Soccer was always one of my best sports.
I was the keeper — everyone relied on me to keep our net safe. For my whole life I’d been accustomed to insane pressure of all sorts: shootouts, fights, exams, parties, girls... Girls were always the worst. There were certain people I could talk to, and others I had to avoid at all costs.
There was one girl at my school who I had ignored for years. She was basically gorgeous, but her friends were punks and druggies. I wasn’t socially allowed to talk to her, and I hadn’t really wanted to, either.
But that changed when my English teacher paired us together for a poetry assignment. He didn’t realize that he had changed my life that day.
Mr. Doug trailed his finger down our attendance sheet until it crossed my name. “Brandon and...” He looked across the blank faces in our classroom, searching for the last person without a partner. However, I already knew who I would work with.
“Allison,” he called. “Now get to work, class. I want to know every detail about that poem.” He sat on his chair and grabbed a novel.
I looked at Allison without smiling. No one wanted anything to do with her, and I was included in that number.
She sighed to herself. Clearly, she didn’t think much of me, either.
I grabbed my notebook and moved to her side.
“All right, let’s get this done,” she said briskly in her low voice. “This line here means that the author’s emotionally depressed.” She pointed to the second line and wrote her statement next to it.
I did the same and followed her lead.
“And this one”—she pointed again—“means that he can’t seem to capture his love’s
I wrote that down too.
The rest of the poem analysis went along those lines. She said, and I took note.
When we were finished, she opened a French book and began answering questions.
I started to get up, but I didn’t want to go sit in my spot yet. I would look like a loser being by myself.
“Didn’t you do your homework?” I teased.
“Late soccer practice,” she replied without looking up.
“You play soccer?” I demanded in shock. I hadn’t seen that coming at all.
“There are other people and teams in the world besides you and yours,” she informed me coldly.
My laughter wasn’t something I could hold back. “What position?”
“Midfield,” she answered nonchalantly.
“Oh.” I grinned. “I’m a keeper.”
“I know.” Her tone was still ice cold.
My smile faded. “Do you have a problem with me?”
“Why are you even trying to make conversation?” she retorted. “We’ve never talked since like grade five.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll go then.”
And so I did. I stood and left her and her dark attitude alone, just where she ought to be. It wasn’t normal for me to want to talk to her any more than was necessary for our work... So why did I want to?
The bell soon rang, and I was released from class.
During the next few weeks, I learned a lot about Allison by just paying attention. She was head of the school yearbook photographers, she drank peach juice every day, she never missed class, and she didn’t seem to like anyone apart from the people in her small group of friends.
Every day I noticed something new. Like how her hair looked like it was made of gold when it caught the sun, or how she had a habit of chewing on the end of her pen while she thought. I knew almost everything there was to know about her face — but I needed more. I wanted to know who she was.
I tried talking to my team about it, but that didn’t get me anywhere.
We were doing our run before practice started, so I asked what they thought of Allison Brooks.
“One word for you, bro,” Kevin, the best forward on our team, said. “Hot.”
“Yeah, but she’s dirty,” Mark, the left-field defence, muttered. “Or at least the people she hangs with are. Like...filthy.”
I frowned. They were partially right, but that didn’t make me like her any less. It made me wish I could watch her without being seen. If only I could turn invisible.
A full month passed before I built up the courage to talk to her again. This time, I wouldn’t be such a failure at conversation. I would talk to her, and we would eventually become friends. It was my plan.
Things didn’t go so smoothly, though.
I started the conversation by asking if she had an extra pencil before class. She pulled one out of her binder and handed it to me without really glancing away from her page.
“So...that was a nice A we got on our poetry assignment,” I murmured. What was I supposed to say?
Her pen hesitated over the paper. “What do you want, Brandon?”
“Am I not allowed to be nice to you?”
“You never have been before.”
This was true, but I shoved that small fact away to a far corner of my brain. “I’m starting now.”
Finally, her blue eyes flashed to my face, and she said in what must have been the kindest voice in all of history, “Did you lose a bet?”
I blinked, not understanding.
A sour look crept over her face, and she returned her attention to the thing she was writing.
“Allison, can’t we be friends?” I asked in a tiny voice.
“You know what?” she demanded. “You popular guys think your little jokes like this are so funny, but they’re really not. No one’s laughing, so just give it up.”
That hurt me. She thought I was doing this as a prank.
“No, I just wanted to get to know you.”
“Why?” There was complete shock in her voice.
“Because it... We’ve been in the same classes for so long, I just wanted to...” My voice died down and I didn’t know what to say.
“Is there anything else?” she asked slowly.
“Do you want to go to a movie Friday?” I blabbed. It surprised even me.
Allison raised her eyebrows. “No thanks, Brandon.”
Humiliated and in pain, I walked back to my desk and sank into my chair.
I threw myself into soccer to hide the anger. I thought maybe I could get it all out by being a great keeper...but things weren’t that simple.
We were playing the weakest team in the league, winning by five points, when I accidentally kicked the ball over the small black gate near me. I hopped the fence — ignoring the commands of my coaches — and looked both ways before crossing the busy street in front of me.
The ball was sitting in a small pond, so it took some effort to grab. However, I soon retrieved it and began to head back to my game.
My teammates were all grinning as I trudged back toward the street. I wasn’t usually the one to disobey my orders, so this turn of events amused them.
I stared down at the mud on my shoes and grimaced. Not only would I be doing push-ups for my behaviour, but my mom would be mad that I’d already gotten my new cleats filthy.
The strangest thing happened. I heard a horn, a loud screech, and a thump. My body felt different all of a sudden. I didn’t feel tired anymore. And my usually sore ankles didn’t have their usual pain. What happened?
Everyone on the field started sprinting toward me. Terror was the only thing on their faces, and my name was being screamed by a woman.
Cell phones were whipped out faster than I would have thought possible. Everyone seemed to suddenly have to call someone, and they were all yelling at the person on the other end of the line.
The crowd circled around something to my left. Dumbfounded, I turned and watched.
There was a white van parked at an odd angle for being on this busy road. There was a person visible in the driver’s seat, their hands pressed against their face. They were almost as pale as their car.
It took me a few seconds to realize that this was the shriek of my own mother. The sound pierced through all the other commotion like a bullet. It echoed off of everything.
I took a step forward.
“Brandon! Brandon! Brandon!” The pain in my mother’s screams was enough to shatter glass in an instant. She couldn’t say anything but my name, and I couldn’t understand why.
Something red caught my attention on the hood of the van.
“The ambulance is on its way!” a man yelled as he pushed his way through the people. “Please, move aside! I’m a doctor!”
A small pathway was formed for him, so I followed along just a half step behind the man.
“It won’t do much good,” a woman whispered to her husband as I passed. “There’s no way that he’s...”
“Brandon!” My mother’s agonized shouts turned to sobs as she buried her face into my father’s chest. “Brandon...”
My dad had always been the strongest person in a situation. He never shed a tear.
Now, however, his face was wet and puffy, and he held onto my mother so tightly that I thought she was going to snap in half.
My eyes drifted away from the horrible sight of them, and landed on the red mangled thing on the ground. There were limbs twisted around and blood gushing all over the pavement.
My pale, lifeless face stared at me from the ground.
The doctor pressed his two fingers against the body’s throat. He then put his two hands together and started doing compressions against its chest.
Everyone around started backing away. One man vomited on the ground; a woman fainted. Tears fell down the faces of my friends; other people couldn’t seem to shut their mouths.
This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. I wasn’t dying. I was alive. I was right next to them!
“Mom,” I whispered. Then, louder, “Mom! Stop crying! I’m okay!”
She kept on screaming and gasping for air against my father.
“Dad! Can’t you see me? I’m alive!”
I could hear sirens off in the distance.
“Listen to me!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
No one heard me. No one saw me. No one knew I was there.
I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could. It wasn’t happening. It wasn’t possible. I was at home. I was in my bedroom, sleeping in my bed. I was having a terrible nightmare. This was not real.
My eyes opened and the sound of screaming and crying and sirens was gone. I stared at the white paint on my ceiling. I gasped for air and tried to calm myself down.
That was the absolute worst dream of my life.
I slid out of bed and stood up straight. I was expecting to fall over right away, but my legs didn’t shake with the weakness I felt.
Something wasn’t right.
Slowly, as if I couldn’t bear to look quickly, I glanced down at my clothes.
I was wearing my muddy cleats.