Playing Hurt - By Holly Schindler


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A camera winks at me from high in the bleachers like we’re sharing a secret. Fans in the home section of the Fair Grove High gym smile in envy as I hurry toward the bench, wishing some winking camera had ever, in their entire lives, shared a secret with them.

Other cameras follow suit, flashes popping at me from all over as I jog the last few steps to the huddle. Each step sends fiery sparks through my hips—sparks I’ve been trying to ignore during practice for the last week and a half.

I fight a grimace and tell myself I’m doing a good job covering up the pain. But when I glance up at the bleachers, I realize my little brother’s squinting at me from behind his thick glasses. He lowers his camcorder, wrinkles his face into a worried frown.

I try to turn my attention back toward Coach Tindell, but my eyes bounce from the dried-up apple-doll face of my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Williams, to my second-grade teacher (who’s wearing an absurdly large pair of papier-mâché basketball-shaped earrings), then to our mail carrier, to the boy who kissed me on the playground on the last day of the fourth grade, to two distant cousins, to Mack, owner of the Quick Mart down the block from my house (who constantly brags about patching the front tire on my cherry-red Camaro last spring the same way he might brag about patching up Brad Pitt’s ride). My Camaro is now parked in the Fair Grove High lot, slathered in well-wishes from my boyfriend, Gabe, who is as sweet as a box of Valentine’s Day candy hearts. Go Chelsea! he’s written with windshield markers. #23! And, Nitro! which is the only thing the rest of the team calls me anymore.

“Doesn’t look like a ball player,” I hear trickle from the crowd. The sentence has been following me everywhere, flopping around like an untied shoelace ever since I was profiled by USA WEEKEND Magazine, since I was pictured on the cover of their issue highlighting the best female high school athletes in the country. My airbrushed, ultra-flattering portrait revealed that I was toned but not body-builder enormous; that unlike the stereotypical female basketball player, I also have most-definitely girly addictions—to strawberry-tinted lip gloss, waterproof mascara, and my straightening iron.

Doesn’t look like a ball player. As that sentence floats, I get the urge to say something like, “Get real—women were playing basketball at Smith College in 1892,” or, “Wasn’t Title IX forty freaking years ago?” or, “I certainly hope we’re past making jokes about butch girl jocks.” Or, “How many more times, as women, are we going to have to prove that feminine and powerful can, in fact, be synonyms?”

“… thousand shots a day … set shots, lay-ups, free throws,” I hear drifting from the crowd. “Five-mile run, an hour at the weight bench.” They all know my daily workout routine. They all talk big about it, beam the way most people do when talking about their kids.

As I glance up at the bleachers, I see a couple of posterboard signs hovering above the heads of the crowd, the hand-painted messages screaming Chelsea Keyes—Pride of Fair Grove!

I wipe my sweaty forehead with my fingertips. The humidity in the gym hangs in the air like a soaking wet sheet on a clothesline. But the rest of the team is still smooth-skinned. Almost powdery. Not a single sweat-shine on any of their cheeks.

“Work ethic powered by nitroglycerin,” someone says from the front row of the bleachers. It should rev me, the way the Fair Grove fans are talking me up, thinking I’m like the active ingredient in dynamite. It should inspire me far more than Tindell’s quickie pep talk. Instead, the words sit heavy across my shoulders like a barbell. Like something I need to lift.

Our team breaks from the huddle; when I turn back toward the court, though, somebody’s got their hand around my wrist.

“Do you need to sit this out?” Brandon hisses. He’s standing up, right there in the front row of the bleachers, the entire town of Fair Grove watching him. I glance down at the camcorder, which he’s lowered but hasn’t turned off. The power light flashes as it records my every move.

I try to wrench my arm away, but he just grips me tighter. “You’re not hurt, are you?” he asks.

“Don’t be such a twerpy, jealous little sib,” I snap, far more nastily than I’d intended.

I jog back toward the center of the court,