Jessie takes a breath before stepping onto the field where the other girls are warming up. She scans around the field, it’s a much nicer facility than the one at her old school. The one they had was run down and the nets had patchy holes in them. Here, there seem to be endless soccer balls and fancy netting. A blonde girl walks up to her and snaps her out of thought, she sticks her hand out friendly.
“The name’s Sam Mewis,” The blonde girl smiles at her, making Jessie feel a little more welcome.
Jessie smiles back politely and takes her hand with a firm shake, “I’m Jessie,”
They start warming up together and Sam asks Jessie about where she moved from. Jessie explains that they moved from Canada because her dad needed a new job.
“You ready for your first day next week?” Sam asks curiously.
Jessie shrugs, “I mean no, not really,”
“We’ll always remember I’m the first friend you made here!” Sam says excitedly. Jessie’s glad that she found Sam so she doesn’t have to stand awkwardly by herself.
“I guess, you're stuck with me now,” Jessie jokes as they grab two balls and head over to the rest of the girls where the coach is standing.
They start out practice with a mile run followed by sprints and finally a scrimmage. Jessie’s a bit out of breath by the time the scrimmage rolls around by nevertheless she’s excited to see how she matches up to the other girls.
She learns the name of the girls on her team, Janine, Tobin, Emily, Alex, Jordyn, and Teagan the goalkeeper. Sam’s on the other team with some players and Mallory, which as Teagan informs her, is their team captain, she also realizes later that she’s her neighbor.
The girl seems pretty confident as she steps on the field. Her hair’s in a bun and Jessie finds herself staring for a second before she catches herself. She shakes it off and waits for the coach to blow his whistle, after that, she gives it her all.
Things are going great by the time the first water break rolls around. Jessie’s scores her first goal a few minutes after the whistle blows and her teammates look pretty impressed. Even Tobin pats her on the back and praises her ball handling skills.
What happens after the water break is a whole different story. She’s dribbling down the side of the field, trying to look for Alex to cross the ball to, when Mal comes out of nowhere and wipes her out with a dirty slide tackle. She groans as her body hits the ground with a thud and the coach blows his whistle as he comes jogging over.
“Pugh! Two laps!” He points to the track and Mallory groans but compiles, not even trying to plead her case.
Jessie sits up on the turf and pulls her socks up, Coach Aaron looks at her with concern, “You ok kid?”
Jessie nods, “Yeah, I’m ok, thanks,”
Coach reaches out his hand to help her up, “You’re doing good,” It gives her all the confidence to score 2 more goals on the other team.
Mallory and her end up as the last two people packing up on the field. She looks over to see the girl quietly taking off her cleats. Jessie doesn’t really understand why Mallory tackled her so aggressively earlier but she doesn’t think about it too much. Instead, she walks over to the girl and introduces herself.
“Hey, I’m Jessie,” She sticks out her hand as Sam did earlier.
Mallory looks up at her hand for a second before taking it, “Mallory,” she says hesitantly and continues, “Sorry ‘bout the tackle earlier,”
“It happens to everyone,” Jessie reassures her and walks back to retrieve her stuff.
She’s about to leave when Mallory asks her an unexpected question.
“Hey, weird question, but are you, my neighbor?”
Jessie laughs, she swore that Mallory saw her move in but maybe the girl wasn’t paying attention.
Mallory gets her car keys out of her training bag, “Come on, I’ll take you home, it’s the least I can do after making you eat it like that,” She teases.
Jessie follows her to her car and gets in, Mallory throws both their bags in the backseat and jumps in the driver’s seat and starts the car.
“So where you from?” Mallory asks, her eyes focusing on the road.
“London,” Jessie answers simply and Mallory looks at her in confusion.
“But you don’t have a British accent,”
Jessie laughs softly this is usually the reaction people get when she tells people, “London, Ontario, not Great Britain,”
Mallory lets out a beautiful laugh, “I knew you were too nice to be from around here,”
Jessie doesn’t know whether she should feel flattered but she just smiles politely and before they know it Mallory’s pulling up in front of her house. There are still piles of boxes sitting outside, yet to be brought in.
Mallory peers out the passenger side window, “You need any help unpacking?”
Jessie shakes her head, “Those are just stuff for the garage, thanks for the ride Mallory,”
“It’s Mal, you can call me Mal,”
Jessie cocks her head to the side, “Alright, see you around Mal,”
Mal waves and then she drives off and turns into her own driveway a few feet away from where Jessie stands with a goofy smile that she’s trying to hide.
Jessie doesn’t think too much of her encounter with Mal instead she takes a quick shower and then helps her sister out with some chores.
She’s always been really close with her sister Elsie, although they’ve had their fair share of bickering, at the end of the day Jessie’s gonna be there for her no matter what. She knows that this big move has been tough on her sister. Uprooting a middle schooler still trying to find her place in this world is, to say the least, rough.
The only reason Elsie agreed to the move is because their dad agreed to build them a treehouse in the backyard. That’s what he’s been doing for the past 2 weeks of summer and now it’s the start of the school year and he still hasn’t unpacked the boxes up front, no matter how much her mom nags him. Since it’s still summer, they decide to go play some pickup soccer in the street since her dad’s equipment is all over the yard.
“You ready to lose?” Elsie grabs the ball from her and runs out to the street. Jessie smirks and runs after her, “only losers trash talk,” she shoots back and they start an intense game of pickup.
Jessie’s about to score her 2nd goal when her sister stops and waves to someone behind her. She turns around and sees her teammate standing there smiling at them.
“You wanna join?” she asks gesturing at the ball.
“She’s on my team!” Elsie exclaims excitedly waving Mallory over to her.
They play for a bit until all three of them are sitting on the curb trying to catch their breaths. Elsie goes inside to shower before it’s her bedtime but Jessie sits outside with Mal for a little longer. The summer breeze is nice and she’s trying to savor it before the fall winds come along in a few months.
“She’s really good,” Mal comments.
Jessie smiles proudly, “Yea she’s gonna be a superstar someday,”
Mal looks at her, “and what about you?”
Jessie shrugs, “I guess we’ll see,”
They sit in silence for a while looking at the mountains that Mallory probably has grown tired of over the years but to Jessie, it’s a new concept for her to be completely surrounded by mountains. She’s not quite ready to leave this summer freedom but school means soccer. Jessie watches the sky turns into a marvelous shade of pink before calling it a night.
“See you around, Fleming,”
She’s sore the next few days at practice but the team is a lot more welcoming than she first imagined and she starts to let loose more around her teammates. She finds out that Janine looks tough as nails on the outside but she always has your back. She learns that she gravitates towards Tobin, the quiet girl who reminds her a lot of herself. Teagan brings out the goofy side in her and so does Kelley, those two are always messing around but when it’s time to buckle down to business they make that transition in a split second.
The feeling of finding a place in this team is a lot different than her old team. Jessie was the best player on her old team but the girls alienated her more times than not and they never dreamed of going anywhere with soccer. Here, she hears about Ashlyn talking about what playing for the U-18’s was like and Tobin’s humbleness about getting a few call-ups to the senior national team. It’s enlightening.
She feels the exhaustion seeping in her sore muscles after practice on Thursday but she sucks it up and helps her dad put the finishing touches on their tree house.
“I met our neighbor under some unfortunate circumstances yesterday,” Her dad mentions as he tightens a bolt on the roof.
“Oh and why’s that,”
Her dad puts down the crank and wipes the sweat off his forehead, he points at the side of the treehouse that hangs over into the Pugh’s yard.
“He said that I couldn’t build on his property and we argued and then god bless his daughter, she comes out and begs him to let me build it.”
Jessie scrunches her eyebrows up in confusion, why would Mal do that.
“She got him to agree as long as I build her a ladder on her side,” her dad continues.
Jessie laughs, “So who’s gonna tell Elsie that we’re gonna have to share our tree house,”
Her dad groans when Jessie quickly touches her nose and shouts, “nose goes!”
“Go help your mom set the table, I’ll deal with her,” he says at last and Jessie runs inside.
Eventually, her sister returns inside and sits down at the dinner table grumpily, her face a little flushed but her mom cheers her up by mentioning shopping for room decor.
She finds her first class fine, thanks to Sam. who she bumps into in the hallway. Turns out, they have American Government together first period. Jessie’s thankful that all they od is class introductions, she’s not sure she’s ready to do classwork on the first day of school. After first period Sam says goodbye and quickly rushes off to her next class, leaving Jessie alone trying to figure out her next class. She’s about to be late when someone taps her on the shoulders. She turns around to see Mal standing behind her.
“You lost?” Mal grabs her schedule out of her hands and studies it for a second.
“It’s like every hallway looks the same,”
Mal starts walking and Jessie follows closely behind.
“What are you doing?” Mal turns around while still walking, “I’m taking you to class,”
“You’re gonna be late.” Jessie points out.
“They stop in front of her math class and Mal smiles softly, “I’ll be okay,”
Mal starts to walk away but she stops abruptly, “meet me at the front after school, I’ll drive you home,”
She’s bored out of her mind by lunch. Teagan texts her during 3rd period about where their team usually sits during lunch. Turns out, she doesn’t even need it, as soon as she walks in the cafeteria she sees Kelley and Teagan messing around. She sits down by Janine and greets her friends. Janine’s a fellow Canadian, she moved here her freshman year. They got nicknamed the “Canadian twins” after finding out their common homeland.
‘Hey Jessica, how was your morning?” Janine asks her.
“Why’s this school so big?”
Tobin laughs, “You’ll get used it,”
She sees Mal standing by a guy laughing by the lunch line. Teagan see’s her staring and whispers, “That’s her boyfriend of the week,” The look Tegan gives her tells her not to ask. Mal stops by their table for a few minutes towards the end of lunch to remind the team that there’s no practice on the first day of school, Tobin and Kelley groan and Jessie figures they’re probably gonna practice on their own anyway.
Mal drives her home and Jessie invites her over to do some homework. They sprawl out on the floor of Jessie’s bedroom. It’s the first day so they finish quickly and doing homework turns into talking.
“So it’s a tradition every first week of school,” Mal begins, “that someone throws a party before everyone gets too busy with homework,”
“You going?” Jessie asks curiously.
Mal nods, “Yeah, most of the girls are going, I was wondering if you’d wanna go?”
“I’m not really much of a party person,” Jessie answers shyly. It’s more like no one’s really ever invited her to a high school party.
“Come on it’ll be fun, you don’t have to drink if you don’t feel comfortable,” Mal says trying to convince her.
Jessie gives it some thought but eventually she caves after Mal emphasizes the free food that the party will provide. She’s got two days to back out of this party if she gets to psyched out she reluctantly agrees, maybe she needs this fresh start.
They’re on their backs and the conversation just flows. They talk about their childhoods, Mal telling Jessie about all the things she has to try in Colorado. Jessie opens up to Mal about life back in Canada, the friends she left behind. They talk until around dinner time when Jessie walks her friend back to her house next door. Her friend looks nervous as she enters her house and Jessie stays for a second outside, she hears some yelling but concludes that it’s not her business to dwell in.
The day of the party she’s exhausted but Mal still drags her out of the house with a pout on her face that Jessie fails at resisting.
She wears a simple button up with some ripped back jeans, her hair is pulled up in her classic ponytail. She’s pretty sure that when she jumps in Mal’s car, the girl gives her a once over before biting her lips.
Jessie thinks Mal doesn’t look so bad herself, the girl’s wearing a flowy blouse with some whitewashed jeans. Actually, Jessie thinks Mal looks like one of those models you see on magazines, but she’d never share that with anyone.
Mal joins some of the team in getting a few drinks when they get to the party and Teagan whips Jessie away to play some beer pong. Jessie’s never been that great at party games but it turns out she has an impeccable aim and they end up winning 4 rounds before Teagan gets a little too tipsy to aim straight. Jessie drank a bottle of beer earlier and she’s been drinking water ever since, she’s not a big drinker, alcohol gives her big migraines. She plays FIFA with some of the friendly soccer guys she meets and it’s nice to get away from the crowded dance floor/living room. She starts looking for Mal around 11 since it’s a school night and finds her drunkenly wandering around upstairs.
“Oh hey Jessie,” Mal greets her, she’s clearly slurring her words. Jessie sighs, “How much did you drink?” she helps Mal find her balance.
“I lost track-,” Mal stops mid-sentence and bolts for the nearest bathroom, she grabs the toilet and starts puking her guts out. Jessie kneels down next to the girl and pats her back, she’s not sure what to do.
She slides out Mal’s keys from the girl’s pocket and puts it in her own, there’s no way she’s letting her drive them home.
Mal stops throwing up and sits by the toilet breathless. Jessie grabs a towel and dabs at her mouth to clean her up. She gently tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and rubs calm circles around her back.
“Come on I’m driving you home,” she helps Mal off the ground, her friend doesn’t look too well.
Jessie snakes an arm around her waist letting Mal lean into her.
They struggle but eventually Jessie gets Mal to settle down in the car before she starts it and drives towards their houses.
She’s not quite sure how to get Mal back into her house without waking Mal’s planets. She feels the arms around her tighten when she gets the girl out of the car. Mal buries her face in shoulder, “I don’t wanna go home,”
Jessie runs her hands through Mal’s hair in comfort.
“Come on you have to,” Mal shakes her head like a child, “My parents are fighting they never notice if I’m home anyways,” she says in a voice that breaks Jessie’s heart. She sighs and locks Mal’s car and guides her towards her own house.
“You’re staying with me,”
Mal looks surprised but she doesn’t lighten her hold as they try to get into the house as quiet as possible. Jessie’s parents are okay with her drinking because they know she doesn’t do a lot of it anyways/ She knows they’ll understand. She gives Mal some comfortable clothes to slip in while she wakes her dad up to inform him of their situation. He tells her he’s proud she’s taking care of her people and goes back to bed. When she gets back to her room, Mal’s climbing into bed.
The girl looks at her wearily.
“Do you want me to call your boyfriend?”
“No, I’ve never told anyone about this,” After that she passes out.
Jessie gets in bed but sleep doesn't come easily for her. She can’t grasp why her heart hurts so much for the girl sleeping next to her. Her thoughts turn into dreams until alarm breaks her out of her peaceful slumber. The first thing she hears is Mal groaning next to her. She quickly grabs her phone and turns off the piercing sound.
Her mom makes Mal a hangover smoothie, her friend takes it sheepishly a little embarrassed. Her parents make sure Mal knows she has a place in their house if anything ever happens. Jessie waits in the driver's seat while Mal get’s her backpack from her house.
“Were your parents home?”
No they both work,” Mal says massaging her temples. Jessie looks at her with sympathy.
“I’ve never had someone take care of me like that,” Mal admits and Jessie glances at her from the corner of her eye.
“I know that we just met like 2 weeks ago but, whatever’s going on you can tell me,”
Mal looks down sadly, “Just shitty parenting,” she laughs sarcastically to deflect the sadness of the situation.
Her dad invites over Mal and he reveals that he finished the treehouse yesterday. They climb up into the spacious house and Elsie bounces with excitement. She smiles when she sees a nook in the corner with a bookshelf filled with her favorite books. From beside her, she sees Mal looking around with amazement.
“It has a good view of the sunrise,” she points out at the big window in front of them. Jessie nods, “Put it on our bucket list,”
“We have a bucket list?”
Jessie feels herself blush but she plays it cool, “Of course,”
They stay up there for hours, laying on the ground staring up at the ceiling. Jessie feels like she’s known Mal all her life and it’s scary considering she’s known the girl for only a few weeks.
Maybe she’s starting to find her place.