Authors: Beautiful Game
Copyright © 2011 by Kate Christie
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper First published 2011
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover Designer: Judy Fellows
Other Bella Books By Kate Christie
Thanks to my parents for providing room and board while I wrote this novel back in the day. Also, thanks once again to Katherine V. Forrest for her invaluable editorial assistance and her willingness to read revised scenes on the fly. And, finally, thanks to Bella Books for giving this story—and the others—a home.
To Alex, the first round draft pick for our home team
About The Author
Kate Christie was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
After studying history at Smith College, where she played the beautiful game Division III-style, she earned a Master’s in Creative Writing from Western Washington University.
Currently she lives near Seattle with her wife, their two loyal mutts, and the newest addition to the family—a beautiful, amazing, incredible baby girl, worthy of as many superlatives as her entirely unbiased mothers can conjure.
is Kate’s third novel.
At first I didn’t think I liked Jess, back when I still believed that surface appearances could be reliable measures of character.
Even though the ’90s were just beginning, I think I saw the world then through a sort of 1950s lens as one long series of uninspired binaries: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, black vs.
white. At nineteen, I hadn’t experienced anything yet to make me question my version of reality. My family was healthy, my parents happily married, and I was in college in sunny Southern California playing my way into adulthood.
Probably I believed in hard-and-fast boundaries because, like Jess, I was a college athlete. Only instead of a tennis court like her, my playing field of choice was a regulation hundred and twenty yards long, sixty yards wide, anchored at either end by goal posts that measured eight feet by twelve: a soccer field. But
even soccer is subjective, as any fan will tell you. Referees oversee every match, and with human ego in the picture, you might as well kiss objectivity goodbye. As much as I genuinely love the game of soccer, it’s still just that—a game. It took me most of my college career to realize that sport can sometimes distract you from what’s real. Almost four years to notice the gray in the world all around me.
I miss that time, when soccer was all I could think about and I woke each day knowing exactly why I was where I was, happy to be doing what I was doing. Because once I noticed the gray lurking at the edges of the people and places and things I loved, the colors around me never seemed quite as vibrant again.
I met Jess in the spring of 1991, my sophomore year of college, on seemingly just another night at the San Diego University cafeteria. I never thought our food service was all that bad. I appreciated the luxury of institutional food, liked having my meal ready and waiting, guiltily enjoyed having other people clean up after me. Ever since I could remember, my older brother and I had been the reason our parents never owned a dishwasher.
Most evenings when I was growing up in Oregon, my family sat down together around the oval oak dining table to a dinner of vegetables, bread and meat, amiably wrangling over Reagan’s mismanagement of the federal government, the Republican-guided depletion of natural resources, the state of communism in the Soviet Union. Every once in a while my father, a high school special education teacher, would try to make something unusual for dinner, like fried bananas or sushi. Those nights typically ended with the four of us piling into the family station wagon and heading for Balboa’s, our favorite Portland pizza joint.
At SDU, I was almost always late to dinner because of practice. In the fall I played intercollegiate soccer. Over the winter, I played intramural soccer. And in the spring, I worked out with the middle distance runners on the track team. The track coach had offered me a spot on the team, but I didn’t want to be away at meets every weekend. Besides, I needed my Saturday Beautiful Game
mornings clear for the occasional spring soccer scrimmage. My attendance wasn’t optional—I was at SDU, a Division II state school with just over eight thousand students, on a partial soccer scholarship.
As usual, I was running late that Tuesday in March when I parked my mountain bike in the rack outside the student center and got in line behind Jess Maxwell, SDU’s very own tennis phenom. Everyone on campus who followed sports knew Jess was currently ranked number two nationally in singles and had been voted NCAA Division II Rookie of the Year the previous spring, our freshman year.
As I stood in line, I tugged on the bill of my worn navy baseball cap and checked Jess out. Whenever I saw her around campus or made it to a tennis match, I always noticed her legs.
Beautiful, long and lean, not as thick as you might expect for a tennis player, and evenly tanned, except for the sock line that sometimes peeked out from the top of her short socks. She always wore Nike tennis socks and Nike cross trainers. There was a rumor floating around campus that Nike had offered to sponsor her.
Jess must have felt my eyes on her legs, somehow, because I glanced up to find her looking over her shoulder at me. I lowered my hand from my cap. Busted. Our eyes caught, hers a lighter brown than I expected, almost copper-colored, and one of her eyebrows lifted as if to say,
What do you think?
I smiled at the quirky eyebrow. She smiled back, and we both looked at the food up ahead beyond the plastic guard.
For my part, I gazed upon the cooked broccoli trying to convince myself that yes, Jess Maxwell had indeed smiled at me.
This was momentous mainly because Jess was known around campus for her chronic unfriendliness to anyone not on the tennis team.
“You play soccer, don’t you?” she asked.
I looked up from my contemplation of the vegetable selection.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “You play tennis, right?”
She nodded. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail that swung with the movement of her head. A few curls had come free and framed her oval face.
10 Kate Christie
The line moved forward a couple of steps.
“I like your shoes,” I said, offering a lame explanation of why I had been looking at her legs. I wondered if she would shoot it down. She had to know she had great legs.
But she said only, “Thanks.” Apparently she was willing to participate in the cover-up.
As we moved forward again, I tried to think of something else to say. The most obvious line, one I’d exchanged with literally hundreds of fellow students since coming to San Diego, was,
Where are you from?
But I’d seen her hometown, Bakersfield, listed in the tennis program. Central Valley had the reputation of being hot, dry, and ultra-conservative—not exactly the place for self-professed homos like me.
At her turn, Jess picked mashed potatoes, turkey, and a side salad. A glass of water. No dessert. We chose the exact same meal, except I opted for different salad dressing. Ahead of me, she handed her meal card to the cashier to run through the register.
As she walked away, she smiled at me again over her shoulder.
“See you around, Cam.”
Cam was short for Camille, a name only my professors ever used, and usually only once.
“See you,” I said, waving a little as I handed over my own meal card. Jess Maxwell knew my name? She had a nice smile, I decided. I was used to the frown of concentration I’d seen on her face whenever I watched her play tennis, the stony gaze she wore like a mask around campus.
Orange plastic tray in hand, I surveyed the cavernous seating area. A couple of guys I knew from the swim team were just finishing up their meals, so I slid into a chair next to them.
“Yo,” Jake Kim said. His black hair was just growing back. He’d shaved his entire body for nationals a couple of months before.
“Howdy, Cam,” Brad Peterson said. Slightly in love with Andre Agassi, Brad liked to think of himself as a rebel. He defied swimming convention by wearing his hair in a ponytail and had still managed to set a D. II record in the butterfly in this, his junior year. “Was that you we saw actually conversing with the tennis goddess?” he added.
Beautiful Game 11
“Can you believe it?” I drowned my salad in dressing. “She caught me checking out her legs and didn’t even freak.”
Jake winced at my liberal use of dressing. “You know you’re exceeding your daily fat intake with that stuff,” he couldn’t resist saying.
Brad and I rolled our eyes at each other. I dug into my mashed potatoes. “You forget, Jake, I’m a soccer player. The bigger I am the better.”
I had added ten pounds to my five-foot six-inch frame since coming to SDU, but it was all muscle. Or mostly muscle, anyway. The weight had helped. In the fall, I’d been named all-conference first team and all-region second team—not bad for a sophomore defender. My coach had told me if I kept up my level of play and avoided injury, I might even make All-American. The awards were political, I knew. Someone would have to owe my coach a favor for me to make All-American.
Still, it would feel good. Hell, who was I kidding. It would feel amazing.
“We know, you’re a brute,” Jake said. “So what did Maxwell have to say?”
I shrugged and took a swallow of water. “Not much. Oh, she knew I played soccer.”
Brad leaned forward. “That’s a good sign. It means she’s noticed you.”
“There aren’t that many non-football playing athletes on campus. I bet she knows you both swim, too.”
“She’s never said anything to either of us,” Brad said.
“Yeah, well, she probably knows you guys are a couple of fairies.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jake lisped exaggeratedly. “Just because a man is in touch with his feminine side doesn’t mean he’s a fag.”
Brad threw his crumpled napkin across the table at Jake. “Of course it does, sweetie.”
The conversation moved on. The campus Lesbian/Gay/
Bisexual Alliance was hosting a dance Saturday night, and one of Jake’s friends was planning a pre-party in his graduate apartment if I and some of my buds cared to attend.
12 Kate Christie
“Bring along that cute girl we saw you with at Zodiac last weekend,” Brad added.