Blossoming: New Beginnings
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Books kept piling in. Between midterms week and being just a few weeks from too-close-for-comfort finals, it seemed like every person on Triton’s campus had at least five books to return, or check out, or both. Somehow Raelanna had managed to keep the stream of materials in order, but just barely. Though she shouldn’t complain. Her coach made a few calls to put her on the shortlist for the clerk position. Immediately after the interview, a staff worker informed her she had been hired. At campus minimum wage, the job would hardly cover the cost of her bio textbooks. Still, combined with the generous scholarships she earned, she would most likely make out alright.
Raelanna felt much more at home in training shorts and a tank top, but today, the occasion called for much less skin and much more polish. Today she decided on a blazer and pant suit combo that fit a little too loosely all over. She had slimmed down since training camp this summer. The demands of college sports proved to be a sharp incline from what she was used to in high school. The women ran longer, fought harder, and brought a new level of grit to the playing field. Daily 5k runs, weekly bouting, and monthly fitness testing were staples in their regimens. The assistant had even given them a log to keep track of their diet. Not to mention the endlessly complicated drills. Still, Rae was up for the challenge. She had committed herself to rising to the top before, and she would do the same here. Whatever it took, even if it meant extra hours on the field. Even if it mean finding a hair braider in the middle of bumbuster Minnesota. Even if that meant putting on a bright face for patrons checking out far too many books.
“Do you…? You’re checking out?”
“Yeah, just as soon as I can get these damn things on the- shit!” The stack of items that towered over the patron’s head slowly tottered this way, then that, splaying across the ground. “Well, that was bound to happen,” she chuckled at the air. “The gods have ordained it.”
“Yes, these are all mine in case you are wondering. And yes, I am majorly behind on my critiques. And yes, I’m thiiiis close to blowing the whole thing off. But,” she said, setting the last video on the counter, “I won’t.”
The woman had an interesting beauty to her. Her angular yet full features gave her a serious look, unlike any person Rae had ever seen before. Not to mention her style. Bowler hat, shoulder length locs, thrifted red over jacket, oxfords. She had a look about her as if she had seen half the world already. Her confident cool made Raelanna even more conscious of her own fumbling silence.
“Not that you asked for any of that,” the interesting lady smirked.
“No, no, it’s fine, I just- What is all this for?”
“Film majors. We do it all. I happen to be finishing my thesis on queer representations in black media. All these here.”
“Oh.” Rae looked closer at the titles in her hands. They didn’t seem gay. Still, that didn’t stop her from scanning them quickly, a warm flush creeping up her neck.
“Trust me, probably two came from this library,” she scoffed. “The rest I had to order through the library share. Once I finish the literary critiques, I publish the paper along with my film’s premier. Come check it out. It’s showing next Friday.”
“Uh, well, I’d have to check my practice schedule.” The truth was, Rae’s Friday evenings were wide open. On Fridays, the team had 5 am practices. Rae had never been to an indie film screening, let alone one about queer, black people. The thought was daunting — more daunting than a one on one face up, more daunting than being the only Black American on her team.
“No worries, then. Just think about it.”
Raelanna had no time to think about anything except the team’s next matchup Saturday. A win against the Brewers would determine if they could still contend for the conference championship. A loss meant another year on the road to glory, another year at Triton. But a win? A win meant opportunity. Rae didn’t waste opportunities, which explained how she ended up at this university in the first place. Partial scholarships for academics and athletics amounted to nearly a full ride to one of the best biomedical engineering programs in the country. For free, she figured she could stay anywhere for a few years.
So she couldn’t think about movies, and she certainly couldn’t think about how that mystery woman smiled at her. How much she liked the way she smiled at her. How she wished they could smile at each other more often. Stupid, she thought to herself. Her name was on her library account, but she hadn’t stopped looking at her long enough to notice.
Rae laced her cleats tighter than usual and tucked in her shin guards with extra care. She planned to release everything on the field. As she exited the locker room, she walked into her captain, Laura.
“Jones, you hitting the field?”
Rae still hadn’t gotten used to the last name thing. Back home, girls called each other güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri by their first names. To her ears, last names sounded so… footballish.
“Uh, yeah, I’m going to cover those drills we did the other day. I felt a little sluggish on them.”
“Sluggish? You bested half the starting line yesterday.” Rae quietly took the compliment. “I’ve seen you out there, Jones. Now I want to play against you. Get your ass out there and get ready for me.”
On the field, Rae had done her ritual deep breathing while waiting for Laura. The forward sauntered over with a demeanor that revealed her certainty about winning. Not many would challenge Laura’s confidence. Laura moved lightly on her feet for a six footer. Rae knew that, mentally. She had watched her dance past defenders regularly in games, but it would be another issue to face her physically, to buffet the roaring truck at her full force. Besides that, the few extra years of training had added additional slabs of muscle onto her frame, while Rae still stood lean at 5’8″. Despite all this, the smaller, less experienced competitor took a final deep breath and sized up her opponent.
Laura was good, no doubt, but Rae knew that even winners lost under the right conditions. She had experienced it firsthand. If she couldn’t out muscle Laura, she would outsmart her. If she couldn’t match her in speed, she would redeem herself with patience. Rae owned her own game, meaning that she was seldom forced to play in ways that disadvantaged her. On the field, she had a degree of control over her environment she rarely experienced out of uniform. Out here, she played as though she had made the rules of the game.
Take it easy, Rae coached herself. Bring the ball up at your own pace. Each move should put you closer to that goal. Rae held her own in their one to one matchup, out maneuvering the older opponent. In keeping her distance, she was able to create a steady pace forward, which created opportunities. Still, neither woman could get a breakaway advantage until Laura charged at Rae, minimizing the distance between them to zero. In the fray, she crushed Rae’s foot, sending her careening backwards off balance, leaving the goal wide open.
“You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you if you think you can be me — Hell, if you even want to think about beating me.” Laura, pleased with her work, stepped over her bested opponent’s body and made her way off the field.
“Wait,” Raelanna said, wiping her face. She brought herself up on her elbows, and took her stand. “We’re best of five. You talk a lot for one little point.”
Laura’s eyes narrowed, deciding who the girl in front of her would be to her, friend or foe. She broke off into laughter. “I like that fire in you, kid. I’ve gotta go anyway, but come out with us tonight. There’s a party at Delta Phi you should come to. All the right people will be there. The way I see it, I’m on my way out of here. If you get in with them, you could have a shot. First a starter, then who knows? Maybe you could be me after all.”
I don’t want to be you, Rae thought, I’m going to dwarf you. And I won’t have to cheat to do it.
Rae hadn’t had much time to dress after coming from the lab, but she gave herself a once-over before stepping out her dorm. Chuck Taylors, casual blazer over a graphic tee, and form fitting skinnies seemed right for the occasion. Seeing the time, she raced out her dorm toward Laura’s place.
Hearing the festivities inside, Rae rang the bell. When no one answered, she rang again. Then she knocked — still no answer. She had just turned to leave when she heard rattling by the door.
“It’s not a theme party, so I hope you didn’t wear anything… ghetto fabulous. Save that for Thugs & Pugs,” Laura called from behind the door. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not racist. Actually I try to be diverse. Just not that diverse. You understand. Anyway, where are your heels? We’re going to a party not a playground. Get in here,” she sighed, pulling Rae through the open door.
Rae swallowed Laura’s words before calling out, “Hey everybody.” No one looked up, save Alissa. They were all busy nursing their drinks and swaying to the music.
“Drinks in the back, party games up front, condoms in the bathroom. The whole team is here so, work it,” Laura nudged. “I’ll be back after I finish my makeup.”
This was the first party the team had invited her to. In fact, this was the first social outing outside of something soccer related she had been invited to. It felt like a big deal. If her teammates enjoyed her off the field and respected her as one of their own, she’d be much more likely to make captain, be awarded, lead them to the fin-
“You can’t be here without a drink,” someone, a someone affiliated with the team, slurred. Rae acquiesced, going to the back to pour herself a cup of the bluish-green liquid. One sip told her she’d do best to leave it to the professional partigoers. She güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri brought the cup with her and hovered outside the circle of players with cards.
“So, what’s the name of the game?” Rae asked.
“You’ve never played?” Rae didn’t bother lying. She was a terrible liar. “This is a classic, newbie. Irish Poker. Each card has a different action with it.”
“Mostly drinking,” Alissa chimed in.
By the time Laura made her way downstairs, Rae had downed half her cup, despite her noble intentions.
“Ready bitches?” Rae followed the others, trailing after Laura to the party.
The team received entry to the party without ID or cover fee. One of the perks of the sports life, Laura explained. But they hadn’t been to the party over ten minutes before Raelanna was thoroughly ready to leave. By this point in the evening, the partygoers were sloshing, full of alcohol, and any semblance of social filter had dissipated.
“Heeyyy,” one of Rae’s teammates grabbed her a little too roughly by the arm, “show us how to twerk! C’mon! Twerk! Twerk! Twerk!”
Rae had never twerked a day in her life. She’d never caught the unction.
“Actually, I’m going to go find the punch bowl,” Rae said, reclaiming her arm.
“Yaaasss, go get a baby daddy, girl!” another shrieked.
Rae fought down embarrassment and anger. Making a good impression was more important to her than blowing a few stupid comments out the water. If she could somehow find a way to relate to them, maybe they’d realize the error of their ways. There was no way to mend tension unless people from both sides were willing. She decided to cool off, and perhaps return when the top 40s started to play.
“Watch it, black bitch,” a stumbling bro gargled.
Thoughts of peace and mediation were quickly fleeing Raelanna’s mind.
“Who the fuck do you think you are Steven Tyler? Get the hell away from here! Yeah, you with the gorilla face. Just go!”
Rae looked up to find the lady from the library standing between her and the dudebro, staring him straight in the eyes. He snatched away his cups, departing without another word.
“Man, what is it with these people?” Rae asked, tense from the bigotry of the night, yet at ease at the presence of her defender.
“Well, you don’t see may of us out here, do you?” The mystery woman quipped.
Rae relaxed into the conversation, realizing her good fortune. “Hey, shouldn’t you be somewhere checking out books or something?”
“Why check out books when I could check you out instead?”
Rae guffawed. She had never had a woman hit on her so straightforwardly. But wasn’t that what she had come here for – to cruise the scene and meet new people? Though limited in her experience, Rae always imagined herself to be the pursuer. To be pursued… she still hadn’t wrapped her mind around being the subject of desire.
“I- What’s your name?” Why did she always feel off-balance around this lady?
“I’m Natira, and you’re cute.”
Though she had run through scenarios over and over in her head, she was not prepared for the words that came out of this Natira’s mouth. Abort, her mind screamed, abort!
“Ehm, I’ve gotta get back to my team?” And with that, Rae circled the premises twice before exiting the party and returning home.
A week had passed since the party, and Rae was sure she couldn’t take another. Instead she opted for a movie night. Each week, a new artist showcased their production. This week featured The Corridor: Lives in Living Color.
The film documented the coming of age of queer contemporaries while paralleling their stories with historical issues of erasure, hidden love, and community. By the end, Rae had felt invigorated, inspired to live more courageously. She had even shed a few tears. And so she made her way over to the one who had bested her nights before.
“Have you been here this whole time? Did you see this? You need to see this,” Rae said. It wasn’t particularly difficult to find Natira in the sea of pale faces.
“Did I see it? Thas my baby!” Nat gloated.
“So this was the thesis you mentioned?” Rae asked.
Natira’s face brightened, obviously enjoying the attention. “If you liked it, I have some copies at my place. Come get one?”
“Yeah, it was really good. It was… different, than what I expected,” Rae said.
“In what way?” Nat asked.
“I’ve always had the image of ‘queer’-?” She tried the word out, the sound foreign to her mouth and ears, “queer people being so different from what I am,” Rae shrugged.
“Different from an athletic soccer player? You know that’s basically a standard at this point, right?” Nat asked, eyebrow cocked.
Rae laughed, “No, well, yeah, but usually in films the gay best friend snaps his fingers and agrees with the lead, or the lesbian is a predatory sex fiend. There’s hardly any in between, any true dimension or, or…”
“Representation,” güvenilir bahis şirketleri Nat finished, a warm smile spreading on her face. Nat enjoyed having conversations like this, especially with someone who had never grappled with these themes before. Rae thought about how knowledgeable Nat must have been to be able to articulate what Rae felt in her heart for so long, but had kept pressed down with the weight of her parent’s expectations, the opinions of her friends, the shame she carried about her own sexual energy. Nat always seemed so comfortable with herself, in her skin and in her sexuality. She certainly didn’t mind sharing her thoughts with Rae. For most of her life, her desires had been crushed, smothered by sports, music, anything else. Now this movie had lifted a part of that burden. And boy if it didn’t make her feel like she could fly.
“Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to come to grips with, uh…”
Rae still couldn’t describe exactly what “this” was, but she had an idea – the flirty looks, the come-ons. Rae interested Nat as more than a friend, that much was obvious. But Rae still had trouble touching her own desire. What did she really want? “Right, this,” Rae said, a small huff escaping her lips.
Natira nodded her head in understanding. “That’s real. I always wonder how people will react to my art. It’s nice to hear you processing like this.”
The two walked side by side, enjoying the restorative silence, until Rae spoke up.
“You know, there’s this cafe not too far from here. They make a really good latte. Or other sorts of teas and things, if you like those.” Rae’s hands trembled, but she willed here voice to remain steady.
“Charlie’s? That’s my spot! It’s chill,” Nat said.
Rae looked at the woman beside her, face perking in expectation. “So, let’s say next Thursday? 2pm?”
“You’ll pick up the DVD then?” Nat asked.
“Yeah, I’m running late, honestly. But I would’ve kept going with you,” Rae admitted.
“Don’t be late on my account, I’ll be here when you’re ready,” Nat smiled.
Nat had already chosen a table for the two by the time Rae arrived at Charlie’s cafe.
“Am I late or are you early?” Rae asked, setting down her bag.
“I’ve been here since morning getting work done. The ambiance here does something for my creativity. Sometimes I just watch people and imagine what they did before coming here, and what they’ll do once they leave. So I must ask – where are you coming from?”
“Lab. Then after this, practice,” Rae sighed, the monotony of her routine exposed.
“Soccer, I’m assuming,” Nat said, pointing at the cleats tied to Rae’s bag. “You any good?”
“I get by,” Rae shrugged. “By the end of this year I want to start. I could make captain if I got to know the right people, make the right plays. That’s how I ended up at Delta the other night,” Rae said.
“How do you think you stack up in the running?”
“I’m a champion. I would lead my team to victory,” Rae said, a serious determination about her demeanor. “I just need to convince everyone else.”
Nat stopped to consider for a moment. “You’d look good in gold.”
Rae continued, “Our team can make it to nationals, but we need discipline. The late nights, partying, that has to stop. Well, at least slow down.”
“And what then? What comes after soccer?”
Rae paused, unsure of her answer. Even throughout high school, she had followed the path her parents had mapped for her: after school sports, piano lessons, science club. College afforded her the opportunity to make decisions for herself. Never before had she been expected to figure her track out for herself – the course laid, her only obligation was to complete it in excellence.
“You’ve asked all the questions, shouldn’t I get a turn?” Rae smirked, cocking her head playfully. “Tell me about yourself. Aren’t you graduating in a few months? What are your plans?”
“For now I’m here on a student visa, but in a few months I’ll have to re-apply for a work visa. Those are much harder to come by, unless you have a professional degree or fame or frickin’ wealth.”
“Visa? Where are you from?”
“I live in Colorado, but I’m a dual citizen of Botswana and Angola. I’ve been an international student nearly all my life. I travelled from country to country with my father after my mom passed. Once she was gone, my father just threw himself into his work. It was like if he thought about clients and managers he wouldn’t have to think about her. But that also meant he didn’t think about me, either. I didn’t mind. I always found something to get into, but I always wonder. What would my life had been like if I had grown up in the village? Are there women like me in the village, or am I the freak result of my upbringing? Well, hell, I guess it doesn’t matter. You’ve got me now, world!”
Rae noticed how Nat’s features changed as she told her story, a mixture of nostalgia and sad reverie.
“Anyway, I’ve never been with a jock before,” Nat flirted, gearing right back into her cassanova persona. “What’s it like?”
“Oh, ehm, I haven’t either,” Rae said, rubbing the back of her neck.
“You mean to tell me there’s no steamy action in the locker room? All this time I thought I was missing out.”
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