Droplets of sweat ran down my face and my breath came out in short, deep pants. My heart thudded in my chest as I awaited the feeling of the leather in my hands. Once the once-familiar material finally came into my hands, I passed the ball onwards to Troy.
He held onto the ball tightly and made a run for it on the field, getting tackled at a good 45.
As we took our positions again, I looked proudly at Troy. “Now that’s what I wanna see more of. Good work.” I felt like a mother making sure her children did their homework correctly. Except that I wasn’t a mother, and they most definitely were not my children. Oh god, forbid.
He flashed me a toothy grin and once again, we all diverted our attention to the game.
“Hike,” I called and the ball had once again landed right into my hands. I hurled it to Troy once again and he jumped over a couple of the defenders quite smoothly but got tackled at the 4 yard mark. Third down and three more yards to go.
“Come on, guys. Focus. Now, listen to the next play. I’m going to pass to Xavier. If the defenders surround him, I want Mitch to stay alert. That’s where my alternative pass is going to be. Also, Eddy. Good coverage. Well done. Keep it up and block them as much as possible. Got it?”
“Got it,” they all chimed and we ran back.
I held direct eye contact for a second with Xavier to deceive the other team members. As two of them came running over to Xavier to attain the ball, I quickly turned my posture and flung the ball to Mitch who took it up for two yards.
We all came together, tired and completely out of breath. The end was nearing and we had a lot at stake. Our reputation. Our pride. And most importantly, our confidence. We were losing due to the touchdown Alex had done so beautifully that it would hurt me to state so and our stupid penalty. The score was now 10-14, with them in the lead. We needed the last down to be epic. To be extraordinary and ensure us our win. “Okay, we need a touchdown. Frederick, keep your eyes open. This one’s coming to you. Go for it, okay? You can do this. I believe in you.”
With a serious and firm nod, as though understanding his responsibilities, he sent me some reassurance. At that time, I may have looked tough on the exterior. However, internally, I was shaking with both fear and anticipation. I was so torn in between those two feelings. It almost felt like I was losing the battle for women’s rights. And it felt horrible.
At that time, I closed my eyes for a second before taking my position and just imagined Seb in front of me. He would have been giving me the reassuring nod and the ‘everything-will-be-alright’ look. And that was when he said the few words I’d never let him down on.
“Make me proud.”
And although it was only in my head and my imagination, those words held such a powerful importance to me. I built up my courage and took the place of the shotgun with my head held high. “Hike,” I called out.
I didn’t waste a second and aired the ball directly to Frederick. When I saw one of the defenders charging at full speed towards him with no one there to help Fred out, adrenaline built up in me and I stood in front of the defender so that Frederick could achieve his goal. It must have been the adrenaline because I only felt the pain seconds after the cheers went off.
My right arm and leg throbbed and a killer headache made its way through as I hit my head directly on the ground. For a minute, all I tried to do was blur out my vision. I could feel hands on me, trying to help me up, but I could only focus on trying to compose myself. My arm felt dead and my leg stung with every little movement.
It was a painful minute or two, but I eventually managed to get myself up despite all the fuzziness in my head. “Sam! We did it! Yes!” Xavier yelled out shaking my head to try to get me back into consciousness.
I gave him a wide smile and stumbled on my feet when I realized what actually happened. I quickly turned around for a group hug and we all threw our arms around each other. “I love you guys so much,” I told them.
“Who can’t love us?” James commented and we all shared a light laugh.
“You good, Anderson? Took quite a blow at the end,” Coach interrupted.
I gave him a smile. “All good. Thanks, Coach.”
“All right, then,” I sent a proud smile as well. “Congrats, by the way. It was a good game.”
I turned around and excitedly told my team. “You hear that? That was all you. You guys were amazing. Yes, we made mistakes. And yes, you all -- including me-- are going to practice and get those corrected. Where’s Frederick?”
“Right here,” he smirked and held his arms open for me. I jumped onto him and tackled him to the floor with the rest of the team piling on top of him.
“That was amazing.”
He laughed and denied it. “No, Sam,” he pushed us all of in a single go. “You were amazing. Thank you for taking that hit for me. That was so stupid of you to do that. Never do that again. And Eddy. Make sure she never does anything like that again.”
Eddy nodded his head vigorously. “I swear I wouldn’t have let her do that if I weren’t double blocked.”
Troy backed Fred up and knocked on my forehead to see whether anything was in there. “I don’t know what the hell you were thinking. And no. That last one was a big no. The last time you did something like that, you landed up in the hospital for two whole days because you couldn’t feel your bones.”
“You guys, chill,” I stressed out. “It was my call. I did what I thought had to be done at that time.”
“Coach isn’t here but you know what Coach would say,” Xavier laughed.
We all shut our eyes and remembered it. “DUMB MOVE, BLOKE!” We all yelled out causing us to be the recipient of some weird stares.
“I love you guys,” I sighed. “Thank you for being here with me.”
“Gosh, stop making me so emosh. Shut up, girl,” Xavier wiped a fake tear from his eye.
I hit him in the back of his head. Someone needed to lend him some sense. He was so stupid that it hurt.
We finally turned around and shook everyone’s hands. We had a bright smile on our faces while they tried to keep a semi-decent face. I wouldn’t blame them for being in that mood, but I wanted to tell them that they did extremely well and that I was super proud of them too. I saw them using one or two tactics of mine and I must admit, I had a smile on my face then.
It’s funny how time changes. I could have almost compared both my teams to playing in a field. They’re two halves of my field. One part of the field is my favorite and the other rough. However, in order to have played the game, we needed to use both the rough part and my favorite one. It was joint teamwork. The confusing metaphor swirled in my head as I stared at both my team and Alex’s.
Alex’s team had so much potential. But unless you’re willing to learn, nothing can be achieved. While the majority of the team didn’t mind listening to me, it was their loyalty to their quarterback--Alex-- that prevented them from doing so.
The answer was clear. We just didn’t have the pencil to circle it.
And I realized the root of this problem was both Alex and I.
I must have been overthinking the situation because I had managed to completely zone out. Hedge came up to me and told me about the fact that they were planning to go have some pizza outside and that I had no choice but to come. I had been taken the day off due to the match so that wasn’t much of a problem, but my head, arm, and leg certainly were.
I told him that I would in fact come, but that I’d prefer taking an aspirin before leaving to dull out the pain in my head and probably put some cream on the now-swollen area on my leg.
“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” Hedge confirmed for the umpteenth time to which my answer remained the same.
“Yes. Now don’t worry about me. You guys enjoy and I’ll be back in twenty.”
“Alright. I’ll tell the other guys to pack up their equipment and clear out in the meanwhile. That’ll take some time anyway.”
“Alright, cool. Coach will tell you were the changing rooms are in case you forgot and I’ll meet you here again. Okay?”
He flashed me two thumbs up and turned around to inform the boys. I headed out of the green field with a slight limp I had tried to hide earlier in front of them and painfully made my way to my dorm.
I was only halfway there when I heard my name being called and I turned around to see who it was.
Sure enough, Alex stood there.
He walked towards me warily and then almost conflictingly put his hand forward. I could only stare at his extended hand in shock but eventually shook it.
“You played well in there, Anderson. You deserved the win. Good job.”
“Uh. . .Thank you.” I was perplexed as to why he was suddenly being so nice to me. “Your team played really well too. In fact, they played tremendously better than I expected them to.”
He sighed and nodded his head awkwardly, unsure of what to say next. Quite frankly, the whole conversation was so awkward. All I wanted to do was get some aspirin. My head was killing me. Ironically, the silence hurt more than the cheerful and loud atmosphere.
“So. . .I needed to talk to you about something,” Alex started.
“Sure. . .”
“Uh. . .okay, so I’m not too sure how to start this,” he rubbed the back of his neck uneasily, probably pondering about his next words or so.
“You could start with a sorry,” I blurted out. When I realized how awfully mean that was, I slapped a hand over my mouth and shut my eyes guiltily. I don’t know if he’d realized it yet, but my head was not fine. I needed an aspirin. Desperately. Or I was just going to continue blurting out things I was not supposed to. “Uh. . .I mean. . .if you want to, that is. . .”
Nice going, Sam.
“Actually, that’s exactly where I’m going to start,” he took a deep breath. “I-- Look. I’m sorry, alright. I was an asshole--”
“You think?” Shoot. I said that out loud, didn’t I? Why couldn’t my stupid brain ever learn?
“Ouch. Okay, deserved that one--”
“Yes. Yes, you did.” Okay, Sam. That’s it. Stop it! The poor guy’s trying to say something and you’re making it horribly hard for him! Blame it on the headache! Blame it on the headache!
“Uh. . .okay. That too,” he cleared his throat awkwardly. “Basically, I wasn’t the nicest person to you and I want to apologize for that. I was just under a lot of stress at that time and it sort of felt like you were going to snatch the one thing from me that kept me going every single day. It was the first time someone really competed with me for my spot--”
I gasped, offended, and narrowed my eyes at him. “I never tried to--”
“I know. I know now, though. I didn’t know before. Which is why I always used to let all my anger out on you.”
“Ahem ahem. Did not appreciate that, by the way!” You’re on a mean streak, Sam. This is unacceptable. Say sorry to the poor guy. Now!
“Obviously,” he threw me a glare. Ah! There was the Alex I knew and I fell into a hate relationship with! He’s alive and well! Ugh. Never mind. That was not supposed to be considered as a happy moment. “Anyway, what I did was not cool. I’m sorry.”
“Okay?” he repeated.
“Yeah, cool.” I raised my hand to shake his quickly, but when he did not reciprocate the movement, I took it upon myself to take his rather limp hand and shake it with a mock smile on my face. “See you!”
As I turned out to leave, however, he held me by my arm and turned me. ”Cool? What the hell? Can you please give me more of a reaction than that, please? I just freaking apologized to you!”
“Nope, my reaction cannot exceed this and the shocked expression I had when you first came here. And good for you, by the way. You’re learning. Apologizing is a good habit.”
I turned around but he stopped me once again. “Okay, okay,” he took a deep breath in. “Uh. . .friends, then? I’ll try my best, alright?” He extended his hand forward.
I gave him a creeped out look on my face. “Why does this seem so off? Is this a prank? What’s wrong with you? Fever or something? I mean, I have no problems with the friends thing, but why now? Why so suddenly?”
“Because I realized I was wrong. And I feel bad now. And also because I need new friends. Brad and Ceci are too much to handle.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “True.” I shook his hand with a smile on my face.
“Friends, then, I suppose.” Just then, a jolt of pain shot up in my forehead, reminding me of its presence. “See. . .nice talk and all, Alex. But I really, really need to go get an aspirin right now. My head’s going to explode. So if you may. . ?” I gestured for him to move to the side and his face lit up in the realization that he was not letting me go by blocking me.
“Right. . .of course. I’m heading to my dorm too.”
“Oh, okay. Then hurry up, though. I need to get those painkillers before this headache destroys me.”
“Is this because of the hit on the field?”
“Does it hurt?”
“You probably told everyone downstairs that it doesn’t hurt, didn’t you?”
“Well, it actually hurts now!”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the nurse?”
“No, thank you.”
“Are you sure--”
“Whatever you’re about to say. Yes. And please Alex, for god’s sake, shut up.”
He raised his hands up in his defense and pretended to zip his mouth. I flashed him a thumbs up and literally ran to my room.
I knew it wasn’t going to happen but I had really been hoping that the aspirin would become effective almost instantly. The pain in my head had been increasing gradually and I sat down in annoyance.
Huffing, I quickly went to take a quick shower because I felt too stinky and sweaty to leave anywhere and changed my clothes. I inspected the now-purple bruise on my forehead rather closely in the mirror somehow wondering that if I glared at it enough, it would leave me to be.
Obviously, since the universe hates me, not a thing moved. The bruise stayed, purple as ever. Worse even, the boys were downstairs. They would definitely end up gushing over me and feeding me like a baby if the bruise was this evident. But then again, they’d know something was wrong for sure if I wore makeup. So, makeup was off the lists.
“Why me?” I squinted my eyes at the mirror. “I don’t like you. You’re annoying and you hurt.” I pointed at the bruise accusingly.
I immediately stopped talking to myself when I remembered I was alone and was talking to myself. Lunatic is what I am for sure. I face-palmed myself only to hurt myself even more on the exact same spot and whine in pain all over again.
“Oh, great. I’m having a blast today, aren’t I?” I rolled my eyes, grabbed the keys, and stepped out. I met the boys at the entrance where they were having a nice (I hope) chat with Coach.
“Ooh, nasty,” Fred commented as soon as my bruise came into sight.
I adjusted my hair to try to cover it up. “Is it gone now?”
“Nope. It’s more obvious, though. Hope that works for you.”
I sent him a glare. Not funny.
He just shrugged and then looked back at my forehead to inspect it. “Okay, let’s go to the nurse.”
“She’s not there--”
“What the heck is that? Sam, I told you to be careful but no,” Troy dragged the word out, “Sam wants it her way. Every single time.”
Xavier flicked me in the forehead and I grasped my forehead in pain and shot him a murderous look. “Are you kidding me now?!”
“Off to the nurse! Unless you want us to make sure it hurts enough that you willingly go up to the nurse, of course. . .”
“There is no need--”
“Ah, Hedge. Can you grab her by her feet? She kicks a lot in this part.”
My eyes widened as I realized what they were going to do to me. “Okay, no. Nope. Stay away. No. All of you. Three steps back, I said!”
They wiggled their eyebrows and threateningly took some steps towards me while I went back. Tickling was a big no.
“We’ll go check, okay! We’ll see if she’s in her office and see accordingly,” I reluctantly agreed.
“Sure,” Eddy shrugged. “No backing out though.”
“Okay, okay. Now let’s go or we won’t have time for the lunch. Mom and dad probably won’t stay for long. . .” I shook my head to get rid of that part and focus on the happy moments. “Let’s go.”
Coach gave me a nod and headed back somewhere.
Guess what? The nurse was there. I just knew the universe hated me.
It wasn’t too bad though. Thankfully, the nurse wasn’t the one I had met up with before about my sleeping pills so that was in the clear. If the boys found out, they’d be worried and all the unnecessary things which I didn’t want. They had an idea of the situation and they knew I was going to therapy-- they just didn’t know up to what extent it was.
And I’d like it to stay that way.
She applied some medicine which I didn’t bother remembering and told me to come back the other day in case it was still hurting too much.
With a quick thanks, we finally left.
“See! How bad was that?” Freddy winked in triumph.
I rolled my eyes. “Shut up.”
“Admit it. We are the best.”
“Go to hell.”
“Oh, hell no. Do you want me to flick your forehead again?” Xavier popped in all of a sudden and enquired.
My hands instantly flew to my forehead to cover it. “Now, let us repeat the question. Who are the best people in the world?” Troy wiggled his eyebrows and stepped closer to me to intimidate me.
“Um. . .”
This time, Freddy came one step closer with his fingers all ready to flick me.
“Stop it!” I cried.
“Who is the best?” Xavier pressed, with a smirk on his face which I felt like punching off.
“Ugh! Please! I can’t lie! It’s a sin. . !”
“I’m going to repeat the question one last time. Who has the greatest sense of humour, is amazing, and has unbelievable good looks?” Troy raised an eyebrow most probably referring to himself.
Xavier and Fred shot him a look. “Fine, fine. We can all share the title,” Troy threw his hands up in the air in a surrendering position.
“JUST BLOODY SAY IT, SAM!”
“YOU GUYS, HAPPY?!”
The rest of the group burst into laughter at our common banter while we somehow fit ourselves once again, into my dad’s car.
And while I thought I’d finally come to a peaceful stop, the train proved me wrong by shutting down its doors and trapping me inside, forcing me to feel the winds of the high speeds it went by yet again.