The car eased to a stop in front of an innocuous two-story house: two warm porch lights, one on either side of the door, were on; the walkway manicured with short, green bushes bearing small pink buds on the edge of blooming. The vehicle eased to a halt just beyond a brown and white mailbox. Mia shut off her engine and leaned against her car seat. Street lamps lit the street, with at least two of them flickering every so often. The lights were a brief but welcomed distraction. Memories of the evening inserted themselves into Mia's mind with every random flicker of the light.
She remained at Angelo's far longer than she should have, especially after Jessica returned to the table, however she couldn't bring herself to leave. There was little conversation after the outburst with many of the girls left rubbing their arms, touching their necks, saying little to nothing.
The ones who did, at least some, alluded to their run-ins with Shawn, some even so much saying they said nothing out of a warped sense of respect toward Janna. Mia turned her head to the window, glimpsing at the empty driveway. Mia turned her head to the other window, watching the sky. Her hand absently went to her phone, and she began to dial the familiar number with a simple message of "You ok?" Mia was about to hit the send button on her phone when the consistent pricking of guilt began to exacerbate itself in her gut. She caught part of what Mrs. Secrest and Selina were talking about, having gone to the hospital herself due to her disappointment in Selina for having not gone to see her friend. It was simple: Selina owed Chris everything, and Mia could not understand why Selina wouldn't go see him.
She remembered Selina's words about the soccer team, noting the pranks played. Freshman and sophomore year seemed so long ago. It was something for the upperclassmen anyway and perhaps, if Mia were accepted in their ranks, which she desperately wanted, she would have been more of a participant. Mia remembered seeing a polaroid picture once. It was slightly blurred, but she could make it out: a younger Selina being held down as scissors went to her hair, a final picture of her being shoved in a portalet, players with rope in hand, to secure it no doubt.
"Do all underclassmen-"
"Just those who need to learn a lesson."
"Are you a quick study Mia? I'd recommend that."
Mia's class and the juniors before never thought to do such pranks, at least not as bad as that.
She sighed as she hit her head against her steering wheel. It was really very simple, a simple mistruth and sweeping under the rug Mia casually forgot about.
Selina was bullied. Constantly.
And Mia did nothing about it. Mia sighed softly as she thought of where she would have been just 365 days prior. It certainly would not have been in front of the home of the Freaky Greek, contemplating a half cocked apology. Selina's words hit her hard. Mia knew, unequivocally, her interest in the happenings of Selina Konstantinidou would be minimal, if existent at all.
"It's not like I'm a monster or something," Mia muttered to herself. "People get reamed all the time. This...this isn't any different. Not like I held the scissors or something." Her thoughts paused as she recalled that particular moment. She did not hold the scissors, but she felt honored and privileged to be one of the few lower classmen included in the huddled circle of girls who got to see the pictures; the volunteer water girl from JV vying for a varsity spot, dying for the attention of the upperclassmen who seemed to hold her soccer future in their manicured hands.
The seat squeaked as Mia recalled the moment and many others, including those where she held the paint that marked her clothes, threw a sock in the toilet, brought the superglue for her lock. She bit her bottom lip, shaking her head. "You're so screwed up, King." her head hit the back of her seat. "All this for what? I can't...I can't even really remember why. Just that she..." her voice trailed off in the car, drowned out by the R&B beat easing from her stereo. She just wasn't like everyone else. Janna was jealous, yeah and...I guess the upperclassmen didn't like her showing them up or whatever, but, I mean was it really that bad? Like was she really that bad?
Mia's head lolled to the side, staring at the unassuming front door of Selina's house. Who knew such a simple house would be the home of one considered so different, too different, she would bear years of disdain started from people she hadn't spoken to in three years on top of the rumored tales from Junior High? And for what? The only thing remotely interesting about Selina, beside her height, and friendship with Chris, were her ball skills. No one on the Lady Panthers Team could afford that. The seniors who were still seeking scholarships couldn't afford that. The Junior looking to secure their spot for their last year couldn't afford that. The sophomores vying for the favors of the upcoming seniors couldn't afford that. No one could. She could not rise to be this something none of her teammates, with all their laps and all their practices, could ever aspire to.
And now that Selina has been forcefully inducted into the Shawn Walters gallery of assaults like apparently some of their silent teammates, even then, she was still an outsider. The one who seemed to fight back. The one who stirred up an entire conversation, fist fights, hospitalizations and threats of arrest.
There was always something beneath the surface, an unknown waiting to break the surface tension to emerge.
Mia shut her eyes again, remembering the games long gone. There was something to how Selina played, there was something else to her altogether, but it seemed dormant. Three years wasn't long but it felt like forever. She remembered seeing Selina play and the every so often grumbling from the JV squad over this lone freshman on the varsity squad with game time. She could vaguely remember some of the games, a few moments that shown brightly in her mind. Movements that seemed too quick for a freshman, dribbling and weaving too advanced for a fourteen year old, too much endurance and too much fight for a lanky girl who kept to herself. Mia thought maybe her mind was playing tricks on her, that maybe the other teams weren't as good as she thought they were, but there was still something, as though Mia recognized that something amazing was going to happen, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Maybe she imagined it but she thought there had been a spark of some kind. If there was, it seemed nearly extinguished now, wrapped up in surviving high school like everyone else.
Three years later, Mia could see why there would be no spark for anything. The green eyes opened slowly, trailing the concrete pavement of the empty driveway. The emptiness of the driveway seemed to draw her in as a shadow seemed to fall over her, a settling in her gut. She tried to tell herself that Selina was wrong that night in the hospital, but it was a lie, a hollow empty lie as empty as the driveway she was staring at. Whatever spark Selina had, field or otherwise, was snuffed out the moment the portalet pictures were made, the stuffing of her clothes in toilets and now, the back turning.
Why play for a team that crucifies you after being sexually assaulted?
Mia sighed, her fingers tapping the armrest. She glimpsed over her shoulder as a car eased by, its headlights reflected in her mirror.
No big blue van.
Mia's bright green eyes caught her reflection. She scowled at the image and slammed her head against the headrest, shutting her eyes. "I'm here aren't I?" she muttered. "It's not like I didn't…try or something to…" she paused. To be nice? To be understanding? To be a teammate, a friend?
Her fingers paused on the armrest. When did she actually become Selina's friend?
This is stupid. I mean…it's not just me, she reasoned. Being friends with Selina is not an easy task. She thought about David and remembered her words with Mrs. Secrest about Chris using her feelings against her. She never saw Chris coming as one of the perpetrators behind that transformation.
And Mia dared to demand Selina to go see him.
I can't believe he...he would do that. But, I mean I...I didn't care about that, right? She sighed once more as another thought came to her. Like if she didn't change or whatever, I'd still be here...right? If she had not inserted herself into whatever Mia was in, allow Mia to use her as a Barbie doll, would she still be here?
Mia didn't have long to think about it as the big blue behemoth she knew so well eased into the empty driveway.
Mia's stomach turned at the sight. With all of her most recent pondering, she never once thought about what she would say to Selina. Her eyes fell to the white plastic bag on her passenger seat. She packed Selina's food, thinking she could at least bring it to her since she paid for it.
She had a feeling Selina wouldn't be very hungry though.
Mia didn't see Selina ease out of the vehicle but she heard the clank of the door closing. Selina's form circled the front of the vehicle, her head up and her long strides carrying her quickly across the pavement and onto the grass.
I wonder if she knows it's me?
The internal question only exacerbated Mia's antsiness. If Selina did know, that would justify her speed walking-
She clearly didn't feel like talking.
Mia snatched the plastic bag and tried to exit her vehicle, forgetting about her seat belt. She hissed to herself as she unclicked the buckle, swinging the plastic bag in front of her. The car honked in protest, compliments of the plastic bag smashing against the steering wheel. Mia rolled her eyes as she stumbled out of the vehicle. Selina made eye contact with her, her steps having stopped, likely from the noise. Mia closed her car door and proceeded to walk around her car. Selina's eyes darted between the front door to her house and Mia, as though she was debating about running.
Mia jogged across the grass, the wetness from the dew dampening her feet with gritty water. She hated the feeling of wet feet, but she couldn't do anything about it now.
She stopped nearly six feet from Selina, her voice coming out in a huff. "Um…" She bit her bottom lip before unceremoniously shoving the bag in front of her. "I brought you…um…your meal. I figured no need in it going to waste, right?" One of Selina's dark brows rose as she eyed the bag. " I…added a few breadsticks too. And sauce."
Selina shifted on her feet taking the bag from Mia with a slow head nod. "All…right. Thanks."
Mia looked to the sky for a moment. She wasn't sure why she looked to the moon. Perhaps secretly she hoped its light would give her courage to speak up, say something.
Instead, she heard Selina cough lightly, snapping her from her thoughts. "Well, I'm gonna head in now."
"I know about Chris," Mia blurted.
"You know what about Chris?"
Mia began to tap her car keys against her palm. "Selina I…I wasn't eavesdropping, you know."
The almond-shaped eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"
Mia wasn't sure why she was starting with this. A standard apology for being a crappy friend at the dinner table would have more than sufficed. Instead, she would settle for the present word vomit and pray it made some semblance of sense. "I…I heard you talking with Chris's mom the other night."
The moment of recognition slammed against Selina's face, her eyes widening. Mia saw her feet shift as though she was turning to walk away.
Before she could stop herself, Mia found herself stepping in front of Selina, blocking her from continuing to her house. "I just…I didn't understand why you wouldn't go see him, so I got Jessica to come with me to see him and stuff. When we saw he was asleep, we left, but …we heard you talking to her about…" Mia's voice dropped. "About school, everything. Why…why didn't you say something, anything?"
A tired expression crossed Selina's features. "What would it have mattered?"
"It would have mattered a lot. I…think I get it now. David did…did talk to you about changing and Chris…he helped him, didn't he?"
Selina wore a stone expression, one which Mia couldn't tell if it was prompted by anger or indignation.
Selina shifted her weight once more. "I don't really want to talk about that. Quite frankly, I don't really feel like talking much at all."
"Selina, I am…I am so sorry." Mia rubbed her face, her eyes shut tightly. "I…it's….it's a lie to say I….didn't know or..." she swallowed hard, looking up but not at Selina. "I…never once apologized for my silence. I just…I thought that if we…hung out and if I just tried a little bit that that would make it okay. It would make everything okay, like the-the other crap didn't happen. And…um…that's really stupid, I know and I just…I guess a part of me just never really knew…just how bad it was. Looking back it's…yeah. And now I just…only a couple months ago and it's…" she dropped her head again. "I never said I was sorry. I guess I just…expected you to be grateful or," Mia shook her head quickly, "Ugh! No that's not it, just….you were okay. It just only never really dawned on me completely, if that makes sense."
Selina's pinewood eyes traced the pavement, avoiding the speaker. Mia could see the arching of her eyebrows, the widening of her eyes. "Right."
Mia wrung her fingers, sighing as she shifted on her feet. "As a team, we…didn't really give you much to fight for."
Selina's fingers flexed around the bag handle. Her voice was quiet and even. "My mistake was not seeing myself as enough. I can't blame you guys for that." If her tone could be rated on a temperature scale, Mia would have estimated about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Selina I…we were wrong. The team was wrong. We were." She shrugged her shoulders. " I…I was wrong. I called myself trying to make things right, and I just wound up making it worse. Anybody can get caught up I guess. You've proven that."
Mia's shoulders dropped. This isn't going anywhere. You said your peace, now bow out. Mia tapped her car keys against her thigh. "Listen, I just…wanted to come to you to say I'm sorry. Like really sorry. I can't speak for everyone else, but I can for me, and I'm…I'm sorry. I just never…" Mia shut her eyes. She knew the feeling all too well and perhaps that's why she played along.
She sighed aloud. "You know why I drink so much Slimfast?"
Selina took a step back. "Um…keep your figure. That's what you always say."
Mia snorted at the comment. "Yeah, ha, yeah. I uh…Mia Hamm is not my favorite soccer player for a reason. I hated it when Chris would compare me to her, even reference me to her."
"First of all, like really? Best player ever right? But really, it's the Hamm part." She paused for a moment, waiting for Selina to offer an acknowledgment. Her shoulders dropped again when she received none. You never talked to her, remember? Mia began to chew on the inside of her cheek. "I don't know if you remember, but I was a little bit of a chunkster in middle school. And quite frankly if it wasn't for my allowance and just pure bribery, it would have been a lot worse than being called Mia Hamm, Hamster, Ham hock, etc."
Mia folded her arms over her chest, her eyes falling to the ground. "Someone actually left a piece of ham in my desk one time." She laughed as she shook her head at the memory. It was an empty and hollow laugh. "Like who does that? Goes through the trouble of bringing meat to school just to shove in...in someone's desk? And…Little Debbie's with a note saying to make sure I eat that and not the kid in front of me. Being left brochures for weight loss camp in your locker."
Mia bit her lip as the memories came back. There were many more, a seemingly endless catalog of fat jokes and pig references. A tremor snuck into her voice, though she tried to fight it. "What sucked was that my mom actually did send me to a 'fat camp' that summer. I wondered if-if she saw the brochure and that prompted it. She's no beauty queen herself, but she had it in her head perfection whatever and me with my rolls or whatever wasn't it. Like, she actually told me," she stated between forced cheerfulness and gritted teeth, her finger wagging with every word. "'No one wants to date a chubster.' and 'A man wants a woman he can pick up.' BS like that."
Mia laughed aloud before dropping her between her shoulders to look at the star-studded sky. She inhaled the cool air deeply, holding it for a moment before exhaling gently. A crooked smile formed. "My dad was furious about the camp. He found out about it because I wrote to him. They had gotten divorced like three years before; she was already engaged to someone new. It pissed my dad off so much, he pulled me from the camp, and I stayed with him the entire summer. I don't...remember all the details but I remember there being a bunch of fighting, talk of court getting thrown around. I mean I really wanted to go back just so I could make sure I keep seeing my dad it was that bad.
"My mom's new husband, Thom, he's a nice guy. He wasn't pleased about it either, after the fact. I guess she didn't give him all the details at first, but I knew something was up because before I knew it she was sucking up to me with whatever snack cakes I wanted. And he like talked to me...really talked talked to me about it. I mean I…I'm like not his kid right? But he still…it bothered him."
Mia shifted on her feet shaking her head at herself. "I'm sorry I just uh…sorry," she laughed, her voice shaking. "Soccer changed that for me. Soccer changed everything. Thom actually got me into it. Not because he agreed with my mom but just something to help boost me up a little bit. I remember my first day and I made a comment like 'Maybe I can be the goalie. I can just block the goal with my body.' And he got really quiet like. He's a tall guy, or at least he seemed that way to me, he kneeled down and looked me dead in the eyes. He said, 'You are a beautiful girl and with eyes like emeralds, the cheeks of roses, and a smile like the sun. Do not put yourself down. Ever.'"
Mia looked down at her hands smiling. "As trite, corny or whatever that affirmation was, I always thought he was pretty cool for that. And it has staying power I guess. Anyway, he told me if I wanted to play goalie, I could do it just like if I wanted to be a defender or striker I could do it. I could do whatever I want. And my team that year wasn't stellar. I think we were all made up of a bunch of misfits. Alot of us had only played for like...two years, one year, something. But he promised me he would work with me as long as I wanted to play. I saw it as an out. And I liked it on top of the weight I saw I was losing.
"He saw something in me that said he thought I would be a good player. He saw through the whatever I guess. I had to...come around on it, but I was happy to be smaller. I ran more, stretched out, and puberty was good to me I guess." One of her hands found their way to her hair, tugging and twirling a strand absently. "People noticed and suddenly you're not Mia Hambone but Mia Hamm, starting soccer player. You get to the point where you're…suddenly okay with people or really, people are okay with you. I didn't have to bribe as much. And I found my…niche…clique, whatever, as long as I did what I needed to. Don't give people a reason to mess with you, right? It's been years but...I mean, you think you're like, past something right? But you still drink powdery shakes, and for what? So you don't find ham nailed to your locker! I guess my point is, all of it…it still sticks with you a little bit, you know? The what it was like. You don't…you don't ever wanna go back to being the focus, not like that anyway."
"I definitely understand that."
There was wistfulness in Selina's voice that caught Mia off guard. Maybe she didn't understand. She knew it wasn't on the same level as what Selina endured, especially not over the past few days, but it left its scars just the same. "Listen I...I'm sure I overshared I guess. I'm not a true player. Secret's out. Just a means to an end. I mean it...it grew into something else, you know but yeah...soccer starter and still drinking weight loss shakes, that's me." Mia rubbed her hands over her arms with a sigh. "Anyway, I guess my point is I...knew what it was like to be the...target for someone else's hang up. Catching it at home certainly didn't help, but I just...I guess I'm saying I'm sorry I...forgot." She swallowed hard, her green eyes dropping to the sidewalk. She wondered how long it had been since she said of this. Had she told anyone really?
Everyone had their outsider story it seemed. She shook her head once more as she looked up. Selina was watching her thoughtfully, as though she were deciding on something. Perhaps it was the validity of her statements. A brief wave of panic overtook Mia, an intense desire to be believed. Not to save face, but because perhaps this was truly the only time she ever really expressed this to anyone and she wanted to be heard, honestly heard. there was so much more hurt there, so much more she could talk about with her mother and their odd relationship, but she knew this wasn't the time.
Mommy issues were not the topic of discussion for the day.
Mia shifted on her feet, folding her arms over her chest. "Um…I hope you enjoy your food. They have a really good sauce."
Selina smiled as she looked at the bag. "I'm not that hungry, but thanks again for bringing it."
"I figured you wouldn't be. Put it in the fridge and eat it cold later tonight. I love cold Italian. Portion sized containers of course."
Selina nodded her head slowly. "Right." Selina looked at the bag once more before walking forward to the front steps of her house.
Mia sighed softly. "Well…I…didn't want to keep you. I just…want to come by, bring your food, check on you…that's all." Selina sat on the steps, her legs stretched out across the concrete. Her head was down, her feet flexing in her shoes. "Right…well I'll…see you tomorrow."
Selina sighed softly, clasping her hands in her lap. Her head never rose. "Mia, will…you…uh, hang on a sec, just for a little while?"
"Uh, out here?"
"Yeah, just…for a little while that's all."
"Um…sure," she said walking to the steps. "Sure, Selina." Mia lowered herself to the steps, crossing her legs at her ankles. She turned to Selina, whose long arms were propping her upper body up behind her, her eyes darting across the evening sky. It was slightly cool, but not cold. Faint chirping could be heard of the evening insects. They sat quietly for a few moments before Mia broke the silence. "Did you…did you want to talk about anything?"
Selina shook her head. "No, no. I did enough of that tonight," she chuckled sadly. "I like to sit from time to time. I do it a lot by myself I know and I'm…trying to work on that." Her head dropped slightly, her eyes falling to the tree line. "I just…don't really feel like I have any more words right now, if that makes sense."
"Yeah." Mia nodded her head and returned her eyes to the stars as well. "Yeah…I get that."
Selina never turned her head. "Thanks, Mia."
Mia smiled, keeping her eyes on the sky, "No problem, Selina."
Selina sat on the bus quietly, waiting for the rest of her teammates. The team meandered a bit outside of the bus, but Selina had no desire to do so. She walked past her teammates after having handed her bag to her assistant coach and proceeded on the bus. There was a slight unease about the day, something which she chocked up to nerves at being around the same people who still gave her eye-avoiding looks. She turned her gaze to the window, her eyes focusing on the cluster of trees surrounding the entrance to the main gym. She felt seat shift, the corner of her eyes making out Mai's form. She turned to say something Mia, but Mia's back was to her, speaking to one of the other girls in the aisle.
Selina nodded her head to herself and returned her attention to the window. Her hands snaked themselves into her jacket pocket, pulling out her earbuds with one hand and pressing play on her cd player with the other. Her eyes remained on the window as she slipped the earbuds into her ears, drowning out her surroundings.
Selina and Mia sat in relative silence the entire bus ride which took a few hours. Selina's focus remained primarily on the changing exterior landscape. she had brought a book with her, Their Eyes Were Watching God, but she couldn't bring herself to open it. It laid innocently in her lap, her fingers gripping it every so often. Selina found herself gritting her teeth whenever her eyes refocused and caught her reflection instead of the outdoors.
The girls ate on the bus as the game was scheduled to begin at 5:30 pm. The turkey and swiss on wheat just didn't seem very palpable to her.
"Hey, you awake?"
Selina jumped slightly at a touch on her shoulder. "Yeah…yeah, I'm awake."
"We're pulling into the stadium."
Selina turned her head to the window, a sprawling oval-type structure ahead of her. A banner was hanging over one of the entrances, the moniker of the high school soccer association proudly displayed in red and white. The pinewood eyes traced the parking lot as the bus eased its way closer to the structure. There were a few cars there, at least 100 with three buses similar to the one she was on. One of the buses, white with a blue top and blue trim and lettering, had the words "St. Andrew Corsini Jaguars" splayed across the side. Well...there they are, she thought.
The bus creaked to stop near the front entrance, Coach Harrington giving initial instruction before exiting to check-in. Selina glimpsed at her wristwatch. It was two hours before game time, but she knew the time would tick down quickly.
Faint whistling and cheering could be heard from the stadium. Another girl's division was playing on the field, the owners of the other buses Selina assumed. She craned her head in her seat, eyeing the game clock. The first half was just beginning to wind down with ten minutes remaining.
It didn't take long for Coach Harrington to return to usher the girls off of the bus. They grabbed their belongings, chatting amongst themselves as they exited.
Both teams settled on opposites sides of an adjoining practice field. Selina kept her earbuds in as long as she could, her cd player tucked in her warm-up jacket pocket. Her breathing felt shallow, her lungs refusing to expand though she willed them to.
She felt nervous.
An invisible weight settled in her stomach as she walked alongside her teammates, but not with them. No one said anything to her about her outburst at Angelo's. Not even Caitlin's green eyes carried a smirky quality to them as she passed. Selina didn't know if they believed her. She hated herself for wishing that they did, for wishing that just once she felt they were in her corner when she needed them. The Christmas tournament felt like ages ago. She allowed herself to feel like she belonged though the feeling was short-lived. She remembered the feeling of being invited to triangle rather than assigned at the practices that followed.
And then the grisly silence that followed after a poor game and a few words from Janna.
Selina signed as she dropped her bag to the ground. She pulled out her earbuds and stuffed them into her jacket. She wore a long-sleeve undershirt to cover her bandages. Her team was designated as the home team and would be wearing their white jerseys. Her undershirt and bandages wouldn't show.
She squeezed her arms where the gauze was, bending it for a last check in flexibility. They were tight and secured.
Her coaches gathered the team for a pep talk before beginning warm-up drills. Most of the team sat as they listened, but she was too anxious. She stood in the back, arms folded, her hands gripping her arms every so often. Selina tried her best to listen attentively, but instead, she found her eyes drifting to her teammates. Some were rocking on their heels, some with their legs extended stretching. Those who stood had a similar stance to Selina, arms folded or on their waists.
The team broke out for light touches, passing, and juggling.
"Alright girls, so we made it. I know we haven't played this team yet, but remember what we went over at practice yesterday. This team focuses on a strong midfield. They like to score quickly and then run the clock. They've got some speed there but I think we're pretty evenly matched. Midfield/defense, they like to play a two/four spread. Their centermids swing positions with the forwards, so watch that. Play the zone for right now and not the man. We need to gauge the match-ups before going to one-to-one coverage. Wings, I need to you to widen your zone, bring it from the sideline to inside the midfield circle. We need to squeeze the middle and force them to wings as much as possible. Judging by the weather, if we win the coin toss, we want the north end first because of the wind." Coach Harrington glimpsed at the field. "Alright, ladies. We're up. Let's go out there and work. Panthers on three."
The team stood and gave their cheer before heading to the field. The stadium was sparse, the spectators consisting of the high school association officials, a few parents and remnants from the previous game who had not yet left. Both teams met in the middle of the field and stood to face each other. Selina gave them a once-over, recognizing two of their players from track. She made a quick note of their numbers.
Selina's eyes moved down the line while the referee outlined the rules and congratulated the teams for making it this far. Her eyes stopped when she saw something in the face of two of the girls. Their eyes narrowed, with one of them mouthing something to the other, earning a smirk.
Selina ordinarily would have smirked back, but she didn't have it in her. Her jaw tightened, and she redirected her attention to the referee.
The teams returned to their sides of the field with the captains remaining. Paulson won the coin toss.
Selina moved the practice ball around between her feet as her coach gave last-minute instructions. Selina could feel her heart rate increasing though she had barely been moving.
Both teams assumed their positions on the field. Selina gave a once-over of the field, looking at their goalie as she went. She noticed how far up she was, how far up the entire team was. She looked back to Jessica who had just finishing jumping and touching the top of her goal. She gave a hand wave to the ref, indicating she was ready. The Jaguars goalie did the same. The whistle blew and the game commenced.
The team did a quick push forward before turned and kicking the ball back to their midfielder who held two touches on the ball before proceeding to connect. At the same time, a wave of deep blue came rushing onto the Paulson side. Selina felt her feet falter, unable to read the actions or the intent. They…they can't all be rushing. Selina scanned the field, watching as all players except for the sweeper and goalie seemed to cross the midfield line. The entire team, in one moment, converted into an offensive mass. The ball, after initial possession by St. Corsini's midfield, was kicked deep into Paulson territory. The speed of the forwards caught the Paul defense off balance. Palpable chaos ensued as Jessica began barking orders at her defense who seemed unable to process what just happened, all players forgetting their game plan. The ball made a first bounce deep in Paulson territory and into the feet of a St. Corsini player. Selina felt her feet edge forward, wondering if she should sprint to assist the defense as they were currently outnumbered with the Paulson offense attempting to remain in position at the top of their half of the field. She remained in place, trying to track the ball and its position, which was increasingly hard to do with the crowded bodies of blue and white.
St. Corsin rushed the goal, getting a hard, fast, and easy, shot off on Jessica to the bottom right. Jessica, by reflex, blocked the shot, but it ricocheting off her hand, rolling to the side. the tucked and rolled, hopping to her feet before diving on the ball. She was met with a crash from St. Corsini player number 12, causing her to roll to her side. She tightened her body around the ball, her body frozen for what felt like minutes until the area was cleared.
Selina watched as Jessica stood slowly, her eyes throwing daggers at the player who crashed into her. Her head dropped for a moment, shaking her head as she went, anger and the edge of worry outlining her face. Selina looked over to Mia who gave her the same grave expression that could only be summed as:
No one had been able to get a shot off on Paulson that quickly. Ever.
No team ever charged them with everyone but two. Ever.
Jessica took a moment to gain her composure, beginning to yell out orders again for the defense to move up. Selina muttered to herself, knowing Jessica wasn't going to be able to get the ball to the midfield line. Her punts had been short all year. Selina wondered if st. Corsini knew that. launching an attack with all your players against an opponent with speed up top was extremely risky. The ball would only need to pop out once to cause a two on one situation easily.
But the ball had to go there and judging by how rattled Jessica's expression was, no matter what she barked, Selina knew that wouldn't be the case.
the ball flew in the air, about 15 yards from Selina. Selina ran to meet it, easily getting a first touch on it to trap the ball and a second to pass to her right wing. She had just passed the ball when she felt a sudden and sharp pain in the back of her foot. A sudden force ripped through her leg, knocking it completely from under her. she saw from the corner of her eye a body sliding under her. Her arm flailed as she tried to avoid the figure, rolling to her side as she landed with a hard thud to the ground. Her hand shot to her heel, shaking her head quickly as she processed what just happened.
she had been tackled from behind. Not only had she been tackled from behind, but she didn't even have the ball.
She rolled to her side and pushed herself to her knee, her palm planted on the ground to steady herself, she checked her heel. Her ears waited for the shrill of the whistled but it didn't come.
St. Corsini's number 5, the player who tackled her, got up and jogged next to Selina, too close. Her cleat caught the tip of Selina's pinky as she went, snorting at Selina's downed form. Selina swung at the foot but missed, the girl dodging the hit. She offered Selina a shoulder shrug as she moved back into the position. Selina's hand balled into a fist, slamming into the ground as she pushed herself from the ground. Her heel continued to sting, but the pain ebbed away, the throbbing matching her heartbeat. she tried to put pressure on it but felt herself stumble.
"Quinn, take center mid. Go!"
Selina shook her foot as she watched Quinn jogged ahead of her. She began to jog in place, a few times her foot failing but after the fourth touch to the ground, began to subside.
"Selina, you good?" Selina nodded her head, waving off the sidelines. "You shake that off. Get back in there!"
Selina began to jog forward, only to see another wave of blue coming toward her.
The entire first half of the game, St. Corsini dominated. They were only seven minutes into the half when the St. Corsini Jaguars scored their first goal. They were in the twentieth minute when they scored their second. Paulson scrambled the entire first half on all fronts. Aside from being completely out of sync, St. Corsini appeared to be headhunting. There were hip checks, more slide tackles, and holds than Paulson had seen in the summation of their last three games. All aggressions were targeted at specific players: Selina, Mia, Janna, Regina, Mackenzi, Anna, and Jessica.
The referee called very little.
They were in the twenty-sixth minute when Selina eyed a high ball coming in. She jumped up to trap it only catch a foot to the stomach. She felt the familiar feeling of air evacuating her lungs. She dropped to her knees clutching the grass, her eyes shutting tightly.
She could hear someone telling to her get up. She thought maybe it was Mia. She could see a familiar pair of cleats jogging to her, only to see another pair walk by. "Let's go, Ahkmena." That was the fourth time that night she heard that phrase. She knew it had to be number 11. Number 11 had been throwing out phrases all night and hip-checking Mia, Anna, and Janna with no calls. Selina's hand clutched the grass for a moment before shooting up from the ground. She felt herself beginning to lunge forward, but was stopped by an arm grabbing her. She could feel her stomach beginning to cramp from the sharp movement, but she didn't care.
"Don't Selina! You'll get carded!"
The stopping of the forward movement exacerbated her pain, forcing Selina to yank her arm away and double over on her knees. Her eyes were wide open staring at the grass. Another day, another game, another moment of do and say nothing.
Her head wasn't in the game. She knew she needed to tighten up. She was playing sloppy and not at all aware of what was around her. You're gonna mess around and get hurt if you don't get it together. This is child's play and you know it.
So what is the problem?
"You good or do you need to go out?"
Selina shook her head. The voice of the referee grated her ears. He heard what was going on; he saw it and he, like everyone else, did nothing. Her teeth were gritted as she found herself spitting out her words. "I'm fine." She stood up slowly, her jaw set.
The referee backed away, hand raised. "High kick. Free kick here."
Another St. Corsini player walked by, taking her place 10 yards from the kick. "Nice arm accessory. Did you fail at that too?"
Selina looked down at her sleeves. Sure enough, her sleeve had inched up, probably from when Mia grabbed her. Her right hand balled into a fist as she reached up to her sleeve to yank it down. Selina started to approach the ball when Mia grabbed Selina's arm. "Oh no, you don't."
Selina gritted her teeth. "I'm fine, Mia."
Selina glimpsed at Mia, noticing a glint in her eyes before shutting her own, attempting to block out the pain in her stomach. "I know. I'd like to take the kick if that's alright."
They were near the Paulson sideline, Coach Harrington jogging down the side. "Mia, let her take it."
Mia held up her hand. "Oh no coach. I've got this one." She offered him a bright smile. "Trust me."
Selina rested her hand on her stomach as she walked away from the ball. She took a deep breath before readying herself to run. Paulson was on St. Corsini's half of the field, 10 yards from the mid-field line. Mia was great at chipping the ball, favoring the right side of the field over the left. She figured she would do a long ball to Regina. Maybe she can start a weave or something.
Once the referee blew his whistle, Mia readied herself to kick the ball. Selina watched, ready to run when she noticed something. Something was off about Mia's approach to the ball. She couldn't put her finger on it. Is she hurt or something?
Mia's face was tight as she ran on the ball and kicked it. There was a lot of power in that swing, too much power. Selina could see it in the swing of her leg. She was not trying for a long ball; it was a line drive-
Straight at Corsini's number 11. Selina's eyes widened as she recognized the moment the girl knew the ball was humming straight for her. She was completely immobilized.
The ball made an insidious popping sound as it hit her squarely in the stomach. The girl's eyes crossed as she crumpled to the ground.
Selina's hand flew to her mouth. All of the players on the field froze as the ball bounced wildly off the player and out of bounds to the Paulson High bench. Selina whipped her head back to Mia, the corner of Mia's mouth twitching. "Mia what are you-"
Mia took a step forward. "Sucks, doesn't it?" she spat.
Mia's words were enough to pull the referee from his stupor. He jogged forward, reaching into his pocket. "Number 8…no ma'am." He pulled out a yellow card. "Unsportsmanlike conduct."
Selina's eyes widened as Mia took another step forward. Selina ran in front of her, stepping between her and the referee. Her hands shot forward, pushing Mia back. "Mia, what are you doing-"
Mia slapped Selina's hands away, her eyes staying on the Corsini player. She took a deep breath before turning and stepping away, shaking her head as she made her way to the sideline. She offered a sickly sweet smile to another Corsini player as she passed her. "The ref is blind!" she said loudly. "If I wanted unsportsmanlike conduct, I would have aimed for her face and that moon of Jupiter-sized forehead of hers. I can't be blamed for her not knowing how the trap the ball like a good player ought to!"
"Control your player, Coach!"
"Interesting to see you talk about control. I'll be sure to do it at the same level of your officiating."
The referee, a Caucasian man with wide brown eyes and receding hairline, turned slowly to the sideline, pointing his finger at Coach Harrington. "Consider this a warning, Coach."
Coach Harrington waved his hand at the man, turning away. Selina could see Coach Irving shaking his head, telling Coach Harrington something to which he shook his head again, steadily slapping his clipboard against his thigh. He took three steps before turning to face his team.
The clipboard slammed against the ground with an unceremonious thud. "King, you are benched for the half. My players don't-"
"Don't what coach!" she yelled. She shoved an angry finger toward the field. "That girl and at least three others are targeting us. You aren't the one out there catching cleats to the gut, elbows to the back, and everything else! Calls Selina some bull crap name and….ugh." She plopped on the bench in a huff. "Maybe she'll think…" she leaned in and yelled, "TWICE ABOUT IT NEXT TIME."
"I don't care what's going on, you don't-"
Mia shoved herself from the bench. "Don't what? Defend yourself? Like I said, the heifer and whole," she leaned in again as the Corsini play jogged the ball back to the sideline, "HERD will think twice about it before she-"
"Get up and go walk it off, CAPTAIN! Go walk it off right now!" Mia shoved herself from the bench and curtsied before going to walk. Coach Irving gave Coach Harrington a wary glance before walking after Mia.
"Anya! You're up for Mia."
Anya's eyes widened as she pushed herself to her feet.
Selina kept her eyes on her coach. His gaze was frosty but she knew he wasn't really mad at Mia.
He was pissed just like she was.
Another four minutes went by when Paulson was on the attack. Selina just swapped places with Janna near the midfield on Corsini's side when a Corsini player tripped her and hip-checked her out of bounds. Selina rolled for a moment, waiting for a whistle but hearing none. Janna had by now already kicked the ball which went to no one. Her hands shot into the air as the Corsini player ran to grab the ball for a throw-in.
Number 17 jogged past as Selina was standing. "I thought desert monkeys were faster and little more nimble than that…"
Selina could see Janna's feet pause at the words. Her hands balled but she soon jogged into place. She made eye contact with Selina but said nothing.
Selina glanced at her teammates. They wore similar expressions to that of Janna. Her eyes last fell on her coach. His eyes narrowed as he stared down the referee, who was twenty feet away, in silence.
Selina pushed herself from the ground. She wanted to say something, she needed to say something but it seemed as though every minute of this game zapped more and more of her ability to say or do anything.
It seemed as though the same phenomenon, save Mia who was still pacing on the sideline, claimed everyone else.
Selina had just reentered the field when she heard Coach Irving yell, "Mr. Ref! I need you to get the game under control!"
It was the last ten minutes of the first half. The ball was on Paulson's side and Corsini was completing a substitution. Corsini had been successful at making six solid runs on the goal, three of which resulted in direct contact with Jessica. Paulson received one free-kick from it but nothing more.
Coach Harrington paced the sideline, slapping his clipboard against his thigh. He cupped his free hand to his mouth and yelled "Quinn! Move to midfield. Selina drop back to sweep and Janie shift to stopper."
Selina could hear part of the conversation. She saw the expression on Coach Irving's face and the immediate cut he made to Coach Harrington. She knew the defense was getting hammered. Selina ran a hand through her wet hair, retightening her ponytail as she ran back to defense. She felt useless in midfield, feeling only like a rag doll. She wanted to school, she wanted to do something, but the same invisible muzzle that plagued her the past few years remained firmly intact. Everyone hated her now for the Shawn drama it felt like, no one believed her save Mia and maybe Jessica. She didn't need anything else to bring more drama on her head, including showboating.
She could have cared less if the game ended right now.
She moved into her position, nodding her head to Jessica. "You good?"
Jessica shrugged her shoulders, passing her hand over her right shoulder. "About as good as I can be. Welcome back by the way. I've heard about targeting but this is ridiculous." She shifted her eyes to Selina nodding her head. "Be careful okay? I mean it. It's been…getting bad back here."
Selina shook her head, returning her eyes to the sideline. "I'm fine."
"Then you for damn sure better play like it."
Selina dropped her head, a fist forming at her side. The comment was meant to encourage her. She knew that, but it still infuriated her.
Corsini completed their throw-in and had crossed the ball to the opposite side of the field. Paulson's left defender had just been beaten by Corsini's number 5, but she didn't have control of the ball. Selina charged in with a slide to clear the ball. Two players charged in, with one of the players, Corsini's number 11, crashing into her, her foot making contact with the side of Selina's jaw, knocking her down. The back of her head hit the ground for a moment, hitting the same spot where she received her new stitches. Her mouth stung, her tongue detecting the familiar coppery taste of blood. She pushed number 5 away who had somehow nestled an elbow into her gut. She growled as she rolled to her knees. She shook her head to orient herself, only to look up and see what appeared to be another player heading directly for her with the ball in front. Her body froze, choosing instead to brace for impact.
"Player down ref, come on!"
Selina's eyes shut tightly, waiting for the blow that never came. She felt someone near her. Her eyes popped open only to see Jessica in front of her. She saw the skid mark in the ground, assuming she had slid in. She couldn't quite see around her but appeared as though Jessica had her arms in front of her somehow, perhaps as an "x", ready to deflect the ball and potential player.
Corsini player instead feinted the kick and moved to the side, shooting for the open net, increasing their lead to three.
Selina shut her eyes as the unwanted relief flooded her system, her hand clutching her stomach, her mouth bleeding.
She got scared. Selina Yolanda Konstantinidou got scared in game. She was too busy waiting for calls that were never going to come and she got scared.
"Get up Selina…c'mon you can do it."
She rolled to her side and wanted to bite her lip, but couldn't, immediately finding the source of the blood as a split bottom lip. She could feel her eyes brimming.
"Get up. Get up! Do not let them see you like this, alright? Now get up!"
Selina at first wanted to stand but instead punched the ground. What started as one turned into four then ten. She let out a yell that seemed to be half growl before pushing herself up. She spat at the ground, her fingers reaching for her face to touch her mouth.
She was approached by the referee who checked her face. She wanted to do something to him, hit him, anything. His brown eyes, filled with what she assumed was false concern, made contact with her. He must have sensed something about her torn intentions, as he faltered before speaking. "You need to get off the field. You're bleeding. Coach!"
"Aren't you a genius? Don't do your job now after they score!" Jessica spat. The referee turns to Jessica, shaking his head. Jessica could see him reaching for his pocket. She shot her hands into the air. "You have got to be kidding me!"
He never broke eye contact with Jessica as he whipped the shiny yellow card in the air. "Get your goalie as well, coach."
Jessica rolled her eyes as she walked next to Selina, glaring at number 5.
Coach Harrington shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. With a sigh, he yelled, "Shelby, you know what to do. Hold'em till half."
Coach Irving reached Selina first, reaching for her chin. "Quite a hit, kiddo."
"It's fine," she mumbled.
He turned her head, sighing softly. "That's a deep cut, Selina, but I think it'll clot before the game starts again." Folding his arms over his chest, he asked, "Anything else?"
Selina reached for the back of her head, rubbing the soft spot. "No," she mumbled, "I'm fine."
A medic from the association made his way to the Paulson side, a red bag with a white plus symbol on the sides. Coach Irving waved him over to Selina who had now plopped on the bench. "She's over here."
Selina sat up as she saw him approach. He was an African American man with dark skin and bright brown eyes. He gave her a bright reassuring smile as he kneeled in front of her. "I'll try to be quick, alright?"
Selina nodded her head.
"Rough game huh?
She sighed and fought the rolling of her eyes. "Yes sir." His hand hesitated before moving. Selina shook her head, dropping it slightly, mumbling a "Sorry."
"Trust me, no apologies needed here. I sprinted into that one. If I had gotten kicked in the face and no one called anything, I'd be pissed too."
Selina's hazel eyes darted back to the medic. He gave her a soft smile, his bright eyes shining as he inspected her face. The corners of her mouth twitched into a half-smile. She regretted the action immediately as she could feel the tear on her lip widen. She winced, shutting her eyes. "I'm sorry about that. We'll get that fixed so when you make your come back, you can smile all the way home, alright?"
She nodded her head, willing herself not to try to smile. His hands were warm as he touched her cheek. She thought perhaps he would hesitate when he saw her other bruising, but he ignored it as though it wasn't there. She stared past him, her eyes systemically landing on the blue jerseys that had begun to huddle up. The whistle hadn't been blown yet but she could see their smiles and smirks from across the green. Arrogant witches.
The man lifted her chin in a similar fashion to Coach Irving. "Any blurred vision?"
"Ringing of the ears?"
He held up a penlight. "I need you to track the light for me, okay. Don't move your head, just your eyes."
Selina nodded her head. She started to follow the light when she heard Coach Harrington murmuring to Coach Irving.
"Dan I…keep thinking this is something they have to suck up but-"
"There isn't anything for them to suck up if they are getting kicked in the face and the ref isn't doing squat! He'll call a high kick but not even a player down? He is letting tackles from behind slide."
"Eyes on me, friend."
Selina returned her attention to the man in front of her, murmuring a "sorry." Her eyes began tracking the light.
"I…I'm no coward, you know that. He's supposed to officiate and to some degree protect them and he's…he's not doing that. It's…it's not worth playing it if he won't."
"What are you saying, Darien?"
"I'm saying…if he doesn't get this together, this game will end sooner than we all want."
Selina blinked quickly returning her attention to the medic. "I'm sorry?"
"Nausea? Sickness in the stomach? You took a few blows to the gut, right?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes, about the blows. No-no sickness though."
"Does your head hurt at all?"
"My mouth stings. Sore jaw."
"Check the back of her head."
Selina looked up seeing Coach Harrington standing there, arms folded. She lowered her head, her eyes choosing to look at the ground. He's all talk. There's no way he'd walk away from the chance at a championship. No freaking way.
The medic stood, replacing Selina's current gauze with clean packing to hold to her mouth before walking behind her. She kept her head down, refusing to look at her coach. She could tell he didn't move. His stoic stance, bare ankles and loafers were firmly planted. The medic checked her head, noting her stitches. They appeared to be still intact with no visible damage.
He made his way back in front of her and proceeded to clean her lip. He offered her an ice pack hold in place while he readied the rest of his materials. The cut had begun to clot. Liquid bandaid was applied after the area was dried to keep it clean. The medic cleared her for the second half, commenting that he would need to check on her prior to their leaving to ensure symptoms of a possible concussion did not appear. If the liquid bandaid didn't hold she may need to go to the emergency room for stitches to make sure the skin held together.
By the time the medic finished with Selina, the whistle had blown signaling the end of the first half.
Coach Harrington dropped his clipboard. "Coach, take over for me."
"Snyder! King! Emerick! Here. Now."
Mia shoved herself from the bench, muttering, "Now what?"
Selina raised her head, eyeing her coach curiously. If there was one thing Selina could say about her coach it was that he always expected his teams to operate at high standards, regardless of what their opponents did.
Now, two of his captains had gotten carded-
Selina's eyes narrowed. What does Janna have to do with this? She, for once, didn't get carded.
All three stood before their coach, aggravation and curiosity claiming their features. "Follow me." With that, he turned on his heels and proceeded across the field. The three froze for a moment before jogging to catch up to him.
He was walking toward the referees at midfield. He threw his finger at the Corsini coach, his voice booming, "Yeah, a word COACH. And bring your captains."
The Paulson sideline stood and walked to the edge of the sideline, as though an invisible barrier kept them from crossing the threshold. Selina could faintly make out what the other coach was yelling. He appeared to be at about the same height as Coach Harrington, though much older and balding. "….ridiculous… to have a tantrum like your privileged little brood of-"
Either the man stopped speaking or his voice became extremely quiet as the only thing the girls could hear from Coach Harrington was, "Say another thing coach! Do it!"
The head referee stood between Coach Harrington and the other coach who was indeed making his way toward him with four girls from his team.
"..If that's a concern, I'll make for damn sure to make it worth it. But no sir, I want a word with you," he pointed his finger to somewhere in the stands, "and the board, NOW…."
By this time, both teams were on their feet and edging from the sideline, catching the attention of the state board personnel.
"You guys shut up! I can't hear!
"Protocol. You clearly aren't the one to talk to me about protocol, cause all you've shown is that you could give a flying fu-"
Anna clasped her hand over her mouth. "Oh snap coach!"
The referee made a gesture with his hands, saying the words "thrown out."
Quinn shook her head and walked back to the bench. "Coach Irving, I sure hope you're up for being the head cause it looks like there's gonna be a vacancy."
Darien pointed to the ground. "I want the board member here NOW!"
Coach Irving, just as mesmerized as his team, snapped himself from the show. "Alright, ladies let's go. Drink and stretch. We've got a long second half to go."
Selina kept her eyes on her coach, wondering just what he planned to do. She didn't wonder too long as she soon felt a slap on her shoulder. "C'mon kiddo, you too. Let's go."
Everyone did as instructed and returned to the bench, but all eyes were on the center field, in particular on their coach and the association figure who jogged over. They huddled for at least ten minutes. After it, Coach Harrington stalked back to the Paulson side. His face was red, his forehead crinkled and his eyes narrow. He looked as though he aged ten years in those ten minutes.
Mia, Jessica, and Janna however were smiling.
Coach Harrington walked to the sideline, paused, and turned to walk away, Coach Irving trailing him.
Regina walked over to the trio, nodding her head toward her coaches "You guys what happened?"
Jessica raised her eyebrows whistling loudly. "I didn't think Harrington got down like that."
Janie grabbed Regina's shoulder. "What happened? What did he say?"
Mia sighed loudly, "Well-"
"I'll tell you what I said!" All Paulson players jumped at the bark. "I told the ref that he needed to get the game under control! That was some of the worst officiating I've ever seen in my life! Not calling slide tackles from behind! People get their legs broken over that! Kicks to the face and…do they want a lawsuit for allowing dangerous play? Because that's what they're condoning here and that's what they'll be liable for. He doesn't listen to his linesmen who are more on the game than that lazy, arbitrary, partial bastard is. On top of that…" He turned to Selina. "I'm…I'm sorry Selina. About what they said. I heard that. I heard it at least twice. That's an automatic ejection. By state rules, it is an automatic ejection. It SHOULD be an automatic ejection, but that ref, on top of all of his other wonderful attributes, apparently has selective hearing. He can hear being called blind but nothing else right?" He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm all for contact. You wanna play psychological ball fine, but don't do it illegally. This…this has become a very physical game. Too physical. With a sorry official to boot."
Janna folded her arms across her chest. "He said if they didn't get their crap together, we'd forfeit."
The blue eyes cut over to Janna, causing her to shut her mouth immediately. "Snyder…"
Regina took a step back. "Are you serious?"
Caitlin stomped her foot, her words fumbling out of her mouth. "C-coach…y-you can't!"
Coach Harrington folded his arms and breathed in deeply, holding the breath before for a few seconds before exhaling sharply. "I'm going to say this exactly one time. Hear me clearly when I say it. No game, no title, no championship is worth this. You are my players. I am personally responsible for every one of you. All of my seniors have full-ride scholarships. Every one of them. All of my juniors are being scouted. I've got a rising class full of talent. Paulson will be set for a long time. You will have life outside of this game and life outside of high school. That team, I think I counted at least four of them, are acting as enforcers and trying to purposefully hurt you. Not play ball, not be aggressive, but purposefully try to take you out. I will not have your futures jeopardized let alone stand by and watch you get hurt because some prick won't make the calls he should. I also will not stand by and allow one of my players to be blatantly disrespected by another team or by an official. I will never stand for that. I have to protect my players the best way I can. And should it come to that, I will write and write and write about this system, their blatant disregard for fairness, and their ignorance to the safety and wellbeing of the players of their organization. I have some serious muscle behind me on it if they want it, if it comes to that."
"I threw out a couple law firms, connections as well."
Coach Harrington dropped his head between his shoulders before shooting his eyes at his forward. "Janna…"
Janna held up her hands, her brown eyes wide. "Sorry coach."
He sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Look, underclassmen. I apologize now if it comes to that. That's a hardline for me, I'm not moving on that."
Shelby crossed her arms, her goal jersey fabric shifting. "We get it, coach."
Anya folded her arms, sighing. "We're good, coach."
"Now, we've gotten the attention of the board official. She seemed to share some of the same sentiments. She was a previous player so she readily recognized some things weren't right. Nobody wants a PR nightmare and I assured them they would get one if something didn't change. Apparently, this team was warned last year for targeting. The referee in that game wasn't nearly as arbitrary as the one we have now, but this one tends to let things slide, a lot. We were a favorite coming into this so it will look really bad to the organization should something like this come up from a team like them against the record we have. We outrank them in every poll and we are known to be a disciplined team, though," he paused and turned to Mia. "I wonder about some of my players as of late."
Mia sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
"Anyone can have a bad game," he continued, "but they don't want to hear with proof they had a bad game due to a bad ref and a team notorious for targeting. That being said, this is what I need from you guys. We didn't go into this game with everything together so we cannot blame it solely on the ref and the other team." his arms folded, his voice lowering slightly. "This has been a rough week for the team, for some team members more than others."
Selina bristled, her jaw tightening.
"They rattled us so badly the first half, I know. But you have got to dig, especially since I pretty much called out the ref for being incompetent to his boss and pulled the personal liability card. Pretty sure he's pissed at me now, so just know that the ref is not going to give you any favors. He doesn't need to; we just need him to be fair and call things for what they are. We play smart; we don't play dirty, no matter how much we want to."
Mia raised her hand. "Coach, you did notice that she didn't have anything to say within earshot of me anymore, right? Like when we went over there."
"You notice he didn't say NO shots…" Mia mumbled.
"Ladies I've given this speech a thousand times before. This is it. I don't give up easily. That will never be my style but we aren't lowering our standards. Until they force it, you have got to give this your all. Stay on your feet and you get up every single time. Do not give them the satisfaction of seeing you down. Don't give it to them. And if they do get it, make sure you don't stay there for long. And you make them pay. FAIRLY, but you make them pay for it." He paused when he saw the board official and two other people begin to make their way to the sideline. He nodded his head in their direction, earning a glimpse from Coach Irving. He shared a silent look with him before returning his eyes to his team. "Get loose alright?" He turned and walked away, motioning Coach Irving to follow him.
Selina's eyes traced the circle, trying to read her teammates' expressions. It was a shining moment of at least one say something, but she wondered if her coach would really back it up. She didn't think he had it in him, but it looked like he was dead serious. He was right and it was probably the correct call to make-
But he called on them to step it up.
She shut he eyes and shook her head. What could she do? She already had enough to worry about.
Anna shook her head as she watched her coach turn to his assistant. "He's really looking at a forfeit."
Amy readjusted her jersey, tucking it into her shorts. "If it comes to it, yeah. He was livid when he heard those two girls."
"Do you think it'll get better?"
"I doubt it, but we'll see. He might bully the ref, but that doesn't mean anything for Corsini."
"Well, I guess that's that for the season then."
Selina shook her head. Just what I need…just what I freaking need…. Selina threw the bloody gauze in the nearby trashcan. "Great...another opportunity."
"Opportunity for what, Stretch?"
Selina looked up eyeing Janna. Oh you're talking now? Selina narrowed her eyes. I don't need this…"Forget it Oh Captain My Captain." Selina proceeded to walk away when she felt an angry shove into her shoulder. She stumbled forward but whirled on her heels ready to strike. "What's your deal, Janna!"
"Say it, Selina! Say it! And it better not be more about how this team doesn't support you or doesn't care. If you don't think you have a team, why the hell are you playing, or should I say NOT playing?"
Selina took a step forward. "Where do you get off-"
"Drop it, Selina! Drop the woe is me I play my heart out. I call freaking BS on that! Play your damn game, Stretch," she said with a shove. "You're holding back. You know it. We all know it. You don't need us fighting your battles for you. You are so much more than the cowering that you're doing on that field. Yeah, they are playing dirty, but…I know you've got more than this. You do more at practice than this crap! You don't want to play it for us, that's fine. Maybe we don't deserve it. Do it for yourself, but play for some reason other than just because you're breathing and need something to do. do it or get off the field."
"Oh screw you, Janna."
"No Selina, screw freaking you!" Janna said with a shove.
Mia stepped between them, pushing Janna back. "Chill the hell out Janna!"
"No! I will not!" Janna shot her eyes back to Selina. "I'm getting really tired of coddling you. I'm getting really sick of the whole team coddling you!"
"What! Coddling?" Selina snorted at the phrase.
Janna shook her head. "Yeah. You heard me. Coddling you. Mia nailing a wench in the stomach, Jessica leaving the net wide open to cover your sorry excuse of a player and coach - hell the team!- going along with a damn forfeit if we have to! That means nothing to you? What the hell do you want from us, Selina!"
Selina looked around, noticing growing pairs of eyes on her. Her eyes rested on Janna, taking a menacing step forward. "Really Janna? You seriously have to ask? You think…you think getting shit talked about you behind your back and in front your face by your teammates coddling! By your captain no less!" Janna's brown eyes twitched, but remained silent. "You could care less what I do or don't do on the field. That, the forfeit and whatever else is not for me. That's for the team. Say I'm cowering? You were getting shoved around just as much as me and what are you doing about it, huh! Don't like you actually care about someone else besides your stats. You'd be thrilled to have me fall flat on my face. You don't care about me and you don't care about the team, captain! You see me like a scab that you grin and bear it with until falls off and you can forget about it." Selina scoffed. "Worried about the team! You better come at me with something a whole lot stronger than that because you and I both know your concept of a team is nothing that will win a game tonight." Selina took another step forward, shoving her finger into Janna's shoulder. "Don't preach about playing up when you don't want it if it even potentially looks like it will take away from. You know good and damn well what happens because you start it all! Anything that takes away from your glory and your chosen! And this?" Selina shoved her finger toward the opposite side of the field. "I don't need St. whoever to make it any more difficult. You saw it at the dinner and you said nothing. Nothing. The team-"
"Was behind you. They were. But you, like the coward that you are, got up before you would even know! They surprisingly like you and actually give a damn, unlike yourself. I don't see what the big deal is, but they do."
Selina took a step back, her eyes following her teammates. A little less than half of the team was near them, but nearly all the seniors and juniors were there. There was something there, in their eyes, below the surface. Almost none of them would maintain eye contact with her. The ones who did, for once did not have the disregard that was typical of them. Even Caitlin, for the brief moment she did hold Selina's gaze seemed slightly remorseful. "I'll just be honest here and say it point-blank since we aren't tippy-toeing around anything, I hate you for it. I do. Everything. You make me sick. Quite nauseous."
Jessica rolled her eyes, folding her arms over her chest. "Geez Janna…"
"But I knew…we need to be on all cylinders for this one. My parents promised me, promised me they would come to more games. My dad only started living up to that when he saw you play and knew you were going to midfield. When he knew who you were, Ms. Nationals. Nationals my ass! You're right! I want you to screw up so I can rub it in his face. That his starting forward of a daughter, leading scorer in the district outshined you."
"But then I think that unlike you, I actually want to win. I want this win to rub in his face. I want goals and running up of the score because of me. I want to say 'Hey college coach you didn't make a mistake on me. Even though I know I wasn't your first pick.' Doesn't matter if I'm committed scholarship and whatever else. I'm not on the roster yet and I'm not in a jersey yet. I can't get there if you play like crap. I just have to work that much harder when I get there."
Janna turned away for a moment to look at the field, her voice becoming quieter. "Besides what I want, I mean let's just put it out there shall we? You think…you're the first with Shawn? Unfortunately, a lot of the rumors are true probably." She looked down to her side, but not at Selina. "It's different when you see for yourself. There was too much silence after you left for it to be…" Janna twisted her shiny red hair with her porcelain hand, her mouth forming a crooked smile. "Maybe it's not Shawn, but maybe they have one. In some way shape or form. I don't know."
Janna shut her eyes, her hands going to her head, squeezing her skull as though she could squeeze the image of him out of her head. "That rat bastard makes me sick," she hissed, "and I keep…and I don't know why. I've got him by the balls on some things, not the ones that count or matter, like being able to scratch his eyes out any time he…" she stopped talking for a moment, her teeth gritting. She took a few breaths, shirking away from Regina which she felt her touch her shoulder. "Even when he's not here he still manages to screw me over!" she muttered.
Sighing heavily, Janna turned back to Selina, her hands on her hips. "I…for once…would like to feel like I have a legitimate win in the win column. In some ways, I claim what you did Saturday as my own a little bit. I don't even know what all you did, but I know you did something to him. You did. And that rattled the shit out of him. I could tell. And then to have Chris, and Ty and Rich and Jeff and… But it doesn't mean squat if you don't get your act together right now. Blame us if you want but I know he's still screwing you over right now. I know it. So do something. As for the rest of us, I'm fairly certain…" she paused, folding her arms across her chest eyeing the rest of their teammates, "it won't be a problem."
Selina's brow rose. Was Janna Snyder, in her own way, giving Selina permission to…play? Indignation flew up in Selina, at Janna and herself. There was a moment, the slightest sigh of relief that somehow she received some sort of permission, some sort of assurance that for once, Selina truly being Selina on the field was okay. It was an odd feeling, a conflicting feeling of anger and relief both pointing to herself, Janna, and her teammates. Janna wasn't getting an out for all she had done, but Selina knew it was a step for her.
It only took a mutual struggle.
"By the way," Janna added tightening her ponytail, "don't worry about me getting my shit together for this. I'm mad as hell one of those heifers made me bruise. So I want revenge." She nodded her head toward Mia. "I'm proud of Mia. They aren't gonna touch you now, are they?"
Mia folded her arms over her chest. "They can try to if they want."
" So Stretch, this is what I say to them, about all of this. They wanna call you a desert monkey, you go ape on them. They wanna call you a terrorist, you go freaking nuclear. Call you a sand eater, you bury them, deep. But you do SOMETHING. Look, we aren't friends. But…we are on the same team. We aren't sophomores anymore, or even juniors. Things are different. You win, I win. But I swear if you get all about you again-"
There it is. "It was never that way to begin with and you know it. It was always, ALWAYS about the game and nobody could handle it, accept it, or anything. you accepted the ego trip for the lie that it was, IS and you still do it! It was all jealousy and the audacity that this lesser person right here could outplay you. It was never about outplaying anybody except the other team as a team! And nobody NOBODY understood that. Because just like you, they were too concerned about the comparison instead of worrying about their own game and how it helps the team. It was something you hadn't seen before so you hated it. So it's all well and good to come at me with that if you want to, but you and I both know it's a lie. Like you said, we aren't friends, but you're a baller just like me and you know me, Janna. If nothing else, you should at least know that about me."
Janna tightened her jaw before relaxing. She lowered her eyes. She looked as though she was physically swallowing something, her words, pride something. Selina knew exactly what she meant and she knew Janna knew exactly what she meant. That was the lie. That was always the lie. Selina Konstantinidou is out for herself when all she wanted to do; all she ever wanted to do was just simply play her game. It was a game they weren't ready for, hadn't seen or experienced personally and it scared her entire team into two years of terror hazing until finally, she submitted to their will. She was still yielding to it, as a senior. Janna mentioned Shawn as holding her back, but there were two demons here and one of them was fighting with herself.
Janna's eyes watched the circle of her teammates and classmates. They were waiting on her to answer, as their captain, but she saw the truth in their faces just like Selina did.
Selina was right.
Janna shifted her brown eyes to Selina, her jaw tightening. Selina knew what it meant for Janna to say yes. She saw her household first hand. It was succumbing to her father's ball shaming and elevation of others over her.
But Selina also knew that if, only if, they were on all cylinders, they could do something no one had seen. The potential for that was something she hoped would be enough.
Janna sighed heavily. "Fine." Selina stepped back. Four years later, it was a curt admission but nonetheless an admission. "I'll say this then, don't make it all about you. Because if you do I will knock you down so hard. I don't care how tall you are, Stretch. I mean it. I will slice. You got me?"
"Strangely, yes." Is this…is this a truce? Selina dropped her eyes for a moment before looking back up. "You DO know I'm not scared of you, right?"
Janna rolled her eyes. "Keep telling yourself that."
Silence fell between the two and it was as though four years of an overshadowing weight had just been lifted, prompting an internal sigh from everyone present.
Jessica's eyes darted between the two. "We good over here? Can I go get everyone from the bunkers?"
Mackenzi rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Jess."
"Ladies! You need to warm up!" their coach barked. The ten players jumped, whirling on their heels to stare at their coach. "What's going on over here!"
"Nothing coach," Mia said sweetly. "We're just strategizing." Look back to the group, she said with a raised brow. "Right?"
Selina took a step forward. "Yeah, we…we need to make a statement."
Janna snorted. "What kind of statement are you thinking?"
Selina looked to the field, chewing on the inside of her cheek. "I…have an idea. We have kick-off, right?
She nodded her head. "I'll take first touch. You'll know it when you see it. But coach is right, we need to get loose."
"Let's go! I wanna see some touches."
The Paulson Panthers grabbed their practice balls and went out on the field. St. Corsini was already on their side of the field, taking shots on goal. It was two minutes before the end of the halftime when Coach Harrington called the team together.
Coach Harrington called his team in for a quick huddle and pep talk. Selina zoned out, her eyes on the field. The anxiousness and fidgetiness she hadn't felt in a long time was starting to bubble to the surface. The atmosphere felt electrified. For once, during her entire career at Paulson, she felt a synergy among the group. And it was spreading. Mia began to move, Mackenzi was moving, Janna, Regina, Anna, Jessica, Quinn, Janie, all of them felt something.
The Panthers completed their cheer and the starting roster ran to their side of the field. Mia jogged alongside Selina. "So, what's your plan for kick-off?"
"Well," she paused for a moment, her head toggling from side to side. "You'll see."
"Trust me on this okay? Remember, I've got first touch." Selina sighed heavily as she eyed the other team. Her eyes traced their positions from the forward to the goalie.
Her eyes stopped their movement when she heard a sigh of aggravation from Mia. "This is a team, Selina. Don't prove Janna right."
Selina offered a genuine smile, the first of the night and the first in a long time. "I know." Her voice was quiet. It was a strange feeling to have for once the feeling that everyone was united, albeit it was a shared hatred, but Selina would take what she could get at the moment. Chuckling aloud to break the tension, she tacked on, "You already got to kick someone with the ball. I'm asking for one. Just…this one time. At least for right now." She shrugged her shoulders as she looked back to St. Corsini's layout. "I'm just…making…an initial statement." She looked back to Mia. "That's all. Trust me."
Mia sighed again and dropped her head, backing away to the edge of their half of the mid-field circle.
Selina approached the circle, her head on the ball. Her head began to bob ever so slightly, her right hand beginning to pat her leg to a beat only she knew.
Selina backed away from the ball and began a slight pace, back and forth behind it. This prompted a cautious look from Mia. "I thought you said you had first touch."
Selina never turned her head. "Yup."
"Then mind tell me what you're doing?" she hissed.
"Just trust me." Selina waved her hand at her hip. She looked up once more only to be met with narrowed eyes for number 16. She returned the smirk she couldn't earlier.
Number 16's face faltered.
Selina shut her eyes, still bopping to herself. She chose instead to listen for the whistle, continuing her pacing behind the ball. She could hear the shrill of the whistle and her movements were instinctive. With little running, Selina closed the small gap between herself the ball, her foot connecting with the ball with sharp, fast pow.
Selina ignored Mia and sprinted forward. The opposing team's forward faltered the confusion evident in their scramble. Janna ran with Selina, her sprint slowing to a jog when she realized what was happening. The opposing team's goalie backpedaled but failed to catch her footing. Selina charged straight toward her, the defensive line scrambling once they saw the ball in the air after their initial disbelief. The sweeper, by the time she saw the ball, began to backpedal as well.
Selina saw the goal shake, but she didn't need to. She practiced that shot too many times.
She ran past the goalie who was now standing at the goal post. She didn't make eye contact. Instead, Selina turned her head to the linesmen who had given the flag signal for a goal. She looked at the referee who blew his whistle indicating a goal. She pointed at the ball and the linesmen gave her a nod with a small smile. She crouched into the net, grabbed the ball, and proceeded to run back. Selina could feel the heat on her back and made it a point to keep her head forward, making sure not to come anywhere near the other players. Once she reached the semi-circle on Corsini's side. She slowed to a walk and dropped the ball at the midpoint. She jogged back to her side, having now been rushed by the forwards and midfielders. She turned to her bench and raised fists beating her chest playfully which earned a whoop from her teammates. Once she passed her team's mid-field circle, it was only then that Selina turned around, catching the eye of number 16. With a smile, her fist rose, tight and balled. She patted her chest, one by one, and gave her a head nod.
The girl's baby blue eyes narrowed.
Selina readied herself at the top of the circle, eyeing the ball curiously. She assumed they would attempt the blue wave once more, but she wouldn't give them the chance. "Mia?"
Mia stood ready at the circle. "Yeah."
"I've…got one more thing,"
Mia smirked. "I'm curious, Selina."
"I think it will probably work only once though, but enough to keep them on their toes."
"Well, you can try it."
Selina shouted to Janna. "Janna! Be ready to run."
A brow rose. "Oh really?"
"Yeah really." Selina turned to Regina and repeated the statement.
"That was a lucky shot, sand eater."
Selina shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to take her place on the side of the circle instead of directly in the middle on the curve. Mia furrowed her eyebrows and attempted to follow suit on the other side, but Selina shook her head.
Corsini's team approached the circle, looking at one another before commencing with the kickoff.
They proceeded with the initial first touch to the front before sending it back. Selina sprinted straight for the center midfielder. She kept her eye on the ball, watching for the exact moment the girl's foot made contact. She had already dodged two players who made up the blue wave that started moving forward. Selina's leg shot out, making contact with the ball as it flew from the ground. Her foot curve around the ball, cradling it midway to the ground. The ball bounced once in the air as Selina ran through it, hitting it with her chest. Her eyes remained up as she eyed her teammates. Janna, right on target, sprinted down the field. Half of Corsini's team had already passed the midfield line. Selina could hear the scrambled yelling of people being told to get back but she ignored it. She passed the ball to Janna who was still sprinting. She had to get the timing right. She knew the sweeper would be moving up as well and as long as she had kicked the ball prior to Janna passing her, they would be fine.
Janna received the ball just at the point prior to her foot crossing the sweeper's line. Selina's head flew to the sideline ref who motioned to play on.
Janna dodged the sweeper with a quick one-two touch on the inside of her feet, passing it to herself. The movement was just enough to throw the sweeper's stride off, causing her to stumble. It was just the hesitation Janna needed to pass the ball to the middle and around the player. Janna's next kick was so hard and full of so much fury, the pop of the impact echoed in the stadium. The goalie froze, glove up, as the ball hit the net in the bottom right corner.
Selina had by now kept running forward, straight for the goal. She waved at the ref on the sideline once more who indicated that it was a goal, picked up and ball, and proceeded to jog back. She smiled to herself as she heard Janna yell and sprint to the sideline for high fives. Selina dropped the ball and tapped it to the midfield circle. When she turned back around, the St. Corsini players, some dumbfounded, others beet red with anger cut their eyes at Selina. Selina took her place at the circle, pushed up her sleeves, and bent forward as though ready to run.
The game progressed at breakneck speed. The two quick goals by Paulson were enough to send St. Corsini scrambling. With Selina at the midfield circle, St. Corsini never attempted the blue wave once more. Instead, they settled into their zone play, but Paulson outran them and outplayed them at every facet.
"Take them to school, Lina!" It was about 20 minutes left in the second half when Paulson midfield received the ball. Selina stepped on the ball, causing it to spin backward. Feeling someone from the side, her foot stepped on the ball, and skimmed it, causing it to spin where it lay before moving backward.
The defensive player stepped to the front to scoop the ball, only to have the object move seemingly by itself to Selina as she turned her back to it. The defense player swung with her scoop and missed, a growl of frustration eeking from her pouty mouth.
Selina then proceeded to roll the ball up the back of her heel as she ran, kicking it over her head, maintaining her forward momentum. She spurted down the sideline, looking for the open position. She could recognize Janie's voice yelling "Man! Nine! Nine!"
The other player was so close, she could feel her body heat, hear her heavy breathing. The light brushing of a jersey and an arm as she went. The girl ran beside her from the inside. Selina glimpsed down, looking at the girl's strides. They didn't completely match hers, with Selina dribble the ball with the inside of her right foot, keeping the opponent from stepping inside to snatch the ball and knew she wasn't below tripping her up. One-two, one-two, she counted in her head. Without losing speed, Selina instead popped the ball not from the outside but from the inside, tapping it with the inside of her right foot. She extended the stride of her left foot just enough to pass the ball behind it. She followed through with her right foot, planting it for a pivot. She turned quickly to her right, allowing her to spin behind the girl. The ball rolled between the girl's leg mid-stride. As Selina completed her turn, she shot her left foot out, containing the ball with one touch and pushing it with the outside of her foot with the next touch. The defender paused unclear what happened to the ball and her mark. Selina took one more step before chipping the ball to Janna. Janna trapped the ball with her chest, completing a one-two hop before leaning back, kicking the ball behind her with a bicycle kick.
Janna rolled to her side as she watched the net shook at the reception of the ball.
Selina slapped her hands together, hissing a yes. She didn't know Janna would be there. She didn't know what it was, but she felt that moment of synchronization where she knew Janna read the play. Selina ran to Janna and extended her hand. Janna scowled at it, earning a shake from Selina's head. "Just a hand, captain."
Janna rolled her eyes at the comment, choosing to take the hand, getting up with a grunt. "Nice goal."
Janna swiped her hands over her shorts, answering nonchalantly, "I know."
Selina was about to say something when she saw something in Janna's face. Her eyes seemed softer, a smirk on her petite mouth. Selina snorted at the sight and shook her head before turning toward the goal. She was about to continue her regimen of grabbing the ball but saw that the goalie, who was steadily yelling at her defense, had grabbed the ball. She made eye contact with Selina, her eyes tightening. Selina gave her a head nod, turned, and proceeded to make her way to her side of the field. As she jogged, she circled her right arm around her head, earning cheers from her teammates.
The game continued this way, the synergy building between midfield and the forwards, bleeding into the defense. The Corsini defense continued the targeting for the offensive players, but true to their word, they pushed back and pushed themselves up, never staying on the ground for long. Selina could feel herself becoming more open, feeling alive with every deep breath she took. Paulson continued the play with a continuous shifting of the field. As planned, Corsini's players grew tired. Paulson controlled every aspect of the game, including when the ball would go out. Paulson would not give them the satisfaction of allowing a break unless they determined it. They gave up the opportunity for corner kicks and throw-ins all for the opportunity of running the Corsini into the ground.
Selina's placed her hands on her head at the sound of the final game whistle. She looked to the scoreboard and smiled. For the first time since Selina played for Paulson, they ran purposely ran the score up. The final score was 9 – 3.
Selina turned around, her smiling growing as she saw her teammates running from their end of the field toward the midfield for the "good game" handshake. Selina crouched as she saw Jessica barrel toward her from the sideline. Half the starters were taken out in the last ten minutes, one by one until only Selina, Janna, and Quinn remained. She laughed as Jessica scrubbed the top of her head. "Good job, professor!"
Selina shook her head, shoving her playfully. "Whatever…"
Janna walked by, flipping her hair as she spoke to Regina. "Hey, captain!" Janna stopped talking and shot her eyes toward Selina. "Good game." Selina offered her hand to Janna.
Janna looked at the hand, her lips pursed. She breathed deeply with a heavy sigh. She hesitated for a moment before slapping Selina's hand. "If you had your stuff together the first half it would have been a better game, double digits."
Jessica bent over dramatically before rising suddenly. "Damn Janna…"
Selina, not missing a beat folded her arms. "Goes both ways, don't you think?" Janna's eyes narrowed, but Selina knew she wasn't angry. There was a spark there but not the usual one.
She smirked back.
"You guys, that game was amazing!"
"Like literally the best game I've ever played."
"Great job you guys!"
Selina stumbled forward from the slaps on the back. She got into the line and proceeded to walk single file, repeating "Good game" as they passed the Corsini players. As she expected, some of the girls moved their hand out of the way as she passed, but she didn't care. She made eye contact with every one of them. She thought about making an ape or gorilla noise as she passed some of the players but thought better of it.
The team got on the bus with an electrified flurry and excitement. Coach Harrington relayed to the girls that Northshore won their quarterfinal game and that they would be playing against them for the Semifinals. Selina sighed heavily at the thought of that game. It was an opponent they were familiar with, but she always had issues with their forward Dinah. But she could feel something changed. It was different from the Christmas tournament and different from the later games in the season. For once, the team felt completely united.
Her excitement in the moment was short-lived when she realized the only thing bringing most of them together was either spawned by revenge or common war stories.
Not because they were part of the same team.
She leaned her head against the seat, listening to Mia chatter away with Jessica. She wished it could have meant something more than that.
But for the night, she would relish the on and off-field win.
The team arrived back a little after eleven o'clock. Selina left her father a message stating they made it back and that she was home. She trudged up the steps in her house, the silence surrounding her. She walked into her room pausing as she crossed the threshold. The room felt vaguely unfamiliar to her, slightly foreign. Her fingers tapped against the light switch, deciding ultimately to leave the light off. Instead, she eased her way through the room, dodging the shadowy objects that were splayed across the floor. From muscle memory, she found the first lamp, squinting her eyes when the first ray of light flashed. She dropped her bag and made her way to her bean bag, scooting it toward her sunrise wall. She turned on her lamps only and sat with her legs crossed, seated in front of the wall.
She could feel her eyes welling as she traced the petals. The feeling of happiness was intoxicating and, making her feel like a fiend. She passed her hand over her face, cursing herself. Her fingers paused at her lip, dabbing the sealed cut. She had more to give. She knew she did. Everything always seemed to be one game away, but now the weight of it hit her, sinking her shoulders. She wondered about the next game, the next practice. Would this last? After the season ended, what would happen?
Selina picked at her sandals, picking at a loose piece of rubber. She didn't have her best friend anymore. The person she thought was a friend was an agent of manipulation. She questioned the friendships that she thought she found and would not allow herself to relish the moment of peace that transpired that night. She would not make the mistake of taking that as friendship. Janna said so herself.
Selina shut her eyes, breathing deeply. Her thoughts went to Saturday night, to Shawn's angry gray eyes and writhing body. She struggled to find pleasure in the vision of his pain. She was pushed to use this to fuel her for her game, but the anger felt misplaced, something she knew she would not be able to replicate. Instead, she tried to remember the moments not when Shawn was in pain, not when he was knocked out against the wall, but rather the moments where she felt herself fighting back. Losing and everything, she had to focus on that, on coming back.
A flash of a memory came back to her, a remorseful pair of blue eyes.
Selina leaned back in her bean bag with a sigh. "Alright, Christopher. Now it's your turn."