Chapter 10: The Unknown Number
How did I end up like this? Gabriela wondered, sitting awkwardly between Kyle and Theo while the rest of the boy’s team were laughing and talking over each other around the two joined tables. The girls had taken the next two tables and were enjoying the pizza and drinks, glancing in their way every once in a while. Gabriela could feel a few of their gazes like a sniper mark so she was starting to wonder who might kill her first.
“Hey, shortie, aren’t you going to eat anything?” Theo asked her, then filled his mouth with half a slice of pizza. Gabriela grimaced as she watched his cheeks bulge like he was some abnormally huge squirrel eating like there was no tomorrow.
“No, thanks.” She replied as he struggled to swallow. “I’m not hungry.”
“Then why are you here?” He grinned.
“I don’t really feel your team spirit.” Theo laughed. “Smile a little, will you? Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen you smile. What about you, Kyle?”
“No, I haven’t yet,” Kyle replied, turning towards them. “Maybe she is keeping her smiles for someone special.”
“Oh?” Theo exclaimed, raising his eyebrows. “You have a boyfriend?”
“Nope,” Gabriela said curtly, locking her eyes ahead.
“Really?” Theo laughed. “Wanna be my girlfriend? I bet you’ll look cute when you smile.”
“No, thank you.”
“What? Why?” Theo said in mock-offense. “Do you see anything wrong with me?”
Gabriela looked at him just as he raised his arm and flexed it, his well-defined muscles bulging so much that she was afraid his sleeve may rip. His grin was taking half of his face, and the playful gleam in his eyes suggested he might just be messing around.
“Your brain,” Gabriela replied the same time Kyle did. They looked at each other for a second, then back at Theo, who had narrowed his eyes at them.
“Don’t take it personally. She doesn’t date.” Kyle said out of the blue, raising his drink to his lips. “She doesn’t have time for it.” He added just before taking a long sip. Gabriela glared at him and she could swear she saw his lips twitch upwards.
“Oh, and how do you know that, captain?” Theo laughed, leaning his elbow on the table. Before Kyle had the time to answer, somebody cleared their throat. All three of them looked up at Lina standing in front of the table with her arms crossed.
“You’ve monopolized my player long enough, don’t you think?” She said with a threatening smile. Gabriela was up on her feet in an instant, eager to get away from them and into a more comfortable setting. Theo got up with a sigh and let her pass and she hurried to Lina, who draped her hand over her shoulder.
“What took you so long?” Gabriela mumbled, letting herself be dragged to the free spots on the furthest end of the table.
“I thought you were hitting it off with the captain, seeing how you two came together. Who am I to stand in the way of love?” Lina grinned. “Unless you miss practice - then I’m totally standing in your way.”
“I’m not hitting it off with anyone,” Gabriela replied as Lina grabbed her shoulders, sitting her down in the vacant chair next to hers. Gabriela held back a sigh as she realized Olivia was sitting right across from her, shooting daggers with her eyes.
“Now that we’re all here,” Lina said with a smile, leaning her elbows on the table. “I want to say something.” The conversations quickly quieted and all the girls turned to look at her. She opened her mouth to speak when a burst of laughter from the boys’ table made her grimace, and she waited until they settled down before proceeding. “This is the last year for some of us so this is our final chance of making it to Nationals.” Gabriela looked away from Lina, biting the inside of her lips. Kyle’s words flashed in her mind uninvited ’I think that was a pretty accurate assessment, although if I were you, I wouldn’t say it in front of your teammates.’ The chance of them making it to the States’ finals was slim, let alone Nationals, but the look of hope and determination in Lina’s eyes were making it impossible to say those words.
“I know it’s unrealistic.” Lina continued and Gabriela looked back at her, surprised. So she was aware, but she still talked like that. “But it’s okay to dream, right? I wanted to play with all of you on a central court in front of the eyes of the entire country, but even if that doesn’t happen, I have no regrets. I just want to play as long as possible and share as many victories as we can get before each of us moves onto other things.”
“Oi, captain, are you trying to make us cry now?” Maya laughed, throwing the cap of her coca-cola at the captain.
“Shut up when your captain is talking.” Lina grinned good-heartedly. “So what I wanted to say is this. Do your best for the people you’re playing with. We have a strong startup and amazing backers, so all we have to do is play our best. And for god’s sake, don’t skip practice or slack off or I swear to god, I’ll make you run laps until your feet fall off.”
Everyone laughed, and she smiled at them, raising her drink.
“To making it as far as we can this year.” She said and the other quickly echoed the toast, taking a sip.
“Gosh, doing this without alcohol is awkward.” Olivia grimaced and opened her bag, pulling a small flask from it. She looked around to make sure there were no waiters nearby, then poured some into her cola. The captain watched her with her lips pursed and when Olivia offered her flask suggestively, she sighed.
“Wel,l what the hell.” she murmured, bringing her cup under the table. Olivia’s eyes moved to Gabriela.
“What about you, newbie?”
“I’m good, thanks,” Gabriela said stiffly.
“Figures.” Olivia chuckled then distributed the rest of her stash into the cups of a few more girls. When she finally put away the flask and took a big gulp of her drink, her smile grew. “Now can we stop talking about volleyball? We have double practice tomorrow, so let’s talk about something fun tonight.”
“I concede.” The captain grinned, raising her hands in surrender. “As long as we’re not talking about school and exams, I’m all for it. I have so much to study if I want to get into my first choice that I don’t wanna start. Between studying and practice, I’ve almost forgotten what my boyfriend’s face looks like.”
“Talking about Asher,” Olivia asked, leaning her chin on her hand and turning her eyes to Gabriela, “what is going on with you and Kyle? Are you using your cold, brooding act to woo him over? Not to burst your bubble, but he is not into that type of girls.”
Gabriela wanted to laugh but stopped herself. She wasn’t sure if Olivia was really that oblivious or he was just trying to put her on the spot, but it wasn’t going to work.
“There is nothing between me and him. We just ran into each other and he dragged me here.” Gabriela replied, holding Olivia’s gaze without hesitation. The other girl narrowed her eyes at her ever so slightly, as if she was measuring the truth in her words, then a smile blossomed on her lips.
“Figures.” She shrugged.
“Don’t listen to her,” Anna said from next to Gabriela. “She has been swooning over him from her freshman year, so she gets jealous of any girl that gets remotely close to him. She just can’t accept he is never going to look at her the way she wants him to.”
“Hah, as if.” Olivia snorted. “Just the other day he gave me a ride home when it was raining. He is just too serious about getting into med school and getting his team to Nationals. He says he doesn’t have time to date, but it’s only a matter of time before I make him fall in love with me.”
“And how are you going to do that? By sticking to him like a gum?” Maya snorted, glancing towards the boys’ table. They looked like they were in the middle of a very heated debate over the last practice match they had during the summer training camp, shouting over each other and laughing in loud voices.
“You’re just stingy because he rejected you last year.” Olivia rolled her eyes, returning to her drink.
Gabriela flinched as she sensed her phone vibrating in her pocket and took it out, frowning at it. She had expected to see a message from her mother asking her how things were going and casually dropping Kyle’s name, but to her surprise - the message was from an unfamiliar number. She opened it up, her frown deepening.
‘Is that alcohol you’re drinking? :O’
She raised her head and looked around, her gaze stopping on the people laughing and talking excitedly on all tables. Finally, her eyes landed on one particular captain that was staring at her intently with his phone in his hands.
‘No, I’m not. How did you get my number?’ She wrote and sent, looking up at him as he read the message. Another moment later, her phone vibrated again.
‘Captains have access to their players’ personal information in case we need to contact you. ;)’
‘I am not your player, though.’
‘In my defense, I have all the numbers of the boys’ and girls’ team saved for emergencies. So does Lina.’
‘Does that look like an emergency to you?’
‘It might have been if you were drinking alcohol.’
“Hey, stop texting!” Lina complained, reaching out to grab her phone. Gabriela barely had time to lock it up before it left her hands. “Let’s see who is more important than your team! Ha, a new message?” Gabriela tensed as her captain narrowed her eyes at the screen. She couldn’t see the old messages, but if he said something weird… “You should save this number. I might or might not text you a lot.” She grinned then looked at Gabriela. “Who is this? An admirer already? Didn’t you move here, like, five minutes ago?”
Gabriela tried to get her phone back, but the captain was quicker, moving it out of her reach. She looked back at the phone, then back towards Gabriela.
“That number. Is that…?”
“It’s not,” Gabriela said without hesitation but quickly regretted it. “You don’t know them. Can I have my phone back, please? I’ll put it away.”
Lina stared at her for a long moment before promptly returning her phone and grabbing her almost finished drink. Her eyes slid to the boys’ table, and she stared at them before glancing back at Gabriela.
She definitely recognized the number, Gabriela thought. But Lina didn’t say anything, just joined the conversation as if nothing happened. Gabriela put away her phone, determined not to take it out again if it starts vibrating, and turned to Anna who was just asking her a question.
It felt strange. Apart from Olivia and her friends within the team, everyone else seemed really open and friendly. Anna even offered to help improve her dives. It was so different from her time with the previous team who relied more on personal growth and talent rather than teamwork, that it felt strange.
Like a boy who said he liked her and wanted to get to know her, showing up to just walk her home and dragging her to a gathering just to let her have fun with her teammates.
A glimmer of hope slowly rose within her that this time could be different, this time it could work. As much as the thought excited her, it scared her twice as much.
What if it didn’t?