Kicked - Celia Aaron

CHAPTER ONE

CORDY

I HAD THAT FEELING. You know the one. When your heart is beating against your ribs. Your ears are hot, your fingers are numb, and you could vomit any second. I tried to take a deep breath, but the announcer crowing and the crowd roaring weren’t helping me any. Being in the claustrophobic tunnel with fifty of the largest men in a hundred-mile radius wasn’t helping much, either.

They jostled against each other, their white jerseys with blue numbers taking up every square bit of space I could see. The stadium was full, the fans anxious to see if their team had what it took to be a contender. After all, football season would forever be a big deal in any state south of the Mason-Dixon line.

“You ready, princess?” Ethan Granger, a good defensive lineman but a great dickbag, squeezed my ass. He leaned over and spoke in my helmet’s ear hole. “I think one of these days I’ll dress out with you in the girls’ locker room. Sound good?”

I shoved him, but he barely moved. He was six-five, two hundred and seventy-five to my five-seven, one-forty. I had a better chance of being a star quarterback than moving his chunky ass out of my way.

“You’d faint if you ever saw a girl naked.” I kept my eyes straight ahead and raised my voice so he’d hear me through the helmet. “Now get the hell away from me. I’m trying to concentrate, and your wildebeest stench is making it impossible.” A couple guys turned to look at me and my apparent case of Tourette’s.

“See you, princess.” Ethan stepped away, and another meathead took his spot beside me in the crush of bodies.

I tried to keep it together, to think about what I’d do after the game, or my homework, or the last poem I read that really spoke to me. My conjured distractions failed, and the mass surged as the players burst forward. The lights were bright beyond the dark tunnel, and I was carried out into the stadium by a wave of blue and white. The cheerleaders yelled, smoke billowed, and the band played the Billingsley fight song.

I broke into a trot along with the hulking men, sticking close to them so no one noticed me. Fat chance. After Bill the Bobcat, I was more or less the team’s second mascot. I liked to refer to myself as “Mav.” Sadly, it wasn’t because I was capable of shooting down fighter jets or winning homo-erotic games of volleyball like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Instead, my nickname stood for Mascot with a Vagina (the “w” didn’t count.)

My university—Billingsley—had recently lost a particularly vicious Title Nine lawsuit where several women alleged discrimination in sports spending. To mend the school’s reputation, the president decided to add a female kicker to the football roster. Ornamental only, of course. But it provided a partial scholarship, so I was all over it.

I needed the money; the school needed a female who could kick. That was how I wound up on a football field with the crowd cheering, the Gatorade flowing, and the testosterone reigning.

After a pat on my helmet from the weathered coach, I took my seat on the farthest bench. My long brown hair was braided down my back, and I didn’t bother with any eye black. I wouldn’t have bothered with pads, either, but the dean wanted it to appear as if I were ready to go at any second. I could have laughed at the idea. The only place I got—or wanted—playing time was on the soccer field. Football was a means to an end, nothing more.

I pulled off my helmet and stowed it next to me, the thick plastic thunking onto the metal bench.

The stadium lights, hum of the crowd, and smell of popcorn and beer mixed to create a familiar cocktail of college football. I used to love going to games with Dad when I was little. But now, dressed out as number three of the Billingsley Bobcats, I’d rather have been reading, or kicking the soccer ball around, or getting my nether regions waxed.

I glanced down the row of players standing and chatting before the game. They were nice guys for the most part, each of them doing his best on the field while getting a top notch education on the hallowed grounds of Billingsley. Despite their politeness, the team hadn’t been welcoming. But that assessment wasn’t exactly fair. I hadn’t warmed to them, either. Getting close to them would