17. Unexpected Visit

“Do we realy have to go to this pep raly?” I moped when we returned
to our lockers to get our game jerseys.
“Of course we do,” she exclaimed, amazed by my question.
“Em, it wil get us so pumped to have the whole school cheer for us before
the game.”
“Can I listen to my music, so I don’t have to hear it?” She looked at me
with her hands turned up in front of her, unable to process my deterrence
to be a part of the excitement.
“Sara, I need to get focused on the game. I’ve been distracted al day
with this Evan stuff. I can’t be swooped up in the chaos of listening to
everyone screaming.”
“You are so strange,” she determined with a shake of her head.
“You cannot get away with listening to music during a pep raly. We
have to run in as they announce us, and we sit together at the back of
the gym where everyone can see us - so you wil have to put up with the
“Are you serious?” I almost yeled. “We get announced and have to sit
in front of everyone?!”
“Don’t you remember the footbal pep raly?”
“I didn’t go.”
Sara sighed. “Em, it wil be fine. You have the half hour bus ride to get
focused, and we aren’t even leaving the school until three-thirty. So
after the raly, we’l find an empty room where I promise not to talk to
you. You can listen to music, do homework, or whatever ritual you
need to do to get your head ready for the game. Okay?”
I sighed with a heavy nod.
The pep raly was worse than I imagined. The band played, the footbal
cheerleaders cheered, there were a ton of baloons, and lots of screaming.
The worst part was when they “announced” the team. Sara neglected
to mention that we were announced individualy, I thought we
would run in together. I was mortified when I was introduced last. It
only added to my humiliation when they noted I was the leading
scorer in the state, causing the screams to escalate. I realy didn’t want
to be there.
When it was eventualy over, I hid from everyone in the Art room and
worked on my Trigonometry homework while listening to the band
Evan added to my playlist.
I remained quiet on the bus, drowning out the chants and cheers as we
approached the school. I sunk further into my seat and closed my eyes.
I felt a hand on the knee that I had pressed against the seat in front of
me. I opened my eyes to find Coach Peña sitting across from me, the
bus was almost empty. I sat up and turned off the music.
“Ready?” he asked with a confident smile. “You can do this, you
“I know,” I assured him.
“Let’s go.” He patted my leg and headed down the aisle to exit the bus.
I folowed behind him, turning the music back on. More and more
people flowed into the stadium as we settled into our pre-game warmups.
The air was whirling with the voices and energy from the crowd
and the players. I didn’t look around; not wanting to see what was at
stake. I shut out the cheers, the flashes from the cameras, and the announcements
over the speakers. I breathed in the cold November air,
settling my thoughts on what was about to take place. When I was oblivious
to the distractions, I knew I was ready.
The game was better than I anticipated. It was aggressive, with bodies
bumping and fighting for possession. It was fast, as the bal flew from
foot to foot covering the length of the field and back again within a
minute. It was hard, with each intercepted pass and blocked goal. It
was stil scoreless at half time.
The second half exploded with the same intensity as the first. Neither
team wanted to be the one with the final loss. Midway through the
second half, we were able to charge in tight around the goal. There was
a lot of bumping and pushing as the bal shuffled amongst the feet. The
sweeper attempted to clear the bal up the sidelines with a forceful kick
that was blocked by Jil’s braced body. The colision sent the bal arching
back toward the middle of the field. Concentrating on the arc, I took a
few hard strides forward, pushing my body into the air to make contact
with the bal using my head. The side of my head connected with
the bal, redirecting it towards the goal in a single motion. At the same
time, my shoulder colided with a body pushing up against me. The
hands of the goalie landed on my head a second too late. The bal was
already moving towards the net where it bounced to the ground. I fel
to the ground with the goalie, knowing my timing was a fraction of a
second faster than hers. This was confirmed when the whistle blew,
announcing the goal. I heard the eruption from the crowd, something I
had never noticed before. It was startling as I looked around to take in
the lights and the flashes, right before Sara and Jil puled me off the
ground and embraced me, screaming in my ears.
Each team scored one more time, but we came out with the win. When
the final whistle blew, the field was inundated with a rush of people
yeling and cheering. I received hugs and pats from a blur of faces. I
was too excited to be bothered by the invasion. I was stil floating on
Evan pushed his way through to find me, his camera in his hand. Before
I could react, he wrapped his arms around me, and puled me to
“Congratulations,” he said in my ear before letting me go. “You always
find a way to make the most impossible goals. I think I have a decent
picture of it.”
“Thanks,” I said, with a huge smile.
Before I could say anything more, I was attacked by more hands, hugs
and shouts of congratulations. I lost sight of Evan in the crowd, but I
kept searching for him. The crowd slowly eased up and after shaking
hands with the other team, I made it back to the bench to gather my
The spectators steadily dissipated, filing through the gates toward the
parking lot. Evan was somewhere among them. Sara waited for me in
the middle of the field. As we approached the exit, I caught a glimpse
of someone lingering on the other side. I kept my head down and continued
toward the bus.
“Emily!” the figure yeled when I neared. I looked up and stopped abruptly.
Sara hesitated a step ahead of me, folowing my frozen stare.
Her eyes widened.
“I’l tel Coach you’l be a minute,” she said quietly and left me alone.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, my voice not as strong as I wanted
it to be.
“A friend dropped me off so I could see your game,” my mother replied
with a cautious smile. “Congratulations, I’m so proud of you.”
Then a slight breeze alowed her signature sweet perfume to burn my
nose. “You’ve been drinking,” I murmured, crushed. She hadn’t
“I was nervous about seeing you, so I had a couple of drinks. No big
I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t move. My body quivered with
“I’ve been folowing you in the papers,” she explained. “I had to see
you. You look so great.”
I stared back.
“What happened above your eye?” she asked, nodding toward the smal
scar above my left eye.
I shrugged, looking at the ground – afraid she’d see the emotion in my
eyes that were starting to tear.
“I figured you didn’t want to hear from me,” she said sheepishly while
playing with her hands, “especialy since you haven’t written back in so
“What are you talking about?” I asked in confusion.
“You haven’t been getting my letters?”
I shook my head.
“I think about you al the time,” she started.
“Don’t,” I interrupted, beginning to feel anger amongst the swirling
emotions. “Don’t say it. I can’t hear it again. How much you love me
but can’t take care of me the way I deserve. Just…
just don’t because you have no idea what I deserve.” She couldn’t look
up to meet my watering eyes.
Before she could defend her abandonment once again, a voice holered,
“Rachel, there you are. We’ve gotta go, babe.”
I noticed a guy with a shaved head in a leather jacket and worn jeans
approaching us.
“We can’t be late,” he stated impatiently, not giving me a second
glance. My mother eyed me apologeticaly, but I knew I wasn’t a choice
- I never had been.
“I have to go,” I said, nodding toward the bus, needing to escape the
tension before I was smothered by it.
“Emily, this is Mark,” she tried to introduce. He barely acknowledged
me with a quick “Hey” as he grabbed her hand with an impatient tug.
I nodded my head, understanding exactly who he was. He was her
“It was so great to…” she started as he led her in the direction of the
running Charger in the parking lot. I turned my back to her and
walked away without letting her finish.
The bus was filed with excitement and chatter - no one realized they
were waiting on me. I tried to smile as I received praise from my teammates,
making my way down the aisle to sit next to Sara.
“Do you want to sit next to the window?” she offered.
“Yeah,” I replied, my voice shaky. I moved in as Sara scooted towards
the aisle. I colapsed on the seat and rested my head against the cool
glass, trying to fight back the tears. My hand shook as I wiped my eyes
with the cuff of my sweatshirt. Sara grabbed my hand and gave it a
gentle squeeze. We sat in silence while I stared out the window, trying
to regain control.
“Your mom, huh?” she eventualy confirmed. “She looks…”
“Nothing like me,” I muttered, wanting there to be more than her light
blue eyes and thin lips to differentiate us. “After four years, why did
she have to choose one of the most important nights of my life to show
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “If it’s easier, we can pretend it never
happened. I won’t mention it, and you can forget it. We’l have a great
time for the rest of the night.”
“I’l try,” I promised, pushing away my mother’s depressing image.
“We’l take showers at the school and go straight to Lauren’s,”
she explained, keeping me distracted. “Let’s only stay for an hour or
two before we head back to my house with the girls. We’re going to
have an amazing night.” She smiled and squeezed my hand, then added,
“But if you ever want to talk about her, after tonight, I’m here.”
I nodded slightly, knowing that was highly unlikely. I washed my
mother away in the shower – tucking her back in the dark place where
I kept her. And that’s where she stayed… at least for the rest of the
After being at Lauren’s for an hour, surrounded by hyped girls who
talked even faster than usual, Sara nudged me that we should go. Five
other girls joined us, folowing us to Sara’s in their cars. We listened to
music, ate junk food and eventualy the topic of boys came up. I knew it
was inevitable, so I chose not to contribute until I was forced into the
“So, what’s up with you and Evan?” Casey demanded.
“We’re just friends,” I said casualy, hoping that would be enough for
them to move on.
“Then what’s wrong with you?” Veronica accused. “He’s totaly hot.”
“We’re just not interested in each other that way,” I defended.
“You know that Haley Spencer pretty much hates you, right?”
Jil added.
“What?” I asked incredulously.
“She’s obsessed with Evan and thinks the only reason he won’t go out
with her is because of you,” she explained. I laughed.
“Emma, are you serious?” Jaclyn accused. “You have to admit he’s gorgeous,
and smart, and athletic – “
“Basicaly perfect,” Casey finished.
“No one’s perfect,” I rebutted.
“So, what’s his flaw?” Casey demanded. I looked at Sara hoping she’d
change the subject.
“He can be realy annoying,” I offered, knowing that wasn’t going to be
enough to satisfy them.
“I think you should date him,” Jil said bluntly. “You two would be as
perfect together as Sara and Jason.” I turned red.
“Speaking of Jason,” I finaly saw a break, “Sara, what’s he doing
Sara intercepted the girls’ attention and started talking about Jason’s
perfections. As Sara fed the girls’ intrigue into what it’s like to be with
Jason Stark, I thought I heard something off in her enthusiasm. I
couldn’t figure it out, but there was something missing. I let the buzz
of voices continue without my participation. I settled back into the recliner,
but I couldn’t help thinking, what was going on between Evan
and me?
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