The Beautiful Game 03byJayDavid©
The end of a three part series that takes place in the same universe as The Lake House Rules, but which stands apart. I had a tough time writing the ending.
Everybody who has sex is over 18.
Everyone in the Tucker house was happy. Gwen was happy that she had played with Eduardo, and M.J. was happy for a similar, but more adult reason. And the elder Tuckers also seemed pretty pleased with each other.
After breakfast, they took Gwen to soccer practice, and then M.J. stayed to see Eduardo and help out with Veronica's team. It was a great deal of fun for everyone, especially at the end when M.J., Eduardo and Coach Jordan teamed up to play against the girls. Once practice was over, M.J. went home to do homework, because she and Eduardo were having their double date with Sam and Danny.
M.J. did some homework, ran a couple of loads of laundry and watched some TV before she showered and dressed for her date. She actually put on a dress that her mother had bought her, but had sat, unworn, in the back of her closet, and when she looked at herself in the mirror, she was pleased with the way she looked. She hoped that Eduardo would be pleased, too.
Danny, Sam's current boyfriend, who was a basketball player, picked up M.J., and she got in the back seat. Sam, noticing that M.J. was in a dress, told her she looked great, and M.J. smiled. She didn't know Danny that well, but she knew he was tall, good looking, very smart, and had very dark skin and close cropped hair. Sam had shared a few other details about him with her, but she couldn't confirm them because Danny was wearing clothing.
He seemed like a nice guy, and M.J. directed him to Eduardo's house. He was waiting outside, wearing jeans and a short sleeved button down shirt, untucked. M.J. lit up when she saw him, and sat close to him when he slid into the seat next to her. Eduardo kissed her, and said, "You look great."
M.J. smiled and said, "Thanks. You do too."
The movie was fine, but they all knew that it was really just a prelude to being able to get back to Sam's empty house. When they arrived at the house, Danny pulled a six pack of beer out of a cooler in his trunk, and they went inside. Eduardo, who had never been to Sam's house, was a little shy, but soon the four of them were on the couch, drinking beers and talking. Sam was enveloped by the arm of her huge date, and Eduardo strained a bit to keep his arm around the taller M.J.
The couples began to make out on the couch, but before things could progress to the point where they would pair off in the bedrooms, they heard a car screech to a halt in front of the house. Danny jumped up and ran to the front of the house, almost taking off Sam's hand that was in his pants, and looked outside.
He threw open the door and screamed, "Get the fuck away from that car or I'll kill you."
By this point the other three had made it up to the door and could see a bunch of boys and girls, some of whom they recognized as South soccer players, spraying shaving cream on Danny's car. In fact, the word "BEAT" was already sprayed on. Seeing the very large and very angry Danny, the invaders began to retreat, but he ran out anyway, and M.J. and Sam followed, yelling. They chased them away, and turned back to see that the damage was slight. But they also saw that Eduardo never left the house.
"What the fuck, Eduardo?" Danny screamed. "Are you a fucking pussy?"
Eduardo put his head down and turned back into the house. Sam went to console her boyfriend, and M.J. went back to the house to figure out what had happened. She was surprised that Eduardo hung back, and hoped that he had a good reason. Because if he didn't, M.J. would be disappointed, and Danny would probably be furious. Which could lead to a fight, at worst, or the end of any more double dates, and tension between her and Sam.
Sam came into the house to get a bucket of water and some sponges to clean the car before the shaving cream could damage the finish, and went out.
"Why didn't you come out?" M.J. asked, gently.
"I can't," Eduardo said, sadly. "I wanted to, but I can't risk it."
"What do you mean? Risk what?" M.J. asked, putting her hand on Eduardo's arm. She was worried because he looked so sad.
"I can't risk getting arrested," he replied.
"None of us want to get arrested, and anyway, that never would happen," M.J. said.
"But if there was a fight, and the police came-" Eduardo began.
"Then we would tell them it was a high school rivalry prank and nothing would happen. It happens all the time between us and South," she said.
"But I didn't know that. And I can't get arrested because I will be deported back to Ecuador."
M.J. was stunned. "What do you mean, deported?"
"Please don't tell anyone, but my family is not legal. If I get arrested, they will deport me, and probably my parents. And we don't want to go back. We like it here." He began to sob.
M.J. held him tight and told him it would be O.K., but that they had to tell Danny and Sam, otherwise Danny would tell everyone at the school that he was a coward and wouldn't stand up for North, which could get ugly. He nodded his head, and went to the bathroom to try to freshen up before they came in from outside.
Danny and Sam returned. Danny was really angry and clearly was looking for Eduardo. "Where's that pussy ass boyfriend of yours, M.J.? He and I need to have a conversation, outside. Now."
"He's in the bathroom," M.J. said, "and he has a good explanation, but he needs to tell you."
"It better be good, or I'm going to kill him, and make sure that the whole fucking school knows that he wouldn't stand up for North, or me," Danny yelled.
At that point, Eduardo came out of the bathroom and faced the enraged hoopster.
"So, what's the story?" Danny spat out.
"Promise me you won't tell anyone. I need you to promise," Eduardo said.
M.J. looked at Sam, beseechingly, and Sam, trusting her best friend, said, "Danny, promise," in a tone that made it clear that Danny had to choose between his anger and his lust.
"Fine," he said, "I promise."
"It's pretty simple, Danny. I'm sorry I didn't run out with you guys. But I was afraid that there would be a fight and the cops would come. And I'm an illegal. If I get arrested, I'll be deported to Ecuador. And I barely even speak Spanish anymore," he blurted out.
"No shit?" Danny said, his anger visibly receding.
"No shit," Eduardo responded.
"O.K, man. I understand. Don't sweat it, and your secret is safe with me," Danny replied.
"Me, too," Sam said.
"I'm really sorry, but I think I need to go home," Eduardo said.
"Are you sure?" M.J. asked.
"O.K., let's walk to my house, and I'll drive you," M.J. offered.
They said their goodbyes and walked, holding hands, from Sam's house to M.J.'s. She got the car keys from her mother, saying that Eduardo was feeling a little sick, and drove him home in silence, holding his hand.
She pulled the car in front of his house, and they kissed for a while.
"I'm sorry that I ruined the night," he said.
"Don't worry about it," M.J. replied. "I don't ever want you to do anything that means that I would never see you again. It would kill me," she said.
They kissed again, and Eduardo left, and walked to his house.
M.J. returned home, ignored her mother and went to bed, where she sat for a long time, awake and worrying.
M.J.'s mother noticed that her daughter seemed preoccupied and unhappy, and hoped that everything had gone well with M.J. and Eduardo the night before. She didn't want to intrude, so she decided to keep an eye on her, and see if M.J. gave her an opening to make a gentle inquiry.
At about 11, M.J. got a text from Sam, asking her to go to the coffee shop, and, of course, she agreed. Sam picked her up and they drove into town. They found a table, and nodded to their classmates Gina, Fred and Jack, who were arguing about something before ordering their drinks.
"So, what's going on?" M.J. asked her best friend, knowing that Sam must have a reason for a trip to the coffee shop.
"It's about Eduardo, and you," she said.
"I figured," M.J. replied. "But what, specifically?"
"First," Sam said, "I want you to know that I talked to Danny, and he understands not to say anything, and not to think anything bad about Eduardo. He's a nice guy and far from an idiot, although he does have a bit of a temper, but I know he gets it. And I made it clear that if I found out otherwise, my body would be off limits, forever."
"I appreciate that," M.J. said, "but you didn't need to do that. Anyway, thanks. But there is more?"
"Yeah. M.J., we have been best friends for forever, and I'm worried about you. Eduardo seems like a great guy, but you seem to have fallen for him very fast and very hard. Are you sure about him?"
"I am," M.J. responded. "I know that it has been quick, but you know that I haven't been interested in anyone here, but when I saw him, it was, I don't know, but I knew. And it has only gotten stronger."
"That's really great," Sam replied. "But now that you know about, you know," she said, looking around the room to make sure no one was listening, "are you going to worry?"
"I think so," M.J. said, softly.
"As your friend, I understand, but as your captain, I need you to be fully focused and ready to fuck those South bitches. I can count on you, right? The team can count on you?"
"Sam, I appreciate your concern, but let me ask you—have I ever let you or the team down?"
Sam knew that she didn't have to answer the question. Instead, she reached across the table and squeezed M.J.'s hand, her mocha skin contrasting with M.J.'s paler flesh. "I'm here for you," she said.
M.J. nodded and said, "You always have been. I hate to think about next year, when we are away at college."
"Forget that. You have always been there for me, too, Remember? Keep your mind on one thing until Tuesday, O.K.?"
They drank their coffees and made small talk about everything other than the two issues that loomed over them.
Later that afternoon, M.J. texted Eduardo, but he didn't respond, worrying her. But she finished her homework and got ready to go back to school.
Eduardo was a little distant on Monday, but M.J. overwhelmed him with kindness, and by the end of the day, he was laughing again, and rubbing M.J. when he had the chance. They had made a silent agreement not to talk about it, and to just keep on getting to know each other better.
Practice was short, crisp and intense. Coach Benson knew her girls were primed and ready, and didn't want to risk injury or over thinking things. The girls were serious and the coach let them go early.
M.J. tried to do homework, but it was not working. Her mother sensed her intensity, and, like her teammates, knew enough to steer clear. Finally, M.J. went up to her room and went to sleep, fitfully.
If M.J. could have stayed home on Tuesday and still played in the game, she would have. As it was, she barely was able to concentrate in class, causing her to have an embarrassing moment in math class, when she had no idea what the teacher was saying. Eduardo again made his presence felt without intruding on M.J.'s focus.
She got to the locker room early, dressed, ran and sat in the stands. Again, Eduardo sat with her and quietly held her hand. As the South team passed by her, some of her former AYSO and club teammates said hello, but she gave them only a hard stare. After the game, she would talk to them, but now they stood between M.J. and the championship, and M.J wanted that to be an uncomfortable place.
Because both teams were from the same town, and because it was the final, the stands were pretty full. Before the game, M.J. scanned the stands and saw Eduardo sitting with some of the boys' team. She saw her mother and Gwen, and, surprisingly, her father. She was more excited, because her father rarely came to the games.
Coach Benson called the girls together and said, quietly but seriously, "I don't have much to say. You know those girls better than I do. You are the best team that I have ever coached. You have a chance today to do something special, something extraordinary. But to do that, you need to play to the best of your abilities and play as a team. Because if you do, they can't stop you. And if you don't, and you walk off the field having lost, you will always wonder if it would have ended differently if you had given your all. I love you girls, and I don't want to see you disappointed."
The girls were quiet and focused. Sam said, quietly, "Ready, Rams?" and instead of yelling, they all nodded and said, softly, "Ready."
Coach Benson read the starting lineup, and the girls ran out on the field. As billed, it was a close match. South actually scored first, but Sam fed M.J. for a tying goal, and Lydia Browne, a lanky sophomore midfielder with crazy hair, popped in a go ahead goal off a corner kick.
It was still 2-1 North at halftime, and no one was feeling comfortable. After halftime, M.J. fed Sam to put North up 3-1, but South countered and closed the gap to 3-2. Then it looked like North's only weakness was about to put their perfect season in jeopardy. On a corner kick, North's goalkeeper, Alana Mayfield was knocked to the ground and could not continue due to what appeared to be a broken rib. While Alana writhed in pain, the ball trickled into the goal, and the game was tied.
Unfortunately, North's only other keeper was a freshman, Marta Gonzalez, who had only played a few minutes in blowout games.
While the trainer checked out Alana, and she was carried off the field, Sam and M.J. were arguing on the field, something which no one in attendance had ever seen happen. When Coach Benson tried to send Marta in, M.J. ran over and said, "Coach, I want to play goal."
Coach Benson looked at her, surprised, and said, "I don't think so, M.J. I have faith in Marta."
M.J. gave Coach Benson a hard look, and said, "Coach, I have never questioned your decisions. But if you really think that we have a better chance today of keeping South from scoring again with Marta than me, then I'll disagree, but I will do what you want."
Coach Benson thought for about a second, then reached into her bag and handed M.J. a scrimmage vest and a pair of goalkeeper gloves. "Don't make me regret this, M.J."
"I won't, Coach," she responded, and ran toward the goal.
Coach Benson sent in Sarah O'Conner, another striker, and put her arm around the disappointed Marta and spoke to her softly.
The game continued tied, as neither team was able to break through the other's defense. M.J. made a few easy plays, but was not really tested. Until Jane Berman, the South's leading scorer and a former club teammate of M.J.'s, got fouled in the penalty area and the referee called for a penalty kick. There were only a few minutes left in the game, and the Rams realized the danger that they were in.
It was silent as Berman lined up the kick. M.J. stood tall on the goal line and waved her arms, like she had seen on TV, before shooting Berman a withering look. Berman approached the ball and shot toward the left corner. M.J. guessed correctly and dove, stretching her long body and arms toward the ball. Almost in slow motion, her left middle finger touched the flying ball and deflected it just wide.
The crowd screamed and the Rams defense cleared the ball. M.J. looked at Coach Benson and they nodded to each other.
Play stopped with about 2 minutes to go with a free kick for the Rams in their defensive zone. M.J. ran to the sidelines and threw off her scrimmage vest and gloves, yelling to Coach Benson to send Marta in. She ran toward the goal, and the coach called Sarah off the field. It was do or die.
Tara blasted the ball upfield, and Sam collected it, looked up and put it on the foot of the streaking M.J., who was approaching the penalty area when about 5 defenders closed on her. She used the Ronaldinho move to beat one of them, to gasps from the stands, then turned her back to the goal, allowing 4 defenders to converge. She stopped and flicked the ball over her head, and the heads of the defenders, turned, beat them to the ball and slammed it home past the sprawling goalkeeper.
There was stunned silence as M.J. picked the ball out of the net and handed it to the referee. Then there was screaming. Then the Rams mobbed M.J. The referee blew his whistle and set up South's kickoff. They got off a long range shot that Marta stopped easily and before she could distribute the ball upfield, the referee blew his whistle and motioned to the center circle. The Rams had won the championship and were undefeated.
The girls shook their opponents' hands, and hugged their friends from South, then ran to the sidelines and tackled Coach Benson and buried her under their sweaty bodies. Lacking Gatorade, someone dumped a cooler of water over the pile.
As they extricated themselves, Sam ran over to M.J. and screamed, "Seriously, motherfucker? What the fuck was that?"
M.J. was crying and smiling at the same time. She replied, softly, "I have no idea. No idea," she repeated.
By this time, Eduardo had made it down to the field, and hugged his crying, wet, sweaty girlfriend. "That was the most incredible thing I have ever seen," he yelled, and kissed her. When he stopped, he noticed M.J.'s parents standing there uncomfortably, so he stepped away from M.J. and said, "Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Tucker," shaking Mr. Tucker's hand firmly before squatting down before Gwen and saying, "That was amazing, wasn't it?"
Gwen nodded silently, overcome by all the activity. Eduardo stood up and noticed two men, wearing shirts with college logos come over and speak with M.J. and her parents. He decided to distract Gwen to allow them to speak, and he noticed the men, probably coaches, giving out their cards. Eduardo knew that M.J., would likely get a scholarship, and while he was happy for her, he also knew that his status would make that almost impossible.
When the coaches walked away, he brought Gwen back, and M.J.'s father was gushing over his daughter. He stated that they should all go out for dinner, and invited Eduardo to join them. M.J. wanted to shower first, then go home and change, which made sense, so they agreed to pick Eduardo up at his house in an hour or so.
As M.J. walked back to the locker room, she caught up to Sam, and put her arm around her shorter friend's shoulder. They were stopped by a reporter from the local paper, and another from the local website, and then their classmate Sal Puleo, who was the sports editor of the school paper, for quotes and comments. It was exhilarating, but they really wanted to get to the locker room.
When they finally entered the smelly, humid room, their teammates, in various states of undress, applauded for their captain and their star. Coach Benson was there, and said, sternly, "Nice of you ladies to join us," but she couldn't keep a straight face, breaking into a huge grin. "M.J., I want you to know that I have never seen a performance like that on the soccer field. Thank you."
The girls started screaming and banging on the lockers until Sam raised her hand, which ultimately resulted in the deafening racket petering out to silence.
"Guys," the diminutive leader began, "this has been an incredible season, and you have been an incredible team. I have been honored to be your captain and teammate. We have a great coach, a great team, but, I have to say, Holy Shit, M.J. Just, Holy Shit." There was a moment when the girls thought that Coach Benson might be angry at the profanity, but then they all burst out laughing.
Then, Sam said one more thing. "State."
The banging began again, rhythmically, as the team chanted, "State, State, State."
But Coach Benson was concerned. She knew that the State tournament would be much harder even than the South game, and she wasn't sure that even M.J. would be enough to overcome the talent, size and speed of some of the upstate schools. But that was for another day. She let the cheering go on, and when it ended she said, "Conference Champs get Wednesday off. Enjoy it, because on Thursday, we start preparing for State," and left the room, finally allowing herself to cry.