October 22: National Nut Day
Tonight was opening night for varsity soccer. There’s nothing like that anticipation, that nervous churning in your gut as you lace up your cleats. We trotted out of the locker room, me leading my troupe of soccer warriors. A faint zephyr blew across the field, disseminating the aroma of freshly mowed grass. We were greeted by loud cheers from the obstreperous crowd of rabble-rousing fans that Columbus High is infamous for.
The game was tight. This year I’m playing center halfback, which means I’m responsible for setting up most of our plays, both offensive and defensive. Coach says I’m supposed to be indefatigable in pursuit of the ball but never lose my composure. I thought I did a decent job of that throughout the first half. But in the second half, with the game deadlocked in a 0-0 stalemate, fatigue set in and I started to get flustered. The girl who was defending me—this total Amazon chick—kept grabbing the back of my jersey when the ref wasn’t looking. Fed up with her mendacious strategy, and the fact that I was getting no whistles, I jogged up and asked the ref about her vision problems. “What are you, myopic?”
She blew the whistle and gave me a yellow card. I deserved it, I guess. The crowd stood behind me though, heckling the officials with the chant: “Three blind mice! Three blind mice!”
Finally, in the last few minutes of the game, my dogged persistence paid off. Someone passed me the ball in front of the goal, and when I turned to shoot, Amazon Chick hacked me. The ref blew the whistle. Penalty kick. Coach yelled out for Natalie Gaskill to take it, since her shot was the most accurate. Emboldened by the rush of adrenaline that I always feel in the face of injustice, I dissented.
“Let me take it,” I told Coach, with utter certitude. “I’ll make it.”
“It’s all you then,” Coach said.
As I walked toward the penalty stripe, an intimidating hush fell over the crowd. Focus, Francesca. I noticed that a group of guys had assembled behind the goal. It was the guys’ varsity team, who had a game right after us. Focus. Don’t look. But it was too late. I saw Jeremy first. He clenched his fist in solidarity and nodded as if to say: You got it, babe. I glanced to the left of him, and there, smiling a huge, beatific smile, was Luke.
I closed my eyes and tried to block them out. Visualize the ball going into the net. I set the ball down. The goalie was hunched over and glaring at me. Focus. I took a few steps back, exhaled and charged at the ball. But at the last second, something went awry. I kicked down the middle, right into the goalie’s chest. Worst shot ever. Luckily, she bobbled it. I pounced on the rebound and scored. It wasn’t pretty, but a goal was a goal. The crowd roared. My teammates surrounded me. I was a heroine, for the moment at least.
After our game, I showered and went out to cheer Jeremy on. Before I got to the bleachers, I saw Nikki running toward me. I assumed she wanted to give me kudos for a job well done, but the distressed look on her face suggested otherwise.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“It’s Jeremy,” she said. “He came down hard on his ankle, first save of the game. His parents just drove him to the hospital.”