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It had been raining that morning. I remember because, halfway to class, I had realized that I had left my essay in the printer tray. So I ran back to get that and then had to wait out in the rain, without an umbrella, for someone to open the door because I had also left my ID card, and was consequently late for class, as per usual. To top it off, my religion professor was not amused when I informed him that it was my thirty-day anniversary for being late to his class.
The only thing I’m never late for is soccer practice. This is because for every minute we’re late, Coach makes us run an extra seventeen wind sprints. It’s my third year on the team and I’ve only been late twice. Not gonna lie, it’s because I absolutely despise all forms of running, especially wind sprints. I mean, that’s why I’m the goalie! I just scuttle back and forth in front of the goal like a crab and kick the ball away when it gets too close. Ok, there’s a lot more to it than that, but I’m lazy, so sue me.
The field was still slick and shining with rain so that we kicked up little swatches of dirt with every step. By the end of practice, the backside of my shorts was splattered with brown drops as though I had fallen in spilled coffee. I was striding across the tiled locker room floor, my damp socks leaving footprints of moisture along the spotless linoleum, to smack my cleats together over the garbage can when I heard a wet sniffling and a distinct muffled sob coming from around the corner. When I poked my head around the wall of lockers, I found one of my team’s freshmen, Rachel, sitting with one knee drawn up on the narrow bench, stifling her tears into the crook of her elbow so that her back shook with violent sobs.
Unsure of how to approach her, I took a shot and knocked on a locker like I would a door. “Knock, knock. Mind if I sit?”
She froze, stock still, and scurried to the very edge of the bench, straddling it so that she faced the wall. I sat anyway.
“So,” I said casually, as though we were talking about the weather. “How’s it going?”
She very slowly turned her head and gave me the most disgusted look anyone had ever given me before. It was even better than the one my Relgion professor had given me this morning. Wow, today was just not my day.
Ok, wrong question, I thought. Take two.
“Sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. I really didn’t think that through. Besides, I think I know why you’re sad. I was in the trainer’s office the other day when that orthopedist came.” I said.
Her voice came out as a choked whisper. “Right. I guess the whole team knows by now.”
I placed a hand on my chest and gasped in exaggerated horror, “Are you insinuating that I am a gossip, madam?” I chuckled at my own wit and continued, in a normal tone of voice, “No, I think everyone else figured it out when you had to sit out from doing all those lunges last week.”
She flinched, as though the memory burned her. “I hate sitting out,” she said in a quiet, tortured voice. “It’s so hard to explain and when I try people look at me funny, like they don’t believe me. It’s not like I enjoy watching everyone suffering through conditioning while I’m stuck on the bench doing nothing!”
I plucked a thin blade of grass from my ponytail. “Hey, it could be worse. You could still be on crutches and have to watch the games from the bleachers. That’s an even worse feeling.”
Rachel twisted the drawstring on her shorts until it curled into an uneven ball. “I’m sorry you have to see me cry. It’s so embarrassing.”
“To tell you the truth, I think I’d rather be crying in front of someone than be angry.”
She looked up at me slowly, dragging her eyes from the ground to my chin. “Really?” she asked, perplexed.
“Oh yeah, I mean, a lot of people are stubborn and don’t want to feel sorry for themselves or have too much pride to cry in front of others, so the only alternative is to get mad. And that just makes things awkward, doesn’t it? Like, you never know how to deal with someone’s who’s so frustrated that they go slamming and punching things. One wrong word and they go berserk!”
“I - I guess that makes sense.” She moved one leg carefully around the edge of the bench so that our bodies faced the same direction. I took this as a cue to inch over next to her.
“Absolutely! Sad people are much easier to approach than angry people. But let me tell you,” I boldly rested one elbow lightly on her shoulder and gave a conspiratorial grin. “At least you’re not one of those people who get furious when people try to comfort them. If you were, I’d be talking to you through one of those metal Bomb Squad shields with those Plexiglass window at the top just so I wouldn’t have to fear for my life.”
She gave a loud laugh at this, gave her eyes a vigorous rub, and planted her feet smack on the tile. “Katie?” She said. “I think I’m going to vote for you for captain next year.”
I gave a halfhearted snort. “Please! Why would anyone want a captain that even the freshmen pick on? You’re better off voting for Shoshannah, at least she’s got a head of her shoulders.”
But Rachel shook her head. “I’d rather have a silly captain who spaces out in the middle of games than one who doesn’t pay attention to her teammates.” And with that last note of triumphant finality, she flounced out the locker room door, ponytail swinging.
“Lies!” I yelled after her. “When have I ever spaced out in the middle of a game!?”
Her distant laugh echoed from the hallway, soft as a whisper. I stared at the doorway for several minutes after she’d left, then swung my legs around the bench in one fluid motion and lay back on the smooth wood, a small smile tugging at my mouth. “Cheeky little freshman.”