The field is wet. Irrigation seeps through my cleats and into my socks. My legs are sore from countless Youtube workouts. (They claim to give you abs. I am living proof that those instructor ladies get liposuctions every month or so.) Besides, I tried to keep up lacrosse by practicing. Throwing, catching, cradling. But at some point, there’s no point.
Hector has already started practice. I’m half an hour late and the girls are still doing warmups. They’ve already got their protection goggles on. Their feet slip along the grass when they drop down for burpees. (I always hated burpees. Hector always made me demonstrate them to the team.)
I clap Hector on the back. “Heckles,” I say, and some of the girls look up. “Did you miss me?”
He gives me his all-famous sideways glance. Then his eyes drop disapprovingly to my untied cleats.
My shoelaces coil in the grass lazily. I sigh, defeated, and drop down on one knee. Tying—untying—retying. (All so I don’t have to face Hector again.) “I’m trying to set a good example, Heckie, but they’re in seventh grade. They know better than to follow in my unlaced footsteps.”
“Water break!” Hector hollers, almost cutting me off, with his hands cupped around his mouth. I stand warily. He crosses his arms over his chest.
The girls gather around where they’ve laid their things. It’s hot and their faces are flushed. Some unzip their phones from their pockets and check Snapchat or Instagram or Tiktok. (I’m still living in the Facebook era.)
I set a hand on Hector’s shoulder. “I am deeply sorry, Hec. My ‘me time’ lasted longer than I thought. I should’ve texted or something . . .” Hector grunts. “But don’t worry, because I’m back. And I can buy you as many packs of gum or slurpees or cups of joe or Haribo gummies as you want to make up for it.” (I’m broke so don’t keep my word on this. But I do most of the talking in our relationship anyways.)
“Circle up, ladies. That’s enough break time.” The girls stumble over and form a semi-circle around us. Some have mascara smudged across their eyelids. Others are straightening lumps in their hair. “So, we need to work on our offensive slides before Saturday’s game. Also, I don’t want to name names, but more than a few of you are checking illegally. You know who you are. You know how to fix it.” Hector claps his hands together like he’s filtering the energy he has left. (He is a tough coach. Sometimes when we hang out after practice his phone rings with helicopter parents. All they want is an apology to their daughters. He won’t give it to them.) It’s late afternoon when Hector sorts them into groups and starts a scrimmage.
Standing next to him while he yells at the girls is awkward. Especially when I cheer. And he shoots me a sideways glance. The girls check and clash sticks and call out to each other. Suddenly it’s six o’clock. (He knows random things. He knows which classmates are related to dead presidents. He knows the time before you check your watch. He does not know why I am an assistant coach. He does not know what my gender is.)
The girls are sweating. He finds pleasure in this and mumbles when they thank him. They don’t thank me. Lines form beside the roundabout. Parents honk and wave. All until there’s no one left on the field.
Hector stacks the perimeter cones on his head. It’s one of those rare times he does something silly. He walks around bending and pressing his sunglasses against his forehead so they don’t fall.
I half-laugh to get his attention. “That was a great practice. You’re such a good coach to those girls. Will the League be promoting you anytime soon?” (The League will not be promoting anyone anytime soon.)
“I hope so,” he says, which is the first time he’s talked to me all afternoon. “I’ve been coaching a twelve and thirteen year old team all by myself for the past month and a half.” He drags his feet against the grass and flips his stick in his hands. (He is a devoted coach but I don’t know why he coaches girls’ lacrosse when he is currently identifying as a boy. But aren’t we all?)
I smile, “I am so sorry, Hect-o. You deserve to be director of the whole entire fucked up League.” (Our current director is a former stripper who lives behind the sewage plant.) He smiles back. “So how have you been?” I ask.
Hector packs up his bag. It has a shoulder sling that’s ripped so he just swings it by a single strap. “Tired.” He doesn’t return the question. (It doesn’t bother me. I deserve it.)
We walk through the dewy grass. It squishes and sneezes under our feet. The roundabout is devoid of cars except for Hector’s busted Toyota. (A car I have befriended over the years.)
I sit on the curb and dangle my feet in the street, “Come on, Hecmiester, sit with me.”
He mumbles something about an essay but eventually joins me. Our shoulders touch. “So,” he starts, “tell me about your quarantine from society.” (Society is such a disease.)
I look at him to see if he’s forgiven me yet. Hector is peeking at something over his shoulder. His hands are in fists. I chuckle, “It was lonely, to be honest. I played dress-up games in all types of costumes but nothing clicked. You know?”
Hector gives me his full unwavering gaze. “Maybe that wasn’t the right solution for you.”
“I’d agree,” I say, wrestling my hair into two parts. “It’s done a number on my pores—clogging them like the public toilets in McDonald’s. I’ve even started growing hair in my nostrils, which I have idly named Lord”—I tap my right nostril—“and Voldemort.”—I tap my left nostril. This cues a ha-ha from Hector.
“Puberty,” he comments. (My Potter Puberty jokes have long passed the expiration date. But he still listens.)
We’re still perched on the cracked sidewalk edge. A few of the girls have collapsed onto benches, waiting. They sip water and close their eyes. (If only to dance with your eyes closed.) The sunset is small and blue and cold. Like watching slow motion through 3D cinema glasses.
Hector rubs his arms. “So what pronouns are you using now?” The question hangs in the air.
(Beats me, Hectagon.) “I think . . . I think I’m in between.” He nods. “I had a lot of time to think about it, holed up in my room, and no matter how many times I went back to Jo-Ann’s to try on their collection of plastic wigs, it still felt . . . wrong.” I tug on the sleeves of my jacket. My lips are trembling and not from the frozen sweat.
“Are you going to use neopronouns? Xe/zem/eir?” he breathes.
I shake my head, “They/them will work—for now.”
“And that’s perfectly imperfect,” he says. “You don’t have to look a certain gender to be it. It’s the thought and belief that counts.”
My mouth parts because Hector has never said anything that matters to me. (Perhaps I never paused to give him the chance.) “What about you?” I flip-flop the subject, “Has your sexuality changed in the last month and a half? I can see that your very gay haircut and shoe choice hasn’t.”
Hector snorts. “Still straight as your nostril hairs. But I now have a boyfriend who wears fedoras.”
I hide my face in my hair and bite on my tongue to hold back a laugh or grin. Shadows are crawling out from behind streetlights. The circles around Hector’s eyes become spelled out like O’s on his face. “I’m so proud of you, Hectogram. You have managed to raise a very talented lacrosse team.” I exhale slowly. “And I know you don’t give two fucks about me but you give three fucks about the team and that’s what matters.”
He knocks his knees together and stretches out across the concrete. “I . . .” he starts, and tries again, “I am so proud of you for navigating the murky waters of gender identification.” He curls his knees against his chest. “And I’m so proud of our girls and how they’ve grown. And how they have a beautiful non-binary assistant coach—”
“And a gay coach,” I add fondly.
“—to lead them along the way,” he finishes.
I pick dirt out of my fingernails, “Join me for an evening cup of joe, will you, Heckleson? Not about making it up to you, just two people talking.” (He is not a cup of joe type of person and neither am I. But I am a talker. And he’ll be paying.)
He smiles and stands. He helps me up. “Will you ever refer to me without a stupid nickname?”
I take his hand. “Never, Heckmillion, never.”