Quarterback's Secret Baby

By: Imani King

Chapter 1: Kaden

I already knew who Natasha Greeley was before I watched her fall spectacularly across a traffic island outside Hawley's Grocery. She was in the fifth grade, the same class as me and she had the cutest damn dimples I'd ever seen, which was about as far as it went with girls when I was that age. I knew she was going to fall before she did - I almost called out when I spotted her wandering towards the island with her nose stuck in a book and a bag of groceries in her other hand but I assumed she'd seen it. She hadn't. I immediately ran over to where she was sprawled on the ground, covered in spaghetti sauce from a smashed jar.

"Are you OK?" I asked, bending down to gather apples and oranges as they rolled away across the asphalt in all different directions. "Are you hurt?"

She didn't answer at first. She just lay there with her eyes scrunched tightly - adorably - shut, refusing to acknowledge what had just happened. A flying piece of broken glass had hit her I could see a thin trail of blood running down one coltish ankle. "You're bleeding," I told her, trying to get her to open her eyes. "You cut your ankle, you should-"

"It's OK." She said curtly, as if I'd walked in on her doing something she shouldn't have been doing. She sat up and ran her hands through her thick, dark curls. "I'm fine."

"Do you need any he-"

"I'm fine. I need to get these groceries home in time for dinner."

I wanted to help. From that very first moment with Tasha Greeley part of me was driven to take care of her, even if she was having none of it. When I offered her my hand to help her up she ignored it.

"Are you sure?" I asked tentatively as she stood up and gathered the undamaged groceries. "I can go and tell them you need another jar of spaghetti sauce if you want to wait-"

"No," she reassured me, looking vaguely in my direction but refusing to catch my eye. "It's fine. I just need to get home."

So I handed over the fruit I'd gathered and watched, awed at her composure and slightly taken aback by the fact that she was so short with me - even in fifth grade the girls all seemed to have a habit of dissolving into giggles whenever I looked at them. Tasha marched off with her head held high, leaving a trail of spaghetti sauce footprints behind her.

I think maybe I loved her ever since that day.

Chapter 2: Tasha

I don't recall the precise moment I realized I would not be going to college. If it wasn't for my pride, I probably would have figured it out much sooner. I always got the best grades in all my classes and ever since Kindergarten my teachers used words like 'bright' and 'determined' to describe me. College was always the goal. I would have been the first Greeley to go, too. It wasn't about showing up my family - family is the most important thing in my life - it was about supporting them. Especially my mom, who raised three children alone, holding down two crappy jobs the entire time and never complaining once. I wanted to give her a break. After a lifetime of supporting everyone else I wanted her to be able to relax. I wanted her to know, not through my words but through my actions, that I was grateful for everything she did for me and my brother and sister.

She got sick when I was sixteen. She got sick and my older brother Ray got his girlfriend pregnant. We held on, because that's what we Greeleys do, but the future I'd always had in mind, the one where life is fair and good things happen to good people - even if it takes a long time - slowly slipped below the horizon and out of view. Ray moved back home with his girlfriend Alisha and I took on an afterschool job. My grades never slipped but we were barely hanging on. Every cent that came in - Ray worked, too, and so did Alisha - was needed. When my niece was born, Alisha had to quit work.

The moment of realization came during a meeting with my guidance counselor. She was an older woman, very kind and encouraging, but she didn't understand. She tried to argue with me.

"Tasha, I don't think delaying college is a good idea. You need to get out of this town and the longer you put it off, the harder it's going to be."

She wasn't wrong. "I know," I said quietly, "but my mom is sick and she can barely work these days. Without my salary, she won't be able to afford rent."

The guidance counselor, Mrs. Foster, nodded and pressed her lips together. "Yes, Tasha. I know your mother is having a difficult time. But how do you think you can help her more, in the long run? By staying here in Little Falls and working the kind of minimum wage job you're working right now, with no qualifications? Or by going to medical school and becoming a doctor, like you planned?"

I sighed. "But I won't be making any money for ten years or more! What is my family supposed to do?"

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