“Good job, girls!” Our training soccer coach, Adam, clapped his hands as we finished running our warm-up laps around the field.
Tryouts for competitive soccer didn’t start until at least March, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t doing anything to prepare during the off-season. And so this was what I was doing now: weekly winter training, along with about 20 to 30 other girls hoping to compete this summer. We were in the sports dome until the snow melted, and the artificial turf was a bit of a pain to play on. But hey, at least it was warm inside.
“We’re going to be focusing on ball control for today’s session.” Adam continued, waving over a couple of his assistant coaches. “Partner up, and then we’ll demo the drill for you.”
We all quickly did as he said, knowing full well that even though Adam was pretty laid-back for a coach, he appreciated time management above all else when it came to these training sessions. He liked to make the most of the time we had to work on our skills.
The drill went by pretty smoothly. One of the two partners would throw the ball towards the other, and that person had to juggle the ball back to them using either the inside of their foot, the top of their foot, their thigh, chest, or head. We switched feet (or thighs) each time, and changed whoever was throwing and whoever was juggling the ball in between about 10 reps each.
After that, the coaches set up little poles in the turf and had us dribble around them. We would alternate between using different dekes, including the basic side lunge, maradona, and pullback. Sprinting back and forth was tiring, but exhilarating at the same time as we weaved in between the poles and ran back to get in line again.
We also had battle drills, one on ones, then two on twos, which were intense because everyone was aware that we would be doing the very same thing in tryouts. I managed to win most of my battles, not afraid to get a little rough with my opponents. I had the benefits of my height and my speed, and took full advantage of those assets. This was competitive soccer, after all. Holding back did no one any favors.
We finished off the session by running suicides across the field. I was so tired by the end, the only thing that was keeping me from sitting down and taking a ten-minute break before leaving was crazy adrenaline. But Dad was waiting outside, and that wouldn’t do.
A few girls waved as I walked out of the dome. “Bye, Lucy!”
“See you later!” I called back with a grin, hiking up my soccer bag on my shoulder.
Dad’s van was waiting right outside the door, so all I had to do was open the trunk, throw my bag in, then hop in the front seat. “Hey, Dad.”
“Hey, Luce. How was practice?”
“Pretty good.” I answered truthfully. “They were working a lot on ball control today, so that should be useful for tryouts.”
“That’s good.” He said easily. “Just keep up the hard work, and it’ll pay off when the season starts.”
“I’m a little worried about my shot though,” I confessed. “I’m still a little rusty from the off-season, and I hope it doesn’t mess me up later.”
“Well, they’re working on shooting too, right?”
At my nod, he continued, “So don’t worry about it so much. If they’re going to keep working on all these skills, the rust’ll come off sooner than later.”
“That’s so corny,” I groaned. “You haven’t called me that since I was ten.”
He grinned, and shrugged. “Maybe I just felt like starting up again,” He turned the steering wheel as we went around a bend. “Since you’re getting so old and all.”
“I’m only in Grade 11,” I reminded him. “I’ve still got at least a year and a half left until I move out.”
“True,” Dad agreed. “But you always act like you’re more grown up than you actually are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I nudged his arm playfully.
“Just remember you’re still young, that’s all.” He finished thoughtfully.
I hadn’t been expecting that kind of response. I had been expecting another corny comment or joke, not the more hesitant answer.
“Is this about Mom?” I asked quietly, all previous joking aside.
He adjusted his ball cap with one hand. “Now why do you ask that?”
“I don’t know. I just--” I knew my dad wouldn’t support talking about my mom behind her back, and I especially didn’t want to say anything negative, but…
“--It just seems like that’s what she wants me to do. To grow up as fast as possible.”
“It’s not a race, Luce.” Dad said patiently.
“Well, it feels an awful lot like one,” I muttered under my breath, but he still heard it. It was as though the unfairness was crawling its way up my throat, choking me up.
But Dad just shook his head. “Look, honey. Your mom may seem tough on you, and you may not believe me right now, but one day you’re going to see that it’s for the best.” He reached down from the wheel and put one hand over mine, squeezing it gently. “We only want what’s best for you, and sometimes that means going a little harder on the schoolwork. But you know what?”
“What?” I dared ask, my voice coming out a little hoarse.
“We don’t want you to exhaust yourself.” He put his hand back on the wheel, sounding a little more determined. “So I’ll talk with your mother, and we’ll figure out some more ways for you to relax yourself. Maybe take a break and hang out with your friends. Sound good?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
And to be honest, it did sound pretty tempting. Actually, speaking of hanging out with friends, I could have sworn that--
“Oh, yeah!” I sat up straighter in my seat. “My friend’s actually coming over today to go over some art summative stuff with me.”
“That’s good,” Dad said encouragingly. “But make sure to have a little fun too, OK? Don’t just cram, make sure to stop after a while and watch a movie or something.”
“Yeah, OK.” I agreed readily. I was a little nervous having Faith back over at my house, which at the same time felt stupid because she had already been there so many times before. Maybe it was just that after the whole party confrontation. And now, she was getting all close with that new girl--Kitty.
I had swallowed down these questions and many more when I had seen them together at school, but almost couldn’t stop the anger I felt from appearing. Faith never approached people if she could help it, and she certainly never waved them over from down the hall. I knew Faith, and I knew just how much she claimed to dislike other human beings, so how was it that she seemed to have made such a good friend in such a short time?
I wondered if there was something else going on. Hell, it had taken me at least a week before Faith had started warming up to me again. If that Kitty girl was already so social with her, what did she have exactly that I didn’t? And they had even walked home together. OK, calm down. Maybe Faith was just being nice. Yes, that was probably it. 80% sure. 75% sure. OK, maybe 70%. The numbers were slowly decreasing as I ran the situation over and over in my mind.
Wait, God, why did this even bother me so much?
I didn’t know, but some part of me was burningly desperate to find out.
Faith was already waiting by the front door, looking down at her watch as if the universe wanted to scold me for being a few minutes late for our planned summative study session.
She looked much better than she had a week ago, her hair pulled neatly to the side in a loose ponytail, and wearing a black bomber jacket with dark jeans. Something about seeing her there made something in my chest twinge, but I wasn’t sure exactly what.
Either way, Dad must’ve noticed my apprehension, because he pulled into the driveway a little faster than normal, and parked almost as quickly.
We hopped out of the van, and I ran up to her, slinging my bag over my shoulder. “Hey! I didn’t realize you’d be here so early!”
She looked at me like I had to be joking. “You told me to be here five minutes ago.”
“Oh, yeah, I did.” I scratched the back of my head sheepishly. “Sorry about that, soccer ran a little bit longer than I was expecting.”
I noticed how her eyes ran over my red practice jersey, probably soaking wet, down to my black shorts, socks, and red and gold soccer cleats. I guessed the slightly uncomfortable look on her face was from how gross and possibly dishevelled I must’ve looked, and I immediately got self-conscious. Shit.
I should’ve remembered to schedule this thing later so I could have taken a shower.
“I know, I’m gross.” I grinned, trying to cut through the awkwardness. Her eyes snapped back up from my feet to me as if caught red-handed. “Huh? N-no, that’s not...I don’t think you’re--you’re not gross.” “It’s OK, Fay.” I reassured her. “We ran a lot of laps, so I’m pretty sweaty.”
She looked a little relieved at that, and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. Speaking of which, you do smell.”
I swung my bag playfully at her for that and she ducked, exclaiming loudly.
“Hey, Faith. Good to see you again.” Dad came around the front of the van and smiled easily at her. “How are you?”
“Good, thanks, Mr. James. And you?” She replied.
“Not bad. Lucy didn’t mention you were the one helping her out with her art summative.”
“Oh, well, yes.” She looked slightly awkward, as if expecting to be scolded or something.
Dad grinned. “I’m glad. Lucy may be considered one of the fastest on any team she’s on, but creative skills...that’s another story entirely.”
“Dad!” I bumped him with my shoulder in protest. “Don’t tell her that!”
“Believe me, I already know.” Faith assured him solemnly. “It’s a real obstacle.”
“For sure. Do your best with her, won’t you?” He shook his head sadly. “I know it can be difficult.”
Faith looked as if she was one second away from saluting him. “I’ll do my best, Mr. James.”
“I don’t approve of this! Don’t you two gang up on me!” I elbowed her offendedly. “And you don’t have to be so formal, Faith, we’ve known you for almost four years now.”
“That’s right.” Dad agreed. “Feel free to call me David, OK?”
“OK.” Faith smiled hesitantly. If anything, she seemed a lot more comfortable around my father, but he was always like that. Dad was a naturally friendly person (minus the terrible sense of humour) that people felt more at ease with him. He liked to joke that I inherited that from him, but I wasn’t sure if I believed it or not.
“Hey, can I call you ‘David’?” I nudged my Dad.
“So where are we gonna work?” Faith asked as I lead her into the house, dumping my bag to the side with the other usual sports equipment.
“I was thinking my room, maybe?” I suggested. “I gotta change anyway. Might as well while we’re up there.”
“Sounds good.” She murmured, and I resisted the urge to nudge her again, try to break whatever awkwardness we had built between us.
“‘Good’, huh?” I repeated. “Since when were you so agreeable?”
“It’s your influence, that’s all.” She rolled her eyes. “I can’t help it if it’s maddening.”
I cracked a grin at that. At least her sarcasm was one thing that hadn’t changed. It was familiar territory, and it made me feel a little more encouraged.
I gestured for her to follow me as we head up the stairs. “Then we’d better get to it.”
I gave a silent thanks to the heavens that my room was actually the best I’d seen it look all year. Last week Mom had come charging in armed with a duster and an expression that had practically screamed Don’t fight me on this, and so I spent the time dusting and cleaning until the floor was clear and all my books were stacked back up. Even my old soccer trophies had been arranged neatly on my shelf.
“I’ll just be a minute.” I gestured towards the bathroom, picking up a green T-shirt and shorts to change into. She nodded, and I left to go change quickly.
When I came back in (slightly more refreshed now), Faith was looking around with wide eyes. It suddenly hit me how long it had been since she had actually been in here. She had been over tons of times since the beginning of the school year, but this was the first time she’d been in my actual bedroom since over three years ago.
I wondered if now was a good time to ask her about that Kitty girl, and what exactly was she to Faith.
“I can’t believe you still have that,” Faith snorted softly, pointing up at the ceiling where my space model, a little science project from 8th grade was hanging above my bed. “You know that Pluto isn’t actually a planet, right?”
“Shut up, Faith.” I quite liked my model, and didn’t understand her uncalled distaste for it. “You didn’t even do the project!”
“What are you talking about? Yeah, I did!”
“No, you didn’t. You literally came into school, said, “Oh, crap. I forgot we were supposed to do that project for science. Guess I’ll wing it.” then walked into the classroom.”
“Oh, right.” She recalled as realization dawned on her. I scowled and crossed my arms in indignation.
She shrugged. “Good times.”
Our science teacher had forgotten to call her name on the list for those who were supposed to present, and no one cared enough to correct him.
Faith had spent the better half of that day laughing her head off at her luck while the rest of us mourned over the half-decent quality of our presentations.
“Any progress with narrowing down the medium?” Faith set down her bag, pulling out her summative outline and rubric sheet. I fought the urge to gulp when I saw them.
“Lucy.” Faith’s voice lowered dangerously. “You--have--thought about what medium you want to choose, right?”
She stepped towards me dangerously, setting down the papers on my desk. “Especially after the long talk we had about putting real effort into this?”
Shit, I was in trouble.
“It...may have slipped my mind.” I said in a small voice. “Completely.”
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes. Then in one fluid movement almost too fast to process, she flung both my pillows as hard as she could into my face before charging forwards with a yell of what could only be described as righteous fury.
After letting out a scream no one would have been able to call particularly dignified, and ten minutes of pillow fighting and improvised wrestling and martial arts later, we both relented, collapsing onto the pile of pillows and blankets that had fallen off my bed during the scramble.
“I forgot you knew karate.” I panted.
“I forgot it was possible to trip over a stuffed cheetah.” She replied.
“Shut up. Don’t insult Mr. Spots.” I cradled said large stuffed cheetah in my arms defensively.
“’Mr. Spots’?” Faith choked out, bursting into cackles. I flung my arm hard across her chest in retaliation, cutting her off. She stopped, but I could still see the triumphant smile threatening to split her face.
“Anyways, you should teach me karate sometime.”
“Mr. Spots might be a better teacher, honestly.” Faith said seriously, and laughed when I whacked her arm. “Would you leave Mr. Spots out of this? Besides, I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two.”
“I don’t know. Judging from your poor time management skills, Mr. Spots might just become my star pupil.” She stated straight-faced.
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
She shook her head.
“So how long did you take it for?”
“Two years, and I got my blue belt.” She answered fondly. “Wish I could have gotten my red, but it’s not such a bad color. Plus, I got to spar with people I hated, so…”
“Too bad. You could have piloted the Red Lion.” I sympathized. Out of self-preservation, I decided not to ask about what exactly happened to the people she ‘hated’.
“You watch Voltron?” Faith looked shocked.
“Uh, yeah. How could I not?” The series was so good and so popular, it was practically infectious. “My Dad used to watch the 80’s version, although he said the real one is Ultra Man.”
“Best Paladin?” She didn’t hesitate to ask.
“Lance, obviously. Blue rules.”
“Thought you’d say that. And you’re mistaken. Obviously, it’s Keith. Red Lion forever.”
“No way!” I protested. “To quote from the glorious small genius Pidge, Keith is “so emo”. Plus awesome literal cinnamon roll Hunk agrees!”
“And Lance flirts with anything that moves. Your point?”
“Oh, who are we kidding? The best is obviously Shiro.”
“Yeah, pretty hard to beat Shiro.” She agreed. “Best space dad ever.”
“I know, right?”
It was agreed that we would have a Voltron: Legendary Defender marathon after working, and with that motivation, plus Faith’s promise to ‘train’ me at some point in the future, we got to it.
After a little over two and a half hours of agony and Faith yelling art terms that flew over my head (“Relative abstraction will not work with your concept! The aesthetic will be ruined!”), we were ready to call it quits and settle down for a truly binge-worthy Netflix show.
At least now I was on track with the summative. Faith really knew what she was talking about when it came to creative art. This was a great idea.
We sat down on the couch in front of the TV downstairs, and sank into the cushions as the opening theme came on for the first episode.
It was way too comfortable to be natural, and the last thing I remembered was my head falling to the side as I dragged the blanket up over both our legs.
I overestimated my ability to stay up late and go to practice the next day with no trouble whatsoever. The sheer exhaustion must have finally caught up to me, because the next thing I knew, I was nestled in blankets and cushions beside someone else. A small someone dressed in black, with her thigh pressed to mine, our foreheads touching and our faces just a few agonizing centimetres apart.
I jolted backwards in surprise as Faith’s eyes flashed open a millimetre away, and we both cried out at the same time while backing up. This didn’t work out so well as we were far too tangled up in the fabric to really do anything. I ended up falling on the floor, and Faith got pulled down with me.
Then I was flat on my back with her lying splayed out across my stomach, instantly squeezing out whatever air was left in my lungs.
This was a terrible idea.
“Sorry,” Faith groaned, trying to yank her arms out of the thick fabric and failing miserably.
Being trapped underneath her and slowly being suffocated by the heavy blanket, all I could manage was a small “Yeahkaycool.”
Faith shifted again, accidentally jabbing me with her elbow. I groaned loudly as my ribs throbbed painfully where she had made contact.
“Sorry!” Faith repeated, slightly more panicked. “Hang on.”
She rolled off me quickly, taking the blanket with her. I inhaled deeply, remembering how to breathe. “You nearly crushed me.” I moaned long and loud. “Yep, my lungs are definitely flattened. There is no recovering from this.”
“Don’t be such a baby. I don’t weigh that much.”
“I beg to differ,” I snarked at her. She snickered and threw the pillow at my head in retaliation.
“I can’t believe we actually fell asleep.” I commented.
She paused, then gazed so scrutinizingly at my face, I resisted the urge to flinch back. “What? Something on with my face?”
“You do look tired,” She murmured. “Trouble sleeping?”
My heart sank. I had been hoping she of all people wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t ask.
“Yeah.” I mumbled. Her dark eyes were unreadable, my own worn face reflected in them.
“Lucy, what happened that night--”
“Was bad.” I cut her off, standing up briskly. “Let’s just leave it at that, OK?”
But she refused to let it drop just like that. If Faith was anything, she was stubborn. I supposed it was one of the things we had in common.
“I--” She hesitated. “Maybe you...maybe you should talk to someone about it.”
Now that sounded ridiculous, even more so said out loud.
“Like who?” I crossed my arms. “It was a high school party. There was loud music. I made the mistake of drinking. Just typical teenager stuff, right?”
“But it wasn’t,” She insisted. “You’re not the only one who drank. Everyone there was either on the verge of collapsing or taking advantage of people who were. It’s not just your mistake--”
“But it still happened!” I didn’t understand why I was irritated all of a sudden. Was the simple mention of that doomed party enough to cause that?
And why did it bug me so much?
“Lucy, you have to tell me what’s wrong.” Faith supplied patiently. “I can’t understand what’s going through your head otherwise.”
A flash of Faith lying bruised on the ground came back to me, and I clenched my fists.
I hadn’t been able to stop it. I hadn’t been able to stop anything. I hadn’t even been able to get back at Dylan and his douchebag posse for what they said and did.
“I couldn’t...do anything.” I admitted finally. “You got hurt, because you were trying--” I forced the rest of the sentence out. “Trying to protect me.”
Faith’s expression softened a fraction, and she reached out for my hand.
I stiffened as she took it, but didn’t pull away. Some part of me didn’t exactly know why, but knew that it felt right.
“That wasn’t your fault.” She explained. “None of that was your fault. It was that drunk asshole’s, and his homophobic dipshits that screwed everything over.”
“I know, but--”
“I would do it again, if I had to.” The last part came out as more of a mumble, as if Faith wasn’t the only one having trouble communicating today, but there was no mistaking how certain she was of the meaning behind her words. I could tell that easily enough from her face and posture.
“Lucy,” Faith said quietly. “Look at me.”
I slid my gaze up slowly, until I finally met her eyes. She stepped closer, and tilted her head up until her face was only a few inches from mine.
“I’m never going to stop,” She said with absolute certainty. “I don’t care if it’s your mistake, because I’ll be on your side.”
She was so close now I could see the dark brown rings in her eyes, sideswept bangs falling sharply across them like a jagged, parted curtain. Yet as near as she was, she didn’t move any closer, bridging the distance between us with a careful, almost nervous precision.
“Because even when we argue over even the smallest things, I know you’d still do the same for me.”
I swallowed hard, my hand squeezing hers tightly. “Faith...I’m sorry about everything I said before. I know now...you were trying to watch out for me, in your own way.”
A short exhale of breath told me that this was already more than she was expecting from me.
“I’m...I’m sorry, too.” She whispered, reaching for my other hand.
“And you’re right.” I muttered. “I can’t forget about what happened that night, and it’s that prick’s fault. But it’s mine too? If I hadn’t gotten so upset, I wouldn’t have let Layla invite me there, and I wouldn’t have drunk anything.” It hurt to continue, but once I started, I couldn’t make the words stop. “I...I wouldn’t have had to kiss that--that low-life dumbass, and you wouldn’t have gotten hurt--”
I thought she was going to cut me off with a remark, or just walk away, but she shot forwards and on her tiptoes, pulled my face into her shoulder, arms circling around my back.
Almost as quickly as she moved, she was pulling away, mumbling what sounded vaguely like apologies in the ringing in my ears, but I clung on to her until she relented. “You don’t have to protect everyone,” She said in my ear. “Try--try standing back once in awhile and trusting us, yeah?” I nodded only once, but it seemed to do the trick.
We stood like that for maybe a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, maybe an hour, it didn’t seem to matter.
I knew that no matter how screwed up things were between us, we might still be able to get through it. That was just the kind of person Faith was to me.
And she was right.
When the time came, I was so nervous, I thought I was going to chicken out completely.
Faith was right. If this was bothering me so much, I should tell someone.
“OK, Lucy, what is it?” My mother crossed her arms expectantly, while Dad had one arm across her shoulders. “Something on your mind?”
OK, it was now or never. I had to do something to get that stupid party off my back, even if just for a little while.
I shuddered internally just thinking about it. I had had one or two nightmares about that night, but I had convinced myself to push them to the very back of my mind. But sometimes, when it was late, and I closed my eyes...I could still see that hungry look in Dylan’s eyes, still feel his hands burning on my waist and his terrible, forced kiss...
I hadn’t gone into as much detail with my parents, but I had confessed that the party had not gone well, and that some boys had been drinking. My dad wasn’t surprised, but mom immediately asked if any of them had tried to make any inappropriate moves on anyone in the vicinity. “Yes,” I answered truthfully, which was a mistake.
With a steely look that I recognized as her lawyer stare, Mom asked me if anyone had tried to lay a hand on me.
I wanted to lie, but I figured she would see right through me. So I told the truth (if slightly softened). “A boy...a boy kissed me.” I choked up a bit, getting the words out. “Uh, without--without warning. I d-didn’t want to.” I forced myself to look my parents straight in the eyes, even though I could feel mine already welling up, and blinked them back furiously. “I didn’t want any of it.”
I expected Mom to be furious, expected her to lecture me about the safety of these events and how I should have gone into self-defense classes instead of soccer, but she didn’t.
I flinched as she stepped towards me, eyes burning, bracing myself for a verbal attack, a lecture about how it was nobody’s fault but my own.
But she didn’t. She didn’t do any of that at all.
Instead, she threw out arms and enveloped me in a tight hug. My dad followed soon after, wrapping his arms around both of us. I let the tears finally fall.
“It’s not your fault,” He murmured, stroking my hair. “It’s not your fault at all.” Mom squeezed me tighter in agreement. She didn’t say anything, and Dad didn’t continue, but somehow that was fine with me.
I felt hot tears run down my cheeks, and I buried my face in Mom’s shoulder, not wanting to come out. If I could just stay there, safe, and not have to worry about coming out again, that would be such a relief. If my parents could hold me like this forever, I wasn’t sure I would complain.
Just then, as if to contradict my thoughts, the doorbell rang, echoing lightly through the front hall. It was followed by one soft tap, then two solid knocks, as if the person behind the door had just made up their mind about wanting to be heard.
The sound was like a trigger to the moment. Dad let go, and Mom smoothed my hair one last time before going to answer the door, Dad right behind her. I stayed sitting in the kitchen and hesitated for a moment before getting up slowly to see who was at the front door, swiping one hand under my eyes to wipe away any remaining tears.
I heard a soft gasp, then the faint sound my parent’s footsteps stopped abruptly. That was weird. Then, I heard a familiar voice sheepishly saying something like, “Sorry about that. Thought I’d knock before I let myself in.”
Was it really--?!
No longer hesitating at all, not even for a second, I bolted around the corner to see who was coming in through the front door. I caught a glimpse of my parents standing hand in hand, both looking surprised at the intrusion, then I followed their gaze to whoever had caught their attention so completely. I froze.
So many thoughts raced around in my head, all confused and jumbled together and disconnected like a puzzle missing crucial pieces. I distantly realized my mouth was hanging open, but none of that seemed to matter as I looked over tousled auburn hair that was a little longer than I remembered, a little messier, deep green eyes and lightly tanned skin. He was wearing a faded green jacket over a gray T-shirt and jeans. A navy blue backpack hung over one shoulder, and in the opposite hand he held the handle of a large green suitcase.
He looked both older and younger than I remembered him, young still in physical features, albeit a little more scruffy, but there was something older about the way he held himself. Weary. Experienced. But there was no mistaking who he was, even nearly four years later.
His resemblance to my father was almost uncanny.
My older brother Noah smiled at me, maybe a little nervously, but I was too shell-shocked at this point to really care.
“Hey, Luce.” He grinned wider, one corner of his mouth twitching as if trying not to laugh or cry, it was too difficult to tell. “You’ve grown.”