Silk and Shadows

By: Lauren Landish

“Okay, I get that, but English?” I reply. “Why not get an English major to tutor him?”

Erica’s eyes drop, instantly letting me know that there’s more to the story coming. I brace myself because judging by the way she’s hemming and hawing, this is bad. “Well, Coach asked for a favor.” That doesn’t surprise me. Erica does a great job highlighting our football team and has been rewarded with some private interviews in return, so she’s got a ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ deal with Coach Jefferson. “It’s not just that Zach needs a tutor. He needs a tutor on the down low. No one can know about this. No. One. And while you’re new here, I’ve been impressed with your ability to protect your sources. So, I’m trusting that you’ll keep your mouth shut about this.”

There’s no threat hanging in the air, just like there’s no promise of me getting a leg up at The Chronicle if I do this and succeed. But still, the implications are clear. If I help Zach, I’m making a back-scratch agreement with Erica too, and she upholds those under-the-table deals as much as she can. If I don’t do this . . . well, I can’t imagine that’d work in my favor.

I sigh, arching an eyebrow. “Fine, you know I’m going to do this. But I need to know . . . why the secrecy? Most of the players have tutors. Hell, it’s common knowledge that a few of them basically pay people to take their classes for them. Why’s this one such a big deal?”

Erica looks around like she’s afraid someone is listening in on our conversation, and I wonder why this is what’s setting her off, considering everything else she just said. “Do you follow our football team at all?” I shake my head. Past the fact that I could recognize a football, I’m pretty clueless. She sighs, gathering her thoughts. “Okay, so our team is at a crossroads. Zach is a top-notch player, likely pro-quality. So with him on the field, we’re a shoe-in for a bowl game. That translates to money, something I know you understand.”

I nod, though I try to keep my family’s wealth out of the picture at school, not needing any attention for something that has nothing to do with me. But Erica knows because of the article I wrote about my bigshot CEO brother, Liam.

But I know that football and colleges go together like money and . . . money. Few of the players, in any of the top sports, are here because they’re academically gifted, but because they make money for the school. I’m not bitter about that, though. It takes all kinds to make the world go ‘round, and I’ve gotta give it to the guys who work their asses off to use their talent on the field to get a piece of paper most folks would kill for.

“So, if there’s a question as to his eligibility, the money machine that is ‘football’ around here could grind to a halt. No one wants to watch second-string guys play. They want to watch greatness on the cusp of something even greater . . . and that’s Zach. The athletic director already had to pull some strings with the dean so that Zach can maintain eligibility for now, but that’s a temporary solution until you help him.” Her eyes plead with me to understand what she’s saying. “Coach said that there’s a lot of pressure for quarterbacks with pro scouts too. The scouts want guys who are good on the field, but these days, QBs are team reps, so they need to be good-looking, well-spoken, and relatively intelligent. So if word gets out that Zach, while he’s definitely good on the field and gorgeous, is as dumb as a rock and might be putting the entire season for the team in jeopardy, it’ll start a chain reaction of bad news for the school, Coach, and even Zach. Do you get what I’m saying?”

I let her words mull over in my mind. “Just to be clear, though, I’m not doing his work for him. I’ll tutor him, but he’s going to have to study himself, do the papers himself, and take the tests himself. I will tutor him. I’m not taking his English class for him.”

Erica sighs in relief. “Of course. That’s all I’m asking, Norma. But there is one more teeny-tiny piece to the puzzle.” She holds up her finger and thumb an inch apart.

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