He's not quite sure what snaps him back to reality but Eric Taylor actually starts and blinks when he realizes that neither he nor Matt has spoken for the last minute or so.
He feels as if he's on autopilot when he reaches over and turns the tap off. (He debated for a moment, wondering if he should turn it the other way first, and run it for a bit to warm Matt up, because the boy's got to be pretty well chilled by now.) He studies Matt, jaw clenched against clattering, for a moment, then reaches his hand out, crouching slightly.
Matt looks at him, shivering, teeth chattering now, and finally takes it. A grunt and a heave and he's out of the tub and dripping on to the rug.
As he hands him the towel, Eric says, "Dry off and get changed."
When Matt squelches past him and into his room, Eric heads down the hall to the front room, sinks down into Loraine's ancient and faded chair and buries his head in his hands. Tami's not going to be exactly happy to hear what he's about to tell her, but once he gets home and can explain the whole damn thing to her? She'll get it. She always does.
(It's one of the things he loves best about her.)
He half thinks that maybe having her talk to Matt ... but no. Right now it needs to be him. Man to man.
(Yeah, this is why they pay him the big bucks.)
He heaves a sigh that feels like it came from somewhere around his knees, pulls out his phone and dials. "Hey Babe. I'm going to be home late. It's a bit more complicated "
"Is Matt's Grandma okay? Is Matt okay?"
Eric's heart swells anew with love as he hears the concern in her voice. "Grandma, yes, Matt ... not so much. I can't talk right now. Tell you more when I get home. Love you." He hangs up and turns the phone off before she can speak again. It's more abrupt to her than he'd like, but he doesn't want to do anything right now that would make Matt feel like he's an imposition, a burden, a chore.
When Matt shuffles down the hall, Eric puts more life in his voice than he feels. "Okay, let's go."
They end up in an all night diner just off the interstate. After the waitress brings their drinks, Eric scrubs a hand over his face, sighs on the inside and says, "It's been a hell of a season." He cups his hand around his coffee and thinks that he really should have gotten a decaf, because it's the taste of it earthy and slightly bitter that he wanted more than anything else, and this is probably going to keep him up the rest of the night. Gone are the days when he could drink coffee and go to bed. One of the curses of middle age.
"I'm sorry," Matt murmurs yet again.
"Son, shut up," he says gently, and takes a drink of coffee, letting it roll over his tongue, savoring it, before swallowing. "I'm sorry too."
"Wh-what?" Matt gapes at him, hands clenched around his mug of hot chocolate. "What have you got to be sorry about?"
Pinching the bridge of his nose against the sudden onrush of a headache, Eric groans softly under his breath before he replies, "For not paying you better attention." For calling Landry "Lance" yet again. For not impressing upon Smash the vital importance of keeping his mouth shut on camera except for official press conferences. (And I cannot believe that TMU pulled his scholarship over this given some of the pieces of work they bend over backwards to keep on their team.) For not explaining myself better to Tami about Julie.
For not being Superman. He smiles ruefully at that last one.
A blink-and-you'll-miss-it smile flashes across Matt's face. "Like-like you said, it's been a hell of a season." He gulps at his hot chocolate, wiping his mouth with his hand when a little dribbles down the edge of his mouth. "So does this how much trouble am I in?"
How the hell do I answer a question like that? "You're headed for trouble, but not the way you think?" "You're acting out and given what's happened to you, I kind of understand?"
But before Eric can frame a reply, Matt blurts, "Am I is it like, Tim Riggins bad?"
He laughs and smiles in spite of himself. "No, son, Tim Riggins has a knack for carving out his own special brand of trouble." But his levity vanishes in the next instant. Well, actually, considering that neither of your parents are around and your grandmother's losing her marbles, which makes her in her own way as incompetent as Billy Riggins? Yeah, this is Tim Riggins bad.
(Tim Riggins. God. On the one hand, talk about life being unfair. On the other, talk about "hit the basement and kept on digging.")
Eric cradles the coffee cup in his hands and rocks it slowly back and forth, listening to the sound his wedding ring makes as it clacks against the side. He clears his throat and murmurs, "Life isn't fair, Matt. You know that better than most." He pauses to let that sink in before he puts some steel in his voice for the next bit. "See that you don't bring any more trouble on yourself by being stupid and selfish."
"Nosir." Matt nods vehemently.
The waitress comes up, all bloodshot eyes and says her shift is ending and do they need anything else? Eric tips her a dollar and asks for the check.
They both fiddle with their cups for a few awkward moments before Eric says, "Of course, you're going to have meeting with the world's finest guidance counsellor tomorrow, and you're going to listen to her and do what she says when she explains how you're going to make up for the classes you missed."
The drive home is quiet. It's close to midnight, and they're both cracking yawns.
"Sorry I'm a disappointment," Matt says as he opens the door to get out.
"You are not a disappointment, Matt. Listen to me now you are not a disappointment. Not to me. Not to anybody worth a damn. You're a good young man struggling to play the hand he's been dealt."
Matt's eyes flick over to him for an instant, but he blushes and turns away just as quickly. Finally, he darts a shy glance back. "Thanks, Coach."
Eric smiles as he reaches out and ruffles Matt's hair. "Now get in and get some sleep, son. Morning's going to come a hell of a lot earlier than either of us wants."