Jacked UpBy: Samantha Kane
“It’s good to be King.” King Ulupoka, one of the best nose tackles in the NFL, spread his arms wide as he made the declaration, his voice dripping with satisfaction.
Sam Taylor looked over at his best friend in amusement. “King of what?” he asked. “Fishing?” They were walking down one of the crowded, closed-off streets at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama. King had dragged Sam to the Blue Marlin Grand Championship of the Gulf. King was nuts for sport fishing.
“I think I like fishing more than football. At least today I do,” King said with a laugh, his voice rich and deep and full. People looked over and Sam could see them smiling, some even moving closer. King’s laugh was like that. It was what had drawn Sam to him. He liked King’s Samoan accent. What he liked most was, if he concentrated on that accent, and on King’s laughter, then the crowds didn’t bother him so much. He hadn’t liked crowds since he’d come back from Afghanistan. They made him nervous. Which made his decision to pursue his dream of an NFL career seem really stupid in hindsight.
Sam and King played for the Birmingham Rebels, the redheaded stepchild of the NFL. King was one of the league’s best defensive linemen, and he looked like it. He was one of the most jacked players in the NFL, with muscles on his muscles, a mountain of a guy, covered in traditional Samoan tattoos. Sam almost grinned. On the outside, King looked big and mean. Inside, he was a just a big, old teddy bear.
“Just wait, Sammy,” King said, leaning closer so Sam could hear him. Sometimes Sam thought King could read his mind. “The weigh-in is the greatest show in sport fishing. It’s a spectacle. Live streaming online, jumbotrons, light shows, concerts. I love it!” He laughed again and a group of young women standing off to the side giggled and waved at them, flirting with King. King was big, but he had that exotic thing going for him, with his light-brown skin and wild hair, like that guy from Game of Thrones. His eyes were so brown they were like dark chocolate, and he had eyelashes like a girl’s, thick and dark and curly. The other guys on the team teased him about it. His nose was wide and flat and flared on the end, like a lion’s.
King blew the girls a kiss and they squealed with delight. The girls wore tiny shorts and tank tops, and had toned stomachs and long, glossy hair. Sam couldn’t have cared less. He had no desire to get involved with some giggling little girl. That kind of thing left him cold these days. He’d had too much shit go down for that.
“Yeah, it’s great,” he belatedly agreed with King. Absentmindedly, he rubbed the photo in the pocket of his shorts with the tips of his fingers. He’d discovered it was easier to agree with King on most things. Then he did whatever he wanted, which usually turned out to be whatever King wanted anyway.
“I know a guy,” King said with a wink. “He can introduce us to Miss Billfish.”
“Who the hell is Miss Billfish?”
“The beauty pageant winner,” King said, shoving him. Sam nearly fell over.
“Uh, no thanks,” Sam said, shuddering. “Not interested.”
“You better get interested,” King scolded. “We came here to get you laid. That was the deal.”
“Not my deal,” Sam protested. “I came here because you have a jones for marlin fishing and wouldn’t leave me alone about it.”
King sighed with a long face. “I miss Samoa, man. I miss fishing for marlin off Apia, just past the reef.” He turned to Sam. “You’ve got to come. You’ll love it.”
“Why didn’t you go back this summer?” Sam asked, even though he knew why. Because of him.
“Ah,” King said dismissively. “No time, brah. Too much going on.” Sam let the lie go. “Besides, we have a good time, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure,” Sam said. He caught sight of his reflection in one of the windows as they passed. “How the hell did I let you talk me into this haircut?” he said, changing the subject. He ran his hand along the side of his head with horizontal lines shaved on it.
“You look great,” King said, slapping him on the back. Sam stumbled. “Like that singer who used to play football for Alabama. The one my little sister Talia likes so much. Very edgy.”