Yet another failure.
A play Coach called the Americana. Not sure if he meant the coffee or the culture, but Ruaridh, or Rory as everyone called him, had once again mucked up the play. Rugby was still a foreign language to him, even after twenty bloody years.
He stretched his neck from side to side, pops and creaks as he did. For the hundredth time, he thought perhaps he wasn’t made for rugby. Maybe it wasn’t in his blood like his father insisted. Maybe there was some leap in generations or something, the ball gene bouncing haughtily over the top of his head. All the weights, the healthy breakfast shakes, rugby marathons on video, eating and breathing rugby, and still no results. At least not what was expected of him.
“Bro, grab that other side of the table and help me move it along that wall.”
“Oh, sure, Del.”
They shuffled and maneuvered around the exercise equipment in the weight room of Crunch Fitness Gym. It was a Monday, one of the busiest nights of the week, and the reason they were here to do a bit of recruitment for the Blues. The bigger the pool of men to play, the better chance of success.
“Right along here, Rory, boy.”
Del placed his side of the table first, and then Rory followed. “Where’s Irish?”
“He probably waited for Gillian to get home from work for a bit of humpty-dumpty, but he’ll be here. Come on, let’s grab the chairs.”
Rory followed Del back the way they had come. “I kind of miss him at the house.”
Del gave him a look over his shoulder as though he was completely daft. “We’re talking about the same Irish, right? Moody fucker that is as fun as a torn ligament?”
“He’s gotten better. You have to admit.”
Del handed Rory three folding chairs and then collected the box with all their flyers, sign-up sheets, and banner. “Mate, that’s true. When he first came, never thought I’d see the day.”
Both turned to see Irish standing in the hall with a gear bag over his shoulder.
“Ah, speak of the devil. Help Rory with one of those chairs, mate, and give us a hand setting up.”
Irish dropped his bag where he stood and offered a hand to Rory who refused. “Nah, you’re good. Need the extra training. I got this.”
Padraig shook his head. “Do you ever stop, like?”
“Not until I get there.” Rory shimmied past both the lads, ignoring the look that Irish had thrown Del. He’d get there. Any day now and things would click, all come together. His rugby stars would align, and he’d be a streak of lightning on the pitch. This Cameron would go all the way to the cup, just like his da wanted. He’d be a blur on the field, dodging, spinning, and jumping…
Jumping? Eh? Dinnae ken where that came from.
Rory shook his head to rid himself of the unwanted and helped Del hang the Blues banner across the front of the table. On the other side, the three of them took a chair with Del in the middle.
They had barely sat down when a couple of girls walked by the table. A blonde with big tits in a tight gym shirt and leggings slowed as she passed and smiled. Her eyes flickered over all three before they settled on Del.
“Good evening, ladies, you want to play rugby?” Del waved a flyer at them, his smile bright white against his darker skin.
Her friend with short, spiky hair and more muscles than Rory tugged on the blonde’s hand until she moved again.
“Aw c’mon,” Del teased. “We could use a couple of sheilas like yourselves.”
The blonde smiled over her shoulder and shook her head.
“Del, you’re off to a bad start,” Irish said.
“What do you mean, cuz? I think I’m off to a perfect start.”
“Wrong sex,” Rory pointed out.
Del tipped his chair onto the back legs. “Nope. Right sex.”
“Coach said we can recruit women?” Rory asked.
Irish leaned his elbows on the table and made a point to roll his eyes at Rory. He hated when the bastard did that. Padraig had a public school education, just like Rory, but he didn’t have to show it all the time. “He’s not talking about gender, Rory.”
Ah, got it.
“I’m interested,” a voice interjected.
Their heads turned in unison to a woman that stood just left of the table. Not very tall but voluptuous. She wore old-style tracksuit pants the Americans called sweatpants, heavy cotton and bunched at the ankles, and a green T-shirt with black letters that read I don’t’ wear bows. I shoot ’em. Rory snorted. She had her brownish hair pulled back with a headband and a water bottle in her hand, but it was her eyes that nailed you to the spot. Big and bold, a beautiful dark blue, like the deepest fathoms of the ocean.
“Uhhh…” Del finally broke the awkward moment, but with nothing that could save their fool heads. Even with all the swishes of the machines and the clank of weights dropping, an uncomfortable silence had draped itself around their table.
She crossed her arms. “I thought I just heard ya’ll ask that blond chick if she wanted to play.”
Irish covered his mouth with his hand, most likely hiding the smirk that Rory knew well, and Dell just sat there with his mouth open. Rory wanted to say something. Anything to help her. Or maybe not so much help her but break the horrible discomfort that hung in the air. Rory rubbed at his chest to ease the ache.
Hands up in the air, she asked, “Well? Can I play or not?”
All heads turned to Rory. He didn’t want to upset her, but he couldn’t bear it anymore.
“What he means to say,” Del continued, “is that the Blues is a men’s team.”
She rocked back on her heels. “You don’t have a women’s team then?”
“No,” Rory forced out again. Both Irish and Del directed an irate look at him for taking the lead on this.
“Hold up.” The girl waved her water bottle in the air. “So how come ya’ll were okay with Big Tits playing, but I can’t play?”
Del waved his hands in front of himself. “We don’t want any women to play.”
She titled her head and squinted her eyes at Del. “So why did you ask ’em? I have muscles. Look.” She raised and flexed her right bicep. “Everyone asks me to open their pickle jars for them.”
Leaning on the table in front of him, Rory covered a grin behind his hand. Del didn’t miss a beat. He whistled. “Now that is impressive.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
Hoowee, she was ripping Del a new asshole. Now, he liked Del for the most part, but the girls always fell at his feet with all his tattoos and manliness and everything, and it was fucking great she was having none of it.
“I was just kidding, hon.”
“Don’t call me hon.”
Rory was a man of few words, so Padraig finally spoke up. “It has nothing to do with you. This wanker next to me was trying to hit on them.” Del pushed him hard before Irish continued. “The Blues are a men’s rugby team. The largess of the club does have a boys and girls high school team, but we don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.”
No one other than Padraig would use the bloody word “largess.” And Del was struck dumb by her indifference to his flirtations, so it looked liked Rory was going to have to save the Blues’ reputation. “Why don’t you come out to practice to see for yourself?”
Irish swore and Dell yelled at him, but he ignored them. Like his father said, the fastest way to learn is to experience it yourself. If she didn’t believe them, she could come and see.
Her body stance softened, and she let her arms fall to her sides. “Yeah?” But then she shifted back to skeptical, the pinching of her eyes now directed at Rory. “Not like a cheerleader or anything, right? Like I can try to play? Because I think too highly of myself to be doing that crap.” She blew out a breath like a bull. “When I go for something, I go for it. Not any of this half-ass shit, ya know?”
Rory nodded in agreement, his attention on her face. That was the passion and confidence he had always yearned for, but had been out of reach thus far. Why couldn’t he be like that? Like fucking balls to the wall. Not cowed, not sorry, not quiet. Not quiet.
“I told myself after a year of doing shit that I was no longer going to do shit and I’m climbing the stairway to heaven.”
“Gillian would like her,” Padraig whispered.
“’Scuse me? Did I miss something?”
If Rory was correct, the girl looked as if she was about to blow. Bent forward, arms shielded across her chest, fire in her eyes. Some serious karate chops and ninja moves were headed their way.
Del finally took over. “Sorry, we didn’t get your name.”
She softened. “It’s Grace, but folks call me…Grace.”
Only the whir of an exercise bike next to them filled the air. Her water bottle was waving in the air again. “Ya know, like the song ‘Amazing Grace’? That’s what my momma says I am. I’m from the south.”
“Hon, we have no idea what you are talking about. We’re not from here,” Del said.
“Ah ha! I knew it. I told Mrs. P— Anyway, I saw you guys here before and thought I heard accents. But to these northerners, I have an accent, too. We’re like kindred spirits already.” She smiled then. “None of us is from here so we can all be friends. Ya know, look after each other…all that.”
When none of the boys responded, she made a popping noise with her mouth, a fast and quick sound. Oh bugger, she must be mortified.
Rory grabbed a pen and scribbled on the back of a flyer. “Here. This is the place and time we practice if you want to come out and give it a go.”
Del slapped his hands on the table at the same time Padraig grunted, “Rory!”
He shrugged at them and held out the paper. She leaned in to take it, as if she didn’t want to get physically closer to any of them. “Great, I’ll see you then.”
She stood there waiting for something, which none of them seemed to be able to offer her, so she bounced on her toes once and then took off to the rowing machines. She didn’t glance back, but Rory made eye contact through the mirror in front of her. Grace gave him a pinched smile and then proceeded to strap her feet into the rower.
“What the fuck, mate?” Del had turned to Rory while his focus had been on Grace.
“Why did you tell her to come out when you know she can’t play? That’s just wastin’ her time, bro.”
“I dinna ken. I thought it would make her happier.”
“Now,” he emphasized, “but when she gets there, what is Coach going to say? Or all the other lads? They’re gonna tease the shit out of her. It’s not like it’s touch or tag rugby. How we gonna tackle her when she has breasts.” Del mimicked tits in front of his own chest as if Rory wouldn’t know what they were.
“I’m sure there is a rule somewhere that doesn’t allow women to play on a men’s team in US rugby,” Irish interjected. “Not only that, but the club isn’t a joke, Ror. We want to get better, become more competitive. Not less.”
“Maybe she’s played before. We don’t know,” Rory argued.
Del clapped him on the back. “Beyond all that other argument, bro? You don’t want her to get hurt, do you? I mean, look at her.”
All three of them shifted their gaze over to where Grace was rowing her heart out. No headphones on her ears like everyone else. Just her and the machine. Not too bad of form, either.
Del waved his hand at her. “She’s what? One hundred fifty centimeters tall and a little over eight stone? She’d be pulverized. And there isn’t one position on a rugby team that doesn’t get physical.”
Now that Rory had made the commitment, no matter how far-fetched or stupid it was, he was going to see it through. Like he always did. “Aye, but maybe she has the grace and speed of a gazelle, evade the enemy that way.” That sounded good to Rory’s ears, especially since her name was Grace.
Having finished her row, she wiped her brow and looked up at the mirror where she caught Rory’s eye again. He smiled at her. Hopefully to give her encouragement of some sort. She smiled back, one of those truly happy, genuine smiles and unbuckled her feet from the foot holders. As she rose, her shoe caught in one of the straps and she tripped into the woman on the next rower. Instead of fumbling in apology, she spread her arms wide to each side of the room as a gymnast would do at the end of a floor routine.
Rory snorted a laugh out his nose.
Del turned to him and raised a brow. “I doubt it, mate.”