The competition was on. Ryan was going down. Jessica was there to support him, but that didn’t matter. When she saw him get destroyed by the underdog, she’d realize Dan was the man for her. He’d win the game, defeat his rival, and get the girl.
The game began. One of his teammates managed to get control of the ball. They were on offense. He passed to Dan (as per his instructions), who headed towards the goal. He was ready to shoot when Ryan came out of nowhere and stole the ball.
Ryan’s team scored the first goal within five minutes. The second, within ten. That was okay. It would be even more dramatic when Dan started scoring goal after goal. It was all about the feel of the breeze on his sweaty arms, the smell of the grass being ripped up by cleats, and the goal, always the goal. His victory would be spectacular.
He kept telling himself that right up until the final minute. Ryan’s team won 5-0.
That was it. It was over.
All his hopes, his dreams, his plans, evaporated. This Valentine’s Day, he’d be alone again.
Suddenly, it hit him: this wasn’t his love story after all. It was Ryan’s. He won the game, and he would get the girl.
He watched, nauseated, as Jessica ran up to Ryan and threw her arms around him. She pulled back, and he forced himself to watch as Ryan leaned in for a kiss. So, he was interested in girls after all. It had all been a ruse. He’d gone the “I’m broken but your love can fix me” route, and for him, it had worked.
“Ew! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jessica’s voice rang out across the field, and Dan stared in disbelief as she pulled herself out of the hero’s arms. Could it be that he still had a chance?
“I’m sorry, I just thought that—”
“You thought that winning a soccer game meant I would want to kiss you? Ryan, we’re just friends.”
An expression of frustration spread across Ryan’s face. Dan was enjoying the show, sipping at his Gatorade and trying not to look like he was watching.
“Great,” muttered Ryan. “It happened again. I waited too long, and now I’m getting friend zoned.”
CRACK came the sound of Jessica’s palm slapping Ryan’s sculpted cheek as hard as she could. “Don’t you ever talk to me, or any woman, like that for the rest of your life, you creep!” She stormed away, her face flushed with anger. And Dan was in luck – she was heading in his direction. This was his last chance. He couldn’t mess this one up.
He moved to intercept her. “Wow. I’m so sorry, Jessica. He seemed like such a nice guy. I’ll never understand how some men can be such jerks. They don’t even know what true love is. Come on, I’ll buy you dinner and we can talk about it.”
…is what he planned to say. But as he took a step towards her, she swerved to avoid him. She shot him a glance that could melt steel and snapped, “And you stay away from me, too, creep. If I ever see you around my work again, I’m calling the police.” She called the last part over her shoulder as she continued to storm away.
Dan stood next to Ryan, both in shock. They shared a moment of solidarity. Each of them had done their best to be the hero and get the girl, and it had blown up in their faces. It was almost as though Hollywood had it all wrong.
They looked at each other for a moment, standing on the edge of an epiphany. Time slowed down as their brains worked in sync, striving to solve the puzzle at last. At last, a light bulb lit up over each of their heads simultaneously. They gave each other conspiratorial smiles that said, confidently, Nah, she’s probably just a lesbian.
Jessica decided to walk home rather than taking the bus. She needed to release some steam and get some of the anger and frustration out of her system. It had happened again. How did this keep happening? She thinks she’s finally made a good friend, a decent guy who doesn’t treat women like trophies or sex toys, and he turns out to be another creepy weirdo. The whole time, Ryan had been trying to manipulate her into sleeping with him. Friend zoned. What a disgusting idea. How about creepy friend who thinks I owe him sex.
The palm of her hand still stung a bit where she had slapped him. She hoped his face stung a whole lot more than that. If only she could slap a guy into understanding that she was a human person and not an accessory to his soccer tournament trophy.
So she’d lost another friend. She certainly didn’t want to spend any more time with that creep. She wanted him banned from the Starbucks, just like that other psycho, whatever his name was. At least he was obviously a creep and easily avoided, not pretending to be her platonic friend and then suddenly trying to grope her. Her supervisor, Nicole, would have her back. She’d had her own share of bad experiences with chauvinistic men who thought they had a right to her body.
Maybe she should give up on trying to be friends with men. This happened far too often. But she just didn’t enjoy being a part of those big groups of gossipy girls. She wanted to talk about the news and the latest video games and sports just as much as she wanted to talk about who was in a relationship with who and what so and so said the other day and how ugly so and so looks in that new shade of lipstick.
Okay, be fair. Not all girls are like that. After all, Jessica was a girl, and she certainly wasn’t like that. Calm down, Jess. You’re pissed off and you have a right to be, but be fair. She did get along better with guys. Always had. And no, she wouldn’t give up on making friends with men. Surely not all of them were like that. Her best friend growing up had been a guy, after all, and nothing bad had ever happened with him.
She felt a twinge of homesickness for the little town she’d left to move to the big city and work at a fancy Starbucks. She giggled to herself about the silliness of it as she unlocked the front door of her building and climbed the steps to her apartment. At least she was calming down now. There was no need to be in a bad mood when she saw Noah.
Sure enough, her four-year-old son was waiting to jump out at her as soon as the door opened. “Mommy!” He attacked her with kisses and she scooped him up for a hug. With him came the warm smell of homemade pizza baking in the oven, and he had bits of tomato sauce stuck to his clothes.
“Were you helping daddy cook again?” Noah nodded proudly.
“Hey, love,” came the voice of her boyfriend, Jake, walking in out of the kitchen. He leaned around the squirming Noah for a kiss of his own. Then he sized her up with a concerned look. “Bad day?”
“Just another friend turned out to be a creep.” Jake’s face lit up in alarm, but she was quick to soothe him. “Don’t worry. He thought that winning a soccer tournament would make me fall in love with him.” She forced herself to laugh at the absurdity of it.
“He didn’t know about us?” said Jake with artificial shock. “Are you… ashamed of me, darling?”
Jessica was laughing now. “You know how new guy friends always react when I say I have a boyfriend. I was just waiting until I knew what type of person he was. I’ve only ever talked to him at work, really.”
Jake nodded. “Well, if he ever bothers you again, you let me know, and I’ll rough him up for you.” He pushed his glasses up his nose in emphasis, prompting another chuckle from Jessica.
Suddenly, his faced turned serious. He lowered his voice. “Was that other guy there?”
Jessica nodded. “Yes, he was there. He played against Ryan. Apparently the two of them thought they were competing for my heart.” She tried to smile, but she could feel how fake it was. That guy really freaked her out. She’d seen him watching her through the window at work. No matter how many times she said, loud and clear, that she was not interested in him and would like him to leave her alone, he still persisted in following her. She thought he might even be dangerous. He seemed the type to mistake obsession for love, with no comprehension of the fact that, no matter how much he thought he loved her, she wasn’t interested in him. Maybe he was a psychopath or something.
Jake wasn’t fooled by her smile, of course. “If he ever bothers you again, call the police. I’m serious. No one has any right to behave like that around you.” He wrapped his arms around his girlfriend and their son and gave her a big, genuine smile. “Maybe tomorrow, me and Noah can come to work with you. What do you think, buddy?”
Noah grinned. He normally wasn’t allowed to hang around at the cafe because the manager was afraid he’d disturb the customers. “Can we really, mommy?”
Jessica didn’t think twice. “Absolutely. My supervisor won’t mind.” Nicole liked her boys. She wouldn’t give her any trouble. She felt a rush of profound gratitude for her boyfriend. He was living proof that not all guys were controlling, chauvinistic, manipulative creeps. There were good ones out there – probably even lots of them. She’d find more friends. She wouldn’t give up.
“It’s settled, then,” said Jake. “Now who wants pizza?”
Well, that one was a bit of a train wreck. I had a brilliant rush of inspiration when I generated the title. Two guys, raised on Hollywood, who think that the one who wins the tournament also wins the girl. That’s how it always goes in the movies. Unfortunately for the guys, this is happening in reality, and real women don’t instantly fall in love with whichever man has proved himself better at sports most recently. I meant it to be lighthearted and fun, but in the end, it got a bit too serious. The story just wasn’t coming out the way I’d intended. It felt like a mess. Maybe it was just a little too close to home, too realistic. Anyway, it’s over now. I decided to wrap it up as quickly as I could and move on to the next one. And I vow to make the next one as goofy as I can manage! Because after this mess, I need it.