The Football Diaries // The Girl and the Orange Cleats 

 
The last thing I notice before quietly slipping into the locker room are a pair of neon orange cleats on an opposing player.

Coach is in here blasting the boys about the sloppy way we were playing, even though we were considerably ahead of the other team. He can’t go easy on them, of course. The speed at which teenage boys get cocky is stunning. I assume my place in the corner and try not to look too sympathetic towards the guys. Not that it matters all that much, but… you know… one must be careful when coaches get in an uproar.

The lights flicker. Coach turns on me, not angrily. Incredulously, maybe, but not angrily. “Are you over there playing with the lights?”

I shake my head. Who in their right mind would play with the lights during the halftime lecture? Not this girl.

He looks puzzled for a moment and then returns to his diatribe. The lights flicker. I scamper away from the light switch. Another flicker, followed by darkness.

“What the He…”

The assistant coach opens the door. “Lights are out on the field.”

“Good God. Y’all stay in here.” As he passes me he adds, “You, too.”

Suddenly, all is quiet. There’s a bit of shuffling and I see a few cell phones light up.

“Oh my God,” someone says. “Y’all, what if the rapture just happened?”

A few of them gasp.

“Ashley…? Travis? Are y’all still in here?”

“Yeah,” Travis and I say in unison.

“Okay. So, it’s not the rapture.”

I smile.

“Maybe it’s a zombie apocalypse.”

“We can put Ashley in the middle and all the big guys up front.”

This is why I love them.

The door opens and Coach tells us to come on outside. I am the first one out the door because I’m the girl and it’s just one of those things. 

We still don’t know why the power went out, but no one seems too alarmed. I figure my mom’s probably panicking up there in the bleachers, but I can’t do anything about it because I still have water and Gatorade to dole out. 

I am a good student athletic trainer. 

Or maybe I’m just dedicated. 

I don’t know, at this point. 

I find my way back over to the water coolers and refill the water bottles as best as I can in the semi-darkness. By the time I make it back to where I left the team, I can’t find them. And neither can the coaches, apparently, because they’re asking me where the guys are…

I don’t know, but I’ll find them. 

They’re not under the goalposts (where they’re supposed to be). 

They’re not in the locker room. 

They weren’t over by the coolers a minute ago. 

I’m starting to panic a little because football teams don’t just disappear and, while the rapture and zombie apocalypse have been ruled out, the thought of aliens briefly crosses my mind. I decide to run into the coaches’ office to get my phone. If I can even find it in the darkness, that is.

When I open the door, I’m greeted by a couple of emergency lights, a horrendous stench, and twenty-two sweaty faces looking at me. 

“Found ’em!” I yell over my shoulder to the coaches before proceeding into the room to retrieve my phone.

“What are y’all doing in here?” I ask. 

“It was weird out there in the dark,” someone replies. 

True enough. I get my phone and decide to take my leave of the room because I seriously need fresh air. I love my guys, but they smell like death when they get too close together. 

I’m met by the coaches as I leave. 

“Don’t go too far,” Coach says. “We gotta get everything ready to move. Already got a bus on the way. Boys, get your stuff together. We gotta go to Walker High to finish this game. A dang raccoon chewed into the power substation and put half the town out of power.”

Well, this is small town football at its finest…

Forty-five minutes later, we arrive at Walker High School and get ready for the second half. 

We play. 

We win. 

We unofficially name the renegade raccoon “Sparky.”

>> One Year Later <<

I have come to look forward to my two hour lunch break in the training room with Dustin. He’s probably one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever met -and that’s great considering all the time we have to spend together. 

That student athletic training life. What life? 

Today we’re reminiscing about football. We both still work with our high school teams, but it’s a little different now that we’re in college. 

“Man. I remember this one game we played last year. Hey. I think it was your school! The lights just went out at halftime?”

I pause, French fry in midair. “Yeah… Oh my gosh. Yeah. That was y’all we were playing.”

Dustin laughs. “Yeah. I was sitting in an ant bed over there.”

“Aww. Really? Dang. I’m sorry. Kinda funny to think about the fact that we were both out there and didn’t know each other.” 

We practically finish each others’ sentences… and food… these days. Being trapped in a training room with someone and trying to sort through the international athletes’ various requests kind of does that to you. 

“I know, right? Actually, I do remember there being a girl on the other team, but that’s about it.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I just remember seeing a girl going into the locker room when I was looking for our kicking block. You might have noticed me, too. I always wore these bright orange cleats…” 

  

 The Football Diaries // The Girl and the Orange Cleats