I left my sunglasses in the dorm again. My memory was for shit this semester. The guys were huddled around a MacBook Air before practice. I made a visor of my hand and squinted hard. Zoe’s picture was up. Full-screen. Full-stop. The pixels of her eyes flickered in the sunlight like she was watching me back.
“Derek, you gotta see this, bro. Get over here!”
Derek was our best striker. The guys opened space for him, and he slotted into their circle. The missing piece of the puzzle. I hovered behind them, their backs to me, no longer able to see our report on the girls’ soccer team. We made one every year. Zoe was the last to be assigned a position—the hardest to classify.
We’d been soccer friends since second grade when we played on the same co-ed team, undefeated. Coke Slurpees after every win. We’d planned to play at the same college for as long as I could remember. We worked on our recruitment videos together. I was such a dumbass—I tried to convince her to tone hers down. It was too risky with all the jokes. But she knew better. A coach called to say they’d never received a funny admissions video before; she already looked like captain material. She earned early acceptance. I got off the waitlist by the skin of my teeth.
The soccer field back home sat squat between two farms. It smelled of apple orchard or cow dung, depending on the wind. Our college field smelled of nothing. Turf was supposed to cushion joints better than grass, but the fibers in my knee were shredded. I used to be the fastest guy on this field. Since my ACL surgery, I felt myself holding back, holding tight. The guys felt it too. They didn’t pass to me anymore.
I dribbled a ball, shifting its hollow sound from foot to foot, inching toward the huddle.
“A butter churner!” Derek said. “I totally see it—with all her yoga shit at practice. That downward-dog ass.”
I couldn’t help but picture Zoe’s ass. I tried not to think of her that way, but sometimes it was all I could think about. A current of laughter hissed around the circuit. Derek dipped down onto one knee, like a man about to propose. He brought the computer into the shadow of their shoulders. Derek was the littlest guy on the team, but he always had what everyone wanted. The keg. The answer key. The play. When I was scoring goals last season, I had what they wanted, too.
I tugged the ball between my feet, leaned forward, and sent it soaring off the back of my heel. Zoe taught me to rainbow in middle school. I’d never seen her more pissed off than when I couldn’t do it. She held me hostage in her backyard until she pulled one out of me. Now she was the only person I’d told how messed-up things were between the team and me. She texted every day before practice: “You got this! Go!” Her texts were like sneaking into the orchard, plucking a macoun straight from the tree, and taking the first bite. The one that tastes the best.
My rainbow lost its grasp on geometry. Instead of making a perfect arc, it nose-dived into the middle of the huddle, inches from the laptop. Motherfucker. I should be able to do that in my sleep. A lousy kid’s trick.
Derek chuckled and waved me into the circle. “Dude, you haven’t done shit for this report. You grew up on a farm, right? You know how to churn the butter. Check this out.”
I tried to decipher what he was showing me through the sun’s rays. A naked dude standing over a naked chick. Zoe’s picture superimposed on the girl’s face. The skinny body looked nothing like Zoe’s, which was toned with muscle. They were supposed to resemble a butter churner. But it looked more like a guy jackhammering Zoe with a giant dick. Her brown eyes didn’t flicker anymore; they were flat and grainy.
“Where should we put this chick? I’m not one hundred percent on butter churner,” Derek said. “You know her, right?”
“Yeah. I know her.”
“What’s her position, man? She a missionary girl?”
The guys inside the circle smiled hard, baring their teeth—expectation in their grins, saliva in the corners of their mouths. These were my teammates. The guys I’d pictured at my wedding. At my funeral. Somebody turned up the gas on the sun. White heat flattened me, and, in the midst of it, Zoe echoed through my mind, her clothes sliding off, her face hovering over mine, her pink lips close enough to fall into.
“She’s an aggressive player,” I said. “She’d want to be on top. A cowgirl, for sure.”
“I knew we could count on you,” Derek said, putting his arm over my shoulder and pulling me close.
When I got back to the dorm, I shook the rubber bits from my socks that the turf was constantly shedding. There were black pellets on my floor for months. I found them in my sheets and between the pages of my textbooks. I wiped the slippery pieces up every day, but I couldn’t get rid of them.
Maureen Langloss is a lawyer-turned-writer living in New York City. She serves as the Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, (b)OINK, Cease, Cows, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, the Prairie Schooner blog, The Timberline Review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. Find her at maureenlangloss.com or on Twitter @maureenlangloss.