"Dad? What would you say if I told you I wanted to be on the football team?" I said, staring at my toes while my dad was in his office writing down the latest stats for the football team.
"Follow your heart Charlie. That's what I would say. Why? Do you want to be on the team?" He asked, putting down everything and looking at me.
"Uh... yeah... what would I do if I wanted to be on the team next year?" I smiled sheepishly at my toes.
"Well, hun, there's never been a girl on the team. So I wouldn't really know. Or..."
"Or what?" I asked impatiently.
"I have an idea, Charlie."
"Charlotte James Keaton!! Get in here now!!" My father's bellows flow through our small house.
Shivering at my name, I make my way down the stairs. No one calls me Charlotte anymore. CJ? Yes. Charlie? Yes. Charlotte? No. No one calls me that except my father when he's exceedingly mad. That's the only reason. I would use my given name is to tell someone my real name. But even then I ask people to call me Charlie for one reason.
"Yeah dad?" I reply, stepping into his workshop quickly.
"Your brother was telling me you're going out. Where are you going? And when should I expect you home? And when can I meet this new boyfriend of yours? And why didn't you bother to tell me? What's this kid's name? Hmm?" He interrogates me.
"I'm going to kick Corey's-," I mutter, but my father still hears me and the scolding begins.
"Butt. I was going to say butt, dad. I'm going for a jog. And for the gazillionth time, I'm not dating anyone!!"
"Okay. Well I will see you later. Be safe and keep your phone on you," he says, sounding over protective, as always.
"I know, dad. I'm not gonna go anywhere that's not safe either."
Making my way out of the house, I smile to myself. Popping in my earbuds, I recall the last three years leading up to this summer, the summer before my senior year of high school.
The last three years have been amazing. My dad has supported me every step of the way. He signed me up as CJ Keller. So for the past three years, I've been going to football camp every summer, and pulled off being the first girl on the football team for Grady High. Currently, my position lies as the quarterback.
My dad taught me all the plays and I know them by heart. We would practice at least five times a week for the weeks leading to football camp. To pass off as a guy, I keep my hair in a short pixie cut, and it was now easier to maintain too.
My mom has never been one of the people who believes in me. Of course, she doesn't know that I'm on the football team. She has always been under the impression that I have been a volleyball player, sometimes she'll ask me if I do cheerleading, too. But she doesn't believe in girls doing boy sports.
Football runs in my veins. My dad has been a part of the team at Grady High since before my big brother Sam was born. Then came along Corey and I, and then the youngest of us is Jonah. Our uncle is a coach for our schools rivals, North Atlanta High, and so far we're not going to lose to my uncle. And my grandfather used to play for the NFL. So, yeah, football runs in my blood.
While I'm lost in thought, a familiar figure starts running up beside me. Recognizing it as Hunter Allen from football, I choose to keep my earbuds in and ignore him. In real life, I really don't know any of my teammates.
"Hey," his muffled voice can still be heard through the constant stream of Linkin Park in my ears.
Popping one of my earbuds out, letting it hang free, I reply, "Hey, Hunter. How are you?"
"Erm... good... um... what's your name again? Sorry." He asks me, and I'm not angry, I'm different in football than I am at school.
"It's Charlie," I reply.
At school, I'm a bookworm who rides her grades more than her parents do. And in football, I'm one of the most social people on earth. I try to sound like a guy, but sometimes I slip up. It's tough trying to hide your identity.
The only people who know are the ones who I know will support me. My big brother Sam, my dad, my best friend Andrew, my friend Ryan, and my friend Aaron, who also plays on the team with me. Kaiden, Sam's friend, and my ex, Mark, also know.
Andrew has been my best friend since grade school. He's always been there. After a breakup - which there has only been one of. When I fail, when I really just need to vent, and really whenever I've truly needed him. Andrew is on the football team too. And my dad found a way to get my fake name right on the list before Andrew's. We're always bunk mates for football camp and surprisingly my dad was completely chill about it. Then again, I really didn't have a choice if I was going to pass off as a boy.
"So..." Hunter says, "How's it going?"
"Good Hunter. Excited for football camp this summer?" I ask, trying not to be too suspicious.
"Yeah. How'd you know I was on the team? Nobody knows I'm on the team."
"I just pay attention. I go to all the games. My brothers are on the team. Corey and Jonah Keaton."
"So you're the infamous daughter that coach is always talking about. Corey and Jonah are like obsessed with talking about you. It's really obvious they care about you. Are you in any sports?"
"Yeah," I say before I can decide.
"Erm... Volleyball?" I lie unsure.
"Don't seem so confident in yourself," he chuckles.
"I mean, I play football whenever I can with my brothers. Especially Sam. It's really damn fun to beat him."
"Why don't they let any girls on the team at school? That's so beyond stupid. People should be allowed to join whatever sport they want."
Oh, trust me. I know. I'm right there with you. I think, and I start to feel a little light headed, so I slow down to a walk and crouch down to hold my head in my hands.
I forgot that I need my inhaler.usually I can pass without it, but by this time.
Suddenly, my phone rings, and I press it to my ear, as his frantic voice shouts at me.
"Dad. I'm coming home. I don't need a babysitter. If he so much as touches me, you'll be one player short and you actually might have to put in Stevenson."
He chuckles slightly and replies, "Or I could always take you out and put Corey in your spot. He's been dying to know who player number four is."
"You wouldn't dare!" I screech through the phone, "Come on! I'm your best player by far."
"There's no denying that," he says. Across from me, Hunter raises his brows and then looks at me expectantly as I silently cuss myself out.
"Got to go dad. I'll be home soon," I say before pressing the end button. "Oh god, oh god, oh god," I panic.
"Um... so... was I not supposed to hear that?"
"No, you weren't. But there's no going back now that you know," I say, pissed off at my mouth for getting me into trouble. "Please don't tell anyone. It would ruin my chance of getting a scholarship and it would ruin my career, Hunter. You have to promise me that you won't tell anyone." I say, slightly jogging.
"Why?" He asks, furrowing his brows in confusion as he starts jogging to catch up with me.
"My entire career would go kaput. That's why. The only people who know are me, my dad, my oldest brother, and a few of my friends. Well now you do, but please just don't let me lose this chance," I beg starting to sprint.
"You know, you really shouldn't be sprinting."
"Yeah?" I say, "Big whoop."
"Please stop. I don't need you having another asthma attack," he says and I start to slow down and I rest my hands on my thighs.
"You okay?" Hunter asks crouching in front of me.
"No." I reply, "I just need a minute."
Sighing, I crouch down and close my eyes, breathing calmly, taking deep breaths for air.
"Here. Hop on," he says turning around and bending down slightly.
Too exhausted to fight, I decide to get on his back. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I bury my head in the crook of his neck. Hunter starts walking and before I know it, my eyes are beginning to droop and sleep overcomes me.
"Where do you want me to put her?" I hear Hunter ask quietly, nearly a whisper.
"This way," I finally recognize the voice as my father's.
"Hunter?" I croak, "What happened?"
"Good afternoon, sleepy head," Hunter says. "You fell asleep. How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Sorry for falling asleep on you." Literally.
"It's fine. I think you needed it, after what happened today," he replies, turning the corner at the top of the stairs that leads to my room.
He finds a way to get me in front of him and he lays me down on the bed. Kissing my forehead gently, he stands up and struts to walk away. But, I don't want him to. So be for he can leave completely, I speak be for I decide what I'm going to say.
"Can you stay?" I ask, "Please?"
"Of course I can," he says turning around and walking over next to my bed.
I scoot over in my bed and pat next to me for him to lay down. He gladly takes the spot next to me and sits up against the headboard. Being stupid, I put my head on his chest and he starts to stroke my head.
Hunter's actually really nice. Really, I'm not that social during football. But Hunter is one of my few team mates that 1) I can actually stand to talk to, and 2) isn't a man whore. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of people on the team and I like most of them, but there's always those few people who you really can't stand.
"You okay?" He asks after a while, breaking the comfortable silence.
"Why wouldn't I be?" I ask, looking up to meet his green eyes.
"I mean, Charlie, you just had an asthma attack. I'm just making sure."
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking," I reply, putting my head back on his chest.
"So... if you don't mind my asking, what's your alias?"
Great, and now I'm in tears. Everyone who knows that I'm a girl on the team knows that it's a touchy subject for me. Only because my grandmother came up with it before she died. She's the reason I'm determined to follow my heart. And my heart is telling me to play football. Always has, always will.
If I try, I can think back to her last few days. She sat there, and I told her what our plan was.
"Grandma," I said, grabbing her hand in mine. "I have big news."
"And?" She asked.
"Well, I want to be on the football team next yes, and dad and I have a plan. We're just going to sign me up under a fake name and everyone will think I'm a boy. All I need now is a boy's name. Any ideas?"
"CJ?" She asks, "What do you think about that?"
"I like it. Then it goes along with my real name too. The perks of being my father's child."
"Perfect. Now, do you know what you're gonna do now, sweet pea?" She asks, I shake my head. "You're going to go out there and do your best. And I don't care what anyone says. My grand daughter is going to do whatever she wants. And she'll succeed. I know you'll make me proud."
"Charlie ? Are you okay?" Hunter asks, snapping me from my daze.
"Just peachy," I say, wiping my tears.
"No. Don't lie to me."
"Just... it's a touchy subject, I'd rather not talk about it."
"It's okay, you don't have to do anything you don't want to."
"CJ," I reply with a shaky breath.
"CJ. That's who I am on the field. Quarterback. Number four."
"So you're the one who Corey's been complaining about constantly."
"Since when do you and Corey talk?" I ask, raising my brows.
"Since freshman year. We're not best friends but we can keep up a good conversation," he says. "Are Corey and Jonah aware?"
"No. They think the same thing as my mom. They all think that I do volleyball. Or that I'm a cheerleader. But I'm not. I have everyone fooled."
"Why do you do it though?"
"I grew up in a house full of boys who love football and anything that was messy, so I decided that I wanted to do it. I really wanted to be the one person who was different than everyone else. I decided that I didn't care what other people thought. So in the eighth grade I decided that I wanted to start practicing and then that summer right before camp started we would practice constantly. Then I saw my grandmother before she died and she told me that my name fit well with CJ, well, since my name is Charlotte James, and-"
"Gimme a break my dad chose my middle name. He was expecting two boys!" I shout out, sitting with my legs crossed and my hands in my lap now. Hunter sits up with me and imitates my position at the foot of the bed.
"So, anyway, my grandmother came up with my alias and I've been going with it ever since."
"What's the hardest part about it?" He asks, and I look up.
The hardest part of trying to act like a boy? Well it's pretty obvious:
"Keeping the secret."
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