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Chapter no 34

If He Had Been with Me

Finny’s first soccer game is on a Tuesday afternoon in September, the third week of school. It didn’t seem like a day that would be important.

I hadn’t even planned on going.

Finny and Sylvie weren’t on the bus that afternoon. They stayed at school for his game and her cheerleading practice. I was the only one to get off at our stop. I am alone with the day as I walk down the street toward home. Yesterday, it had been as hot as August, but this morning we had a cool rain that left the air chilled. A few leaves on a few trees are starting to turn yellow or a little red. If the weather lasts the next few days, then more will turn, but before long it will be hot again; September is still a summer month.

The rose bush by the front door looks like a poet’s overly enthusiastic description. It’s literally drooping under the weight of so many full blooms and waiting buds.

I close the door against the chill air and drop my book bag on the floor. “Mom?”

On the coffee table is a stack of mail. It’s not like her to leave the mail out like this; it should already be opened and filed. Underneath the electric bill, I see a pile of glossy smiles all wearing the same burgundy sweatshirts. “Come to Springfield!” they say. I recognize one of them. All the kids in honors classes got to take a field trip to a college fair. It was just a huge room with booths and student representatives with brochures. One of the girls on this cover was there. She grinned at Jamie and I just like all the other people standing behind booths had. The girl asked me questions and

wrote my answers down on a clipboard. I repeated my routine about majoring in English education and taking a minor in creative writing because I could always write in the summer etc., etc. She said she was majoring in creative writing, and I was annoyed at myself for how it made me ache a little. Jamie was impatient to move on to another booth; he tugged on my hand and we moved on.

This brochure is about Springfield’s creative writing major instead of their teaching program. The girl must have taken down my information wrong. I flip through the pages. It isn’t very long.

My mother comes into the foyer, all smiles.

“Hi, honey,” she says. I fold the brochure in half and kick off my shoes. “Hi,” I say.

“I thought you would stay late at school for Finny’s game.” “Why would I do that?” I say.

“Angelina can’t go because of a teacher’s meeting. I’m going. I thought you knew.”

“Do I have to go?” I ask. I want to be alone in my room right now. “I thought you’d want to.”

“It’s not like he’ll care if I’m there or not,” I say. I look back at the brochure in my hand. The crease has cut the girl’s face in half.

“Autumn,” my mother says, “why do you always say things like that?” Her voice is a sigh.

I shrug. I could read the brochure at the game. And it’s not like I don’t want to see Finny. Sometimes it’s nice to watch him and not have to worry about it looking like I’m staring at him.

“Fine. I’ll go,” I say. I stick the brochure in my back pocket.

***

It’s five minutes before the game starts and I’ve read the brochure twice. Just because something seems impossible doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.

My mother and I are sitting on the top row of metal bleachers, facing the muddy soccer field. A chilly breeze ruffles my hair. The soccer teams are stretching while the referees trudge across the field.

It’s not that I want to be a writer and not a teacher, because I already am a writer. What I want is to be a published author, to have a few readers, to be able to hope that somewhere out there, someone loved my book. When I tell this to adults, they tell me about how they knew someone once who wanted something like that and what that person actually ended up doing.

A whistle blows and Finny leads the soccer team onto the field. He plays defense. A long time ago, he explained to me that this means it’s his job to protect one side of the field. He’s naturally good at protecting. I fold the brochure and stick it in my back pocket. Finny has that determined look on his face that he always gets at the start of a game. It’s the same face he made as a child, the same furrow in his brow that I know so well. He bounces on his heels as he stands on the field with the other starters, another familiar habit.

Finny said that teaching seemed too normal for me.

Isn’t this what all the children’s books and movies are always about? How even if the task seems impossible or you’re too small or you don’t have the right kind of whatever, you’re still supposed to try? Until you get to high school and suddenly you’re supposed to choose a safe path. A path that won’t take you too far from home. A path that isn’t too risky. A path that has health insurance and a 401(k).

Finny has the ball. Four players from the other team circle around him.

They’re trying to take the ball from him and failing.

I can’t keep pretending that writing a few weeks out of the summer will be enough. I can’t risk looking back on my life and knowing that I did not try to get published as hard as I could have tried.

One of the players surrounding Finny slips in the mud and slides into him. Finny is running too fast to stop; he trips and flips head over heels. Next to me, my mother gasps. I realize it looks like he landed on his neck.

My heart stops.

I am ten years old again, and I cannot imagine life without him.

“I’m okay,” I hear Finny shout, but from this far away, his voice is quiet; if it were not a voice that I knew so well, then I wouldn’t have heard it. The coaches and refs run across the field and crowd around him. I can’t see him anymore, but I can imagine the race of his breathing and I can guess at the pounding of his heart under his ribs. I know the scars on his knees and the cowlick on the back of his head. I’ve tried to pretend I don’t, but I can’t pretend anymore.

I know what I am feeling. I know that it is real, and in this moment, there is nothing else in me but this knowledge.

I’m in love with Finny.

The crowd moves away and I see Finny stand cautiously. He looks up at the bleachers, and I know when he finds my mother and me, because he raises his hand in a wave, letting us know that he is okay.

I’ve loved him my whole life, and somewhere along the way, that love didn’t change but grew. It grew to fill the parts of me that I did not have when I was a child. It grew with every new longing in my body and desire in my heart until there was not a piece of me that did not love him. And when I look at him, there is no other feeling in me.

A whistle blows and the game continues. I take out the brochure again, but now I am only pretending to read it.

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