Yuuki pulled into my driveway Saturday afternoon and honked the horn impatiently.  I had gotten off work a little later than I had planned and was running more than a little late.  Yelling a quick bye to Bills I locked the front door and ran toward the tan Volvo, practically killing myself as I tripped over the edge of the driveway.

“Sorry,” I panted as I slid into the passenger seat and started examining the scrape on my knee.  “We had a bus load of sixth-grade soccer players storm the store just as I was getting ready to leave.  I couldn’t leave Stella swamped like that.”

“No problem,” Yuuki grinned.  “How’s your knee?”

“Fine,” I shrugged, “so, are you nervous?”

“Nervous?” Yuuki prattled.  “Why would I be nervous?  I mean, it’s just a game, right?  No big deal, everyone goes to soccer games.  Right?  What’s the big deal?”

“Nothing,” I chuckled, “it’s just a game.”

“Right, that’s what I said.”

“So, do you have any plans for after the game?”

“I don’t know!” Yuuki wailed.  “What if he wants to go out, what should I do?”

“Um, well, let’s see,” I teased, “I think I’d probably go, if I were you.”

“But what about you?  Won’t you need a ride?  I can’t just abandon you!”

“Yuuki!  Relax!  Everything is going to be fine.  I promise!  Like you said, it’s just a game, no big deal.  If Jack wants to do something afterwards, that’s fine, I’m sure you can give me a ride home first and if not, there are other people there, surely I can find a ride home with someone.  Don’t worry about it, okay?  You’re going to be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Yuuki asked.

“Positive,” I grinned.

Yuuki took several deep breaths before she finally started to calm down and with a little more encouragement on my part, by the time we got to the soccer park, she was back to her old self.  It took us a second to figure out where, exactly, the Grizzlies were playing, but Jack’s enthusiastic waving caught our attention and we made our way toward him, trying to stifle giggles as Jack’s antics were noticed and stopped by a very angry-looking Coach Carter.  Yuuki and I joined the small crowd gathered along the sidelines and Jack and Cade both managed a quick wave and a smile before the game began, which sent Yuuki into another mild panic attack, though once the game started, her nerves were replaced with enthusiastic team spirit.

I’d never seen Yuuki get so into a game, as she was then, cheering Jack and the Grizzlies on to victory.  It was easy to get caught up in the excitement of a game where the ball changed possession every couple of minutes and both teams ran the length of the field a thousand times over.  Much to my surprise, before the game ended, I was cheering as loudly as Yuuki.  As the crowds around us began to dissipate, Yuuki and I started to follow suit, chatting excitedly over the highlights of the game, when a not-too-distant cry of “Heads up” was followed by the sudden appearance of a rogue soccer ball sailing toward us.

Having never been in possession of quick reflexes, the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground, watching the billowing clouds pass by, wondering how I got there while my head throbbed and something warm ran down my cheek.

“Oh my gosh!  Lyla!” Yuuki cried, horrified, “Lyla, are you alright?  You’re bleeding!”

“Ugh,” I moaned as I tried to make sense of the world, “what happened?”

Before Yuuki could answer, we were swarmed by a crowd of concerned onlookers, all asking me if I was alright when from the looks on their faces, it was obvious I wasn’t.  I could hear Coach Carter yelling at everyone to make room and give me space long before I saw him so I wasn’t surprised when he suddenly appeared next to me, barking orders.

“Alright people, back off, give her some room!  McKay, grab the first aid kit!  Davies, Barton, Neely, Steele, round-up the equipment and load it up!  Wallace, help me!”

Confused, I tried to sit up but the second I moved the world started spinning and I quickly changed my mind.

“Whoa, take it easy,” Ian commanded, suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

“What happened?” I asked again.

“You don’t remember?” Coach Carter asked, his voice rough and yet concerned.  “What’s your name?”

“Lyla,” I moaned.

“Address?”

“2409 Lorraine Court.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“Where are you now?”

“On the ground,” I groaned, eliciting a slight chuckle from Ian.

“Alright,” Coach Carter smiled warily before standing.  “McKay, where’s that first aid kit?”

“Right here coach,” Jack panted as he too appeared above me.

I could see Coach Carter rummaging through the kit above me and had to stifle a laugh as he swore under his breath before yelling at the assistant coach.

“Thompson!  How many times do I have to tell you to restock this kit after a game?”

As amused as I was by Coach Carter’s failing attempts to help me, the awful taste that had been growing in the back of my throat was starting to make me nauseous and I suddenly had to sit up, for fear of being sick in front of everyone.  Again I tried to sit up and again the world began to spin but this time someone was there to help me.  Still dazed, it took me a second to realize that Ian, of all people, was the one helping me up.

“Take it easy,” he commanded.

As soon as I sat up, blood poured from my nose, not really thinking about what I was doing, I tried to stop the bleeding with my hand, but that only made things worse; covered in blood, I looked like the unfortunate victim in a horror film.  I could hear the groans of the few spectators that hadn’t been scared off by Coach Carter and immediately I felt my cheeks flush.

“Pinch your nose,” Coach Carter barked as he flung the worthless first aid kit to the ground, “and don’t let go.”

Mindlessly I did what Coach Carter said and winced as pain shot into my head, instantly bringing tears to my eyes.

“Lyla, are you alright?” Yuuki asked when she noticed the tears running down my face.

“It hurts,” I whimpered.

“Here,” Ian muttered, shoving an ice pack into my hand, “put this on your face.”

Trembling, I gingerly put the ice pack on my face, wincing again as the pain in my face felt like it shot straight into my brain.

“You’d better get to hospital and have that checked out,” Coach Carter barked, “how’d you get here?”

“She came with me,” Yuuki answered for me.

“You think you can get her to the hospital?” Coach Carter asked.

“I can as long as she can get up.”

“Lyla, can you stand?” Coach Carter barked at me.

With rubber legs and preoccupied hands, I did my best to stand but the only thing I achieved was a new level of dizziness.  Before I could try again, I felt myself being lifted off the ground and into the arms of some unknown stranger.

“I’ll take her,” an all too familiar voice rang out, surprisingly near, “I was going to the hospital anyway.”

Without another word, I felt myself being carried across the field while a sense of dread settled in the pit of my stomach.  Of all the people who were there, of all the guys who could have volunteered for the job, why, why, why was I being carried off by this one?  For one brief second I thought that maybe I was hallucinating, and that none of it was really happening; but the pain in my face and a quick glance from under the ice pack confirmed everything, I was really in the arms of Ian Wallace.

Not wanting to make a fool out of myself or cover Ian in my blood, I did my best to keep my head up and away from Ian, but the farther we walked, the harder it was, until finally my head started to fall backward and I wasn’t fast enough to stop it.

“Can’t you hold your head up?”

“Not really,” I mumbled.

“Well, since I can’t have you fainting or breaking your neck you might as well lean your head on me.”

“Thanks,” I sighed in relief as I dropped my heavy head onto Ian’s shoulder and concentrated on not being sick.

It wasn’t until Ian asked Jack to open the car door that I realized both he and Yuuki had crossed the field with us.

“Just throw my bag in the back,” Ian instructed.

Jack did as he was told and then stood back as Ian slid me into the passenger’s seat and closed the door.

“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” Jack asked as Ian made his way around the car.

“Nah, I’m fine but someone should probably call Lyla’s mom.”

“I’ll do that,” Yuuki volunteered, “but where should I say you’re taking her?”

“Foothills,” Ian answered as he opened his door, “have her ask for Dr. Wallace when she gets there.”

Without any further instruction Ian slid behind the wheel and started to make his way out of the parking lot.  An uncomfortable silence settled around us as we drove, I really felt like I ought to say something, but it was Ian who spoke first.

“How’s your nose?”

“Sore,” I groaned as I took the ice pack off my face and gingerly felt my face.  “What happened?”

“You got hit in the face with a soccer ball.”

“Really?  How?”

“One of the guys from Northglenn got a little too upset over losing.”

“So he kicked a ball at my head?”

“I don’t think he intended for it to actually hit someone.”

“So, of course, it hits me.  Figures.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing really, I just seem to be a magnet for trouble lately.  You know, stupid letters, viscous gossip, unwanted fans, soccer balls to the face, that sort of thing.  I’m beginning to think I’m cursed.”

“You mean your life hasn’t been one giant mishap after another?”

“No,” I grimaced as I noticed the blood on Ian’s shirt.

“Well that explains how you’ve managed to live this long.”

“And on that note, do you think I can let go of my nose now?  I’m not sure how much longer I can pinch it without crying.”

“It hurts that bad?”

“Yeah.”

“You can if you want but try not to bleed all over the seat.”

“That’s okay,” I sighed as I stared blankly out the window.

We rode in silence for another minute before Ian broke it, once again.

“So why were you at the game today?”

“Yuuki,” I answered, still staring out the window.

“Yuuki?” Ian asked, sounding a little confused.

“Yeah, Jack invited Yuuki to the game so she asked me to come with her.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“I mean, why?  Why ask you to come with her when Jack invited only her?”

“Because she didn’t want to go alone.”

“Why not?  That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Maybe not to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.  Yuuki’s shy, and incredibly nervous around Jack, and coming to the game was something she just didn’t want to do alone.”

“But why you?  Isn’t Maggie the sporty one of the bunch?”

“The bunch?  What are we, the Brady’s?”

“You know what I mean,” Ian groaned.

“Yeah, and yes, Maggie is the athlete of “the bunch” but she’s at a tournament this weekend so it was up to me to provide moral support.”

“Well, if you ever have to do this again, I suggest you wear a helmet.”

“Ha ha,” I moaned, as we pulled into the emergency room entrance of Foothills Hospital.

“Wait here,” Ian instructed as he pulled under the awning and parked the car, “I’ll be right back.”

I waited in the car while Ian ran inside and decided that now was probably the best time to see whether the bleeding had stopped.  Much to my relief, it had, but before I had time to contemplate how to get the blood off my hands, Ian was back, opening the door and pulling me into his arms before I had time to protest.  Shutting the car door with his foot, Ian carried me inside and with a quick nod to the receptionist, took me to the nearest room in the emergency room and sat me on the bed.

“The nurse will be in, in a second,” Ian announced as he immediately turned for the door.

“Okay,” I answered, slightly befuddled by the combination of buzzing fluorescent lights and being in Ian’s arms.  “Wait, what?  You’re leaving?  What am I supposed to do?”

“You’re supposed to sit there and answer the nice nurse’s questions.”

The nurse stepped into the room before I could respond to Ian’s sarcasm so I settled for shooting him a dirty look which elicited the slightest hint of a smile just before the nurse began her barrage of questions.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Ian told the nurse, “I just have to move my car.”

The nurse gave Ian a brief smile and then turned her full attention to me, asking me all kinds of questions as she followed her normal routine.  When she had finished she told me the doctor would be in shortly and then left, closing the door behind her.  With nothing to do but sit there and wait, I spent the next few minutes looking at the various monitors and machines lined against the wall.  Having a mother obsessed with ER, I always thought the emergency room was some intensely exciting place where no one ever had a moment’s peace, but as I sat there, listening to the quiet shuffling of the nurses outside, I realized that wasn’t always the case.  Disappointed by the lack of excitement in the ER, I just sat there…bored, wondering what was taking the doctor so long and if Ian would really come back.

 

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