rubber track. “Yeah, sure.”
Matt flipped his head to get his mop of brown hair out of his eyes. He was constantly jerking like that, and it reminded me of a nervous horse. We all told him to cut the hair off, but he liked the way it flew back when he ran, and claimed the ladies did, too. “You sure? You look kinda spent.”
“I’m good.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, given that the blood taste had faded over the last few days and the headache I’d sported all Wednesday was just a dull, normal thing. I hadn’t been sleeping too well, with mud monsters prowling in my dreams, but that was nothing new, and nothing I was going to talk to Matt about. I was fine. To prove it, I jogged back to the fallen shirt and grabbed it up. I stripped off my T-shirt and replaced it with the sleeveless jersey. Matt was wearing a blue one. I eyed it and said, “You think your side’ll kick my ass?”
He nodded, then had to flip his hair out of his face again. “That’s the plan.”
We headed off the track for the far end of the school grounds. The soccer field needed to be mowed, and a few places had been worn down to dirt in both the goal boxes.About ten guys were waiting, kicking balls and yelling back and forth. It wasn’t our season, but most of the team didn’t play other sports. We spent the whole year practicing—unofficially when we had to. Soccer was a fall sport, and in a month or so Coach Bryson would be on us for real, every day, for hours. It was gonna be tough finding a summer job that I could ditch by three every afternoon. Hopefully, that landscaping thing one of our strikers had going with his neighbor would pan out.
Matt and I quickly chose our teams, and we divided up to either end of the field. My fellow Reds clapped my shoulders and asked what strategy I wanted to try. Since we only had six men to a team, I decided we’d forgo a keeper and play purely offensive. Matt was the team’s keeper, so we’d have to attack hard and focus on getting the ball past him. I’d stay back to sweep and put everybody else forward. It was a risk, but with Matt as their captain, they’d be sure to hold heavy on the defense.
Since I’d dressed for running on the track, I hadn’t bothered with cleats. It was only a scrimmage, though, and it hardly put me at a disadvantage. The sun beat down on us. Sweat plastered the mesh jersey to me. I was laughing and yelling in equal parts, focused on the wider movement of the field instead of just the ball, since I had to strategize when to push forward and when to hang back or give up my center position momentarily.
Although winning the game would mean glory and not having to take the dirty jerseys home to wash, I was mostly just happy we seemed balanced. It was gonna be an awesome team next year. By the end of twenty minutes, we’d only managed toslip one goal past Matt, and my Reds hadn’t let the Blues get near enough ours to score. I noticed a few of the cheerleaders, headed up by Matt’s girlfriend, Shanti, stretching out near enough that they were mostly watching us. No wonder Matt took a huge diving leap to block a goal that landed him hard on his left shoulder. He bounced up and tossed the ball at Dylan, his winger, who’d been hanging way right and managed a clean break up the side of the field. I ran at him, met him straight on, and tried to swipe the ball away. He spun and his shoulder knocked into me. I slammed to a stop, foot on the ball, and momentum twisted us up and we both went down.
I hit the ground totally unprepared, all my breath jarred out of me. My ears rang, and I put my arms out to my sides as if I could stop the earth from spinning if I held it down. Dylan was laughing next to me, and rolled to his side to stand. He held a hand down for me. I shook my head, which was a mistake.
A second later the whole team was crowded around me. I gasped, “Fine. I’m fine. Just dizzy.”
“Sanger, shit!” Matt shoved through. “What happened? Your lips are,
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