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High school was something special for Jillian Owens. Everything began on that chilly morning of October when she walked up the four floors to the science wing. She stopped at a window and gazed outside. It had begun to drizzle and the golden leaves of the trees swayed wildly in the wind. She sighed and continued walking. She really didn’t want to do this. It was nerve wracking and it scared her almost to death. Perhaps it was because he was there. She absolutely hated the sound of his voice. It was too deep, she thought. She despised his dark, lustrous hair, his deep ocean-blue eyes, and most of all, she hated his personality. He was very kind and giving, almost to everyone. He held the door open for others and hummed and whistled when there weren’t many people around. He often helped her around when she seemed lost. He was the one who gave her the tour of the school when she had first moved there. He showed her all the classes and told her some secrets about the teachers. He was very likable among the other kids, girls and boys alike. He showed everyone respect. He’s like…not human, Jillian thought to herself. There are absolutely no boys that are like him! At times, he drove her mad. She hated his jokes and stories which weren’t even that funny! Well, maybe they were…just a little. But she hated him nonetheless.
As the hallway ended, she came upon the wooden door that led to the science wing. She couldn’t believe she was doing this! She needed to earn the hours badly, but how could she even consider helping out for community service hours in the same room that he was in?! She really was insane. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door. She heard soft footsteps on the other side and then a deep voice said, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, open up!” she called back.
“How do I know it’s you?” The voice asked. She tried to control the corners of her mouth from rising.
“How can you not know it’s me? Come on, open up!” The door opened slowly as Mark came into her view, grinning.
“Jillian Owens is in the house, everybody!” he called into the room. Several teachers turned their heads. She rolled her eyes and walked passed him.
“Oh fine, don’t say hello!” he said. She went up to the folder cabinet and took out the papers that needed filing.
“What have you been doing while I wasn’t here?” she asked him.
“Uh…I was doing my job? What else could I be doing? You know I’m not the kind of person to be slacking off during my job!” Mark replied.
“Right…” She began organizing the papers in alphabetical order. Some of the papers were different sizes and that often annoyed her. He stood across the table from her for a moment and said, “Make sure to organize them in alphabetical order by height!” She tried to conceal the smile that was forming on her lips. He looked at her face and grinned.
“I finally made her smile!” he exclaimed. She shook her head slowly and tried to concentrate on her work. He began humming a little tune as he took a pile of papers and began to organize them. “You are my sun-shine…my only sunshine…” He sang softly. She looked up at him and laughed. “You are so not going to earn any hours for this!”
“Hey, I’m helping you!” That’s when she noticed that he was doing her job.
“Thanks, but I don’t need help. You have your own work to do!”
“I’m already done.”
She looked over at his cabinet and saw almost all of the papers filed away. They worked in silence for a few minutes. Jillian liked this silence. It allowed her to concentrate more on her work, although, every so often, she managed to steal a glance at him. She knew he was being quiet for her own sake. If she hadn’t been there, heck, he would probably be singing Faust by now. She knew he wouldn’t be able to stay quiet for too long. Words are longing to spill out of his mouth. He’s not one of those really quiet guys who lock themselves up in their minds and throw away the key until someone else dares to unlock the door.
“What do you have next?” He finally asked her.
“Uhh…” Suddenly her mind went blank. A few seconds pass and she still can’t remember. She began to panic quietly as she searched for an answer. What’s happening? Why did I just instantly blank out?
“You mean next period?” He nods.
“Umm…” Oh my god, what do I have next?! More time passes. Her hands became clammy as she reached for another stack of papers.
“Don’t think too hard,” He said.
“Sorry, I’m totally out of it today. I only had four hours of sleep last night…English!”
“I have English next!”
“Nice!” he said.
She blushed and tried to stop visualizing how embarrassing that moment was.
“Are you excited for your second to last volleyball game today?” He asked. She nods without looking up at him.
She looked up at him in shock. Coming? To her volleyball game?! This can’t be real.
“It’s alright you don’t have to.” She replied quickly.
“Sure I do!”
“No, really. You’re going to make me nervous and I’ll mess up on my serve.”
She looked up at him and smiled.
“Now I know why you want to come. You want to see how much more I can embarrass myself!”
“Of course! That’s the only reason I’m coming to see your game. To see you mess up.” He grinned mischievously at her.
“How’s basketball going?” she asked him.
“Pretty good. We had the last six games at home, which was very nice. But it was hard to tell how we were going to do since we were all playing each other without competition. Our last game is tomorrow. You can come if you want.”
“Who are you playing against?”
“Herricks. We always beat them and I’d like to keep the tradition going.”
She smiled and said quietly, “You’ll win.”
“I’ll make a deal with you,” he continued, “if I come to your volleyball game today, you will promise to come to my last game tomorrow.”
“Now that’s not fair!” She exclaimed. “I’m not asking you to come to my game. You made that decision yourself!”
“So— what if I don’t come?”
“Then you break your promise.”
She sighed. What can I do?
Jillian walks out of the science wing in a daze. What has she got herself into now?
“Boo!” Gillian swerves around and sees her best friend, Kyla, walking right behind her.
“Hey, what’s up?” Jillian asks casually.
“Nothing much. School is school. Thank God there’s only one more period left. Apparently my teachers are having a contest on who can give out the most homework.”
Kyla jogged to Jillian’s right side as they proceeded down the skywalk. Jillian looks at her friend and smiles. Kyla’s blond hair reaches a little below her shoulders and her blue eyes always gleam at others delightfully. Jillian can describe Kyla as being serious most of the time, but she sure knows how to have fun. Both girls are tall and athletic, although Kyla always boasts about the fact that she is a centimeter taller than Jillian.
“So how was community service?” She asked with a secretive smile. Jillian rolled her eyes.
“You’ve been asking me that every day for the past two months! Why don’t you give it a break?”
“Aw, come on, something special must have happened today! Your cheeks are all flushed!” Jillian knew she couldn’t hide anything from her friend.
“He asked me to go to his basketball game.” She said quietly.
“He asked you OUT?!” Kyla nearly shouted. Jillian hushed her quickly and looked around.
“He didn’t ask me out, he just made a deal with me. He said that if he goes to my volleyball game, I must come to his basketball game.” Kyla stared at her, wide-eyed.
“Oh my God! Jilly!” She squealed excitedly and Jillian laughed.
“How come you’re not bouncing off of the walls? I mean, the hottest guy in the entire school just asked you out,” Jillian gave her a look, “I mean, asked you to his GAME. And you’re acting like it’s the most casual thing in the world. What else didn’t you tell me?”
Jillian looked down.
“I don’t really want to go.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just don’t trust him.”
Kyla sighed heavily and looked at her friend. “Oh Jilly-bean. That’s your problem! You don’t trust people enough. How are you planning to find THE ONE if you don’t give him a chance?”
“Well it’s not like anything is going to happen between us. That’s for sure. But it’s so annoying! I mean, he flirts with everyone!”
“He doesn’t ‘flirt’ with everyone, Jilly-bean. He talks to everyone, yes, and he’s really nice, but the only person he flirts with is you.” Kyla gave her a smile. They approached Kyla’s math class room.
“I just don’t want to get hurt.” Jillian said.
“I don’t want you to get hurt either. Come on, give him a chance.”
“You are going to that basketball game, whether you like it or not! And not because you want to but because I said so!” Kyla gave her a wink and disappeared into her classroom.
Drops of sweat rolled down her forehead and in between her eyes as Jillian ran her sixth lap around the gym with her team.
“Come on, ladies, run to the end,” Coach called to the girls who were stopping half way around the gym and walking the rest. Jillian always looked up to her Coach as a father figure, since she didn’t have a real dad.
Everyone gathered in a circle with the three team captains in the middle and began stretching their arms, shoulders, legs, and back.
“One!” the team captains shouted.
“Two!” Everyone responded.
And they counted until they reached ten and switched their arms.
After the stretching was completed, Coach had them practice spiking the ball. Two lines were formed on opposite sides of the net and all the girls took turns throwing the ball to the setter, who set them the ball, and each girl did the “left-right-left” approach to the net and spiked the ball over.
“Good, Jillian!” Coach called as she jumped for the ball and spiked it over, hard. She grinned and ran to get her ball. After spiking, the girls lined up behind the serving line and began serving. Jillian tried to remember how Coach taught her the right way to serve. But her thoughts kept traveling back to Mark. Will he really come to her game?
“Jilly, either serve or get out of the way!” Amanda said, pushing passed her to catch a ball flying toward her. Jillian blinked away her thoughts and raised her ball. Left foot first and follow through with your right, and she served it into the net.
“Don’t bend your hand back, hold it straight!” Coach said, from behind her. She nodded and caught another ball that came flying in her direction.
After several minutes, they were paired up and had to practice setting and bumping. Jillian paired up with a girl named Sarah Miller. Sarah was well known by the team for her loud voice and strong will. She was also the team captain, go figure.
Just as they were setting the ball to each other, the other school arrived. Plainedge. There were about twenty of them, all wearing their dark blue jerseys and black shorts. Jillian’s heart skipped a bit as she looked from one tall girl to the next. They were all about six feet tall! Only about seven of them were her height. It was time for them to sit in the chairs while the other school practiced their serves. Jillian watched in awe at their powerful serves. She knew that if she attempted to bump one of those serves, her arms will be ripped off clean.
She looked around at the forming crowd of parents in the bleachers. That’s when she saw him. He saw her and gave her a nod.
“Jillian, are you listening?” Coach said, “I’m putting you in the first game. You’re playing left-front, but you get to serve the ball before I switch you with Amanda.”
Jillian nodded. Amanda wasn’t as tall as she had dreamed of being. She always wanted to play the front position, but being barely 5 feet tall, she could hardly reach the top of the net in order to block. This always annoyed her and Jillian felt bad for her. Being small can be a real handicap for a volleyballer.
The whistles blew and the score boards were set to 0:0.
“Alright ladies, line up,” Coach called to his six players. Jillian’s heart raced as she rose from her soft-cushioned chair and walked to the back of the line. She could feel Mark’s eyes looking in her direction. They walked around the court and gave the other team a high five under the net, saying good luck to each player. Jillian jogged to her spot on the court and paced back and forth, waiting for the ball to fly right to her. It always does for some reason. As the Plainedge girl served the ball, the gym quieted down. She dribbled the ball on the floor, threw it in the air and hit it hard.
“GOT!” Jillian shouted to the almost-silent gym and ran forward a little. She stuck out her arms and bumped the ball to the setter.
“Good, Jillian!” she heard Coach’s voice say almost in her ear. The setter set the ball up, and Jillian took the left-right-left approach and spiked it over. Not as hard as she had hoped, though.
And the game went on with the two scores trying to balance each other out. At last, the score came to 21:24. Jillian moved up in her chair to see the score better. Amanda was in service.
“Jillian,” Coach suddenly said and looked at her. Her heart thudded as she stood up.
“Switch with Amanda.” She went over to the corner next to the net, her back facing the score keepers. She touched hands with Amanda, who looked disappointed. “Nice job,” Jillian whispered to her.
“Good luck,” she whispered back. The man on the ladder nodded and Jillian was about to run to the service area when Coach said softly from behind her,
“I want you to serve the way I know you can serve.”
“I’ll try, Coach,” she said nervously. He smiled at her.
“Yes, that’s just what I want you to do. Try. Here, give me a potato.” She laughed and gave him a fist pound. Her teammate, Sam, threw her the ball with a cheerful,
Jillian smiled. Sam always called her that once she learned where she was from. She bounced the ball thrice (for good luck) and looked at the man on the ladder. He nodded to her and blew the whistle. She threw the ball in the air and stepping into it, served it over the net. A little too hard, she thought in horror. Luckily, the ball landed right on the line and it was in!
“Aaaa-ACE!” her team shouted, clapped their hands four times and did a little swirl with their fingers in the air and said, “whoo!” Jillian served four more serves, each of them successful. The game was over and her team gathered into a group and gave each other high fives. They then had to line up and give the other team high fives and say “good job.” Jillian was the last one in line and Coach jogged up behind her. “Nice job, Jillian! I’m proud of you!”
“Thanks Coach!” She said, smiling. Some of her team mates rushed up to Coach and hugged him. Everyone was laughing and feeling really good as they put away the chairs, balls, the net, and the poles. Jillian got her things from the bleachers and as she looked up, she nearly came nose-to-nose with Mark. She backed away, blushing.
“Nice game! That was a beastly serve!”
“Thanks,” she said and put on her backpack.
“So you’re coming to my game tomorrow?”
She sighed and looked at him. “I guess. A promise is a promise.”
“Cool. I’ll see you tomorrow then!”
She smiled and walked across the gym to the locker room.
“Jillian!” She turned and saw Coach waving to her. She walked up to him.
“Hey Coach,” she said.
“I told the others that Mondays’ game is rescheduled to tomorrow. I hope that’s alright with you.”
Her mouth gaped open as she searched for something to say. What will she tell Mark?
“Is everything alright?” Coach asked worryingly.
“Yeah. That will be fine.”
“Alright then. The bus will be here at 3:30 at the front. Blue jersey.”
“Yes, Coach. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good job, kid.”
Jillian walked to her locker with new thoughts flooding her mind. I can’t miss my last volleyball game of the season. Volleyball had become my life over the past two months. And Coach is depending on me to be there. I can’t disappoint Coach. But what about Mark? Is it alright to disappoint him?
Jillian reached her locker and turned the combinations. He came to every single game that I played at Home. He watched me play all this time. And have I ever seen him play?
Jillian slammed her locker in frustration and leaned against it. I don’t have to see him play. He boasts about it enough during community service. She sighed. He won’t be THAT disappointed! I mean, why does he want me there anyway? She got up and walked down the hall, still pondering what she should do.
The bell rang the next day for eighth period. Jillian gathered her books and walked up the stairs to the fourth floor. What should she tell Mark? Should she tell him right away or wait until the period is about to end? She walked up the eight staircases with some difficulty. Normally she would easily fly through them taking three at a time. But this time, Jillian felt some sort of heaviness settle inside of her. She reached the top when the bell had already rung. Breathing rather heavily, she walked up to the oak door and knocked. She heard footsteps and the door knob turning. Jillian walked in, and looked around.
“Hey!” Mark said from behind then door. She turned and saw him, grinning at her. She gave him a half-smile and walked to the filing cabinet.
“I’m trying to finish as much as possible today. The semester is ending soon and I hate leaving with the feeling that something isn’t finished, you know what I mean?” he asked.
“I know what you mean.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you seem upset. And quieter than usual…if that’s even possible! Is everything alright?”
“Well, the basketball game should cheer you up today. I know we’re going to win. And let me tell you something…” he began to whisper, “I’m planning to steal the last ball. The last shot will be for you.”
He grinned at her reddening face but his grin faded when he saw that she didn’t smile back. She turned away from him and looked down.
“Mark, I-” she hesitated. “I can’t come to your game today. Mondays’ game has been rescheduled to today. Coach is depending on me to be there. And I want to be there! It’s my last game of the season and I really have to make this day memorable. I fell in love with volleyball,” she laughed quietly, “I never thought I’d be so attached to a sport. My volleyball team is like my family. I have to play!” she paused. “Mark, I’m sorry. I know I promised I’d come, but it’s so unexpected. I only found out about it as soon as you left yesterday. Are you angry?”
His cast-down eyes didn’t look up at her. “No, it’s cool. I mean, I know how much you love the sport. And you said you’ll come before you knew that this was going to happen. So, I guess you can’t even consider it as if you’re breaking your promise! The promise is off. Don’t worry about it.”
A long silence followed these words, making Jillian feel as if it lasted nearly a century. The only sound was that of rustling papers.
Jillian walked out of the bathroom stall and went over to the full-length mirror. She tied her long, dark hair back and adjusted the white collar of her dark blue jersey. She looked at the large 24 printed on her jersey. She zipped her yellow sweatshirt over her number and sighed. Well, this is it. My last game. She swung her sports bag over her shoulder and walked out of the locker room.
“Hey, Gill, do you know what time the bus is coming?” Sarah jogged up from behind her.
“In a few minutes. We should go to the front.”
They walked in silence for several seconds.
“Excited for our last game?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, it’s kind of sad too. It all went by so fast. I wish it wasn’t our last game.”
“I know what you mean. You get so attached to something, and then it’s hard to let go.”
Jillian nodded. They got to the front of the school and sat down on the sun-warmed ground. Nearly the entire team was there already. It was a small team; only fourteen girls. I guess the less people there are on a team, the more attached you become to each other, Gillian thought. A group of three tall boys walked up to some of her teammates and began flirting.
“There’s my boyfriend. I’ll catch you later,” Sarah said and pranced up to one of the tall guys. Gillian watched as they hugged and laughed at something. She couldn’t imagine having a boyfriend at this age. And Sarah was a year younger than her. She turned away from the couple and began fiddling with some grass.
After several minutes, Coach arrived with the ice box and the med kit and placed the two on the floor beside Jillian.
“Hi, Jillian!” he said cheerfully.
“Hey, Coach,” she replied. That’s when the bus arrived. Coach went up to the bus driver and asked him if this was their bus. He then turned to the players and called,
“JV volleyball!” Jillian grabbed the ice box as another girl took the med kit and they walked to the bus. They dropped the two boxes on the first seat and Jillian plopped down on the second seat, right behind where Coach usually sits. Coach got on last and began counting everyone’s heads.
“Thirteen! Who are we missing? Sarah! Where is she?”
Jillian looked out the window and saw Sarah giving her boyfriend a last hug and running towards the bus.
“Sarah, I promise you, we’re coming back today! You’ll see him again!” Coach said with a grin. Sarah stood up in her seat behind Jillian and shouted out the window,
“I love you, Stevie!”
Jillian looked towards the entrance to the school and saw Sarah’s boyfriend waving back to her. The bus started moving and Coach sat in the front seat of the bus. Sarah poked Jillian over her seat and whispered, “Oh, Jill, I can’t imagine living a life without Stevie. If only you knew how great it is to have a boyfriend!”
“Oh yeah? And what’s so great about Stevie?” Jillian whispered back.
“Well, for one thing, he’s a really good kisser!”
Jillian laughed and turned around to face her teammate.
“How do you know that Stevie is the right guy for you? I’m sure lots of guys at our school are talented kissers. Why’d you choose only him?”
“I don’t know, Jill! He’s just different from all the other boys.”
Jillian turned back around and rolled her eyes. “So everyone says.”
“Well what about you and Mark?” Jillian turned back around.
“What about me and Mark?”
“Oh, come on! I know you guys like each other. Who doesn’t?”
“We don’t like each other! We’re just friends. I’m sure his other girlfriends can prove that.”
“He doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Sarah said with a smile.
“He never had one. I don’t know why. Maybe he’s just waiting for the right girl.” Sarah added, looking at her fingernails absently.
“Well, maybe I’m just waiting for the right guy too. And I’m not going to go on having one boyfriend after the other to find The One. He’ll come along.”
“I don’t know about you, Jillian, but I think he’s right under your nose and you still can’t see him,” Sarah said and leaned back in her chair. Jillian sat back against hers and looked out the window the rest of the way.
After ten minutes, the bus arrived at the high school. Jillian got off, right after Coach, taking the med kit with her. Sarah took the ice box. They walked in the chilly breeze towards the entrance. Everything felt like the end.
Her team walked into the main gym and put all of their bags and drinks behind the white chairs that were set out for them. Jillian took the last seat. They observed the other team closely; watched their serves and sets. Jillian looked around nervously. Something didn’t feel right. I wonder if I really hurt him today. What if he never speaks to me the same way again? And then another voice spoke to her. You blew it Jillian. He was always there for you and you just ignored it. Every game... Every game! He was always there, cheering for you, and this ONE TIME he asked you to come to his last basketball game, and you turn him down. Jillian gave a moan and looked at her watch. His game starts in five minutes. She looked around at her team. This is my last game too. She turns and looks at her Coach. He sat in the first seat, writing in his notepad the numbers of his players who were to play in the first game.
The buzzard sounded and the score was set to 0:0. Jillian wasn’t in the first game. Amanda was playing left-back.
“You’re going to play for Amanda when she gets to the front,” a soft voice said behind her. Jillian turned and saw Coach leaning on her chair from the back. Jillian turns to look back at the game for several seconds. She suddenly swirled around, coming face-to-face with him, and blurted out,
“Coach, I can’t play today. I have to leave.”
He looked at her as if lobsters were crawling out of her ears.
“You have to leave? Where do you need to go?”
“I’m supposed to be somewhere.”
“You’re supposed to be here.”
She looked at him desperately. “Coach, I promised someone to be at their last game today. I can’t let them down.”
Coach shook his head. “Them is plural. If you’re talking about someone, it should be singular.” Jillian rolled her eyes and smiled up at him. She forgot he was an English teacher as well.
“I promised him.”
Coach stood up slowly and looked down at her. Her eyes pleaded with him for several seconds. He shook his head.
“I can’t let you leave the game, Jillian. You know the rules. Unless I have a note from a parent before the game,” he knelt down to be on Jillian’s level and whispered,
“Jillian, I’m your coach and this is your game. You’re last game. I know you love this sport. I can’t stop you from leaving. I just want you to know what you’re doing. Are you sure he’s worth it?”
Slowly, Jillian looked up at him and nodded. Coach smiled and stretched his fist out. She punched it gently. And suddenly, she jumped up and hugged him.
“Go on, get out of here. I’ll catch you later.” Jillian grabbed her bag and ran toward the door.
“Go on, get out of here,” he said with a soft smile. Jillian grabbed her bag and ran toward the double doors. Suddenly she stopped and turned. As she took a last glance at her teammates, everything seemed to be almost in slow motion as they bumped, set and spiked the ball. She watched them talk to each other, calling “OUT!” and “MIDDLE!”
How every single girl moved towards the ball, ready to help her teammate if she wasn’t able to reach the ball in time. All for one and one for all, Jillian thought. She turned to her Coach. The coach who took her in at the beginning of the season when she didn’t make the tennis team. The coach who spent extra time with her to teach her how to serve the ball right. The coach who had the patience to tell her where to move every time she was in the game, who believed in her like no one ever has. Jillian smiled. The coach who was like a father she never had.Jillian sighed and walked out of the school, into that last chilly October evening.
When Jillian reached her school, the sun was already beginning to set in the west. The windows of the school gave off weak beams of light onto the sidewalk. Jillian jogged through the entrance, feeling glad to be in a warm environment again. The sound of the
referee’s whistle echoed through the silent hallway and her stomach gave a flip. She walked quietly toward the main gym and with every step, the noises from the cheering crowd grew louder and louder. Approaching the door, Jillian peeked through the little
glass window. Her mouth dried when she saw Mark sitting on one of the white chairs. His face was beet red and he looked tired. Taking a deep breath, Jillian opened the door and climbed up to the fourth step of the bleachers. When she looked back at him, her
breath stopped midway through her throat. He was looking right at her. Jillian managed to give him a little smile as she heard his coach bark, “Number 64! Mark, your in!” Jillian realized it was the last game. Mark jogged onto the court as his teammate passed him the ball. Jillian watched as the boys ran back and forth across the courts every time one team
was in possession and the other team stole the ball. With ten seconds left on the clock, she saw a boy from the other school bend into the shooting position, and as soon as the ball left his hands, Mark appeared out of nowhere and caught the flying ball right before
it touched the back board. Seven seconds were left to go and Mark dribbled the ball to the other court. Jillian could barely sit still now. With three seconds left, Mark jumped, and it was as if he slowed down at the top, he pushed the ball up, allowing it to fall right through! Jillian jumped out of her seat and clapped her hands happily. Some kids looked at her, as if thinking, “weirdo…” And for some reason, for once in her life, she didn’t care! She didn’t care what others thought of her. As soon as the other school was beginning to leave and the boys started to pack up, Mark walked over to where she stood. His dark brown hair was spiked up from sweat and he looked exhausted. But something in him shone.
“That was a beastly shot!” Jillian exclaimed. Mark took a bow and grinned.
“Thanks. What are you doing here? I thought you had a game today.”
“A promise is a promise.”
He beamed. He gathered his bag and empty water bottle and looked up at her.
“Are you walking home?”
Jillian nodded and smiled.
“You can walk me if you like.” Mark laughed and said,
“I’d like that.”
As the two set out of the building, they didn’t exchange a word. Stepping out into the darkness, a warm gust of wind blew at them. As they walked, Jillian felt his hand reaching for hers. As she took it, a warm feeling spread through her entire body. She knew she will never forget the last game.