Yes, this story does have a lot of sports references, but at its core it is a romance. Stick with it and soon the sports will take the back seat. Enjoy:)
As I get out of the car, I have to tighten my jacket around my shoulders. The wind is biting and cold and I can't help but feel a flash of annoyance at Mel. What on earth could have possessed him to start a winter season?
Ignoring the cold, I move toward the trunk to help Dad with the gear bags.
"I think this will be a good season," he says. My father is a tall man, dark, and I suppose you could call him good looking, but I have no urge to see him that way.
I mutter a noncommittal response in his direction. He's been going on like this for the whole car ride and I'm tired of talking about it. I don't know how he can be so optimistic after last year's close call. Not to mention that we don't know the other teams. How can you say we'll have a good team when we don't know who to compare ourselves to?
Not that there really is a wein the first place. Dad is simply the team's mouthpiece. I've always been in charge of the rest of the training, discipline and all. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only one who has yet to figure that out.
At least Mel trusts me alone with the kids. Then again, this league of his is a brand new. I don't think he could afford to turn away any coaches.
I stifle a sigh and walk toward the fields. As I go, I can't help but think about the parents we will be meeting today.
That's always the worst part about any soccer season, trying to prove to the parents that you can do the job. Of course, this would be infinitely easier if I was male and spoke Spanish. As it is, my biggest fear is that I will automatically be written off as the dark skinned, brown haired 17-year-old female that I am.
I reach our practice spot and begin setting up cones to serve as a goal. Dad hasn't made it over yet, he is chatting with one of the other coaches. None of my players are here yet, either, so I risk a glance across the park to the trailer park community on the other side. This time I really do sigh. It is painful to be this close to him and yet not be able to make contact.
I close my eyes as the memories come flooding back. In the tenth grade, Michael loved me. It was real love, though I guess I couldn't recognize that at the time. At fifteen, I was scared of love and my own feelings. So I left. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Only now, two years later, do I realize what I missed. I love him too. I still dream about him.
A cheerful, child's voice brings me out of my reveries. It's David, one of the four we already know. David is one of my favorite players. He has a sweet smile and tells the funniest stories about the pranks he has pulled on his oldest brother Jorge, another boy who I had gone to school with. Truth be told, I had had a little bit of a crush on Jorge before I met him.
"Hey, David, how are you doing?"
"Fine," he said and flashed that cute embarrassed smile at me.
My heart melted and I smiled back. This is why I was here: for children like David who insisted on coming back season after season no matter what place we finished in.
I had watched David grow over the years, both physically and in skill. He was an awesome keeper, though he didn't like to play in the position. His family was great too; they had supported us even through last season. I smiled again, this time purely for myself as David began to take shots at my makeshift goal.
More children were arriving now, and I smiled as I recalled the faces and names of each one.
Francisco came first. He was our main midfielder. He was also incredibly fast and mean when he had to be. I'd lost count of the number of times I'd warned him about getting a yellow card. Amazingly, he did not have one on record yet. Francisco, or Frankie as everyone but me called him, wore small, squared framed glasses, which as usual, he passed on to me before violently dropping his water bottle and joining David on the field.
"I'm goalie!" he screamed, and placed himself in front of the cones.
I watched him for a few moments, as he assumed his self proclaimed role. He was good and I wondered if maybe he could be persuaded to use the skill in a real game.
Another child was running right behind Francisco. He threw down his water bottle in a way that ensured it hit the others already sitting there. At first I did not recognize this child and I had to do a double take. Fabi? No way. He must have grown six inches since I had last seen him. It was absolutely amazing to think that he was actually younger than my own brother Zach. I watch him go, stunned.
All of the other incoming players seemed to be headed to different practices. Willie's kids probably. That made three players for us and we were already ten minutes past starting time. I sighed again, quietly. As excited as I was to see these children, I had to admit that this was bad. Three children for the first practice? That wasn't even enough to split them up evenly for drills. Oh well.
"All right guys," I stepped down onto our unmarked field. "Line up to stretch."
They scrambled around looking for a line to follow. I spared them and got them to line up in front of me. The sooner Mel got these fields painted the better.
"Can I be Captain?"
I nodded to David, but wondered what the point of a captain was with only three players. I stepped away from them tentatively, ready to jump in and take over if need be.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another child running toward our little group.
"Hey, Daniel," I heard my father call. He was obviously pleased and I didn't blame him.
Daniel is one of those players that every coach dreams of having. He is quiet, will listen to any instructions, and does his absolute best to follow them. And of course he can run circles around most defenders with his eyes closed.
He ran swiftly to the line of stretching children, barely giving me a wave to answer my welcoming smile. Oh well, that was Daniel for you. The tall and dark player hardly talked to me unless it was about the game. That didn't bother me unduly. As long as he talked to his teammates, I didn't care.
"All right guys, over here." I called when they were finished. I always called them "guys" even when the two female players were present.
They gathered around me. "Okay, see that tree?" I pointed across the grass toward the cement path. They all nodded. "Run and touch it and then come back instead of laps. Ready? Go."
They took off at a breakneck speed, Daniel in front, and ran toward the wrong tree. Of course.
When they made it back, they were panting. Not good. Stamina building just became a major priority.
"Go get some water." I told them this out of habit, but I don't know why I had to. They always got water after running.
I pulled four cones out of the gear bag and began setting up for a small scrimmage. Usually, I would stay to make sure they kept out of trouble, but today it was too cold for them to do much other then sitting.
"Okay, an easy day today," I announced. "Daniel, play with Francisco, Fabi, go with David." I split them up deliberately, one forward and one midfielder each.
I handed the ball to David and backed up as they began to play, but I did not leave the makeshift field entirely. I liked to jump in every once in a while, it gave them a challenge. That was only the surface reason, of course. After all, what was the fun in coaching a boy's team if you couldn't knock one of them down every now and then?