Brianna Kienitz © 2017
All Rights Reserved
I stood back to watch my handiwork as the soccer ball soared gracefully into the top-right corner of the goal, and a whistle blew from somewhere near the sideline to signal the end of practice. I sighed with contentment at my own spectacular skill and jogged toward the net to help clean up the mess of balls that littered the goal area. My bedeviled locks clung to my sweaty forehead as the summer sun beat down from the clear August sky and reflected off Lake Michigan, bathing the soccer field in a double-whammy heat wave.
“God, Adds! Do you ever let up? The season hasn’t even started yet,” Jessica whined from her position inside the goal.
“After fourteen years on the pitch together, I thought you’d have learned the answer to that question.” I gave her chestnut ponytail a playful tug, and she glared at me while she leaned casually against the goalpost.
“Well, there was that one time in first grade when we sat down in your living room and watched a movie.”
“Ha. Ha.” I rolled my eyes. Jessica Strobel and I had been best friends since first grade. Now, going into our junior year at Northwestern University, our relationship subsisted entirely on sarcasm and caffeine.
“I’ll tell you what. Since you managed to block almost 10 percent of my shots, and I know what a sore loser you are, I’ll take you out to coffee after we’re done here.”
“Wow, your highness. You are so magnanimous. Thank you soooooo much,” Jessica said with a flagrant eye roll. As much as we teased, I did feel a little guilty for dragging her to this practice. It was the last day before the start of fall classes, and while pre-semester practices weren’t mandatory, I was beginning to feel the stress of the inevitability of graduating in two years. I only had two seasons left to impress scouts and get picked up by a professional team, or risk becoming another college has-been. That was a fate to which I refused to succumb.
Jessica was, and always had been, my rock. She kept me grounded and sane, which was no small feat, given my penchant for being a high-strung ass much of the time. Her role in my life was much like that of the Roman slaves who whispered in Caesar’s ear, “Remember, thou art mortal,” as he paraded victorious. Not that I thought I was immortal but I did have a big head. Jessica was the person who kept my over-inflated ego from carrying me away like a hot-air balloon.
“Fahey! Strobel! Clean up now, chitchat later,” Coach barked from the sideline. “Some of us have places to be.”
“You heard the man.” Jessica gave me a pointed look. “You made this mess. You clean it up.” Without another word, she traipsed off toward the locker rooms. I sighed audibly, but silently smirked at her retreating back. She put me in my place like no one else could. It was only fair that I pick up. If I hadn’t dragged her to this voluntary practice, she would probably still be sitting in our shared apartment in her pajamas, watching whatever show she was currently obsessed with.
Once I had stuffed the plethora of soccer balls back into a bag, I hitched it over my shoulder and hauled it to the sideline where the coach waited impatiently. He seemed focused on whatever he was doing on his clipboard, so I didn’t dare disturb him. I threw the bag into the pile of soccer sundries for the equipment manager to deal with and started to trot toward the locker room. I was only a few steps along when the coach called after me.
“Hold up, Fahey. A word, please.” His tone was always gruff, but I had learned that his demeanor was more warm than harsh. His face seemed to bear a perpetual five-o’clock shadow, but his blue eyes were always bright beneath his bushy rich brown hair. It was as if he was built to be a coach, right down to his powerful physique and firm attitude.
“What’s up, Coach?”
“Gardener is gone,” he said without looking up from his clipboard.
“Yeah. I know.” I felt like he was stating the obvious. Cam Gardener had been the captain of Northwestern University’s women’s soccer team for the past two years. She had graduated last year, and we’d held a big going-away party for her and the other graduates at the end of the semester. I was perfectly aware that graduating meant she wouldn’t be on the team anymore.
“So, we’ll need a new captain.” Coach looked up at me finally. “It’ll be the ladies’ decision, ultimately, but I want it to be you.” His expression was calculating as he waited for me to respond.
“Oh…wow! I…thanks, Coach. I mean, it’s up to the others, obviously, but…yeah. I’ll think about it. Thank you. I’ll think about it,” I babbled and started to walk away. I felt Coach’s gaze weighing on the back of my strong shoulders, and my thoughts began to race. I had never really considered being captain of any team. I was an excellent player by any standards, and it wasn’t that I was selfish, or a showboat, but I was always focused on being the best I could be. I loved being part of a team, but I had never thought of myself as a leader.
The prospect was both exhilarating and daunting. I tried not to let it worry me as I undressed and showered in the locker room. Hopefully, Jessica was up for being a sounding board, and she could help me figure this whole situation out. She was always the level-headed one.
“Hmm. Captain Adeline. It has a nice ring to it.” Jessica assumed a pensive pose and stroked her nonexistent goatee. Even as she teased, I could tell that her words were genuine.
“Really? You don’t think it’s too…?” I fiddled with my tea mug, not sure how to finish that thought. We’d been sitting at our usual table toward the back of our usual coffee shop for almost half an hour.
“Bigheaded? Egotistical? Narcissistic? Come on, Adds. You have to stop pretending that you’re not the greatest thing since sliced bread, and go for what you want. We all know you have an ego the size of Russia. Own it.” Jessica’s tone shifted from serious back to teasing. “I mean, I think you’re a bit of an ass, but the others seem to like you. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you as captain. So, if you want to do it, just do it.” She made a Nike swoosh in the air with her finger.
I giggled at her play on words, but continued to contemplate the dregs in my tea mug. “That’s the thing. I don’t know if I want to do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty much a dream come true…”
“But?” Jessica interrupted, garnering my attention so that my gaze shifted from my cold tea waste to her probing eyes. Her eyes were stunning. They were an electric green that seemed almost unnatural. I told her regularly that I was convinced they were Photoshopped into her head.
Not that the rest of her wasn’t beautiful. Her sleek chestnut hair and her tall slender frame had a way of turning heads wherever she went. But it was her eyes that captivated and enthralled her prey, and I do mean prey. Jessica was less of a social butterfly and more of a social hawk. She would circle a group until she found someone worth sinking her sarcastic claws into, and hang on until she saw fit to let go. It wasn’t quite so violent as all that, but it was certainly entertaining to watch whenever we attended gatherings.
“But I don’t know if I should,” I said at last. “I’m already so busy with school, and practice, and matches. I don’t want to overload myself and screw it all up.”
“That would be a valid concern, if the captain had any real duties. But really, all you do is wear an armband and tell us to buck up and stop being whiny bitches as need be. Basically, you’re a Nazi.”
I snorted at her callousness. It was fortunate that I had no tea left to drink, or I would have spit it all over the table. “Well, the whole thing is a nonissue until the others vote. There’s no point in worrying about it until they make a decision.”
“For what it’s worth, you have my vote, oh captain, my captain,” she said with a mock salute.
“Thanks, cornball,” I replied with an eye roll. “Let’s get out of here. It’s getting late, and I want to get ready for class tomorrow.”
“It’s only seven o’clock,” she said incredulously.
I responded only with a scolding look.
“Yes, Captain!” She hopped off her seat to stand at attention, giving another sarcastic salute.
“You’re so rude. Why do I put up with you?”
“Because I’m adorable, and quirky, and the love of your life,” she said in sing-song, batting her eyelashes at me.
“I thought you didn’t swing that way.” I raised a flirtatious eyebrow at her.
“Of course not, darling, but I can’t help that you’ve fallen madly in love with me.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night, sweetheart.” I chuckled and linked my arm in hers playfully as we set out on the short walk home.
Our apartment was a posh, two-bedroom space near the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois. It was above and beyond the typical college apartment, with creature comforts like picture windows and a jacuzzi tub that even most working people couldn’t afford. Living in the dorms had been an experience, to say the least. Jessica and I had been grateful to upgrade from a dingy dorm room to our comfortable apartment one year prior, courtesy of my parents.
Looking back, it seemed a miracle that I was able to juggle school and soccer around the inconsistencies of living in a dorm, and adjust to the wide new world of college without having a complete meltdown. It all seemed like a quirky Disney Channel movie about someone else trying to survive their freshman year of college. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it had certainly been a crazy, mixed-up, whirlwind of a year.
I unlocked the apartment door and ushered Jessica inside. I tossed my keys onto the granite countertop and headed straight through the kitchen/living room and into my bedroom. Jessica followed and propped herself against my doorway. She watched with mild interest as I began fishing textbooks from my bookshelf and slipping them into my backpack.
“Fourteen years of school, and you still get first-day jitters?” she said with a hint of amusement.
“I like to be prepared. You should try it sometime.”
She chuckled malevolently. “Ah, but that would detract from my mystique. It’s a lot of work to maintain this air of carefree indifference.” She gestured to herself to emphasize her point.
“Don’t you have your own room to flaunt your indifference in?” I whined. “Your carefree mystique is rotting my brain, and making it impossible for me to organize.”
Jessica gave another throaty chuckle. “One of these days, my pretty, we’re going to convince you to unwind, and it’s going to be glorious.” Her words sounded more like a threat than a suggestion as she stalked off to her bedroom on the other side of the apartment.
I shook my head and resumed packing my backpack for class the next day.
Once I was satisfied that I had everything I would need for class, I got ready for bed, went back to my room, and stripped down to my underwear. Even though our apartment was air-conditioned, August on the lakefront was still too hot and humid for clothes. Not to mention I loved the feel of the soft cotton sheets against my skin.
Splayed beneath the bedspread at last, I stared up at the blank white ceiling, wondering what life might have in store for me. My thoughts raced with wonder and trepidation all at once. Despite my disquieted mind and my first-day-of-school nerves, it wasn’t long before the exhaustion from our earlier practice overcame me and I drifted off into a heavy, dreamless sleep.