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Let The Dust Settle In

Chapter Text


I'm all for love,
but I can't see the light.
Tell me how to do it,
tell me how I'm gonna get it right.
I'm all for love,
but I'll try it again.
I don't wanna give up,
'cause I'm all for love.

It was all Julie Taylor could do not to scream in frustration; Tim Riggins was going to drive her crazy.

They were parked half a block down from her house, where Tim had stopped his truck to give her a goodnight kiss before dropping her off.

That was ten minutes ago, and now Julie was in his lap, her hands buried in his hair and her body pressed close to his. His mouth was on her neck, breathing harshly against her ear, and he had his hands up under the back of her shirt.

"Whoa," Tim gasped, resting his forehead against her collarbone and dropping his hands to her hips.

Slowly, Julie removed herself from his grasp and collapsed back into the passenger seat.

"Whew," she exhaled. Looking down at her dishevelled state, she primly adjusted her clothes.

"Yeah," Tim gruffed, clearing his throat.

Julie glanced over and found that he was watching her. His pupils were huge in the dim light, and his face was flushed. Julie sighed. It really wasn't fair that he was that ridiculously good looking.

"Very Berry is a nice look for you," she said, reaching out with her thumb and wiping some of her lip gloss off his bottom lip. "It really compliments your skin tone."

"You should probably go in," he replied, smiling benignly at her.

"Yeah, I really, really should."

They sat staring at each other, neither one wanting to break away. Julie felt herself leaning in closer.

"Night, Jules," Tim said firmly, pulling away and placing both hands firmly on the steering wheel.

"Okay," Julie said, grabbing her bag. "I can't eat lunch with you tomorrow; I have a calculus test I have to study for. Wanna meet me at work later?"

"What's in it for me?"

"Free fries, obviously."

"In that case, sure."

Julie grinned. "Night, Tim."

"Night, Jules."

Julie hopped down from the cab of the truck, and began walking up the street to her house. Tim started his engine and trolled along slowly behind her in first gear until she got to her driveway. On the front step, Julie turned and waved to him. He smiled and peeled away with a screech of tires.

When Julie got inside, her father was standing in the foyer.

"Hey, honey," he said, looking over her shoulder as she closed the door.

"Hey, daddy," she replied, hanging up her jacket.

"You have a nice time? The movie was good?"

"Yup," she replied, nonchalant.

"Great. Hey, tell you what. Next time Tim drops you off, you tell him there's plenty of room in our driveway, so he doesn't need to park halfway down the street. He can even come in and say good evening, too."

"Okay," Julie replied, smiling sheepishly. "I'll tell him."

"You do that," he said, turning and heading back to the living room, where Tami and Gracie were relaxing on the couch.

"Night, everybody," Julie called, going straight to her room and throwing her bag down. She collapsed face first onto her bed and groaned.

They had now been dating for six weeks. Six weeks of studying with her parents breathing down their necks, six weeks of stolen lunch hour moments in his truck, six weeks of movies and dinners and ping-pong and ESPN and foosball at Tim's and drives out to the cliffs to play what Julie had christened "Beerflog."

Six weeks, and Tim hadn't so much as tried to get a hand in her pants even once.

They made out plenty, when the opportunity arose. But whenever they had the chance to take it further, Tim always managed to find a way to avoid taking advantage of it. The odd time they were left alone at Julie's house, or when Billy wasn't around, or when they drove out to the cliffs. The last time they'd gone out there to pelt beer cans and talk, Julie had made the apparent mistake of putting a hand on Tim's belt buckle when they were sitting in the truck, causing him to immediately mutter something about the time and drive her home with an extremely chaste goodnight kiss all she had to show for her efforts. They hadn't been back out there since.

At first, Julie had been pleased that he'd listened when she told him she wasn't ready to have sex. She figured that was a good sign. But she was starting to feel like maybe something was wrong with them, or with her, and Tim wasn't willing to talk about it. She was starting to wonder if he was even attracted to her. He was Tim, after all, and history indicated that this behaviour was totally out of character for him.

Sighing, Julie was about to get up to get ready for bed when her cell phone beeped.

Rummaging through her bag, Julie located her phone and flipped it open. The bright screen read NEW TEXT MESSAGE FROM TIM. Julie smiled. She had convinced him to get a cell phone a few weeks after they started dating, when she broke the news to him that her parents wanted every possible method of contacting him at their disposal. Much to her amusement, it had taken forever for Tim to figure out how to text, and although he claimed to still think it was stupid, she regularly got funny little messages from him throughout the day. She pressed the button to open the message, wondering if perhaps he was going to follow up their make-out session with a racy text message:

I just saw the coolest looking dog. :)

She snapped the phone shut and tossed it back in her bag. Rolling over, she pressed her pillow against her face and groaned again.

No, seriously. Tim Riggins was going to drive her absolutely crazy.

***

"Billy!" Tim shouted, dumping his things by the door and kicking the door shut.

"Keep it down; I'm right here," Billy replied from his prostrate position on the couch, perturbed.

Tim strode over and grabbed a beer from the six-pack sitting on the coffee table, cracking it open and collapsing into his favourite chair.

"Tell me this isn't the last beer," he said, turning his attention to Sports Center.

"No, there's more in the fridge," Billy replied, craning his neck to look at his brother. "What's got your panties in a bunch?"

"Nothing," Tim mumbled.

Billy squinted at him for a moment, before a smirk spread across his face. "Sexual frustration starting to get to you?"

"Shut up, Billy," Tim scowled.

"Why don't you just bang her already?" Billy asked, looking back at the TV. "She's cute and hot and obviously into you."

"I know that," Tim replied, glaring at his brother. "I just... you know."

"No, I don't know. What?"

"Never mind," Tim huffed, standing up and stomping off to his bedroom.

"Come on, Tim," Billy called after him, laughing. "Quit being such a baby."

Tim ignored his brother, closing his bedroom door and putting his beer down on the cluttered dresser. He glared at the messy room.

Billy was right – the sexual frustration was starting to get to him. He hadn't gone this long without sex since he lost his virginity. There had been a stretch there, when he was dating Tyra and messing around with the rally girls, when having sex had been like breathing. This whole no sex thing hadn't been so bad during the football season, but now that he couldn't use games or two-a-day practices to spend his pent-up energy, it was harder.

It didn't help that Julie was coming onto him pretty much constantly, either. It was getting to the point where Tim hesitated to spend time alone with her, because he knew that at some point she would push things further and he'd feel like he had to stop it.

Tim ran a hand through his hair and sat down on the edge of his bed, nursing his beer. He wasn't sure what his problem was. It wasn't that he didn't want to sleep with Julie; he did. Frankly he thought about having sex with her what felt like every second of the day.

The problem was that a lot had changed since a year ago, or even six months ago, and he wasn't so dumb that he hadn't figured out that sex could really screw things up. He'd never had a relationship with a girl that wasn't based partly or completely on sex. It was as much a surprise to him as anyone else, but he wanted things to be different with Julie.

Experience had proven that his usual approach to relationships didn't work out so well, and he had way too much riding on their relationship to screw it up. Things had never worked out with Tyra, even when he finally really tried. The whole thing with Lyla was a mess from the beginning. He'd thought he and Jackie could make it work, since they were pretty good together and Bo liked him, but that never went anywhere.

When Coach and Mrs. Coach gave them their tentative blessing, Tim knew that was a big deal. These were the same parents who had reservations about Matt Saracen, of all people. Tim took a good, hard look at things and decided that whatever he thought was a good thing to do, whatever he would automatically have done in the past, he was going to do the exact opposite. It was the only plan he could come up with that would maybe, just maybe, convince the Taylors that he was a decent guy.

It wasn't all about her parents and being a good boyfriend. It was more than that. He loved Julie. He was crazy about her, had been for months. She was smart and pretty and sexy as all hell in this weird, understated kind of way where he figured she probably didn't even know that everything she did drove him crazy. She was passionate and funny. She listened to him and laughed at his jokes, took him seriously and helped him with his homework without making him feel like he should probably still be in kindergarten.

He was sure that no one understood him and accepted and tolerated him the way Julie did; no one ever had. Not even Jay or Billy. In the short time they'd been dating, he'd told her things he'd never told anyone before. She had become his best friend.

Tim knew he wasn't the brightest guy around, but he didn't need to be told that Julie was his chance. He wasn't about to screw it up. Not this time.

***

Julie nudged a lukewarm Tater Tot across her plate and sighed, trying to concentrate on the chemistry homework spread out on the lunch table in front of her. It was three days since her last date with Tim, and she was finding it hard to concentrate on her schoolwork.

"You know," Tyra piped up from across the table, looking up from her own homework, "I used to use my lunch hour for important things like going to the mall or cruising the basketball team."

Julie smiled. "I apologise for my lameness. Am I keeping you?"

"Shut up, you know what I mean," Tyra grumbled, frowning down at her homework. She passed her notebook over to Julie. "Does this answer look right? Something's not adding up. Literally."

"Ugh, algebra," Julie shuddered. "Not my forte. You should probably ask Landry."

"Hm," Tyra agreed noncommittally, taking the notebook back and turning her pencil over to erase her work and start over.

"What, are you two off again?"

"I honestly have no idea," Tyra sighed. "Whatever, you know?"

Julie observed the tense angle of her friend's downturned head. Best to just let it lie for now, obviously.

"Hey Julie, Tyra," came a voice from beside the table. Julie looked up to see Megan Baxley, one of the senior rally girls. Tyra didn't respond to the greeting, instead merely raising an eyebrow at the girl before resting her chin in her hand and pasting a flinty smile on her face.

"Hey," Julie replied, somewhat wary. "What's up?"

"Not a lot, just thought I'd come over and say hi."

"Oh, okay. Hi," Julie said, trying to ignore the way Tyra was stomping firmly on her toes under the table.

"So listen, is Tim going to be at the car wash next weekend?" Megan asked, obviously trying to seem casual.

"What car wash?"

"Oh. I thought he would have told you... Well, anyway, we're having a car wash next Saturday to do some fundraising for the Panthers."

"Isn't football season over?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, aren't there some other sports you could have little bake sales and raffles for? Girls' sports, maybe?" Tyra interjected.

Megan shot Tyra a dirty look before turning back to Julie.

"We just wanted to know whether Tim's gonna be there. We were hoping he could help us wash his truck and get some good pictures for the yearbook. Like last year, I mean."

"I don't think those pictures were for the yearbook," Tyra muttered, looking back down at her textbook.

"Um, I really have no idea," Julie said, with an indifferent shrug. "He's not much of a joiner."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Megan giggled, causing both Tyra and Julie to glare at her. They were prevented from responding, however, by another new arrival at the table.

"Hey ladies," Tim said, coming up behind Megan with his (probably empty, Julie surmised) backpack over one shoulder and an overloaded plastic lunch tray in his hand. He stepped around Megan to sit down next to Julie, immediately beginning to scavenge her tray for unwanted Tater Tots.

"Hi Tim," Megan chirped. "We were just talking about you. I was asking Julie here whether you were going to be at the car wash on Saturday, but she didn't seem to know."

All three girls turned and looked at Tim expectantly. He stared blankly up at Megan, frowning around a mouthful of Tots.

"Uh," he mumbled, turning to crack open one of the two root beers on his tray, "I actually have no idea what you're talking about. Sorry."

Megan stared back at him, stupefied, before turning a glare on Tyra and Julie. She spun on her heel and stomped off to the table full of rally girls at the other end of the cafeteria.

Julie turned and looked at her boyfriend, who was studiously assembling a taco on his plate. "Did you seriously not know about this car wash?"

"I think I got an email about it, but I dunno. I never check that thing. Who cares?" he shrugged. He glanced over and met her eyes, his gaze warm and unconcerned. Smiling, he leaned in to kiss her. "Lookin' cute today, JT."

Julie rolled her eyes, but kissed him back, letting her hand rest on his thigh as he went back to eating his lunch.

"Do you mind?" Tyra sighed, glowering at Tim. "I'd like to actually keep my lunch down today, if it's not too much to ask."

Tim merely grinned at her, causing Tyra to turn her scowl heavenward as though pleading for a lightning bolt to shoot down from the sky and do away with him. Julie smiled at her friend. Tyra still wasn't Tim's biggest fan, but in truth there were no hard feelings, and she tried to tolerate him for Julie's sake.

"Charming as your company is, Tim, I think I'm going to leave you two lovebirds to your lunch and see how much of this I can cram before my algebra test this afternoon," Tyra said, gathering her things. "Later, y'all."

"Later, Tyra," Julie replied. She watched Tyra walk out of the cafeteria, then turned back to Tim. "So are you going to go to the carwash?"

"Nope," Tim said, stealing another Tot from her tray.

"Oh. Don't you kinda have to?"

"It's not like the stuff the rally girls do is official," he shrugged. "I don't have to be there."

"Yeah, but... I mean, I wouldn't care if you did. You know?"

Tim stopped eating and gave her a suspicious sideways glance. "Is this some kinda test?"

"No," Julie replied, raising her eyebrows innocently and looking back down at her homework. "I just didn't want you to think that you can't keep doing the stuff you'd normally do for football simply because we're dating."

Tim was silent for so long that Julie looked up and found him watching her, a smile on his face. "You did not mean a word of what you just said."

"Whatever," she huffed, embarrassed. She was trying to be a cool girlfriend, but apparently Tim was more observant than she gave him credit for.

"Look, Jules – I get what you're saying. But I'm sure as hell not getting out of bed at 9 in the morning on a Saturday so I can stand in some parking lot washing cars. Anyway, don't you work on Saturday?"

"Yeah."

"Then I'm probably gonna sleep in, then come bug you until you get off work. All right?"

Julie exhaled, blowing her bangs up out of her eyes. "All right."

"Sweet. So, Tyra mentioned something about an algebra test this afternoon. I'm in her class. You think that's a big one, or...?"

Failing to look stern, Julie rolled her eyes and pelted him with a Tater Tot.

***

"Get up, Riggins!" Coach barked from the sidelines, for what seemed like the hundredth time that afternoon. Groaning in pain, Tim hoisted himself up from the turf.

"Come on!" Mac chimed in. "We don't got all day here, Riggins!"

Tim jogged back to the line of scrimmage so that they could run the drill again. The stupid, punishing drill that they'd been doing all practice, the drill which ended with him face down on the thirty yard line every single time.

He glanced over at Coach as he passed, but the man's sunglasses obscured his expression, and his face was as hard and impassive as ever.

Frowning, Tim took his place and crouched into position. This kind of thing had been going on for weeks, ever since they resumed practices after playoffs and winter break. Coach was working him hard, harder than Smash or Santiago or even Saracen.

He couldn't help but wonder if it didn't have something to do with dating Julie. Had he done something wrong? He thought he'd been doing a pretty good job of not being a total screw-up. Hadn't he?

The play was called and the ball was snapped to Matt, who shovel-passed to Smash. Tim sprinted down the field with all his might, trying to block Smash. But the defensive end, a sophomore named Crawley, came shooting out of nowhere and took Tim out before he had a chance to react. Tim skidded hard into the turf, picking up grass and mud in his grill.

"Damn it," he swore, giving an annoyed little shove to get Crawley off his back.

"What the hell, Riggs?" he heard Smash scolding. Tim stood up slowly to see his teammate walking towards him, his hands empty. Tim scowled. He was always in for an earful any time Smash ended up with empty hands.

He didn't have time to reply, though, because Coach was calling him over to the sidelines. He pulled his helmet off and jogged over. Coach continued to stare out at the field, not looking directly at Tim.

"You're all over the place out there, Riggins," he said simply.

"Yes, sir," Tim replied. He couldn't really disagree.

"Go do a lap of the field, clear your head, then get back in there."

Tim stared at Coach for a moment before dropping his helmet on one of the benches and doing as he was told.

The man wouldn't even look at him. This definitely had to be about Julie.

Tim did his lap and kept his head down, doing his best to just get through the rest of practice. Thankfully it only lasted another ten minutes before Coach blew his whistle and called it a day. Later, he was on his way out of the showers when Smash started giving him the gears.

"What's with you, Riggs?" Smash asked, falling into step beside him as they headed to their lockers, towels around their waists.

"Nothing," Tim replied, shrugging. "Bad day, I guess."

"Yeah, right. Ain't like you to have three weeks of bad days," Smash said, rolling his eyes. He dropped his voice to a low whisper. "Look, you never played like this before you got together with Coach's daughter. What's the deal? She not giving it up or something?"

Tim stopped and glared at his teammate and sometimes friend. "You better shut your mouth, Williams," he replied, his voice low.

Smash tilted his head, looking exasperated, like Tim was doing this on purpose. "You know it ain't like that, I'm not disrespectin' your girl. I'm just trying to figure out where the hell your head's at."

"None of your goddamn business," Tim snapped, turning away to open his locker, still angry. He would have punched that smug look off Smash's face if it wouldn't have gotten him in even more trouble with Coach than he was probably already in.

"It is my business if it affects this team," Smash continued.

"The season's over and you already got accepted by TMU," Matt piped up, suddenly standing right there. Tim could tell from the stormy expression on his face that he'd heard the entire conversation. "So just drop it already, Smash."

Smash huffed in annoyance but dropped, heading to his own locker to change.

Tim looked up and met Saracen's eyes. The quarterback gave him a tight nod and turned away to root through his locker.

"Maybe this is just me, here, but I don't see what the correlation is between what's happening on the field and what's happening in our romantic lives," Landry observed with great seriousness from Matt's other side, carefully buttoning up his shirt.

"Shut up, Landry," Matt muttered, almost too low for Tim to hear. Tim frowned as he reached for his jeans. Matt probably hated him more than he was letting on, but Tim appreciated that he was being cool about it. Neither of them was about to let Smash run his mouth about Julie and make things more awkward than they needed to be.

Tim finished dressing and began to leave, ready to head home and hit the couch with Billy. Julie was working, and the restaurant tended to be too busy in the evenings for there to be much point in him showing up to visit her. He was on his way out of the locker room when he saw Coach standing in the doorway of his office, watching him.

"Riggins. Come on by my office, I wanna talk to you."

Tim nodded, following Coach into his office, fingering the strap on his duffle bag apprehensively. Had Coach heard what they'd been talking about?

"Shut the door behind you," Coach said, sitting down behind his desk. "Have a seat."

Tim silently did as he was told, dropping his bag on the floor and sitting in the chair across the desk from Coach.

"How's it going, Riggins?"

"How's what going, sir?"

"School, things at home... Everything."

"Uh," Tim frowned, trying to think of what the right answer might be. "Fine, I guess."

Coach regarded him for a moment before leaning forward and placing his elbows on his desk. "What are you doing out there, son?"

Tim blinked. "Out where, sir?"

"On the field, Riggins. Seems to me your head's not really in the game. What's going on?"

"Nothing, Coach. That new defensive play's gonna be a killer. I can't do anything with it."

Coach nodded, looking down at his hands clasped on the desk for a moment.

"You wanna go to college, Riggins?"

Tim stared. Did he want to go to college? What kind of question was that? "I dunno, sir. Guess I never really thought about it."

"You're one of the top ranked high school fullbacks in the entire state of Texas and you've never thought about going to college?"

Tim shrugged helplessly. "Not really, sir. College was always... I dunno. Not for me, I guess."

Coach stared at him hard, working his jaw. Tim could tell he was pissed off.

"Let me tell you something right now, Riggins – college is for everyone. You hear me? Everyone. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that you can't get yourself a scholarship to any number of schools in the next year."

Tim didn't reply, choosing instead to look down at his shoes. He was confused about where this conversation was coming from, where it was going.

"Let me tell you something else, too – I believe that you can do this. I believe that you can go to college. But you have to want it, and you have to work hard."

Tim looked back up at Coach. "Is this about Julie, sir?"

Coach exhaled through his nose, annoyed. "No, this isn't about Julie. I'm not going to treat you any different from my other players, regardless of the fact that you are dating my daughter. No better and no worse. This is about you. It's about what you want, what you're capable of. If you can show me that you care about football, about this team, about your future and yourself, then I will do everything in my power to help you."

Tim swallowed and looked down again. He didn't know how to feel about any of this. Did he want to go to college? He had no idea.

All he knew was that he wanted to do whatever it took to get Coach to keep looking at him like that, like he looked at Saracen and Smash and, not so long ago, Jason.

"Okay," he replied, nodding. "What do I have to do?"

Chapter Text

Tim was making himself a sandwich and Billy was stretched out on the couch, watching TV, when a resounding crash from the front yard made them both jump.

"What the hell was that?" Billy snapped.

"How should I know? Sounded like garbage cans or something," Tim replied, abandoning his sandwich and peering out the front window to investigate. "Hold on."

He opened the front door and went outside, shivering as the cold night air struck him. It was early February, and it was about as cold as it ever got in west Texas.

"Somebody out here?" he asked, a plume of steamy breath swirling around his head as he spoke. Silence greeted him, and he closed the door behind him and went around the front of the garage. The garbage cans which had been lined up against the garage door had been toppled over. Thankfully they had been empty, so there was no mess.

Tim frowned. There was no wind to speak of, so something (or someone) must have knocked them over. A funny little whimpering sound came from his left, and he snapped his head around.

The sound came again, and it was definitely coming from his truck. Or underneath it, at least.

Tim crouched down, peering under the front bumper. Between the two front wheels, he saw a scruffy muzzle resting on two dirty, furry paws. Getting down on all fours, he could see two shining brown eyes watching him warily.

"Hey, dog," he said.

The dog wagged his tail twice, thumping it against the driveway, but didn't move. Tim smiled.

"Come on out, buddy," he said, sitting up. There was no movement from under the truck. "I ain't gonna hurt you."

He watched as two paws, a damp black nose, and eventually two brown eyes crept forward, peering cautiously up at him.

"I mean it," Tim urged, leaning back on his haunches and patting his legs in invitation. "Come here, boy!"

A pause, and then Tim suddenly found himself face-to-face with the big, dirty mutt he had seen several days earlier on his drive home, darting furtively out of a neighbour's side yard. The dog wagged excitedly, his entire body shivering. He swiped a wide, wet tongue across Tim's face.

"Ugh," Tim laughed, gently pushing the dog away. The dog stood back, panting, his face wary but hopeful. He was a mutt about the size of a German shepherd with a scruffy, wiry beige coat, and darker red and brown fur on his legs, tail, and ears. One triangular ear stood quizzically upwards, while the other lay flat against his head, its wispy fur sticking out in every direction.

"Come here," Tim said, and the dog stepped forward. Tim held him gently, checking him for a collar or a tattoo in his ear. There was nothing identifying the dog or its owner.

"You belong to someone, buddy?" Tim asked, scratching the dog behind his ears.

The dog merely panted and wagged his tail, giving Tim a baleful look.

"Come on," Tim said, standing up. "We've got some hot dogs in here, at least." The dog followed him without further urging up to the house.

"Billy, check it out!" Tim said as he entered. The dog shot past him and into the house, crashing past the coffee table and sticking his wet face right into Billy's in an enthusiastic greeting.

"Tim!" Billy shouted, sitting up and pushing the dog away. "What the hell?"

Abandoning Billy, the dog began to curiously sniff his way around the living room, leaving a trail of muddy paw prints in his wake.

"I think it's that stray dog that's been getting into everybody's garbage," Tim said. "I don't think he belongs to anyone."

"That's great, Tim. Why the hell is he in my house?"

"He's gonna get hit by a car if we just leave him out there," Tim replied.

"So?"

"What do you care?" Tim asked. "I'll take care of him."

"Are you kidding me? You're actually serious about this? Tim, you can barely take care of yourself, never mind some stray dog that's probably never lived in a house in its life."

"Come on, Billy," Tim wheedled. "I'll train him and he can guard our stuff."

"I don't know," Billy replied, frowning. The dog appeared from behind the kitchen counter, dragging the overturned kitchen garbage can out into the middle of the room.

"Billy, remember how we always used to beg Dad for a dog?"

"Yeah, I remember," Billy admitted, his resolve starting to crack.

"Now we can have our own dog!" Tim said, gesturing at the mutt, who was currently chewing on a piece of plastic wrap. "Tell me he isn't a Riggins."

Billy scratched his chin, observing the dog.

"Please?" Tim threw in, for good measure.

"Fine!" Billy sighed, rolling his eyes. "But you can't let him destroy the place. And he has to sleep outside, at least for now, until he's trained and he doesn't smell like the dump on a hot day."

"Yes!" Tim crowed. "Did you hear that, buddy? You can stay!"

The dog glanced up from the garbage he was enjoying to thump his tail at Tim.

"What's his name?" Billy asked, coming closer.

"I dunno," Tim replied. "He doesn't have one, so I guess we'll have to give him a new one."

"How 'bout Tex?" Billy suggested.

"Maybe," Tim said, hands on his hips as he watched the dog contemplatively. "How 'bout Gridiron?"

"Gridiron," Billy repeated, testing it out.

"Hey," Tim said, crouching down to get the dog's attention. "Gridiron! Grid! Come here, boy!"

The dog abandoned his meal and stood, wagging his tail tentatively at the brothers.

"Is your name Gridiron, boy?"

The dog wagged harder, approaching Tim and licking his face.

"I think that's a yes," Billy said.

"I think so, too," Tim smiled, scratching the dog's ears. He frowned and glanced up at Billy. "He really does stink, though."

"Yeah," Billy agreed, grimacing. "He really does."

***

Julie was standing at her locker trying to find her lunch money when Tim appeared next to her.

"What are you doing for lunch?" he asked.

"Um, I heard the cafeteria's serving beef stroganoff, so probably not that," Julie said, grimacing.

"Wanna get out of here?" Tim asked. "I've got something to show you."

Julie turned and looked at Tim. His eyes were gleaming with excitement, and he was practically bouncing on his feet. Her usually unflappable, laconic boyfriend was acting like a little kid on Christmas morning.

"Sure," Julie agreed somewhat warily, shouldering her bag. Tim grabbed her hand and practically dragged her out to his truck in the parking lot, barely waiting for her to get in before starting the engine and peeling out.

Julie watched Tim, bewildered. He was almost grinning as he drove. He took the turn onto his street sharply, and parked the Silverado crookedly in the driveway.

"Come on," he urged, hopping out of the truck.

Julie followed him into the house and towards the back doors which led out onto the back patio. Julie frowned; the glass doors were covered with what looked like muddy paw prints.

"I want you to meet someone," Tim grinned, sliding the doors open and stepping out onto the patio. Julie followed him, and was immediately assaulted by a pair of huge, dirty paws and a wet, stinky tongue swiping across her face.

"Ugh!" Julie exclaimed, holding her hands up and taking a step back in surprise.

"Down," Tim said firmly, coming up and grabbing the dog by his makeshift rope collar. "What did I tell you about jumping up on people, buddy?"

"Wha-what?" Julie stammered, looking down at the muddy paw prints covering her top and her jeans in dismay.

"This is Gridiron," Tim replied, crouching down next to the excited dog, who was gazing raptly up at Julie and quivering, obviously only sitting because Tim was holding him there. Julie gaped.

"Tim, why do you have a dog in your backyard?"

"He's a stray," Tim said, scratching one of the dog's ears, heedless of the dirt. The dog turned and looked up at Tim, grinning a toothy dog grin and taking the opportunity to lick Tim's chin. "He's been hanging around our neighbourhood for a while, and I found him under the truck last night. He doesn't have a collar or anything; I don't think he belongs to anyone."

"You should probably check with the pound," Julie suggested. "Someone might be looking for him."

"I doubt it," Tim replied. "He's skinny, and he's pretty gross. He's been on his own for a while."

"Yeah," she agreed. "You should still check, though. Also maybe think about giving him a bath."

"I tried, but Billy won't help me and he's kind of a handful," Tim said, a concerned frown on his face as he scratched the dog behind the ears. "I feel bad, too – the water from the hose is freezing."

Julie had no desire whatsoever to help her boyfriend bathe an ill-mannered stray dog who probably had fleas, but watching Tim crouch next to the dog as he eagerly tried to lick his face, Julie couldn't help but melt a little.

"There's that pet store up on Murphy Street where you can wash your dog yourself for like $5 or something," Julie offered. "We could get him a collar and stuff, too."

"For real? You'll help?" Tim asked, looking up at her hopefully. She smiled and rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, of course," she replied. "But please tell me you'll teach him some manners or something. I heard somewhere that it's bad for dogs to live in self-directed chaos. Like, psychologically."

Tim merely hummed in response before standing up. "You wanna go do that now?"

"Sure," Julie shrugged. "I have a free period after lunch, anyway."

Between the two of them (and with the help of a pack of hot dogs) they were able to coax Gridiron into the back of Tim's truck. Julie flat out refused to let him sit in the cab until he'd been thoroughly bathed.

They drove to the pet store and found the washing station at the back of the shop unoccupied. Gridiron grew suspicious, but Tim finally manhandled him into the tub. With the dog safely secured, Julie began soaking his matted fur while Tim went to find shampoo.

"How did I get stuck with this job, huh?" Julie asked the dog, pulling the detachable showerhead over to soak the thick fur at his neck. Gridiron turned and gave her a downcast look. "Not a big fan of baths?" The dog sighed, and Julie scratched his damp ears. "You're not so bad, are you? You're a pretty good boy, Gridiron."

"That's a beautiful dog you've got there," came a voice from right beside her. Julie jumped – she hadn't even heard the clerk approach. He was standing very close, watching her bathe the dog with interest. He was older than her, college-aged, maybe, with dark blond hair and a handsome face.

"Oh, thanks," Julie stammered, taken aback.

"I'm guessing shampoo might help get him cleaner, though," the guy smirked, a little smug. Julie resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

"Uh, yeah, my boyfriend's just getting some," she said as she turned back to the dog, hoping he'd take the hint. He didn't.

"My name's Ryan. How come I haven't seen you around...?" he continued, pausing as though prompting her to provide her name.

"Julie," she offered grudgingly, simply to be polite. "You probably haven't seen me around because I'm in high school." She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows, hoping he might take this hint. He didn't.

"Nice. I go to Dillon Tech. I'm taking audio visual, but I've got a band. You should come see us play sometime."

It took everything in her not to roll her eyes. He probably knew The Swede. This was the last thing she needed.

Thankfully, Tim chose that moment to return, a bottle of shampoo in one hand. He edged pointedly in between Julie and Ryan, putting the bottle down on the edge of the tub. He wrapped his arms around Julie from behind. He turned his head, looking directly at Ryan. "Everything okay, babe?"

Ryan backed off immediately. "Okay, well, let me know if you need anything. It's five bucks a wash," he said, making a speedy exit.

"Really nice," Julie complained, elbowing Tim gently in the ribs. He let go and stood next to her, popping the top off the bottle of shampoo. "Very caveman."

"Yeah, well. He was bugging you, right?"

"Kinda, but the macho display was hardly necessary. I can handle a pushy flirt on my own," she huffed. "And don't call me babe."

"What should I call you, then?" he asked with a frown, drizzling shampoo all over Gridiron's back. Julie reached over and shut off the water, and they both started massaging the shampoo into his fur, working out the mats and dirt.

"I don't know," she sighed, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. "Most people call me Julie. You could try that."

"I'm not most people," he responded. They washed Gridiron in silence for a few minutes, then Tim grabbed the showerhead and began rinsing him off. Julie cleaned Gridiron's ears with a rag and some of the solution which sat on a shelf over the tub. She smiled as the dog closed his eyes, leaning into her hand as she massaged his itchy ears.

"Sorry," Tim said, glancing over at her as he rubbed a towel over the dog's dishevelled coat.

"It's okay," Julie replied softly. "I just – you don't have to do that, you know? I'm not flirting with anybody else or looking at anybody else, and anyway, you don't have to prove anything to me or anybody. You know?"

He looked at her for a long moment, then dropped his gaze. "I know."

"Good," she replied, leaning up to give him a quick kiss on his cheek. "Now, how freaked out do you think Gridiron's going to be by the blowdryer?"

"I dunno. How freaked out are you by the blowdryer?"

"What?" Julie asked, turning to look at him. She yelped as a splash of water hit her square in the chest. Sputtering, she looked and spotted the showerhead in Tim's hand, and the devilish look on his face.

"You are so dead," she vowed, reaching to snatch it out of his hand.

Tim getting all grabby because of some smarmy stranger, she minded. That same smarmy stranger having to clean up the water they left all over the floor when they were finally finished spraying one another, she did not mind quite so much.

***

"Yo, Tyra – can we get some refills over here?"

"I'm going to kill them," Tyra muttered under her breath to Julie. "I'm dead serious."

It was Thursday afternoon and the Panthers didn't have practice, which unfortunately meant that the majority of the team had chosen to descend on Applebee's. More unfortunate still, they took up most of Tyra and Julie's sections, and they were enjoying it.

"I know – can't they go to Fran's or something? It's not like we're giving them free food," Julie grumbled in reply, loading a tray with drinks.

"I think I have an idea of who to blame," Tyra said. Julie looked up to find the other girl glaring pointedly across the restaurant. Julie followed her line of sight and spotted Landry, who was sitting in a booth next to Matt and grinning over at Tyra.

"Well, he knows how to get your attention, at least," Julie offered, with a wince.

"Yeah," Tyra sighed. "Come on."

Each of them hefting a tray of drinks, they made their way to the Panthers' tables. Julie pointedly ignored the cat-calls and obnoxious comments. Tyra, on the other hand, quietly vowed that the next one of them who opened his mouth for anything except to ask for the bill was going to get more than ice in his drink.

Julie finished depositing the last of her drinks and was about to check on one of her non-Panther tables when she felt someone catch her by one of the belt loops in her pants. She turned to see Tim smiling up at her from his seat next to Smash, one finger hooked against her waist.

"Hey," he said softly, pulling her close.

"Is there something I can get you?" Julie asked sardonically, leaning down and lowering her voice. Obviously she didn't mind talking to Tim, but she didn't really want his whole stupid football team rubbernecking at their conversation.

"Sorry," he said ruefully. "I think this was Lando's idea."

"Yeah, I figured that out. Unfortunately for Landry, so did Tyra."

Tim smiled. "Listen, these guys are gonna get out of here soon, but I was thinking I might stick around until your shift's over. Billy's having Tyra's sister over for some kinda fancy dinner date thing. Mind if I come over?"

"Do I mind if you come over?" Julie asked, pretending to seriously consider this. "Gee, I don't know – I was really looking forward to a night of doing my homework alone."

Tim just smiled and continued to look at her, amused.

"Yes, you can come over. The best part is that I'm done pretty soon, and my parents won't be home for a while," she said, cocking what she hoped was an enticing eyebrow.

"Sure," Tim replied with a little smile. He let her go, and turned back to the conversation going on at his table.

In a little over an hour, Tim and Julie pulled into the Taylors' driveway in his truck, and Julie was pleased to see that, as she had hoped, neither of her parents were home. She let them both into the house, leaving Tim in the living room while she went back to her bedroom to change out of her work clothes.

When she came back out, she was surprised not to find Tim on the couch and Oprah on the TV, as she had expected. Tim sat at the table, his books spread out in front of him.

Frowning, she picked up her bag from where she'd dropped it in the hallway and came to sit down next to him, pulling out her own homework. She opened her notebook and tried to work, but with Tim there and her parents conveniently absent, she couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't something better they could be doing.

"Want something to drink?" she asked, leaning into his space a little, her shoulder brushing against his.

"Nah, I'm good," he replied, not looking up from his book.

Julie propped an elbow on the table and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. Really, she was about thirty seconds away from full-on pouting. Sighing, she hooked a foot around one of Tim's and rubbed his ankle with her toes.

"I thought you were supposed to be keeping me on the straight and narrow," Tim said, turning a page in his textbook. The little smile playing at the corner of his lips gave him away.

"When did I ever agree to be the responsible one?" Julie grinned, running a hand up his back to tug on the hair at the base of his neck. "We've still got a while before my mom comes home."

Tim turned his head and regarded her, a strange sort of look on his face as his eyes dropped to her lips. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and he cleared his throat, looking away.

"I got this test tomorrow," he said. "I gotta at least try to study."

Julie sighed and backed off, somewhat confused at the reversal of roles that had Tim insisting on schoolwork and her trying to distract him. She settled for tangling his feet with her own as she worked, and sighing frequently, just so he knew that she knew that he was doing this simply to torment her.

A short time later, the front door opened and Tami arrived home, one arm holding Gracie, and the other a bag of groceries.

"Hey mom," Julie said, snatching her foot from where it was resting on top of Tim's.

"Hey, y'all," Tami replied breathlessly, breezing into the living room to deposit Gracie in her playpen before heading to the kitchen. "How was school?"

"Fine," Julie said, looking back down at her notebook.

"Tim?"

"It was good, Mrs. Taylor."

"You go to all your classes?" Julie threw her mother an annoyed look, but Tim just smiled like he actually enjoyed this kind of invasion of his privacy.

"Yes ma'am."

"Good. You staying for dinner, Tim?"

"Sure, if there's room at the table."

"Of course there is. Actually, that reminds me," Tami said, emerging from the kitchen and standing in the hallway to look at them. "Tim, Julie's father and I would like to have you over for dinner once a week. We were thinking maybe Wednesdays. No football talk or checking up on your schoolwork, just family dinner. What do you say?"

Julie's mouth dropped open, and she glared mutinously at her mother.

"I'd like that, Mrs. Taylor," Tim replied, obviously pleased.

"Great!" Tami replied. "Isn't that great, Jules?"

"It's great," Julie deadpanned. Just what she needed – more supervised time with her boyfriend.

Gracie began to fuss at being ignored as Tami prepared dinner, so while Tim entertained her baby sister on the couch, Julie cleared up their books and set the table. Her father arrived home shortly thereafter, and things descended into full-fledged Taylor family chaos until dinner was ready and they all sat down to eat the meal Tami had thrown together.

After a quick grace, they dug in, and barely had time to fill their plates with pasta and salad before the football talk started.

"Riggins, you tell Jules what we've been up to?" her father asked, twirling a forkful of spaghetti on his plate.

"Not yet, sir," Tim replied, looking down at his plate. Across the table, Julie stared at the top of his head.

"What have you been up to?" she asked, glancing from Tim to her father, somewhat apprehensive. Tim looked up at her and then over at her father, before frowning down at his plate once again.

"Uh, we're working on some college stuff, I guess," he said.

"College stuff?" Tami asked, sounding excited at the prospect. "Well, that's just wonderful, Tim. Your grades sure are a lot better than they were last year, which is a great start."

Her parents launched off into a discussion of what combination of athletic and academic achievement would be necessary to get Tim a scholarship. Tim and Julie sat silently throughout the exchange, Tim steadily working his way through his spaghetti without looking up. Julie watched him, unsure what to do. She wanted to congratulate and encourage him, but this had come about so unexpectedly. She couldn't help but wonder – did he really want to go to college, or was he just trying to impress her parents? Or, perhaps worse, trying to impress her?

"Isn't that just fantastic, Jules?" Tami asked, her voice cutting into Julie's thoughts. She looked over at Tim, and saw that he was watching her with a guardedly expectant sort of expression on his face.

"Yes!" she replied, nodding as though she actually knew what they'd specifically been discussing. "Yeah, of course I think it's great. I mean, why not, right?" She grabbed her water and took a big gulp to avoid having to speak further.

They moved on to other topics, and Julie let her parents continue to carry the conversation, troubled once again by her thoughts. She and Tim had gotten to know each other pretty well over the last few months, first as friends and then as more than that, and not once had he ever mentioned anything about wanting to go to college. Other people had mentioned it, herself included, but he had never expressed a desire to go. Why now?

The meal over, Julie and Tim cleared the table while Eric moved to the couch and Tami took Gracie off to bed before returning to clean up. Eager to dodge her parents, Julie didn't start on the dishes, and she elbowed Tim in the arm when he tried to offer.

"We're both done with our homework, so..." Julie said, moving purposefully in the direction of the garage and trying to hint her intentions to Tim. He stared at her and shook his head a little, confused. She rolled her eyes. "We're gonna go play some ping-pong, okay?"

"Not too late, though," Tami called from the kitchen. "It's a school night. And on your way out there, give your father a smack upside the head for not helping me with these dishes."

"All right, all right," Eric grumbled, getting up from the couch and heading into the kitchen. Julie grabbed Tim's hand and pulled him quickly in the direction of the garage, before either of her parents could suggest a movie or a game of Yahtzee or something equally torturous.

"Alone at last," Julie sighed as they went into the garage, closing the door behind them. Tim flicked on the harsh overhead light and looked at her.

"Should we leave the door open or something?" he asked.

"Are you serious?" she laughed, grabbing the paddles and a ping-pong ball off the table. "You probably won't want my dad to hear you crying when I whip your butt."

"You're all talk, Taylor," Tim replied, smiling and shaking his head in mock dismay.

"We'll just have to see about that," she threatened, serving a shot to him.

They served back and forth, eventually getting a decent volley going, but soon Tim was steadily racking up the points. It didn't take long before he had her against the ropes. Her pride at stake, Julie wrenched the paddle as hard as she could and whipped the ball across the table with a sharp thwack, hoping to take him by surprise.

"Ow!" Tim exclaimed, dropped his paddle and cradling his face.

"Oh my god!" Julie exclaimed, running around to the other side of the table. "I didn't mean to hit it right at you!"

"I'm okay, I think," Tim groaned, shaking his head. "It's just my eye."

"Your eye?!" Julie yelped. "Let me see!"

Julie reached up and began to pry his hands away from his face, her face taut with worry. Tim began shaking, and after a panicked moment Julie realised that he was laughing.

"Argh!" she yelled, smacking him on his shoulder. "You're such a faker!"

He laughed, grabbing the hand she was using to smack him and pulling her into his chest. He kissed her, the edge of his paddle digging into her back where he held her close. Julie kissed him back, sliding her hand down to his waist, her fingers catching at his belt. She backed into the ping pong table, tugging his hips against hers.

"Whoa," he said, pulling back. Julie didn't move, keeping her hands around his neck.

"What's wrong?" she whispered, trying to kiss him again.

"Jules, stop – your parents," he replied, dislodging her hands and glancing at the door.

"Come on, my dad's watching game tape and my mom's probably working on school stuff. They know we're out here. It's fine!"

"Yeah, but still," he said, pulling away. "I should probably get going, anyway."

"Seriously?"

He regarded her with an unhappy, helpless sort of look on his face, like he wanted to apologise for something. Then he frowned and looked away.

"I'm gonna go say goodnight," he said, turning and walking into the house. He left the door open behind him, and Julie heard the indistinct sound of his voice and her parents' as they said goodnight. He didn't come back out into the garage to go out that way; instead he went out the front door, the closed overhead garage door muffling the sound of his truck starting and pulling out of the driveway.

He didn't even say goodnight to me, Julie thought miserably. She stood alone in the empty garage, her ping pong paddle still gripped in one hand, and listened to the sound of his truck fade into the night.

Chapter Text

Julie and Tyra were sorting clean flatware during a lull in their shift, working next to each other in companionable silence. It was late Tuesday afternoon, and the restaurant was almost empty. Julie's mind, however, was busy with thoughts of Tim. What was she doing – or not doing – to make him act the way he'd been acting? She didn't know what to make of his abrupt departure the night before.

"Hey – can I ask you a question?" Julie asked, keeping her voice low. "Sort of a sex question?"

"Sure," Tyra replied. "What is it?"

"It's about Tim."

"If he's pressuring you, just punch him in the solar plexus," Tyra advised without looking up from her work. "He hates that."

"Everyone hates that," Julie said, casting a disgruntled look at her friend, who remained oblivious. "No, that's not the problem. That's actually the opposite of the problem. He's not pressuring me... Like, at all. I don't understand."

"What do you mean?" Tyra asked, pausing in her work to frown at Julie.

"I mean we've been dating for nearly two months and... nothing."

"Nothing," Tyra repeated, staring blankly. "Like, nothing nothing?"

"Yeah, I mean, we've made out a lot and stuff, and he's really enthusiastic when we're kissing, but it never goes farther than that. We kiss and make out, or whatever, but that's seriously it. Like, one toe on second base."

Tyra's eyebrows nearly hit her hairline. She turned and waved at their manager.

"Jerry, we're going on our break!" Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed Julie by the shoulders and steered her out the back of the restaurant. Standing in the shadow of the dumpster, Julie explained her predicament in greater detail, ending with a retelling of what had happened the night before in her garage. When she was done, she looked at Tyra expectantly.

"I don't know," Tyra said thoughtfully. "I figured you guys weren't having sex, because you hadn't said anything, but I sort of assumed you were doing something. I'm not gonna tell you it's not weird for him to act that way."

"Yeah," Julie replied, chewing her lip pensively.

"Maybe he's trying to be a gentleman or something? He's a funny guy. He's never really dated anyone seriously before, except me, I guess. Sort of." Tyra wrinkled her nose and stared out into the parking lot. "Still not sure if that really counted."

"I think maybe it partly has to do with my dad," Julie mused.

"Your dad?"

"Yeah, I mean, Tim really respects my dad, and I think he looks up to him and all that stuff, and I don't think he wants to screw that up."

"That could be it," Tyra agreed.

"Yeah. I wish he'd do something, though. I'm starting to feel sort of... inadequate."

"Inadequate?"

"Well, yeah! I mean, everyone knows Tim's slept with half the girls in town. It's hard to miss, the way people feel the need to point it out," Julie said, giving a humourless laugh. "I guess I'm just starting to wonder what's wrong with me."

Tyra tilted her head, studying Julie. "Tim does tend to communicate by humping people rather than talking to them, I'll grant you, but maybe you just need to talk to him about it."

"Ugh, so awkward," Julie complained.

"Well, you know what they say. If you're not mature enough to talk about it..." Tyra teased, smiling.

"I know, I know," Julie replied, rolling her eyes. "I'll talk to him."

"Good," Tyra said, opening the back door of the restaurant to return to work. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it. Poor dumbass probably has the worst case of blue balls in the state of Texas."

"Gross," Julie grimaced, following her. Julie grabbed her notepad, preparing herself to get back to work. "Oh god," she said, glancing around Tyra towards her section, where the hostess was seating a couple. "Look who just sat down in my section."

Tyra hissed in aggravation at the sight of Lyla Garrity and her boyfriend looking comfortable in a booth. "Want me to handle it?"

"No, it's okay. Thanks, though," Julie sighed. "Can't keep them waiting."

She resisted the urge to stomp over to the table, settling for looking profoundly bored and unimpressed as she strolled up, interrupting the couple in the middle of a shared laugh.

"Welcome to Applebee's," she said, aiming for forced cheerfulness and landing on sarcasm.

Lyla looked up at her, blinking in wide-eyed surprise. "Hi Julie," she said, a forced but friendly expression on her face. "I didn't know you worked here."

"Hey Lyla," Julie replied, her bravado deflating. This kind of thing was so awkward, and Julie was sick of it. Why couldn't they live some place normal where you didn't run into someone you knew every five minutes? Moreover, some place where you didn't run into your boyfriend's exes every five minutes?

"Julie, this is my boyfriend, Chris Kennedy," Lyla said, gesturing at the clean-cut young man sitting across the table from her. "Chris, this is Julie Taylor. She's Coach and Mrs. Taylor's daughter."

"Ah," Chris said, smiling and holding out a hand to Julie. She took it, offering a half-smile in an attempt to at least be polite. "The legendary Taylor family. I've heard a lot about your parents, Julie. All good things, of course. Lyla's a big fan; she tells me you're just as great as they are." He beamed at his girlfriend, who smiled weakly back.

"Oh," Julie said, at a loss for words. She glanced at Lyla, who looked embarrassed.

"She told me you were the only one who was willing to go near her the night Jason Street was paralysed," he said, as though chatting casually about that horrible night with a stranger was a normal thing to do. "Being there for someone during such a dark time – that's a very kind thing to do."

"Yeah, well," Julie said, clearing her throat. "Seemed like the thing to do, I guess."

"Chris – should we maybe order drinks or something? We can't keep Julie from her other tables all afternoon," Lyla said, smiling brightly, her voice a bit too loud. Julie chose not to point out that the restaurant was nearly empty.

"Sure!" Chris grinned, glancing down at the menu. "I'll have a Coke."

"I'll have the same," Lyla said hurriedly, casting an apologetic look Julie's way. "Thanks."

"No problem," Julie replied. "Two Cokes it is."

Julie went off to get their drinks, her brow furrowed in thought. She was loath to admit it, but Lyla made her incredibly nervous. She didn't think there could be a girl more different from her than Lyla Garrity, and although he'd never said so, Julie suspected from things that both he and Tyra had said that Tim had pined after her for years. Julie privately feared that the only reason Lyla and Tim weren't together was because Lyla had decided it should be that way.

By the time she returned with the drinks, both Lyla and Chris had their menus closed, and they were deep in discussion. Lyla still looked about as uncomfortable as Julie felt, but as she approached, the older girl put a smile on her face once again.

"Ready to order?" Julie asked, placing their drinks on the table.

The pair ordered, and Julie was about to make her escape to drop the orders off in the kitchen when Chris cleared his throat pointedly.

"Will that be all, or...?" Julie asked.

"Oh no, we're all set," Chris replied, tilting his head in apparent contemplation of her. "Lyla here thinks I should mind my own business, but I can't help but ask – do you attend church, Julie?"

"Um," Julie stammered, thrown by the nosy question. "Well, my family goes to First Methodist."

Chris gave Lyla a knowing look. "Isn't that the church your family attended?"

"My family still does. I just go somewhere else," Lyla replied softly.

"Well, we'd love to see you over at New Life this Sunday," he said, smiling winningly at her.

"Chris -" Lyla began, her voice coloured with a touch of aggravation.

"Nothing wrong with putting it out there, Lyla," he said simply. "We've asked your friend Tim Riggins to come out, too, but he hasn't been around in a long time. Any idea why that might be, Julie?"

Julie gaped at him, starting to feel annoyed herself. Who did this guy think he was, anyway? "I'd better go put these orders in," she said shortly, turning and heading back to the kitchen without a backwards glance. That had been one of the strangest conversations she'd ever had. It was odd enough that Lyla's boyfriend had chosen that moment to try to evangelize her, or whatever it was he was doing, but why had he brought Tim up? Had Lyla been talking about him or something?

Julie sighed heavily, punching their order into the computer. Like she needed to worry about whether Lyla was hung up on Tim, on top of everything else.

Tyra came up next to her, edging Julie aside as soon she was finished so she could enter her own order. "How's it going over there?"

"Oh, it's going," Julie grumbled.

Tyra gave her a long, measuring look. "Don't let Garrity rattle you. I don't think she's a threat."

"It's not Lyla," Julie replied. "It's her boyfriend, actually."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, he was telling me about their church and asking about Tim."

"Really? Weird. He probably thinks that Tim would be like, the ultimate get, you know? Talk about your sinners."

"Yeah, I guess so," Julie replied glumly. She was tired of everyone telling her what Tim was and wasn't. She wanted to find out for herself, if he would only let her.

***

"Y'all, prepare to be humbled," Tami crowed, leaning forward to put her letters in place. "Check this out. Triple word score – 84 points!"

"Aw, hell," Eric swore. He rested his chin glumly on one hand. "I'm done."

"Me too," Tim said, smiling at the coach's hangdog expression.

"'Queazy'?" Julie exclaimed, looking down at her mother's tiles. "Are you kidding me?"

It was Wednesday night, and Tim was over for dinner and, at Tami's suggestion, Scrabble. Julie had hesitated at first, as Tim was just about the worst speller she had ever encountered, but he hadn't seemed bothered, taking to the game with quiet enthusiasm. He'd lost, but then, no one really stood a chance in a game of Scrabble when Tami was on a roll. As it was, he'd been more occupied with Gracie, who spent most of the game on his lap, grabbing his letters and throwing them to the floor.

"I hate this game," Eric grumbled. "I'm pretty sure you cheated."

"Ha!" Tami scoffed. "You're just a sore loser. What kind of example is that setting, now? Complaining when you were beaten fair and square."

"You've got witnesses, Mrs. Taylor," Tim volunteered. Julie smiled to see the betrayed glare her father shot at Tim.

"See? We all saw what happened here. You were just outclassed, is all," Tami said, smiling to herself.

"Humble even in victory," Eric muttered, standing up from the table and dropping a kiss on Tami's head before heading into the kitchen. "Riggins, you wanna come help me clean up some of these dishes?"

"Sure," Tim replied, looking to Julie for help as Gracie, bored with the Scrabble tiles, began grabbing handfuls of Tim's hair and yanking mercilessly.

"Think it's about time for someone to be in bed, anyway," Tami said, standing up and coming around the table to swoop Gracie up into her arms. "Thanks for keeping her busy, Tim. Jules, you two go take care of the dinner dishes, please."

Julie went into the kitchen without protest, Tim following behind. Her father was standing at the sink, scraping the plates over the garbage.

"You've been relieved of duty," Julie said to him, opening a cupboard in search of Tupperware for the leftovers.

Wordlessly, Eric handed the plate he was scraping to Tim, and left the kitchen. Seconds later, they heard the sound of the TV tuned to ESPN. Julie rolled her eyes.

They stood side-by-side at the sink, Julie washing and Tim drying the dishes. Working in comfortable silence, they were about halfway through the pile of dirty dishes before either of them said anything.

"Can I ask you a question?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, shoot."

"Did you even know I existed before you came to stay with us?" She paused in washing, staring down into the dishwater. She wasn't completely sure where that question had come from.

"What do you mean?" Tim frowned, grabbing a handful of wet cutlery off the drying rack.

Julie shrugged. "I mean, like, did you know that your coach had a daughter, and that daughter was me, specifically?"

"Yeah, of course," he replied.

"And? What did you think of me?" Julie urged, resting her hands on the sink and turning to look at him.

"I don't know, Jules. You were Coach's daughter, and I thought you were a cute girl in my English class who seemed smart and pretty obviously wasn't interested in football players."

Julie turned back to the sink, submerging a stack of plates in the soapy water as she mulled that over.

"Did you know I existed?" Tim asked.

"Obviously," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Everyone knows you exist. This is Dillon, and you're a Panther. That's like asking if I know the sun exists."

"Yeah," Tim agreed, neither boastful nor apologetic. "What did you think of me? Since we're talking about it."

"Honestly?"

"You brought it up and I told you what I thought, so yeah, honestly."

"I guess..." she began, trailing off as she tried to find the right words, regretting starting down this particular road. "I guess I thought that you were one of the football players, and you didn't come to class much or put up your hand ever, and that everybody worshipped the ground you walked on, but it was obvious that Jason was the one everyone took seriously."

"Yeah," Tim said, again sounding like he agreed with her. Julie looked over at him. He was frowning down at the dishtowel in his hands. She felt like a complete jerk for being insecure and bringing this up in the first place. She leaned close and bumped her hip against his leg, causing him to look over at her, his expression guarded.

"Do you want to know what I thought about you after you came to stay with us?"

Tim shrugged indifferently.

"I thought that there was a lot more to you than I realised, and that I was grateful you were at that party, and that you were looking out for me when I was too drunk to look out for myself."

Tim didn't reply, regarding her with a somewhat disbelieving expression.

"I'm serious. I realised you were a great person, and I knew nothing about you. I'm lucky you were there for me."

Tim smiled at her, then leaned over and pressed a kiss to her forehead. He pulled away and picked up a large casserole from the drying rack. "I think I'm probably the lucky one."

Julie watched him out of the corner of her eye as she washed the last few dishes. It was hard to reconcile the Tim Riggins she'd thought she knew when her dad first became head coach with the Tim she knew now, who played with her baby sister and got along with her parents and helped wash the dishes without complaint, who looked at her sometimes like she was the first good thing that had ever happened to him. Watching him, she felt her breath shorten and her chest tighten, her throat suddenly dry.

She loved him. It was as simple as that.

If he couldn't say how he felt, she was just going to have to trust that he felt something like what she was feeling for him.

***

"Watch this," Tim said, holding a piece of cold hot dog over Gridiron's head. Julie smiled from her spot on the couch as the dog (who now smelled much better than he had on their first meeting) immediately sat down on the living room floor, his hindquarters quivering in anticipation. It was mid-afternoon, and both of them had a free period. Julie had talked Tim into going back to his place, wondering how she had managed that until Tim mentioned that Billy would be home from work shortly.

"Lie down," Tim commanded. Gridiron dropped onto his belly, and his eyes did not leave the treat held in his master's hand. "Good boy!" Tim dropped the piece of hot dog and Gridiron shot up, snatching it out of the air with one gulp.

"He's a quick learner." Tim knelt down to scratch behind the dog's ears, patting his ribs fondly. "I think maybe someone trained him a bit."

"Could be," Julie replied. "You never heard anything from the pound?"

"Nah, but they said they'd call if anyone came looking for him." Tim stood and walked into the kitchen, digging a beer out of the fridge. Julie bit her lip, watching him. She didn't want to be a pain and nag him about it, but sometimes she really did wonder why he couldn't just have a soda or something. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon.

Tim came over and sat down next to her on the couch, shifting her legs so he could sit and she could rest her feet in his lap. Julie smiled as he sighed, making himself comfortable and turning on the TV. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes as Tim channel-surfed, finally landing on some crappy daytime courtroom show around the time that Billy came in the front door.

"Tim, Julie," he acknowledged, closing the door behind him and tossing his keys in the direction of the junk mail-laden table by the front door. He got himself a beer as well before joining them, settling into the armchair and propping his feet up on the coffee table.

"What, don't I get a beer?" Julie asked of no one in particular.

"Sure, if you want one," Billy replied absently, frowning at the TV as a woman defended herself for setting her ex-boyfriend's car on fire.

Julie turned to find Tim looking at her across the couch, an odd sort of frown on his face. "It's barely past noon," he said, his voice low enough for only her to hear.

"So?" she asked, gesturing significantly at the beer in his hand. Without responding, he leaned forward and put the beer down on the coffee table. He turned away and looked at the TV, and abruptly the silence between them was not so companionable.

"You two lovebirds got any big plans this weekend?" Billy inquired, as soon as a commercial interrupted the program.

Julie shrugged. "Not really. There's not much going on."

"I was thinking, since Tim's gonna be man of the house all weekend, you might wanna take advantage." Billy was prevented from continuing by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Cursing, he stood up and found the cordless in the kitchen and answered it. "Hey, baby," he said, his voice dropping abruptly. It was obviously Mindy. He walked quickly into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

"What did he mean, about you being man of the house for the weekend?" Julie asked, after Billy had closed the door.

"He's going to Austin with Mindy," Tim replied, not looking away from the TV.

"Oh really?" Julie replied, training her most significant look on her apparently oblivious boyfriend.

When Tim continued to stare at the TV and didn't respond, she went for the straightforward approach. "Since Billy's going to be gone, maybe I could stay at your place on Friday night," she said in what she hoped was a coy tone. "I could tell my parents I'm sleeping over at Tyra's."

Tim frowned. "Yeah, I don't know," he said.

"Oh," Julie replied, taken aback. For a stupid, horrible moment, a thought occurred to her – Tim's having sex with someone else. Her gaze snapped away from him to stare blankly at the TV. She bit her bottom lip hard, fighting off the sickening wave of panic that rolled through her at the thought. He wouldn't do that to her. She knew he wouldn't do that to her. Didn't she?

An ugly voice deep inside pointed out that he had no problem sleeping with Lyla when she was with Jason, not to mention all the cheating he'd done when he was with Tyra. What made Julie so special?

Tears suddenly burned her eyes, and she blinked rapidly, trying desperately to keep them at bay. A lump rose in her throat and she swallowed thickly. "Um," she said, removing her feet from his lap and standing quickly, "I just remembered, I have this project due tomorrow that I've totally procrastinated on, so I should probably head to the library and work on that."

"Oh," Tim replied, sounding vaguely disappointed. Julie boggled. What was he disappointed about? Missing out on all the nothing they did together? "Hold on, I'll drive you."

"No, no," Julie said, unwilling to meet his eyes until the threat of tears passed. She quickly gathered her things. "It's nice out. I think I'll just walk."

Tim stood, and she could feel his eyes on her back as she made for the front door. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure!" she called over her shoulder. "See you tomorrow!"

Julie shut the door behind her before Tim had a chance to object. Looking up at the wide, steel-grey sky, Julie sighed as it opened up, and snow began to fall.

***

"Well, Tim, I think if you keep at it and stay on track, this is shaping up to be a real promising semester for you. I think this could be a game-changer," Tami said, setting aside the civics test Tim had brought her to review. Coach had arranged for them to have weekly meetings to make sure Tim was staying on top of his schoolwork.

"Thanks, Mrs. Taylor," Tim replied. Once, he'd felt a bit crowded by the scrutiny, but he was getting used to it.

Tami nodded, tilting her head at him. "How are things at home? How's Billy doing?"

"Billy's all right. He's working at that flooring place on Crane Avenue; Carpet Barn or whatever it's called."

"And is that – is he making ends meet, there? There's food on the table?" she asked delicately.

Tim was embarrassed by the question, but he would have been downright mortified had it come from just about anyone else. He'd grown accustomed to the Taylors looking out for him. It reminded him of the old days, when Mrs. Street used to send Jason to school with two bagged lunches, just in case Tim didn't have one, which he usually didn't.

"Yes ma'am," he replied. "He's fine. Honest."

"All right," Tami smiled. "Just checking."

Tim nodded, looking down at his hands. "Mrs. Taylor, can I ask you a question, kinda in confidence?"

"Of course, Tim," Tami said softly, knitting her hands together and leaning back in her chair. "What's going on?"

"It's probably nothing, but... Does Jules seem different lately? Like, has she mentioned being mad at me or anything?"

"No, she hasn't mentioned anything like that," she replied, frowning. "Is something wrong? Did you two have a fight?"

"No, nothing like that. She just seems kinda... I dunno," he said with a shrug.

Tami nodded and glanced away, weighing her words. "Look, Tim – it's kinda hard for me to be impartial here, obviously, but I really think that in these kinds of situations, it's really best to just come right out and ask what's wrong. If you're thinking there's something wrong, something she's not telling you, it's better to just get it over with and talk about it. That's true across the board, but I know Jules pretty well, and as much as that girl likes to talk, sometimes she'll talk around a problem without telling you what's really bothering her."

Tim frowned down at his hands, nodding. That didn't make him feel much better. Any idiot could tell that Jules wanted to be more intimate, and that she was frustrated. But she had taken off from his place so abruptly the other day, Tim wondered whether something else was bothering her, too.

Another student arrived then to see Mrs. Taylor, and Tim left with a mumbled thanks and a promise to go out for dinner with the Taylors for Julie's birthday, which was the following week.

Tim drove home with the radio off, lost in his thoughts. Julie was working that night, so they wouldn't see each other until the next day. He hoped it would be enough time for him to figure out what the hell to do.

He had barely settled on the couch with a beer when the phone rang. Groaning, he stood to answer it, smiling when he saw Jason and Herc's number on the call display.

"Hello?"

"What the hell, Riggins? You don't call, you don't write. You don't send me flowers anymore. What's a guy supposed to think?"

Tim smiled. Jason had been through so much in the last two years, Tim was glad whenever Jason's old happy-go-lucky self emerged. It was especially funny now that Jason had started to pick up Herc's off-colour sense of humour. "Sorry, Six. I've been keeping pretty busy."

"No excuse. But I'll forgive you, I always do. What's new?"

"Not a whole lot. You?"

"Well, you know. Trying to figure out how the hell I'm gonna manage not to be a total deadbeat dad, mostly," Jason replied. Tim had only found out about Jason's one night stand with a waitress, Erin, a month earlier.

"Your mom talking to you yet?" Tim asked.

"Yeah, finally. I think it got through to her that this is probably the only chance she's gonna have to be a grandma," Jason said ruefully. His parents had not taken the news of Jason's impending fatherhood well.

"Your mom's just being your mom. She'll come around," Tim offered, settling back down on the couch with his beer, the phone tucked under his ear.

"Getting pretty wise in your old age there, Riggins. Julie must be rubbing off on you," Jason said. He paused for a moment, then snickered. "Or is that just wishful thinking on your part?"

Tim scowled, picking up on Jason's implication. "Hey," he warned. Jason laughed.

"Calm down, I'm just bugging you. But seriously, though – how's that going?"

"We're taking it slow," Tim replied tentatively.

"Ouch. That's rough, but I guess you gotta give her a break. First time's a pretty big deal. I'll give Saracen a punch in the arm for that next time I see him. Your hand getting tired yet?"

Tim groaned in irritation. He couldn't believe that Jay was giving him a hard time about this, too. He also couldn't believe that he wanted to tell Jay to quit being crude. It had almost always been the other way around. Maybe something really was wrong with him.

"Actually," he said after a pause, "I think Julie's pretty eager to, you know, head down that road."

"Oh. So what's the hold up?"

Tim rubbed at the label on his beer bottle with his thumb. He probably should have just gone with Jason's assumption that Jules was nervous about having sex, and then changed the subject. "I dunno. I mean, I like her. I more than like her. But... It's hard to explain. I don't want to mess it up, you know? She's my friend, too."

"I think you're being kinda dumb, Timmy. I can't believe I have to tell you this, but sex is normal. Yeah, you're gonna have to hide it from Coach and Mrs. Taylor, sure, but that's normal. It's not that big a deal."

"Easy for you to say," Tim replied, irritated. "You're the guy every parent around here wants their daughter to bring home."

"Yeah, everyone wants their daughter hooking up with the town cripple. Erin's parents are real thrilled."

"Come on, you know what I mean. Even with the wheelchair, at least Buddy Garrity wouldn't look at you like something he scraped off his shoe."

"Buddy Garrity? Tim, forget about Buddy Garrity. Forget about Coach and Mrs. Taylor, too. All that matters is how you feel about Julie and how she feels about you. Believe me – I tried to prove a point to everybody by proposing to Lyla, and I think we both know how well that worked out."

"You don't understand," Tim insisted. "You're not... You don't... You don't have to prove yourself to anybody."

"I don't think this has anything to do with proving yourself to Coach or Mrs. Taylor. I think you're scared. You're scared to get close to her," Jason paused for a moment. "I think you're trying to be someone you're not, and you're not even doing it for her parents. You're doing it for her."

Furious, Tim shut down immediately. "I have to go," he said.

"Come on, Riggs. Don't be a baby. I'm trying to help."

"Gotta go, Jay," Tim repeated. He pulled the cordless phone away from his ear and hung up before Jason could get another word in. He sat there motionless, his heart pounding and his mind racing as he went back over the conversation.

Scared? He wasn't scared of Julie, of being with her. Jason didn't know what the hell he was talking about.
Anyway, Tim had a plan. He knew Julie wanted him to show her how he felt about her, and that's what he was going to do. Her birthday the following week was the perfect time to do it, too.

By the end of next week, Julie was going to know that he loved her and respected her. He loved her and respected her so much that he wasn't going to lay a finger on her.

Chapter Text

Julie’s seventeenth birthday fell on a Wednesday. It was late February, and the day dawned cool and grey. Nothing could dampen Julie’s mood, though – she felt like seventeen was going to be a big year.

Her parents drove her to school in the morning after dropping Gracie off at daycare, the three of them discussing where they might go for Julie’s birthday dinner that night. At lunch, Tyra surprised her with cupcakes and a pretty bracelet of turquoise glass beads, which she promised had not been shoplifted. Because of their schedules that day, Julie didn’t get to see Tim until the end of the day, when he got out of practice. She waited for him by the fieldhouse, her jacket zipped tightly around her, and her iPod keeping her entertained.

“Hey,” Tim greeted her, emerging from the locker rooms with damp hair and a smile on his face. He came to a stop in front of her and dropped a kiss on her lips. “I hear it’s your birthday or something. That true?”

“Yes, the rumours are true,” she replied, smiling when he reached down and grabbed her hand, tugging her towards his truck.

“Coach said to go on ahead to your place, and he’s gonna meet us at the restaurant,” Tim said, digging his keys out of his pocket with his free hand.

“What restaurant?” Julie asked eagerly.

“Applebee’s,” Tim replied. Julie stopped and gaped at him, glaring when he began to laugh. “I’m kidding. Your mom said you wanted to go to that Italian place.”

Julie elbowed him gently in the ribs before hurrying around to the passenger side of the truck. When she was settled, she reached into her bag and pulled out the old margarine container in which Tyra had brought her cupcakes to school. She opened it and held it out to him. “I saved you one.”

“Thanks,” Tim said, pleased. He took it and ate one-handed as he started the truck and pulled out of the lot. “You gonna bake for me before my games next year?”

Julie scoffed. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t make these. Tyra brought them for me.”

Tim stopped chewing and shot her a look. “Were they all poisoned, or just this one?”

“Tyra wouldn’t poison you,” Julie replied, giggling. “Besides, she didn’t know I was going to give you one, and she would never poison me, so you’re safe.”

Tim shoved the rest of the cupcakes into his mouth and glowered at her, although the intimidating effect was somewhat ruined by the purple icing on his face. Julie fell into another fit of giggles as Tim tried to clean himself off and keep an eye on the road.

“Seriously, though,” he said, licking icing off his thumb. “Are you gonna make me brownies or something before games?”

Julie arched a perturbed eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that why the rally girls exist? To make sure you all get your requisite four thousand calories on game day?”

“Sure, but I’d rather eat cookies you made,” Tim said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t share this town’s antiquated assumptions about gender roles, Timothy. Why don’t you bake me cookies before one of my dance recitals?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but yeah, maybe I will,” Tim replied, grinning. “Just don’t blame me if all that spinning makes you barf chocolate chip cookies all over the stage.”

“Gross!” Julie complained, whacking him on the arm.

They bickered playfully the rest of the way home, stopping only when they arrived and Tami gave them a withering sort of look before gathering Julie into her arms and wishing her a happy birthday.

Julie changed into a mom-approved dress, and emerged from her bedroom to find Tami helping Tim knot the navy blue tie hanging around his neck. He had changed into a somewhat ill-fitting dress shirt and pants Julie recognized from various Panther functions. She smiled at the discomfited look on his face.

“I wish your father was here,” Tami muttered, casting a glance at Julie. “He’d do a much better job than I’m doing, here. Sorry, Tim.”

“S’okay, Mrs. Taylor. Usually I get Billy to do it for me.”

“Well, you’re just gonna have to make do. At least you don’t have to look at it, even if the rest of us do,” Tami said, pulling the knot tight. “You ready, Jules?”

“Yup, all ready to go,” she replied, watching Tim expectantly. He looked up and took in her appearance, a slow smile spreading across his face. Tami disappeared into the kitchen to call her father, and Tim took a step towards her.

“You’re looking pretty good tonight, Julie Taylor,” he said, his eyes travelling down her body and back up again to meet her gaze. She shivered. This was downright unfair.

“You too. You look good in a suit.” Tim grimaced at that, prompting Julie to laugh. She was prevented from embarrassing him further by Tami, who came out of the kitchen with her purse slung over one arm.

“All right, y’all. Your father’s gonna meet us at the restaurant, Gracie’s next door with Mrs. Kelleher, and what we’re gonna do is take my car, and then you two can drive your father’s truck home later,” she explained breezily, leading the charge out the door.

Julie was relieved to find that the drive to the restaurant was relatively short, as her mother had insisted that one of them had to sit up front with her, because she wasn’t a chauffeur, which left Tim in the back seat. He spent the whole ride talking to Tami about his grades while reaching around the side of Julie’s seat to poke her in the ribs while she pretended it wasn’t happening.

“You’re such a pain,” Julie griped under her breath as they walked into the restaurant. Tim merely grinned at her, reaching down to take her hand as Tami spoke to the hostess.

Her father arrived after they’d gotten their drinks, and as the evening progressed, Julie was again struck by how much Tim came out of his shell in the presence of her parents. Before they got together, she would never have imagined this, a nice dinner out together. While she wasn’t exactly thrilled about all the quality time with her parents, she had to admit that Tim’s efforts had smoothed the way considerably.

After their meal was cleared away, their waitress brought out a large serving of tiramisu with several birthday candles and a bright sparkler stuck in it.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Tami said, beaming at her.

“Yeah, happy birthday, hon,” Eric echoed, a grin on his face.

Julie glanced across the table to see Tim watching her with a smile on his face, his eyes glowing in the flickering light of the sparkler. He caught her staring and his smile widened.

“Make a wish, Taylor,” he said, nodding down at the dessert. Julie didn’t really believe in things like wishing on birthday candles anymore, but still – it couldn’t hurt, could it? Closing her eyes, she thought of all the things she wanted, and what she wanted most of all right now.

I want Tim to show me he loves me. Julie blew out the candles, and opened her eyes as the lone sparkler extinguished itself in a tiny wisp of smoke.

“Yay!” Tami cheered, clapping her hands. “Now, before you go digging into that thing, which you’re sharing with us, by the way, your father and I have a little something for you.” She reached down to her purse and produced a small wrapped package and a card.

“Woo hoo, presents!” Julie exclaimed, taking the gift from her mother. She opened the card to find a sweet note from her parents, and a gift card for the book store in the mall. She ripped the paper artlessly from the package, revealing a blue velvet jewellery box. Glancing curiously up at her parents, she opened the box. Inside was a silver chain with a tiny green stone hanging on a teardrop-shaped pendant. It was a necklace of Tami’s; she’d seen her wear it hundreds of times for as long as she could remember.

“My mother gave me that necklace on my seventeenth birthday, and I thought that maybe you might like to have it on yours,” Tami explained softly, her eyes shining.

“I love it,” Julie breathed. “Thank you so much.”

“I love you, too, honey,” Tami replied, gathering Julie into a tight hug. When they parted, she blew out a sigh and dabbed at her eyes with her napkin. “What say we dig into that dessert, y’all?”

Julie picked up her fork and cast a glance over at Tim, wondering despite herself if he had anything for her, too. She smothered the thought as quickly as it surfaced; she knew perfectly well that he was broke most of the time.

Later, as they strolled out to the parking lot, Tim held her hand in his and pulled her close to his side.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got something for you,” he said softly. Julie blushed, feeling a little foolish that she was so easy to read. Tim smiled. “Just... it’s not finished, so I’m gonna bring it over tomorrow night. Okay?”

“Okay,” she replied, pleased. They arrived at her father’s Explorer, as her father had already given Tim the keys. “We’ve got the car, and it’s not too late. You want to go somewhere? Like, by ourselves?”

Tim climbed into the driver’s seat and buckled his seat belt. He started the engine and began to pull out of the spot. “We got school tomorrow, and your parents are expecting us. We probably shouldn’t.”

“Yeah, I guess not,” Julie acquiesced, watching him. She sighed and smiled wryly, looking out her window at the town, quiet now that night had fallen.

She wondered whether, when wishing on her birthday candles, she should have been more specific about how she wanted Tim to show her he loved her.

***

The following night, both of her parents had meetings after school, leaving Julie in charge of picking Gracie up from daycare. After an uninspiring dinner of leftovers, Julie was lounging in front of the TV, procrastinating on a history paper, when she heard a knock at the door.

She opened the door to find Tim standing on the front stoop, hands shoved into the pockets of his sheepskin jacket.

“I didn’t order any pizzas,” she deadpanned.

Tim grinned. “I’ve got something for you. Go sit down on your bed and close your eyes, okay?”

“Gee, this is sounding more and more like the beginning of a porno.”

“What would you know about it?” Tim laughed, stepping back off the stoop. “Go cover your eyes already, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Julie obeyed, practically skipping back to her bedroom to sit down on the edge of her bed and cover her eyes with her hands. Moments later, she heard the front door open and close, and smiled when she heard Tim shuffling down the hallway. She struggled to keep her eyes covered when she heard him place something that sounded heavy on the floor in front of her.

“Okay, you can open your eyes.”

Julie removed her hands and gasped in surprise. Before her sat a low bookshelf with several shelves the perfect size for the numerous paperbacks currently stacked against the wall underneath her desk. It was sanded to a satin finish, and stained a beautiful peacock blue.

“Did you... Did you make this?” Julie asked, looking up at him in astonishment.

“Yeah,” Tim replied, scratching his head. “I’ve been working on it for a while. I was just gonna get you some books, but then you mentioned that you were running out of room on your shelves, so...”

Julie ran her finger along the edge of the top shelf, admiring the grain of the wood, which still showed through the stain.

“It’s beautiful! I mean, it’s totally perfect,” she said, smiling up at him. “I love it.” Julie took his hands in hers and leaned up to kiss him.

Tim kissed her back, pulling his hands loose to hold her close. Julie gave him a gentle nudge and he sat down on the edge of her bed. She insistently pushed her way into his lap, tilting her head to the side to deepen their kiss.

For once, he didn’t object, so Julie gripped her hands in his hair and continued to push until they were lying on her bed, her body half on top of his. Julie shivered as he pulled his mouth from hers to kiss along her jaw and down her neck. He dragged his teeth across her collarbone and she shivered again, her hips pressing into his and her thigh pushing between his legs to brush against him. Tim gave a funny little groan and Julie did it again, sliding a hand down to press against the hard weight she felt there.

Tim shuddered hard and wrapped a hand around her wrist.

“Jules –” he began, pulling away.

“My parents won’t be home for a while still,” she urged, pressing her lips against his. He kissed her back for a moment before pulling away once again. He pushed her off, sitting up and turning away from her.

“I should go,” he said softly, running a hand through his hair.

“Why?” Julie asked, sitting up and glaring at his downturned head. “Why should you go?”

He was silent for a long moment, and then he cleared his throat. “Because,” he muttered, and she could hear the resolve in his voice.

Julie just stared at him, hurt and angry for reasons she could barely articulate. He wouldn’t even look at her. She manoeuvred around him and stood up, brushing her hair out of her face.

“Okay, whatever. Just... Whatever. You can let yourself out,” she said, not turning back to look at him as she left the room. She walked across the hallway and into the bathroom, closing and locking the bathroom door behind her. She sat down hard on the closed toilet, swallowing hard to keep her tears inside.

There was a soft knock on the bathroom door, and then his voice. “Jules, please. Come on.”

“Come on what?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest and hating herself a little for the way her lip quivered and her voice wavered.

“Just – come on,” he replied, sounding somewhat exasperated himself.

She chewed on her bottom lip, glaring up at the ceiling and willing herself not to get any more upset. She sighed. “It’s fine, Tim. I’m just not feeling well. Thank you... Thank you for the bookshelf. It’s beautiful. I love it... I really do, I’m just... I’ll see you at school tomorrow, okay?”

There was another lengthy pause. “Okay,” he said quietly. “See you tomorrow.”

Julie listened as he left, sniffling when she heard his truck rumble out of the driveway and down the street. She wiped angrily at the tears that slid down her cheeks.

She felt bratty and ashamed of herself for her behaviour, but she was angry, too. She couldn’t help the frustration that was starting to overshadow every minute they spent together. She simply didn’t understand – why didn’t he want her? Why was he working so hard at being the perfect boyfriend, when he would barely let her touch him? How long was she supposed to believe he’d gone without sex, anyway?

Tim wasn’t much of a talker. He was more of a “show-er,” as he’d once said to her. So if he wasn’t saying he loved her, and he wasn’t showing he loved her, where did that leave her?

***

After what happened with Tim and the sleepless night that followed, Julie was in no mood to deal with anyone. She silently trudged her way through her classes on Friday morning, snapping at anyone who tried to engage her. Even Tyra gave up, merely raising her eyebrows at Julie’s bristly attitude and drawling, “Jeez, it’s called Midol, Taylor,” over her shoulder before abandoning Julie at her locker.

Julie decided it was probably best to avoid people altogether for the rest of the day, which was how she ended up at the top of the bleachers on her lunch, huddled in her jacket and poking listlessly at the cold sandwich sitting in her lap. She was so lost in her unhappy thoughts that she didn’t realise she wasn’t alone until she heard a voice.

“Been looking for you everywhere,” Tim said. Julie looked up. He was standing several levels down from where she sat, squinting up at her. “What the hell are you doing eating out here? It’s freezing.”

“It’s not that bad,” she lied, wrapping up the remains of her sandwich and shoving them into the messenger bag at her feet.

Tim climbed the last few steps and sat down beside her, propping his feet up on the bleacher in front of them and shoving his hands into the pockets of his worn old sheepskin jacket. “The view’s pretty good from up here,” he commented after a moment.

Julie turned and looked at him, taking in his profile. Her annoyance faded, giving way to her real problem – complete bewilderment.

“Tim, can I talk to you about something?” He turned to her, a wary look on his face. “How come we never go out to the cliffs or the lake anymore?”

Tim frowned. “I don't know. Weather’s been crap lately.”

"I guess," Julie replied, scuffing her sneaker against the metal bleacher. "I just... I don't know. I feel like we don't spend much time alone together."

"Yeah," Tim nodded. "It's hard, with your parents and all."

"It's not like it's that hard to sneak around a little," she said. "We can just say we're going to a movie and then head back to your place. Or last night – they weren’t going to be home until late. You could have stayed for a while."

Tim didn't reply, just stared silently out at the field.

"I mean, when we were first getting together, whenever we were alone, we took advantage of it,” she mused, watching him. When he didn’t respond immediately, she continued. “Tim, do you even like me? As more than a friend? Really?”

He turned and stared at her, dumbfounded. "Yeah, of course."

"Good to know. I was starting to wonder."

"Why would you -"

"Because you barely come near me! Do I not do it for you, or something? Like, are you not attracted to me? Is that it?"

"No," Tim scowled. "That's not it."

"Okay, then what is it?" Julie asked.

"I thought I shouldn't rush things... Shouldn't push you."

"That's insulting. I can make my own decisions. I don’t need you to protect me, Tim.”

"I know that," Tim insisted, frustration colouring his tone.

"Good," Julie huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. They sat in tense silence for a long time before Tim finally sighed, and stood up.

"Come on," he said, holding a hand out to help her up. "Let’s go in."

"You know what? I think I’d rather be alone," Julie snapped, wrenching her arm away from him. She grabbed her bag and stomped off down the bleachers, ignoring Tim when he called after her. She knew she was being juvenile, but she couldn't help it. She was so frustrated. Their talk had done nothing to relieve her confusion.

More than ever she wondered if perhaps Tim was only with her because he'd turned a new leaf and wanted everyone to see what a good guy he is. What better way to do that than to date little Julie Taylor, straight-A student, the coach's goody-good daughter?

***

It was Friday night, which, football season having ended months earlier, had come to be date night for Tim and Julie. As he drove his truck through the streets of Dillon to the Taylors’, Tim hoped it still was, even though they’d had a fight.

Not that Tim relished the idea of spending time with Julie if she was in the same sulky mood as she had been that afternoon. He was kind of pissed off about it, actually, but he knew spending the night drinking with Billy wasn’t going to solve anything.

Tim pulled into the Taylors’ driveway and turned off the engine, grabbing his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. He tried Julie’s cell for what felt like the thirtieth time that night, but it went straight to voicemail as it had every other time. Sighing, Tim got out of the truck and walked up to the house, knocking on the front door.

Mrs. Taylor answered, looking at Tim with surprise. “Hey, Tim. What are you doing here? Jules isn’t here, honey. I figured you’d be with her.”

“Uh, I think we kinda had a misunderstanding earlier,” he said, scratching his head. He didn’t want Mrs. Taylor to think anything was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what to say otherwise. “She say where she was headed?”

“Well, Tyra picked her up a couple of hours ago, and she said they were going to a party, but I don’t know whose. Have you tried her cell?”

“No,” Tim fibbed, shrugging his shoulders ruefully. “I’ll do that. Thanks, Mrs. Taylor.”

He turned to go, stopping when Mrs. Taylor called out to him.

“I’m sure I don’t even need to say this, but no drinking, Tim. If you have anything to drink, you make sure you call us, you hear? That’s why they invented cell phones,” she said with authority.

Tim smiled. “I will, Mrs. Taylor.” He waved and got back into his truck, starting the engine and pulling out into the street. If Julie thought she could hide from him at a house party on a Friday night in Dillon, she underestimated his God-given gift for sniffing out house parties.

***

It only took Tim two stops to find the right party. He parked half on someone’s lawn and strolled down the block, letting himself in the front door of a house whose driveway was already littered with beer cans. The music could be heard halfway down the street, and it didn’t take an experienced partygoer like Tim to know that it was going to get busted by the cops in the next hour.

Tim spotted Tyra right away, leaning against a wall, deep in conversation with Landry.

“So no, I don’t see how a western set in outer space actually makes a lot of sense, so you’re going to have to prove me wrong on that one,” she said to Landry, who sputtered in apparent disbelief. Tim rolled his eyes impatiently and cleared his throat. Tyra turned and raised an eyebrow at him. “Nice of you to show up,” she remarked.

“Where’s Jules?”

“Good question,” she said, turning and looking pointedly across the room and into the dining room, where Julie was standing with a bunch of his teammates, playing beer pong. Tim frowned.

Greeting people distractedly as he went, Tim wound his way through the crowd and into the dining room. He came to a stop at Julie’s side, watching as she laughed at something one of the guys said before lifting a red Solo cup to her lips.

“Hey,” he said softly, touching her waist to alert her to his presence. She turned and looked at him, blinking as though to clear the haze from her eyes.

“Hey,” she replied, taking another sip and turning back to the game. He stared at her profile in frustration as she continued to watch the game, studiously ignoring him. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes glassy, and her voice was loud as she encouraged the next player as he took his turn. She was definitely drunk.

“Come on,” Tim said, reaching down and grasping her hand. “Let’s go get some fresh air.”

“No,” she replied, pulling her hand back. “I’m watching the game. My turn’s coming up.”

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

“Oh, really?” Julie snarked. “I guess you’re the expert. Which means you get to make all the decisions, huh?”

A couple of the other beer pong players glanced over at them as the volume of Julie’s voice began to rise.

“Yeah, I am the expert, and this party’s gonna get busted any minute now. I’m thinking your parents won’t be too happy about having to bail you out for underage drinking tonight.”

“Right,” Julie snapped, turning to face him. “Why don’t the three of you just find like, a glass case or some kind of, you know, super tall tower to put me in, so nothing real ever happens to me. God forbid I do something normal like go to a party and have a drink.”

“Yeah, a drink. Or six,” Tim grumbled, grabbing her hand and pulling her forcefully from the room. She struggled a little, but given that she was drunk and Tim wasn’t, he had little trouble manhandling her out of the party.

God,” Julie hissed once they got outside. She wrenched her arm away from him. “You’re even worse than my dad.”

“Least you got people looking out for you,” Tim shot back in aggravation as he led her to his truck. She allowed him to help her in, wobbling on her feet as she began to feel the effects of that last beer. Tim went around the truck and climbed in, starting the engine. Julie was leaning forlornly against her window.

“You know what you are?” Julie complained as he steered them through the dark streets of Dillon.

“What am I, Jules?”

“You’re a bully. You just have to get your way all the time.”

Tim scowled out at the road in front of him, trying to remember that she was drunk and obviously pissed off at something he’d done or hadn’t done. He knew better than most people how to deal with someone when he or she was in this state, but that didn’t make him any less irritated. “I think you’re the one who wants to get her way all the time,” Tim muttered, turning onto Julie’s street and parking down the block. He leaned over the wheel to see if the Taylors were still up. The house looked dark, but he couldn’t be certain.

“Right, okay, I’m so horrible because I want to be close to you,” Julie sputtered. “If I’m so repulsive, why don’t you just break up with me?”

Tim’s head snapped around to look at her. Julie was on the verge of tears, her eyes shining wetly, her face flushed. “What?”

“Why won’t you touch me, or let me touch you? I don’t understand. You’d make out with a garbage can if it was wearing a cheerleading uniform. What’s wrong with me?” Her voice hitched and tears began to stream down her face. She shook her head violently and reached for the door. “No – don’t even tell me. I don’t want to know.”

She got out of the car and began making her way to the house, rummaging in her bag for her keys as she walked. Tim got out of the truck and followed her, grabbing her elbow to steady her weaving steps.

“Don’t touch me,” she shouted tearfully, pulling out of his reach and stumbling a little.

“Quiet, or you’re gonna wake up your parents,” Tim said, taking her keys out of her hand.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Julie hissed, shoving fitfully at him. “You’re not the... the... boss of me.”

“Shh,” Tim hushed her, trying to get her key into the door while keeping her from tumbling into her mother’s shrubs. Tim wondered briefly how many times he was going to be responsible for getting a drunk Julie safely home without her parents finding out.

He succeeded in unlocking the door and Julie pushed past him. She turned and stood in the doorway, blocking his entry into the house. She glared up at him.

“Don’t call me until you figure out how you feel about me,” she ground out, wiping angrily at her tear-stained cheeks before closing the door in his face.

Stunned, Tim stared at the closed door for a long time before turning back towards his truck.

He didn’t understand girls one bit, and Julie the least of all. After everything that had happened in the few short months since they’d become friends, how the hell could she not know how he felt about her?

***

Julie woke up on Saturday morning with a terrible headache, a few regrets, and a lot of frustration. When Tyra had called her the night before to see if she wanted to go to a party, Julie had jumped on the opportunity. Anything, including a Panther party, beat her alternative: spending the night reading a book and ignoring Tim’s persistent calls.

Now, Julie wished she had opted for anything except beer.

Miraculously, she avoided getting into trouble for drinking, largely because she was home before her curfew. As she found out the next morning, her mom got up to deal with Gracie before midnight, and, seeing Julie was home and asleep, didn’t investigate further. Julie was grateful she only had to deal with a hangover, and not a grounding as well.

She spent most of Saturday moping around the house, blaming cramps when her mom asked what had her in such a bad mood. She worked half-heartedly on a chemistry assignment and ignored the text she got from Tyra, which demanded to know what the hell was going on.

Julie sighed. She wished she knew.

She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, idly flipping through her chemistry text and considering taking a pre-dinner nap when there was a quiet knock on her door.

“Come in,” she said. The door opened and her dad’s head appeared.

“Hey honey. Phone’s for you,” he said, holding out the cordless phone.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Riggins.”

Julie’s eyes narrowed. Very clever of him, calling the house instead of her cell phone so one of her parents would answer. Sighing, she stood up and took the phone, muttering her thanks and ignoring the curious look her father gave her. He left, closing the door behind him.

Julie sat down on the edge of her bed, staring at the phone in her hands. After a beat, she held it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Jules, it’s me.”

“Yeah, I know. What do you want, Tim?”

“I want to talk to my girlfriend. She there?”

Julie rolled her eyes heavenward, refusing to cave to amusement. “I’m busy, Tim. I have a lot of homework this weekend.”

“Come on, Jules. I don’t get it. How come you’re so pissed off at me all the time? What did I do?”

Julie didn’t respond right away, chewing her bottom lip in contemplation. Finally, she spoke. “Do you even want to go to college?”

“What?”

“I said, do you even want to go to college?” she repeated, her tone measured and deliberate.

“Well, it's... complicated,” Tim replied. “I mean, it's worth looking into, you know? Coach says-”

“Oh my god. I knew it. This was all my dad's idea, wasn't it? Wait, no. This seems more like my mother's handiwork.”

Tim huffed in exasperation. “I can't decide to go to college on my own? You don't think I could do it?”

“I didn't say that! I just don't want them interfering–”

“Maybe I want them to interfere. You ever think of that? Or am I supposed to just be the dumb jock you make out with until you get bored and find a real boyfriend?”

Angry, Julie pounced. “’Make out with’? I wish! You barely come near me.”

“Never expected it'd be all about sex for you,” Tim said, annoyed.

“Why? Because I'm the coach's naive virgin daughter? I'd certainly never be interested in sex on my own, not unless one of you manly football players came along and corrupted me, right? That's one of the most insulting, regressive things I've ever heard!” Julie nearly shouted, remembering just in time that her parents were only in the living room and might hear her.

“Regress...? Jules, I don't even know what we're fighting about right now,” Tim replied, suddenly sounding less aggravated and more confused.

“We're fighting about you, and me, and the fact that you're pretty obviously in this relationship because of my dad, and probably my mom, and that I'm just... convenient,” she said, tears welling up the moment the words were out.

Tim said nothing, his silence as good as a confirmation as far as Julie was concerned. She squeezed her eyes shut and a tear rolled down her cheek. “I just wanted to be with you,” she whispered, trying not to let him hear how upset she was. “I wanted to be close to you, just be a normal girlfriend and boyfriend, but I guess the feeling isn't mutual. My mistake.”

“Jules –” he began, but she did not let him finish. She ended the call, angrily tossing the phone aside. She flopped backwards onto the bed, clutching her pillow tightly to her chest, and tried to stifle the feeling of light-headed nausea that suddenly overcame her.

She hadn’t intended to break things off, but in the abrupt pressing silence of her bedroom, it seemed that was exactly what had happened.

Chapter Text

Julie was asleep. She was dreaming that she and Gracie were walking through a field, picking wildflowers. The sun was shining, birds were singing; everything around them was warm and peaceful. Unfortunately, the peace was disturbed by an insistent tapping sound, almost like the tapping of a woodpecker. Julie frowned, looking around her, trying to find the source of the noise. Gracie’s sweet baby face was just as puzzled. Julie became aware that someone was whispering her name.

“Jules, let me in.”

Julie sat upright in bed. It was the middle of the night, and her room was lit only by the moonlight which poured through a gap in her curtains.

The tapping resumed, and Julie’s head snapped towards the window. There, through the curtains, she could see a face. She barely stopped herself from screaming in time to realise it was Tim.

Scrambling out of bed, she ran to the window and threw aside the curtain, staring at him disbelievingly through the glass.

Let me in,” he mouthed, pointing to the window.

Julie unlatched the window and slid it open, and much more quietly and gracefully than she would have expected for the tall fullback, he climbed into her bedroom.

“Tim!” she hissed. “You scared the crap out of me! What are you doing here?”

“You said you wanted me,” he breathed. “Here I am.”

Before Julie could say another word, Tim was crowding her towards the bed, kissing the breath out of her. Her hands came up to his shoulders to steady herself, but his grip lifted her right off her feet, and he pushed her back onto the bed.

She landed on her pillows with a soft “oof,” thrilled and scared. If they got caught, they would both be dead.

She didn’t have time to complain, though, because Tim was on top of her, pressing himself against her, his weight making it difficult to breathe. He swallowed her gasps, kissing her so hard Julie felt sure her lips would be bruised the next day. Without hesitating, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close.

Somewhat roughly, he ran a hand down her body and slid it under the waistband of her pyjama shorts and into her underwear, brushing his fingers against her. He pulled his mouth away from hers and leaned back to watch her face.

“Tim!” she squeaked, as he boldly dragged a finger over her clit and curled it inside her.

“Sssh,” he breathed, covering her mouth with his free hand.

Julie nodded frantically against his hand as he began to stroke her, his hand doing incredible things to her, things she could never quite get her own hands to do.

“You like this?” he whispered, his face flushed as he watched her.

Julie nodded again, struggling not to cry out.

“Yeah, you do,” he said, glancing down her body. When he looked back up at her, his eyes and his smile gleamed with anticipation, almost predatory. Removing his hand from her mouth, he pushed her tank top up to expose her bare chest. He ran his thumb over one nipple before leaning in to take the other one in his mouth, scraping his teeth against her.

Julie blushed, sweat breaking out along her skin as the sensations grew more intense. She bit her lip, desperate not to let any sound escape which might wake her parents. He’d never been like this with her before, not ever.

“I kinda like it when you blush like that,” he whispered, lifting his head and breathing the words right into her ear. That’s what did it – his voice rumbling against her ear. She came abruptly, gasping frantically and gripping his forearm with both hands, her nails leaving marks in his skin.

It took Julie a minute to compose herself, gratefully gulping down air once she remembered how to breathe. She glanced up to find Tim staring at her, breathing heavily.

“Better?” he asked. “You happy now?”

Not taking her eyes from his face, Julie slid her hands down and began tugging at his belt buckle.

“No,” he said, sitting up and pushing her hands away. “You said you wanted more action, and you got it.” He sat on the edge of the bed, facing away from her.

Julie sat up against her headboard, recoiling from his cold tone. She pulled her tank top down to cover herself. “That’s not what I meant.”

He turned and glared at her, but his face softened a little at what must have been the crestfallen expression on her face.

“W-why are you being mean?” she asked shakily, still reeling from what had just happened.

“Sorry,” he replied, turning away again.

Julie pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I’m confused,” she said softly, after a long pause. “I don’t understand... Don’t you want to be with me?”

“I do want to be with you -” he began, but Julie stopped him.

“I know, you’ve said that. But we haven’t gotten there yet, and I guess I just... When everyone found out about us, all anyone talked about was this big reputation of yours, and how I’d better be prepared. So I tried to prepare myself, but it’s been months now and nothing’s really happened until tonight. I’m...”

“Disappointed?”

“No, Tim... I’m just confused.”

“Jules, you know... People exaggerate,” Tim said, frowning. He sounded exasperated.

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I’m 17. Do you seriously think I’ve slept with half the girls in town, or even half the girls at school?”

“Oh. Well, um. No, I guess that’s probably an exaggeration.”

“No kidding,” Tim scoffed. “You wanna know the truth?”

“Tim, you don’t have to-”

“No, I think I do have to. Don’t want you stomping around feeling bad about yourself and pissed off at me over something that ain’t even true.”

Julie gulped, preparing herself. “Okay.”

“I had sex for the first time with a senior rally girl when I made varsity. I slept with Tyra. I slept with Lyla Garrity. I slept with my neighbour, Jackie. I fooled around with some girls at parties and stuff, sure, but that’s it. I swear.”

Julie looked down at her lap. Four wasn’t zero, but it certainly wasn’t as many as local legend would have a person believe. “How come your reputation’s so... different?”

Tim shrugged. “I guess people believe what they want to believe.”

“Why do you let them?”

“It’s just easier,” he said, glancing over at her. His acceptance astonished and saddened her.

“You shouldn’t let them,” she said, shaking her head. “You know Tyra once told me basically the same thing? She said she knew everyone expected her to be the town tramp when she’d really barely even kissed a boy, so she just went with it because she figured that’s what everyone already believed anyway. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Yeah,” he said gruffly, looking away. “That’s why I’ve been trying to, you know... be better.”

“You mean all this, with us? With my parents and everything?” Julie asked, gesturing at the space separating them.

“I just wanted to... I wanted to show you I could be a real boyfriend, a good one.”

“You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Especially not me. I don't want you trying to be someone else. I liked you when I thought you’d been with lots of girls, and I like you even though that’s not true. I just like you. I want you.”

Tim stared at the floor between his feet, saying nothing. Julie watched him carefully through the curtain of hair which shadowed his face. She frowned.

“Tim, do you... Do you think I’m just in this to get laid? That that’s what this is about for me?”

He didn’t respond, just shrugged.

“No, Tim, no,” she stammered, sitting up on her knees and grabbing him by the shoulders, forcing him to look at her. “Tim, I just want to be close to you because I like you, you’re one of my very best friends, and you make me crazy and lightheaded and all that stuff, and I think... I think that maybe I love you.”

Tim looked at her closely, searching her face. “Yeah?”

Julie gulped. She hadn’t exactly planned on saying that, but there it was. There was no taking it back, even if she had wanted to. She didn’t want to.

“Yeah,” she said softly. “I love you, Tim.”

A small smile quirked at the very corner of his mouth, and his eyes shone in the dim light.

“Have you ever been with someone who loved you?” Julie asked, leaning in closer.

“I don’t know... I don’t think so,” he breathed, and their lips met.

They kissed that way for a while, perched tentatively on the edge of her bed, before Julie tugged Tim towards her, stretching out on the bed, so they were facing one another in the dim light.

“Can I?” she asked, reaching again for his belt buckle. “Just this, tonight?”

“Ugh, please,” Tim breathed, his voice eager.

Julie stifled a laugh. “I guess we should have had this talk a while ago.”

“Yeah,” Tim groaned, as Julie got his fly open and eased a hand inside.

Julie wrapped her hand around his erection, glancing up curiously to watch his face when he hissed between his teeth. His eyes were tightly closed, and a blush stained his cheeks. Smirking, Julie squeezed her grip a little harder, leaning in and pressing a kiss against his neck.

“Tim?”

“Mm-hmm?” he grunted, frowning as Julie began to kiss her way down his chest.

“Open your eyes,” she said, getting up on her knees and pulling his jeans down over his hips. She couldn’t believe how bold she felt; she had no idea where this was coming from. Probably the months of sexual frustration, she thought wryly. Leaning down, she took him in her hands and experimentally ran her tongue over the head of his dick.

Jules,” he choked, one of his hands coming and gripping her shoulder.

“Mmm?” she replied, relishing the sound of his harsh breathing. She took him into her mouth, giving a tentative suck. She wasn’t totally sure what she was doing, but judging by Tim’s reaction, it seemed to be working.

“I can’t, I don’t,” he began to babble, interrupting himself with a loud groan.

Quiet,” she hissed, pulling away and glaring up at him.

Tim moaned pitifully as Julie began licking and sucking him in earnest. She was suddenly thankful for all those frank, late-night talks with Tyra. Glancing up at his flushed face, Julie felt a little thrill at the idea of having Tim Riggins laid out on her own bed, whimpering and sighing like she was tormenting him, totally at her mercy.

She explored him, testing what made him squirm and what made him groan, and what made him squeeze her shoulder in an almost bruising grip.

“Jules, I’m gonna, I’m gonna...” he panted, and Julie lifted her head and sat back, watching his face as he came with a low groan, his jeans catching most of the mess.

Tim collapsed against her pillows, breathing hard, an arm flung over his eyes.

“Tyra warned me that you like to, you know, announce yourself,” Julie smirked, watching him. Tim lifted his arm and glared at her for a moment before pulling her down beside him.

“Sorry,” she said, suppressing a giggle when he turned and pinned her underneath him, burying his face in her neck, where he began kissing and sucking her collarbone. He let his whole weight rest on her, his body pressed tight against hers.

“Oof,” she groaned. “You weigh a ton; what have you been eating?”

Tim didn’t answer, continuing to work away at the little spot on her neck that always made her shiver. She frowned. “Are you giving me another hickey?”

“No,” he replied, sitting up a little and looking at her. His voice was low, his eyes sleepy and satisfied. “I gave you another hickey.”

“Ugh, Tim!” she complained, slapping a hand over her neck as though a mosquito were bothering it.

“What?”

“That’s so – so – so juvenile.”

“We are juvenile,” he replied, smiling down at her.

“No, you’re just possessive. As if this isn’t Dillon, and everyone doesn’t already know we’re together.”

Tim shrugged, unapologetic.

“You’d probably pee on me if you could,” she grumbled.

“I wouldn’t pee on you,” Tim protested, frowning at her like he was concerned for her sanity.

“You know, like a dog marking its – oh, never mind.”

“I’d better go,” Tim said, collapsing back on top of her with a sigh. He shifted down, pressing his face into her stomach. “You make a good pillow.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “You should sleep on me more often.”

“Sleep, huh?”

“Yeah, you know, that thing I hear people usually do after this kind of thing.”

“Are you inviting me for a slumber party, Jules?”

“Sadly, no. What with my parents down the hall and all.”

“Come on,” he urged, poking her gently in the side with a finger.

“No tickling,” she whispered, stifling a giggle. “And, you know, that’s really great – you barely come near me for months and now it’s all, ‘Can I sleep over and use you as a pillow, can I, can I?’”

“I know, I gotta go,” he sighed. “Tell you what – you wanna come over to my place Friday night? We can get pizza and a movie or something.”

“Sounds good to me,” Julie replied, idly running her hands through his hair.

“Mmm,” he groaned, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing.

“You’re like a big... python. A python who drives a truck, plays football, and listens to too much southern rock,” she said, extricating herself from his embrace. “It’s very cute, but you’ve gotta go. Sorry.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, slowly rolling off of her and pulling his pants back up, making the awkward act of dressing look obnoxiously graceful. Julie wanted to hurl a pillow at him, but refrained. She sat on the edge of her bed as he dressed, pulling her pyjamas back into place and trying to feign some composure.

Tim paused in the middle of her room, keys in hand, and looked at her. A faint smile spread across his face, growing wider, before he took a step forward and bent down, pressing a kiss to her lips.

“Night, Jules.”

“Go,” she sighed, smiling back at him. He went reluctantly, climbing out her window the way he came in. She followed him as far as the window, giving him one last wave as he turned back before disappearing into the night.

Julie practically floated back to her bed and collapsed there, lifting a leaden arm to turn off her lamp. She sighed and rolled over, burying her face in her pillows and inhaling the lovely, familiar smell of Tim on her sheets. A thrill ran through her as she closed her eyes and tried to force herself to go back to sleep.

He wanted her. He wanted her, just her, after all.

***

Tim drove home in a haze of pleasure, smiling out at the dark streets of Dillon like they were his best friends. If anyone saw him right now, their suspicions that he was an idiot would be absolutely confirmed by the brainless expression on his face.

He didn’t care one bit.

After talking to Julie on the phone that afternoon, he had been so angry and confused he barely knew what to do with himself. He had considered heading to Smitty’s to blow off some steam, but luckily Billy had come home from work with a twelve pack and a pizza just in time. Before he knew it, Tim was venting the whole situation to Billy, who listened in silence, contemplatively chewing a slice of double pepperoni. When Tim had finished, Billy nodded sagely and said, “So, whatever it is you wanna do with her that you think you shouldn’t because you wanna impress her and her parents? Go over to her place and do that.”

Tim blinked. “What?”

“Get her in your truck, go somewhere private, and start rounding some bases. I can’t believe I have to explain this to you, Tim.”

Tim had gaped at his brother in appalled silence for several beats before realising that Billy was absolutely right. He was. After all, basically every fight they’d had in the last few weeks had started when Tim rebuffed Julie’s affection. Obviously his plan to be the best boyfriend had a flaw.

Grimly, Tim did as Billy suggested, waiting until he was confident the Taylors were asleep before parking his truck down the block and finding his way to Julie’s window in the dark. The drive over was spent simmering in his frustration, and when Julie let him in, the way she looked – wide-eyed and sleep-warmed – almost undid him altogether. Aggravated as he was, there still was not a square inch of that girl he did not love with a certainty which was totally foreign to him. He had never felt this way about anyone before, not even Lyla.

Once he felt her smooth skin under his hands, her hot gasping breaths against his cheek, there was no going back. Even better was the naked honesty in her eyes when she told him she loved him.

Never mind that she touched him with a kind of fearless curiosity that had him forgetting why it was he ever wanted to wait.

Still smiling to himself, Tim pulled into his driveway and parked. He walked up to the house with what he could have sworn was a damn spring in his step. Closing and locking the front door behind him, he found Billy still up, nursing a beer and staring vacantly at the TV. At the sound of his entry, Billy turned, flipping down the footrest on the La-Z-Boy.

“Well?” he asked, looking at Tim expectantly.

“Well what?”

“How did it go?”

“It went... good. I think we’re okay.”

“Great. And?”

“And what?”

“Come on, Tim! All this angst and carrying on and now you’re not even gonna give me any details?”

Tim glared at his brother. “I don’t ask you what you do with Mindy.”

“If you did, I wouldn’t care. Look, I am more than happy to tell you she does this thing with her -”

“Billy!” Tim barked, “Jesus. I appreciate your advice, but I’m not gonna kiss and tell, so you can forget about hearing any crotch... stuff.”

“Crotch stuff? There was crotch stuff? Nice, little bro!”

Rolling his eyes, Tim gave his brother a wave and headed into his bedroom. He was suddenly bone-tired, his limbs heavy and yearning for bed. He began shucking his clothes off, kicking his jeans and boots aside. As he pulled his shirt over his head, he caught a whiff of Julie – a mixture of girly shampoo and body wash, of laundry detergent and faint fruity perfume, and the salty-sweet scent of her skin. He held his shirt to his face for a moment, and then tossed it in the direction of his laundry basket before flopping down face-first to go to sleep.

The only thing that could have made the night more perfect would be to still be stretched out in Julie’s bed, her warm body wrapped up in his.

***

Sunday was utter torture. Julie’s parents were aware that she had a lot of homework that weekend, and insisted on ensuring it was all completed before she was allowed to go anywhere. By the time Julie finished everything, it was time for Sunday dinner, which meant an extended evening of family togetherness, and no time to entice Tim to come over for Scrabble or ping-pong or some other thinly veiled excuse to torment herself with his nearness.

Julie picked at the mashed potatoes and vegetables on her plate – having decided to forego her mother’s pot roast – and thought about the way Tim’s thigh muscles felt under her hands when she ran her tongue up the hot, hard length of him. Glancing warily at both of her parents, she hoped her face didn’t look as flushed as it felt.

Monday was worse. Julie wondered if Tim hadn’t been onto something, with the whole abstinence thing. What had been a bothersome feeling of dissatisfaction was now an ache that refused to be eased. Saturday night had only added fuel to her fire. Julie couldn’t figure out how anyone had ever sat through a calculus class if they had a boyfriend they could be making out with.

Julie didn’t see Tim until the end of the day, when she found him at his locker, dumping his books on his way to practice.

“Hey,” she greeted him somewhat shyly, coming to a stop in front of his locker and fiddling with the strap of her messenger bag.

He turned, and his eyes lit up when he saw her. Some quality in his eyes burnished and glowed, and the corner of his mouth lifted up in a smirk. “Hey,” he replied, his voice low. Julie bit her lip, goose bumps breaking out all over her skin.

Oh, she was in trouble all right. They both were.

She cleared her throat, trying to regain her balance. “Um, I was wondering, did you want to grab something to eat after practice? I got off pretty easy today, homework-wise.”

“Got off, huh?” he asked idly, tossing a textbook towards the back of his locker.

Julie nearly choked. This was totally unfair. He was standing there smirking at her like they were playing a game, and he had just won. Glancing quickly around them to find the hallway empty except for a few straggling freshmen, Julie stepped into Tim’s space and dropped her hands to his belt buckle. She tipped her face up to meet his, smiling. Hidden by their bodies, she let her hand stray a little lower, her fingers brushing against the rough denim of his jeans. She smiled wider at the sound of his sharp inhalation.

“Do you want to go out after practice, or not? If you have something better to do, I’m sure I do, too,” she said, just barely resisting the urge to bat her eyelashes at him.

Tim grinned and leaned down, meeting her lips for a kiss. Julie sighed, pressing against him. He pushed back, groaning when Julie brushed her tongue against his bottom lip.

“Get a room!”

Julie pulled away abruptly, banging her head against the metal locker behind her. She winced, watching in wry amusement as Tim glared after the person who had interrupted them.

“Jerk,” he muttered, turning back to her. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she giggled, reaching up to rub the back of her head. “It’s just a minor concussion, I’m sure I’ll live.”

“I’d better get to practice. Meet me at the fieldhouse, okay?”

“Okay. Where do you want to go to eat?”

“I don’t care. You?”

“I don’t really care, either,” Julie laughed. She gave his chest a gentle shove, adjusting her bag on her shoulder and stepping away from him. “Go. If you’re late, my dad’s just gonna make you run suicides, and we’ll never get out of here.”

Tim grinned at her, shouldering his duffle bag and closing his locker door. “See you soon.”

“See you,” she replied, leaning a shoulder against the bank of lockers as he turned and walked down the hallway. She sighed, attempting to smother the goofy smile on her face as she turned away and trudged off to the library.

Before doing any of her schoolwork for the day, she was going to have to look up whether it was possible for another person to make your heart explode just by looking at you.

***

Two hours later, Julie gathered up her books in the library and made her way down to the fieldhouse. She had spent her time in the library studying, or rather, daydreaming and pretending to study. Stifling a yawn, she rounded the corner of the low brick building to find Tim’s truck idling in the spot where she usually waited for him, Tim in the driver’s seat.

Trying to suppress a smile, Julie jogged over and hopped in. “Okay, I think this should go down in the history books,” she said. “Today was the first day ever that you were out of the locker room before I even had time to get down here and meet you. Were you the first one out, or what?”

“Yep,” Tim replied smugly, putting the truck into gear and gunning the engine. He pulled out of the parking lot and glanced over at her. He hadn’t even skipped his shower or anything – his freshly washed hair was slowly drying in the cool evening air.

“Wow. I’m extremely impressed. So where are we headed?”

“I was thinking Fran’s,” Tim replied, taking the turn to steer them in that direction. Julie merely wrinkled her nose in response, and Tim smiled. “For take-out, I mean. Not really up for the guys and all the rally girls tonight, you know? How about the cliffs?”

“That sounds perfect, actually,” Julie said, smiling at him. He glanced over at her and grinned, pressing a little more firmly on the gas pedal.

Food (two double cheeseburgers for Tim, a spicy chicken sandwich for Julie) and drinks obtained, Tim drove them out to the west side of town. They got out and Tim unhitched the tailgate, as it was just warm enough for them to sit in the bed of the truck and eat while watching the sun set over the flat, colourless plains, unmoving oil rigs silhouetted against the orangey-pink sky.

They sat in silence for a long time, content to enjoy each other’s company. Julie sighed and moved a little closer to him, so happy to have finally aired everything out.

“You cold?” Tim asked.

“Maybe a little.”

Tim hopped off the tailgate and held his hands out to help her down. They got back into the cab and Tim started the engine to get the heater and the radio working. Julie held her hands against the vent on the dashboard, sighing when the warm air began to thaw her fingers.

“I didn’t think I was that cold,” she said softly. “I could have sat there forever.”

“Me too,” Tim replied. He was quiet for a moment, and then cleared his throat. Julie glanced over at him. “Listen, Jules... I gotta ask you something and I want you to be honest, okay?

“Okay,” Julie said, somewhat wary.

“Did you really think I didn’t care about you?”

Settling back against the seat and tucking her hands under her thighs to keep them warm, Julie contemplated the question. “You want to know what I really thought?”

“What?”

“That you were using me.”

Tim frowned at her, shaking his head. “But -”

“No, not like you’re thinking. Not for sex. I thought you were using me because I’m the coach’s daughter and if you could win my family over, you’d be in everyone’s good books. I started to think that maybe... I don’t know, that maybe just me, on my own, that I wasn’t what you wanted.”

Tim looked away, staring silently out the windshield.

“I’m sorry,” Julie whispered. “I didn’t want to believe it was true, but I was so confused and I couldn’t figure out why you didn’t want to... you know.”

Tim didn’t reply, still staring straight ahead. Julie felt cold anxiety begin to knot in the pit of her stomach.

“Tim... Please say something. Anything.”

“I’m sorry,” he said softly, turning to look at her. The expression in his eyes was miserable. “I never meant to... I shouldn’t have let you think that.”

“You didn’t let me,” she insisted. “I’m the doofus who couldn’t just talk to you about it weeks ago.”

“I wanted to spend time with your parents so they would know I was serious,” he explained. “I don’t give a shit about anyone else, I just didn’t want to be that guy who shows up in their driveway to take their little girl away, you know?”

“I know. And they know it, too, I promise. They really like you, Tim.”

“Yeah?” he asked, looking at her dubiously.

“Are you kidding? You’ve won them over in the biggest way. My mom spends more time worrying about your schoolwork than she does about mine. My dad’s always Tim this and Tim that, when’s Tim coming over to play ping-pong with me, tell Tim he’s welcome over here anytime, blah blah blah,” she laughed, rolling her eyes. “You know what he said to me the other day?”

“What?”

“He said, ‘Riggins is around this house so much, he’s getting to be like the son God never saw fit to bless me with,’” she repeated, doing an eerily perfect imitation of her father’s tone.

Tim blinked at her. After a beat, he cleared his throat and looked away. “That’s...”

“I know,” Julie said, sliding her hand into his, where it rested on the seat between them. “Don’t get freaked out; no one’s expecting a proposal. Anyway, I’m pretty sure if we ever broke up, they’d expect you to keep coming over for dinner on Wednesdays, whether I liked it or not.”

Tim smiled at her. “You Taylors are pretty great, you know that?”

“Oh, we know. Believe me.”

Tim leaned across the cab and kissed her, cupping the back of her neck in one hand to pull her closer. Julie kissed him back, smiling against his mouth as one of his hands dropped to her knee and began idly skimming the hem of her denim skirt. They kissed that way for several minutes until Julie was half in his lap, her jacket and shirt thrown aside, goose bumps breaking out across her skin as Tim’s hand slid up her thigh to brush the band of her underwear.

Julie shivered and pressed herself closer to him, easing a hand down to press her palm against the front of his jeans. He grunted, pushing back against her.

“Jules,” he sighed, and she wasn’t sure whether he was asking her to stop or keep going. She opted to keep going, and he groaned, pushing her insistently until she was pinned beneath him on the seat.

“Hey,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows to see her better.

“Hey,” Julie replied, smiling up at him and parting her legs to let him settle between them. It was by no means comfortable, crammed into the cab of his truck as they were, but she hardly cared, too distracted by the press of Tim’s body against hers.

Tim leaned in and kissed her again, one hand travelling down and under her skirt once again. She shivered in anticipation and Tim grinned against her cheek.

“Excited?” he asked softly.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Julie replied lightly, softening her words with a gentle tug on his hair.

Tim exhaled a soft laugh and focused his attention on her bare collarbone, sucking gently. Julie was so lost in the sensation of his hot breath against her neck that she jumped when she felt his thumb brush against her through the fabric of her underwear.

“You okay?” he asked, lifting his head.

“Mmm-hmm,” she hummed, as he bent his wrist and eased his hand inside to touch her. She gripped his hair harder as he curled a finger inside her and pressed his thumb to her clit. Her moan was cut off by his lips meeting hers in a hard kiss.

“Unh,” she gasped against his mouth. He twisted his fingers, his thumb still circling her clit. Tim shifted, his lips leaving hers but his fingers still working inside of her, until he was crammed back in the other end of the cab. He got one of her legs up over his shoulder and glanced up at her.

“Move back a bit,” he said softly. Wordlessly, Julie propped herself back against the passenger side door, half sitting and ignoring the cramp she was getting in her shoulders. One foot rested on the dashboard above the steering wheel, and the other was crammed up along the back of the seats. It was not comfortable, but Julie barely noticed, so riveted was she by Tim’s every movement.

“Remember that time we were on your couch reading, back when you were tutoring me,” he said contemplatively as he pushed her skirt up, exposing her, “and you looked so cute I was kinda forced to tickle you?”

Julie nodded mutely. His eyes were dark, and even in the dim light she could see the flush staining his cheeks. He slowly hooked two fingers under the fabric at her hips and tugged, pulling her underwear down her thighs and shoving it aside before rearranging her legs. She gulped, feeling like she was peering over the edge of some high cliff.

“Know what I was thinking about, that whole time?”

She shook her head, unable to speak.

“This,” he said, bending down and pressing a kiss right on her aching clit.

“Tim!” Julie yelped.

“Mmm-hmm,” he replied, his voice muffled as he began to roughly lick her, gripping her thighs tightly in his hands.

“Oh my god,” she choked, her fingers digging painfully into the truck’s upholstery.

Tim began doing things to her with his mouth and his hands that Julie didn’t even have words for, and her heart was pounding so hard she thought she might be having a heart attack. He was relentless, completely ignoring the ridiculous noises she was helplessly making in favour of rolling his tongue against her clit.

Julie’s stomach flipped with sensations; the intensity was almost too much to bear. She felt sweat break out along her skin, which prickled like it was on fire. She gasped, her throat dry, as Tim flicked her clit with the point of his tongue.

“Oh my god,” she sighed again, her voice hoarse. She looked down, her breath catching at the sight of his head buried between her thighs, his hair tickling her sensitive skin. She’d never seen anything so thrillingly dirty in her whole life. He looked up, catching her gaze. He paused, smiling wickedly at her.

“You like this?” he asked. His mouth had paused, but his fingers still worked, stroking her in a way that was rapidly pushing her towards an orgasm.

“Yeah,” Julie moaned, barely able to force the word out.

“Mmm,” he hummed, his breath brushing over her sensitive flesh in a way that made her squirm, “I’ve been wanting to do this for a while.”

“I could kill you,” she panted. “You’ve been keeping this from me this whole time?”

Tim just laughed before lowering his head to her once again.

Julie didn’t want this incredible torture to end – she would have been overjoyed to have Tim keep this up forever – but almost before she knew what was happening, her whole body was tightening with tension as an orgasm with the force of a wave overtook her.

She was saying something – shouting it, really – and gripping Tim’s hair in her hands, but all other awareness washed away completely. She felt Tim sit up a little and pull her skirt back down as she struggled to slow her hammering heart.

“W-where’d you learn to do that?” Julie asked finally, her voice as hazy and bewildered as she felt. Off Tim’s look, she shook her head. “Never mind.”

Julie sat up, pushing him so he was sitting back in the driver’s seat. She sidled up right next to him, looking him in the eye. She leaned in and kissed him once, chastely, before sliding a hand down to drag her fingers across the erection straining against his jeans. He didn’t say anything or take his eyes off her, waiting to see what she would do.

Julie tugged on his belt, managing to pull it loose with one hand while the other came up to run through his messy hair. Tim’s hands came to rest on hers, and he mutely helped her get his fly open. Julie wrapped her hand around him and squeezed, marvelling at the sensation of his pulse and hers in her hand. Tim groaned softly as Julie made a gentle fist around him and began moving her hand back and forth along his hard flesh.

“Jules,” he sighed. “You can – harder.”

“Like this?” she asked, watching his tense face as she tightened her grip. He didn’t answer, shuddering hard and nodding tightly. She barely had time to stroke him more than a few times before he stiffened and gripped her wrist, moaning as he came on their joined hands. He panted harshly as Julie reached over and fished a few napkins out of the glove box. Gingerly, she cleaned them both off as best she could. Tim cleared his throat and pushed her hands away so he could zip himself up.

“It’s getting late,” he said, sounding like he would rather have eaten glass than point that out.

“Yeah,” Julie replied. She leaned forward and rummaged around on the floor, retrieving her clothes and grudgingly putting them back on. “Drive me home?” she asked, sitting up and brushing her messy hair out of her eyes.

Tim just smiled, watching her with an inscrutable look on his face. “I love you, Jules. Did I tell you that yet? I shoulda.”

“I love you, too,” she replied seriously. Tim smiled at her – beamed, really – and settled back into the driver’s seat, fastening his seatbelt and starting the engine. Julie scooted back into her seat and did up her own belt, but soon found herself straining against it as she leaned across the seat, cuddling up against Tim’s side as he drove them back into Dillon. He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her close.

They drove in silence for several minutes, both lost in their thoughts. Julie snuggled closer, burying her face in his chest and inhaling the scent of him. He was like a drug – the more of him she had, the more she wanted.

“I used to think that girls who went around clinging to their boyfriends all the time like this were lame, you know? Like, get over it, we all know he’s your boyfriend. But now I think I kinda get it,” she said.

“If you don’t mind it, I definitely don’t. You’re my gal,” Tim replied, his fingers tangling idly in the long, loose strands of her hair.

“You’re a cuddler?” Julie asked, her voice teasing.

“Guess so,” he said, turning to press a kiss to the top of her head.

All too soon, he pulled into the Taylors’ driveway. Sighing, Julie pulled away and looked at him. They regarded one another in silence for a moment before Tim smiled and leaned across the cab, pressing a kiss to her lips. They lingered after they broke the kiss, their foreheads still touching.

“Billy and Mindy are going out of town again this weekend, off to Abilene to see a friend of his. You still wanna come over on Friday?” Tim asked.

“I do,” she replied softly.

Eventually they forced themselves to say goodnight and Julie went into the house, pausing on the door step to wave to Tim as he backed out of the driveway and drove away.

Later, after she had talked to her parents and gone to bed, she lay staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling and realised that, although Tim didn’t know it yet, Friday was going to be her last day as a virgin.

Smiling, she rolled over and fell fast asleep.

Chapter Text

“You do realise that this is the second time since we’ve been friends that I’ve helped you lie to your parents and driven you to have sex with some guy, right? I’m only saying this because next time, I’m charging a fee,” Tyra observed lightly, sparing a glance at Julie as she turned her rusty red and white High Sierra onto Tim’s street.

It was Friday afternoon, and everything was going according to Julie’s plan. The official story was that she was going over to Tyra’s for a sleepover, and would be home on Saturday afternoon. Tyra had ensured that her mother would be home, and Angela was in on it, prepared to lie to Julie’s parents if they happened to call.

Julie felt a little bad for all the deception, but as Tyra parked her truck at the end of Tim’s driveway, she found she didn’t feel quite bad enough.

“Yes, I realise that. And it’s not just some guy, it’s Tim,” Julie replied.

“Oh, I’m familiar with Tim. Believe me.”

Julie turned and looked at her friend. “I know I’ve asked you this before, and you said it was fine, but... Are you sure this is okay with you? This whole thing with me and Tim?”

“Yes, it’s fine,” Tyra replied on a sigh. “Look, I get the attraction. I really do. It’s just that... I don’t know. I still think you could do better, Jules, that’s all. You know you don’t have to do this, right?”

“I want to do this,” Julie insisted. “I love him, Tyra.”

Tyra’s expression softened. “I know you do. You have condoms, and you’re prepared to insist that he use them, right?”

“Yes.”

“And your phone is charged? Because if you change your mind or it gets weird or whatever, you can call me and I’ll come get you.”

Touched and amused in equal parts, Julie smiled. “It’s just sex, Tyra. He’s not going to murder me. But thank you.”

Tyra sighed again and looked away. “Go, before I change my mind. Call me when you need a ride tomorrow. We can go out for pancakes and you can bore me with all the gross details. Which means you’re buying, by the way.”

Julie grinned and leaned in for a hug. “Thank you, Tyra. You’re a good friend.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tyra blustered. “I just figure one of us should have a halfway decent first time, so anything I can do to help, you know?”

Julie frowned. She had never gotten that whole story out of Tyra, but she knew that her friend had been too young, and it had been an unpleasant experience. Tyra rolled her eyes at the expression on Julie’s face, and made an impatient shooing motion.

“Just go. Don’t forget to have fun.”

“See you tomorrow, Tyra,” Julie said, grabbing her bag and hopping out of the truck.

“See you, Jules. Good luck,” Tyra replied.

Julie grinned and shut the truck door, giving her friend a little wave. Tyra waved back, and then put the truck into gear and pulled away. Julie watched her go, and turned to walk past Tim’s truck in the driveway, towards the house. Standing on the front step, she knocked on the door. Gridiron began barking excitedly inside, and Julie heard Tim’s voice. The door swung open to reveal Tim attempting to restrain the dog.

“Hey, you two,” Julie greeted them, entering the house and closing the door behind her.

“Hey,” Tim replied, succeeding in getting Gridiron settled long enough for him to bend his head and sneak a quick kiss from Julie. “What’s that for?” he asked when he pulled away, gesturing at the bag at Julie’s feet.

“That’s an overnight bag,” Julie replied, her tone casual. “I told my parents I was sleeping at Tyra’s.”

Tim just stared at her for a moment. “Want me to drive you over there later?”

Julie smiled. She loved him. “I’m not sleeping at Tyra’s tonight, Tim.”

"You’re not?" he asked faintly, like he was sure there had to be some kind of prank afoot.

"No, I was kinda hoping I might wrangle an invite to stay here for the night. If you're busy, though-" she said, teasingly making for the door as though she was about to leave. Tim stepped forward and grabbed her around the waist from behind, pulling her to him.

"I'm not busy," he said roughly, planting a kiss against her ear. Julie shivered. “What do you feel like for dinner?” he asked once he finally let her go.

Julie shrugged. “I don’t really care.”

“Okay, then. Pizza it is,” Tim declared, grabbing the cordless phone off the counter from under a heap of junk mail. Julie wandered over to the couch, flopping down comfortably as Tim spoke in low tones to the pizza place.

“You want a beer?” he asked from the kitchen, after hanging up.

“You’re not worried about corrupting me with alcohol?”

Tim snorted. “I trust your judgment.”

“In that case, yes please!” Julie replied in a sing-song voice, grinning up at Tim when he appeared at her side, holding a cold bottle of beer out to her. Nodding her thanks, she took it, and moved down to make room for him. Tim settled back in the arm of the couch, and Julie settled back against him. She felt him sigh against her cheek, and smiled. She held her beer up to his in a toast.

“To Billy and Mindy,” she said, “and the weekends they spend out of town.”

“Cheers to that,” Tim replied, clinking his bottle against hers. He grabbed the nearby remote control with his free hand. “What do you feel like watching?”

Julie’s indifferent response earned her a showing of Transformers, interrupted only when the pizza delivery guy rang the doorbell and sent Gridiron flying at the front door.

After the movie, Tim channel surfed as Julie lounged against him, her cheek resting on the warm flannel covering his chest. He landed on ESPN and lingered, and Julie became impatient. She plucked the remote control from his hand and turned the TV off.

“You tired already?” Tim asked.

“No. I’m not tired,” Julie replied. She glanced up to find him looking down at her. Leaning up, she kissed him, clumsily setting her beer aside. Tim sat forward, returning her kisses with enthusiasm, his hands catching handfuls of her hair. Julie wrapped her hands around the back of his neck, feeling the tension in his muscles. Tugging on him, she pulled him towards her, easing back onto the couch so he moved with her, pushing her legs open to lie between them, right up against her.

It felt so good, so incredibly good, to hold him close like this and not worry that he was about to brush her off. She couldn’t help the smile that stole across her lips.

“What’re you so happy about?” he asked, pulling back to look at her, his hair hanging in his eyes.

“Oh, you know, this and that,” she replied breezily. “My grades are good, dance has been going well, my hair’s been pretty great lately, and I bought a new top the other day that I really like, so mostly I was just thinking about tha -”

Tim silenced her teasing with a kiss, his hips rocking against hers. Her smile disappeared and she eased her fingers up into his long hair, gripping gently. He exhaled in a breathy grunt and thrust against her again. Julie shuddered hard at the sensation that stabbed through her stomach, goose bumps breaking out across her arms.

Attempting to keep her wits about her, Julie began unbuttoning her short-sleeved prairie blouse as Tim kissed his way across her cheek and down her throat. She squirmed her way out of it, dropping her hands to Tim’s waist. Tim kissed her breastbone, his hands running restlessly up and down her sides. After a pause, he pulled back, contemplating her as she rested her hands on his belt buckle.

“What do you got planned for this slumber party, Jules?” he asked softly, his eyes serious.

Julie met his gaze, examining the face of this boy who, less than six months ago, had been practically a stranger to her, just a player on her dad’s football team, just another face in the hallways at school. She could hardly believe how much things had changed, how she had grown to love and need him. After everything that had happened with Matt, it was still a surprise to her that she was able to feel this way about another person.

“Tim, I want... I want to...” Julie stammered, blushing hotly, as every euphemism she came up with seemed either too flowery or too crude or too clinical for what it was she wanted, what she hoped to find with him. She fell silent, biting her bottom lip in frustration and staring up into his warm hazel eyes.

“Okay,” he said, and kissed her. Julie sighed, grateful. He sat back, his hand finding hers and tugging her up as he stood. He pulled her back towards his bedroom, and she removed her hand from his grasp only long enough to grab her overnight bag and drop it on his bedroom floor.

Tim closed the door behind them and turned on the string of lights over his bed. He stood back and scratched his head, looking sheepishly about the room. “Sorry I don’t have any, uh, candles or anything like that.”

“It’s okay, Tim,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “I don’t need candles. I only need... Well, you.”

He gave her an odd sort of look, as though she had said something which pained him. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead before standing back and unbuttoning his shirt. Julie’s eyes ran over his bare torso, and she bit her lip as anticipation made her heart beat faster. They’d fooled around, sure, but they’d never even been naked together.

“Are you scared?” he asked, holding his shirt in one hand. Julie wondered why he looked so worried. She was the one about to lose her virginity.

“A little,” she replied softly. “Anything new is kinda, well... It’s new.”

He blinked, and his expression was troubled. “I’ve never... I don’t wanna hurt you,” he said.

“Maybe it won’t hurt,” she shrugged, trying to ignore the nervousness beginning to settle in her stomach at his trepidation. “Besides, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Reaching down, Julie grabbed the hem of her tank top and pulled it over her head, impatiently brushing her long hair out of her face. She looked up to find him watching her fixedly while pulling at his belt buckle.

“Here,” she said, stepping forward. She pushed his hands away and began unbuckling the belt herself, her shaking hands pushing the worn denim off his hips. She could feel his eyes on her the entire time.

His hands dropped to her hips and found the zipper on the short corduroy skirt she was wearing. Julie gulped as he undid the clasp and slid the skirt over the curve of her hips, letting it drop to the floor. Slowly she lifted her eyes and met his, and he leaned down and kissed her, stepping into her space and framing her face with his hands.

Julie sighed as he gently edged her back onto the bed. She could feel how excited he was, hard and insistent against her hip through his boxers, and she parted her legs to let him settle firmly between her thighs as he kissed her.

This was really going to happen.

She was nervous and she was scared, but she wanted this. Fisting her hands in his hair, she kissed him hard, gripping his hips with her thighs. Tim pulled back and kissed his way down her neck, sliding his hands across her ribs and underneath her to unclasp her bra and tug it away from her. Julie arched her back, helping him, and settled back against the pillows, shy under his intense, silent gaze as he knelt over her.

Julie had never felt more than a cursory amount of teenage insecurity about her body. Her greatest worry had been her breasts, as they had appeared almost overnight, it seemed, when she was 14. She went through a period of awkwardness in dance class as she adjusted to her body’s new curves, but eventually decided to be grateful, as so many of the girls at school complained bitterly about what they considered to be their own too-small chests.

Even so, she bit her lip as Tim ran light fingers down her sternum and cupped one breast, watching her. She squirmed under his gaze and at the sweet sensation of his thumb brushing back and forth over one hard nipple.

“Say something,” she sighed, feeling heat flare in her cheeks as he tugged gently.

“Can’t,” he replied, bending low and dropping a kiss on her clavicle.

“Why not?”

“Not polite to talk with your mouth full,” he said, taking one nipple into his mouth, scraping his teeth against her.

“You’re a huge dork,” Julie giggled. She moaned as Tim settled his full weight on her, kissing his way across her chest and pausing to suck on her collarbone. Feeling somewhat overwhelmed, Julie ran her hands down his bare back, abrading his sides with her nails as he pressed himself more tightly against her. She walked her fingers past his hips, under the waistband of his boxers, digging into the hard muscle she found there.

Tim grunted, and Julie gasped as his erection pushed intimately against her. She raised her hips to his, pushing back, and Tim groaned, dropping his head to her shoulder. He eased them both onto their sides, and, kissing her chin and her jaw, he pulled away enough to slide a hand between them, into the simple purple bikini bottoms she wore. Her leg still hooked over his hip, he eased a finger inside her.

“Tim,” she sighed shakily, her forehead leaning against his. “I’m – it’s so –”

“I know,” he replied, kissing her as he stroked her firmly. “I know, Jules.”

Julie buried her hands in his hair, holding him close. “Talk to me.”

Tim regarded her thoughtfully, and Julie was relieved to see he looked as flushed and dishevelled as she felt. “Not much of a talker. What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know,” she gasped. “I don’t know, I just... I can’t think when you’re doing that!”

“So quit thinking,” he replied, kissing her. He shifted down, taking a nipple into his mouth again as his fingers stroked some perfect spot inside her, causing Julie to gasp for air. Her body tensed and she came, waves of sensation seizing her. She cried out and arched against him, and Tim rolled her onto her back.

“Maybe we should just get it over with,” she panted. Tim gave her an offended sort of look, and she shook her head. “You know what I mean.”

He nodded and eased his weight off of her, their skin slick with sweat. Julie shivered as Tim sat up, sliding his boxers off and reaching for the box of condoms in his nightstand. He turned away from her slightly, and Julie heard a tear of foil. He returned to her, hooking his fingers under the elastic of her underwear and sliding them over her hips. He eased back on top of her, and she cradled his weight between her thighs.

“Try to relax,” Tim said.

“I know,” Julie nodded, tensing as she felt the strange sensation of Tim nudging against her and then pushing inside her. He paused, breathing hard, and then pressed his hips into hers, and Julie gasped as a burning pain pierced her. She bit her lip and tried to resist the urge to push him off of her.

Tim was holding as much of his weight up as he could, frozen above her. His body practically vibrated with tension. “Jules?”

“It’s fine,” Julie gasped, blinking rapidly against the tears that sprung to her eyes, “I’m okay.”

Tim didn’t say anything, just watched her closely with an intense frown on his face. He pulled back and slowly thrust into her again. Julie winced as the pain subsided to a dull throb, and she tried hard to focus not on her discomfort, but on the foreign, exhilarating feeling of Tim’s naked body against hers. His skin felt incredibly hot.

“Jules,” he said softly, his face next to hers. “Breathe.”

Julie exhaled the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding, and felt relief as the tension in her body released, allowing some of the pain to ebb away.

“Just keep breathing,” he said, kissing her cheek and brushing her hair away from her face. He took up a gentle, shallow rhythm, keeping most of his weight up on his forearms. He didn’t take his eyes from her face. Julie had never felt so vulnerable and exposed in her whole life. She resisted the silly, childish urge to close her eyes or cover her face with her hands, but only just.

Tim slid a hand down, cradling her hip. “Can you move, or does it hurt?”

Julie shifted her legs up his hips a little, her breath catching as he thrust into her again. She moved her hips up to meet his, and this time it was Tim who gasped.

“Am I – is that wrong?” Julie asked, worried.

“No,” Tim said breathlessly, his head dropping to her shoulder. He pressed a quick kiss to her collarbone. “I don’t think there’s anything you could do right now that would be wrong.”

“Oh.”

Tim looped her arms around his neck and Julie hung on, tangling her hands in his hair. He began thrusting more deeply, pressing into her and pulling her leg higher up on his hip. He panted, his brow furrowing. “Am I hurting you?” he asked breathlessly, searching her face. “Tell me if I’m hurting you.”

“N-no,” Julie stammered, as he changed the angle of his thrusts and a thread of pleasure shivered through her. Her muscles strained with effort and she felt sore, but hurt wasn’t how she felt. Raw and vulnerable, yes; the pain was secondary to everything else she was feeling.

The gentle, persistent rocking of Tim's hips as he thrust into her slowly eased the tension in her body, and she began to move with him, reaching for something intangible and just beyond her grasp. Tim's eyes were closed and his brow furrowed, like he was concentrating very hard. Julie leaned up and kissed him.

Tim's eyes opened and he looked down at her, his pupils darkening his eyes in the dim light. He kissed her back, sliding a hand down her body to brush his thumb against her. Julie tensed and bit her lip as a gentle pulse of pleasure rolled through her, goose bumps breaking out all over her skin. Tim's movements shuddered abruptly and he stiffened, dropping his head to her shoulder with a deep groan. Julie could feel his heart pounding through his chest and into hers as they lay in silence, their bodies pressed together as tightly as two people could be.

“Jesus,” he panted after a moment, his breath puffing against her damp neck.

“Are you okay?” Julie asked, her fingers tunnelling through the sweaty hair at the base of his neck. He lifted his head and gave her a look, his face flushed. He said nothing, dropping a kiss on her lips before easing off of her. He sat up and turned away, dealing with the condom, Julie guessed. Julie rolled onto her side, towards him, wincing as she became aware again of the ache between her legs.

Tim rolled back towards her, tucking an arm underneath his head and watching her. “Sorry it wasn’t better,” he mumbled, his voice low and sleepy, but serious. “It’ll probably be better next time, you know, when it doesn’t hurt.”

“It’s okay,” she replied, crossing the inches between them to kiss him. He kissed her back, running a hand down her side to rest on her hip. Parting her lips against his, he slid his hand further down between her legs. Julie pulled away, wincing. “I appreciate it,” she said softly, “but I’m kinda sore.”

Tim sat up a bit on his elbow, reaching over with one hand to turn on the lamp next to his bed. Julie blinked at the sudden brightness. Tim was staring down at the hand he’d just touched her with. There was a pinkish stain of blood on his fingers.

“Oh,” Julie breathed, her face flaming with embarrassment. It had hurt, but she hadn’t really thought there would actually be blood.

Tim turned to look at her, the expression on his face a strange mixture of fright and something inscrutable Julie couldn’t find words to describe. Without speaking, he reached over and found an old black t-shirt and moved next to her, gently parting her legs to clean the blood off her thighs.

Staring speechlessly at his downturned head, Julie felt so loved she was afraid to breathe, afraid to speak, for fear of chasing this strange, breathless moment away.

When he was satisfied, Tim threw the shirt into the hamper across the room, and collapsed next to her, watching her closely. “Need anything?”

Julie smiled. “We had sex, Tim – you didn’t break me.”

He nodded, and after another moment of quietly contemplating her, reached over and turned off his light. He arranged the rumpled sheets and blankets over them, gently pulling Julie against his chest.

Julie’s eyelids grew heavy. She was exhausted, but utterly content.

“Jules?” Tim asked after several minutes, his voice quiet in the darkness.

“Hm?”

“I love you.”

Julie smiled, closing her eyes and focusing on the sensation of his heart beating under her cheek. “I love you, too, Tim.”

She felt him smile against the top of her head, and believed briefly that there could never be a moment more perfect than this.

***

On Saturday morning, Julie awoke slowly, and frowned in brief confusion to find herself in a strange bedroom with water stains and Sports Illustrated pin-ups on the ceiling. Tim’s room was a disconcerting place to wake up. She blinked and squirmed a little, rubbing against the hairy legs with which her own were tangled.

“Quit kicking,” Tim grumbled, his breath ruffling the hair on the top of her head. Julie squirmed and glanced up to find his eyes still stubbornly closed, a frown on his face.

“Sorry,” she replied sheepishly, trying to quell the rather juvenile self-consciousness she was feeling at the fact that she was waking up in bed with Tim. She was naked. So was he. What if she had morning breath or something?

“Mmm,” he responded on a sigh, rolling onto his back and pulling her with him so she was half-sprawled across his chest.

Julie sat up a little, propping an elbow on the mattress, and regarded him with amusement. Was he pretending to sleep or actually trying to go back to sleep? Apparently aware of her gaze, eventually his eyes opened slightly and he squinted at her.

“Good morning,” she said softly, resting her chin on one hand.

“Morning,” he replied. He lifted a hand and brushed her messy hair out of her face. “I kinda like this look on you.”

“What’s that, the ‘I spent the night in bed with Tim Riggins’ look?”

“Yeah,” he guffawed.

She grinned, biting her lip against the million and one things she wanted to say. Instead she simply stared at him, trying to silently communicate everything she was feeling. He stared back, his expression inscrutable as he idly played with the ends of her hair spread across his chest.

“You all right?” he asked.

“I’m better than all right. Why – are you worried?” He merely grunted in response, his eyebrows drawing together in a frown as he looked away. Julie frowned too, a seed of worry planting itself in her mind. “Tim – what is it?”

“Nothing,” he shrugged. After a moment, he continued, his voice hesitant. “Just, you know, usually by now somebody’s heading for the door.”

“You really think after all this, I’m gonna take off? Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am? Or are you trying to hint that I should leave, since you can’t?”

“No,” he replied, giving her a narrow-eyed, testy look. “I don’t want you to go anywhere.”

“Well, good, because I don’t want to move. Ever. I just want to stay here and never do anything else again.”

“Fine by me,” Tim replied.

“Great. Except I promised Tyra I’d go out for pancakes with her today,” Julie said hesitantly as Tim frowned.

“You’re not staying for breakfast?”

“I can stay for a little while, but I did promise her. You have to keep a promise you make to your best friend, especially when that promise involves pancakes, and that friend is Tyra. But I’m sure we’ll be able to have plenty of sleepovers that include breakfast.”

“What about tonight? You still up for that party out near Kermit?”

“I think I’m gonna give it a miss. I should have dinner with my parents and get some homework done. I don’t want them getting suspicious or anything,” Julie replied.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that,” Tim winced. Julie smiled, wondering what violent scenarios he was imagining. They all featured her dad, a shot gun and a shovel, she guessed. She leaned forward and kissed him on his forehead.

“Don’t worry. You’ve gotta know by now that my parents like you. We just have to be careful and keep our private stuff... private. You know?”

Tim’s expression relaxed, and then turned playful as his eyes slid to meet hers. “Private stuff, huh? I’ve got some private stuff I’d like to do right now.”

“Tim, ew!” Julie squealed, giggling as he pounced, mercilessly tickling her ribs. She didn’t try very hard to fight him off; she figured Tyra could wait for her pancakes a little while longer.

***

“Okay,” Tyra said, pushing her syrup-covered plate away from her, “I officially forgive you for sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, because those were the best damn blueberry pancakes I ever had.”

“Tyra!” Julie exclaimed. “Don’t say it like that! It’s like I stole him from you or something.”

“Calm down, I’m just kidding.”

Julie picked at the sparse remnants of her veggie omelette, too full to finish it. They were at a truck stop diner west of Dillon that was famous around town for its huge portions and delicious breakfasts. They had gone nearly the whole meal without the subject of Tim arising, but Julie figured it was inevitable. She had promised Tyra the gross details in addition to pancakes, after all.

“So it went okay, though?” Tyra asked, her voice softening.

“Yeah, it went okay,” Julie replied. She looked down at the table, smiling as she thought of Tim. “He really loves me, Tyra. I know it. And I really love him, too.”

“I know. I’m happy for you, Jules. I mean that.”

“Thanks, Tyra. It means a lot to me,” Julie said, their eyes meeting. Tyra smiled at her.

Julie looked out the window at the sunny early spring day outside, at the cars and trucks rushing by on the highway. For a moment she was struck by a feeling of gratitude; school was going well, she and her parents were getting along, she had a job where she got to work with her best friend, she was saving up for her own car, and she and Tim had finally figured out how to talk to each other.

Best of all, she was in love with someone who loved her back. It seemed impossible that life could be this perfect.

“You should know that the look on your face right now is extremely sappy,” Tyra said. “If you could snap out of it, that would be great, because you’re kinda making those pancakes repeat on me.”

Julie laughed, her mouth dropping open in mock outrage. She rolled up a napkin into a ball and threw it at Tyra, hitting her square in the neck. Tyra burst out laughing and returned the favour.

“If we get kicked out of here and banned for life, I just want to state for the record that it’s all your fault,” Tyra said, laughing breathlessly.

“Yeah, right! You started it.”

An older man in the booth next to them turned around, glowering at them. “You girls keep it down, now, you hear? Some folks are trying to have a nice breakfast, here.”

“Sorry,” Julie squeaked, her face burning with embarrassment.

“Come on,” Tyra said, stifling another laugh as she stood up. “We should get out of here before we really do get kicked out. You can tell me all about humping Tim in the truck.”

“Tyra!” Julie scolded. She left a pile of bills on their table and hurriedly shoved a cackling Tyra out of the restaurant.

Chapter Text

“There you are.”

Julie was dumping her books in her locker after her last class on Monday when she saw Tim for the first time. After breakfast with Tyra on Saturday, she spent the rest of the weekend doing homework and hanging out with her family, and her only contact with Tim had been the occasional text message.

It had been one tiny step below torture.

“Here I am,” she replied, turning to look up at him. He was staring at her with a goofy sort of half-smile on his face.

“How’re you doing, Miss Taylor?”

“I’m doing all right. How are you doing, Mr. Riggins?”

“Real good,” he replied, still smiling at her. “I’m doing real good.”

Julie smiled back at him, and then looked down, blushing. It was like she and Tim were the only two people in on the world’s best secret, one everyone should know about but which would be spoiled if she tried to share or explain it.

“Listen,” Tim said, “it’s supposed to be a short practice tonight. Think your parents would let me steal you for a couple hours?”

“I’m sure I could talk them into it,” she replied. “What did you have in mind?”

“Thought we could grab a bite to eat, see where the night takes us. That all right with you?”

“Yup,” Julie said, grinning. “So, are you gonna kiss me right now, or do I have to do everything around here?”

Tim grinned and pulled her close, kissing her. His hands slid up her back and into her hair, and he leaned forward, tilting her off-balance. Julie giggled and held onto him.

“Been thinking about you all weekend,” he said gruffly, next to her ear. Julie shivered.

“Likewise,” Julie replied, standing up straight to hug him, her nose pressed against the fabric of his plaid shirt.

“You been thinking about yourself all weekend?”

Julie grinned and smacked him on the shoulder. “Doofus.”

“Real nice,” Tim replied, grinning back at her. He loosened his arms enough to lean back and look at her properly, his hands clasped at the back of her neck.

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” Julie said. She sighed. “You should probably get to practice.”

“Yeah. You gonna come watch? Cheer me on?”

“As thrilling as it is to watch my dad bark orders at you, I’ve got a test to study for.”

“Maybe next time,” Tim said, tugging a piece of her hair between his fingers.

“Maybe,” Julie sighed, taking in the happy expression on his face. She bit her bottom lip. “So... When’s the next time we can get your house to ourselves?”

Tim grinned, his eyes alight. “Tomorrow, after practice, if you want.”

“I do want.”

“I’ve created a monster,” Tim muttered, shaking his head in feigned dismay.

“Hmph! You created nothing; this was all my initiative,” Julie replied.

Tim responded by leaning in and pressing a wet kiss to her neck.

“Ew!” she yelped, shoving at him. “Get off me. I repeat: doofus.”

“We don’t have to wait ‘til tomorrow night, you know,” he said. “Jules, this kind of situation is exactly why they even invented janitor’s closets.”

“Oh, gross! Go to practice, already.”

Tim stepped back and shouldered his bag. He gave her a little mock salute. “Later, Jules.”

“Later,” she replied. He turned and walked off down the hall towards the fieldhouse. Julie shook her head and closed her locker door. She was certain that she was the one who had created a monster – there would be no living with him now.

With a smile, she hugged her books to her chest and trudged to the library.

***

“Damn it, Cudmore!”

Tim hung his head and sighed as Coach called Blake Cudmore, the second string running back and Smash’s future replacement, over to the sidelines. Tim glanced up and watched as Coach grabbed the kid’s grill and gave him a shake.

“He should know this stuff already. What if Smash had gotten hurt during the season? He was second string and we were running these same plays then, too.”

Tim looked up to see Matt standing next to him, hands on his hips as he watched Coach tear a strip off Cudmore on the sidelines. He eyed Matt’s profile for a moment before spitting out his mouth guard. “You got that right,” he said. “He doesn’t pick it up soon, we’re gonna have to do some homework with him, Seven.”

“Yeah, whether we like it or not, judging by how pissed Coach is,” Matt replied. He turned and gave Tim a long look, and then turned his gaze away. “He ever give you game tape and plays to work on to keep you from spending time with Julie?”

Tim turned and looked at him. He had figured that, on the field, they were pretending the whole Julie thing didn’t exist. Apparently not. “No, but then I’m not QB.” He paused and cleared his throat. “The Taylors like to have me over a lot for movies and Scrabble. Guess it’s kinda the same thing.”

Matt smiled and gave a shrug of his shoulder pads. “Good luck with that, there, Riggins.”

Coach blew his whistle and Cudmore jogged back onto the field. Matt gave him a nod, which Tim returned. They listened as Coach told them to run a different play. He blew his whistle again and all of the players got into position. Tim watched intently from his crouch as Matt called the play and caught the snap from the centre.

It was a passing play, so Tim jumped up and turned to follow his route and block one of the outside linebackers from sacking Matt. Coach was shouting something, but before Tim could hear what it was, something – or someone – plowed into his right side from out of nowhere, collapsing his balance at his hip and knocking the breath right out of him.

Tim heard rather than felt the stomach-churning snap of something break, and the pain didn’t even register before his head hit the turf and his vision went black.

***

“Julie.”

Julie looked up from her calculus textbook in surprise. Her father was standing right next to her; she hadn’t even heard him come into the library. She pulled her ear buds out and frowned up at him.

“What’s up?” she asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be at practice right now?”

Her dad stood there with his hat crumpled in one hand, looking at her as though he didn’t know how to reply. The look in his eyes gave her pause, and she felt dread creep coldly into her gut.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Tim. There was an accident at practice. Come on with me now and I’ll tell you the rest in the truck.”

Julie was up in an instant, shoving her books into her bag and shrugging her green army jacket on. Eric turned and began walking briskly out of the library, and Julie followed, hurrying along behind him. His Explorer was idling outside the library doors, and as soon as they were in, he peeled out of the parking lot and headed for the freeway, in the direction of Carr County General Hospital.

On the way, he explained what had happened, his tone strained and his words clipped. The team had gotten through drills, and had moved on to running some plays. It was a play like any other, and one that they had run before, only they had the second-string running back, a sophomore named Cudmore, in Smash’s place, getting him ready for next season. Cudmore had gotten confused after the whistle, and went left when he was supposed to go right. Tim was preparing to throw a block in the opposite direction and had his back turned. Cudmore ran into Tim’s side at an odd angle, throwing him right off his feet. He landed hard on his left leg, and the impact with the turf knocked him out cold. Tim hadn’t even seen it coming.

“But – but it’s just a pulled muscle or a strain or something, right?” Julie asked, eyeing her father’s profile as he drove. “I mean, it can’t be that serious. The ambulance was just a precaution, just something you have to do to follow the rules. Right? Dad?”

He didn’t answer immediately. After a moment, he sighed harshly. “He got knocked out cold, honey, and I’m no doctor, but I’d be pretty surprised if that leg of his isn’t broken.”

Julie swallowed, and turned back to look out the windshield.

Please, she thought, remembering every sarcastic comment she had ever made about football players who had suffered too many blows to the head. Please let him be okay.

The rest of their journey was made in silence.

When they arrived at the hospital, Eric parked the truck and they hurried to the emergency entrance. Julie barely registered a word as he spoke to the nurse behind the admissions desk. They were directed down a series of corridors to a small waiting area furnished with ugly art and uncomfortable furniture. A woman and a little girl were sitting in one corner by an under-watered hibiscus plant, the little girl’s head pillowed on the woman’s lap. Eric sighed, and gestured at one of the chairs.

“We’re just gonna have to wait,” he said.

Forty minutes later, little had changed except that, wherever he was, Billy had about two dozen new text messages on his phone, in addition to the two voicemails Julie had left during the drive over.

Julie stared at the beige wall across from her, eyes flicking frequently up to the clock. A nurse came over to speak to the woman and the little girl, and an older couple sat down together at the other end of the waiting area. Julie chewed her thumbnail, trying not to get aggravated at the way her father was restlessly bouncing his knee next to her.

“How much longer do you think it’ll be?” she asked. A pair of nurses passed by in the corridor, speaking in hushed tones. One of them laughed softly.

Her father didn’t look at her, simply kept staring down at the floor. He turned his hat over in his hands, the bright gold embroidered P passing between his fingers.

“I don’t know, honey,” he said, clearing his throat.

“Do you think he’s okay?”

He turned then and looked at her, his eyes soft. “I’m sure he’s fine. It’d take a lot more than that to put Tim Riggins out of commission.”

He lifted his arm and pulled her into a half-hug. She leaned into her father’s side, trying to quell her anxiousness. Just as she closed her eyes, she felt her dad’s cell phone buzz somewhere in his jacket. She sat up. Sighing, he pulled the phone out.

“It’s your mother,” he said, standing up. “I’ll be back in five minutes. Sit tight.”

Eric walked across the waiting area, and disappeared around a corner. Julie gave out a shaky sigh and leaned back, the back of her head hitting the wall behind with a soft thump. She closed her eyes.

“Tim Riggins? Any family here for Tim Riggins?”

Julie shot up. A nurse stood several feet away, looking at her.

“I’m here,” Julie said, walking briskly towards her. “I’m here for Tim Riggins.”

The nurse looked her up and down. “You’re family?”

“Yeah, I’m family,” Julie replied, without hesitation. “Please – how is he?”

“Come with me,” she said. She turned and led Julie back towards an observation area. At the nurse’s station, a young male doctor was leaning against the counter, writing in a chart.

“Dr. Harris?” The nurse came to a stop at the doctor’s side. “She’s here for Tim Riggins.”

The nurse departed, and the doctor looked up at Julie and frowned. “You’re family?”

“My name’s Julie. I’m his... sister.”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. “Tim Riggins’s sister?” he replied dubiously. “You know, Dillon isn’t that big.”

Julie deflated. “I’m Julie Taylor. I’m his girlfriend. Look, I’ve called Tim’s brother about a billion times, but he must be at work or something, because he’s not picking up. Their parents aren’t around and Tim doesn’t have anyone else. Please.”

“Fine,” the doctor sighed. “I’ll need to see his brother, his actual next-of-kin, at some point.”

“I’m sure he’ll be here as soon as he possibly can,” Julie said.

“Well, you’ll have to do for now,” Dr. Harris replied. He looked down at the chart and cleared his throat. “Tim suffered a low grade concussion, and his knee was dislocated. We managed to pop it back into place, but x-rays show fractures of the knee cap as well as the tibia. In order to stabilize the injuries to his leg and ensure the fractures heal properly, we have him in a cast. There doesn’t seem to be any significant nerve or circulation damage, as he does have feeling in his foot, but we’ll really have to wait and see how the injury heals.”

Julie swallowed, taking this in. “Okay. Can I see him?”

“Yes,” Dr. Harris replied. “He’s having some short-term memory difficulties due to the concussion, so just take it easy and try not to tire him out. If he gets disoriented or agitated, just try to reassure him as best as you can. It’ll wear off soon.”

Julie nodded worriedly.

“Not too long, now. He needs to rest.”

“Okay,” Julie replied.

“He’s just in there,” Dr. Harris said, pointing with the chart into the observation room across the corridor.

“Thank you,” Julie said. She turned and walked into the observation room. It was lined with two rows of hospital beds, divided by curtains. Julie walked forward, hesitantly trying to find Tim, and was relieved when a passing nurse disturbed a curtain, providing Julie with a glimpse of Tim’s wan face. She pushed the curtain aside and entered.

Tim was stretched out on the bed, his head turned to the side and his eyes closed. His left leg was encased in a plaster cast from his thigh downwards, only the tips of his toes showing. It was supported by a complicated-looking pulley.

Julie edged around the bed and sat down in the chair next to it. Tim’s hand lay limp on the bed next to him, and Julie reached over, threading her fingers with his.

“Hm,” he mumbled, turning his head and blinking blearily at her.

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Julie?” he asked, frowning at her. She squeezed his hand gently. Did he even remember her? What if he was one of those cases where months of his life disappeared like an erased tape, and he thought she was just the Coach’s daughter, his teammate’s ex-girlfriend? Was that really a thing, or was it just something that happened on shows like Grey’s Anatomy? She swallowed, trying to prepare herself if that was the case. How much more of a soap opera could her life be?

“Yeah, it’s me,” she said softly. “Do you know where you are?”

His brow furrowed more deeply as he looked around. “Hospital,” he replied. “What happened?”

“You took a bad hit in practice. Your knee’s broken, and you’ve got a concussion, but the doctor says you’re going to be fine once it heals.”

“My knee’s broken?” Tim asked, distressed, sounding strangely young and unlike the tough fullback Julie knew. She squeezed his hand again.

“It’s okay, Tim. They set it and everything already – it just needs to heal.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “You okay?”

Julie exhaled shakily, a weird almost-laugh. “You’re the one in a hospital bed, and you’re asking if I’m okay? I’m fine.” She leaned over and pressed a kiss to his temple.

They fell silent, and Julie held his hand and watched him frown vaguely up at the ceiling. After a minute or so, his gaze returned to hers.

“Jules?”

“Yeah?”

“Where are we?”

Julie stared at him. “Um, we’re at the hospital. I told you that already, Tim. Don’t you remember?”

“Hospital? What happened?”

“You took a bad hit at practice and got knocked out,” Julie said slowly. “You have a concussion and your knee is broken. You seriously don’t remember me telling you this like two minutes ago?”

“It’s a concussion, honey. He’s probably not gonna remember a whole lot of this.”

Julie turned to see her father standing at the end of Tim’s bed.

“Coach,” Tim said.

“Hey, son. How’re you doing?”

“Not bad, I guess,” Tim replied, giving a little shrug. A moment later, he glanced over at Julie, his eyebrows raised. “Hey, Jules. What’re you doing here?”

Julie looked to her father for help. He smiled tightly.

“Tell you what, Riggins. I just talked to your doctor and he said you need to rest up. Jules and I will be back tomorrow, and I bet you anything we’ll have some of Mrs. Taylor’s chocolate chip cookies for you, those ones you keep eating by the dozen before I can even get my hands on ‘em. Now you get some rest, and don’t give these nurses too much trouble, all right?”

“All right,” Tim agreed, his voice uncertain.

“Come on, Julie,” her father said firmly.

Julie stood and gave Tim’s hand a firm squeeze. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, cupping his jaw. She pulled back slightly and looked into his eyes. “I love you,” she said. She watched him for a second. “It’s me, Julie.”

“I know,” Tim replied. He smiled. “I love you, Jules.”

With a sigh, Julie stood up straight and edged her way around the hospital bed.

“Get some rest, son,” Eric repeated.

Julie cast one last look at Tim before following her father out of the rectangle of curtains surrounding Tim’s bed. She felt her father’s hand take hers as they walked back to the nurses’ station.

“Can’t we stay just a couple more minutes?” Julie asked.

“He’s got a concussion, honey. Him forgetting everything you say is just gonna scare and frustrate you both right now. He needs to rest.” He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

Dr. Harris was still standing at the nurses’ station when they arrived, reviewing a pile of charts.

“Thanks, doctor,” Eric said, dropping Julie’s hand to shake the doctor’s. “Tim’s still pretty forgetful, so we’re just gonna let him rest and come back tomorrow.”

“That’s probably a good idea, Coach,” Dr. Harris replied. “We’re going to set up a whiteboard for him at the end of his bed, telling him where he is and what’s happened, so that he doesn’t get agitated.”

“Do you do that for all head injuries, or just the people who are permanently damaged?” Julie asked.

Dr. Harris smiled. “We do that for everyone who sustains a concussion and suffers this kind of short term memory loss. We’ve done a CT scan, and the swelling in his brain is very minimal. It really is just a low grade concussion, and it’ll pass. Really.”

“That sounds good, Dr. Harris,” Eric said. “I’ll be stopping by the house to see if I can track down that brother of his.”

“That would be appreciated.”

They left then, driving back down the freeway and into Dillon mostly in silence. When her father skipped the exit which would have taken them right into Tim’s neighbourhood, Julie frowned.

“Aren’t we going to find Billy?”

“I’m going to find Billy,” Eric replied. “You’re going home to finish up your homework and enjoy the dinner your mother has thoughtfully prepared for you.”

“What? Why? Dad -!”

“Julie, there is nothing you can do for Tim right now, and I’m not real keen on the thought of dragging you to the Landing Strip and every bar in Dillon trying to track down Billy Riggins just so you can be there when he finds out his brother’s in the hospital.”

“Oh my god, Dad, you’re making it sound like Billy’s some kind of violent criminal or something,” Julie replied. “I’ve been alone with Billy tons of times.”

“You’re going home.”

“Ugh,” Julie complained, crossing her arms over her chest and looking out the window.

“You’re welcome for driving you across town to visit your boyfriend in the hospital, though, honey.”

“Like you weren’t going anyway,” Julie replied, shooting her father a sour look.

They were both silent until Eric turned into their neighbourhood, pulling into the driveway. He shifted the Explorer into park.

“Julie, like I said, there’s nothing you can do for Tim right now. You can see him tomorrow. But right now he needs his brother. He needs his family.”

We’re his family, Julie thought, feeling her chin tremble. “Okay,” she said.

Julie grabbed her bag and hopped out of the truck, dragging her feet up to the house. When she got to the front door, Tami was standing in the doorway, a concerned expression on her face.

“Hey, sweetheart,” she said, immediately folding Julie into a hug.

Julie dropped her bag to the ground and let her mom hold her. She sighed, blinking back tears. Maybe her dad was right and there was nothing she could do to help Tim right now. But it wasn’t as though she was going to be able to do anything except worry about him, anyway.

***

Tim opened his eyes, squinting as harsh fluorescent light pierced his pounding head. He groaned and blinked, trying to clear his vision. Something large and white stood a few feet away from him, and he struggled to focus on it. It was a dry erase board with words written on it in blue marker:

Tim –
You are in the hospital.

No shit, Tim thought, frowning. He continued reading:

You are being treated for a broken knee and a concussion.
Your brother is on his way.

Tim stared for a moment, and then his gaze drifted down to his left leg. It was encased in plaster and held up by some kind of weird pulley. He looked down at his toes, poking out from the cast. He wiggled them, and breathed a sigh of relief when they moved ever so slightly.

‘Not paralysed’ was good enough for right now.

The sounds of the observation ward began to clarify – the sound of nurses’ sneakers squeaking against the linoleum, the beeping of machines, the low hum of nearby voices, the periodic crackle of the PA system.

Tim shifted, groaning as his body protested. He felt like one giant bruise.

A pair of voices in conversation down the corridor grew louder as their owners came closer to Tim’s bed. He stared at the curtain, trying to see who was there.

“- but it’s not permanent, right doc?” It was Billy.

“There’s no reason to think that the damage will be permanent,” the doctor replied. “It’s not a major concussion, relatively speaking. He’ll need to take it easy for a few weeks, and he’ll need to come back in for a follow up before he drives or does anything strenuous. Football is certainly out of the question for the time being. Anyway, the time it’s going to take his leg to heal will give his head plenty of time.”

“Okay,” Billy said, sounding worried. “Can I see him?”

The curtain shifted aside to reveal Billy’s anxious face. He stepped inside, followed by the doctor, and stood by Tim’s feet.

“Hey, little brother,” he said. “You all right?”

Tim nodded. “I’m all right,” he replied, his voice hoarse.

The doctor came around the side of the bed and leaned over, quickly flashing a penlight in Tim’s eyes. “Tim, I’m Dr. Harris. We met earlier, but you may not remember that.”

Tim shook his head.

Dr. Harris nodded as though he had not expected anything else, and went on to explain that he’d had an accident at football practice, and had been brought to the hospital in an ambulance. His knee was broken and he had a concussion.

“Do you remember the accident?”

“I remember going to practice, but after that, nothing.”

“My understanding is that you were blindsided by your new running back when he went the wrong way,” Dr. Harris said, wincing. “At least that’s what your coach told me.”

Tim frowned. He’d think twice before throwing a block for Cudmore again.
“Coach was here?” Tim asked.

“Yeah, he came to check on you when we couldn’t get in touch with your brother, here.”

A hazy memory of Julie’s worried face and her small hand in his floated up out of his memory, and then faded.

“Was Julie here?”

“Your girlfriend? Yes, she was. You remember that?”

“A little, I think,” Tim replied.

“Good. That’s a good sign,” Dr. Harris said. “You may find that you have some short term memory problems and some headaches for a bit, but that should go away after a few days of rest. You’ll need to follow up with your family doctor in a couple of weeks.”

Tim glanced at Billy, who looked away. They hadn’t had a “family doctor” since Tim was in preschool.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check on one of my other patients,” Dr. Harris said. He turned and disappeared through the gap in the curtains.

“You really all right?” Billy asked warily.

“Yeah,” Tim replied. “Sore as hell, but I’ve had worse.”

“Good,” Billy nodded, looking relieved. He glanced over his shoulder at the gap in the curtains, then back at Tim, his eyebrows raised. “Okay buddy, up and at ‘em, we gotta go.”

“What?” Tim replied, bewildered.

“I said we gotta go,” Billy repeated, bending to rummage around under the bed for a moment before resurfacing with a plastic bag filled with what Tim guessed were his clothes in one hand, and his boots in the other.

“Billy, I don’t think we’re supposed -”

Tim,” Billy whispered urgently, leaning in after casting a wary look at the closed curtains. “We can’t afford any of this. We gotta go.”

“What’s your plan, Billy? Dine and dash? They already know who I am. We can’t just take off.”

“Damn it,” Billy hissed, his expression somewhere between crestfallen and annoyed. “You’re right. What are we gonna do, man?”

“I don’t know, Billy. Get the bill and figure it out, I guess,” Tim replied, wincing as a sharp pain stabbed through his head.

“Okay, yeah,” Billy said, crossing his arms and frowning. Tim could see the wheels turning in Billy’s head; he was obviously trying to come up with a plan. Something stupid, Tim had no doubt, but he wasn’t in any condition to get into an argument with his brother about it right now.

Billy tossed him the plastic bag. “I’ll get a nurse to help you out of this thing. Then I’m gonna go sign you out or whatever. Get dressed, all right?” He turned then and disappeared back through the curtain, leaving Tim alone.

Tim held the plastic bag to his chest and wondered exactly how many mortgage payments an x-ray was worth, anyway.

***

Tim was dozing in bed the following afternoon when he heard Billy return home from work. Dr. Harris had given Tim the rest of the week off school to recover, and Tim was making the most of it. At the sound of the door, Gridiron, himself dozing at the end of the bed, lifted his head and give a warning woof.

“Billy,” Tim called hoarsely, “you get those pizza rolls?”

His bedroom door opened, and Billy’s head appeared. “Nah, brought you something better,” he said. He pulled back and the door opened the rest of the way to reveal Julie standing there in her jacket, a plastic bag dangling from one hand.

“Hey,” Tim greeted her with a slow grin, awkwardly pulling himself into a sitting position. Julie came forward and put the bag on his nightstand before leaning over to fix the pillows behind him so he could sit up.

“Thanks, Nurse Taylor,” he said as she sat down on the edge of his bed, shrugging off her jacket and throwing it aside. Gridiron stood on the end of the bed, wagging his tail vigorously and pushing his face insistently in Julie’s face, trying to lick her.

“How are you?” Julie asked softly, giving Gridiron a gentle push. The dog huffed a sigh and turned around three times before lying down.

“I’m all right,” Tim replied, shrugging. “Pretty sore and still kinda out of it, but it’s not bad. Why, were you worried about me?” Julie didn’t reply. She just looked at him, her eyes round and dark in the dim light of his room. Tim frowned. “Come here,” he said, shifting over to make room for her.

Julie came to him, kicking off her shoes and settling herself against his side before pressing a kiss to his cheek. Tim rested his chin on the top of her head.

“My mom made you cookies,” Julie said, gesturing with her thumb at the plastic bag. “And I picked you up some stuff from the drug store. Magazines and junk like that. I wasn’t sure what you might want.”

“Thanks,” Tim replied, smiling. “There any porn in there?”

Julie made a soft “ugh” sound and dug an elbow into his side. “No. I just bought anything that had a truck or an engine or a deer or a guy in hunting camo on the front,” she said, clearly dubious about his taste in hobby magazines.

“Thanks,” Tim said, hugging her closer. “Think I won the girlfriend lottery.”

Tim felt Julie smile against his chest as she laid her head on his shoulder. They didn’t speak for a few minutes, and Tim was hoping things might progress directly into another nap when Julie spoke.

“What’s this?” she asked, her fingers gently stroking his bare leg. Tim craned to see what she was referring to, and saw she was examining the top of his right knee, exposed as the hem of his shorts rode up.

“Oh,” he grunted, uncomfortable. Julie had spotted the scar there. He could lie, he knew. He could say it was from football or horsing around with Billy or Jay, or any number of things, and she would believe him and file it away with the other things she knew about him. If anyone else had asked, he would have told them something like that. But this was Julie. If he couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t tell anyone. Before he could rethink it, the words were coming out of his mouth. “Got that when I was 9. I was messing around in the garage, and I got rubber cement on the floor and didn’t clean it up. My dad... He fell off the wagon by then, I guess, and he got real mad and whacked me with a screwdriver.”

Julie sat up and looked at him, her expression troubled. The look in her eyes wasn’t pity; it was a strange kind of alarmed sadness, and he hated to see it. Leaning in, she kissed him before settling back into his side and laying her head on his shoulder. Idly, she ran her fingers down his arm and back up again to rest on his shoulder.

“When we were driving to the hospital, all I could think about was that something horrible had happened to you, something they couldn’t fix,” she whispered. She fell silent for a moment, and then inhaled a shaky breath and continued. “When they said you had a concussion, I was afraid you were really hurt, badly hurt, that maybe your memory was gone and you’d forgotten about us.”

“I wouldn’t forget about you,” Tim said, tightening his arm around her back.

“I’m so glad you’re okay. I was worried about you.”

“I’m fine. I’ll have to limp around for a while, but I’m fine, Jules. Don’t worry.”

Julie nodded and leaned forward to kiss him. Tim cupped her face in his hands. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too,” Julie smiled, kissing him again. “Try not to scare me like that again, okay?”

“I’ll do my best,” Tim replied. He frowned. “Won’t be playing any football for a while, so I’ll be taking it easy whether I want to or not, I guess.”

“You’ll be back in practice before you know it,” Julie said confidently, “doing your drills and plays or whatever, listening to my dad scream at you, probably causing bodily harm to that Cudmore guy.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Tim said.

“I do have some bad news, though,” Julie said, wincing. Tim looked at her, raising an eyebrow, and she continued. “My mom made me bring all your homework over. She said the cookies were for when you’re working on your history paper.”

Tim could only groan in reply, letting his head fall back onto the pillow behind him.