We always sat together for the bus ride home. The two players who bridged the boy-girl gap, but not the only two who practiced together. At that age, I felt it was a measure of myself that a boy found me tough enough to be a real competitor.
You were my friend, too, for that spring. We had English together and sat side-by-side there as well, but it is the bus rides I remember. Ten girls and ten boys on a sketchy school bus, rumbling from the match back to school, back to the school parking lot where I would get in my failing Volvo and you would get in your failing Mercedes. Yuppie mothers’ hand-me-downs. But the bus rides.
Cold evenings, just after sunset, but I never put on my leggings. In the dark, next to each other, our thighs and shoulders touching even though there was room enough for them not to.
I was so sweet, so nervous, so unsure of what or who you wanted. There were two girls who vied for your affection, your attention, but I was the one who had it. For that spring.
So young, so green. Our hands touching, your pinky sliding over mine. Chill bumps on my arm. My heart lurching when your warm palm slid over my hand and gripped it for the first time. I didn’t look at you. I just sat there, touching you – hand, shoulder, thigh. Sometimes we talked. Most times, we sat there and just looked at each other. Every week. I remember the night I played in sleet, and the teams stayed so late that it was full dark and close to my bedtime when we got on the bus. I fell asleep standing in a Taco Bell. When we got back on the bus, you told me to put my head on your shoulder, and I fell asleep against you. When we got back, you woke me. You rubbed my cheek and squeezed our joined hands.
There was never pressure, just affection. We never even kissed. We were friends who cuddled, until one of your girlfriends decided we shouldn’t. After that spring, we didn’t. We didn’t even talk anymore.