Staring up at the harsh overhead strip-lighting wasn't helping Andrew feel any better. He'd been alone in the sterile room ever since the nurse had finished bandaging his knee thirty minutes before. Prior to that, he'd undertaken a quick examination, a couple of x-rays, and been given some painkillers, which he had gladly accepted. Now the pain in his knee had receded to a dull ache, but his mind was still sharp with the shock of understanding what Coach had allowed to happen that morning.
He had no frame of reference to measure this against. The closest he could get to was... well, was when he'd humiliated Larry Lester in front of all the guys. But he'd paid for that with his Saturday detention session. So how come this felt like he was paying again right now? Coach had set him up, knowing that this would happen. Why, he still wasn't completely sure. But as he thought about it, he became more and more certain that he would not, could not let this drop.
The door quietly opened, and the doctor re-entered. Behind her walked his father.
"How are you feeling, Andrew? she asked?
"OK, I guess. Knee doesn't hurt so much now."
"That's good. I've just spoken with your father, but I wanted to tell you straight away. The x-rays show a lot of bruising and some swelling around the tendons, but no breaks, and just as importantly no strain or tears in the muscle or tendons. It's probably hard to get this right now, but you're a very fortunate young man. The injury could have been much worse."
The relief washed over Andrew like a tidal wave. Much as he begrudged the training regime, the constant measurement of performance and progress, he enjoyed the competition that wrestling gave him, and he had been afraid that it had been snatched from him.
"I'll arrange for some crutches for you, and a course of painkillers to help with the pain whilst the swelling goes down. Let me go do that now. I'll leave you two here for a while."
As the doctor closed the door, Andrew's father pulled a chair over and sat facing his son.
""I've been to the school. That Principal doesn't know shit. Seems to think this was all some 'unfortunate accident'."
"Dad, it wasn't an acc..."
"What were you playing at? You KNOW not to put yourself up against heavyweights! This kind of thing happens too easily even when you're not distracted. Trying to look big was just dumb. Now you'll miss the next match, maybe more. After Saturday, I don't know what's gotten into you!"
Andrew was speechless. Did his father really think this was all his fault, some macho prank that back-fired? After getting detention for such an act, maybe...
"Dad, is that what they told you?"
"I sat with the Principal, and your coach. Coach told me just what happened."
"I bet he did..."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Dad, I didn't 'put myself up' for the bout, like you said. I'm not that stupid. I know the risks. But Coach threw me off the team."
"What? Why would he do that?"
"He reckons I'd screwed up by getting detention. Said he had no room for losers."
"What's this got to do with the fight?"
"I knew how important this was. How important it is to you. So I said no. I said I wanted another chance. Hell, after the work I've put in, I said I deserved another chance. So he gave me one. Said I could either walk, or fight. If I walked, it was goodbye team, goodbye scholarship. He gave me no choice, Dad."
"He didn't tell me that..."
"No shit, Dad! You reckon he'd admit gross negligence like this in front of the Principal?"
Andrew could see that his father was torn. Sat with his hands in his lap, his traditional reliance in what the experts told him was being shaken by a slow realization of what his son had been through that day. Understanding how his father felt, Andrew reached out his hand, and laid it on top of his father's.
"Dad, I know I've screwed up in the past. I'm sure I'll do it again, given half a chance. But I've never, ever lied to you..."
For a long moment there was silence, as the truth sank in. Then, in an action more tender than he had managed for a good long time, Andrew's father slowly turned his hand over and gently gripped that of his son.
"Sport, I'm so sorry. Sorry for pushing you so hard that this was more acceptable than stepping off the team."
"Dad, it's OK. You're OK. it's not you that needs to be sorry."
The hands gripped more tightly for an instant.
"You're damn right there, son. Let me go chase up those crutches and stuff. After that - you up for a little trip over to the school?