The Dustheap

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A football player faces retirement whilst her boyfriend and coach have other ideas.

Kate hung her head between her knees and spat blood. The metal bench, ice-cold from the bitter air, stung her reddened thighs. Large bruises covered her muscular limbs, and cuts and grazes prickled and tingled. Mud with odd bits of debris clung to her dark, curly hair, and an earthy scent lay heavy around her.

‘Damn Knee,’ she said, rolling down her support bandage. ‘Works fine now. Typical!’ Enough was enough. If she retired now, she could go out on top. No way was she going to be consigned to the dustheap. 

Out on the pitch, the team rallied on. The ball thumped between their feet, and the captain, pumped for glory, barked orders. Despite the recent injuries, there wasn’t anywhere else she’d rather be on a Saturday afternoon, except, of course, on the football pitch. It was a small, social club team, but it took up a big part of Kate’s heart. She’d been playing football for twenty-four out of her thirty-six years and loved every minute. It was the only time she’d even consider spending time with colleagues outside of work.

Telling Jack wouldn’t be easy. ‘Don’t give up, Kate,’ she imagined him saying. ‘Get some work done on your knee and come back next season.’

The day they’d met, ten years ago, they’d both been playing in an all-day event organised by a local charity. There was a small social evening afterwards, and he’d asked her to dance, but she’d turned him down flat. The next time they’d met, she was more friendly after a pep talk from a friend.

The whistle snapped her out of her thoughts. She spotted Jack standing next to Coach Robinson. Two rogue tufts stood upright in the breeze from his slicked-back hair. His lips babbled words non-stop to the side of Coach’s face, met several times with the back of her head, but seldom her eyes. Occasionally he stretched his neck forward and looked at her face, but her eyes stayed on the game.

Steam rose from the drinks he held in each hand. He offered one. A smile flashed across Coach’s face, and after a sip, she turned her attention back to the game.

Without warning, Jack let out a burst of laughter. So loud, Kate’s cheeks flushed. She checked the sidelines; heads had turned in Jack’s direction. His hand sat on Coach’s shoulder. At arm’s length — but still. Is he flirting with her? The thought filled Kate with indignation.

A bit harsh, she checked herself. Jack came to every game, laden with hot chocolate and biscuits. Sometimes, she thought he was more invested in the team than herself or was he more invested in Coach and Kate hadn’t realised it?

She hunched over and pulled her shirt over her bare knees to combat the unforgiving temperature. Goose pimples covered her forearms like rows of tiny molehills. She rummaged through her kit bag for her jacket, found it and threw it on.

At last, Jack walked towards her with the flask under his arm. ‘Budge up,’ he grinned as he shuffled himself along the bench. 

Kate made room. ‘What were you saying to Coach?’ 

‘Nothing much.’ he glanced at his watch. ‘Anyway, are you OK? Bad luck, hey? What happened?’

‘I got substituted.’

‘Why?’ He poured a hot chocolate and handed it over.

Kate hugged the cup and took a small sip. ‘I fell during a tackle. It was nothing, but Coach was concerned. She’ll probably cut me from the team for the rest of the season.’

‘No!’ Jack put his arm around her shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze. ‘I doubt it. Just take it easy.’

‘I think Coach thinks I’ve had it.’

‘No! Course she doesn’t! But she’s not stupid,’ he said.

‘Not stupid, but biased, maybe?’

‘Don't be silly. Tanya isn't like that, and you are fine. You’ll be back on the pitch next week.’

‘Tanya?’ Kate raised her eyebrows. ‘Since when has it been ‘Tanya’. Were you flirting with her?’

‘For God’s sake. Can I not talk to anyone without an interrogation?’ Jack stood up, pushed his hands into his pockets and focussed on the game. He jigged from one leg to the other. His breath formed misty clouds that disappeared into the air in front of him. ‘Let’s grab something to eat.’ He turned to face Kate again. ‘We could get lunch at The Spotted Dog.’

‘No, let’s just watch the game from the car.’ Maybe she could tell him now, get it over with. 

Kate rose to her feet, too quick, a cramp gripped her calf, and her world went wobbly. She reached out to Jack, and he caught her, just in time. ‘Let’s get you home.’ He looked at the spectators from under his brow. She spotted them watching her and lowered her head.

The air of the drive home was heavy with silence. Kate busied herself watching the Saturday shoppers. After a time, she spoke, ‘I’ve got a night off tonight,’

‘You do? That’s great,’ Jack said, ‘you need to rest.’

‘I’m fine!’ Kate moaned. ‘Anyway, I picked up a couple of DVDs.’ She pulled two shiny DVD cases out of her kitbag and waved them a little. ‘I thought we could watch them at your house. We haven’t done anything like that for ages.’

‘Aw, Love! Sounds great, but I have plans tonight. You enjoy yourself though. Have some me-time.’

‘Can’t you cancel?’ Kate protested, ‘I’m sure your friend, or whatever, could wait till next weekend. It’s rare for me to get a night off, Jack,’

‘I’m actually looking forward to a night out,’ he said.

Silence filled the car once again.

***

The doorbell suddenly rang, and Kate jumped, almost dropping her tea. She scrambled for the remote, pressed mute and forced herself up from her chair.

‘Who the hell …’ She checked the clock on the wall, 10 pm.

Jack waved at her through the spy hole, and her nervousness eased.

‘Jack, it’s a bit late — ‘

‘Can we come in, Love?’ 

Coach walked in tentatively behind him. Kate tried not to stare at her. A sea of blonde waves draped her slight shoulders. And the dress — Kate had never seen Coach in a dress. A long, black maxi dress revealed a feminine side Kate never knew.

‘Sorry, Kate. I said it could wait.’ Coach half-smiled.

‘Coach? — what the — ‘

‘Tanya — please, call me Tanya. We’re not on the pitch now.’

Jack gestured towards the living room chairs. The atmosphere was stifled and awkward, official almost, neither of them looked Kate in the eye.‘Tanya and I …’ he stammered, ‘well, we have something we want to discuss with you.’

Kate’s heart thumped in her ears. A wave of nausea rose through her body. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and breathed a little faster. Is this it? Is he dumping me?

‘Look, I came over because I know you’ve been down lately and I was worried about you,’ Jack said.

‘You were worried about me?’ Kate raised her voice. ‘So you went out with my coach and brought her to my house to rub my nose in it.’

‘I asked Tanya out because she’s been telling me about her situation and —’

‘So you’re seeing my boyfriend. Does he know what you said to me today?’ She glared at Tanya.

‘What?’ Tanya’s neck stretched upwards.

‘Maybe it’s time to move on, you said. I suppose I’m just too old for the team, or maybe you want me out of the way so you can steal my boyfriend!’

‘Kate — we only went for a coffee, to talk about — you actually, and it’s got nothing to do with your age. There are plenty of great athletes a lot older than you. But if you keep pushing that knee you will do some permanent damage. I don’t want to see you suffer. That’s all.’

Kate lowered her voice. ‘Anyway, I’ve decided I’m leaving.’

‘Oh for heaven's sake,’ Jack rolled his eyes and ran both hands through his hair, ‘Tanya wants to know if you’ll be the coach. You’ll still be part of the team. You’ll be running it.’

A moment of silence fell. Kate’s mouth hung slightly ajar. A wave of guilt and a feeling of stupidity rendered her speechless.

Tanya took over. ‘My mum is ill I’m afraid, and she doesn’t live close by. I would have to move at any rate. She’s going to need round the clock care. I should’ve mentioned it to you, not Jack, first. He asked me out to see how I would feel about you taking over. I’m sorry we should’ve never discussed all this without you.’

Kate found her voice. ‘No, I’m sorry, Tanya. I’ve been an idiot. You’ve been going through Hell … And you, you daft man,’ she looked at Jack, ‘I should’ve known you were thinking of me.’

‘Nobody can compete with your experience, Kate. Your love of the game just says it all. Take your time. Think about it,’ Tanya said.

Kate’s eyes darted about the room, avoiding Tanya’s face. Tanya looked down at her hands in her lap, fiddling with a loose thread.

Jack broke the silence. ‘Of course, you have me to thank for this,’ he winked.

Kate rolled her eyes at Tanya making her laugh. ‘I’ve got a bottle of wine in the fridge and some changes to discuss. You up for it?’

‘Always ready to talk football,’ Tanya replied.

‘Come on, Jack, get the glasses.’ Kate commanded with a smile.

 

The End


Submitted: May 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Pirie Reads. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Ann Sepino

Awe, what a lovely ending. Not including Tanya's Mom getting sick of course, because that's not lovely, but the rest is splendid. A silver lining behind the storm cloud. And not blaming Kate for anything at all, because stress and anxiety can make any person think strange things. Great story!

Sat, May 1st, 2021 12:17pm

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Reply

Thanks for the lovely comment. ????

Sat, May 1st, 2021 5:58am

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