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Romance Adventure

Heart attacks are more likely to happen on a Monday.


The only country in the world named after a woman is Saint Lucia.


If you point your car keys to your head, the signal range on the remote increases (your brain acts as a radio transmitter).


Beginner’s Luck is most likely nothing more than a fluke.


That last one, the one about beginners’ luck, is the one that Shannon chose to skim over. She was reading a magazine article entitled “Random Facts” as she sat in the locker room waiting for the coach to come in from his meeting with the football team. She never considered herself a “sports person” until her post-quarantine football feat and the subsequent ‘golden boot’ reward she received. The guys who lived on her street, rallied by her childhood friend Dave, had invited her to kick ball with them once the social distancing sanctions on sports and community gatherings had lifted. She was the only female among them and she ended up on Dave’s team. As luck would have it, she scored a hat-trick and their side won the game 8-3. Dave was so ecstatic – he called her a natural – he made a football boot out of clay potty, spray-painted it gold and presented it to her as a keepsake.


“You should totally join the girls’ football team at school” Dave urged her.


“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves” Shannon retorted. “I’m in no way athletic - it was just sheer luck and chivalry on you guys’ part”. It did not go unnoticed that the guys were allowing her free space to kick the ball around whenever she had possession.


“But you could develop the skill and become a legend!!”


At that, she had rolled her eyes, along with her sleeves, and showed him the slight curvature of her wrists (carpel tunnel syndrome) and the lanky structure of her arms. She was always a skinny girl and opted away from physical activities because of her coordination with most things requiring use of limbs: it was poor to non-existent. It was a wonder that she could part her hair in a straight line down the centre!


Shannon was also a realist. While she didn’t always see the glass half-empty, she was sober-minded and always looked at the facts in every situation in order to manage her disappointments. Facts in this situation showed that she was too skinny and uncoordinated to seriously engage in sport of any kind.


She knew this and yet, the opportunity to get funding for her studies through playing a sport was brought to her attention a week after that game with the guys. So here she was, waiting to seize the chance. Daring herself to try, she psyched herself up mentally and decided to sign up with her school’s football team. At the sound of shuffling feet and a locker door banging shut in the distance, she ceased her magazine-foraging and prepared herself to approach the team’s coach. As she stood up, the hem of her over-sized sweat shirt hooked on to the edge of the bench and tore a straight vertical line up the left side.


“Darn it!” she cursed aloud, as a young man walked into the enclosure. Instinctively, she clutched at her side in an attempt to be modest. There were young ladies walking around shirtless, donning only sports bras and the pants of their kit, but Shannon wasn’t there yet. Her eyes met the curious gaze of the young man as he looked at her questioningly.


“Uhhh….I was expecting Coach Armstrong as I’m hoping to talk to him about joining the team” Shannon said then.


“He’s not back yet for the semester; family’s in self-quarantine. I’m filling in temporarily for the resumption of physical training” he said. Glancing stoically at her arms clutched to her side, he added “Everything ok there?”


“Just a little tête-á-tête” she replied, and he laughed out loud, somewhat mockingly.


“What’s so funny?” Shannon asked defensively. This guy was getting on her nerves already. She wanted to talk to Coach Armstrong, not this substitute who was obviously too young to be coaching a team of College players when he himself looked as if he was fresh out of school. He seemed quite rude in comparison to the kind Coach that Dave had described.


“Do you even know what that phrase means?” he replied. “It’s like a little secret or private thing between two people... So technically, you’d have to fess up if we’re having this conversation”.


“Really?” she asked dumbfounded. Her mother always used that term whenever Shannon had a little accident that she didn’t want to discuss or mull over. She'd had a lot of those growing up as she was an awkward kid who was quite accident-prone. Shannon never questioned the term or its meaning and used it often in the same context as her Mom ever since she learned to say the words. And til then, no one bothered to correct her.


He laughed again then and just nodded. Pulling open the zipper on his shoulder bag, he silently pulled out a small sewing kit and walked around her left side, examining the torn sweatshirt, still clutched protectively in her enclosed fists.


“Sit down” he said. And she silently obliged. He sat obliquely opposite her, placed his arms between her parted legs, grabbing the edge of the bench she was sitting on, and pulled it closer. He instructed her to hold the two ends of the shirt out in front of her as he proceeded to stitch up the tear in a matter of minutes.


Shannon held her breath.


Up close, she could see the splattering of freckles on his reddened cheek bones, the long strokes of his eyelashes that flicked with each bat of his eyelids as he focused on the task of sewing her shirt. She could smell him – a mixture of musk and sweat and something cinnamon. She wondered if the rapid rise and fall of his sculpted chest was due to his heartbeat quickening in pace as hers suddenly had. A few seconds ago, his laugh had irritated her and now she found herself being sucked in.

There were a few times in her life when she’d had a strong physical response to a guy. Her scientific brain would normally disallow any attraction outside of the discovery of shared values, interests and taste in food (her eating habits were of paramount importance in all her relationships – being lanky caused a lot of undue attention and unwarranted comments on her diet). This was one of those few times and it caught her off guard.


He was definitely having an effect on her. Kim was sure of it. He noticed her breathing as it gradually became ragged and he did a mental pep-talk about how to tactfully navigate away from this girl and any thoughts she might be entertaining, as soon as he was finished stitching her up.


Cody Joakim “Kim” Grady was not the most social person, especially when it came to the opposite sex. He was raised in a house by a single father with three brothers and their world was predominantly “male”. While he naturally found himself appreciating the beauty of women, that’s as far as his attraction and affinity for them tended to go. He had a hard time interacting with women in general as he would often say the wrong things, come across as harsh or insensitive, and not be able to understand their moods and the way they communicated them. One would think that a career in the sporting field would keep him away from the opposite sex but he was coming to realize that it was an impossible dream.


He'd loved football since he was a toddler and had dreams of playing for the English Premier League, being drafted to one of the elite clubs in the future. He’d graduated from college six years ago, in part due to a football scholarship, and was faring well in the local football fraternity until the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on everything. He'd begun to make a name for himself as the latest newspaper sports report that featured him boasted "Key Striker Kim Grady keeps Club Dragos in the Race". Now, to keep paying his bills and supporting his Dad and younger siblings, he opted to take on the part-time duty as an assistant coach and trainer of a female football team at a nearby college. It grated on his nerves that the universe would make such a colossal error in its bid to assist him by creating an opportunity that he craved but among an audience that he lacked the natural graces to interact with. Why couldn’t the male team need some assistance?


He looked at her then and recognized a mixture of fear and excitement in her eyes as he roughly tugged her sweatshirt down in a sign of resigned triumph. It was reflexive but he registered the 'unmanlyness' of it and muttered an apology under his breath. He put away his sewing kit, rose to his feet and began to walk away then before she stopped him.


“Aren’t you gonna tell me who you are and what I need to join the team?” she asked breathlessly.


“Since you’re the one interested and seeking to be involved then you should be the one doing your research and asking the questions” Kim replied. To him, he was simply stating the obvious but it came out quite condescendingly. He really needed to develop his social skills if he had to effectively work with these ladies. He acknowledged this fact as he saw the hurt in her reaction and immediately regretted his words.


“I’m sorry” he said then. “I’m really not great at interacting with people. I mostly play football and eat spicy Doritos. That’s it.”


She smiled then, the brightest beam with the whitest teeth as though she just discovered she’d won the lottery. As her entire countenance shifted, he was forced to notice the pale grey of her eyes and the dimple in her right cheek. There wasn’t one to match on the left and it shocked him that he would pay attention to that little detail. She pulled a pack of Doritos out of her backpack just then and tossed it in his direction. Normally, his reflexes were sharp but the angle of her throw was way off the mark and the snack managed to fly past his midsection landing loudly about three feet away from where he stood.


He wondered if her ability to kick ball was as awful as her throw, but silently pleaded with himself to withhold any comment. He didn't want to risk replacing that cheerful expression on her face with the horrified and fearful looks that he had gained moments before.


"I'm Kim Grady" he said then as he retrieved the snack packet from the floor.


"Nice to meet you Kim" Shannon replied. “I’m Shannon Baites and I would like to join the football team this semester”.


He was momentarily taken aback. Everyone on the team had looked quizzically at each other when he was introduced as Kim Grady. It was the usual response of females to his name. They’d comment that 'Kim' was a female name, and give all the usual rhetoric about it being short for Kimberly, etc. But Shannon just offered him her hand awkwardly and introduced herself. It was the second hit to his mid-section as her arm shot out to him just as quick and unexpectedly as the pack of Doritos that she’d tossed seconds ago, hitting him lightly above the groin.


What the girl lacked in coordination, she made up for in her patience with both him and herself. He noted that she was nonplussed about her awkwardness and yet not offended by his. They looked at each other in silence for a while and he perceived a mutual acceptance in the stare-off that seemed to agree that “This is who Kim is and this is what Shannon is about”. It left him feeling unsettled.


*****


Shannon was beside herself with glee in the weeks that ensued. Not only was Dave wrong about her being a natural at football (she was struggling to connect with the other girls on the team and her striker’s aim was only spot-on when there was no goalie in front of the net) but her need for coaching was an opportunity for her to become friendly with the new Temp trainer in the person of Kim. After discovering their common love for spicy Doritos and their shared awkwardness with social interactions – hers involving physical and athletic activities requiring teamwork and his involving general communication with people, particularly women – they shared an unspoken bond that saw them each trying doggedly to help the other. Shannon spent more time with Kim than needed after training sessions, helping him to work on his “responses” while relishing the time spent in his presence as she acknowledged her growing infatuation with the guy.


 It became an after-training routine of sorts for them to have one-on-one pep talks, arising from one specific incident where he had left Sarah Banning in tears. Sarah was the captain of the team and the most popular girl in school. She’d been flirting with Kim incessantly and he was not reciprocating her energy when she asked him one day if he was gay. He told her then that he didn’t fancy males but wasn’t interested in manly women like her either. What he had meant to say was that he didn’t like aggressive females and wasn't interested in any student, especially one as popular as Sarah. It was offensive and he never even bothered to apologize.


That was not the last of dear old Sarah though, as she had observed the connection between Shannon and Kim and started attacking Shannon indirectly as a result. On the pitch, during training, Sarah would intentionally foul Shannon or set her up to look silly.


In a friendly match with another team from a community college upstate, Kim had put Shannon to run Centre Back. Her game had improved somewhat as she had a steadier grasp of kicking the ball and passing to her teammates, but some poor passing and slip-and-falls had suffered them a three-nil score in favour of the guests at the first whistle to end the half.


Kim had seen that look in Shannon’s eyes once before; a look of fear mixed with dejection, and he didn’t like it. He’d grown concerned for Shannon in a way that he had not experienced with a female before. He kept telling himself that he saw her as a sister and nothing else but could not ignore the way her grey eyes drew him whenever she tried to help him work on his social graces with the girls on the team. That was his struggle for which she was his coach, and he felt like he owed her his loyalty. As she dropped herself on the sideline and grabbed her bottle of Gatorade, he approached her and whispered “half time”. She looked up at him then, half-smiling.


“I know it’s over, and we’ll lose this game because of me” Shannon said.


“That’s the thing” Kim retorted. “You can’t claim victory or defeat until the last whistle blows. It’s only half-time babe”.


Babe.


He said it unconsciously and they both registered the shock of the endearment simultaneously. Shannon had learnt to read Kim so well at that point that she saw him mentally struggling as he opened his mouth to say something in consternation.


“Just a little tête-á-tête” she said, winking at him before he could say anything further. And he smiled then, recognizing the humour in her use of the phrase once again. It was not so hard to communicate with females after all, once you found a female who could communicate with you. Looking thoughtfully at her before addressing the team, Kim silently reminded himself that he was six years older than she was; that she was a student at a college under his charge, and that he was just “passing through”.


The ‘Friendly’ ended in a four-all draw with no entertained penalties for a tie-breaker. They had come back from being down by three goals to matching the guest team’s final ball count. It was the perfect ending to an exasperating day and Shannon wanted to celebrate with Kim.


“Do I look like an idiot to you?” he said forcefully when she suggested it. There it was again, the inconsiderate response. What he’d meant, and Shannon patiently translated, was that he could lose his job if he was reported to have close personal relations with a female student. It was standard policy. Before her countenance could fall, he offered for them to head to the outdoor cafeteria close to the bleachers, grab some Doritos, Coke and dip, and chill. It was all Shannon could do to contain herself as she agreed to meet up with him after she showered.


It became their second ritual over the rest of his tenure as the team’s trainer. They would celebrate every success by sitting together in the bleachers, eating spicy Doritos and dip, sipping canned coke, and discussing random facts, among other things. They’d built a relationship that was not verbally acknowledged but expressed with each interaction.


Eventually, Kim decided it was time to address the pink elephant in the room.


“I don’t plan to be in your life forever” he said to her. Translation: his tenure was ending soon as Coach Armstrong was scheduled to be back in a few weeks.


“It’s only half-time” she replied then, as she gazed fervently into his eyes. In the seconds of silence that followed, he had to do his own translating. For once, in his social-interactions-with-females ‘game’, the whistle had not yet blown and there was a high probability that he could win this one in the end.

August 13, 2020 20:09

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