Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Monday afternoon, I march right onto the field. Just like Cal and I planned.
Funny how things never actually go according to plan. You think you’re in the clear, that you’ve executed your task exactly as you wished, and then some curveball has to get thrown your way. As if the universe couldn’t let you off that easy.
Now, I’ve always been a Poker player. I don’t know what he was thinking, but my dad taught me how to play when I was in, like, fourth grade. That man was nothing without his vices, and gambling was certainly one of them, but at least he was good at it. He taught me how to be, too. Sit me down at a Poker table, and I’ll bluff my way to a full house.
But even the best players have to fold sometimes.
I showed up at practice shortly after it started, so I could just smoothly slide on in. I joined up at the back of the clump of boys as they ran along the boundary lines of the field. No one had seen me. Yet.
After running, there was jumping Stevie, then push-ups, then scissor kicks. I stayed behind the biggest guy, Gunner, who also happened to be the slowest and least athletic. Funny how that works.
The guy’s built like a brick wall. He’s six-three, maybe six-four, and well over two hundred pounds. His blond hair is close-cropped to his chronically beet-red face, where two small sapphire eyes peer out from under a large, slanted forehead. His nose, ears, and mouth are all tiny; they sink into his ballooned cheeks and chin. His body is a sealed rectangular box that somebody pumped full of air until the sides rounded out and looked fit to burst. The guy has more meat on him than a show hog. I wonder why they call him “Tractor”.
I take refuge in Gunner’s shadow. But I can’t hide for long. We’re told to pair off for warm-up throws, and that’s when I’m thrust into the spotlight.
“Hey!” Coach yells. My stomach immediately drops. “Didn’t I tell you to get off my field?!” he barks. I don’t look at him directly; his hulking, hot presence menacing on my right is enough.
I continue casually throwing back and forth with Calvin, trying to seem unfazed. My heart is pounding in my ears. I pray he can’t hear it.
“Hey!” he hollers again. “I’m talking to you!”
“I’m aware,” I say, still not looking at him. Calvin plays along, effortlessly tossing the ball to me and receiving my passes.
“Didn’t you see the list? You’re not on the roster. So beat it!”
I’m slowly going deaf in my right ear.
“I noticed your mistake,” I say. “I’m choosing to overlook it.”
What he doesn’t realize is that I spent all of yesterday rehearsing these lines. There’s nothing he can throw at me that I won’t be prepared for. My hand is stacked.
“It wasn’t a mistake,” he growls. “Get off my field. Now.”
By now, all the boys have turned their attention to the altercation. It’s too juicy to resist.
“No,” I say. “And this isn’t ‘your’ field. It belongs to the school.”
I finally turn my head to meet his gaze. He’s gritting his teeth. His face is a blooming violet. His blood veins are snakes slithering underneath a clenched forehead and jaw. He’s on the brink of explosion.
"You have ’til the count of three,” he says, so low it’s barely audible. “One...”
“No,” I insist, holding my ground. “I’m not leaving.” I’m not gonna let myself be bullied out of something.
“Two...” Steam is streaming from his nostrils; smoky tendrils curl out of his ears. The field is a cemetery. None of the boys are throwing or catching anymore. There’s not a sound, save for a crow squawking overhead. A cloud slides in front of the sun.
Coach abruptly turns on his heel and charges to the school doors like a stampeding longhorn.
“Where’s he going?” people mutter. “What’s he doing?”
“Nice going, Stephanie,” someone says. It’s stupid Eddie. The little ass-wipe. He looks to Justin for approval.
“You’re gonna get it now,” Justin says, paying no attention to the hopeful Eddie.
I just stand there, frozen in terror. My insides are turning into gelatin. What is he going to do?!
I make eye contact with Calvin, focus on nothing but his green irises. They are calm and steady. He returns the gaze. I find my strength there.
After a long time, Coach bursts through the school doors and storms back onto the field.
“Well, Miss Roberts,” he addresses me, “the police are on their way. They’re going to escort you to the precinct. I hope you’re happy. You’ve disrupted our entire practice.”
My jaw drops. “You can’t do that!” My mind is in a tizzy. It didn’t work. He didn’t take my bluff. He played his hand. He won. The worst case scenario is actually happening. What am I going to do? What the actual hell am I going to do? “You don’t have the right to!” I say without thinking. “I’m not moving from this spot. You can’t make me.”
“The hell I can’t,” says Coach.
I plop down cross-legged on the dried, pokey crabgrass field. “I’m not leaving. You can’t make me leave. I have every right to be here, and I have every right to sit here and not move one inch if I don’t want to. It’s in the Constitution - tell ’em, Cal.” I look at him earnestly. Save me, Cal. You said you have my back. Please help me now.
“She has the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly,” he says slowly. “As long as she’s being non-violent, she legally can’t be stopped or removed.”
Coach sniffs. “We’ll see about that.”
I smile up at Calvin. I mouth the words “Thank you”. He nods, flashes a small grin.
Coach blows his whistle, lifts some papers on his clipboard.
“Alright, boys! Line up in the end zone. I’m gonna start timing your 40s.”
“But, sir,” someone drawls. It’s Gunner, raising his hand like a kindergartner in class.
“Yes, Tractor?” Coach huffs.
“There’s kinda somethin’ in the way.” He nods his head towards me, still sitting in the middle of the field. I look up, from him to Coach.
“Move around it. Or don’t.” Coach shrugs. “Either way, I’ve got a practice to run. Everybody, line up.”
I exhale and close my eyes. They’re about to run at me full-force, competing for the coveted spot of fastest 40-yard dash. It’s a clear terror tactic: scare me into getting off the field. They’re gonna come at me like I’m not even there.
I tighten my stomach, fold my arms across my chest, and take a deep breath. Then I open my eyes to face the oncoming runners. Bring it on.
The first guy takes off, sprinting towards me. I close my eyes, feel the wind hit my face as he blows past me.
“7.7 seconds. Not bad, Brandon,” Coach calls. He scribbles it down on his clipboard. I breathe a sigh of relief. I’m not dead. He went around me.
The next guy in line starts heading my way. I’m not scared; they won’t hit me. It would ruin their time. I’m safe.
I easily stare down every runner that comes my way, no matter how close he seems to be. Even Justin. Cal, of course, runs farther away from me, sacrificing his time. He’s usually one of the fastest. He got a slow time because he went so far around me.
Then comes Eddie.
His focus, like all the others, is at first above my head. But almost instantly I realize that he’s making a beeline right for me. He’s not deviating in his path. I’m his target. He’s coming at me. He’s gonna hit me.
Dirt is flying in his wake, kicked up by metal cleats. Still he stares ahead and sprints toward me. Do I dive out of the way?
I brace myself for impact; I put my knees up, tuck my head down, and fold my hands over my head. It’s barely enough time.
Pain, like lightning, shoots through my skull, down my shins, up my spine. My head slams back against the compact ground. It’s never happened to me before, but now I know what it is to see stars. Purple and green splotches spark on the parameters of my vision. My brain is throbbing. And he’s on top of me. Eddie’s on top of me.
“Get off!” I scream, much shriller than I intend. I startle myself. “Get the fuck off me!” I try to roll out from under him. I try shoving him off. His hands fumble from my chest to the dirt, searching for something to push himself up. He’s hot and wet and rotten. His weight on me is like an anvil on my chest. He’s crushing my lungs. I can’t breathe.
Suddenly, hands reach down and they’re ripping him off me. It’s Cal. And another boy - a junior named Josh. They’ve each taken an arm and are yanking him away.
“What the fuck, man? Get your hands off me,” Eddie snarls. He shoves Josh.
“Man, what’s your problem?” Calvin snaps back.
He shoves Cal away, too. ”That’s the problem!” He nods at me.
“Shut up!” Calvin barks. He pushes Eddie back. I’ve never seen him angry before. Not like this.
I can feel things escalating. Eddie’s hands scrunch into fists. Calvin crouches like he’s about to tackle someone. He lurches forward -
The sharp trill of a whistle breaks the tension.
“Boys! Break it up!” Coach shouts. He makes no mention of my trampling. Figures. “See? This is what happens when you let a girl on the team,” he snorts. Eddie backs off, hands up, looking innocent. Calvin steps up to him real close, gets in his face. I rub my hands up and down my shins to soothe the pain.
“If you ever,” Calvin breathes, sticking a finger in Eddie’s face, “hurt her again, I will kill you.” I’ve never seen him so severe in my life. His expression is flinty and menacing. His eyes are cold. He backs away but continues glaring, even shoots two fingers from his eyes to Eddie’s in an “I’m watching you” way.
Of course, just then the cops show up. They don’t have the sirens or flashers on. They just casually pull up, two of them, both in one car. They get out and close the doors behind them, moseying on over to us. One drops his head and spits black. Chewing tobacco. Their uniforms are tan. They’ve both got their holsters on, packing heat.
Coach strides up to greet them. The two officers converse with him quietly while he announces everything.
“That’s her right there. Can’t get ’er to move. Disrupting my practice,” Coach complains. The cops look at each other, look at me, look at Coach, and nod. Of course they’re wearing sunglasses, so I can’t tell where their eyes are. I just follow their head movements.
“We had a female Marine when I was in the Corps,” Coach says to them, quieter. “Just like this one. Caused all kinds a drama. Fractured the team. It ruined our dynamic and messed with our ability to do our jobs right.” All they do is continue to nod.
Eventually, they meander down the field to where I’m still seated, holding my head with my hands. It still hurts. I’m a little worried.
“Ma’am,” the taller, thinner of the two addresses me, “I’m gonna hafta ask you to come with us down to the precinct.”
I just look at him dumbly. Maybe he’ll think I’m retarded.
“Ma’am,” he repeats, same mellow tone, “if you don’t cooperate, we will have to use force. Please get on up now and come with us.”
“Ma’am - ”
“No, really. Why? What did I do?”
“You’re trespassing,” the shorter, chunkier cop interjects. “This field is owned by the school and presently allotted for the football team only. You aren’t on the team; therefore you can’t be here.”
“Are you serious?” I mutter.
“You better get yourself off this field now, or we’ll have to cuff you.”
I sigh, gaze at the grass. What choice have I got? It’s over. I lost.
I stand up, slowly and painfully. I have to keep one hand plastered to the back of my head as I follow the police to their vehicle. A golf ball-sized lump has swelled. Boys’ laughter trails behind me. I am such an idiot.
The chunky cop opens the car door for me and I slide into the plastic back seat, behind a metal grate. The men climb in, and I can’t help but be on high alert. They could rape me and no one would know. I’m tense, on the verge on fight-or-flight, the entire drive to the precinct. I watch the roads, houses, and trees blur past, keeping track of where we’re headed. After a few minutes, we pull into the sheriff’s office and the men let me out of the back seat. They lead me into the air-conditioned, white linoleum tile, florescent light room. I’m seated in a vinyl-cushioned wood chair, and a bespectacled secretary peers at me from her desk. It smells like bleach. I’ll bet ten bucks someone cleaned up puke today.
“Stephanie Rogers?” the secretary asks. I look up.
“That’s me,” I grunt. She turns her attention to a computer monitor. Her fingers clack over the keyboard.
“And the name of your parent or legal guardian?”
Isn’t she supposed to know this stuff? Like doesn’t she have all that on record or something?
“Mary Beth Kwazazowksi,” I say, bemused. More clacking.
“23B Maplewood.” Click-click-click-clack clickety clack clack. Oh, God, and there’s a clock ticking.
The thick police officer leans over the counter and murmurs to the secretary.
“Trespassing,” he says. “Call her parents, let them know they can come get her.”
Wait...that’s it? No mug shots, no finger printing...what kind of police station is this?
I’m suddenly struck by how much pain my head is in. It’s kinda like when you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn the heat up on him, so he doesn’t know he’s cooked til it’s too late. I raise my hand out of habit.
“Excuse me, but do you have an ice pack?” I inquire, rubbing the tender spot on my skull. “And maybe some Tylenol?”
The secretary and the officer look at one another, bewildered.
“Sure, sweetie,” the secretary says. She looks like a mom. She gives off that vibe. The cop heads to another room and shuts the door. The skinny cop has disappeared somewhere. The lady pushes off her desk, slides back in her rolling chair, and scuttles to an aged yellow refrigerator just off to the side. Her hair is short, roller-curled, and dyed orange. She’s a little on the plump side and wears a pink button-up cardigan. She opens up the top door, the freezer, and pulls out a plastic pack filled with dark blue gel. It’s white with frost.
“Here,” she says, and comes over to me. I take it from her outstretched hand and place it gingerly on my cranium. “What happened, honey?”
I just stare at her. She seems genuinely concerned. And her blue eyes are kind.
“Nothing,” I say. “I just...fell and hit my head. That’s all.”
She frowns. She doesn’t buy it. She goes back to her desk and reaches into a large brown purse. She sifts through it, finally plucking out a small white-capped bottle. She opens it and pours two orange pills into her hand. Then she goes to a water jug beside the fridge, plucks a Styrofoam cup from a side holder, and, lifting the dispenser’s tab, fills it. She walks them over to me. She holds the ice pack while I pop the pills in my mouth and take a sip of water.
“Are you sure you’re okay, sweetie?” she asks. I take the ice pack back. I nod, but it hurts. My brain feels jostled by the littlest movements.
“Yeah,” I gasp, holding in any acknowledgment of pain. “I’m fine. Thanks.” She glances down, and I catch her eyeing my bruised shins. They took the brunt of the impact.
“Football,” I explain. She nods.
“That’s a rough sport,” she says. A pause. She walks back to her desk. Then, she stops. She turns around. She looks me in the eyes. Her face is solemn. “Hit ’em harder,” she instructs.
I nod and almost smile.