Taking one for the team (Lynn SFW)

UnderratedHero May 20th, 2017 (edited) 452 Never
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  1. “A wonderful long pass that the player Margo superbly controls! The Wellington’s Weasels are pressing Royal Wood’s team, but Margo thinks fast and sneaks in a through ball to her captain, Lynn Loud Jr.!”
  3. As she received the ball, controlled it with the inner part of her shoe and made a quick turn to elude a midfielder that tried to pressure her, Lynn reached the conclusion that there were three things that she loved the most in this world.
  5. The first one was her family. Her big family, who at the time were on their feet at the grandstand screaming her name and celebrating her wonderful move, ridiculing her rival. Lynn was too focused on her run towards the opposite goal to turn around and look at them, but somehow she always managed to hear the yells of encouragement from her parents, her sisters, and even Lincoln –whom, after it was clear that he wasn’t bad luck, after all, she had invited to the rest of the games of the season.
  7. The second thing she loved the most were sports. Any sport. That afternoon it was soccer, but it could’ve been any other one. Everything about sports fascinated her. Feeling her accelerated heart, the adrenaline flowing through her veins, her muscles feeling the effort as she ran. She loved feeling the grass as she moved at full speed, carrying the ball as close as her foot as possible, passing through the defenders like an arrow. She usually didn’t stop to think about it, but every once in a while she found herself amazed by her body coordination. Even though she had her sight on the ball, she was completely aware of everything around her. She knew she was inside the other team’s penalty area, she knew there was a centre-back right in front of her and that another one was dangerously approaching her from her right, trying to block her. She knew where the goal was.
  9. She wasn’t the smartest girl in her family, the most intelligent or the most sagacious. But just in a fraction of a second, she calculated a series of movements that not even Lisa could’ve foreseen. She changed the direction of the ball with a swift move of her left foot, stopping her run at the same time. The girl that came running from her right couldn’t stop herself in time, crashing right into her own teammate. She knew she had less than a second to kick the ball before the goalkeeper would reposition herself and another defender came to bother her. Making the best out of that opportunity, Lynn took the best decision: she opened her right foot and gracefully brushed it against the ball, hitting it with the right part of her cleat and with the exact strength so the ball bent past the goalie’s stretched hand and hit the net. The crowd exploded in cheers, the announcer screamed her name at full throat and all her teammates gather around her to hug her and congratulate her.
  11. That was the third thing she loved the most. Winning. The feeling of triumph. The pleasant sensation of victory.
  13. She loved being the center of attention, hearing everybody screaming her name. She loved being acknowledged for her skills.
  15. The match ended a few minutes later, and Lynn’s team won with the overwhelming difference of three goals. Lynn had scored two, the first and the last one. She happily walked near her rivals, congratulating them with enthusiasm.
  17. “Good game,” she told some of them, smiling and with a tone of condescension. It was easy for her to be friendly when her team had won and she had been the undisputed best player.
  19. Some minutes later, the whole team was inside the locker rooms. They had all taken a shower and put on some nice clothes. As they left, her teammates orbited her.
  21. “You were amazing!”
  23. “That pass you gave me was fantastic!”
  25. “The way you kicked the ball on the third goal was perfect!”
  27. “From where I was, it looked like something out of Julinho!”
  29. After hearing the Brazilian superstar name, everybody started making their own comparisons.
  31. “Come on, you guys, it wasn’t that good,” said Lynn, smiling from ear to ear while walking with her chest puffed. “It was a good shot, but don’t forget this was a team work. I couldn’t have scored those two goals if you hadn’t made such great passes.”
  33. Her teammates face brightened up with smiles upon hearing her compliments. Soon enough they were outside the small stadium, and her families were waiting for them on their cars.
  35. “Alright, gotta go guys. See ya later!”
  37. “See ya, Lynn! Good luck!”
  39. “Take care!”
  41. “You’re the best!”
  43. As she opened Vanzilla’s doors and her whole family greeted her with a round of applause and praises, Lynn put her humility aside and thought to herself:
  45. Yeah. I am.
  47. Somewhat tired after a rough match, and with her muscles relaxed thanks to the warm shower she had had, she gently leaned against Luna’s shoulder and closed her eyes as everyone kept telling her how much of a great player she was.
  49. She loved being the best.
  51. *
  53. Soccer practice after school was the only thing that made Monday’s somewhat tolerable for Lynn. Since they played every Sunday, Monday training’s were always more relaxed and playful, and Lynn used them to show off her amazing skills. Every training was an opportunity to prove that not in vain she was the team’s best player, and to get some recognition for it.
  55. She knew she had her place as a regular player on the team guaranteed, but she liked being reminded of that fact.
  57. Already wearing her uniform, she got into the court where her team trained. She expected to be received with applause and some nice words from her teammates, who were always excited to see her. But her smiled hesitated when she realized no one was greeting her. Somewhat worried —the fact that she wasn’t received as a hero meant that something was definitely wrong—, she walked next to her friends. They were all standing just outside the field.
  59. “Hey,” she called them “what’s going on?”
  61. They turned around to look at her, but they didn’t compliment or glorified her. They just looked at her with worried eyes.
  63. “A girl,” whispered one of the girls.
  65. “Yeah, last time I checked I’m a girl,” said Lynn, raising an eyebrow.
  67. “N-No. A girl’s talking with coach Peterson” said another one of her teammates, pointing at the center of the field.
  69. Surprised by those words, she quickly turned her head to look in that direction. Standing in the center circle, the coach was indeed talking with a girl. She seemed to be around the same age as the rest of them, and she was wearing the team’s uniform, yet Lynn had never seen her before. From the distance, the only thing she could distinguish was that the girl had brown hair, falling just right above her shoulders, all held together with a headband.
  71. “What do you think they’re doing?”
  73. “Why’s she wearing our uniform?”
  75. “Coach’s not gonna take me out of the team, r-right? I only missed three passes yesterday!”
  77. “Hey, hey,” Lynn said, quickly adopting her role as captain of the team, “take it easy. No one is being replaced, alright? We’re number one. Let me go talk with the coach.”
  79. She put her bag on a bench and walked to the center of the field. She was walking at a steady pace, her chest puffed, her chin up, her clenched fists moving resolutely: she was extremely nervous. With every step she took, she was more conscious of the fact that her coach seemed to be in an excellent humor. She saw his big smile, she heard him laugh. The girl didn’t seem to be that happy, though, since she had a somewhat forced smile and her hands were behind her back, as she absentmindedly swung on her feet. Still, she was wearing the uniform, and Lynn didn’t like it.
  81. When it came to her team, she didn’t like surprises.
  83. “Good afternoon, coach!” She said once she was close enough, with a big, forced smile.
  85. “Oh, great, you’re already here!” He excitingly said. “Lynn, let me introduce you to Emma. Emma, this is Lynn, out team’s captain.”
  87. “Yeah, I know her,” she said as she friendly extended her hand. “I saw you in the game yesterday, you were terrific!”
  89. This new girl suddenly seemed a lot less dangerous. Lynn could see in those eyes the same admiration she was used to seeing in her teammates, in the crowd, even in her family. Her spirit lifted a bit.
  91. “It’s a pleasure, Emma,” she said, shaking hands with her. “I see you’re wearing our uniform...?”
  93. “Oh, right, I need to tell you all,” the coach said, softly hitting his forehead with his open palm. “Listen, Lynn, Emma came to talk with me, and after a long talk I’ve decided that she’s training with us for the rest of the season, alright?”
  95. “Oh, yeah... sure. Whatever you say, coach,” she answered, trying hard not to look at Emma in the eye. She feared that she would see through her fake smile.
  97. Of course that was not okay! There were only two games left this season, and they were in second position just one point behind the leader, whom they had to play against in the last match. If this Emma was so interested in playing soccer, then she should’ve signed up at the beginning of the season, just like everyone else had.
  99. “Perfect!” The man celebrated, not realizing how uncomfortable his captain seemed to be. “Listen, Emma knows she’s entering a team that has a solid base, okay? I know for sure that all of you girls will treat her nice, but I need you to set the example and integrate her. Understood?”
  101. Those words were a huge relief for Lynn, who let out all the air she didn’t know she had been holding in. So this girl knew that there was no place for her on the team, that she wouldn’t be playing. Perfect. She didn’t want any of her teammates being replaced just two games before the end of the season. That would be really hard for any of them.
  103. “Don’t worry, coach!” Said Lynn, roughly putting an arm around Emma’s shoulders. If she was either bothered or uncomfortable with it, she didn’t let it show. “I’ll be with her the whole time. Maybe I can teach her one or two things.”
  105. *
  107. “Okay, so we usually start our training with some physical exercises, to build up our stamina. But since we play every Sunday, on Mondays we focus more on practicing technique. You know, we practice control, try to improve the way we kick the ball, that kind of stuff,” explained Lynn, walking along with Emma after introducing her to the rest of the team.
  109. “Yeah, muscles needs some rest after a game,” chipped in the newcomer.
  111. “Heh, you get used to it, believe me. I’ve been training every day and playing three times a week for over five years. You end up appreciating the nice sensation of tiredness on your body” she said with a proud smile.
  113. “Wow! No wonder you’re the best one in the tournament!”
  115. “Why thanks, but no matter what everyone and all my trophies say, I don’t consider myself as the best. I’m just a girl that does what’s best for the team.”
  117. “So, what are we doing first?” Asked Emma.
  119. Lynn guided her to a small circuit of plastic cones the coach had left prepared on the court, next to several balls. She took the first one and soon everyone followed her lead, including Emma. Lynn paid attention to the way the new girl carried the ball around, with no trouble whatsoever.
  121. Interesting.
  123. “We’re practicing some technique and control. Pretty simple, just an easy circuit to start out. Like this.”
  125. Lynn started to run, carrying the ball with her. It was enough to just jog around the cones, but Lynn had a new audience, and she wanted to show off, she wanted to prove that she could do it at amazing speed. She dashed through the cones, without losing the ball at any point. When she was done, shortly later, all her teammates started to clap.
  127. “Come on, Emma, show us what you got,” said the captain.
  129. The girl nodded. With a shy smile, she carried the ball into the start of the circuit. She stretched her legs a bit and breathed in, getting ready. Once she was done with the preparations, she suddenly started to run.
  131. Everyone else on the field dropped their jaws.
  133. The new girl was passing like a lightning through the cones, moving with a grace and technique simply out of the ordinary. She had no problem with her control, keeping the ball safe withing her feet reach at high speeds, one of the most difficult skills to master. Lynn started to hear her teammates whispering between them. She heard shocked expressions, and she didn’t like that. At all.
  135. Emma did almost the whole exercise flawlessly, but just as she was a couple of feet away from finishing it, the ball bumped against a cone. Emma had to stop, go back and take the ball once again, but by the time she regained control she was just too close to the finish line to accelerate, so she jogged the remaining steps.
  137. “That was amazing!” Margo said just as Emma stopped right next to them.
  139. “Incredible! You were so fast!”
  141. “You had that ball glued to your cleats!”
  143. “You went almost as fast as Lynn!”
  145. Lynn’s senses came back after hearing those words. She closed her mouth and changed her attitude.
  147. “That was pretty good, Emma, but the point of this exercise is to keep the ball from touching the cones,” she said as maternally as possible, with a smile that wasn’t reflected in her eyes. “Maybe you should try to lower the bar a bit, focus less on your speed and more on your control.”
  149. Emma’s smile quickly faded away.
  151. “Oh, yeah, I… I’m sorry. I thought we had to do this as fast as possible.”
  153. “Oh, Lynn always does this fast,” explained one of the girls, “but only because she can.”
  155. “Exactly. The idea is to make this as fast as each one of us can,” she continued. “It’s okay to try to improve yourself… but maybe you shouldn’t push it so much.”
  157. “Alright then. Sorry” apologized Emma, looking down and shyly moving the ball. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
  159. Coach came back from the shed with new equipment for the following exercises and scolded them for being talking instead of training. Lynn and Emma went to the end of the line as the rest of the girls did their circuit.
  161. The rest of the day was a living hell for Lynn. Near the end of the training, they found out that Emma, before moving into Royal Woods, had been playing in the youth divisions of the Michigan Rangers, one of the best teams in the whole state. Everyone on the team —except for the coach, who had a knowing grin the whole time— was incredibly surprised upon hearing that, and they all started asking a lot of questions. Apparently, she had been the best player in her division.
  163. And it showed.
  165. She superbly completed all exercises. She responded very well to every basic test, controlling the ball, dribbling without losing it, even showed great skill at headers. Lynn kept doing her best, training at her one hundred percent, showing that she was the best in absolutely every single thing they practiced. Her teammates, however, were already used to her wonders. They knew she was a sport’s prodigy, so they weren’t surprised when she juggled the ball over fifty times with different parts of her body, keeping it up in the air way longer than anyone else. But when Emma took the ball and juggled it twenty-six times with her knees? Everybody lost their minds.
  167. Lynn couldn’t believe all the attention the new girl was getting. SHE was the best! She, Lynn Loud, was the star player! If they were in second place in the tournament, just two steps away from being crowned champions for a new season, it was all thanks to her and her goals! It wasn’t fair that a new girl could suddenly appear and have everyone treating her like she was a wonderful player. Lynn was much better!
  169. At least that’s what she thought until they got to their shooting practice.
  171. Usually, that was the part Lynn enjoyed the most since she considered her shooting skills as one of her greatest virtues. That’s why, as soon as everyone stood outside the penalty area and started to shoot in order, Lynn smiled. No matter how many times they all saw her shooting to the goal, seeing a free kick goal was always something worth admiration.
  173. When it got to Lynn’s turn, she took a few seconds to concentrate… and also so everyone could put their attention on her. Emma, standing at her right, was looking at her rather enthusiastic. The rest of her teammates stared at their captain with devotion, like she was a deity of some sort. Lynn finally breathed in, focused her eyes on the ball, took two little steps in her place and then kicked the ball. She hit it with the perfect ratio of strength and precision. The ball lifted over the barrier and then curved down at a sharp angle. The goalkeeper flew, but her hand couldn’t stop the ball from hitting the net close to the opposite post.
  175. Everyone let out exclamations of surprise, cheers, and even some insults were thrown into the air. Emma opened her mouth and started clapping right next to her, as the rest of the girls sent their congrats from where they were. Lynn’s face was hidden behind that big smile of hers.
  177. “Come on, Emma,” she said with renewed confidence, “your turn.”
  179. Emma nodded, still somewhat impressed by Lynn’s shot. She took three steps back, breathed in, started her run and used her laces to impact the ball, which traveled as fast and almost as straight as an arrow right to the upper left angle, hitting on the underside of the crossbar before entering.
  181. Lynn heard the explosion of unbridled cries, and on the corner of her eyes, she saw several teammates taking her hands to their heads, unable to believe what they had just witnessed. She couldn’t believe it either. A fly could have stopped on her mouth, even her eye, and she would have hardly noticed it. The only thing she could feel was her heart shattering to pieces as the girls approached Emma to tell her that her shot had been awesome, the best they had seen in a long time.
  183. After some seconds where her brain seemed to be shut down, Lynn shook her head, and her face got more serious.
  185. “Do you want the coach to nag us again? Let’s keep practicing! We still have fifteen minutes of practice, let’s go!”
  187. *
  189. Lynn’s week didn’t get better after that Monday fiasco. Tennis, roller derby and volley practices helped to cheer her up. She was still the star player in those sports, and everyone on her teams loved her and looked up to her. But then, soccer practices came, and she felt like crap.
  191. Not because she was playing bad. She definitely wasn’t. She was still on another level, clearly superior to anyone else. But neither her teammates nor the coach seemed to be surprised by it. The celebrated some of her plays, yes, but they only lost their minds whenever Emma did something. It didn’t even have to be something truly spectacular. Did she stop the ball without it bouncing away? Everybody clapped. Did she execute a precise long pass? Everybody praised her. Did she play at one touch? It was the second coming of Christ!
  193. Lynn felt betrayed. She was the captain, the top scorer of the team… of the entire league, actually! She was the best player, she generated half the fouls the whole team received, she was the one that was able to win matches that seemed to be lost, the one that had taken them to be in second place with a lot of chances of being champions. And just because a new girl with some skills had arrived, they all forgot everything she had done. They didn’t treat her with the same respect and admiration they had done until that Monday. They didn’t love her like she wanted them to anymore.
  195. Lynn felt like she was slowly being forgotten.
  197. It was a big relief when, during Friday’s practice, the coach told everyone that Emma would go to the game but only as a substitute. The initial formation would be the same one that had won the last five matches. Knowing that the coach trusted them like that made her feel a bit better, especially since her family wouldn’t be attending her game this opportunity. She didn’t blame them. They were playing against a team in another city, and it was a one hour travel to get there. Besides, Lucy had a poetry reading session at the same time, and since they had all went to Lynn’s game last weekend, they decided to go with Lucy on this opportunity.
  199. It was reasonable, but that didn’t stop Lynn from feeling a bit let down. Her family support was always a plus, and that week she needed them more than ever. She pretended she wasn’t upset about it. And she thought she had made a good job pretending that. But Lucy came to talk with her, asking if she wanted to play something or listen to her poems, and both Lori and Lincoln told her they were sorry they couldn’t go to her game. Nothing escaped the oldest girl and the middle boy.
  201. When the game started, Lynn sadly stared at the Loud-less crowd. For a few seconds, she felt vulnerable. She felt fragile. Sad. Then Margo gave her a pass, and suddenly the game was all that she could think about. The energy. The adrenaline of a contact sport. She could forget her problems and concentrate on the match only.
  203. And she needed that concentration.
  205. They were playing against the fourth team in the tournament, and their players were highly fierce. They had a close defense, and they used fouls to cut short the game flow of Lynn’s team. It wasn’t an easy game at all. They couldn’t make more than three consecutive passes, they couldn’t advance more than halfway into their opponent’s half of the field. That meant Lynn was barely touching the ball.
  207. She was no stranger to that type of games. She knew that, in order to get more involved in the game, she had to go back a bit and play closer to her teammates, not just stay as a lonely striker. But even though she managed to receive the ball and create some danger, she simply lacked someone to accompany her in the attack.
  209. After she made a perfect pass to Margo, expecting a quick wall pass, and her friend lost possession after trying to elude a rival, Lynn finally lost her patience.
  211. “Margo! Margo!” She yelled, trying to make herself heard over all the noise. “You need to play one-touch! I’m free over here if you look up!”
  213. Her teammate made an unfriendly gesture as she ran back to her position, and Lynn stomped the ground. Some minutes later, the referee whistled the end of the first half, and Lynn’s team went straight to the benches, not daring look at their captain.
  215. They knew the murderous glare she was shooting them.
  217. Fortunately for them, Lynn was not in charge of the halftime talk. It was the coach who scolded them.
  219. “What’s wrong with you? Where’s your spirit? Where’s your heart, your guts?” He told them, moving his arms like he was trying to fly. “We need to win if we want to reach the last match with possibilities of becoming champions once again! You need to leave your soul behind every ball, you need to show them why we’re here, why we’re the best ones in the whole tournament! We didn’t get this far playing like this!”
  221. Lynn wanted so bad to say she agreed with him, but she knew it wasn’t her time to talk.
  223. “The other team plays the same way than our next rival, and that team has this system more refined! If we can’t win today, then we can say goodbye to the championship next week! None of you is helping Lynn on our attacks! She’s creating spaces and opportunities and no one’s doing anything!”
  225. He caught his breath. Sometimes he got agitated during his strenuous speeches. After recovering, he relaxed himself a bit.
  227. “We’re doing a couple of substitutions. Brittany, you go for Margo. Watch out for Sophie’s back and try to play one-touch. Emma, you go in for Madison. I need you to play behind the midfielders, and try to...”
  229. Lynn paid no attention to the indications the coach was giving to the new girl. She couldn’t believe it. He was putting her on the team?! In such an important match? That made no sense. It wasn’t fair! Why would he even consider sending in a new girl? It’s true that Madison wasn’t having a great match, but…
  231. “Alright, the second half’s about to start. Go to the field. Lynn, you too. Lynn Jr!”
  233. The captain of the team snapped back to reality.
  235. “Uh, what did you say, coach?”
  237. “Get your butt on the field! Second half’s about to start!”
  239. Saying nothing further, Lynn jogged back to the center circle. As the other team finished getting ready and they all waited for the referee to come back, she looked at her right. Emma was standing as a striker right next to her, warming up her leg’s muscles. The girl seemed to sense Lynn’s look, for she turned around and smiled at her.
  241. Lynn had to make an effort to smile her back.
  243. To make things even worse for her, once the second half started she realized she and Emma got along perfectly in the field.
  245. It was like they had both been playing together for their whole lives. Every time one of them received the ball, they knew exactly where to move, where to make the next pass. They started to make wonderful combinations in their rival’s part of the field, generating some close calls to their goal. Lynn was pretty satisfied with the nutmeg she made to a defender right before shooting to the goal, with the ball passing just inches away from the right post. But then Emma made a volley that hit the crossbar and everybody in the crowd exploded in applause, causing Lynn to be far from satisfied with the way she was playing.
  247. As the minutes passed, Lynn and Emma managed to single-handedly push the other team against their own penalty area, but the ball wouldn’t simply enter the goal. The rival goalkeeper turned out to be really good, and even though the whole team was playing better and creating more goal occasions, they still lacked the last touch, the last brushstroke to finish their wonderful plays. They needed to score a goal.
  249. With only ten minutes left, Lynn received a fantastic pass from Emma and headed straight for the goal. She eluded the first rival that tried to stop her, she ridiculed the second one, and just as she was about to get ready to shoot from outside the penalty area, she felt a concussion in her right calf.
  251. She fell face first to the ground with a cry of pain and rolled a couple of times. She was used to receiving vicious fouls, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t painful every time. Her calf was aching, and she had to close her eyes as she grabbed it. She heard the referee’s whistle, some insults from her rivals —who swore Lynn was faking it and that their teammate had hit the ball first— and then a lot of reproach from the grandstands. The referee must have shown the red card.
  253. “Lynn! You okay?”
  255. She opened up her eyes, meeting Emma’s worried look. She tried to sit, but her calf was killing her. She would have to put a lot of ice over it once she got home. She saw the referee pointing the place for the free kick for her team. Trying to ignore the pain, she made the effort to stand up, accepting Emma’s hand to do it. She tried to go after the ball, but her leg was still aching.
  257. To her utter horror, the coach sent the team’s doctor to the field. She protested so he wouldn’t get in, but once the doctor stepped on the field, the referee made her go outside to receive medical attention while the game kept going.
  259. “But I’m the one in charge of the free kicks!” Lynn complained, pleading for the referee to let her stay.
  261. “You know the rules: if the doctor gets in, you need to be revised outside the field as the game goes on.”
  263. “But I’m fine! Look!” She said, stomping the ground with her wounded leg to show that the pain was slowly fading away.
  265. “Then you’ll be back in the next play,” simply said the referee.
  267. Completely outraged, Lynn had to leave the field. The doctor asked if she could move her leg, if she had any strong pain, but she just told him that she was fine. She couldn’t believe what the stupid coach had done. He had forced the referee to send her out of the field just when they had a free kick right outside the penalty area. That was the kind of situations where Lynn was determinant! He had just given away a goal and the victory! Didn’t he want them to win?!
  269. Her disappointment was only increased when she saw the rest of her teammates asking Emma to take the free kick. As the new girl took some steps back from the ball, Lynn crossed her arms over her chest and snorted, and the air that came out of her mouth moved part of her bangs. Emma might be very good with her shooting skills, but this was no easy shot. She would have to curve the ball a lot to keep the goalkeeper from blocking it.
  271. The whistle sounded and Lynn watched, biting her lips, how Emma ran to the ball. How she hit it with the inner part of her cleat.
  273. How the sphere curved all the way to the net.
  275. How the whole team went to celebrate with Emma, their new heroine.
  277. For the first time in her life, Lynn Loud wished she was injured. That way she would have had an excuse to leave.
  279. *
  281. Lincoln was playing his video games in the living room when the entry door of the Loud house was sudden and violently opened. He got so scared that he let his control fall to the ground, losing his game a few seconds later. As he took a hand to his chest, trying to regulate his heartbeat, someone got inside the house.
  283. “Oh, hey Lynn! How did the…?”
  285. Lincoln heard a thud, a groan of pain and the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. When he turned around and looked at his left, he caught a glimpse of Lynn’s legs as she crossed the stairs, heading to her room. Luan was on the floor, with Lynn’s heavy bag resting on her chest and stomach. He then heard a door upstairs, and he knew his older sister had locked herself in her own room.
  287. And he knew what that meant.
  289. Lincoln sighed and turned off his console. After Lucy’s poetry reading, the whole family had gone to the mall. Lincoln had no money saved, and he knew his parents wouldn’t buy him anything expensive —buying something for one of the kids would mean buying something for all of them— so he asked permission to go straight to the house instead. Luan offered herself to go too and take care of her little brother, since she had a new act to prepare for her show. So, now that Lynn had returned from her game, they were the only three in the house. Luan seemed to be out of action, so it was up to Lincoln to cheer Lynn up.
  291. After some preparation, he stood just outside Lynn’s room with a sandwich in his hand and some drops of sweat on his forehead. He gently knocked the door, waiting for a threat or an insult to be thrown at him. When none of that came, he slowly opened the door.
  293. “L-Lynn? I’m coming in,” he announced, taking courage and stepping inside that hostile territory.
  295. But it wasn’t a battlefield like he had expected, like it always was in similar situations. Lynn didn’t attack him with tennis balls or with her hockey sticks. In fact, she didn’t say anything. Lincoln found her lying in her bed, staring at the wall, holding her pillow tight against her chest.
  297. Gosh, he felt so bad for not going to her game.
  299. “Hey, Lynn?” He spoke with caution, slowly getting near her night table. “I made you a sub, just like you like them. I put extra sauce on it, and… and more...”
  301. His voice trailed off. Lynn wasn’t sleeping, there was no way she could fall asleep so fast. But she hadn’t even moved after hearing about a special sub. This was worst than what Lincoln had foreseen. He left the plate with the sub on the night table and, carefully, he sat on his sister’s bed.
  303. Even after so many years of practice, trying to cheer Lynn up after a bad game was still a herculean task.
  305. “Come on, Lynn, don’t be so sad. I know no one likes to lose, but you can’t always win, sis. There’s gonna be times in your life when you—“
  307. “We didn’t lose, Lincoln,” she interrupted him with a tired voice, looking away from him. “We won. We’re one step away from being champions again.”
  309. Lincoln looked at her like she had just said that she was thinking about leaving her volley team to join the chess club or try to go into gardening. He waited for her to clarify the situation a little more, but his though sister didn’t seem to be in the mood for talking.
  311. “What happened, then?” He asked, evidently worried.
  313. The wallpaper seemed to be suddenly interesting, judging by the way Lynn was now looking at it, trying his best to avoid Lincoln’s eyes.
  315. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she finally said, hugging her pillow tighter.
  317. “Is it something… personal?”
  319. “No. Well, kinda.”
  321. “Is it something I could help you with?”
  323. “No.”
  325. It was a lost cause. Lynn was definitely not interested in talking about it. What frightened and worried him the most was that she didn’t seem to be aggressive, she wasn’t forcing him to leave or to stop asking questions. She looked absolutely sad. And that, in Lynn Loud’s case, the toughest girl in Royal Woods, was not a good sign.
  327. Lincoln was trying to find the right words when he noticed something.
  329. “What happened to your leg?” He asked, looking at a bandage in Lynn’s calf.
  331. “Someone kicked me. Nothing serious.”
  333. “Does it hurt?”
  335. Lincoln counted three breaths before she answered.
  337. “Kinda.”
  339. “Alright, sit up. I got this.”
  341. With renewed confidence, he grabbed her by her hips and softly turned her around. Lynn half-heartedly let him do it, simply putting the pillow behind her to rest his back against the wall. She stretched her leg on the bed and Lincoln gently grabbed it, sitting in front of her. Slowly and delicately, he started to massage the hurt muscle. At first, Lynn let out small groans of pain, but shortly after, Lincoln’s expert hands managed to ease and relax her. She closed her eyes and laid against the pillow. She wasn’t in the mood to argue or to try to kick him out of her room. Besides, she knew that Lincoln had nothing to do with her problems, he was just trying to be a good brother for her.
  343. Seeing his sister much calmer, Lincoln decided to give it a shot.
  345. “Look, Lynn, I don’t know what happened, but I can tell it’s something that’s worrying you. I won’t force you to tell me, but if you ever need someone to hear you… you can always count on me.”
  347. He pretended not to hear his sister’s deep breathing. He kept massaging her calf, feeling her muscles loosening at his touch. He patiently waited, not looking at her, trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
  349. “Do you promise…?” Lynn cleared her throat to find her voice. “Can you keep it between us?”
  351. Now was the time to look her in the eye. He gave one last tender caress to his sister’s calf, leaving his hands there as he tried to physically assure her that he was there for her. That she could trust him.
  353. “No one else will know.”
  355. He saw her closing her eyes and sighing in relief. He knew right away he had done the right thing by staying with her.
  357. She told him everything. She told him about Emma, about her teammates, about the coach. About the training’s, the murmurs, the compliments. And also the silences. The lack of praises, the lack of love from everyone else. She told him about the game that had just finished, the few opportunities she had, the ball that just wouldn’t enter the goal. The foul she had received, the bad call of the coach by forcing her to leave the field on that crucial minute. The victory goal. How Emma had received all the praises and applause.
  359. He heard her without interrupting, without saying anything or giving her any condescending looks. He let her talk, he let her let out everything that was bothering her.
  361. “And you know what’s the worst thing about this?” If not for the fact that it was Lynn and he knew her, he would have thought she was about to cry. “After the game, coach told us that we were very lucky that she had joined us. He said we couldn’t have won without her. And he… and he said he might put Emma as the only striker in our next and final match.”
  363. Lincoln’s eyes had the size of saucers by the time she finished that sentence.
  365. “What?! He’s… he’s taking you out of the team?!”
  367. Lynn moved her legs, pulling away from Lincoln’s touch, and hugged her knees to her chest.
  369. “He wants me to play as an offensive midfielder.”
  371. “So, you’re not out of the team?”
  373. “No, but that’s not the damn point, Lincoln,” she said, although she quickly regretted her little outburst, “I’m sorry, I just… He’s putting me between the midfielders and Emma, and she’ll… she’ll replace me as a striker. My job will be to assist her, to help her score the goals. And when she does it, then everyone will love her. And they’ll forget about me.”
  375. “But Lynn, you’re more than just goals,” she replied, crawling closer to her. “You’re the best player I’ve ever seen, and you will be no matter which position you’re in.”
  377. “I don’t know, Lincoln. During the whole week, I— Emma is just so good with her shooting skills. Every time she kicks the ball she makes something amazing, things not even I can do. The goal she scored today… I don’t… I don’t think I might’ve been able to do it.”
  379. She looked away, facing the wall once again.
  381. “I’m not a smart girl, Linc. I can’t play any instrument, I don’t have the best grades, I’m not the most outgoing girl. Sports are all I have. That’s why I need to be the best. Because if I’m not the best at this, if I’m not the best at the only thing I’m good at, then—“
  383. “Stop.”
  385. His tone of voice immediately silenced Lynn. Even knowing she was one of the sisters that avoided physical demonstrations of love the most, Lincoln put an arm around her shoulders and leaned her in.
  387. “You’re wrong, Lynn,” he said, allowing his heart to choose the words for him, “sports are not what defines you. You’re not who you are because you’re the best at sports, it’s the other way around. What defines you is that you’re a girl that loves what she does, that has fun, and who never gives up. That’s why I admire you, and that’s why you’ll always be my number one.”
  389. The corner of Lynn’s lips curved up a bit, and that made Lincoln smile.
  391. “So please, don’t be this bummed out. No one will ever forget that you’re the star player on the team. You say she kicks the ball better than you, but that’s not all that matters. Even if you can’t shoot the way she can, you’ve been the best player the whole season. For years! People will never forget you just because some girl scored a good goal today.”
  393. Lynn’s lips finally became a sincere smile, and she rested her head against her little brother’s shoulder, who gladly held her.
  395. “Aw, thanks, Lincoln,” she whispered, “you’re the best.”
  397. “You are the best, Lynn. Don’t you ever forget that.”
  399. Lincoln felt so proud. He had cheered his sister up. He had helped her understand that she didn’t need the crowd to sing her name or the coach to consider her the undisputed star of the team to feel good. He had filled his duty as a brother. Sometimes he surprised even himself with his own abilities.
  401. He was taken aback when Lynn suddenly sat up, pulling away from their loving embrace.
  403. “You’re right! It doesn’t matter that she can shoot the ball better than me!” She happily said.
  405. Lincoln smiled too.
  407. “Exactly! You don’t have to care if someone is better than—!”
  409. “It doesn’t matter because I’m better at everything else!” She interrupted him, and her cheerful smile turned into a mischievous and slightly evil grin. “The only thing that I have to do is make my coach realize that and convince him that I’m overall superior. And that, therefore, I’m his best option to play as a striker!”
  411. Lincoln lost his smile.
  413. “That’s not what I—“
  415. “Thanks, bro!” She raised her fist as if to hit him, and he covered his face. “Ha! Two for flinching!”
  417. After receiving two painful bumps on his shoulder Lincoln saw, dumbfounded, how Lynn got up and ran towards the bedroom door. She stopped dead in her tracks and came back to her night table, grabbing the sub Lincoln had prepared her. She finally walked away giving it a big first bite.
  419. Lincoln let out a sigh.
  421. He should have known.
  423. *
  425. When the coach arrived at the court on that Monday he was received with a great surprise. All the balls were set, the training cones were lined up and the barriers to practice free kicks were ready to be used. What was even more impressive was the small figure running around the field, dribbling the ball with a lot of skill. The coach watched how the captain and star player of her team, Lynn Loud, passed between cones in a way he had never seen in his twenty-two years as a trainer.
  427. The girl with the ten on her back kept running until she got to the border of the penalty area, from where she managed to kick the ball and send it straight to the net.
  429. Lynn stopped her run and smiled. She would love to see Emma trying to score that same goal. She wiped the sweat away from her forehead, and at that same moment, she heard applause. She turned around and saw the coach approaching with a big smile on his face.
  431. Just in time.
  433. “Nice shot, Loud,” he said, “but what are you doing here so early?”
  435. “Oh, you know, coach. We’re one week away from our match for the championship. If there has ever been a week where we need to focus and train more than ever, this is it.”
  437. “You’re right, girl! I hope some of your enthusiasm rubs off on your teammates. It’s a very important game, and I’m gonna need you all doing your best.”
  439. “You don’t have to worry, coach. You know I’ll give my one hundred and ten percent,” added Lynn, with a hand on her hip and the other arm flexed, showing up her small but toned biceps.
  441. “If you kick like I just saw you doing, then I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
  443. “Oh, of course, but just being able to kick well isn’t enough, is it?” She said, faking sudden humility and some ignorance. “Yesterday we couldn’t shot on goal many times. That’s why I’m practicing my technique and movements without the ball. What good does it do to a striker to know how to shoot if they can receive a ball in the first place?”
  445. To her absolute satisfaction, Lynn witnessed how the coach started to absentmindedly rub his chin, thinking.
  447. “Hmm… Well, you got a point there. You’re right,” said the man before flashing her a smile. “Thank God I have such a wonderful player like you, superb in all aspects of the game!”
  449. And people said Lynn was dumb...
  451. *
  453. It was the most intense week Lynn had ever lived. Never before she had been so pressured to play at her best. She was an excellent soccer player, a born winner. Usually, the idea of a challenge fed her. Knowing herself before a final created a plus for her, she was attracted to the challenge. But during those five days of training, Lynn left her soul and heart in every ball. She was always the first one to get on the field, even before coach himself, and she was the last one to leave.
  455. She made a huge effort to prove that no one else, especially not Emma, was nowhere close to her level. She actually did her best to be around Emma. Concealing her true intentions under a facade of a growing friendship, Lynn made sure that the new girl would, by comparison, end up looking less good than she actually was. Emma was still receiving lots of praises, especially when practicing free kicks —where Lynn, unfortunately, was still under the newcomer’s shadow—, but Lynn was stealing the spotlight in every other aspect.
  457. On Friday, finally, the last training before the big match came to an end. They had done a practice match between regular player and substitutes. Emma had been playing with the regular team along with Lynn, and hey were taking turns playing as striker and offensive midfielder. Emma couldn’t score any goal, while Lynn had seized her minutes to score two.
  459. After the practice finished, the coach gathered them all before sending them to the showers. He gave them an amazing motivational speech, asked them to take care and go to bed early those days, and most importantly, he told them to not stress themselves over this game. And then, the moment they all were expecting the most came.
  461. The coach finally gave them the formation that would be playing on Sunday for the championship. The goalkeeper was the same as always. There was only one forced substitution in the defense, since the right fullback was suspended for the accumulation of yellow cards. The four midfielders kept their usual positions, which only left two positions left: who would play as an offensive midfielder, creating spaces and goal situations, and who would be the striker, finishing the attacks and scoring the goals.
  463. “Emma, congratulations. In very short time you’ve earned your place in the team. You will be playing from the start as our offensive midfielder. And Lynn,” said the coach, reading his notes, and the girl’s heart started to beat uncontrollably, “you’ll be our captain and striker. Score many goals, girl!”
  465. Lynn felt a satisfaction that could only be compared with that of scoring the winning goal in an important match. She couldn’t keep a sincere smile from appearing on her face. She didn’t even feel guilty, since Emma was incredibly happy for being included in the initial formation. Everyone congratulated her, and Lynn could join in their compliments too without feeling like she wasn’t being honest.
  467. The warm shower she had after that reunion was even more pleasant than usual, since Lynn felt like, along with the mud and the sweat, her worries were being washed away from her. She had secured her position as striker, which would allow her to be in the best position to score the winning goals that would give her team the championship.
  469. And then they would all be cheering her name. A dream come true.
  471. *
  473. The weekend past incredibly fast. It seemed unreal that it was already Sunday, that Lynn was impatiently jumping in her place, right in the center mark, ready to move the ball and start the game. The referee was finishing some preparations with the linesman, and the final match of the season would start any minute now. Lynn looked back at the grandstands one more time. This time her whole family was there. Her nine sisters, her brother and her parents, all carrying signs with her name and motivational phrases. She smiled.
  475. “I didn’t know you had so many sisters,” said Emma, who was standing right next to her to receive the first touch.
  477. “Nine sisters, and that dork with the white hair is my lil’ bro,” she happily explained, looking at Lincoln imitating her own victory dance, probably expecting that silly gesture to cheer her up.
  479. It was certainly working.
  481. “My family’s over there,” Emma pointed a man, a woman and a girl around eight years old, the three of them waving their hands in her direction. “They were really happy when they found out I was playing from the start.”
  483. “Well, yeah, it’s great that you could adapt so soon to the team dynamic.”
  485. “I guess so… I just hope I don’t mess this up,” she said, suddenly looking insecure. “I’ve never played in this position before, to be honest.”
  487. “Oh, it’s not so complicated. The most important thing as an offensive midfielder is to know how to move with and without the ball, to leave the other team without a reference, knowing how to receive with your back to the goal and to play one-touch,” she explained, knowing by heart the details of every single position in the game. “For real, I know you’ll make a good job!”
  489. The brand new player puffed her chest and could hardly contain the big smile that was showing across her face. As captain of the team, Lynn had learned to inspire confidence and security to all her teammates, to motivate them.
  491. A couple of minutes later the whistle sounded, starting the last game of the season, the one that would define the championship. Ninety minutes were all that separated Lynn from glory.
  493. *
  495. If the previous match had been tough, this was an outright nightmare. Even though Lynn’s team needed to win to be declared champions, the other team could settle with a tie to claim the title. The motivation and the hunger for glory were strong in both teams, and as long as team performances were concerned, they were both pretty equal.
  497. It was now close to the eighty minute, just ten more until the season officially ended and a champion was declared. The game was still in a stalemate and Lynn was starting to get really anxious. She was fighting all by herself the four rival defenders, who didn’t let her breath alone, taking turns to follow her like a shadow, keeping her from receiving the ball in a good position. It was hard to find the spaces to move with intelligence.
  499. To make things even worse for her, Emma was having even a harder time than Lynn. You could see her skills and talent from miles away, but she wasn’t lying when she said she was lacking experience in the position she was playing. She was trying her best, but she simply couldn’t overcome the mark and the rough playing.
  501. During one of the other team’s advances, far away from where they were, Lynn walked next to Emma.
  503. “Hey!” She called her, angrily stomping her way towards her. “Emma, you need to start playing faster. You’re letting them anticipate your moves!”
  505. “Well, I’m not doing this on purpose, you know?!” Replied the girl, not daring to look at her captain in the eye. “They’re not letting me play my game.”
  507. “But I know you can do this, I’ve seen you playing before!” Lynn insisted. “You just need to break lines, if you manage to sort the defensive midfielder’s mark then you have twenty yards free to do what I know you can do! You can have time and space to really think your next move and your pass towards me so I can score the goal! It’s as simple as that! Basic stuff!”
  509. Emma stopped, forcing Lynn to stop too. She was about to keep yelling at Emma, but it was just then when she realized her teammate didn’t seem to be irritated, angry or even annoyed. She looked sad. When Emma looked up and locked her eyes with Lynn’s, the freckled girl saw insecurity and worry in there.
  511. “I’m sorry, Lynn. I know you could do this better than me, you’re the best. It’s just… I’m not you.”
  513. Emma turned around and walked away from her, leaving a petrified Lynn.
  515. Emma… She was a good player. She had good technique, she knew how to move, she could make awesome passes, and she was absolutely lethal with her shooting skills. Any team in the league would kill for having her on the team. As a striker. That was her natural position, it was clear that she wasn’t comfortable playing as an offensive midfielder.
  517. Lynn was convinced that she was a better striker than Emma, that she was much more complete, and that she had earned her place as the striker. But seeing how her friend was walking with her head down, surely lamenting that she wasn’t good enough in that position, she couldn’t stop feeling that maybe…
  519. She looked at the crowd. Her whole family was still there, cheering up for her. There was a lot of people. She had been dreaming for months for this day to come, with everyone there screaming her name, to have her teammates lifting her up for scoring the winning goal, to raise the Cup knowing that she had won it. She had dreamed it over and over. It was her greatest desire.
  521. That’s why her voice trembled when she called Emma.
  523. She ran all the way towards her and put a hand on her shoulder.
  525. “Listen, I… I think it’ll be better if we change positions,” she said, feeling her throat dry.
  527. “What? But coach—“
  529. “Look, there’s no time, we have just a few more minutes. I have more experience in your position and you’re… you’re a natural striker. You’re much better than me when it comes to shooting for the goal. And that’s what we need from our striker.”
  531. She tried to keep the sadness and resignation to show. She tried that her voice sounded with decision, like she was absolutely convinced. Whether she make it or not, she would never know, but Emma just stared at her for several seconds without saying anything, until she finally nodded.
  533. Lynn started to walk to her new position, trying to psyche herself up, telling herself that she was doing the best for the team. Trying to silence that voice in her head that was telling her that she was saying goodbye to her dreams and the glory.
  535. “Lynn!”
  537. She turned around. Emma didn’t look insecure anymore. She looked completely focused.
  539. “You’re truly the best,” she said.
  541. Lynn didn’t answer back. She just smiled.
  543. From that moment on, and during the few minutes that were left, the match was a completely different one. The rival team lost its references. Emma didn’t move like Lynn did, she did more dangerous diagonals, much more unpredictable. And Lynn definitely didn’t play like Emma. She knew how to move without the ball there, how to receive, how to attack the space so she could set the pace for her team’s advances.
  545. That’s how they reached the third minute of injury time, just when everything seemed to be lost and when the rival crowd was already celebrating what seemed to be a won championship. It was at that precise moment when Lynn received a pass and, with a subtle movement of her hips, she ridiculed her mark. After breaking lines, she found herself with a long space to attack.
  547. So she ran. She ran and ran near the right touchline like her life was depending on it. Two players tried to stop her, but she eluded them with a display of both skill and physical superiority. And just before she got to the goal line, she looked at the penalty area. Emma was running in a poisonous diagonal from left to the penalty mark, and they understood each other right away. Lynn made the perfect pass. The ball traveled skimming the grass, in an unsurpassable straight line right into Emma’s right instep.
  549. As Lynn slowed down and came to a stop, she heard the crowds exploding, everyone screaming goal, just before the referee whistled four times. Goal and match. She didn’t see it, but she was sure that it had been a wonderful goal. She would have love to scream it too, to celebrate it, to feel good for the team. But no matter how hard she tried, she simply didn’t feel like joining in the sacred cry.
  551. She just closed her eyes. She had lost her chance. She had given the glory away to Emma.
  553. Since she had her eyes closed, trying to catch her breath after that epic run, she was taken by surprise and startled when Emma jumped straight onto her, tangling her arms around her neck. Lynn almost fell back, but she managed to catch her balance. Now that she was trapped in the middle of the celebration, she had no other option than to smile and hug her teammate back. It was the least she could do, to acknowledge her merit for scoring the most important goal.
  555. But between her celebrations and cries of happiness, Emma raised one of her arms over their heads and started to point her captain with a finger.
  557. “What are you doing?” Asked Lynn, confused.
  559. “I’m making sure they’re cheering for you!” She screamed, exaggerating the movement now so everyone in the crowd would look at Lynn.
  561. She couldn’t believe this. It was… it was the goal that had won the championship. The crowning glory. The only thing that mattered, and Emma…
  563. “But… You scored!” She said.
  565. “You made it possible! You sent me there! You passed three players, made a forty-yards run, and you gave me the perfect pass! I pushed the ball inside, but you won the match!”
  567. Lynn had seen videos of that famous kiss between Maradona and Caniggia so many years ago, and for a small instant, a crazy part of her considered the idea of kissing Emma right then and there. The idea was immediately discarded, though, deciding instead to go with the much more conservative option of embracing her with all her might.
  569. The screaming made them turn around. All her teammates, all the substitutes, even the suspended players were running towards them, jumping, throwing bottles of water in the air. The twenty-three girls soon started to jump in complete happiness and satisfaction. Everything happened real fast, and before she knew it, Lynn was flying. All the other girls had lifted her up and they were throwing her in the air over and over, making her feel like she was bouncing on a trampoline.
  571. Lynn saw the golden gleam of the Cup getting closer on the field, she saw her family screaming their throats out and jumping like they were possessed by Lucy’s demon friends. But most importantly, as she closed her eyes and let herself be immersed in that pleasant and wonderful sensation, letting it extend inside her chest and all over her body, the team’s captain heard the crowd repeating one word over and over again:
  573. ¡Lynn! ¡Lynn! ¡Lynn! ¡Lynn! ¡Lynn! ¡Lynn!
  575. The end.
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