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Just Breathe (Chapter One)
“I hate playing when it’s raining!” Carly complained.
I laughed at her pout. “It’s not so bad.”
Carly rolled her eyes. “You’re not the one who is coated in mud. I hate being the goalie!” She said, using the adjective that she reserved especially for soccer, again: hate.
“It’s the easiest position to play. You just have to block the shots, not get some girl’s cleat slammed into your big toe.”
“You call goal keeping easy? I’ve gotten smacked in the face with that ball about five times. You guys aim it for my head on purpose.”
“We do not, and you wouldn’t get hit in the face if you put your hands up.”
“–And break all my nails? No way.”
“You get to wear gloves, and you can’t expect to keep a perfect manicure while playing soccer.”
“I could if my father let me quit.”
“Why do you want to quit?” I asked.
“Because I am horrible and my dad is constantly bugging me! Did you know that he’s moved my morning workout from six to five-thirty?”
I sighed. “You’re not horrible, and I bet the workout isn’t that bad.” I added in a low voice, before she could protest. “No one’s worse than Kelly.”
Carly giggled. “Right, Smelly Kelly.”
“That’s mean, you shouldn’t call her that.”
She looked truly shocked. “You’re the one who gave her that nickname!”
“I did not, it just slipped out. Besides, you were the only one who was supposed to hear.”
“Hey, nothing is a secret when you say it in a locker room.”
I scoffed. “Well what happens in the locker room should stay in the locker room.”
We started laughing just as Coach Kendrick came jogging up to the bleachers.
“Let’s go ladies, break’s over, let’s get back out there!” She shouted over the rain.
Carly groaned and started dragging her feet at a painfully slow pace.
“C’mon Parker, to the goal nets, let’s move.” Coach yelled, hustling to the middle of the field, her auburn hair swinging in her ponytail beneath her cap.
Carly sighed and rolled her eyes. She picked up her pace to a run towards the far end of the field, her feet leaving imprints in the mud.
I took my place on the field across from Lindsey. We were going to do the kickoff.
“Okay, we’re going scrimmage. Remember; pretend this is a real game. I want to see you girls doing your best. Don’t hold back, ready?”
She blew her whistle and tossed the black and white ball into the air.
I got to the ball first and I tried to scan the field quickly to see who was open. Anybody who I trusted was getting blocked, and the only one who was open was Kelly. She was standing awkwardly by the goal.
“Kelly!” I shouted to get her attention. I kicked the ball in her direction.
She looked up a moment too late. Lindsey charged her and stole the ball. I groaned and ran after her.
I tried to get my feet under hers, and snatch the ball away.
She was having none of that. She tried to push me out of the way and accidentally elbowed me in the chest, hard. It knocked the wind out of me and sent me into the mud.
I heard some girls from my team yelling, “Foul!” or, “Yellow card!”
I tried to hurry and get back up. I didn’t want to look like a big baby, just because I couldn’t keep my footing. But a pain in my chest stopped me. It was a sharp stab on the right side, which dissolved into a persistent ache. It sent me into a coughing fit.
I tried to calm down and get back in the game, but it felt like someone was squeezing my lungs, and I couldn’t breathe right.
“C’mon, Barnes, get back in the game!” I heard Coach yell.
I forced myself to stand up. I was still coughing like crazy. The lack of air was making my head spin.
“Coach!” I heard somebody call. “I think she’s hurt.”
I heard Coach blow her whistle. Everyone stopped playing, and she rushed forward.
“What’s the matter Fran? Where’s it hurt?”
I shook my head, and tried to speak through the coughing and wheezing. “Can’t….I can’t….breathe.”
“Come on, come sit down over here.”
She ushered me over to the bleachers and helped me sit down.
Once I was sitting, my coughing slowed, and my breathing eased up.
“Feel better?” Coach asked.
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened.”
“You don’t have asthma, do you?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“You want to rest here for a second?”
“No, I’m okay, I–”
A peal of thunder sounded, and lighting lit up the sky.
Coach Kendrick sighed. “Never mind, we’ll have to head in. Principal Abney doesn’t like us to play when it’s lightning.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s too soft with you girls.” She stood up and walked forward. “Okay girls, let’s move inside the gym. Get the ball and nets.”
Carly abandoned her net, leaving it for someone else to pick up.
“Hey, what happened, are you all right?” She asked when she caught up to me.
“I’m fine. It was probably just allergies or something.”
“Since when do you get allergies? Plus it’s raining.”
“So? I don’t know. It was just a tickle in my throat. It went away, and now I’m fine.”
She shrugged. “If you say so.”
Then we jogged to catch up with the rest of the team. We all were trying to wipe the mud from our cleats as best we could, but we couldn’t cut the janitor too much slack.
When we walked into the gym, boys’ basketball was still going on.
Their coach, aka Mr. Allen my Geography teacher, saw us standing at the door dripping wet, and blew his whistle.
The boys stopped mid-play, confused.
“What’s this?” He asked.
“We can’t practice outside during a storm.” Coach Kendrick said.
“But I booked the gym last Tuesday. Playoffs are in a week, I need this practice. A little water isn’t going to hurt anyone.”
At that exact moment another peal of thunder sounded.
“No, but a storm could be dangerous. The ground is slippery and wet; and our playoffs are this weekend, and I can’t let my girls get hurt.”
Mr. Allen seemed to soften at this. He sighed. “Fine, we’ll half it, but don’t track mud all over our side of the court. Let’s go men!” He called over his shoulder, like an army sergeant.
Some of the players groaned and complained.
“Suck it up, and get over here!” Mr. Allen ordered.
They obeyed quickly and cleared off to the far end of the gym.
“All right girls. Go into the locker room and dry off. Be back in five.”
We gathered into the girls’ locker room and attempted to towel dry our hair and scrape more mud from our cleats.
Carly sat down next to me on a bench. She had her cleat in her hand, and was trying to get the mud off, by weaving a towel through the spikes.
“Hey.” She whispered. “Guess what?”
“What?” I whispered back.
“Did you hear?”
“Carly, what are you talking about?”
“Lindsey broke up with him!”
I felt my jaw actually drop open. “You’re kidding, why?”
“She’s obviously got issues. He is so cute, with that blond hair, those blue eyes.” She sighed dramatically.
“He’s all right.”
“Just all right?”
I shrugged. Although, he was incredibly handsome, and sweet, funny…. But someone like him wouldn’t go for someone like us. I wish Carly would accept that.
“Yes, just all right.”
“Maybe, you’re the one with issues.”
“Maybe.” I said sarcastically.
“Come on girls, hurry up!” Coach yelled from the door.
We all hurried to get rid of any more traces of mud and water, and then rushed back out to the court. The nets were already set up.
Carly and I brought up the rear, but Coach put her hand on my shoulder to stop me.
“Do you want to sit for a little bit? Make sure you’re okay?”
“No, I’m all right.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
Coach just shrugged. “All right then, go get in kickoff position.”
I again, faced Lindsey.
“Hey, I’m sorry Fran. I didn’t mean to hit you.”
“No problem, I’m okay.” I assured her.
She smiled, seeming to be relieved.
Lindsey really wasn’t a bad person, once you got to know her. She was just kind of reserved, an introvert. Except for on the soccer field, she’s our best forward.
“Okay girls, let’s do this!” Coach Kendrick said, and tossed the ball into the air once more.
* * *
“That was our worst practice yet!” Carly said, while we dressed back in the locker room. “I think I might have to take another shower when I get home.”
“Not me, I have to study for that calculus test, or I’m going to fail.”
Carly opened her eyes wide, and put her hand to her mouth in mock horror. “Oh, no! You don’t mean that you might get….” She looked behind her to pretend to check for eavesdroppers; and whispered, “An A minus?!”
I smiled. “Actually, I was thinking of a B minus.”
“A B.” She shook her head. “Even worse.”
“I’m so glad you understand.”
She rolled her eyes. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
When we got outside we saw that it was still raining, and put our hoods up.
We had just started to the sidewalk when I saw a black Mitsubishi pull into to the parking lot.
“Isn’t that your mom’s car?” I asked. Carly looked where I did.
“Oh yeah, I forgot she was picking me up today.” She waved her hand in the air to signal her mom over.
Her mom rolled down the passenger window. “Hi girls, how was practice?”
“Tiring.” Carly said, throwing her book bag in the back seat.
“Fran, is your father coming to pick you up?” Her mother asked.
I shook my head. “No, I’m walking.”
“Hop in. We’ll give you a lift.”
“That’s okay Mrs. Parker, I don’t mind walking.”
“Nonsense, I can’t leave you out in the rain. You’ll catch a cold.”
I waved my hand to dismiss the idea. “Honestly, I’m fine. I have a hood and an umbrella. Besides, the rain doesn’t bother me.”
She shook her head.
“You sure?” Carly asked.
“Yeah, it’s not a far walk.”
Carly turned to her mom and shrugged.
“If you’re okay with it.” Mrs. Parker said.
“All right then, be careful.”
“See you tomorrow.” Carly said.
I watched them drive off, Carly’s mom waving her hand from the window.
I watched until they disappeared.
The image made me feel lonesome in a way. Mrs. Parker was like a mother to me. Really the only mother figure in my life.
My dad had told me that my own mother had left when I was a little kid. I used to always imagine her coming back to me. That one day I would see a lady coming in her car, waving, and I would just know that she was my mother.
Once a couple more years passed that image dissolved into another. One of her waving goodbye, just as Mrs. Parker had a minute ago.