Jax popped his head out of the huddle, pointed his finger directly at Jace and glared harshly. Jace raised his hands in surrender laughing and someone smacked Jaxon in the head to get him to focus. The crowd laughed at the drama of the Riley twins.

By the time it was halftime, the other team was up fourteen points. The guys walked off the field to head to the locker rooms. Cole looked frustrated and Jaxon just looked pissed. As I had suspected, Dalton wasn’t throwing to Jaxon at all and Cole was constantly being outnumbered, so it was hard for him to connect with the ball. Jace had stopped paying attention to the girls around him and had leaned forward in his seat the majority of the game. Even though he claimed he didn’t miss it, I could see the wheels spinning in his head. His hand would move every once in a while to indicate a throw or fight off a block.

“I’m guessing if you were out there as quarterback, you would have handled that differently?” I asked.

“Absolutely. Either Dalton is blind or he’s just an asshole,” he ground out.

Quinn stood up in her seat and pulled on her shorts. “Come on guys; let’s go get something to drink.”

We both got up and followed her out. As we walked underneath the stands, we could hear the coaches yelling all the way in the locker rooms. You couldn’t pay me to be those guys right now. Jace bought Quinn and me a soda and himself water. We hung out under the stands talking to other classmates. Quinn and I had found Sophia and some of the other girls that Quinn works out with. Some people were talking about where the parties were after the game. All the Frat and Sorority houses were on a three-week party ban. The school wanted them to prove that they could study and maintain decent GPAs. I didn’t understand the point. So what, they would behave for a couple weeks then go right back to having parties every other night?

Quinn started saying that maybe we could have people over to our place. I just shrugged. Every once in a while, we’d have people over; it always got over crowded and someone was always trying to get into our rooms to have sex.

“You can lock the door with you and me inside it, babe,” Micah said, putting his arm around my shoulders and I watched as Sophia’s eyes locked on his arm.

“Not a chance, unless you want to watch that new Channing Tatum movie with me,” I laughed.

He leaned in to whisper in my ear, “Come on, Em, I could do that thing that makes you scream real loud.” I know I looked flustered; I couldn’t help it. Micah was good, but it wasn’t happening. I started shaking my head.

Jace slipped his hands, followed by the rest of his body, in between the two of us, forcing Micah to take a wide step back away from him. “Come on, Em and Q; let’s get back to our seats.” He looped my arm through his elbow and walked off with Quinn following on the other side of him.

“Real smooth. I don’t need someone intervening for Jaxon, he does that enough. You know we aren’t together, right? I can talk to whoever I want about whatever I want.” Although I was glad he rescued me away from Micah, I didn’t want him to think that I was Jaxon’s. I don’t need someone trying to maneuver me away from guys when Jaxon wasn’t around to do it himself.

“I know that Jax cares about you a lot.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll never be together, like that.”

He gave me a confused look. “Why wouldn’t you?” he asked. “You’re perfect for each other.” Quinn stepped up next to us with a beaming smile, looking victorious.

His look told me that he hadn’t heard about my rules. “You’re a strange girl, Em.”

“He knows all of this about me. I told him basically my life story the first day we met,” I countered.

“Just don’t hurt him, he doesn’t need that again.” He looked right at me when he said that and my heart started beating through my chest. What did he mean by ‘again’? Wasn’t that what I was trying to prevent here? How come no one understood me, and more importantly, how come I was starting to not understand myself?

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid!” I snapped in return. I took a deep breath and stepped back from the two of them, “I’m going to the restroom, and I’ll meet you at the seats later.” Jace gave me an apologetic face.

Quinn tried to follow but I shook my head at her, and told her I’d be right back. Instead of going to the restroom, I walked all the way out to our car. Lying down in the back seat, I stared up at the fabric on the ceiling. What the hell was I doing with Jaxon anyway? Why did I bother getting close like this with someone. Without breaking my rules, I was somehow breaking them. Every time Jax was near me, it was like everything I had tried to push away in the past was rushing at me full speed. The problem is, I enjoy every second I spend with him. We’ve talked about this; we’ve talked about what my needs are. He seems to understand and he continually tells me he can handle it. I just needed to stop listening to everyone else around us.

By the time I made it back into the stadium, they were already ten minutes into the third quarter. The concessions and the walkway under the stands were completely vacant, besides the few stragglers trying to finish off their cigarettes before they went back to their seats. From under here, you could feel the rumble of the crowd above. Some were bouncing their feet, most were cheering loudly. I walked up the stadium stairs to where Quinn and Jace were sitting. I heard Jaxon immediately, even before I could see him.

“Well where the f**k is she, what if something happened to her?” he sounded panicky and irritated with whomever he was talking. “You said she went to the restroom fifteen minutes ago.” Had I really been gone that long?

Jace responded, “Dude, chill out, she’ll be back.” When I walked toward our seats, I saw Jax leaning up on the railing barriers talking to them. He had his helmet on like he needed to be on the field at a moment’s notice. His last name was called and with a frustrated breath, he turned around and hustled for the field before he could see that I’d made it back.

“Where the hell have you been? I just tried to call you!” Quinn yelled at me as I sat down between her and Jace.

“I needed a breather; I must have left my phone in the car.”

“The car? You were supposed to be in the bathroom!” Quinn screeched at me.

“Jax was freaking,” Jace began. “I didn’t mean to make you mad, I’m sorry.”

“Everything’s fine, Jace. You didn’t do anything wrong. Protecting your brother is what family does.”

“But I shouldn’t have even opened my mouth about the two of you. He’ll kick my ass for meddling.”

“Let’s just forget about it, okay?” I begged. He nodded his head and patted my leg.

“Man, I wish he would have seen you before he headed back out there. Now he’s going to be distracted,” Jace complained.

At that, I stood up with my hands above my head clapping and yelled, “WOOO GO JAXON!” He was all the way on the opposite side of the field but his head instantly stood up from his ready stance and looked directly at me. From all the way over here, I could see his piercing blue eyes. He gave me the “okay” signal with his fingers, gesturing if everything was all right with me. I gave him the signal right back and he nodded his head and smiled, then returned to his ready position. “I think he’ll focus now,” I said to both of the wide-eyed busy bodies on either side of me.

Ten minutes later, Cole scored a much-needed touchdown. Quinn and I jumped up and down. Jace clapped but he gave a determined look to Jax. I watched as he nodded back to his brother. This twin communication was bizarre to watch. When our team got the ball back, all of the offense including Cole and Jax lined back up on the field. The ball was snapped back to Dalton and he launched it toward Cole almost instantly. Cole caught it between his hands and tucked it in protectively. He started shuffling trying to get down the line. He didn’t see it coming, but one of the defenders came barreling for him from his right side. I heard Quinn’s intake of breath right before the crash. When the guy smashed into the side of Cole, the ball flew high in the air and Cole hit the ground hard, straight on his back.

All of a sudden, Jaxon was in the air and he snatched the ball so fast almost none of the defenders noticed. By the time they realized the ball didn’t come down with Cole, Jaxon was half way down the field. Everyone in the stands stood, yelling for him to run faster. Jaxon passed the end zone effortlessly without even being touched. He let the ball slip through his fingers and pointed right at me with a huge grin on his face. I pointed back to him and clapped. I’ve got to hand it to this sexy man, he was good. He didn’t stand down in the end zone and celebrate either.

When I looked over at Quinn, my smile dropped. She was still staring out into the field. When I followed her line of sight, I noticed Cole was still lying down flat on the ground. During his fall, his helmet must have been knocked off. Jace, Quinn, and I immediately moved up against the railing. Jaxon was sprinting back to Cole’s side. In his haste, he slid on the ground on his knees to stoop right next to Cole and pulled his helmet off as well. We all watched as Jaxon cupped Cole’s face and practically yelled at him in obvious frustration. Quinn took a stuttering breath in. I think Jace was about to jump over the side and take off running; his knuckles were pale white gripping the railing. The coach and the team medics were already jogging across the field.

Then Jaxon reached out his palm and Cole grabbed it. When Jaxon pulled him to a standing position and we all watched him walk normally back to our side of the field, everyone jumped up and cheered. Quinn let out a long relieved breath. I looked at her and noticed a tear slip down her face, but she quickly batted it away before anyone else could see. When Cole reached the bench, he sat down and chugged water from a squeezable plastic bottle. Jaxon walked by, patted him on the back, and sat next to him. Jace obviously couldn’t take it anymore; he swung his legs over the railing and went to sit on Cole’s opposite side. We watched as they all talked to each other. Cole shook his head at something Jace said and both he and Jaxon burst out laughing. It was a relief to watch; laughing meant Cole was okay.

Quinn and I both sat back in our seats to continue watching the remainder of the game that had resumed while we were glued to watching Cole recover from his knockout. I was a little disappointed none of the guys had come over to talk to us about what had happened. They hadn’t even looked back our way. They really were each other’s best friends sitting there in their own little world, talking and joking around.

The score was tied and the other team had the ball. Their quarterback was almost immediately sacked and the ball was returned to us. I was surprised to see Cole suiting up and going back out there.

“It must not have been that bad, Quinny,” I told her while pointing at him.

“I still don’t think he should be going back out.”

For the next two plays, Dalton threw straight to Jaxon as he ran it down the field getting closer and closer to the end zone. He must have deemed him fit to catch his precious golden boy throws, after that last touchdown. I don’t know why I was extremely uncomfortable watching Jaxon get tackled. I’d seen Cole get tackled numerous times. This was football and it was expected. Each time I watched him go down, my stomach dropped a little bit more and without realizing it, I grabbed Quinn’s hand on a particularly hard hit.

“It’s not so easy when you care about them is it?” Quinn squeezed my hand back.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said avoiding her eyes.

“Whatever, your heart knows what I’m talking about, and one day your brain will catch up.”

“My heart is for pumping blood not for caring about a boy and whether he gets hurt or not.” I realized how unconvincing I must sound when Quinn just rolled her eyes at my response.

In a trick-play, we watched as Dalton handed off the ball to Jaxon. He took off in a dead sprint right into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. I hope he didn’t think he was getting more than a hot air balloon ride for the additional touchdown. One of the defenders chasing Jaxon couldn’t stop his momentum and barreled right over, knocking him to the ground.

I stood up and impulsively yelled, “Hey!” It just popped out of my mouth. Jace turned from his spot on the bench and smiled perceptively up at me. I rolled my eyes at him while Quinn covered her laugh with her hands. These two were getting on my nerves.

Jaxon was the first one to stand back up. He surprised us all when he reached his hand out and helped the other guy to his feet. So many of these guys would have yelled or even started a fight with that guy for knocking them over. Not Jaxon though, he helps them up and laughs along with them.

The game ended shortly after that and we had won thanks to Jaxon’s last touchdown. For obvious reasons, I loved when we won games, but mostly I loved it because the guys were in such a better mood afterward. Last year, we lost two games, and Quinn and I avoided Cole like the plague for the rest of the weekend. Usually by Monday, he had cooled off. We learned the hard way freshman year though, when he used to snap at us over absolutely nothing. It took us a while to realize that his attitude was related to football.

The team was walking along the field after the game shaking hands with the opposing players. Quinn and I found the stairs and went down to meet up with them. She was walking at a much quicker pace than I was, and I had to take longer strides to keep up with her. I smiled as I watched her dodge and dart through the other players to get to Cole. When we reached him, she stepped right up to him and put her hands on each side of his face. I didn’t hear what she asked, because I was still a couple of paces behind. His face became serious instantly and he nodded his head looking directly into her eyes. They stared at each other for a bit, until surprisingly, Quinn took the initiative and crushed her lips to his. I froze in my steps.