To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
The words played like a mantra in my head, reassuring me whenever I felt like backing out. The guys were staring at me with their judging eyes, scoffing to themselves. Their looks said it all. . . they didn’t quite think I could play.
Ignoring them, I just sighed while they continued their stretching. I had worn sweatpants and just come in with my hair tied in a messy bun today. From the corner of my eye, I saw Alex come in; the jacket I first saw him in when I came into this University was hanging on his shoulders and a water bottle was held in his hands.
Coach took the words right out of my mouth. “Late again, Chase?” he narrowed his eyes at him. “I get that you’re my quarterback but you’re still in the team. And each person in the team has the same rules to follow. Practice starts at five thirty sharp! Not five fifty! Ten laps of extra running for you! Oh, and remember! The next time this happens, we can easily make you run for another twenty instead of a ten!” he glared.
Alex just scratched the back of his head, put his water bottle and jacket down on the bleachers from where he would pick it up later on and joined the team but not before shooting me another one of his infamous glares as if I were the one who made him late. I almost laughed at his childish behavior. What? Was he that afraid that I’d turn out to be better than him? Did his position feel that threatened? Why, if that is the case, I’m honored.
He started off his extra laps while the others continued with their stretching. I stared at him, trying to figure him out. What is it that he had against me?
Once they were all done, including Alex, they all lined up. Due to being tired, the majority of them were panting uncontrollably with their hands on their bent knees. Honestly, guys? I feel for you. It would suck for anyone to be in your place right now. Seriously.
While they regained their breath, Coach whispered in my ear, “I’ll do the most of the talking for today. I don’t mind you jumping in any time, though. If you’d like, you can watch me and how the practice works for today. Whatever suits you.” He added at the end.
I nodded. “It’s fine. I’ll stand here for today. Maybe I can help you as well later on,” I smiled at him.
“Great,” he clapped his hands together and faced the boys. All of them suddenly got their backs straightened and the whole place got so quiet that you could barely hear the guys breathing. “Boys, let’s start practicing. Alex in the center. I want to go for the passes. Position, guys. Usual formation. On my whistle now. . .”
Not a second later, the whistle went off and Alex grabbing the football as fast as possible, passed it off to Ryder (a name I had just recently learned). Ryder passed it back as Alex ran to the other corner of the field and asked for it with his right hand. Once the ball was caught in his hands, he passed it to Mason who was the only one open at that time.
That was when I realized that these positions were practically memorized. Memorized. Each person knew when the passes were coming and were prepared for it when their chances came in. It was literally plotted. From top to bottom.
I knew I had to interfere at the moment. “Hey, Coach? Can I ask you something? Do they like, you know, change their positions from time to time?”
Coach, who was standing right beside me with his arms crossed and a satisfied look on his face as everyone caught the ball with ease, gave me a perplexed look and seemed to be thinking for a bit. “No, I don’t think so. This has been their best and most-liked position and therefore I let them go with it. Why?”
I closed my eyes and run my hands down my face. Coach was really lenient towards his boys in football, no doubt. Heck, he’s ten times stricter at normal practices than at football! He doesn’t even see how cunning they are! And then they come sulking when they lose a match. They’ve barely been practicing. That’s probably the main reason.
“Because Coach, all these passes have been memorized. They’re not really practicing anything if they go on like this. They’re supposed to be shifting positions and passes are supposed to be thrown at a person who is ready, yet unprepared. Reflexes. You’re supposed to have fast reflexes. I’m not saying that your method of teaching is wrong, no. Don’t get me wrong, but all I really am trying to say is that you should just really consider it--”
“Go ahead with it,” there was a faint smirk on his lips as he spoke his words. “Go ahead and tell them. Your idea, you do it.”
My eyebrows shot up. What even . . ?
It all happened so suddenly. Coach blew his whistle and the once confused expression on Coach’s face had quickly begun to take its shape on everyone else’s. As for me, I was dying. I turned back and gave a pleading look to Ceci to help me out. She saw the desperation on my face and gave me a reassuring smile and a thumbs up. Thanks, Ceci. That’s totally going to help.
Turning back, I faced the boys. “Alright, guys. Sam here has a suggestion that I strongly approve of. We’re going to try it out. ’Kay?” Coach told and then handed it over to me. Groans and sounds of disapproval could be heard.
“Yeah. . .” I cleared my throat. “Okay. I want a change in the positions. Alex, go to one end--you’re going to be the wide receiver. Ryder, the other end. Mason, I want you to go for the tight end. D-D--” I tried hard to remember his name but failed to do so. So while I pointed at him he gave me an annoyed look and told me.
“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. So Dominic and the rest, I want you to form a semi-circle around Alex, Ryder, and Mason but spread out as far as you can.”
They all rolled their eyes at me and refused to move to which I raised my eyebrows. Coach sensed that they weren’t going to be moving anytime soon either so he blew his whistle as loud as he could. “Didn’t you hear her?! Get going, you lazy arses!”
Internally, I felt like laughing but I managed to pull off a straight face as they all groaned and dragged their feet to their positions. There was, unfortunately, one that didn’t seem to move at all. And that one was one of my most despised person on the planet.
“Do I need to get you a personal invite? Alex! Move! Now!” Coach yelled at him.
“But Coach. . .hear me out once. She barely even knows our names. She has no idea what she is doing. Forget that, she has no idea how to play. Or the fact that we need someone to pass the ball if she’s going to do this. I can’t even pass since I’m a receiver. And look at her,” he gave me a disgusted look which I felt compelled to return. “We’re going to losing all our matches if we go on like this. How can you just stand there while all this happens?” he questioned as he gave me the stink eye. Murmurs of agreement came from behind him.
“First of all, she does have an idea what she is talking about. And second of all, she knows very well how to play, so don’t doubt her on that. Third of all, she’s thought through the positions she put you in already. And last but not least, respect her. You’re already losing all the matches. What’s one more going to do?”
“Coach, we literally just won the last one,” he gives Coach a challenging look.
“Because of her. She called out the formations. Not me. It was because of her that you guys won. So the next time you think she has no idea what she’s talking about. Think again. And as for you, Alex. You will respect her and you will talk in the exact same tone you talk to me. She is no less. The next time you talk like this, I will have you benched for the rest of the game-- losing or not.”
All the guys were staring at me now, probably thinking over what Coach said. I, however, had yet to say something.
“Positions. Now,” he ordered.
They all went into their respective places. “You pass it to them. Show them how good you really are in the excuse of it being an exercise. I know you won’t let me down,” he whispered into my ear as he handed the ball to me. From the corner of my eye, I could see all their mouths drop open.
“She’s going to pass?” one of them commented.
“Yes, any problem?” Coach asked them as if daring anyone else to say another word. No one said anything.
I could feel the familiar oval-shaped ball in my arms. A feeling of nostalgia passed over me but I forced it to go away and took a deep breath. With a smile on my face so small that only I could feel it, I got ready with the ball in my hands. “Ready?” I called out.
A series of “yes” sounded. Coach himself nodded and asked me to go on with his eyes. Laying my middle finger across the laces along with my ring and little fingers, I held the ball lightly between my palm and kept my grip very loose. I winded my throwing arm back, stopping back just behind my ear and with all I had in me threw the ball, pivoting at the last second so that I could pass it to someone who wasn’t expecting it.
The ball went straight through his hands. Like literally. I didn’t quite know whose hands, I’ve yet to learn his name but all I know is that the ball was currently on the floor, barely a centimeter away from his feet. I smiled. I didn’t forget how to play at least.
“Hey, it’s alright! Better luck next time!” I hollered, putting my hands in a cup shape to get my point across with a smirk. Everyone had their eyebrows raised except for Coach who seemed to be quite excited and close to bursting into laughter at the sight of everyone. Everyone’s eyes were fixated on the ball that was still on the floor.
“Okay! That’s enough of staring, everyone! Pass the ball back to Sam, Oakley!” Coach ordered. The guys snapped back into reality and took a deep breath in. Funny how I was nervous before this. I sure do seem to be enjoying this now.
The guy who I passed to, Oakley, turned a bright shade of red, looking adorable and slowly picked up the ball from his feet and passed it back to me. I caught it and held it tight to make sure I didn’t drop this ball. Imagine me saying this: Hey guys! I was trying to act all cool and I passed it to this one guy and he didn’t catch it, so everyone made fun of him--including me. And when he passed it back, I didn’t even catch it properly.
Yup, that’s going to be one thing to say. . .
“Ready?” I asked again and this time, only one or two people had replied. “Guys! I’m speaking to all of you!” They merrily just rolled their eyes. And I just happily wanted to take them out of their sockets. “Are you ready?!” I shouted.
They all took one look at Coach who was glaring daggers at them. “Yes!” they replied. In a place deep inside my heart, I had some respect for them . . . they truly did appreciate Coach as their well.. . . coach. Coach gave me a thumbs up to show that everyone replied and they were good to go.
I stepped backward to attempt a longer pass and threw the ball in a high, fast arc over my head. This time, however, I passed to the same person I had direct eye contact with. I realized that they still had to work on their reflexes. I just needed to know whether or not they could catch fast catches or not.
It went straight to the guy and he was ready for it, or at least he seemed ready for it. Because when it came to catching it, he fumbled with the ball and he almost dropped the catch twice because of his loose grasp on the ball before he finally managed to secure a tight grip on it.
I shook my head unhappily and gave him a small smile. “Well, at least you caught it,” I pointed out.
He took a deep breath in but didn’t answer me.
Coach, though, went on to tell me, “Try one more. I want to see one more.” He looked straight at me and it was at that time that I realized that he was disappointed as well.
“Alright.” I nodded at the guys. “Ready?”
“Yes!” they replied in chorus, more alive and awake than they ever were throughout the whole time. I glanced at Coach and he nodded once again, informing me that everyone was good to go.
Positioning myself, I stepped forward a couple of steps and snapped my arm forward in a tight, controlled arc attempting the bullet pass. This time neither did I make direct eye contact with anyone nor did I pivot. However, I did have my mind set on the one person I wanted to so badly get back to.
The pass was on point, however, Alex wasn’t paying much attention. Probably thinking of all of this as a stupid thing to do in practice. He snapped back to reality when the ball was almost a millimeter away and with his reflexes, he had almost caught it but it had managed to bounce out of his hands and onto the grass.
Everyone’s eyes were now glued to Alex unbelievingly. And I know it made me feel like a bad person, in fact, it made me seem like a really bad person but I could legit feel the satisfaction in me. But hey, I’m human. Don’t blame me. I mean. . . um. . .oops?
Coach blew his whistle really loudly. “Alex Chase! What in the world do you think you’re doing?! You say you’re the quarterback and stuff, but what the actual hell was that?! Get your mind in the game, Chase! I’m disappointed. Three passes! Three passes! And not even one proper catch! Is this how you expect to play in a game?! Is this how you expect to “win” like you all claim you did?! This is supposed to football. You’re almost dancing with the balls and--” Coach was now red. He made his way over to where we were all had gathered.
I bit my lip and cut him off, kind of feeling sorry for all of them. “It’s okay, Coach. They’ve got a lot to practice, but they’ll learn.”
Many of them scoffed, making me roll my eyes. I do them a favor and they act like this? Yeah, guys. . .go to hell the next time. Coach shut his mouth and sighed. “Dismissed. Get out of here. All of you.”
“But Coach, it’s only been an hour--”
I think it’s safe to say that no one said a word after that. And I think I saw Ceci trying to leave discreetly along with the boys as well unsure of whether to laugh at them or feel sorry. I feel for ya, Ceci.
I really do.
“Passes, we got to work on them. Badly.” He ran a hand down his face. “How could I have never noticed?”
“It’s alright. Practice makes perfect.” I told him with an encouraging smile. “And we’re going to practice so much that the next time they go out on a field the other team’s going to be afraid of them before they start playing.”
He chuckled. “Let’s hope so.” He looked at me with apologetically then. “I’m sorry about what you had to endure as well. They’ve never been like this before. But don’t you worry, I’ll take care of that. One more thing I really had to ask you. . .would you just join the team? Your passes were outstanding. I think I’ve only seen players on TV like that.” He laughed heartily.
I stopped breathing and let out a nervous laugh. “I’m sorry. I’m just going to go with teaching, though.”
He nodded while getting up from his seat, and asked no further questions. “Alright, then, Sam. See you tomorrow. Same timings, okay?”
“Alright,” I answered. “Hey, Coach?” I asked, remembering something. “Can we stay on the field until whenever we want? Sometimes, I want to go for an early morning run, like, around four to five a.m. and once, I saw this guard who basically stopped me from going anywhere when I wanted to go to do so. Is it not allowed?”
He considered this for a moment. “It usually isn’t but because you’ve done so much for me. . . I’m going to let you have this one.” He took an ID off his neck. “You can go to the guards and upon seeing these cards, they’ll allow you. Don’t worry, they’re all nice. Just tell them Coach gave you this card and they’ll let you, however, they won’t let you go out of the school, but you will be allowed to walk around the campus and run around the fields at any time you want. Oh, and remember to not take the wrong advantage of this thing I’m giving you,” he raised his eyebrows in warning.
“Use it wisely. There will be some places that are going to locked, though. For example, the library or the cafeteria. . .they’re more, but you get the point don’t you?”
A small smile formed on my face as I accepted the card and took it into my own hands. “Yes, of course. Thank you so much.”
“No problem, Sam. Tomorrow it is,” he nodded as a sign of goodbye and walked off.
Maybe, just maybe, this won’t have to be so bad. . .
“What do you want now, Alex?” I questioned, irked by his presence as I quickly switched the key when it didn’t work the first time. I was so thankful when the sound of a click came through this time and I rushed in and tried to shut the door on his face, but that didn’t work out because he placed his foot in between and grimaced in pain for a second when I tried closing the door.
Damn you Cecilia for having your stupid cheerleading meeting right now.
“They’ve got a lot to practice, but they’ll learn,” he mimicked and I rolled my eyes at his childish behavior.
“Aw, did Alex find it bad that he couldn’t even catch one pass made by, must I add, Samantha the Great?” I pinched his cheeks to which he slapped off and gave me a deadly glare.
“Just to tell you something, just because I didn’t catch your pass, that doesn’t really mean that you’re,” he added in quotation marks, ”great or anywhere near. You just took advantage of my unawareness, honestly.”
I put my hand on my chin and pondered sarcastically. “If I recall correctly, I did ask if everyone was ready and everyone did, in fact, say yes. And I know you said yes because Coach was making sure everyone responded and gave me signs every time. So don’t you dare make another excuse,” I narrowed my eyes at him and gave him an incredulous look, “and for the love of god, stop being such a sore loser.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me? What did you just say?” I could feel the sassiness radiating off him which was odd because. . . like, seriously?
“Great. Now you’re deaf too. At least you were just annoying before,” I rolled my eyes.
“Keep rolling your eyes, maybe you’ll find a brain back there,” he commented in a rather lame attempt to get into a fight with me.
I gave him a fake smile. A fight he wants? A fight he’ll get. “Well, at least I can roll my eyes to find a brain back there. Unfortunately for you, you’ve permanently been declined one.” I tutted. “And what is up with you? I don’t see what I’ve done wrong to get you to hate me this much. And anyway, if you’ve got such a big problem with me, the least you could do is tell me why in the world you are standing in front of my dorm and not letting me kick you out?
“To get you to quit. See, look at the advantages of you quitting the team. We won’t give you any attitude at all. We can actually be good friends, you know? And--”
“Maybe you should try thinking of the benefits of me helping you some time, yeah?” I sent yet another fake smile towards him and when he wasn’t expecting it, I kicked his foot hard causing it to move back and shut the door on his face.
“Nice talk, wasn’t it?” I mumbled to myself as I groaned and landed flat on my bed, exhausted for the day.