Better Than You

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Chapter 3

As our teams stretched, Bryce and I were running our eighth penalty lap around the field. Considering that the only reason why we got in trouble in the first place was that he was a sexist jerk, I didn’t speak to him– not even to ask if I was counting right and if we were really on our eighth lap.

When I told the girls the news about us having to train with the boy’s soccer team, they were unsurprisingly thrilled. Most female teams didn’t get the opportunity to practice with boys. What they didn’t know was that the boys seemed to be thinking that the new arrangement would be a downgrade for them. But I didn’t want to ruin the situation for them like it had been ruined for me so I kept my mouth shut.

Across the field, our teams conversed, converged like it was normal. The boys laughed and joked around like it didn’t bother them in the slightest that they had to practice with us.

“We should try to make this work.”

How he had enough breath to start the conversation was beyond me. How he had the humility to make the first move was mind-blowing.

“I know you’re angry but I don’t think we should let our personal problems with each other affect the team.”

Leave it to Bryce to make me feel like a failure as a captain. Leave it to Bryce to make amends without actually saying sorry.

“You’re right,” I said the words allowing them to cut through me, panting between each syllable. Plus, as we were approaching the last lap and I barely had the breath to argue. “Everyone else is fine with the arrangement. I guess we should be, too.”

When we finished the tenth lap, we parted, approaching our own teams. Haley Stevens, my best friend in the team and also one of the best players in the team, squeezed my arm and whispered excitedly, “Bryce is so hot.” As if I wasn’t already bothered enough.

“Sure,” I said. “Hot-headed.”

“Do you want to re-explain to me why you hate him so much? Because I still don’t get it. ”

“I don’t hate him,” I told her, slightly panting from the unnecessarily long warm up. “He’s just not my favourite person. I don’t need to be in love with him to not hate him.”

“You’re in denial,” she concluded. “Of hating him or of being in love with him– I’m not sure which one. But you’re definitely in denial.”

I laughed and shook my head as I started stretching, “You’re crazy.”

“You know, I think that if you pull your head of your ass a little bit, you would notice that Bryce is very attractive and maybe you would enjoy this whole thing a bit more. Like, he is really, really easy on the eyes. Super hot. If you’re sure you don’t want him, can I have him?”

I grinned as I playfully shoved her shoulder. “Shut up, already.” Haley easily thought most guys were hot but there was one guy in particular who she’d been unusually smitten with. He was some football player who sat next to her in her Chemistry class and she claimed love at first sight.

“Not until you give me three good reasons.”

“He’s an ass,” I held up a finger for good measure followed by another finger with each reason. “He’s a conceited ass and he thinks he’s better than me. And I don’t hate him.”

“And you still gave me three reasons?”

“Had to get it out of my system.” And if I didn’t give her three reasons, she would go on asking me the same question the rest of the day.

Coach blew his whistle to get our attention and automatically, we gathered around him. He listed a bunch of drills that he was going to make us do and how many times he was going to make us do them.

Coach Henry must’ve been a good learner before he became a teacher because after a day of knowing me, he knew how worked up I got against sexist pricks. He gave both teams the same amount of drills but of course, he allowed us to go at our own pace. I wasn’t going say that I believed that my team could do any drill faster than Bryce’s team because it was a known fact that boys were usually more athletic, but we could definitely do them with accuracy and skill.

The drills were like any other drills in our training with Coach Reece. We started out with footwork drills then some drills with the ball and we did them for about half an hour.

I definitely underestimated the team. I had always imagined that all they did was play games over and over again without all the heavy work but they did work. Maybe it didn’t always show, but they did. I wasn’t going lie and say that I didn’t get tired because I was exhausted. But Bryce and his teammates were working as if these drills were child-play, I couldn’t let Bryce see me pant.

I couldn’t say the same for the rest of my team though.

Some of the newer players in my team were the first to cave, hands on their knees as they tried to catch their breath. Someone even squatted on the ground, sort of stretching the cramp in her legs.

We usually had staminas of steel yet just a few add on drills and we were huffing and puffing. Not that we’d never been out of breath before. Every training with Coach Reece was a real workout that had us gasping for air all the time but we could handle it. This kind of training was new and would just take some getting used to. It would be easy once we got used to it.

But the guys seemed to automatically mark it down as we couldn’t take it.

It wasn’t like the guys weren’t tired. They were only slightly less tired.

Avery Thompson bent down as she tried to catch her breath. Her boyfriend Vic jogged over to her. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she insisted with a smile at his sweetness. “I just need a second then I’m ready to go again.”

Sometimes, when boys thought they were doing something nice for you, they didn’t realise that in our heads, they were actually doing something completely stupid. “Coach, I think they need to take a break.”

Avery’s cheeks reddened, smile disappearing. “No, we don’t. I told you, I’m fine.”

Her ‘I’m fine’ wasn’t one with a double meaning.

“Aves, you look like you’re going to pass out.” Exaggeration.

She looked exhausted but she could manage.

“No, I don’t. Stop it, Vic, I’m not that feeble. I’m tired, yes. But you’re tired, too. Everyone on this field is freaking tired. I don’t need to take a break.”

Maybe if it were just us girls, we would all agree that we needed to sit down and have some water. But here was a guy, someone’s boyfriend no less, acting all macho and treating my teammate like a damsel. None of us would agree to that. Looked like the sexist thing wasn’t just a Bryce thing.

“No one’s going to think you’re weak for sitting down if you need it.”

So we all stood up straighter, caught our breath and slowed our breathing so it didn’t sound like we were dying, proving some sort of strength, not willing to take the offer for sitting down. If they could handle it, why couldn’t we?

Coach Henry spoke up before another fight could break out. ”Everyone can take a break. You all look like you could use it.”

It was one thing to ask for a break, it was another thing to be given one by your coach. No one argued with that.

For the first time since training started, Avery chose to stay with the team over her boyfriend.

“I wasn’t that tired,” Avery told me, feeling like she had to explain. “I could have gone another five rounds.”

“We know,” Haley assured. “It’s okay.”

“He was just trying to feel better about himself,” I said.

Avery sighed. “That was so embarrassing. If it weren’t for the great past year with him, I’d dump him.”

I’d dump him anyway, if I were her, but I didn’t say that out loud. I did not want to be the reason for a breakup. I’d let the boys mess things up themselves.

When Coach blew the whistle again (he seemed to find great pride and joy doing that) he told us that he was going to make us play a game to kind of relax a little. He divided us into two teams with equal amounts of boys and girls in each team.

Normally, I would’ve objected, saying that I didn’t mind going boys against girls, but with how unmotivated my team looked, it seemed like it was a bad time to try and prove that we were just as good as they were, which we were. Today was a transition.

So the game began. Haley was on the other team with Avery, Bryce and a few other people and on my team, I had Vic, four other girls and five other boys to match the numbers on the other team.

At first, things went down smoothly. But then at one point, five minutes into the game, Bryce ’s teammate Jason had the ball, dribbling it toward the goal. Avery stood behind him and Haley was across him with a better shot. Automatically, my mind was creating possible moves to make in the game. He could’ve passed the ball off to Avery, who also had a slightly better position than he did. From there, Avery could’ve made the shot or passed it to Haley who was free from any guard.

Instead, he tried to make the shot. And like some kind of magic trick, it went in.

It wasn’t any of my business because at that moment, they weren’t my team, but I butted in anyway. “What was that?”

“What was what?” Jason said innocently.

“You could’ve passed the ball to Avery or Haley. They’re part of your team.”

“I had a good shot.”

No, he was practically parallel to the net. Haley and Avery were at the perfect angle to make the shot. “They were in better positions. That was a risky move.” If that was how they played, no wonder they couldn’t land first place.

“Maybe you don’t think you could’ve made it,” Jason said. “But I can make that shot in my sleep.”

“Uh, excuses me. Bryce, tell your people to stop being as annoying as you. Seriously.”

“Dude, you should’ve passed the ball. Maddie, he’s sorry. Stop whining,” Bryce said. “Can we get back to the game now?”

“Fine, whatever.”

I would’ve left things at that except that from that moment, the boys controlled the game. None of teammates ever got the ball. The boys passed it to the boys as if they didn’t trust us with it. It was a terrible game.

Not because the girls were sucking or anything like that but because we weren’t even given the chance to suck.

Haley jogged towards me– since it wasn’t like any of the guys would notice– with a hard look on her face. “You know what they’re doing, right?”

“They’re hogging the ball,” I said.

“I can’t keep waiting for them to pass it to me.”

I took a deep breath and let out some tension as I breathed out. “Then we don’t wait.”

Then the real game started.

The boys were extra cautious when we came up near them but they weren’t so paranoid when it came to their teammates.

Bryce had the ball and Avery ran up beside him. She eyed the ball, trying to figure out the perfect moment to steal it. Bryce, on the other hand, didn’t see her as a threat. Just as he made it to the other half of the field, Avery swooped in, taking the ball and with skill and agility, kicked it into the net.

Despite the point not being mine, I grinned and subtly pumped my fist.

I ran to Avery and gave her a hi-five. “Nice.”

“They shouldn’t have let me take a break.”

That was what I liked to hear. The game was on and it felt amazing.

That was pretty much how the game went for the rest of the practice. The boys tried to stand their ground, but us girls weren’t useless and we definitely knew how to play the game. The guys caught on to what we were doing pretty quick and countered it only by so much because, now, we controlled the game. When it got to the point that we were already passing the ball to people on the other team, Coach Henry put his foot down.

“I know you all think that you’re soccer gods and all that. I hate to burst your bubble, but I get the feeling that none of you quite grasp the rules of this game. I’m going to take it easy right now because it’s the first day but if you guys don’t get your act together and stop acting like kids, you won’t get to train at all. Understood?”

“Yes, coach.”

“And Bryce, Maddie, don’t make me look for new captains who can actually do their job.”

Then he left. But gladly, that was it.

“Great, Maddie, look what you did,” Bryce said.

“Me?” I said incredulously. “You’re the one who started it!”

“We were just playing the game,” Jason said. “If you can’t handle it, then maybe you drama queens shouldn’t be here.”

“Seriously, Jason,” Bryce warned. “Stop.”

“Drama queens?” I repeated. “We basically beat you at your own game.” Not referring to soccer but to them trying to block us out of the game.

“You basically cheated,” Jason said but when Bryce gave him a menacing look, he continued “But I guess you guys are pretty good for girls.”

For girls?

I stepped forward but before I could pounce and teach this dude a thing or two about equality, Bryce stepped between us, back towards Jason and front so close to me that we were touching.

“Ew, stop it, Bryce! Don’t touch me. Get off me, you’re sweaty.”

“You have to stop.”

“No, you have to get off me or I’m going to call your mom and I’m going to tell her that you’re harassing me.”

He backed up, arms raised in surrender. That’s right. I had his mom’s number in case of emergencies.

“All Jason meant to say was that we weren’t expecting you guys to be so aggressive.”

“Because we’re girls?” I said.

“I guess,” he shrugged.

I glared at him as I walked away to get my things. The boys stayed on the field as the girls and I gathered our things. “I hate boys,” I said.

“Join the club,” Haley said.

“You don’t hate boys,” I accused her.

“But I’ve always wanted to say that line.”

I laughed and spotted the ball that we’d been using. Since the guys didn’t look like they were going to leave soon, I decided to kick it to them. Since I was a bit frustrated, I kicked it hard and it hit Bryce on the head.

I slapped my hand to my mouth in disbelief and guilt. “I’m so sorry.”

Sure, the idea crossed my mind, but I didn’t think it would actually hit him.

“What the hell, Maddie?”

“Sorry,” I called again, raising my hands for a show of innocence. This time, my tone was more sarcastic, taunting, challenging. Even though I didn’t mean to hit him, I decided to use this to my advantage. “But don’t be mad at me. You do know that it was an accident, right? I mean, how could I have possibly aimed the ball at you? After all,” There’s a pause and I know I have his full attention. “I’m just a girl.”

Then before anyone else could say anything, I turned and allowed Haley to hook her arm around mine.

“I can’t believe I just did that. Mom’s going to kill me.”

“Who cares? That was awesome,” she said as we ran towards the safe zone: the girl’s locker room.

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