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All My Rivers and All My Guns

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Every Thursday, Renee calls.

Every Thursday, Allison considers not picking up.

That part of her life, the one where she bled red and orange for the sake of a game, is over. She’s not like Kevin or Neil or Matt and she sure as fuck isn’t anything like Andrew. She’s had her fill of exy. She’s played peanut gallery to the damage a game (Jesus fuck, it was only a game) can do and she’s--she’s done. Maybe she was done the day they found Seth and maybe the months after were just ghosts. Afterimages.

Or maybe she was done the day they finally got to watch that Raven asshole (she will never give him the satisfaction of a name) self-destruct. Some nights, she dreams of that match, hears that sharp crack of bones snapping and she’ll wake up smiling.

She stopped keeping in touch with any of them, anyone involved in exy, the day she graduated. Unfortunately, it did not work the other way around. Renee never stopped calling her, emailing her, texting her, the only respite Allison got was the first few years of Renee’s venture into the Peace Corp. Then Renee got her shit sorted out and she was back to being a pain in Allison’s ass.

So every Thursday, Renee calls and Allison wishes she could stop picking up.

“Hello, Allison. Still making foster parents cry?” Renee has, at some point in time, developed a way of speaking that makes her sound like she knows something you don’t. It’s aggravating as all hell.

“Hello, Renee. Still saving the world?” Allison returns. “And I wouldn’t have to make them cry if they did their job properly.”

Renee laughs at that, and as always Allison marvels at how normal and nice Renee can seem. Allison knows better, but even so, there are times she finds herself forgetting about the knives and the (probably literal) skeletons in Renee’s closets.

People who watch college exy will sometimes ask Allison about the Foxes. “What were they like?” is the most common questions. And every time, Allison wants to answer, “The craziest lot of violent motherfuckers to have ever walked this earth. There were days when I felt like I was in a goddamn mob.” But she realises that makes her sound as bad as the rest of them, so she always comes up with something mundane and PR worthy instead.

“Any interesting kids this week?” Renee asks, on cue.

The thing about being a Fox is that it leaves its mark on you. Coach’s selection criteria basically boils down to “talented teens with a fucked up past” so the undercurrent to every interaction with a teammate is the knowledge that they’re broken in some way. Some more than others (Minyard, she means Minyard, both of them). Whether you like it or not, you get front row seat to all the ways people in position of power can mess up a kid, and you carry that with you. And if you’re any kind of decent human being, you’ll want to do something about it.

That’s probably why Allison is in the social work business. That’s probably why Renee always asks about Allison’s kids.

“A couple. There’s one, Rishi, who’s just close enough to eighteen that he thinks he can be a shit to everyone. I just put him into his third foster home for the year. He tried to set fire to the last one.”

Every time Allison talks to Renee about her kids, she gets the urge to smoke. This time is no different. She taps out a cigarette and walks outside to smoke on the balcony. It’s a nice summer day, hot without being humid and enough breezes to make the heat worth tolerating.

“A regular little pyromaniac,” Renee remarks, sounding amused. “Reminds me of that girl, Anya, wasn’t it? Coach had to bribe her with court time to make her stop playing with her lighter.”

Allison snorts. “This one likes matches. Actually, I had to bribe him with exy too. He only agreed to go to the foster home because it was close to a school with a team.”

“Is he any good?” Renee asks.

Allison wishes she could say she didn’t know, that she hadn’t watched an entire game and mentally compared his performance with other backliners she had played with. Wishes she hadn’t catalogued all the ways in which he can improve.

She puts the cigarette to her lips and inhales. Holds her breath for a second, then two, then exhales. Renee is silent all the way through.

“Yeah. Pretty good. He’s got potential. His backchecking is probably better than Nicky’s when he started out.” Allison doesn’t add, also has a shit load of issues, because that’s a given.

“Well,” is all Renee says, but Allison hears crystal clear all the things Renee is holding back for her sake.

The conversation turns to other things after that. Allison tells her about work. Renee tells her all about Jean and the kids. There was a time when Allison might have made some remark about sleeping with the enemy but Allison knows a victim when she sees one and in a not too alternate universe Jean would have fit into the Foxes perfectly, Anyway, Jean makes Renee happy, which is probably all that matters in the end.

Renee is the one to end the call and when Allison checks her phone, it tells her the call lasted fifteen minutes. Always fifteen minutes. Allison wonders if Renee keeps a timer. If fifteen minutes is all she thinks Allison can handle or if fifteen minutes is all she can handle. One day, Allison will ask.

Allison smokes another cigarette, and when she’s done, stays out on the balcony for another half an hour, thinking of nothing in particular. She’s never sure how to feel about Renee’s calls and honestly, she’s not sure she cares to be that introspective. Renee calls. Allison answers, reluctantly. That’s all there is to it.

A buzz alerts her to a text. It’s Renee, of course it’s Renee.

> You should let coach know. Following it is a string of numbers.

Allison laughs. And here she was thinking Renee would let it pass.

Well, Allison was always intending to anyway. Renee just saved her the trouble of having to spend time chasing phone numbers down.

Allison saves the number under ‘Foxes’ and dials before she can regret it. Someone picks up the phone a couple of rings later.

“Hello?”

“Hey, coach. It’s Allison. Got a kid you might want to take a look at.”

She might be done bleeding red and orange for a game, but she’s wise enough to know there are people who would leap at the chance. And maybe...maybe exy will be kinder to Rishi than it ever was to her.