For once, Adelie can’t save Nate and has to confront her own feelings for him in consequence.
It indeed came quickly and with it another rugby match. Adelie recruited Leslie to come and watch it with her. The sun shone from a bright blue winter sky, and breath formed white clouds. Adelie cradled a cup of hot tea in her hands while she watched the two teams being locked around the centre line. The bodies of the players seemed to be steaming in the cold air.
“The guys are lucky, they’re moving about and don’t get cold.”
Jake collided with the other team’s number five and Leslie winced. “Ouch. Yes, they’re running, but frankly, I’m rather cold than dirty.”
Nate had acquired the ball and made a daring dash across the field, but was tackled at the 20 yards line.
“He’s an antelope.” Leslie was in awe. Adelie choked on her tea.
“What? An antelope?”
“Yes! Graceful, fast… especially fast. Look, Jake is more like a wall, and not at all graceful. But he does a great job keeping the others from scoring.”
Leslie was right, Jake was burly and a vital brick in the defence while Nate truly was the more nimble and quick-footed. The referee’s whistle called for half-time. Adelie’s heart jumped as Nate made eye-contact on his way to the locker room and blew her a kiss. Leslie sighed audibly.
“You’re such a lucky girl. He’s like a knight in the tournament, greeting his favourite lady.”
“Should I drop him my handkerchief as a reward?” Adelie grinned. Nate would get his reward for sure this evening, but probably not in the form of a handkerchief.
“What’s with the dreamy expression?” Leslie poked her into her side. “You really like him, don’t you?”
“Of course, I like him! I’ve always liked him.”
“You’re in love.” Leslie sighed again. “How could you not be in love with such a dreamboat.”
Adelie settled in her seat. “Can’t we just say I’m really into him and ditch the L word? I’m a bit apprehensive when it comes to naming things love. It’s nothing else than hormones anyway.”
“Yeah, sure.” Leslie didn’t sound convinced but dropped the issue.
The second half began with a furious run of Westerhaven, scoring three tries in a matter of minutes, bringing them into a comfortable lead. The crowd cheered and sang and everything looked like it would shape into a great Saturday afternoon. Then Nate collided heads first with another player and didn’t get up again. He lay motionless on the green grass and the others waved frantically for the medics. Adelie’s heart skipped a beat and then proceeded to nearly beat its way out of her chest as they put him onto a stretcher and hurried into the catacombs of the stadium. Everything went mute, and a sick feeling settled in her stomach.
Ever since her brother had to spend half a year in one, Adelie had hated hospitals. A pale Nate still in his dirty Westerhaven blue jersey on crisp white bed linens did nothing to like them any more. He was asleep as the nurse let her into the room, after the doctors had reassured her that he was alright. A mild concussion maybe, they’d keep him overnight for monitoring. For a minute she just sat at the side of the bed and watched him sleep. It calmed her nerves considerably. Carefully she took his hand in hers and squeezed it lightly. His fingers curled around hers, and he opened his eyes. For a moment, he just stared ahead, blinking slowly, then he focused on her, and a tired smile appeared.
“Babe.” His voice was thick and coarse, but to her ears, it was the sweetest sound.
“Hey. How are you?”
“Worst headache of my life.”
“Doctors think you have a concussion. You’ll be off anything for a while.”
“Does this include sex?” The jesting panic in his voice told her that Nate indeed was okay. She pulled her chair closer and bent towards him.
“We might have to take things slow for a week or so?” She softly touched her lips to his, feeling his twisting into a smile. His hand slid around her waist and pulled her even closer. She was unaware of her tears until he cupped her face and asked: “Hey, babe – what’s the matter?”
She nodded and sniffled, wiping her cheeks. “You scared me. I was so worried and felt so helpless.”
“Shhh. It’s okay. I’m okay.” His gaze wandered over her face, drinking her up as if he hadn’t seen her in a while. “You’re cute when you’re worried.”
“Nathan…” Overwhelmed by emotion, the only thing she could do was shake her head and brush his hair.
“Just wanted to cheer you up a little.” He pulled her closer and Adelie buried her face in the crook of his neck, inhaling the mix of sweat, cologne and his warm personal scent as if it was a drug. Leslie’s voice echoed in her head. You’re in love. Who was she trying to fool? Yes, she was completely in love with this boy.