county. Why don't you go home and get some rest, sir. I'll be glad to take you if you don't feel like driving."
"I'm not leaving my son. Thanks, anyway."
Ben awoke clearheaded. He looked at his father slumped in a chair by his bed. He reached out and touched him on the shoulder. "What's going on, dad? Why'm I here?"
His father jumped up and grabbed Ben's hand. "Don't you remember anything, son?"
Ben shook his head. He tried to move, but groaned and lay back on the pillow.
"Mac and me were on our way home. That's all." He thought a moment. "I seem to remember running in the ditch."
His father squeezed his hand. "Nothing else?"
"No. Why's my leg hurting so bad?"
"Oh, God, son, it's ..." He began to cry again.
"What? Why're you crying, dad? I'm not gonna die, am I?"
"No, Ben. Thank God, no."
"I ..." His father straightened up, then suddenly whipped the sheet back. Tears flowed. "There, son."
Ben raised his head and looked down to see the thick bandage. "Oh, shit! It's my leg."
His father nodded.
"But the last game's tomorrow. I gotta be there. I can't let the guys down. We're gonna win the championship, dad."
"Son, don't you realize your leg's gone just below the knee? You won't be playing soccer any more."
"But I gotta! I ..." Ben grabbed his father and began to sob.
Word spread throughout the school; the soccer team, Ben's best friends, sank into gloom.
"Why the fuck did I ever have that party?" Jerry moaned.
"Shit, man. I shouldn't have got so drunk. If I'd been driving, no way anybody could have caught us." Mac declared.
The coach roared into the locker room. "You sorry bunch of bastards. I oughta suspend the whole bunch of you and forfeit the championship to Centerville."
"Don't, coach. Please." Tom begged. "We gotta win this one for Ben. Poor guy can't play no more."
"You guys better win!" The coach yelled. "If it weren't for Ben's sake, I'd forfeit the game, but he was looking forward to winning the championship so much I'm gonna make you play it. Win it, too. Now get your sorry asses out on that field. And after you win it, you're all gonna go see Ben and take him the trophy, if they'll let a sorry bunch like you in the hospital."
The stadium was packed. As the team came out on the field, the crowd chanted, "Ben, Ben." They gave a huge collective groan when the announcer said, "Substituting for Ben Dietrich in tonight's game is Tom Hendrickson."
Johnny and Sam moved in slow motion. Without their crude forceful playing, Ben's teammates swept to victory, ten to zip. But there was silence in the locker room when they dressed after the game. The coach held the trophy, looking at it and shaking his head.
"Okay, guys, you did it. Ben'll be proud of you. His father told me you could all go see him tomorrow afternoon if you don't stay more'n fifteen minutes. We'll meet here at three and go together. I'm going with you and every goddamn one of you better show up."
Mac handed Ben the trophy as the others looked on. "This is yours, buddy."
"No way. It belongs to you guys. I didn't play."
The coach stepped forward. "The guys voted, Ben. They want you to have it. They won it for you."
Ben grabbed a tissue and wiped his eyes. "Thanks, guys. It means a lot. I'm sorry I let you down."
Seeing Ben's emotion, the coach herded the team out of Ben's room. Mac lingered behind for a moment. He grabbed Ben's hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry about your leg, buddy."
"Stay, Mac. I wanna ask you somethin'."
"Sure." Mac dragged over a chair and sat by the bed, holding Ben's hand.
"We've been buddies ever since we were kids, my leg gonna bother you any?"
Mac grinned. "Hell, no. Can I see it?"
"Long as it's just you." Ben flipped the sheet over. "There's what's left of it."
Mac's hand reached out, then drew back.
"You can touch it when it's healed up, if that's what you were starting to do."
Mac looked him in the eyes. "You know how I close my eyes most of the time when we're making love?"
"Yeah. I always wondered why."
"Don't hate me, buddy, but I gotta tell you, specially now. When my eyes are closed I'm seeing you with just one leg."
Mac shook his head. "No way, buddy. I've been dreaming how beautiful you'd be with stump for me to love. Just thinking of you with one leg gets me off. I'm sorry, but that's the way I am. I can't help it."
To Mac's surprise, Ben grinned. "You remember the time you busted your leg and used crutches?"
"Seeing you on them crutches drove me wild. All I could see was your leg ending at the top of the cast. You were the sexiest stud I ever saw. I was sorry as hell when they took your cast off and you could walk again." He grabbed Mac's hand and put it between his leg and his stump. "See what just thinking about it does to me? Man, I'm aching. I wish you could gimme some head right now, but that damned nurse is gonna come charging in here most any time."
"You felt that way? Why the hell didn't you tell me, buddy?"
"I thought I was the only one got off on one-legged guys."
"Oh, shit, man. I thought the same thing."
"How you think I'll look with a peg-leg?"
"You gonna get one?"
Ben's grin grew broader. "Yeah. I've gotta use crutches 'til my stump heals up, but then I get a choice. The doctor said until I'm ready for a prosthesis I can keep on usin' my crutches, or I can get a peg-leg. Which way you gonna like me best?"
Mac hugged him. "A peg-leg, man! You'd be beautiful on crutches, but on a peg-leg you'll be the sexiest lookin' stud in this whole town. Hell, the whole state! When you get outta here you ain't goin' nowhere 'less I'm along. I can't wait 'til you're well, so's I can show you how I feel about your beautiful stump. I'm gonna move right in your house. Gotta take good care of my one legged buddy."
"Damn right you are. You're gonna have to drive me around 'til I get a car I can drive with one leg, and a lot of other things, too." His smile faded. "Do me a favor, buddy."
"Don't look happy about it if my old man's around. I've never seen him so shook before. He's all I got and he's far more shook than me. Know something? I always wanted just one leg, but I was scared you wouldn't like me that way. I'm glad you told me."
Mac leaned over and kissed Ben. "You ain't gonna be able to play soccer no more, buddy. That gonna bother you?"
"I liked playing, but I wasn't into it like most of the others. I was just doing it for dad and you guys. Now, maybe I can get some serious time on my computer without him yelling I should be getting' some exercise."
Ben was surprised at Mac's wide grin. "I can't wait 'til you get home, buddy. I found something on mine you gotta see."
"No way, buddy. It's gonna be a welcome home surprise for you. I gotta go."
"Two weeks later, Ben sat in his room in front of the computer, his arm around Mac. "Okay, buddy, what's this big surprise I'm supposed to see?"
"This." Mac hit a few keys and sat back with a grin as the pictures filled the screen.
Ben's eyes popped at the sight of guys on crutches playing soccer. "Shit, man! Every one of those guys is one-legged."
"Damn straight. It's an amputee soccer team. You can still play if you want. Take a look at this." Mac pulled up another site filled with pictures of amputees about their own age. "How about this? Some great looking guys here, but none of 'em's beautiful as you." He hugged Ben. "I love you, buddy."
Ben kissed him. "God, Mac, I love you so much. They took the bandage off my stump this morning, want to see it?"
Mac's eyes glowed. "Oh, man, get on your bed and let me undress you. This is gonna be the best day of my life."