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The Season
Author: Jonah Lisa Dyer


 


One

 


   In Which Megan Learns Why It’s Called a Sucker Punch

   DOWN A GOAL IN INJURY TIME LACHELLE BEGAN A buildup inside midfield, passing it down to Mariah, who fed Lindsay in the right corner. Lindsay beat her girl to the end line, then fired a low cross toward the goal mouth. Cat streaked in, carried her defender and the goalie’s attention, and then dummied it—let the ball go through her legs untouched. It was beautifully done, a play we had worked on endlessly. I was now just eight yards out; the wide-open net yawned. All I had to do was ease it home. But overeager, with visions of my highlight reel playing in my head, I hammered it. The extra oomph lifted the ball—and it caromed off the crossbar and out of bounds.

   The crowd groaned and I stood there—gutted. I had just missed a gimme that would have tied our first conference game. Well done, Megan, I thought. Well done. A minute later the whistle blew. University of Oklahoma 2, Southern Methodist University 1.

   I kicked over the watercooler, and was working my way through the sideline chairs when Coach Nash found me.

   “Hey, stop that!” she yelled. She frowned, and her disappointment washed over me. “What’s the lesson?”

   “Don’t be a freaking moron?” I asked.

   “Composure,” she said to me for the nine hundredth time in the past year. “No matter the moment, you have to keep your head, execute under pressure. Consistently good is far better than occasionally brilliant.”

   “I’m sorry,” I said.

   “I’m not interested in your apology.” Ouch.

   “I let everybody down,” I said, hanging my head.

   “Yes. You did.” Ouch again. But now she lifted my head and looked directly in my eyes. “Now listen—you are going to score a ton of goals for us this year.” Her tone softened as she moved easily from Marine Corps drill sergeant to mother hen. “It’s going to all come together, okay?”

   “Okay.” I nodded again and she gave me a hug.

   “Short memory—and get that looked at.” She motioned at the gash on my shin.

   “Uh-huh,” I replied, still feeling like someone had shot my dog.

   “I’ll see you on Monday.”

   Now Cat shuffled over. Catalina Esmerelda Graciela “Cat” Martinez was my best friend on the team, my wingman, and the only one brave enough to approach me under the circumstances. We had known each other since we were twelve and had played Club Soccer together for the DeSoto Bobcats—now we were Ponies. I went to her quinceañera and famously destroyed her piñata with my first whack. They found candy all the way down the street.

   “Come on, choker,” she said, putting her arm around me. I laughed. As always it was just the right thing to say.

   “You go. I want to sulk.” Now she laughed.

   “All right. You need a hankie or something?”

   “Nah—I got my sleeve.”

   “We’re on for Tuesday night, yeah?” Tuesday was TV night, sacred friend time.

   “Of course,” I said as she walked toward the locker room.

   “Text me later!” she called out over her shoulder.

   With everyone gone I sat down and examined my shin. Blood oozed along the entire ridge of welted skin. Another scar—and so little to show for it. In soccer, real scoring chances are rare, and my job as a striker was to make good on them. My failure today cost us a very valuable point. I picked some grass out of the cut, squinted over the edge of Westcott Field into the late August sun, and wondered how things could get any worse.

   I wasn’t kept waiting long.

   “Hey.”

   I looked up to see my sister, Julia. She was taller and prettier than me, with blonde hair, startling light blue eyes, and creamy, blemish-free skin. Few would guess that we were twins—the clear result of two eggs, not one.

   “You see the game?”

   She nodded, but stayed several feet away. “Hate to pile on, but I thought you might want to see this.”

   Julia handed me her phone, the browser open to The Dallas Morning News.

   Bluebonnet Club Announces 2016 Debutantes, the headline read. I scrolled through the article. Blah blah blah proud to announce Ashley Harriet Abernathy, Lauren Eloise Battle, Ashley Diann Kohlberg, Margaret Abigail Lucas, Julia Scott McKnight, Megan Lucille McKnight, Sydney Jane Pennybacker . . .

   Wait, Megan Lucille McKnight?! There must be some mistake, because that was ME!

   “Did—did Mom call you?” I asked.

   “Nope.”

   “Text?”

   Julia shook her head. I wanted to splutter in disbelief. To scream, to rage, to protest violently. But my mother was thirty miles away at the ranch. I read on.

   At the bottom were the pictures. Seven toothy, varnished girls soon to take their anointed places in the pantheon of Bluebonnet debutantes, that rare and coveted role in a tradition that dated all the way back to 1882, as Mom had so often reminded us. My picture was a real doozy, taken as an olive branch to her after she complained for years that the only photos she had showed me posing on one knee beside a soccer ball.

   For this timeless memento she’d spared no expense. She had hired a stylist, bullied me into a low-cut Stella McCartney, and chosen a photographer who insisted on shooting in the gloaming, down amongst the crepe myrtles along Turtle Creek. Resting my hand oh-so-casually on a branch, smiling at a hundred miles an hour, I looked like a hick who’d lucked into a makeover coupon. Never in my worst nightmares had I imagined it would pop up a year later in the city’s most widely read newspaper, beneath an announcement for a virgin auction.

   “Maybe it’s a mistake?” I said hopefully, handing back her phone. Julia kept silent. She had passed AP calculus as a sophomore in high school and was majoring in structural engineering. Like a lot of really smart girls, she learned early that silence was often a wise tactic.

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