As the last few minutes ticked away, Jaime hovered anxiously on the sidelines. The brisk October wind tried to cut through the layers of her heavy coat but the adrenaline in her veins was keeping her warm. The score still left them down by one.
The breeze sent dried leaves onto the field. They were trampled almost instantly by the 22 pairs of small, cleats rushing down the grass.
“Look up! Look up!” she said through tight lips. She always tried not to make a scene. She didn’t want to be one of those mothers screaming their heads off like this was the World Cup.
Erin’s eyes were locked down at the black and white ball at her feet though.
Look up, Jaime thought once more as her daughter raced by.
The young girl missed another opportunity to pass up to the forward, Rachel who was charging the outside post of the net.
The seconds ticked by.
Jaime kept her feet planted as two defenders zeroed in on Erin’s bobbing ponytail. They boxed her into the corner. The chaotic kicking that ensued sent the ball out of bounds. The referee’s whistle blew and pointed towards a goal kick.
“Hey!” The girl’s coach, Charlotte shouted. Her plump face was red with fury and her arms were gesticulating wildly. The dark blue sports jacket that matched the girl’s uniforms flapped loudly against the woman’s thick sides. Jamie wasn’t sure how her flailing limbs were supposed change the bad call but she, like the other parents filling the sidelines, appreciated the effort.
It had totally gone off the defenders leg.
But as the red uniformed defender placed the ball at the corner of the goal box and booted it out towards mid-field, the inevitable had arrived.
The referee blasted again on his whistle. A cry of glee erupted on the field. On the other sidelines a roar rumbled beneath a crowd of waving hands and happy faces.
Jamie sought out Erin. Her daughters head was down again, but this time dejectedly rather than with concentration. She and the rest of their team lumbered with exhausted limbs from the soccer field like wounded soldiers.
Jaime wanted to rush out and buffer Erin from the laughter from the other side. But again, she kept herself in place. Losing was its own lesson.
Charlotte was calling the girls in with her siren call. Their young faces looked up as she waved her arms to hurry them along. Slow trots had the 15 girls around the short coach in a clump of blue and white. Charlotte’s voice had dropped so low within the gathering that Jaime couldn’t hear what she might be saying. Her arms folded over her chest as she watched.
A ripple of laughter came out of the clutch. It was tinged with tired sadness but the sound still made Jamie smile. The wound that her daughter’s sad face had struck on her heart was soothed a bit.
Another shout erupted from the small coach and the girls all reached in for one last cheer, this one for their opponents. Then the line started to form out towards midfield where variants of “good game” were to be expressed in the most sports man like of gestures.
Jaime wandered a few steps towards the mid line to join in the gathering parents. Charlotte was standing a few steps in front of the bundled adults, watching the girls like a mother hen.
“They played well.”
Charlotte nodded in agreement to Jaime’s softly spoken statement.
“They sure did.” Charlotte’s head shook with obvious frustration. “Next year we’ll get them.”
“There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” Scott, the forward Rachel’s dad murmured darkly.
His wife knocked him on the shoulder in a swift reprimand. “Come on. They nearly had them today!”
The crowd of adults buoyed itself on that hope. Jaime smiled as she saw their dejected faces shift just as Charlotte had managed to shift the sentiments of the young girls.
The players were coiling back now towards the sidelines and the adults quickly drifted to each of their charges. Coats were being offered as readily as hugs.
Erin’s bounds were less hearty than usual and she shrugged as she accepted her coat from Jaime’s outstretched hands.
“I should have passed…”
Jaime laughed and gave her a quick squeeze then stepped back as the sweaty girl sloughed on the winter coat.
Erin’s narrow shoulders slumped.
“Come on, let’s get you something to eat.”
Jaime slipped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and gave her another quick squeeze. Erin’s tired body leaned into Jaime’s side and the long sleeve of her coat wrapped around her mother’s waist. Jaime turned them towards the tables, strewn with box juices and cookies that buffered the parking lot.
“I’m not really hungry…” Erin droned. She kicked at a few loose pebbles in the grass with her cleats.
“Nonsense. An army marches on its stomach, and you my dear have miles to go before you sleep.”
“Go on. Grab something and we’re out of here. I promised Reggie we’d stop by this afternoon.”
Erin’s face brightened instantly. “Really?”
“Yeah. He was booked with Paul’s game this morning but I thought we could all share some notes over dinner.”
“Maybe he could help me with my passing!?” Erin bubbled with excitement. Her arm slipped free and she raced with a renewed burst of speed towards the juice and cookies. Jaime watched her run off and mingle with the other girls by the table. A smile spurred by her own memories slipped onto her lips.