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It was a slow day at the office.

Alyssa tapped her foot impatiently as she stared at the time in the corner of her computer screen. It was almost time for her to get out of there.

Working for her mother wasn’t exactly where Alyssa Greene saw herself at twenty five years old. In fact, ten years ago, she wanted nothing more than to get out from under her mother’s strangling grasp. And yet she found herself sitting at her desk in her mother’s real estate office, wishing she had figured out what the hell she wanted to do with her life in college so she wouldn’t be stuck here.

At least the pay was pretty good.

Just before the clock turned to four in the afternoon, Alyssa heard the click of heels approaching her desk, the familiar sound of her mother’s gait. She quickly sat upright, straightening her shoulders and opened an email draft to make herself look busy.

“Alyssa, don’t slouch,” was the first thing her mother said when she walked up. Alyssa fought the urge to roll her eyes. “I need you to send the Mason’s photos of the house on Olive Street as soon as possible.”

Alyssa frowned. “There are pictures in the listing on the website.”

“Yes, they saw those, but they didn’t like the angle of the shots in the bedroom and the kitchen,” she explained. “I need you to go to the house to take new pictures and send it to them as soon as possible.”

“Mom, I’m leaving early today.”

“When were you leaving again?”

“Uh, now?”

“And where were you going?”

“Shelby needs help finding a Christmas gift for Kaylee,” Alyssa lied. She glanced up at her mom to gage her mother’s reaction, but she kept the same blase, disinterested expression, so Alyssa continued, “She asked me to go shopping with her.”

“Right, of course.” The chirp of a ringing phone drew her mother’s attention. She frowned and ignored the call before she continued. “It shouldn’t take more than half an hour, I’m sure Shelby won’t mind waiting. I’ll even let you use the car so you don’t have to take the bus into the city.”

“But—”

“Alyssa, this is very important. I think we can get an offer out of them today, they just need these pictures.”

“Okay, okay.” Alyssa opened her desk drawer and grabbed the Canon T6 she used for all their website photos. “I’ll be quick.”

Before stood from her desk, she shot off a quick email from her personal account that she was running late.

“Thank you, Alyssa,” her mother said, and offered her the car keys. “And please don’t try to rush through taking these photos, they need to look good.”

“I know,” Alyssa grumbled as she brushed past her mother. She wrapped a scarf around her neck and braced herself for the cold.

Alyssa sped to the house and let herself inside, making quick work of taking the requested photos. Under her breath she cursed the Mason’s for being so particular about the photos they wanted. They didn’t like the angle the pictures were taken? She had half a mind to take her time and capture a photo from every single possible angle in the rooms and send the Mason’s a ZIP file with dozens of photos that were nearly identical, but she didn’t have the time to be petty today.

She rushed back to the office to do a quick touch up of the photos she took before sending the files off to the Mason’s and praying that her mother didn’t call her for anymore tasks before she darted out the door.

Alyssa plugged the address into her phone’s GPS and groaned when she saw that afternoon traffic had picked up. She was going to be very late.

Forty minutes later, Alyssa pulled into visitor parking at South Garden Apartments and rushed to the front desk inside.

“Hi,” she said to the woman sitting there. “I’m here to look at apartment 4B.”

“4B?” the woman asked. Alyssa nodded. She hummed to herself as she typed something in on her computer. “I’m so sorry, it looks like that unit is no longer available.”

“What?” Alyssa gasped. “It was just free this morning, that’s why I’m here!”

“Yeah, it looks like the paperwork is still processing, so it must have happened in the last hour or so.”

“Do you have any other units available that I can look at?” Alyssa asked.

“No, sorry,” the woman said with a frown. “I can let you know when we have openings, but I can’t guarantee that there will be availability anytime soon.”

“It’s fine,” Alyssa sighed. “Thanks for your help.”

Alyssa walked back out to the car and rested her forehead on the steering wheel. “Shit,” she muttered.

Her phone rang, and Alyssa saw a photo of Shelby grinning at her. She rolled her eyes and answered.

“What’s up, Shelby?”

“Your mom called,” Shelby said. “She wanted me to remind you to bring the car back in one piece.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alyssa groaned.

“Why am I your excuse this time?”

“I wanted to look at an apartment.”

“And?”

“No dice,” Alyssa groaned. “I’m never going to get out of my mother’s house at this rate.”

“Well, since you’re free now and you’re already in the city,” Shelby started. “Do you want to grab dinner with me and Kaylee?”

“And third wheel while you guys are all over each other?” Alyssa scoffed. “No thanks.”

“Oh, come on, we’re way past the honeymoon phase,” Kaylee sighed.

“Yeah, tell that to my retinas that found you two making out in the bathroom last week when I just wanted to pee.”

Please , Lys?” Shelby pouted. “My treat.”

Alyssa sighed and glanced at the clock. It was only five-thirty and she definitely didn’t want to go home to her mother just yet. “I guess I’ve got nothing better to do tonight.”

She could practically hear Shelby’s excited grin through the phone. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear! I’ll text you the address.”

“Sounds good.”

“Love you! See you soon.” And she hung up before Alyssa could even say goodbye.

A moment later, her phone buzzed with a new text message. The address was only five minutes away, so Alyssa started the car and pulled away from the apartment building. She looked back with a heavy sigh. Hopefully Alyssa would find a decent apartment sooner rather than later. Living and working and basically spending every waking hour with her mother was going to drive her crazy eventually, if it hadn’t already.

When Alyssa pulled into the parking lot, she was very confused. It was pretty crowded, but the building was old and there wasn’t any sort of business name visible anywhere. Was this even a restaurant?

Alyssa got out her phone and texted Shelby. Did you send me the right address?

A moment later, a figure exited the building and Alyssa immediately recognized her as Shelby. Shelby waved and walked in her direction. Alyssa got out of the car and headed toward Shelby, hoping to meet her halfway, but as Shelby got closer, she realized she wasn’t walking at all, in fact. She was roller skating.

Oh, no, Alyssa thought. Was it too late to get back in the car?

“Shelby,” Alyssa called out once she was within earshot. “Where am I?”

“Don’t be mad,” Shelby said immediately. “I knew you weren’t going to come otherwise.”

“Shelby.”

“Oh, come on! I’ve been trying to get you to come to one of my derby games for ages! Today’s just a scrimmage but I promise it will be fun.”

“My mom will murder me if she finds out I went to something like this.”

“She’s going to murder you anyway when she finds out you’re trying to move out,” Shelby countered.

Alyssa couldn’t think of a decent retort in time. She frowned. “Point taken.”

“Alyssa, I get that you’re trying to save up for an apartment, but you work way too much. Have some fun for once!”

Alyssa wanted to keep up her resolve, but Shelby had a hopeful grin on her face, and it had been a while since she had done something fun with her friends. “Okay, I’ll stay,” Alyssa sighed. “You still owe me dinner, though.”

“Yes!” Shelby whooped. “I’ll buy you a hot dog inside. Come on, Kaylee will be so excited to see you!” She grabbed Alyssa’s wrist and dragged her back toward the building. Alyssa had to awkwardly jog to keep up with Shelby as she skated with ease.

The building, as it turned out, was an old skating rink. Alyssa followed Shelby inside as Shelby paid for her ticket, and looked around at the crowd. People were everywhere, and the room was humming with excited chatter from both spectators and players. Alyssa found herself stopping midstep so she wouldn’t run into skaters who crossed in front of her. There was a bar selling beer and wine, various food and snack stands set up, and information tables for all the teams in the league.

Alyssa looked at the signs and her lips quirked up into an amused smile as she read the team names. Space Jammers, Chicks Ahoy, Sax and Violins, and even more that she missed in the crowd. She chuckled to herself.

“Here we are,” Shelby said, rolling up to the last table in the row.

“Alyssa!” Kaylee squealed. She skated up to Alyssa and threw her arms around her in a hug. Alyssa almost lost her balance as her friend ran into her with more force than she expected.

“Good to see you, Kaylee,” Alyssa laughed as she hugged her.

“I can’t believe you convinced her to come,” Kaylee said. She returned to Shelby’s side and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

Shelby threw an arm over Kaylee’s shoulder and leaned against the table. “It didn’t take much convincing.”

“Yeah, she just tricked me,” Alyssa said with a pointed glare.

Shelby shrugged, feigning innocence. “It’s not my fault you’re gullible.”

Alyssa scanned the table, looking around at all the skaters there, and taking in the team name. “Queer Chaos?” she asked. “Isn’t that word sort of controversial?”

“Not necessarily,” said a voice from behind her.

Alyssa spun around and saw another woman in skates, sporting the Queer Chaos team shirts that matched Kaylee and Shelby’s. She held a helmet under her arm, wore glasses, and had messy, short blonde curls that fell and framed her face. She looked like she had been doing this for a while; as she glided past with ease, Alyssa took a moment to appreciate her toned legs, slightly obscured by the knee pads she wore, and the small bruises and scars that littered her pale skin, and—was that a tattoo?

Alyssa cleared her throat and her eyes shot up to meet the woman’s. Her awkward, lopsided smile turned into an amused smirk, and Alyssa knew she had been caught checking her out. She hoped it was dark enough in here that no one would notice her blush. The woman then turned and gave Kaylee and Shelby a familiar nod.

“The team has been around since 1981, and it was actually part of the movement to reclaim the word,” she explained, skating past Alyssa and looping around to the other side of the table. “We don’t like, force anybody to identify a certain way, but it’s part of our history. A lot of people really like it. And, well, this team does attract the most LGBTQ people in the league for a reason.”

Alyssa was stunned for a moment, searching for words to respond. “Um,” she muttered. “I didn’t realize there was a gay rights movement in Indiana.”

“Gay people don’t only exist in New York or San Francisco, as much as the movies want you to think.” She grabbed a backpack from under the table and took off her glasses. She put them in a case and began digging through her backpack.

“Oh, no I know!” Alyssa said. “Trust me, I know. You just never hear about the smaller things that happen everywhere. It’s always the big cities that steal the spotlight.”

The woman smiled. “Yeah, it’s more local color than something you’d read about in a history textbook.” She retrieved a pair of goggles from her backpack and pulled them on over her head. She squinted and Alyssa stifled a smile; she looked a little dorky, but it was endearing. Then, the woman put on her helmet and clipped it into place. “Game’s about to start. Princess, Luchadora, you coming?”

“Yeah, we’ll be there in a minute,” Shelby said. Alyssa watched as the woman skated off toward the track, trailed by other team members.

“Who was that?” Alyssa asked, breathless.

“Whoa, keep your pants on,” Shelby teased. Alyssa just rolled her eyes. “That’s Babe Ruthless.”

“No, I mean, her real name,” Alyssa said.

Shelby shrugged. “No one knows.”

“What?”

“She’s been on the team for as long as anyone can remember. She only goes by her derby name and doesn’t go out for drinks with us very often. She’s kind of a mystery. Seems pretty close with Coach Barry, though.”

“I heard she’s been on the team for ten years,” Kaylee interjected. “It’s crazy, right? She looks like she’s our age!”

“LADIES!” a voice called out from the direction of the track, his face lost in the crowd. “Are you here to catch up with friends or are you here to play some roller derby?”

Shelby rolled her eyes, but shoved a twenty dollar bill into Alyssa’s hands. “Here. Get some food, find a seat. I’ll see you after.” She grabbed Kaylee’s hand and the pair skated off.

Alyssa grabbed a hot dog and a bottle of water, then made her way to find a seat.

There wasn’t a lot of audience space, but there were metal bleachers set up all around the track on all sides. The track in the middle looked like it was literally just a large, oval shaped ring made out of tape on the floor. Alyssa walked over to the side that faced the Queer Chaos team bench and squeezed in at the corner of one of the bleachers. She felt a little awkward by herself, but it was too late to back out now. She took a bite of her food and waited in anticipation for the game to start. Her eyes fell on the woman in goggles again, who was laughing with a tall leggy blonde woman on the side of the track.

When the lights in the crowd dimmed and the music blared, the audience began to cheer in excitement.

“Welcome to the first preseason scrimmage of the South Bend Derby League!” A male voice boomed on the speakers over the crowd. “I’m your host and colorful commentator, Trent Oliver! And this is my partner, Dee Dee Allen!”

“Partner my ass,” another voice chimed in, female this time. “We all know I’m the one who draws a crowd.”

“Well not all of us were four time league champions in our hay day, Ms. Allen. Some of us went to Juilliard.”

“So, we’ve got a great lineup of teams today, Chicks Ahoy versus my alma mater, Queer Chaos!” The crowd went wild at the mention of the team names. Alyssa could swear she heard a dog bark from somewhere, but she couldn’t see it anywhere. She cheered with everyone and watched as the teams waved to the crowd.

“There’s a couple players to look out for in this game,” Trent continued. “Chick’s Ahoy number sixty nine, Captain Pain is their top point scorer.”

“Her match is definitely Queer Chaos number seventy five, Smashley Simpson. She’s their most veteran player and their top point scorer. I know she’s hoping for a championship win this season after Rebel Nights snatched it from them a few months ago.”

“Babe Ruthless, Queer Chaos number four is another force to be reckoned with. I’ve heard that she can’t be knocked down, is that true?”

“I guess we’re about to find out. Are you ready for some roller derby?”

Again, the crowd went wild. A handful of players skated out to the track while the rest sat out on the sidelines. Kaylee and Shelby were starting on the track and two other players she didn’t recognize, as well as Babe Ruthless and the woman she had been talking to before the game.

It was then that Alyssa realized, maybe she should have asked her friends to explain to her the basics of the sport before watching a game. Well, hopefully she’d figure it out eventually. The whistle blew, and all Alyssa could see was a mass of bodies ramming into each other.

Maybe she wouldn’t be able to figure out what was happening.

Instead of trying to follow the action, Alyssa decided to focus on her friends. It looked like they were hooked in some sort of triangle and pressed up against a skater on the opposing team who tried to push past them. Then, the triangle broke apart, and the other skater weaved past number thirty three, past Shelby, and as she was about to pass Kaylee as well, Kaylee bumped her hip against her and the woman tumbled over backwards.

“And it’s the first fall of the game!” Trent called out. “Courtesy of number nineteen, no wonder she’s called the Princess of Pain!”

Alyssa laughed. Princess of Pain? That name was fitting for Kaylee.

“And Babe Ruthless takes the window and breaks out of the pack. We’ve got a lead jammer!”

At the mention of the mysterious woman she had met earlier, Alyssa’s eyes were drawn to her figure. She flew across the track at lightning speed, looping around ahead of everyone else until she caught up with the group again.

Alyssa had no idea what was happening, but she was at the edge of her seat, watching in anticipation as Babe Ruthless approached the opposing team’s skaters. Babe Ruthless was, well, ruthless, weaving between players with ease, taking hits like a champ. Trent was right, Alyssa didn’t think she could be knocked down.

As Babe Ruthless lapped everyone, the crowd cheered. She looped the track again and got stuck behind a wall of opposing players blocking her path.

“Captain Pain has cleared the pack and is coming up for her first scoring pass…” The whistle blew sharply, and the players on the track slowed down. “And Babe Ruthless calls the jam before Chicks Ahoy can even score! Starting off strong with a five point lead for Queer Chaos.”

Alyssa was more confused than ever, but she was also kind of in awe as she watched Babe Ruthless spin around and skate backwards toward the bench on the sidelines. And then, Babe Ruthless looked into the crowd. Their eyes met, and Alyssa felt a thrill of excitement. Still clapping, Alyssa let out a loud cheer, and a moment later there was a grin on Babe Ruthless’s face before she looked away.

Alyssa could see herself starting to really like roller derby.

Queer Chaos won the scrimmage that day, 86 to 72. Alyssa still couldn’t tell how exactly the game was played, but it sure was an action-packed and entertaining way to spend an hour, watching women slam into each other on roller skates. Alyssa tried to imagine her mother in the audience, and the thought almost made her laugh. She was sure her mother would call it needlessly violent or downright barbaric and that made it even better.

Alyssa also enjoyed watching Babe Ruthless whenever she was on the track, but that was beside the point.

After the game, Alyssa made her way back to the table to meet up with Shelby and Kaylee again. The team hadn’t arrived yet, but a short man stood behind the table and smiled at Alyssa as she approached.

“Are you interested in tryouts?” he asked.

“Oh, no, I’m just meeting my friends,” Alyssa quickly explained. “They’re on the team.”

“Oh I see,” he said knowingly. “So who are your friends.”

“Princess of Pain and Luchadora, I think,” Alyssa said with a chuckle. “Fun names.”

“Picking a name is half the fun of roller derby. Almost makes me wish I was a woman,” he sighed dramatically. “Sheldon Saperstein, team manager. And you are?”

“Alyssa,” she introduced herself.

“Well, Alyssa, can I interest you in a t-shirt or player cards?”

“Sheldon, stop harassing our friend!” Shelby skated up next to Alyssa and threw an arm over her shoulder. “Unless you’re harassing her into coming to tryouts, otherwise please continue.”

“What?” Alyssa scoffed. “You want me to do that ?” She gestured to the track the players were spilling out of.

“You might surprise yourself, Lys!” Kaylee said, rolling up on her other side. “I never thought I’d be good at it either and here we are.”

“You’re still not good!” another player heckled, the leggy blonde woman she had seen earlier; Alyssa learned that this was Smashley Simpson. Kaylee flipped her off.

“Come on, we used to go skating all the time as kids.” Shelby nudged Alyssa with her hip.

“Yeah, that was like ten years ago.”

“And you’d be surprised how easy it is to pick up again.”

Alyssa laughed and shoved her friend away. “I think I’ll pass. But I will admit, I had fun. I might come to another game once I figure out what the fuck I just watched.”

“You know what the best way to learn is?” Kaylee asked.

“If you tell me to try out, Kaylee, I will slap you.”

“Is someone interested in trying out for the team?” The same voice that had called Kaylee and Shelby down to the track before the game had returned, and Alyssa saw a man wearing a Queer Chaos polo shirt and khaki pants stroll up.

“Barry, we’re just trying to convince our good friend Alyssa to come to tryouts,” Shelby explained. “Can you help us change her mind?”

“Well, I can say we would love to have you. If you know nothing, that gives us the opportunity for a fun training montage!”

Alyssa chuckled. “Even if I want to, I just don’t have the time. I’m sorry.”

“So you’re saying you want to?” Kaylee said.

“I’m not saying anything.”

“Well if you change your mind,” Barry continued, “tryouts are at the end of January. I’m sure your friends will happily give you the details.”

Alyssa felt her phone vibrating in her pocket and pulled it out to find a few text messages from her mother, wondering where she was. “Shit,” she muttered.

“What is it?” Shelby frowned.

“My mom,” Alyssa groaned. “I gotta go.”

“We have got to get you out of her house.”

“Yeah, I’m working on it.” She gave Shelby a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, then turned to hug Kaylee as well. “I’ll see you guys. And thanks for dragging me here, Shelbs, I did have fun.”

“I told you so.” Alyssa rolled her eyes and ignored her as she weaved through the crowd and made her way out of the building.

As she pushed her way through the crowd in the parking lot, Alyssa wasn’t looking in front of her for a moment and ran smack into someone. There was a clatter as a phone fell to the floor.

“Shit,” a familiar voice said.

“I’m so sorry.” Alyssa looked up and was face to face with Babe Ruthless, who was in the middle of inspecting her phone screen. “Um, hi.”

“Hey,” she said, looking up at Alyssa with a grin. “Sorry, I’m way more clumsy out of my skates. You’re Kaylee and Shelby’s friend, right?”

“Yeah, Alyssa,” Alyssa muttered. “Is my name.”

“Babe Ruthless,” she said, and held out her hand to shake Alyssa’s.

“I heard. You were pretty good out there.” She lingered in the handshake for a moment too long, not wanting to let go. Then, Alyssa frowned. “I think. I’m still not entirely sure what I just watched.”

Babe Ruthless laughed. “Yeah, I think most people here don’t even know how the game works. They mostly just like watching girls beat the shit out of each other.”

“Oh god, does that happen a lot?”

“Well, today was pretty low key because it was just a scrimmage, but it can get intense. Sometimes fights break out.” She frowned. “I hope that doesn’t discourage you from trying out, I swear it’s not as often as you’d think.”

“Oh, I’m not trying out.” Alyssa shook her head.

“Sorry, I just assumed— people usually come to the scrimmages to scope out teams before tryouts.”

“Not me, I’m just here to support my friends.”

Alyssa wanted to say she looked disappointed, but maybe that was just wishful thinking on her part. But then, Babe Ruthless spoke up again. “That’s too bad,” she said with a bashful smile.

Alyssa blushed. “I um… I have to get going, but it was nice meeting you.”

“Hopefully I’ll see you around, Alyssa.”

“We’ll see, Babe Ruthless.”

After only a few steps, the other woman disappeared into the crowd. Alyssa shook her head, fighting off a giddy smile, and made her way back to the car. It was cold outside, but as she sat down and closed the door behind her she didn’t feel the need to turn on the heat. There was a thrilling warmth in her chest that was partially due to finally understanding why her friends loved this crazy sport so much, and partially from this mysterious Babe Ruthless that she couldn’t stop thinking about her entire drive home.