Chapter 6; Unwanted Ryan
“Dig,” the coach called as she tossed a volleyball into the air. Rachel ran to a further portion of the court and squatted as she hit the ball with her hands together. “Set,” the coach announced as she tossed another ball into the air closer to the net, having Rachel run up to the front of the court and popping it up in the air with her finger tips.
The coach continued to call out actions and toss balls for Rachel without pausing, forcing Rachel to continuously run back and forth across the court. She watched a ball Rachel was supposed to be setting go far away from the predetermined location.
“Rachel,” the coach called out, “come over here.” Rachel walked over to the coach, breathing heavily from the intense drill the coach was running her through. Rachel looked up to the coach as she leaned forward with her hands on her knees.
“Your sets are really sloppy,” the coach said strictly, “when you set the ball, you need to make sure it’s always going where you want it, because you need to make sure you get it to who you want. If your intended player is in the three spot and you send it to six, you can’t expect her to get that far for a bad set.”
After a short rest, the coach instructed Emily to come over and continue Rachel’s practice setting. “Why’s she pushing so much on setting practice with me?” Rachel asked, “I thought I was just supposed to be outside hitter.”
“We need all the decent setters we can get,” Emily explained, putting an arm around Rachel and leading her back out on to the court, “With the 6-2 layout, we need twice as many setters as the teams running 5-1 and our setters have to be able to hit just as good.”
“What about Jessie and Karah?” Rachel asked between breaths, “They know how to set, right?”
Emily smiled and laughed a little, “we need all the decent setters we can get,” she reiterated, “go ahead and get into the first position. Remember when you set, your wrists, elbows, and shoulders determine where you’re putting the ball.”
“I know that,” Rachel grunted as she ran to hit the first ball that Emily was throwing out, “it’s just not doing what I want!” she spoke up as she ran to the front of the net trying to quickly set the ball.
Emily watched the ball go over her head, rather than coming to the ground near where she was standing. “You’re using too much force,” Emily analyzed the situation, “you need to hold back a little when you’re setting the ball.”
“I barely touched it!” Rachel yelled out as she ran back to hit the ball at the back part of the court, she ran back to the front of the court to set the ball and again the ball went too far, “see!”
Emily watched Rachel’s movements carefully, “your using too much of your arms,” she considered what she saw, “when you’re actually setting, you should just be popping up with your ankles and your elbows, just touching the ball with your finger tips, touching the ball just to get it back in the air.”
“That’s what I’m doing!” Rachel debated Emily’s instruction, “that’s what the couch was telling me and that’s what I was doing.”
“The more and more you go, the more and more you’re just trying to throw the ball,” Emily explained, “when you’re hitting, force is great, but setting, it’s all about control, you need to hold back so that you get the ball where you want it to go.”
“How the hell am I supposed to have control and hold back when I have to run around and also use force to also hit?” Rachel complained.
Emily raised an eyebrow as she rubbed her chin. She had to figure out how to help Rachel learn to control her emotion.
Rachel’s frustration level had been high the past few weeks. Friday night at Homecoming was the last time she had spoken a word to either Brian or Katie; she had made a conscious decision right then that she was no longer willing to put up with her friends and their attempts to get Rachel to try to accept being a girl. Shortly after, much to both the surprise of herself and some of the girls on the team, the coach wanted Emily and Andie to help Rachel learn to be a setter.
Brian and especially Katie had tried to start up conversation with her, but she was not interested in involving herself any longer with her former friends. “What’s the matter, Rachel?” Andie asked, a bewildered look on her face. The two had been doing some volleyball drills during their P.E. class in preparation for the afternoon’s game.
Rachel shook her head, “it’s nothing,” she sighed, “just put the ball up.” Rachel and Andie continued to work on Rachel’s setting until the bell signified the end of class. Rachel was on her way back to the locker room when an arm shot in front of her against the wall, blocking her path. She turned to see who was stopping her and glared when she saw it was William.
William had been relatively quiet the last month, which Rachel was very thankful for. She was aware that he had been keeping an eye on her, but she knew there was nothing he could have on her. “I’m going to figure you out,” William growled to the shorter girl, “I don’t know how, but everyone is going to know…”
Rachel raised an eyebrow and shook her head, “leave me alone, idiot,” she snapped as she forcefully pushed William’s arm out of the way, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you need to let it go.”
William began to rush after Rachel, “you’re not fooling me,” he called out, “Ryan!”
Rachel stopped cold as she raised her gaze, a look of concern on her face as she faced away from William. She took a breath before shaking her head, “Ryan’s not here, man,” she said before entering the girl’s locker room.
William snorted as he glared at the door to the locker room, knowing he wasn’t able to chase after her.
“You’re ready for the game today,” Jessie asked from her cooking station, “right?” Rachel had been forced to find new people to hang out with during classes since she was no longer involved with Brian and Katie. The first half of the day she was lucky enough to have classes with Allison and Andie. Her last two classes she shared with Jessie, who still annoyed Rachel to some extent, but luckily Jennifer and Emily were in classes with them as well to help keep control of the exuberant friend.
“I’ll be fine,” Rachel responded, not even turning her attention away from her work.
“If you say so,” Jessie smirked a little as she continued to work on her food, “just don’t be all pissy out there like you’ve been in practice.”
Rachel hesitated with her preparation and raised her eyebrow, “just let me go out there any do what I always do…” she spoke through her teeth, “no sweat…”
Emily watched Rachel quietly, wanting to find something about Rachel that would allow her to calm herself. Emily looked at Rachel’s annoyed look, knowing that Jessie had ways of getting under the girls skin, but Rachel’s expression suddenly relaxed. Emily blinked as she paused the scenario in her head, looking it over. All Rachel was doing was cutting some vegetables for her dish.
“Your knife cuts are really smooth,” Emily said with a smile as she stepped next to Rachel, “you really take care with your food preparation.”
“Huh?” Rachel blinked as she looked up to Emily, “yeah, I guess…?” she was a bit bewildered by the compliments; she looked down at the vegetables on her cutting board.
“You know, I’ve noticed you really get in the zone when you’re cooking,” Emily pointed out, “even when you’ve got a timer going off, something is about to boil over and you’ve got to pull something out of the oven, you’re cool as a cucumber.” Emily looked over at Jessie who herself had a pot on the stove beginning to boil over spilling water onto the burner, causing much steam.
Rachel glanced over to Jessie who was cursing as she dropped her knife so she could run over to her boiling water. “It’s just cooking,” she shrugged, not quite sure what Emily was getting at, “been doing it a long time, nothing special.”
“There’s a lot to cooking,” Emily said as she worked a little on her own dish, “sometimes when I am having problems focusing on everything going on in the kitchen, I just think about something that relaxes me, and suddenly its like everything just comes in to place.”
Rachel furrowed her brow as Emily spoke, looking down at the items in front of her. “How would thinking about slow paced cooking help me relax during fast paced volleyball…?” she asked.
Emily shrugged a little, “not everyone finds cooking as slow paced and simple as you do,” she explained, “you’ll be surprised how things just slow down and work when you take a deep breath and think about a happy place.”
“The kitchen is my happy place…?” Rachel blinked, “how do you figure that?”
“Just watching you,” Emily smiled softly, “the way you move in the kitchen is like a ballerina on stage, so smooth, every movement you make is perfect.”
Rachel gave Emily a bewildered look, the comparison to a ballerina was certainly not one she liked. Before she could respond, there was some cursing coming from the other side of Rachel as Jessie had somehow managed to catch her pot of water on fire.
“For some people, stuff comes naturally,” Emily said putting a hand on Rachel’s shoulder, “and when you put things together, you’ll be amazed how easy it is for you.”
Li, Emily, and Andie, all being even numbered jerseys, ran around the far side of the gymnasium during their introductions where they each gave Buster Bobcat a high five as they went by the cheerleaders. The two juniors who went by Buster didn’t get a reaction from the mascot, but when Rachel entered and went around the even side of the gym, Buster too offered up a high five from her. Rachel simply stuck her hand out as she ran by and let Buster deal with it so she did not have to actually pretend to like the mascot.
Rachel looked around the gymnasium; she was a bit surprised to see Katie and Brian were in attendance for the game. This was the first home game since Homecoming. She had assumed that her former friends would not be present for any more games. The team now sat 5-0 for the season, without any of those games going to five matches yet. Today’s game was against Tempest High School, a town a little closer to the mountains, known for having very strong sports teams.
Rachel was starting as an outside hitter in this game, along with Jessie. Jennifer and Madison were starting playing middle; Andie and Emily continued to be the star setters for the team. The coach had found a really strong combination of girls with the seniors and was utilizing it with their starters.
The game started strong with Goldthwait jumping to an early lead and claiming the first match. When Tempest claimed a win in the second match, the coach decided to switch up the team. Rachel and Madison went to the bench, being replaced by Karah and Kristen. The team, freshened up by a change, began to pull out to a lead again.
Leading 21-12 in the set, it looked as if Goldthwait was going to take a 2-1 lead in the game. Jessie served the ball and the players quickly ran to their positions on the court. The ball came back over the net where Li, who was subbing in the back row for Jennifer, called for the ball. She hit the ball in the air and Emily moved to prepare to set, calling out Jessie’s number so they would know where the ball would be going.
Emily leapt up and tossed the ball back up in the air, where Jessie hit the ball over the net to score another point for the team. The feint popping sound as Emily landed back on her feet went practically unnoticed. Emily stumbled quickly backwards and landed hard on the gym floor. She let out a scream in pain as she clenched her right knee right in front of the team’s bench.
The team quickly rushed to Emily’s side from both the court and from the bench as she remained on the ground, her eyes welling up from the pain. The coach and referees made sure the other girls did not crowd the injured player as the medic that was in attendance for the games came to Emily’s side. Rachel stood at the back of the group of girls, some concern on her face as she saw the pain on her friends face.
The JV volleyball coach, a very large man, came over and scooped up Emily in his arms, carrying her towards the back doors to the gymnasium, followed by the medic and Emily’s father who was in attendance. The game paused while the coach was allowed to restructure her players on the court. Jessie was assigned to take Emily’s spot as setter while Rachel was back in to the game covering Jessie’s position.
The team limped to victory in the third match. It was quickly clear that Jessie was not the setter that Emily was as her balls were much less consistent than the team was used to. Taking advantage of the team’s struggles, Tempest moved ahead and claimed a slim victory in the fourth match, forcing Goldthwait to their first fifth match of the season.
Standing in the huddle, the coach looked frustrated, knowing the team was at its weakest it had been all season. It was decided that Karah would be the second setter for the final match, Jessie returning to her roll of outside hitter. Rachel had never seen Karah as setter before, as the few times they did sit out one of their star setters, they turned to Jessie.
Calling out Rachel’s number, Karah set the ball; the ball went towards the back corner of the court away from Rachel’s position. Li prepared to hit the ball, as it was coming right for her. Rachel managed to get to the ball but the resulting confusion caused Rachel to hit the ball in to the net.
“Come on Twelve!” Karah snapped to Rachel, “Figure it out.”
“Know where you’re putting it,” Jessie, who was next to Karah in the rotation, told her before Rachel could say anything
“It’s not my job to know how to return the ball,” Karah spouted.
“Focus on the game, girls!” The coach shouted. The team continued to struggle, resulting the coach to once again switch Jessie and Karah’s rolls on the court. In too big of a hole to dig out of, Tempest claimed the win dealing the Bobcats their first loss of the season.
The mood was quiet as they congratulated the other team. With the coach leading the team back to the locker room, they found Emily was already gone, her father had taken her to the hospital to get her looked at. Very few of the girls said anything as they went to their lockers.
“We’ll win the rest of them,” Andie said reassuringly, “I know we struggled but—“
“We sucked.” Karah blurted out, throwing her locker open.
“We just need to figure out our setters,” Teena spoke up.
“Or find someone that can set,” Tania rolled her eyes with her arms crossed.
“Fuck you” Karah yelled at her classmates as she slammed her locker shut.
“Quiet,” the coach said sternly, “We’ve got a meeting tomorrow at lunch in room 14.” The coach said strictly before departing the locker room, leaving the girls to change back to their normal clothes in an awkward silence.
“Okay, I need everyone to pair up in to groups of two for our next project,” the physics teacher announced.
Rachel blinked. Physics was her one class where she did not have Andie, Allison, or any other member of the volleyball team to fall back on. She glanced over to see Brian giving her a weak smile, clearly hoping that she would choose him as a partner. She quickly turned her gaze to see who else she could turn to. Chloe Dillon was already talking to one of her cheerleading friends. William… no.
Rachel sighed and walked towards Brian, the look on his face lighting up some as he opened his mouth to greet his estranged friend. Brian’s smile faded when she didn’t say a word to him as she walked right past him.
“Hey Travis…” Rachel mumbled, she rarely hung out with Travis outside of P.E., “want to be my partner for this project thing?”
Travis was a little surprised; he was not used to Rachel approaching him outside of the weight room. “Oh, sure!” Travis agreed as he pulled out the chair next to him at the table he was sitting.
Rachel raised an eyebrow at Travis’ chivalry and took the chair herself, “uh, thanks…” she said dryly as she sat down next to Travis.
Class ended, releasing the students to their lunch period. Rachel walked out alongside Travis, although they were not conversing with one another. Brian trailed behind where he was joined by Katie exiting a nearby class.
Rachel parted ways with Travis so she could head to the volleyball meeting scheduled for the lunch period, but instantly found herself face to face with Katie; Brian standing right behind her. Rachel narrowed her eyes at her former friends as she crossed her arms under her chest.
“Rachel, enough with this foolishness,” Katie said sternly, “we need to talk.”
“I still have nothing to talk about,” Rachel snapped as she started past Katie, “I’ve got stuff to go do…”
“Rachel Hawke listen to me!” Katie yelled, throwing down her arms. There was a moment of uneasiness in the hallway with the passerbys before kids began to return to what they were doing. Brian stepped back in shock; even Katie looked a bit surprised.
Rachel had stopped as well, blinking a little in surprise at Katie’s outburst. She had never heard Katie sound so upset before. She let out a sigh, lowering her gaze to the ground before turning and walking away from Brian and Katie without a word.
Rachel walked quietly in to the classroom in which the volleyball meeting was talking place. She walked over and took a seat next to Andie, who sensed something was bothering Rachel and gave her a reassuring smile. Rachel propped her head up with her arm and watched the last of her teammates enter.
At the front of the classroom, the coach stood with Emily and her father. Emily was supporting herself with a set of crutches; she wore a pair of shorts which exposed the knee brace she was now wearing on the leg she had hurt the day before. Emily had a smile on her face as she spoke with the coach, but Rachel could not help but feel that it was just a mask.
After the coach quieted the girls and went over some information regarding the game and season, the coach turned her focus to the real reason everyone was assembled. “As most of you know by know, Emily tore her ACL yesterday,” she explained, “according to the doctor, she’s going to need surgery.”
Unease filled the room as most of the girls wondered what this meant for the team. “Emily will be joining us on the bench,” the coach gave a sigh, “but her season playing is finished…”
“So, now what?” Jessie blurted out from her seat next to Andie, her arms crossed over her chest.
The coach raised an eyebrow before continuing, “I talked with Andie and Emily and I have come to a decision…” she hesitated, glancing towards where Andie was sitting between Jessie and Rachel, “in the next game, we’re going to be starting Rachel as our second setter.”
“What!?” Karah yelled jumping to her feet so fast that her chair toppled over with a loud crash, “that’s bullcrap!” There was much confusion and surprise from the other girls in the classroom, including Rachel.
“Seriously?” Jessie spoke up, “she’s never even played setter before.”
“Emily and Andie have both said that Rachel is getting a lot better at setting,” the coach explained dryly, “and we need to see if we have any further options.”
“Would we be able to start playing a 5-1 rotation?” Jennifer asked seriously.
“I want to exhaust all my possible chances to keep us playing 6-2,” the coach continued, “this team was built to utilize that and if there’s a chance we can make it work, we will do it.”
“She was just chosen because she’s friends with Andie and Emily,” Karah again snapped, “You should pick someone who has been playing the game more than a couple of months.”
“I chose Rachel because she has shown amazing promise and growth in every position we’ve asked her to try,” the coach said sternly to Karah, “if you don’t like the decision, Miss White, the door is over there.” Karah glared at the coach before crossing her arms and slouching in her chair.
After the coach finished her announcements about new things they would be doing at practice to prepare for their new starting rotation, she released them to finish up their lunch period.
Rachel had sat quietly in shock from the announcement that she would be given the chance at being one of the star players the next game. She had not even noticed Andie patting her on the shoulder congratulating her for the selection. As the girls began to leave the classroom, each of them congratulated Rachel and wished her luck in the next game.
“Don’t screw up our season,” Karah growled to Rachel as she exited the classroom in a huff.
Jessie too congratulated Rachel with a smile, although there was a look of disappointment on her face, “of course, if you mess up I’ll have to take your place,” she grinned before departing the room with Jennifer and Li.
Rachel and Andie each got up from their seats and went up towards the front of the classroom, “why did you guys choose me?” Rachel blinked, finding her throat suddenly quite dry, “they kind of had a point.”
Emily hobbled over slowly, “because you’re really good, and you’ve come a long way as a setter already,” she explained, “we believe in you.”
Rachel was surprised when Andie suddenly gave her a big hug, “you’re going to do great!” she said squeezing Rachel tightly, “don’t listen to what Karah says.”
The coach finished speaking with Emily’s father and stepped over to her players, placing a hand on Rachel’s shoulder, “I know it’s a big jump for you,” she said to Rachel, “but I wouldn’t be putting you in this position if I did not feel like you could handle it. The next few practices are going to be a crash course for you to prepare you for next weeks game.”
“Great…” Rachel sighed, biting her lip.
It was nearing five o’clock, Rachel lay flat on her back on the floor in her bedroom, the practice they had had that afternoon was exhausting but she knew that she needed all the help that she could get. She was popping a volleyball off her fingertips towards the ceiling over and over again, keeping her shoulders glued to the floor. The doorbell rang, causing Rachel to pause her practice.
Rachel heard the doorbell ring again, “Brett? Can you get that?” she called out, knowing her brother was home as well.
“I’m pooping!” she heard Brett yell out from down the hall.
“Thanks for sharing…” Rachel mumbled as she got to her feet, tossing her volleyball on to her bed. She headed down the stairs and glanced through the peek hole. There was a man standing outside, just under six feet tall with brownish auburn hair; smoking a cigarette.
Rachel blinked, something about him seemed familiar, but she could not put her finger on it. She cautiously opened the door and looked up at the man, who had been facing away from the door. “Can I help you…?” she asked.
The man turned and looked down at Rachel with a smile, tossing his cigarette butt into the flower bed. “Does Rebecca Hawke live here?”
Rachel glanced down at the cigarette butt before looking back up to the man, “Can I ask who you are?”
A smile crossed the man’s face, “I’m an old friend,” he said, “is she home?”
Rachel grimaced, she had not intended to so easily give up information, “no, she’s not,” she told him, “if you want I can get some information and she can contact you later.”
“When will she be back?” he asked quickly.
Rachel hesitated, narrowing her eyes “who are you, anyway?”
“What does it matter to you?” he snapped.
Rachel crossed her arms under her chest, “in case you didn’t notice, I’m the one in charge of the door.”
The man glared at Rachel, “My name is Ryan, her ex-husband and the father of her kids.”
Rachel felt the entire world disappear around her. She was four years old when her father ran out on them, just after Brett was born. They had not heard from him since.
The door slammed shut, Rachel on the inside with her hands pressed against it, leaning forward with her forehead against the door.
“What the hell!?” the man yelled from outside.
“You don’t deserve to be here…” Rachel choked out, her face felt warm, her eyes burned; a tear began to roll down her cheek.
“What the hell would you know?” he called out, “I need to talk to Rebecca!”
“What’s going on?” Brett asked as he came down the stairs, “who’s out there?”
Rachel stood up stiff as she tried to wipe the tears from her face with her sleeve, not turning to face Brett, not wanting her brother to see her crying like this. “It’s no one…” Rachel said dismissively.
“No one sure is making a lot of noise…” Brett blinked, looking curiously at the door.
“If Rebecca isn’t there, can I at least talk to one of my sons?” the man asked, seeming a little calmer now.
Brett blinked, a look of shock crossing his face, “is that…?”
“No” Rachel said quickly as she turned quickly to face Brett. It was at this point Brett could see the distress on Rachel’s face.
“Open the door…” Brett said with seriousness that Rachel had never heard from him before.
“We should just ignore him until he leaves…” Rachel said weakly, leaning against the door.
“I want to meet him, Brett stated, taking a step towards Rachel. Rachel knew that aside from physically trying to restrain Brett, there was no way she could stop him. She did the one thing she could do at the moment and stepped aside. Brett hesitated, looking at the door as Rachel walked past him.
The door opened and the auburn haired Brett stepped out to see the taller man. The man looked down at Brett and a smile crossed his face, “Ryan! Look how much you’ve grown!”
Brett raised an eyebrow, “I’m Brett…”
“Brett! Look how much you’ve grown!” The elder Ryan quickly said. Rachel watched from the base of the stairs, shaking her head in frustration at the man.
Brett allowed their estranged father to stand in the entryway of the house. “So who are you, anyway?” The man asked as he looked towards Rachel.
“I’m Brett and Ryan’s cousin…” Rachel said irritably, not happy that Brett allowed the man into their house.
“Wow,” he said, “Rick actually had a kid? I always assumed he was gay.”
“Out,” Rachel glared, pointing towards the door, not pleased having her uncle being spoken of that way.
“You can’t just kick him out!” Brett defended, standing in front of the smiling Ryan.
Rachel shook her head, “as soon as my Aunt Rebecca gets home, she’ll—“
“She’ll what?” Rebecca asked as she stepped into the open doorway.
“Hey Rebecca,” Ryan said with a smile and a smile wave.
“Ryan!” Rebecca said in surprise, staring at her former husband, “Brett… R-Rachel… can you head upstairs for a moment…?” she asked weakly.
Rachel and Brett both watched from the top of the stairs, trying to hear what their mother and estranged father were saying. “I can’t tell what they’re saying…” Rachel growled.
“Hey Rachel…” Brett spoke up, “can’t you just give dad a chance?”
Rachel glanced at Brett out of the corner of her eyes, “dads are there to support their children,” she stated, “He is no father.”
“Maybe he had a good reason to leave?” Brett questioned.
“You were just a baby when dad left” Rachel sighed, “mom was so sad…”
“Are you just talking like that because you and mom are both girls?” Brett asked, rolling his eyes.
Rachel was taken aback by Brett’s sudden accusation. She raised a finger to argue against Brett, but decided she did not want to delve in to that subject. Rachel got up to head to her room when she heard her mother clear her throat.
Rebecca sighed, “Remember Rachel, everything I say to Brett, applies to you as well” she said to her now niece, “Let’s head downstairs…”
Rebecca led her two children to the kitchen where Ryan was sitting at the dining room table. Rachel looked with surprise to Rebecca, “take a seat, please,” Rebecca said solemnly.
There was a moment of silence at the table, eventually an anxious looking Rebecca broke the silence, “I will start by saying, that after this meeting is over, you will not be welcome in this house again…” she said sternly to Ryan.
Ryan nodded, “I understand.” Rachel nodded satisfactorily while Brett had a look of protest on his face, “I know I’ve screwed up in the past, and I’m not here to try to take anything from you, I was just hoping to finally get to meet my boys and allow them to get to meet their father.”
“But…” Rebecca sighed, “Brett is getting to an age… where I suppose if he wants to spend time with his father…”
Rachel turned her head quickly, giving her mother a look of shock. Brett smiled wide and looked to his estranged father.
“HOWEVER,” Rebecca said loudly, “I will be notified where you’re going, when you’re going, and if Brett is not home a minute after I say he is to be home, I’ll have the cops coming to find you so fast your head will spin.”
“I understand completely, Becky,” Ryan smiled and nodded, “only if Brett wants to spend time with me will I even see him, and if Ryan comes back to town we can see if he wants to as well.”
“He wont,” Rachel spoke sternly, crossing her arms over her chest.
Ryan raised an eyebrow, looking to Rachel, “I’m not sure why she’s apart of this…” he mumbled, pointing a thumb towards Rachel.
“Because she is apart of this family,” Rebecca snapped.
“Honestly, you’re the one who shouldn’t be here,” Rachel spoke up, “Aunt Rebecca has told me how you ran out on her and her kids.”
“Rachel…” Rebecca said, hoping to stop her from continuing.
Ryan blinked, looking to Rebecca, “is that what you told them?” he looked insulted, “that I ran out?”
“Please…” Rebecca said quietly, lowering her gaze. Rachel looking to her mother with a confused look.
“I screwed up…” Ryan spoke up, “We had Ryan, Becky was going to law school, and I was paying all the bills. I was already struggling to keep up when she told me we were going to have another kid, Brett. As the months wore on I started drinking… I got worse… I was a bad person… shortly after Brett was born Becky decided she didn’t want me around her kids… I didn’t run out on her and the boys, she kicked me out.”
Rachel didn’t believe what she was hearing; she looked again to her mother and saw her just hanging her head, a tear rolling down her cheek. Rachel realized, from Rebecca’s silence, that what Ryan was saying was true.
Ryan sighed, nodding his head a little, “it was the right thing to do, I was in a dark place at the time,” he admitted, “In retrospect I should have tried to keep some contact, but after she left me, I spiraled down and spent a long time in the bottom of the barrel.”
“But you’re better now, right?” Brett asked curiously.
Ryan smiled and Brett, “It took a lot of hard work, but I’m now two years sober,” he explained, “About six months ago, I told myself once I hit the two year mark that I would come see Becky and see if she’d let me see you.”
Rachel stood up and walked briskly from the room without saying a word.
“Jeez, what’s her problem?” Ryan asked with a shrug, “it’s not like her dad left her.”
“Brett…” Rebecca said with a quiver in her voice, “you can talk for a little bit—but please show Mr. Cunningham out fairly shortly…” She got up from her seat and headed up the stairs.
Rebecca knocked lightly on Rachel’s open door, “can I speak to you?” she asked quietly as she entered the room. Rachel was laying stomach down on her bed, her face buried in her pillows. Rebecca sat carefully on the edge of Rachel’s bed and placed a hand on her daughter’s calf.
“What else have you lied about?” Rachel’s muffled voice came from the pillows.
“When I told you boys that…” Rebecca sighed, “I honestly thought it was for your own good. I never thought your dad would ever come back, and with the person he was when I left him, I didn’t want you or Brett wanting to go look for him in fear of what you may find.”
Rachel rolled over in her bed and sat up, her face red as she had clearly been crying. She stared at her mother quietly for a moment before embracing her and putting her face in her mothers shoulder.
Rebecca was a little taken aback, but smiled and put her arms around Rachel to help comfort her. “I haven’t seen you since you were little.”
“It’s these stupid girl hormones,” Rachel growled as she wiped her red eyes.
Rebecca patted her daughter on the back, “it’s only natural.”
Andie came over Saturday to help Rachel practice her setting with Allison tagging along for moral support. After completing some practice, Andie suggested they go over to the mall to relax a little, since both the girls noticed Rachel seemed kind of down. The girls got themselves some giant soft pretzels and found themselves a bench to sit on.
“Are you sure it’s okay to not be practicing right now?” Rachel asked curiously.
Andie gave a smirk at her friend and leaned her head back, “you were in the dumps,” she told Rachel, “and that wont help you be any better, relaxing is the best thing you can be doing for the team right now.”
Rachel blinked and nodded her head slightly, taking a bite of her pretzel and thinking about Andie’s words.
“Yeah, cheer up!” Allison laughed as she grabbed Rachel’s arm by the elbow and pulled her over a little, causing Rachel almost to fall into the blonde girls lap.
“I am I am,” Rachel claimed as she quickly righted herself, “it’s easy to forget to take a step back and breath sometimes.”
Allison raised an eyebrow looking at Rachel, “you’re happy, but you’re not smiling,” she pointed out.
Rachel shrugged, “I don’t smile much.”
“Much?” Allison questioned, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile, Andie?”
“Not that I can remember,” the redhead said scratching her head.
“C’mon, smile!” Allison smiled, leaning over Rachel, trying to physically make her smile by pulling on the sides of her mouth, “I bet you’ve got a cute smile.”
“Hey! Stop that!” Rachel snapped, leaning away from Allison, finding herself leaning against Andie, “help me out here.”
Andie grinned as she braced herself against Rachel’s back, “you’re on your own,” she laughed, “No one can resist the power of the Allison.”
Allison grinned wickedly and began tickling Rachel, trying to get her friend to smile.
Rachel struggled against it, fighting to hold back any laughter. Finally she leapt to her feet and turned swiftly to look at Allison, “Stop,” she snapped, “if I don’t want to smile, I’m not going to.”
Allison was a little taken aback, “okay, sorry…” she said, sounding deflated, “was just trying to have some fun.”
Rachel sat back on the bench with a sigh, but before anything could be said amongst the three, Andie’s phone began ringing. Andie looked a bit surprised at first but quickly answered it.
After a minute of responses on the phone, Andie put it back in her purse and got up, “Hey guys, I hate to do this, but I am going to head home,” she announced to her friends, “something came up and I want to go take care of it.”
“Oh, okay,” Rachel responded a bit surprised, “I hope everything is okay.”
“Oh yeah, it’s all good,” Andie grinned at her, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No its fine,” Rachel added, “If you’ve got to do something, you don’t have a choice.”
“See you later Andie!” Allison said with a smile as her friend left, leaving just Allison and Rachel remaining on the bench. “I hope you’re not mad at me.”
“Huh? No,” Rachel shrugged, “I’m over it…”
“Oh good,” Allison said with a sigh of relief, “I really like hanging out with you and I’d hate to mess that up.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Rachel reassured her, “I enjoy hanging out with you as well.”
“So…” Allison fiddled with her dog tags anxiously, “are there any guys at school you’ve got your eyes on yet?”
Rachel blinked, she had never heard Allison bring up such a ‘gossip-y’ topic before, “no,” she said flatly.
“Really?” Allison leaned in a little, “what about Travis Right? I’ve heard you guys hang out some.”
“Travis and I are just friends,” Rachel explained bluntly, “we established that very early on.”
“So, there’s no one you like?” Allison bit her lip a little.
“I just don’t have any interest in any guys, okay?” Rachel blurted, “what’s this all about?” she looked at Allison curiously.
Allison quickly straightened up in her seat, her face becoming a little flush, “no reason, just trying to make some idle conversation,” she stammered, “it’s never just the two of us outside of class, we always have Andie to add in to the conversation.”
Rachel nodded, “yeah, you’re right.”
“Did you have a boyfriend back in California?” Allison resumed her prodding.
Rachel sighed, “No.”
Allison furrowed her eyebrow as she dug a little deeper, “wait, have you ever gone out with anyone?”
Rachel was not focused entirely on Allison’s questions, “I’ve had a few…” she said before realizing she nearly said the word ‘girlfriends’, she grimaced within when she decided to finishing her statement, “I just didn’t have a boyfriend when I left…”
“Oh, I see…” Allison let a breath out of her nose with a wry expression
“Why don’t you ask Rachel what her big secret is!” William’s snarky voice came up from in front of the bench where the two girls sat.
Rachel’s head shot quickly towards William as he approached the two. She anxiously glanced towards Allison and then back towards William.
“She’s a crossdresser!” William snapped as he pointed a finger at Rachel accusingly.
Allison blinked and exchanged a bewildered look with Rachel. Allison stood angrily from the bench, going chest to chest with the slightly taller boy, “just because she chooses not to run around in a skirt and tube top showing off her body hardly classifies her as a crossdresser.”
“What?” William blinked, “no, look at her, she’s a boy!”
Allison furrowed her eyebrow with confusion as she again glanced at Rachel, who gave a nervous shrug as if to say she had no idea what William was talking about. “Let’s get out of her,” Rachel said abruptly as she locked arms with Allison to pull her away. A bit of a blush crossed Allison’s face as Rachel took hold of her hand leading her down the isle of the mall.
“You can’t just ignore me!” William called out, “I know the truth!”
“What’s that guy’s problem…?” Allison asked, a small grin on her face as she walked hand in hand with Rachel.
“I don’t know,” Rachel lied, “he keeps coming after me with these wild accusations, I think he had an issue with my cousin.”
“Seems like a nut job,” Allison retorted, smiling over at Rachel, “I mean, thinking you’re a boy, what a goon.”
“Yeah…” Rachel sighed as she released Allison’s hand and shoved it in to her pocket.
Allison’s smile faded as she glanced down at Rachel’s pocket. She forced her smile back as she looked back up towards Rachel, who still was looking straight ahead as they walked, “you know, if you did have any secrets, they’d be safe with me.”
“Well, I don’t,” Rachel responded rather irritably.
“Nothing…?” Allison cocked her head quizzically.
The impending volleyball game was getting closer and closer, Rachel’s mind was being pulled in so many directions she wanted to scream. The sudden reemergence of her father was causing her to do even more training just to keep her mind occupied.
“Is that right?” Travis asked, looking over to Rachel, who was just staring at the table, “Rachel?”
“Huh?” Rachel’s head snapped up to look at Travis, who was asking her a question relating to their physics project, “yeah, that’s right.”
“You weren’t listening, were you?” Travis grinned.
“No,” Rachel admitted.
“I know,” Travis gave a small chuckle, “seeing as I just asked you about a cartoon that my little sister watches.”
“Sorry,” Rachel sighed, looking over the notes on the project again.
“It’s fine,” Travis said with a reassuring smile, “although I did want to ask you something.”
“About what…?” Rachel asked, narrowing her eyes a little.
Travis laughed a little, knowing what Rachel was thinking, “not that,” he knew she was afraid he was going to try asking her out again, that boat had sailed and he was happy with their friendship, “it’s about your friends Katie and Brian.”
Rachel rolled her eyes, “I don’t have any friends by those names,” she huffed.
“I’ve noticed,” Travis said with a stoic face, “but that’s the issue, I get that they upset you, but is it really worth completely ending a friendship over?”
Rachel paused, looking down at her notes, then glanced out of the corner of her eyes at Travis, “they’re hardly my friends,” Rachel began, “they were Ryan’s friends, I simply befriended them because they showed me around at first, after I made my own friends, I didn’t really need them anymore.”
Travis frowned, “that’s kind of harsh…”
Rachel narrowed her eyes again as she focused on her work, “the truth hurts,” she said sharply, “lets get back to work.”
Travis’ gaze lingered on Rachel for a moment, disappointed in her response, but knowing that he would not be able to get anything else out of her.
Rachel was exhausted as she entered her house, it was her last day of practice before her first game starting as setter and the coach made sure she was as ready as possible. She tossed her gym bag next to the door and headed for the stairs so that she could shower and change out of her tank top and shorts which she wore for practice.
Walking past the living room, Rachel stopped to watch for a minute as Evan played a game on their TV. It was very common for Evan to be at their place playing video games, although Brett was usually around at the time. She knew Brett and Evan were going to a baseball game that evening with her father, so she assumed Brett was getting ready to go for that.
“Hey Rachel,” Evan said without turning his attention from the screen.
“Hey…” Rachel responded back faintly.
Evan paused his game and looked over the back of the couch at Rachel, a bland smile on his face, “I don’t suppose you’d be able to help me in this game, would you?” he asked.
Rachel blinked. Evan hardly ever had problems with video games, let alone would require help, and especially from someone who he supposedly barely knows. “huh?” is all Rachel could get out.
Evan offered up a remote control to Rachel, “this level, its been giving me some trouble, and I tell you, I’m getting quite frustrated,” he explained, hardly having a look of frustration on his face, “sometimes the best thing you can do is just stop, take a deep breath, and ask for help.”
“Uh, sure,” Rachel said as she took the controller and walked around to sit on the couch, “why me though? What about Brett?”
Evan unpaused the game and continued playing casually, “sometimes you’ve got to look around and find someone new to turn to,” he told her, “Brett is my friend and all, but I just had a feeling you’d be far more help with my situation.”
Rachel was struggling to keep up with Evan in the game; she had almost forgotten that Evan always played his games on the hardest mode possible. That combined with trying to listen to his dialogue was making her quite the tag along in the game.
“I know it seems silly, asking for help,” Evan continued, “but sometimes having help, regardless of the extent that they’re able to do, is all you need.”
“Uh-huh…” Rachel responded distractedly.
“It’s the moral support really, an ally you can turn to when the chips are down,” Evan added, “and you never know when you may find that extra little bit you were missing.”
Rachel bit her lip as she continued. She had no idea how Evan could be so calm and chatty during this game, she was almost using as much energy keeping up with him and not dying as she did at volleyball practice.
“And that’s level clear.” Evan turned and smiled casually to Rachel, “Thank you so much.”
“It’s just a game,” Rachel took a deep breath as she sat down the controller.
“Nonsense, its camaraderie,” Evan explained, “don’t take friendship for granted.” He said as he held up his knuckles towards Rachel.
Rachel hesitated as she processed things and nodded, giving Evan the fist bump he was waiting for, “thanks.”
“Bobcats!” The girls of the Goldthwait High girl’s volleyball team yelled as they finished their introduction. They got to their feet and headed to their respective places. The game was an important one for every player on the court, needing to rebound from their first loss of the season, and more importantly, the loss of one of their team captains and primary players.
Andie pulled Rachel close as they prepared to start the first match, “remember, regardless of what happens, it’s just a game.” Rachel glanced over at her before taking her place on the court. She looked over to the bench and saw Emily sitting there; she was wearing her warm up pants and her uniform top. On the other side of Emily’s crutches was the coach, who gave Rachel a supportive nod.
The team had been so supportive over the last couple days, that she really did not want to let them down. They were the only friends she had had for the last few weeks, which has been the only thing keeping her going insane.
The whistle blew signaling the beginning of the first match; Rachel took a breath as she watched the girl on the other side of the net serve the ball. In just the last few days, Rachel had run more drills than most of the other girls had done all season.
She had remembered what made her good at wrestling when she was a boy, the technical aspect of things. She was never the strongest guy on the wrestling team, but her ability to dissect situations and adapt is what made her good. The setter position was the position she was made for, and now that she was able to bypass her anger, she was able to precisely put the ball where she wanted.
Before she knew it, the whistle blew signaling the end of the game. Goldthwait had taken a decisive 3 matches to 0 victory over the other team. Rachel did a masterful job as setter, even doing a better job than Emily usually did. Rachel looked over at Andie and just stared in shock, realizing that all their hard work had paid off.
Andie ran over to Rachel and gave her a big hug, a huge smile on her face, “I knew you could do it!” she cried happily.
Rachel shook her head, “no,” she said bluntly, “we did it—without you I wouldn’t have been able to do this, its camaraderie.” She glanced over at Emily who had a very proud smile on her face. Rachel noticed the coach was talking to a lady she did not recognize. The lady had a fascinated smile on her face as she spoke.
Rachel’s attention was pulled away as she was wrapped up in a hug with Andie by Buster Bobcat, the mascot. She gave a bewildered look to the felt covered cheerleader, wishing she would just let go. “Great job Rachel!” a voice called from inside the oversized head of Buster, but with all the noise in the gymnasium she could not make out who it was.
After being congratulated by the other team, the girls headed to the locker room to change back in to their normal clothes. Rachel sat on a bench just staring at her locker, constantly being pulled away from her thoughts by the other girls coming over and telling her how good of a job she did. Even the coach came over and spoke with Rachel about her performance, telling her that even a few people from the crowd specifically noticed her out there today.
“Aren’t you going to change?” Andie asked, already back in her normal clothes, “or were you just going to wear that home?”
Rachel glanced up at Andie, shaking her head, “no, no, I’m changing,” she said as she got to her feet.
“Rach-el!” Allison’s voice called out as she came running through the locker room, grabbing Rachel’s arm and pulling her in to a hug, “I can’t believe how good you did out there!” Allison looked as if she too had been playing, with her hair tied in a greasy pony tail and wearing shorts and a tank top with her dog tags dangling around her sweaty neck.
“Thanks…” Rachel said softly as she pulled herself away from the hug. She was pretty sure she’d never get used to all the physical contact female friends gave each other, especially in times of excitement like this.
“If you don’t hurry I’m just going to leave you here,” Andie laughed as Rachel began to get her clothes from her locker. Andie always gave Rachel a ride home after volleyball games.
“I’ll give her a ride home,” Allison said a little anxiously, “I’ve got something to ask her anyway.” She fiddled with her dogtags as she gave Andie a nervous smile.
Andie’s eyes widened a little bit, “Oh, sure,” she said with a smile crossing her face, “is that okay, Rachel?”
Rachel furrowed her brow at her two friends, confused by what exactly was going on between them, “sure?” she said hesitantly, pulling her shirt over her head.
“Great!” Andie smiled brightly, “good luck,” she whispered in Allison’s ear before heading home.
Allison sat quietly on the bench as Rachel finished changing, trying to avoid watching. After Rachel was back in her jeans and red shirt, the two girls headed out in to the parking lot and got in to Allison’s car.
Sitting in the passenger seat, a black trash bag in the back seat caught Rachel’s eye, “what’s that?” she asked curiously.
Allison smirked, “this? It’s just Buster,” she said as she opened the bag, exposing the head of Buster Bobcat.
“What the!?” Rachel practically leapt out of her seat. She calmed herself and raised her eyebrow, “wait, you’re the mascot?”
“I forgot I hadn’t told you yet,” Allison laughed, “It’s supposed to be kind of a secretive thing.”
Rachel wanted to steer the conversation away from the mascot, before it became clear that she actually wasn’t fond of the mascot itself. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Rachel glanced over to Allison as she drove, “but I’m curious why you always wear those dog tags around your neck.”
Allison reached up and fingered the dog tags without taking her eyes off the road. “They were my brothers,” she said matter-of-factly, “he was killed in action overseas.”
“Oh…” Rachel wished she had just stayed on the topic of the mascot, “sorry…”
“It’s okay,” Allison smiled at Rachel, “I miss him, but he would hate it if I were making myself miserable over him.”
Rachel nodded, “he must have been a great guy…” she said softly.
Allison bit her lip and pulled her car over to the side of the road, she turned and stared at Rachel. “We need to talk,” she said straightly.
Rachel looked over to her friend in confusion, “is something wrong?”
Allison took a deep breath, “Rachel, I know you secret.”
Rachel blinked in surprise. She was shocked by the words that just came out of Allison’s mouth. She had been spending more time with her since distancing herself from Brian and Katie, but she had also been trying her best to avoid any possible slips, which she had felt like she had done a very good job doing. “y-you do?”
Allison nodded, an understanding smile crossing her face, “I’ve been trying to figure you out for a couple weeks now,” she explained, “I did not want to bring it up until I was sure.”
Rachel lowered her gaze, “I see…”
“But that’s why I wanted to talk to you,” Allison straightened up and took Rachel’s hand in her own, “Rachel… I really like you, and, well, I was hoping that maybe we could be girlfriends… privately of course if you didn’t want to be out.”
Rachel blinked. She was not quite sure what exactly just happened, “wait… what?”
Allison arched her eyebrows, “its okay,” she said reassuringly, “I know you’re gay.”
Rachel pulled back in surprise, “I’m not gay!” she said instinctively.
A bewildered look crossed Allison’s face, “but… you…” she seemed at a loss for words, “everything I saw, I was sure you liked girls.”
Silence fell over Rachel; she was so quick to respond about not being gay, that she did not thoroughly consider what the word meant for her at the moment. “I…” Rachel hesitated as she looked down at her knees, “I don’t know what I like…”
“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” Allison said quickly, “I didn’t even stop to think that you might not have figured it out for yourself yet.”
“It’s okay,” Rachel tried to calm her friend. She still liked girls; her sexuality had not changed from when she was a guy. Although she did acknowledge that Allison was quite attractive and enjoyable to be around, she did not want to deal with any kind of relationship until she could get herself back to normal.
Allison nodded as a sympathetic smile crossed her face, “I know what its like to be confused about myself,” she said supportively, “and if you ever need help with things, know what I will be by your side every step of the way.”
Rachel nodded lightly. “I appreciate that,” she thanked Allison.
Allison undid her seatbelt and reached over, giving Rachel a tight hug, putting her head on Rachel’s shoulder. Rachel hesitated momentarily before returning Allison’s hug.
“And if the time ever comes where you want to try a relationship,” Allison looked Rachel in the eyes, “know that I think you’re beautiful.”
“Uh… thanks,” Rachel said cautiously, “I, uh, think you’re very attractive as well…”
“Regardless of what happens,” Allison arched her eyebrows with a tight lipped smile, a look that Rachel knew was hiding Allison’s disappointment, “your secret is safe with me.”