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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tales From the Field: Olivia's Redemption by Katie L. Carroll

(See part 1 of this story “Olivia’s Camp Fail” here.)

To free yourself from guilt you must forgive yourself.

The game is about to start. The strategizing, the pep talks, the warm-ups are done. My stomach is a pit of tingling nerves, the good kind, the ones that keep my reflexes sharp. I let out a long exhale, my breath smoking in the cool evening air. Our undefeated season is on the line tonight.

My ten teammates line up in front of me, their white home uniforms bright under the lights. I clap my goalie gloves together and stare down our gold-clad rivals, the Valley High women’s soccer team.

Time to get in the zone.

For some inexplicable reason, I glance into the stands, the side where the Valley fans sit. It takes me right out of the game. Marco. He’s here. I knew he would be, but seeing him is worse than I imagined. The tingling, game-ready nerves turn to anxious, stomach-twisting ones.

Marco, of course surrounded by his entourage of teammates from the Valley High boys’ team, stands down by the fence separating the field from the stands. He faces the crowd, his back to me, thank God. I don’t think I could handle seeing his chipped-tooth smile right now. He’s wearing the blues of the Italian National Team, not the Valley High black and gold. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe our kiss at camp this summer actually meant something to him.

Then I remember him cheering on his schoolmate as she sprinted to the ball, my hesitation, the ball bouncing off her foot and over the goal line. The shame of losing the camp championship for my team, all because of some stupid boy, creeps up my face in a blush.

Megan, the team captain, hisses, “Olivia, you ready?” The referee is waving her hand, trying to get my attention.

Can’t think about Marco right now. The game is about to start!

I wave to let the referee know I’m ready. She signals to the other goalie, who quickly shakes a gloved hand. Everyone is anxious to start the game. I better get my head on straight.

My team came ready to play and quickly takes possession of the ball. Watching them pass and dribble around the other team and listening to the roar of the crowd as Brooke puts a shot on goal that the goalie has to stretch all the way out to save grounds me in the game.

I’m back in the zone.

We take control of the tempo of the game, but the score is 0-0 as the minutes tick closer to the end of the first half. I have yet to be tested when the ball arcs over our defensive line. A Valley forward, the Valley forward who scored the winning goal at camp, darts to the ball. I charge to the top of the 18-yard box and beat her to it.

I boot the ball over the half-line and the referee lets out two short blasts on the whistle to signal the end of the first half.

Like a magnet to metal my gaze zooms toward Marco. He’s staring right at me. The field lights are behind him, so his face is slightly shadowed and unreadable. Though he does lift his hand above the chain-link fence and offers a little wave.

To me? I glance around to see all my teammates are already on the sidelines. I’m the only one still dumbly standing on the field. So, yeah, the tiny wave must be for me.

I shake my head and sprint to the bench before Megan can yell at me again. I yell at myself instead. Head in the game, Olivia!

My teammates greet me with pats on the shoulder and it pops my bubble of distraction.

Sadie, a big grin on her face, shakes my shoulders. “Great grab.” Then so only I can hear, she whispers, “Did you see him?”

I bite the inside of my lower lip and shake my head. I can’t talk about it, not even with her. I’m already struggling to keep the lump in my throat from choking me, and I would totally die of embarrassment if I cried on the soccer field.

Sadie senses my struggle and elbows me in the side. “There’s no crying in soccer, right?”

I nod and suck down some water, listening to Megan’s half-time ramblings. It’s part pep talk, part critique of all the thing we did wrong in the first half, and full-on passionate. No one matches her level of intensity, but we all huddle in and there’s a gleam in each one of my teammate’s eyes.

“No ties today,” Megan says. “We win this one.”

We put our hands in and on three we yell, “Win!”

I jog out to my place in goal, thankful that the switch of sides means Marco and his friends are down the other end where I can’t make out their features.

Valley High comes out strong. They pass the ball past the midfield and get a shot off, but it sails high over the crossbar. “Field goal!” I hear from our side of the crowd, probably someone from our guys’ team mocking the bad shot. It brings a smile of confidence to my face.

Megan shouts at Denise, one of our defenders, for letting her player take the shot. I catch Denise’s gaze and shake my hands to let her know it was no big deal. Even if it had been on goal, no way would I have let a shot from that far go in.

After that we get back into the rhythm of our game. Valley sends a few more shots my way, but nothing I can’t handle. On a goal kick, I send the ball up to Brooke on offense. She passes it back to Haley at midfield, who kicks the ball past Valley’s defense. Tight pressure from Brooke forces the defender to kick the ball out, giving us a corner kick.

Haley curves a beauty of a kick in toward the goal. Mac, the tallest player on our team, charges in and heads the ball. Goal!

“Ten minutes left!” Megan yells to all of us.

Valley’s in panic mode now, frantically kicking the ball around, which allows us to regain possession. We pass it around, the minutes ticking off the clock. Mac dribbles the ball into our offensive corner and plays around with it there, burning more time.

The shrill of three sharp blasts on the whistle ends the game without Valley ever getting the ball back.

Megan jumps up and down, shouting, “We won! We won! We won!”

The team surrounds her, everyone hugging and congratulating Mac for scoring the game winner. Haley gets her share of the accolades for the assist. We won, and I didn’t screw up, but I can’t seem to enjoy the moment. I stand to the side, a haze settling over me. I force a smile and half-heartedly celebrate with the team, doing my best not to show my indifference.

What is wrong with me? Will I ever be free of the guilt from losing my team the camp championship?

As the fans disperse, my teammates and I take off our cleats and shin guards and throw on warmer clothes. A cold, autumn drizzle begins to fall. It fits my sullen mood. Sadie stands over me as I pack up my things.

“You need a ride?” she asks. “My dad’s waiting in the car.”

“Nah.” I shrug. “My mom let me take the van.” It’s a hideous old minivan, but I don’t care so long as it’s something I can drive by myself. I need the alone time right now.

Sadie doesn’t leave. “You okay?”

I look up and try to smile but my lip quivers. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Marco’s an idiot,” she says, which makes me laugh. “No one cares who wins the summer camp championship. And we won this time when it really counts.” She hesitates, like she has something important to tell me, but only says, “See you tomorrow at practice.”

“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” I say quietly, but she’s already disappeared into the darkness beyond the lights. The rain has forced everyone to make a quick exit. The stands are empty and I’m the only one left on the field.

I spot my lucky water bottle where I left it by the goal. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I jog over to retrieve it. I’m staring out over the field, unsuccessfully trying to be excited about beating our rivals and keeping our unbeaten streak alive, when a husky voice from behind startles me.

“Good game.” I don’t have to turn around to know it’s Marco. The scent of his cologne reaches me before he does. His shoes squeak on the turf as she walks around the goal to stand in front of me. His hair is especially slick-looking. I squint, the light bouncing off the tiny mist droplets shrouding the field. I can barely breathe with him this close.

Undeterred by my silence, he goes on. “You’re team played well. That was a nice goal on the corner kick.”

I turn to leave, utter, “I have to go.”

He grabs my hand, says, “Wait. Please.” It’s the please that catches me, holds me in place, just like last time. Cocky Marco using manners always catches me by surprise.

“What?” I demand, all attitude. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.

“I never got a chance to explain,” he says, which is true. He tried to talk to me that last day of camp, but my teammates protected me, wouldn’t let him get close. “I got caught up in the moment.”

“It’s fine.” My brief moment of bravery is gone, the lump in my throat back. Our kiss was more than getting caught up in a moment for me, but clearly it’s time for me to move on, for real this time. “We shouldn’t have kissed. It was silly.”

“No.” He smiles, never self-conscious of his chipped tooth…or anything really. “I didn’t mean our kiss. The cheering. I got caught up cheering for the team. I didn’t mean to make you miss the save.”

“Oh.” I don’t know what else to say. Not until I hear him say it, do I realize that all these months since camp, I’ve been hoping it was somehow a misunderstanding. That our night together was special and meaningful.

He nervously rubs the back of his head, and I think maybe I was wrong to think he couldn’t be self-conscious. “Do you want to go out sometime?”

My heart is in my throat, competing with the lump for space. “Like on a date?”

“Yeah. Maybe to a movie…or something.” His normally oversized ego is a deflated balloon as he waits for me to answer.

I take in the scene around me. The field and stands are empty now, but I’m picturing them full and loud as we win the state championship. I need the freedom, the space, to be focused on this one goal. I can’t afford any distractions right now.

“Sure,” I say. “But not until the season is over.”

The balloon is back at full capacity; even a sort-of yes can’t touch his ego. “Great. Can I have your number?”

“No.” His smile falters. “But you can give me yours.” I program his number into my phone.

Before he leaves, he takes my hand. “I’m expecting a call as soon as you win that championship.”

I just shake my head and laugh as he runs off, presumably to brag to his buddies about our future date. As I start up the old minivan engine, I feel more focused than I’ve felt all season. Camp is in the past, and I’m looking forward to play-offs and a run at the championship. And after that, who knows…I think I will call Marco and go on a date. What do I have to lose?

***

Don't miss all of Central High women's Tales From the Field here

Katie L. Carroll is a mother, writer, editor, and soccer player. She began writing at a very sad time in her life after her 16-year-old sister, Kylene, unexpectedly passed away. Since then writing has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She wrote her YA fantasy ELIXIR BOUND so Kylene could live on in the pages of a book. Katie is also the author of the picture app THE BEDTIME KNIGHT and a contributor to THE GREAT CT CAPER, a serialized mystery for young readers. She lives not too far from the beach in a small Connecticut city with her husband and sons. For more about Katie, visit her website at www.katielcarroll.com.