“Coach, you can’t leave.”
“Yes, I can,” she replied then pointed at her slightly bulging belly, carrying the most precious soon-to-be goalie. “And I have to.”
I had a whole list of selfish reasons why the best soccer coach in the world shouldn’t go on leave.
1. We were supposed to be on our way to the championships for the second time in a row.
2. The school couldn’t afford another soccer coach with tight budget of the soccer team due to the big budget of the football team.
3. We lost two of our best players since they graduated last school year.
4. Nobody could coach us like she did.
There were more I could add but none of the reasons mattered because her maternity reason outranked all of mine a hundred times over.
“I know you have to,” I said, seeing no point in trying to make life harder for her because when she came back, she’d return the favour in laps. “But we need you.”
“You guys are doing great with or without me,” Coach Reece said. “The best team I’ve ever trained. And I get what you’re trying to say. You want to be on your top game as defending champions, I get it, but it’s not like I’m leaving you coach-less, Maddie.”
“I thought the school wouldn’t get us anyone.”
“You have me.”
Coach Henry sat on the edge of the desk with his arms crossed in front of his chest like a teen.
So that was why he was here.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the male soccer team’s coach. I barely knew the guy. It was more that he wasn’t Coach Reece. He was lax and carefree whereas Coach Reece was responsible, strict and by the book. He interacted with the team like old friends from high school. I didn’t have any right to judge the way he did things. After all, I wasn’t a coach. But when the male soccer team was Northwood’s team with the least wins for more than five years in a row, you tend to point the blame at the coach’s direction.
Their constant loss didn’t bother me despite the whole school spirit jazz. I minded my own business and if my business was doing better than Bryce, then by all means, he should keep doing what he was doing. I’d bet my cleats that they were doing something wrong. My team had been working our asses off to earn the last championship title. I wasn’t ready to let that dream go.
Before I could perform the best lying act I’d ever put on and tell him how thrilled I was to get to have to opportunity to be coached by him, the office door swung open, saving my butt school bell style.
“Hey, Coach, what did you need to talk to me abou–” As soon as his gaze rested on my face and my stressed out expression, he began to turn back around. “My bad. I’ll come back later.”
“Jacobs,” the male coach addressed. “We were just waiting for you.”
“Okay,” he drew out, confusion evident in his voice. Bryce stepped inside the room again and shut the door. When he walked over to stand next to me, he offered me a small smile as a greeting to which I replied, “Hey.”
Bryce and I didn’t usually have to have meetings with each other. When I found out Bryce was captain, of course I was irked but at least we were still two separate teams so no one could compare us anymore. We only ever did one meeting about the training schedules and the soccer field reservations but that took about only twenty minutes since the captains from the year before us had already sorted out a good dynamic.
“What did you need me for?”
“As you can see,” he gestured at my coach. “Coach Reece is pregnant and school isn’t willing to pay for a replacement coach for the meantime so they’ve asked me to take over for the girl’s team.”
“That’s cool,” Bryce said awkwardly before turning to the female coach and continuing. “Congratulations, by the way, Coach. Just a suggestion: you should name your kid after me.”
I rolled my eyes.
“I’ll think about it,” Coach Reece laughed.
“Not to be rude and all, but why does this meeting apply to me? ”
“You can’t take over the girl’s team,” I frowned, broadcasting my train of thought. “You’re not available during our schedules. That’s why you guys got first pick for the time slots.”
Bryce didn’t miss a beat. “Did your schedule open up?”
“No,” Coach Henry shook his head. “My schedule didn’t open up.”
My brain was a mess of figuring out what that could possibly mean. Was he going to split his time between our teams? If so, we wouldn’t be getting enough training in time for the season. Was he going to ditch the boy’s team for ours? I wouldn’t be surprised.
“We’ve been talking about possibilities for training for a while now,” Coach Henry began. “And we’ve decided that until Reece gets back from her leave, I’ll be training both teams together.”
“What?” we both exclaimed with the same amount of dismay laced in our tone.
“As in, at the same time?” I asked.
I’ve spent years being compared to Bryce by soccer coaches. Now, we were finally on different teams and yet we were going to be asked to train together where not just our coach, but our teammates as well could compare us.
“The guys aren’t going to want to train with the girl’s team, Coach.”
I stiffened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Bryce turned to me and went on defensive mode. “Mads, you know I think you’re a great player and all, but can you honestly tell me how training with your team is going to benefit us?”
Bryce shook his head immediately. “That sounded really bad. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, what did you mean it like, Jacobs? I can’t wait to hear this.”
Bryce was genuinely a good guy but he was no pushover. At my raising my voice, he countered, “Well, we’re training at a different level and frankly, nobody wants to be forced to wait around so that you girls can keep up.”
I couldn’t hate Bryce with our mother’s being each other’s godmothers and all but it was times like these when I wanted to punch him in the face several times a second. It was the times when he acted all high and mighty and better than me because he was a guy; this happened more often than not.
Maybe I couldn’t outrun him or out-muscle him, but I could guarantee that I could outplay him any day. But whatever, right? People have been saying that he was better than me my whole life; no problem. Some people had it easy. But degrading my whole team because we were born with an extra X-chromosome? Overboard.
“You’re a losing team! You guys have been at the bottom of your category for, like, five years now.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have opened my mouth because something definitely sparked and that fire wasn’t going to be put out soon. But to my defence, he started it. Still, my mom was going to kill me.
“We made it to the quarterfinals last year and we made it to the finals the year before that. If we end up having to train with you and your team, that might ruin any chances we had at winning this year.”
“We actually won the championships last year. If anything, you could learn a thing or two from us! We might actually be the ones suffering by having to train with you.”
“It’s not my fault you had easy opponents.”
I frowned. He did not just say that.
Bryce and I didn’t try to start a fight. I hated fighting with Bryce mainly because I was afraid our mom’s were going to somehow find out and force us to hug it out like that time when he broke my Barbie doll when we were six. We didn’t usually fight either, but when we did, it got ugly just because no one was willing to back down.
We’d made a silent agreement a long time ago that it was probably best to avoid each other in order to avoid fighting and in turn, avoid our mothers’ wrath all together. But things like soccer kept bringing us together with a huge collision.
“It’s not my fault you’re an easy opponent,” I bit back. “Gosh, you’re so full of it.”
“Okay, that’s enough!”
I don’t know what made me feel worse– the fact that I’d just lashed out on Bryce Jacobs in front of two of my coaches or the fact that I’d just pissed off a pregnant woman.
Though having the last laugh did suit me well.
If Coach Henry was furious about the way I’d been talking down about his team, it didn’t show in his face. If anything, he looked a bit amused but the expression vanished as if to put up more of a strict facade.
Coach Reece, however, was pregnant.
“You could benefit from my team by first, getting your ego in check. Second, my girls worked through blood, sweat and tears to get where they are now. The teams they go up against may not be made up of boys but they’re just as good and competitive. They deserved their title.”
“You tell him, Coach,” I muttered.
Pregnancy must’ve given her super hearing because her anger was now directed at me. “And you will stop being a drama queen about this. Coach Henry and Bryce will be doing us a huge favor by letting you girls train with them.” Bryce had just said he didn’t want us training with them. “You have no right to go around belittling their team. Coach Henry is a great coach and Bryce is a great player. If you’re going to be ungrateful, then I’ll give them permission to kick you to the curb. I want both of you to stop acting like children. Understood?”
“Yes, Coach,” we said simultaneously.
And I continued on, “Sorry, Coach Henry. I don’t think your team sucks. You’re captain’s just a jerk.”
“Maddison,” Coach Reece warned. Yeesh, whole first name. Abort, abort, abort.
Bryce glared at me and memories of seven-year-old versions of us running to our moms after a fight came flooding back to me.
“He definitely has his moments,” Coach Henry said.
“You guys are supposed to be leaders,” Coach Reece continued with a more relaxed tone, anger a tad bit diffused. “Starting next week, you’re going to have to start acting like a team. That means no ‘my horse is bigger than your horse’ fights.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Got it,” Bryce said.
“You aren’t irreplaceable. Remember that.”
“You two are forgiven but you’re not getting out of ten extra laps around the field on Monday,” Henry said nonchalantly, as if adding to the sermon.
Extra laps? How many regular laps were there?
“We’ll announce the arrangement to the rest after school. Gather them on the field at 3:30.”
They dismissed us, shooing us out of the room. I hadn’t had a competitive lapse with Bryce in a long time. I had barely had a full conversation with Bryce in years except for those awkward ‘how’s-your-mom, she’s-great-how’s-yours’ lines. Something about it was thrilling and refreshing and somehow right.
“Bryce,” I called, before he walked away.
I walked forward so that I was in front of him. My words were soft yet full of conviction and pride. “My team can beat yours any day.”
His eyebrows shot up, almost surprised that I hadn’t let it go. “I guess we’ll have to see about that, won’t we?”