TEAM PLAYERS - Stephanie Brother
Maggie’s a team player. It has been the common thread linking every school report from kindergarten through high school, and it’s the same in college. She’s great at team sports. She’s great at teamwork in class. She knows how to bring people together to work toward a shared goal. Maggie’s dedicated to keeping the cheer squad united.
What they don’t say is that I’m a people pleaser.
I want people at college to like me so much that I put all my thoughts and feelings aside. I know the consequences of running my mouth, so I don’t voice my opinions. I learned young that keeping my emotions bottled tight is the only way to keep friends.
Except sometimes people pleasing backfires, at least when you focus on pleasing the wrong people. It backfires even more when you try to put aside the feelings of others and please yourself.
That’s how I find myself sitting on the edge of the bath, clutching a white stick in my hand as two small blue lines decide my future.
I’m only nineteen. I have plans. I have hopes and dreams. I have a life ahead of me that should be about me spreading my wings, but none of that is possible now. The crushing weight of what is happening makes me gasp. It’s a pathetic sound that shames me.
I’m the same age my mom was when she found out she was pregnant with me. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, despite the years of her telling me that nineteen is too young to be a mom and how she wasn’t ready. I’m pretty clear that my arrival wasn’t welcomed at first. She has been a good mom to me, I can’t complain, but there has always been the ghost of the sacrifice she made for me drifting between us.
And now I have to make the same sacrifice. They say that in order to understand someone, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. I’m about to understand my mom a whole lot better.
At least she had my dad for a while. At least he stuck by her for long enough that she could cope on her own.
I think about telling Justin. What will he say? For a moment, my mind runs away with the fantasy: I find Justin after practice when he’s still sweaty and muddy and gorgeous. We sit on the grass behind the sports hall, and I struggle to say the words, but when I do, he puts his arm around me, cradling my head against his still pounding heart. He tells me it’ll be okay. It’s not a perfect situation, but we can make it. He wants to do better than his own douchebag dad. But just as quickly as the fantasy forms, it slips away.
I’m not dating Justin. He doesn’t love me. We had a few afternoons at his house while his mom was still at work, where we found solace in each other’s bodies, and I constructed an imaginary relationship that would grow between us. It wouldn’t be easy. Cathy had been dating Justin on and off since we were thirteen, so she would always feel like she had a claim to him. They weren’t dating anymore, but I knew that wouldn’t matter. Justin knew too. It’s why everything about what we were doing had to be kept a secret.
It can’t be kept a secret anymore.
This moment, sitting on the edge of the bath in my momma’s bathroom, seems like the end of my childhood. It seems like the end of my world as I know it.
Little do I know it will be the start of something so amazing.
“I need to talk to you,” I whisper as I pass Justin in the library. He’s dressed in dark slim-fit jeans that show off his powerful legs and a gray sweater that clings to arms I know are strong enough to flip me over into any position he wants.
His eyes narrow. Me talking to him like this in front of people isn’t allowed. Gossip spreads through this place like wildfire, and I can already feel interested eyes resting on us. “Later,” he hisses, glancing around. He passes me, pulling his bag more firmly onto his shoulder, and I make the mistake of watching him leave just a little too long. It’s the swagger in his gait that has me mesmerized. I know how that ass feels thrusting under my fingers. I know how salty his skin tastes when he’s worked up a sweat to