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Red face paint dripped down my face. I stood at the 50 yard line, counting corners. We were up to 10 now, and it was too hot to run back and forth. Our midfielders were bright red tomatoes and though I felt sorry for them, I couldn’t say I wanted to help them. I watched as one girl hit the ball in from the side, and I ran at full speed towards the ball, not knowing exactly what I’d do when I got there.
The referee pointed two straight arms at the goal. Corner.
“Oh my God, girls!” screamed Amy. She ran back to the 50 with me and leaned back on her stick. “They need to watch their feet. How hard is it to pay attention?”
Amy was center forward. I was to her right and Genie Goldberg was to her left. None of us had had much playing time in the last few minutes and it was certainly getting to Amy.
I nodded. I didn’t want to say anything.
We ran back to our circle as fast as was physically possible and waited, sticks down, to receive a pass. The ball bounced around our girls’ sticks like a pinball machine ball into the center of the circle. With one hit, it was in the goal.
I heard Amy curse from across the field.
“GIRLS! You have to want it to win it!” She was so red she made the midfielders look like ghosts. I just walked to the 50 and held my breath. We weren’t going to win, no matter how much we wanted it. Amy started with the ball and glared at me. I wiped the dripping face paint out of my eyes.
Amy slapped the ball to me and the game started up again. I dribbled up the field. Don’t mess up, I thought. Don’t mess up. I whirled around one girl and then another, amazed at how fast I was going. Oh my God. What am I doing? I tilted my head up to see where I was going and I saw that there was about 50 feet between me and the goalie. My heart was beating like crazy as I squeezed the stick between sweaty fingers and ran as fast as I could past both defenders. A totally open shot.
“Flat!” Genie yelled.
“No, don’t pass. Shoot!” I could hear Carla’s voice from the sidelines.
It seemed like the whole world was yelling at me to make a move, but my mind was frozen. All I could do was run. The space between me and the goalie was decreasing and I knew I had to let go of the ball. Behind me I heard a million feet running after me and I suddenly had the fear of being run over by a herd of elephants. I saw the goalie, ready to take me head on, and I couldn’t even imagine taking her head on, but I kept running. My hair came down into my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing. A defender threw down her stick in front of my foot, but somehow I dodged it. I still don’t know how.
Shoot. I thought. Just shoot the ball!
I swung blindly, feeling the impact and shock from a ball-stick collision. Had I got it in?
I picked up my head, realizing only now that I was flat on the ground. I heard cheers from the sidelines and saw at least five red skirts circling my head.
“Emma? Emma? You okay?” It was Genie’s voice.
“Emma, oh my God that was so…”
“Don’t give her a hard time, Amy. She’s obviously in pain.” Tessa O’Grady put her hand on my head. “Are you alright, sweetie?”
I stood up and looked at the goal. The goalie was slapping hands with the other girls. The crowd was getting off the bleachers.
“What happened?” I asked.
Genie picked my stick up off the ground. “You cleared it straight past the goal post…”
“She didn’t even have to move. It just flew right by.” Amy put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes.
“It was a great hit,” Genie said. “Too bad no one was down there.” She glared at Amy. “I ran so fast, but you know, with my knee and all…”
“Wait, so it’s over?” I asked. The ball hadn’t gone in?
“Yeah, we lost again,” said Amy Jones. You’d never believe we were friends.
“But we’ll win the next one!” Tessa smiled.
“Sure we will.”
Carla joined the group. “Maybe we should try those passes again. They aren’t so strong.”
They all nodded. “It’s the only way to get better,” Genie agreed.
I stared at the goal, now empty, and tried to imagine what it would have felt like to get just one goal, just once. I had been so close. Without the goalie, it didn’t look so tough, just a wide open lane. One tap…score! Cheers would echo throughout the stadium. I looked at the girls I called my teammates. All of us wanted to win so badly. Even Tessa, she was just so positive. I wondered how she could be like that . We all walked back to Coach together. They still talked about how we could improve. I kept turning my head back to look at the open goal. I wanted to know what it felt like to score just once. Just then I ran towards the goal at full speed. It was totally on impulse, as if someone else had taken over my body and I was standing there, watching. I dropped a ball on the ground, dribbled it to the top of the circle and stopped. I looked up at the goal and squinted my eyes, clenched my teeth. Just then I slapped it as hard as I could and watched as it flew into the goal. I could hear the cheers in my head.