The next day was a Tuesday and I had no lectures or seminars; I spent the entire day wrapped in blankets in my bed, reading The Mortal Instruments and think incessantly about Calum, how his face had dropped so completely when I ran away from him.
It reached four thirty in the afternoon and I realised if I didn’t leave soon I would be late for practice. It was a practice solely for the first team and was a strength training circuit.
I changed into my track bottoms and t shirt, lacing up my Acec’s. I left my hair loose, it falling all the way to my waist. I had always had long, thick hair, a quality that seemed to soften the fact that I played what was considered a boyish sport. I ran my hands through it now, thinking about how I would love to run them through Calum’s.
“Bye, Grandma,” I said when I reached the kitchen, plucking an apple out of the fruit bowl on the countertop.
She smiled at me over her crossword, warning me that dinner would be ready at eight. I was just about to leave when I heard a car pull up outside the front of the house. Frowning, I lifted one of the living room curtains a little to peer outside.
It was a Mercedes, somewhat beat-up and beside the driver sat a tiny, sparrow-like figure with blonde hair. The driver I was having difficulty in recognising because the shadows of the car hid his face from view. I slid my pullover over my head and shut the door behind me, heading over towards the car.
The closer I got the more I was beginning to recognise the taunt, soft hands that held the steering wheel, the broad shoulders and arms that now revealed a red Indian tattoo. He was wearing a cut-off Metallica vest, grey and holey at the neckline. His hair looked untidy as though he had been in a rush and I could see him nibbling on his bottom lip, unaware of my approach.
His passenger noticed, however.
“Nova!” she cried, leaning over Calum so that her boobs brushed against his arm, “We’re ready to pick you up,”
I quirked an eyebrow, bemused.
“Pick me up for what?” I asked.
“Practice, of course,”
I shook my head, sighing.
“Firstly, Rachel, you aren’t on the first team meaning this practice isn’t for you. Secondly, you know I jog to practice whenever we have it. And thirdly, perhaps most importantly of all, I wouldn’t get into a car with someone I don’t even know,”
The last one came out more bitterly than I intended it to, although I was sure my point had been made. Rachel had flushed deeply, going so red I thought she was going to explode from embarrassment. Of course, she hadn’t told Calum she wasn’t on the first team. She had told him she was just as important as me, just as essential to the squad as the captain. Maybe she had even convinced him that she was my co-captain.
I wondered how she had wrangled him into getting him to drive her there. Did he put up much of a fight? Or was he basking in the female attention, excited to play the field with the football girls?
A sour taste had spread all across my mouth and I turned away from the car, starting my stretches along the brick wall of my house.
I heard a car door slam and then Calum was in front of me, peering into my face as though searching for something. I looked up at him ferociously, pissed off not just at him invading my personal space and routine, but at how goddamn fine he looked. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his neck, the motion sending sparks throughout my entire body as I stretched out my hamstring.
“Rachel told me you needed a ride today. That’s why I was taking her,” he said.
I snorted derisively.
“You don’t need to explain your decisions to me. I’m nothing to you,”
I cut my stretching short and began to jog, at a much faster pace than I usually did. If I didn’t watch myself I could overwork before I even got onto the pitch and Coach Freeman would have a breakdown if his star couldn’t participate. I thought I had left Calum long behind me when I hit the supermarket at the end of the street, so I was extremely surprised to see him come up alongside me, matching my speed with ease.
He looked great running; like a true athlete, arms exposed in the frostbitten January weather, the muscles bulging and tight against his warm skin. His hair bounced across his forehead frantically, such a funny action to see that I laughed aloud. He grinned back at me, taking my amusement to be a sign of a truce between us. It was nothing of the sort but I let him think it was.
I thought we would jog to the training session together but he stopped me when we passed the supermarket.
“Just get in the car with me, Nova, I’ll drive you,” he said.
I rolled my eyes.
“Is that how it always work? Just ask a girl to do something and they drop to their knees?”
He looked at me, incredulous.
“Is that what you think I am? Some guy out there to prey on little university girls? Come on, Nova,”
I glared at him, surprised to see he returned my gaze with as much fierceness. The gold flecks in his eyes shone like diamonds, like a wildfire in the outback destroying everything in its path. In that moment I wanted him, I wanted him on me and in me and around me. His hands on me again like the day before and for the heat from his bare skin to tickle mine, to set me on fire.
“I jog every time I play football. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done,” I said, quietly.
His face softened and he took a step towards me, one small enough not to intimidate me into backing away. We were close now, chest to chest although his extended further up that mine. My eyes if they looked straight ahead met his heart and I reached up towards it, pressing my palm flat out against it. It was beating rapidly, as though we had done much more than just jog down the street.
I studied his face, curious.
“Things can change, you know,” he said, taking my hand away from his chest and letting it flop back down by my side, “It’s okay to let things be different. Let me drive you,”
All he wanted was to drive me to practice but as he said the words I felt like I was committing to something more than a simple let me drive you. It felt like he was truly saying let me help you and nobody could help me, nor did I want help from anyone.
But he looked so welcoming, so trustworthy in spite of everything. I hated his temper but I loved the way his entire face lit up when he was happy, the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled and the big, white teeth he revealed when he did so.
My hardness, the thing I wore as a shield, was melting. I could almost see it dripping onto the ground, pooling at my feet. Maria’s words echoed in my head: we can’t have you gallivanting off with some Australian.
“We’ll be late if we don’t go now,” Calum said, his eyes full of kindness and sincerity.
Against my better judgement, against everything I knew, I nodded once and walked back up to the car with him. I expected Rachel to still be seated in the passenger side but it seemed she had long gone; the seat was empty, the ghost of a former obsession in its place. I sat down in it and strapped myself in, very much aware of Calum’s slick movements using the gearshift and indicators. We rode in silence until, sick of the tension in the air, I pressed PLAY on the CD player that was flashing a dark red.
Flo Rida’s Right Round began to play, the beat instantly recognisable. I looked over at him and grinned, tapping the dashboard happily.
“I love this song! It’s one of the ones I used to run too,”
Calum laughed and turned into the University drive, edging up to where the pitch was at the end of the road. It may have just been me, but I felt as though he was slowing the car slightly as we drove along, etching out the minutes we had together, alone.
We both rapped along to Flo Rida’s part and sung along with Kesha. We were both in a fit of giggles by the time we had pulled up alongside the pitch. I could see the team already setting out the circuit; the Mercedes had caused a few of them to look over, and their whispers turned frantic when they realised that it was Calum’s car and that he wasn’t alone.
“I think we should—” I stopped myself when I looked at him, at the flames flickering in his eyes.
Hunger and desperation flashed across his face; he reached over and brushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear absent-mindedly, his eyes wandering all over me. They went from my tiny hands to the scar I had on my wrist from where I had saved my dog from being attacked by a fox. I had to have two shots that day but my dog survived and he loved me until the very day he died four years ago. They then travelled across my chest to my throat, to my lips and then eventually reached my eyes once more, a look of warmth and comfort spreading across his face.
“Time for practice,” he whispered, getting out of the car before I could say anything.
I was about to open my own door when it opened automatically, and I saw that he had whizzed around the other side to open it for me. I rolled my eyes and he laughed.
I tried not to notice all the eyes on us, some of them envious whilst others were disappointed. The captain fallen for the assistant! What a travesty!
Coach Freeman just seemed irritated by our lateness when we finally stepped onto the pitch.
“Calum! Nova! If you two are going to carpool together then I expect you here at the precise minute!”
I apologised to the coach and Calum went on to explain how it was all his fault whilst I joined the rest of the girls crowded around the supporter’s benches. They were talking rapidly until I approached, at which point they all froze, their eyes deliberately avoiding me.
“What’s going on?” I said, raising my eyebrows.
Nobody said a word.
Exasperated, I folded my arms across my chest and tapped my foot impatiently.
“Speak now or forever hold your peace,” I said sharply, deliberately looking at some of the girls who I knew had a problem with me, thinking me too inexperienced to be captain or who were simply jealous at how much attention I got from playing.
It was Maria, however, who spoke:
“What’s going on with you and the assistant? He’s driving you to practice now?”
I bit my thumbnail and spluttered through an explanation, trying to make it seem like it was all Rachel’s fault when really it was because I wanted Calum to drive me to practice, I wanted him to chase after me and touch my hair.
It wasn’t fair to lay all of the blame on her but I wasn’t feeling particularly generous, and from the way the others were staring at me they weren’t buying it anyway.
I sighed and pulled my hair behind my ear.
“Look it’s nothing, okay?”
“Nothing…sure…” one of the midfielders muttered to herself.
“Just because we all don’t fucking walk around campus with our knickers down!” I snapped.
I could feel myself getting angry, feel myself boiling under the scrutiny of my team. This wasn’t right. They weren’t normally against me, mutinous and disapproving of my relations with Calum. They loved me and supported every decision I made. Why was this happening?
I felt a hand clamp down on my neck, the fingers pressing tenderly into my throat.
“Everything okay here?” Calum asked, so quiet I knew only I could hear it.
That was the last straw. I saw red, a bloody wall flashing up in front of me until before I knew it I had pushed him away from me, so violently that he clutched my wrists hard, staring into my eyes stunned.
“Why are you always fucking here?” I shouted, “Just fuck off,”
I snatched my wrists away from him, storming off the pitch. I was on fire, so much so that I was certain I was burning scorch marks into the grass. I knew the team was staring at me, half terrified half confused. I never lost my temper.I was cool, I was relaxed. With me everything was okay.
But I was furious. I could barely breathe through my anger.
I heard my coach calling my name but I ignored him, heading straight for the changing rooms and slamming the door behind me.
I wasn’t sure when I burst into tears but I was suddenly in floods, streaming down my face and dampening the ends of my hair. I curled up into a ball, hugging my knees to my chest. I was aware that someone else had entered the changing room after me, and they were kneeling in front of me now, holding my hair away from my face and rubbing warm circles on my back.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said, softly, “Whatever it is, it’s okay. I’ll make it okay,”
And then I was wrapped in his arms, the heat from his skin wonderful against my own cold flesh. I cried into his chest and he held me, forgiving me, squeezing my hand comfortingly. We were only like that for minutes but I could have stayed there for a lifetime.