She was getting chattier in her letters, giving me a better glimpse into her personality and style. Maybe she was falling a little for me, and as odd as it sounded in my head, maybe I was falling a little for her.
I took a deep breath and noticed her vanilla scent again. My brain lit up. I remembered that smell from the bar. It was definitely there, mixed among the strong perfumes, the alcohol, and an undertone of sweat.
My brain surfed through fleeting moments, hoping to recall where exactly that smell had been more noticeable. Was it with Diamond in the car or Layla at the bar, stuck in the awkward conversation with Brooke and Val at the tables, talking to Kiara, or dancing with Oksana? Or was it when Catalina invited me to dance a while later and I got my neck whipped a few times by her wavy long black hair? Or maybe when we started randomly exchanging dance partners and I hopped between Bree, Lauren, Chelsea,… why were there so many? Uh, Piper and Reese too. How could I forget? I was sandwiched between them for the better part of a song before… Samantha, there we go, saved me. We went back to keep an eye on the group’s belongings at our tables and I would’ve sworn her touching my ass while guiding me wasn’t an “accident.”
Thirteen players from the team had come to the bar, and I couldn’t pinpoint that faint vanilla smell to any of them. If we removed Kiara and Oksana, for obvious reasons, we were left with eleven suspects. Eleven possibilities, each with its own flavor. Each with a different potential outcome, different perspective, different appeal.
I was lost. I liked all of them, but I couldn’t let myself feel anything more than that toward any of them. My real feelings of lust and fascination, which were recently ignited and were rapidly evolving, belonged to just one. And I was left confused, unable to channel them anywhere but to a faceless image. I knew she was surely one of eleven gorgeous and strong women, but for now, she had to take a shapeless form and voice in my head. That’s what made the situation more confusing.
I knew her, but I didn’t know who she was. I wanted her, but I didn’t know whom I wanted. I had surely talked to her, looked into her eyes, laughed with her, touched her, seen much — if not all — of her naked, and yet I didn’t know that. Only she did. Only she could have appreciated those moments, or knew how special our interactions were, while I had to keep my heart in check to avoid falling for the wrong one.
That disadvantage was starting to take its toll on me. You don’t go into a match not knowing anything about your opponent, you study everything about them and prepare for their every move. And yet, here I was, walking blindfolded in completely uncharted territory, falling for a woman for the first time in my life, and absurdly, not knowing which woman I was falling for.
And if I was being honest, I’d say that I was terrified of the darkness of this tunnel, but even more so terrified of the light at the end of it. What then? What if this was a game to her? What if it wasn’t? Do we get to know each other and date like normal people do? Isn’t that preposterous? Aren’t we past that?
“Jess, we have to be ready in five.”
I startled and turned my head toward the voice. Bree was looking at me, in her full goalie gear. Right, the match, I’d slipped so far in my thoughts I forgot about the match.
“Yes. On it!” I answered enthusiastically, as I flipped my warrior mood on and turned back to my locker. I was already dressed so all I had to do was put my shoes and hairband on and I was ready to go. Into my gym bag the red letter went, but I didn’t forget its content: I had to score tonight.
As I laced up my football shoes, I thought that the word “easy” probably didn’t exist in her dictionary. This was the first game of the league, against the team that kicked our ass to second place the year before. It was also my first time in the starting eleven, and I was a center defender. The odds of me scoring anything beyond a head-butt with the other team’s attackers were close to null. A goal? Forget it. She was demanding the impossible.
But impossible, I am thy name. I’d make it happen, I’d win that dare no matter what. She wanted a goal and she was getting that goal. Besides the perk of helping the team and doing what she asked, I’d be getting something in return. She did promise she’d help me score off the field, whatever that meant, so I couldn’t let that opportunity pass, could I?
Twenty minutes into the match, I realized how challenging her dare was. The other team was as organized as us, as brutal in its offense, and as unforgiving in its defense. We were evenly matched on many fronts, and Kiara and I barely had time to recover from thwarting one attack that we had to be ready for the next one. Good thing she didn’t let her anger at me get in the way, because making a mistake was going to be fatal to us, so we had to be one hundred percent in sync.
At minute 27, Valeria got us a free kick, so Kiara and I moved up to the other side of the field. Being center defenders meant that we were very adept at timing our jumps and accurately heading the ball in the direction we wanted, so the team needed us in offensive set plays, i.e. free kicks and headers. But again, the odds of success were always low.
Brooke took the shot and it landed far from me, straight where Kiara was. She tried to head it in but it was too high so it bounced off her head and above the goal. We ran back to our posts.
The dare was slowly slipping to the back of my mind until minute forty two, when I had to stop an attack by tackling the ball between their player’s feet into a corner. They executed it, Bree punched the ball mid-air before anyone got to it, and I ran toward it.
I got it and found myself a little away from our goal, with no one close enough to defend me. The path to their side was nearly empty. So I sprinted.
I ran straight, not looking left or right, dribbling the ball before me, and trying not to lose sight of their two defenders who were waiting for me. Without slowing my pace, I faked going toward them then flicked the ball to the right and sprinted even faster. One of them slipped down trying to change direction quickly, the other managed it and was almost on me. In the corner of my eye, I saw a blue jersey, our color, sprinting on the left side and it was an easy decision. Yes, I could have, maybe, possibly, dribbled past their defender and scored. But this wasn’t about me and my dare, this was about the team.
I dribbled one more second to get the defender closer to me, then passed the ball down the field straight to where my teammate was running. It was Oksana. With a perfect timing, she reached the ball and was facing their goalie one-on one. She scored with a shot between her feet and made it look too easy.
I started shouting and bouncing and ran toward her, with all of our players joining us and hugging and high-fiving.
“That was crazy!” “Oh my God, what did you two do?” “So good!” “Fucking awesome!” “Yeaaaaaaaaah!” I heard all those exclamations buzz left and right. Then I saw Oksana smile and reach out to me for a fist-bump, and I sighed of relief. I had done the right thing. “Thanks!” she mouthed.
Kiara and I jogged back to our side. “That was excellent,” she said with a low tone.”Look, Kee, I…”
“It’s OK, I think I get it. You were pushing me, pushing us, in your own weird way.” I nodded. “I guess we owe you a thanks for more than just this goal. We talked a lot, we’re still talking, but we’re together now, and we want to make it work.”
I turned toward her, a huge smile on my face. The bit of guilt I was feeling over my behavior at the bar dissipated. “I’m so happy for you two.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll get mushy about it later. Match is restarting and we don’t want them to equalize before half-time.”
Half-time came and went. As usual, coach Terry and Alex were realistic so all we got was a “good job” before they started preparing us for the second half. Back on the field, things became even more brutal. The other team was relentless in its attacks, being down one goal and wanting to equalize come what may. Our midfield players did everything they could to turn the pressure back on them, or at least tame their attacks, but Kiara, Bree, and I still had our fare share of scares. Yet, they didn’t manage to score.
It was past the eighty-fifth minute mark and we were still up by one. With five minutes left, whoever scored would effectively end the match, either with a tie for them or with a win for us. It had to be us. We won a corner on their side, so as usual, Kiara and I went up the field and positioned ourselves.
Lauren took the shot and I felt it heading straight to me. In a split-second, I had to make my decision: straight or down, left or right, forceful or smooth. Their defendant jumped but I went higher, somehow propelled off my feet by my naughty instigator. This was my chance and I wouldn’t waste it. My head connected perfectly with the ball and I was able to spin it to the left and down.
It bounced, their goalie tried to reach it with her foot but failed, and went straight into the net. I couldn’t believe it. I was instantly toppled over by a hurricane of bodies, from on-field players to bench ones, all screaming and cheering. It felt amazing.
Then in the midst of the craze I felt someone pinch my nipple and I jolted a bit. My face was buried under a heap of jerseys so I couldn’t see who had enough access to do that. It only lasted a second but it was a deliberate nipple pinch with a bit of a roll between the fingers. Was she unable to keep her hands off me anymore? I smiled wider.
A few seconds later, the euphoria subsided and one by one, the players rose up, giving me space to breathe. Brooke was the last one and she helped me to my feet, a wide grin on her face. “We owe this match to you.”
“Thanks, but it was a team effort. I just got lucky both times.” I blushed while dusting off my shorts.
“A little bit of luck and a lot of pure talent. I’ve rarely seen a defender dribble and sprint as fast as you did today. It was perfect.” She smiled and tapped me on the shoulder as we walked back to our side of the field.
Goodness, her smile was infectious and her admiration authentic. I felt a few flutters in my stomach and had to keep my emotions in check. It would be so easy to fall for Brooke, so simple to imagine spending naughty nights with her… but I couldn’t get carried away. I didn’t know if she was my instigator, and couldn’t let myself feel this way for anyone else.
After the match ended with our 2-0 victory, we celebrated on the field and a little bit back in the locker room. There was no letter waiting for me, but I figured she didn’t have time to slip it in unnoticed, or maybe she had another way of informing me of my prize. It wasn’t until I came back from the shower that I saw the familiar expensive red paper in my locker.
“Impressive. I hope you’re as precise with your hands as you are with your feet, and as goal-oriented with your tongue as your head.
It’s time for you to relinquish a bit of control though, cutie, and let me take the reins. Your gift is in the towel rack. Make sure to have it ready tomorrow at 7:00 PM.”