Better Than You

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Chapter 2

I found true love at the age of four. True love was a sphere covered with hexagons of white and black. True love and I made a great team. True love already belonged to somebody else.

My first soccer ball was a gift for Bryce on his fifth birthday. We were accustomed to sharing our toys by then. Our moms brought us back and fourth between their houses. On days his mom was free, she watched over me like her own child and vice versa with my mom. We basically owned each other’s toys after all the “If you don’t share with Maddie, I’m going to throw it away,” drama. When our parents were all busy, Bryce and I even had to share a babysitter. Sharing was not a foreign concept.

But it seemed that Bryce had found true love too. Not with the Star Wars Lego set his mom got him or the tiny remote controlled car his my mom got him or even the basketball that his basketball-playing dad got him with proud, hopeful eyes. True love was a little more difficult to share.

He kicked the ball around the backyard and I followed him outside to play too. When I kicked the ball away from him so that I could have a try, he pushed me to the ground with a big thud. His mom saw, my mom saw and I guess out of embarrassment, she told him that we had to share the ball from then on. As in, the next day, when it wasn’t his birthday, his mom let me bring it home. Of course I had to give it back but since we were practically together everyday. We both got to play with the soccer ball together all the time.

A month later, our moms enrolled us in the same local children’s soccer team. On the first day, the coach said I was a natural and that I would be the best soccer player he’d ever trained. The next week, Bryce was his star player. It shouldn’t have bothered me but I was. We were close enough that I should’ve been proud of him but I wasn’t.

When high school came, we were separated. I got into the female soccer team at Northwood high school and Bryce got in the boy’s team. The separation was not unwelcome. If anything, it was a breathe of fresh air, less pressure to excel.

And I excelled.

Dinner number 69372with the Jacobs, which happened about a year ago, was the first dinner with the Jacobs that I’d ever been excited about. I hadn’t told my mom and dad the news yet since I wanted to tell everyone about my day in school today. I wasn’t the type to brag unless for Bryce’s benefit and this time would definitely be for Bryce’s benefit.

I’d always felt a need to prove myself to him. I’d admit any day that Bryce was an amazing soccer player but so was I. Yet every time Bryce was around, things were only about him and his soccer career despite my success. Today, I was certain that he couldn’t top the success I’d gotten today.

Bryce and I had grown up together but that didn’t keep us from growing apart. I’m sure we must’ve been close as kids but now we basically tolerated each other at these dinners and at school. He lived his life and I lived mine– separate and just how we liked it.

In the midst of everyone stuffing their mouths with my moms lasagna, my mom asked the ‘mom question’ I’d been waiting for the whole day. Yes, I’d been pathetically waiting.

“How was your day at school today, honey?” It was a general question that she was directing at any of the kids in the table: me, my sister Melissa and even Bryce and his sister Hannah. Usually no one had anything to say so I pounced on the momentary silence.

“I had a great day today, actually.”

“Really?” My mom said, surprised that I sounded so upbeat. “What happened?”

“Well,” my eyes wandered around the table. Melissa was casually checking her phone for messages from her boyfriend, Hannah was trying to snoop, the parents were fully invested in the conversation and Bryce glanced at me curiously without saying anything. “Coach called me to her office after school and she told me that she’s promoting me to captain.”

My mom and Bryce’s mom stood from their seats and ran over to hug me. The others radiated excitement from their own seats.

“I told you she’d make you captain!”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“Congratulations!”

“Me too.”

Bryce’s remark made no sense unless he was trying to say he was proud of me, too. If he was ever proud of me, he didn’t express it, which is why I had to clarify. “What?”

“I just got promoted to captain this morning, too.”

Cue the fake smile. Cue the fake excitement. Cue the disappointment.

“No way,” I said more appalled than thrilled.

This couldn’t be right. Avery Thompson went around school yesterday swearing that her boyfriend Vic Saunders was going to be captain of the boy’s soccer team. Vic had the grades, the skill, the reputation.

“But I thought–” I began.

“Vic’s good,” he continued as if reading my mind. “But I’m just as good as he is. Coach said that he thinks I have what it takes to be a leader.”

“That–” totally sucks, “is awesome, Bryce. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. You too,” he said. “I know you’ve been wanting this for a long time.”

“Thanks,” I said, suddenly not feeling up to talking much about either of the captaincies.

And just like that, the attention and the excitement shifted of me and onto him and stayed there. Maybe somehow becoming the captain of the male’s soccer team was more impressive than becoming the captain of the female team.

I let out a sigh as they bombarded him with questions that were originally meant for me. He gave me a small shrug from across the table as if to say sorry, that’s too bad or better luck next time you try to upstage me. I rolled my eyes and nobody scolded me because no one was paying attention.

It really wouldn’t have hurt to one-up him just that one time.

-

The doorbell rang as scheduled and I ran downstairs to welcome the Jacobs.

“Sorry, we’re early.”

I put on the best smile I could muster despite the ′your son was a total jerk this morning’ notion that was going through my head. I greeted Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs and Hannah all one by one, giving them hugs and in Mrs. Jacobs’ case (or as she wanted to be called, Auntie Lia) kisses on the cheek and then stopped dead when I came face to face with Bryce.

“What are you doing here?”

Bryce had stopped coming over for dinner about two months ago, when he became all too-cool-for-school and was drowning in schoolwork and captain duty. It had to be a total lie because I was in the exact same situation, but I wasn’t complaining.

Bryce raised his eyebrows and smirked, lifting the dish of lasagna his mom had cooked for the night. “I’m having dinner. What are you doing here?”

“I meant, why? Why don’t you go and have dinner with your professional soccer team.”

“Great hospitality, Mads,” he said. “You’re still mad about this morning?”

“Are you still being an ass?”

Mom called out for me. “Maddie, honey, what are you two doing out there?”

I shook my head in annoyance, taking the dish from his hand. “Sorry. Come in.”

“Finally. Thanks.”

I placed the dish next to the others on the dinner table and walked over to the cupboard where all the plates, bowls and utensils were. I took the plates and bowls from the shelf and started towards the dinner table to set it up.

Bryce stopped me, “I got it.”

And without another word, he set the table while I gathered the utensils then followed.

It was routine. We were practically raised together and he was used to helping out with some chores during dinner. He usually helped with the dishes, too. So, yeah, he was good for something.

“Bryce tells me that your coach is going on maternity leave, Maddie,” Auntie Leigh said during dinner. “I can’t believe that you and Bryce are going to be playing together again. It really brings back old memories, don’t you think, Rache?”

“You didn’t tell me about this,” Mom told me.

It brought back a lot of memories, all right: coaches saying, “Try doing what Bryce is doing”, my friends choosing him over me, him ignoring me as if we didn’t see each other everyday of our lives.

“It slipped my mind,” I said.

“Well, it sounds like lots of fun.”

“It’ll be just like old times,” Bryce said.

“Yeah,” I said, narrowing my eyes at him. “Except that I heard that a few of the guys hate the arrangement because they think we’ll slow them down. It’s kind of disappointing how sexist people are. I mean it’s the 21st century.”

“You heard wrong,” Bryce stared me down meaningfully. “The guys are actually thrilled. What kind of teenage boy doesn’t jump at the chance to impress a whole team of teenage girls?”

“Sexist boys.”

“When did you become such a pessimist?” Melissa told me before stuffing some food in her mouth. “Look at the bright side– aren’t you into soccer players?”

My eyes widened and my cheeks flushed red. “Mel!”

“Just saying.”

Bryce’s eyebrows shot up and his mouth gaped open a bit. Our moms started laughing giddily. My dad narrowed his eyes at Auntie Lia who was not so subtly pointing to her son, mouthing, “single soccer player” and Mom, who was nodding her head eagerly.

“Mom!” Bryce and I exclaimed simultaneously.

“It was only a suggestion,” Auntie Lia said innocently. “You don’t have to be so defensive.”

“I think you two would be cute together,” Hannah piped up.

“This isn’t up for conversation,” I said quickly while it was Bryce’s turn for his cheeks to redden.

“I second that,” Bryce said quickly.

“Me too,” Dad said gruffly.

Auntie Lia sighed dramatically. “A mom can dream.”


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