This was his favorite time of the year hands down. The chill of the cold metal bench frosted through his jeans. He ducked his chin into the neck of his navy blue sweatshirt and watched the sky bleed a lava orange. The air was crisp, smelled like wet dirt and burnt leaves. The lights in the stadium were beginning to wink on, their white glow hazy in the mist.
The green field stretched before him speckled by players dressed in red and white. They were restless, each moving about in the small circumference of their assigned position. He zeroed in on her, the loose mass of hair gathered at the top of her head bouncing as she swung each leg out like a Rockette. He knew this was the worst time for her, those moments right before the first whistle, the field pregnant with possibility. He knew she would over analyze the competition, her eyes darting from player to player. She would psyche herself out, talk herself out of her talent. He remembered his World History class from a couple of weeks ago, that Nelson Mandela quote his teacher shared about letting your light shine. He wished he could say that to her now.
The referee in yellow and black, his round stomach making him look like a bumblebee, signaled to both keepers. They raised their hands at him and the wind carried his two long tweets. She was off then, darting up the field. No matter how many times he watched her, he was always amazed at how she seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else. Before the opposition could string together a fourth pass, she intercepted the ball, crashing her foot into it and storming through the intended target. Her team immediately shifted, the players on the wings sprinting down the field eager for her pass.
He loved to watch her play, the way she commanded the flow of the game like she was the sun and everyone else a planet in her solar system. She was like that off the field too, this magnetic force that pulled you in. He remembered years ago being squished into an uncomfortable plastic booth at Dairy Queen. She had been laughing, this loud giggly rumble that infected him. He started laughing too, and they went back and forth like that, trading chuckles that mounted in frequency and volume. Their friends were perplexed and stared at them, trying to discern what was so funny. In the end no one could figure out what had set them off. She admitted to laughing because he was; he, the same. He was probably her most devoted fan; he attended every game just so he could watch her play and get lost in the memories that sometimes made him ache as though he’d spent an hour lifting weights.