All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

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Hold Me Now

School is hell. But what else is new?

Once the day is over, I pass stares, glares, and snickers all the way to the women’s locker room. After a quick change, I muster up some courage and make my way to the football field.

What can they do to me now? I’m indisputably their teammate. They have no power over me.

Glowers are cast by many a goon as I take a seat on the sideline bench, lift a leg up and tie my cleat. I smirk. I’ve won. And they know it.

Coach starts us out by having us get in a massive circle and stretch. Justin leads the stretching from the center of the circle. After that, we “run” (read: pathetically jog) one lap around the field. These boys are not in shape.

Then the team splits into categories to practice their various drills. The linemen, including Gunner, head over to the pop-up dummies to work on blocking and tackling. I head over with Calvin to practice with the other receivers and running-backs. We practice long-distance catching and running precise patterns.

I’m doing well, just as I’d expected. It’s not hard when you’re on a team of deadbeats. They’re easy to upstage. Until their entitled attitudes start getting in the way, that is.

When we pause for water breaks, they hip-check me and snort, “Outta the way, bitch.” Women drink last, apparently, on this team. I won’t have it. I shove right back. Because I’m not taking it anymore. Not again.

I flip birds, throw elbows, and fire verbal shots at the herd of wild beasts. I hold my own against their barrage, but it’s exhausting to keep up the effort. By the end of practice, I’m exhausted, frustrated, and at my breaking point. If practice was a minute longer, I would’ve snapped. I kept my rage bottled up until I could make it safely into Calvin’s truck.

As soon as my door shuts, I roar and slam my balled fists against the dashboard. The rage has unleashed. I am a caged, wounded lion. I grit my teeth and scream, wind and sound vomiting out of me. My chest heaves. I fold forward, drop my head to my lap, and pummel the seat. The words in my head keep repeating:

Why do they hate me?

Why do they do this to me?

Why can’t they leave me alone?

Over and over, no matter what I do, I can’t make them stop. They’ll never treat me with respect. Why am I even putting myself through this.

“Stephanie,” Cal says. I can barely hear him through my thundering, torrential thoughts. “Stevie!” he yells. He grabs me and tries to restrain me. I throw him off.

“Don’t touch me!” I scream. “Don’t anyone ever touch me!”

“Stevie, you have to calm down!” he snaps. He’s rarely this firm with me. “It’s not that big a deal!”

I lift my head up, my face ablaze. I can feel the heat radiating from me. My eyes turn sapphire blue when I’m angry. I look at him with my wild blue eyes, salient against my rage-violet face.

“You don’t get it, do you?” I scream myself hoarse. “It’s the little things that grate against you. That wear you down.” I clutch my head with my hands, push them against my closed eyelids so no tears can come. “Hit after hit, dig after dig. They all add up, Cal! They keep piling up and piling up. And I can’t make them stop.”

I can’t help it. A hot anger tear trickles down my nose.

“They don’t care,” I sniff. “That they destroy me day-in and day-out. I’m worthless, to them and to everyone.”

“Stop it!” he directs. “I don’t ever want to hear you say that. Listen to me.”

My hands are still pressed over my eyes. He peels them off, and his green eyes are staring directly into mine, so close it’s nauseating.

“Are you listening?” he asks.

“Yes!” I huff.

“You have worth. You hear me? You are not worthless. And you are not helpless. Those guys, they’re assholes. Nothing they say matters. But you? You matter. Especially to me.”

My heavy breathing fills the silence that follows.

“C’mon,” he says finally. “Let’s go back to my house. We can jam in the barn. Is that cool with you?”

I nod. My throat hurts. It’s raw from screaming.

“Calvin?” I choke out.

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he says, his face and voice softening. “Do I seem mad? I’m not mad.” He opens his arms and waves his hands inward. I slide across the seat. He leans against the driver’s door while I lean on his chest. He wraps his arms around me. He always smells much better than other boys, except for Justin. Justin, with his three-figure Ralph Polo designer cologne -

“I just hate that you let them get to you. Don’t give them that power,” he says from above my head. “They only have as much power as you allow them. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You’re so much better than them.”

A tight smile breaks across my face.

“Thanks for all the sage advice, Eleanor Roosevelt,” I snicker.

“Oh, you are quite welcome, my dear,” he says in a crackly, high-pitched voice. I think he’s trying to give an old lady impression. “Any time, any time.”

I sit up.

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go.”

“You good?” he asks, concern still marring his face.

I nod. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” He starts the truck and pulls away from the field, leaving the drama behind. In this time, in this space, with him, I am safe.

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