The Games They Played
Ellie La Traille
The problem with breaking up with Oliver was that the dormitory's dining commons now felt a foreign place to be at meal times. This particular meal - breakfast, with a bit of oatmeal and a heaping of sausages - was one of many lonely breakfasts that Meg had been experiencing as of late. Of course, her new mentee for the soccer team, Theo, tended to want to sit around her at all times (that kid had a Meg-radar or something of the sort), and she didn't mind letting him happily chatter away for the course of a meal as much as he liked, because it filled the silence. Because Meg - now seventeen and single and therefore in a decidedly "emo" stage - was generally lonely.
Most of her soccer cohort was busy doing other things, too busy or anxious about various other projects to worry about spending time exploring the city with her. Most of them no longer cared for forbidden s'more-making nighttime adventures in the park nearby, having exhausted their cravings for instant murder by way of kidnappers and other various shady characters that came out frequently at night. They didn't care for a daring overnight stay in the haunted mansion down the street, nor were they interested in a day filled with bug-collecting. They were distracted by significant others and actual studying and parental problems. It seemed that Meg was the only one who still wanted to go around poking her nose where it didn't belong, and doing it alone created a sort of emptiness that had only been distracted for a while by Oliver himself.
Those were distant times, times when they had all been new to the school, chasing fireflies and tugging pigtails. They had been inconsequential, focused on the adventure of the day.
They had ended abruptly when Charlie Lewis had kissed her in front of the entire school.
"Have you been watching the World Cup matches aside from the ones from last week?" asked Theo as he finished the last of his oatmeal. "There was a great game two weeks ago, I dunno if you caught it - one of the Italian players fouled and no one called it! There was a riot, all of the Mexico fans were booing the ref and shouting 'puta, puta' and I learned the Mexican way to flip someone off -"
Meg nodded and offered a small smile. She'd fouled someone during the last game she'd played for the school team - the league championship match at the end of last year. It was after that game that Charlie had cornered her outside of the locker room, pushed her up against the wall and forced his lips to hers, which had been witnessed by a few stray fans and Oliver, who had lingered around after the game.
She remembered the exhilaration of winning the game, winning the championship, and the less-than-thrilling celebratory kiss with Oliver in the stands after the game. He'd felt comfortable, so good, so nice, but she'd wanted something more than comfort. She'd grabbed his face and pushed her lips against his, allowing her tongue to run against the edge of his lips, to which he responded quite positively. She probably tasted salty from the sweat of the game. The kiss was just like him - familiar and warm, sweet and kind.
It was the first time she'd ever thought that word about Ollie Parker. It was a safe feeling that wasn't even close to matching the adrenaline she'd felt when preparing to foul a member of the opposite team during the game, smashing headfirst into him in a distraction so that the other forwards could take possession.
The highlight of their relationship - their innocence finally stripped away in the darkness of the supply closet they'd frequented after hours for a year - had occurred two weeks before that, and from that point on, it had been downhill. No whir of excitement, no thrill of unpredictability. Safety, faith, trust.
Meg hadn't liked it.
She had liked the sudden exhilaration she'd received when Charlie had pressed her back up to the wall and his chest against hers, and she had loved the hot spur of anger that flushed through her after the kiss. She'd loved how her hand had felt slapping his cheek, the fuming indignation she'd felt after he'd told her to "lighten up, it was only a kiss," the irate righteousness after he pointed out that she hadn't instinctively pulled away in disgust.
Adrenaline had soared through her veins, she'd suddenly become very warm indeed, and every nerve in her body had seemed to be on fire. She'd been able to taste him. He'd been warmer than her, almost feverishly hot, and her body temperature had risen even at this understanding.
The enjoyment of the safety that Oliver had provided was gone. Oliver had gotten in a solid punch at the time, then for a week tried to brush it off like it was no big deal. But it ate at him, and Meg could tell, and she knew that she wanted to chase after that thrill. She'd apologized and said her good-bye, and Oliver had donned one of his rare reverse-smiles that, if Meg had bothered to look back, might have crushed her knowing that she had a part in causing it.
Now, she missed Oliver and his never-ending smiles, but she wouldn't allow herself to feel that.
Instead, she was in a perpetual search for the next daredevil adventure. She was contemplating hang-gliding.
"-and the defense slid underneath one of Italy's forwards, and there was nothing they could do at that point, they were already down fifteen points and Mexico had snagged the victory-"
She had, however, had a source of entertainment-slash-distraction over the summer. A whirl of summer romance, a fling perhaps to be forgotten, but it excited her and she hadn't quite let it out of her mind. It had been a chance for her to see what she was really made of, to discover just how much power she held, in an environment dabbling in the danger game.
As much as she prided herself on being able to separate herself from emotional attachments, the memory of pinning Charlie's unclothed arms behind his head in the back seat of his mother's Toyota Camry still intoxicated her.
He'd spent the summer not sending her suggestive text messages but tossing rocks at her window after her parents had gone to sleep. They'd snuck around for a month, the danger of getting caught adding to the thrill of it all.
Now, it hadn't even been a week into the school year. She hadn't so much as given him a fleeting glance in a hallway, and he'd made sure to do the same. Both of them were private about such affairs; both of them had pride at stake. The glance she stole this morning toward the table she knew he'd be sharing with his best friend at breakfast was entirely accidental, more of an involuntary flutter of her eyeball than anything remotely resembling curiosity.
It was only a brief moment; she caught a glimpse of the top of his head, and then her eyes were steadily trained again on her sausage.
"Oh, and guess what?" continued Theo as he eagerly stabbed his eggs and thrust them in his mouth in order to finish his thought (though Meg had never cared much for table manners in the first place). "My sister said that we can watch the England-versus-Poland game live tonight! I'm having a viewing party in my room, I'm sure Joe won't mind, he had a viewing party last week and I didn't mind, although I did find his jockstrap under my bed a couple of days later, which was a liiiittle awkward..."
Meg nodded as her mentee continued on, bits of egg falling out here and there. Beyond his head, Charlie was talking to his best friend, Julian West, who generally existed, in Meg's mind, in some strange surreal place. She had never really spoken to him; he generally ignored her. It was a mutually-beneficial relationship.
Had Meg been aware that her lady parts were, at the moment, the object of Julian West's observation, she might have punched him in the nose. She also might have simply grinned and sauntered off just for the sheer amusement of it all. The concept that she might be attractive to males outside of Charlie and Ollie (and thirteen-year-old Theo, but he probably thought most of the older girls were pretty, so that hardly counted) was laughable enough. Sure, her fellow teammates on the soccer team thought she was cool, but they treated her just as the girls on the team treated her: slaps on the back, little-to-no sharing of feelings, "man-hugs." She wasn't as well-endowed as most of the other girls in school, though she was proportional and had a decent amount of curves. But she was athletic and smelled perpetually like sweat and spent most of her time with dirt on her combat boots (and probably in her hair). She was - had always been - a "bro."
A bro with a nice ass.
She took a bite of one of the sausages as she listened to Theo go on about the different players and various potential strategies, which was more theory about the sport of soccer than Meg had ever considered before. The kid was sweet; she liked him. She liked how his eyes lit up when he realized that she would listen to him and legitimately be a guide for all of his mischievous, curious ways. She liked his spirit of adventure, of exploration. She made a mental note to take him to the haunted house at some point.
And then, out of the corner of her eye - she saw him, and frowned. Her eyes made contact with Julian West, who had previously not been looking anywhere near her eyes.
She arched an eyebrow in question.
"Ghana seems to be doing exceptionally well in the Cup so far, don't you think?" said Theo, munching happily on his side of bacon now. "My sister doesn't like their team much because she prefers Russia, but I like Ghana, they've got that awesome forward, Opoku, and he's got ridiculous skill-"
She barely heard him, now. Theo's voice was a prone-to-cracking gaggle of white noise filling her head. Meg nodded subtly in various places, eyes trained back on the sausages on her plate, and finally she looked up slowly as he asked who she supported for the Cup.
"Poland," Meg said absentmindedly, but she wasn't focusing on the World Cup for once - mostly because Poland was simply the least-horrible of all the not-so-qualified teams who were competing for the Cup (Ireland had been bound to win until their star keeper got food poisoning), but also because Julian West, whom Kate had only regarded as largely theoretical for the past five years, was now walking toward her.
The deliberate pinch he gave her bum convinced her that he was, in fact, real.
"Meg, dar-ling. They oughtta outlaw your ass on the field. No wonder you get all those shots in." He grinned broadly at her, that same sort of grin Charlie gave her whenever he knew he was pushing her buttons. She detested it. That made him do it more.
That had led to a very hot summer in plenty of parking lots and a couple of public washrooms.
Julian whistled in a loud, obnoxious way. "Charlie is one lucky bastard."
She stared at him with a look that was a cross between shock, irritation and flattery, and a split second later found her fist en route to his face.
"What. Is. Your. Problem."
Well, she hadn't hit him in the nose, but the jaw was a fair compromise.
And he'd shut up, at least temporarily. Mission accomplished.
She had ignored his last comment. The fling she'd had with one of her dorm mates didn't give license to the others to put their hands where they didn't belong. As attractive as Julian might have been, Meg was even more furious, particularly because it meant that someone else knew about her little summer fling and - as much as she liked to stay away from the school rumor mill, gossip like that could potentially put her at the center of it.
They were attracting an audience. A few kids from nearby tables were staring, some at her, some at Julian, and a couple each at Charlie and Theo, the latter of whom had by now silenced himself by stuffing a biscuit in his mouth. Now standing, in defense mode, she began to prepare another attack. "Cover your eyes, Theo." At least she could pretend to be a good mentor before she pushed her hand out to yank Julian by his ear and bring it to her lips, murmuring lowly into it.
"Just what, exactly, did he tell you?"
He moaned uncomfortably, whining about how she was going to rip his ear off, but he was fine, just your average big-headed wimp. "Nothing!" he protested, wriggling out of her grasp. He only spoke again when he was far away enough from her that she was out of reach of his ear. "What the hell are you talking about? He doesn't tell me whose skirt his dick's been in most recently!" The entire dining commons, now, had its eyes fixated on the pair's verbal spar, and Meg began to grow uncomfortable with all the staring. Julian scowled at her; the scowl wasn't in the least bit threatening.
But the threat of a rumor was enough to make Meg's blood boil. To think that her own hot-blooded reaction could have confirmed whatever gossip had been going around was...unthinkable.
Even if the rumor was true. And okay, so he'd kissed her in relative public after they'd won the league match last year. But that had been unsolicited.
Their summer activities had been slightly more solicited.
Pausing to consider what this all meant was not an option. Meg wasn't embarrassed about their little rendezvous (it had been pleasurable enough), but the scandal of two teammates - and dorm mates, no less - spending their summers removing each other's clothes put both of their positions in danger.
Julian seemed to have realized this and gave a toothy grin. "I can see it now," he taunted, "Meg Boddington: No Longer a Bro? Subtitle: The Secret Story of Her Defilement by way of Charlie Lewis."
And the power struggle had begun.
Meg pursed her lips to the side and folded her arms over her chest, arranging words in her head for a comeback.
Somewhere between "furious" and "livid," Meg forced herself to focus on the dark-haired boy in front of her. Even the audacious girl she was, she dared not make eye contact with Charlie Lewis, who was sitting behind where Julian was standing.
She wanted to know how much he had told him, whether it was said with pride or not, how he was spinning it. She had liked the understated way that things were, the guessing game they played. There had been no need to shed it out into the light, to establish a definition, to share it with people it hadn't involved.
But now that it was there, she had two choices: let it dominate her or dominate it.
Well, Meg wasn't about to get beaten out by a few words.
"I wasn't defiled by anyone," said Meg. She was smirking now that she was all-too-aware of their little breakfast audience, and she chose that moment to look pointedly over at Charlie, raise both eyebrows suggestively, then sit back down across from Theo and eat her meal in a dignified fashion without waiting for a reaction from Charlie. Two could play at the information game.
"Bull-shit." Julian slammed his hand on her table, rattling her butter knife. Meg peered up at him with interest; he was acting pretty cocky for having had just been punched in the nose by a younger girl. "If that little eyebrow thing was supposed to suggest that you defiled him, I'm calling it. Bull-shit. You're full of it, Boddington. Good news, everyone!" He turned to face his audience, most of whom were watching blatantly and a few of whom had the decency to politely trying to pretend like their food was miraculously interesting. "This just in! Ollie Parker never fucked Meg Boddington not because he didn't know how to use his dick, but because he had better places to put it than her steel trap!"
Meg was unphased. She hadn't previously been aware that she had been the topic of anyone's curiosity prior to this moment; she'd kept her relationship with Oliver far away from the dorms. She fended off the embarrassment that tried to settle in; the heat that flushed her cheeks would need something stronger than insults in attempted wit as a catalyst.
And the best part, really, was that he didn't believe her.
It was probably for the best that he didn't. The words that would fly around the halls could have been worse. He could have fabricated a disease or a pregnancy or - possibly the worst of all - that she was weak. No, this was the last-damaging rumor to hit the gossip mill.
But she had an easier time controlling her embarrassment than she had controlling her pride.
"No?" challenged Meg, her smirk growing wider. She was aware that it was a trap. Bait: accuse girl of undesirability; result: get girl to disclose intimate details. But their diminishing audience had begun to lose interest at the lack of blood and any further physical attacks, and Meg saw no harm in spinning the information herself, particularly if it put her in a positive - powerful - light.
She spoke patiently, quietly - uncharacteristic for her, but appropriate. "Maybe your best friend didn't disclose his defilement because he knew you weren't getting any." She prodded his chest with her finger in a way that might have provoked a very sassy 'oh-no-you-didn't.' "Oliver might tell you exactly how he likes his dick if you ask him, but wouldn't it be sad to know that you've been beaten to the punch?"
An unintentional pun, but effective nonetheless.
Her eyebrows raised in expectation.
"Don't touch me," he said, instantly taking a step back. He scoffed and assured her that he wanted no part in pursuing her defilement. "I have a girlfriend, which is the reason for the lack of anything I might be getting. Long-distance."
Meg nodded and put another sausage in her mouth.
"And I haven't been outdone by Oliver Parker. Please. Charlie learned how to steal someone else's girl from me. Have a great morning, Boddington." He nodded toward Meg's backside, addressing it. "Boddington's ass." As if to further assert his dominance, Julian shot Theo a dirty look before snatching his bag from his original table and starting for the door.
"Guess that's why you pinched some other girl's ass," called Meg after him.
The room quieted considerably again. Julian paused not two steps away from her table as she taunted him again.
"Couldn't get the pleasure anywhere else, I take it?"
He didn't move, and for a moment Meg was certain that he was about to punch her back. But he refrained, and she drank some coffee.
"Bitch," he said.
At last, he shook his head and left.
She finished her breakfast while Theo marveled aloud at her combat abilities. "You really got him in the nose!" he said, beaming, while he made punching motions with his own fists. But she didn't care about that. She took the vulnerable step of glancing over at Charlie, whom she caught glancing back at her. Almost immediately, he put his head down and immersed himself in the textbook he was pretending to read.
"I'm going to the library," she announced. She slung her bag protectively over her shoulder, the strap crossing her body like a seatbelt (similar to the ones she certainly hadn't used in parking lots over the summer).
"For what?" asked Theo, gulping down his last bit of sausage.
"We have practice at three."
"...are you going?"