My first day of school finally ends. I yawn as I open my locker. Going to every class was pretty much the same. While the teacher wasn’t there, people talked loudly, laughing and giggling about little things. Once they saw me, they went silent and whispered behind my back. Of course I just shook it off. It wasn’t a big deal. Being ostracized by my peers was normal. I was used to it. I skipped class with permission, but they didn’t know that. So of course they thought I was some kind of delinquent.
It’s fine. I’m used to it. I’m okay.
I slam my locker shut after I stuff my textbooks and notes inside. With a sigh, I make my way down the stairs, heading to the bus stop. As I walk down the halls, I see different groups of friends, huddling together and having conversations. But it’s not like I am jealous. This empty feeling I have… it’s normal. I don’t wish for friends. I don’t need others. I’m not lonely.
It’s probably just another girl named Taylor. No one really knows me anyway.
“Taylor!” the voice says again.
Oh wait, this voice is familiar.
I turn around. “Connor?” I say, a bit surprised. He is wearing active gear and a kneepad over his good leg. “Volleyball?”
“Yeah!” he exclaims. “We have practice today.”
“But your leg,” I say.
“I’m just setting today,” he replies. “I’m a setter, so I don’t really have to move much.”
I frown. “But you should still rest.”
“I’m fine,” he says. “Sitting around doing nothing is worse.” A group of boys walk past us, giving Connor the hug that all guys do, before they move along. Connor continues to attempt to talk to me, but he keeps getting interrupted by people greeting him in the hallways. He really is popular. The total opposite of me.
“Have you ever played volleyball before?” Connors asks. “You seemed to know which sport I was playing just by looking at my clothes.”
“I watch it on TV,” I reply. “I used to play for fun.” I always wanted to try out for a team, but because of my health condition, I couldn’t. But watching it on the television was always fun. I noticed that in volleyball, team members would always high-five each other after every point. It was supportive of every teammate.
“Oh, so you know the rules and everything?” Connor asks.
“Of course,” I reply. “I watched too many games not to know them.”
“Then want to try being the coach’s assistant?” he asks. “It’s basically like our coach’s assistant! It’s pretty easy! You’re not in any extracurriculars yet, right?”
Being the assistant? That sounds exciting, but painful at the same time. Watching others play sports is enjoyable for me, but I cannot help but be filled with jealousy. Hearing the players complain about conditioning or practice: something that I am incapable of doing. Witnessing the smiles on their faces when they score a point: something that I can’t relate to. Seeing them make memories together as a team: something I will never be able to experience.
I want to play too.
“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll have time. I have too much work to make up for all those days that I missed.”
Connor frowns. “But you seem really smart,” he says. “During AP Econ, you answered all the questions that the teacher gave you. There’s no way that you’ll need so much time.”
I’m not smart. I just study because I have nothing better to do at the hospital. If I had a choice, I would go home, run around the park, hang out with friends. Friends, haha. Like I have any. Not that it matters. I have Henry. He’s all I need.
“Nah,” I reply. “That was just luck.”
Connor grabs my arm and starts to pull me. “Come on,” he says. “Watch our practice and then decide, okay? Once you meet our team, I’m sure you’ll love it.”
“Hey!” I exclaim, but he continues to pull me on, ignoring me.
We reach the gym and I instantly freeze on the spot. When was the last time I was in a gym? Kindergarten? Yes. It was then. I humiliated myself when I got hit by a ball and couldn’t stand back up. My heart beats a bit faster.
Connor looks at me questionably. “Something wrong?”
I quickly shake my head. I need to convince him that I am fine. Don’t worry. It’s just a gym. It won’t be that bad. Nothing to worry about. Absolutely nothing. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It’ll be okay. I gulp and open the heavy doors.
Loud noises of squeaky shoes and balls slamming the floor fill my ears.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!” a boy shouts as he slides to save the ball.
Ah. The sounds of teamwork. I’ve heard them on television a lot, but rarely in person. This may sound weird, but it is somewhat beautiful. It’s just wonderful how people can collaborate to achieve the same goals. I wonder if I will ever find companions like that in my life.
“Oh!” Connor suddenly exclaims. “You finally smiled!”
I touch my face and sure enough, the corners of my mouth are pushed upward. I try to stop. It is a bit embarrassing after all, but I can’t help but smile. I take the sleeve of my sweater and cover my face. I must be as red as a ripe tomato.
“Hey guys!” Connor shouts loudly. “I found an assistant for our team!”
Instantly, everyone stops what they are doing and gathers around us. I nudge Connor. “Hey! When did I say that I was going to do it?” I hiss.
“Too bad,” he says, sticking his tongue out. “You’re doing it now.”
Before I can refuse, an extremely tall person stands in front of me and extends his hand. “Thanks for volunteering,” he says. Ack. His voice is so deep that it’s intimidating. I want to go home. Scary. “I’m the captain, Quinn. Our team would’ve disbanded if we didn’t find an assistant, but no one wanted to do it because of the workload. So really, thank you so much.”
Workload? I send a glare at Connor, who is laughing nervously. I open my mouth to refuse this position, but that overwhelming stare from Quinn scares me too much to say no. I look around at the other team members who are looking at me with hope. I don’t want to be the reason why this team disbands. Seeing how they played before, I don’t have the heart to break their bonds.
I take the captain’s hand and shake it. “No problem,” I say, trying not to stutter. “Thank you for offering this position to me.”
What have I gotten myself into?
The coach comes in. We call him Coach Randy. Like the captain, he has an overwhelming vibe to him. He shows me all the responsibilities that a manager has, and just as predicted, there is a massive amount. But, even though I know this will cause stress, I can’t help but feel a bit excited. I’ve never been this involved at school before.
After filling out all the paperwork, it is already six-thirty. Coach Randy blows the whistle and the team gathers together. He uses all the usual cliche words to pump the team up, but it is still heartwarming to watch.
I thought this would be painful, but I am feeling so much more fun than pain.
Practice ends, so I grab my backpack, getting ready to go home. I feel a soft tap on my shoulder and turn around to face Connor. “So?” he says. “How was it?”
I can’t help but break into a smile. “You were right,” I reply. “I had fun.”
Connor gives me a thumbs-up. “You’ll have even more fun when you get to know the team! Everyone is great here.”
I feel my heart lift. I always said that friends weren’t necessary, but I guess having someone to talk to doesn’t feel too bad.
“See, you’re smiling more already,” he says with a laugh. “You should really smile more often. You furrow your brows way too much.” He presses his finger in between my eyebrows, causing me to flinch a bit. “See, you look better already! A pretty face is only wasted if you frown all the time.”
I can feel my face get hot. Crap. Why is it so warm in here? I turn my back to Connor. Freak. If he sees my face this red, he’ll make fun of me again. Why did the weather change so fast anyway? I peek out the window. Nope, the weather is the same. Wait, then why is it so hot? Ah! I can’t anymore! I squat on the ground, holding onto my head. What is wrong with me? Muscular dystrophy has nothing to do with the heat around the face! Why do I feel like my whole body is getting hot now?
“You okay, Taylor?” Connor asks, bending down next to me. “Something up?”
Yes! Something is up! Stop getting close to me, you freak!
“N-No,” I reply. “Just need some fresh air.”
Connor grabs his crutches and his backpack. “Okay, let’s go then!”
“Get some fresh air?” he says. “That’s what you wanted, right?”
I never said that I wanted to get some fresh air with you!
One by one, the team members file out. Everyone waves goodbye, even to me.
“Nice to meet you today!”
“See you tomorrow!”
“Thanks for saving us!”
So many nice greetings, completely different from this morning. I didn’t know being welcomed like this could make me this happy.
“Where do you live?” Connor asks.
“Around Ocean Beach,” I reply. “Why?”
“Oh, then we take the same bus,” he says. “Let’s bus together!”
I glare at him and cross my arms. “Look here, when did I agree-”
“Ah! Ah!” he suddenly whimpers, grabbing onto his cast. It is obvious that he is faking the pain. “This crazy girl at the hospital pushed me on the ground a few weeks ago and I think I got worse. Ow. Ow. Ow. Should I file a lawsuit? Maybe she’s-”
“Okay! Okay!” I burst out laughing. This weirdo. “I get it! I’m sorry! Let’s go.”
While we walk to the bus stop, my phone begins to ring. That’s odd. No one calls me. Is it Henry? I take out my phone. It’s an unidentified caller. Who could it be? It has the same area code as our city, so I decide to pick it up.
“Hello?” I say.
“Is this the sister of Henry Lee?” an unfamiliar voice asks.
“Yes,” I reply, a bit confused. “May I ask who you are?”
“This is the service desk from the California Hospital,” the woman replies.
My heart stops. Is there something wrong with me again? But usually they call my brother or my parents, since they are my guardians. I’m not eighteen yet, so why would they call me? Will they send me back to that white room again? Will I be alone again? No. No, they can’t do this to me. They can’t.
“Your brother, Henry Lee,” the woman says. “He has collapsed.”
Suddenly, I can’t hear what she’s saying anymore.
I have Henry. He’s all I need.