At the break I joined up with CJ and his three buddies again and tried to remember the new names: C.J., short for Curtis, tall, short hair, dark-skin. Alan, the cutest of the three with a Hapa baby-face like Uncle Kev, brown hair and eyes that were almost green. Jose, a spiky-haired Latino jokester, and Manny, the shortest one, was serious and sweet.
"Oh, for sures," Jose was saying. "Her and probably Mari. They're the only girls who can fuckin' hang."
I sat down next to my duffle bag and looked for my Gatorade.
"Well, E," Curtis said, sticking with the nickname, "You're auntie don't lie. Girl can play."
I tried to hide my smile and wiped the sweat from my forehead. I was still feeling good, still able to avoid thinking about why I was starting this new life here in the first place.
"So, this is how it works," Jose said sliding in next to me. "They do this little clinic on the first day of camp and then they make squads based on skills. I'm pretty sure you'll be in the top tier with us. Only one other girl ever plays with us and that's Marisela." Jose nodded in the direction of a skinny girl with her hair in a ponytail high on her head. Her hands were on her hips and she wore super long shorts that hung almost all the way to her shin guards. She was talking to this other kid who looked way older than us. His head was shaved and he wore long navy blue Dickies instead of soccer shorts. I learned the word later; he was a cholo. "That G's Ramiro," Jose continued. "They are on again, off again, all the time. Looks like right now they're on." I noticed the way Jose looked at Mari. There was a story there. Just like all of the history between friends in Portland, I had to learn a whole new scene. But as I watched Mari I wondered if maybe she could be a friend. She obviously loved soccer like I did, and I hoped we'd have other things in common.
The coach with the strong Irish accent blew a whistle calling us back to the shade and divided us into groups. They started calling names for the lowest group, placing players onto teams based on high schools in the area: Mira Costa, Avalon, Torrance and Redondo Union. I watched and waited as the younger kids in the group were placed and imagined Jem would have run circles around the kids here, that if he were here he definitely would have made the middle group which was who they called next. These all had college team names like UCLA, USC, Stanford and San Diego. The highest group, the one I knew I wanted was called next and our teams were based on the pros: Chivas, Barcelona, Arsenal and Manchester United. I ended up being called along with Alan and Mari for team Barcelona and Jose winked at me as he went to Chivas. He'd been right, after all. Marisela and I were the only two girls on the top teams.
By the time we finished a bunch of conditioning drills my legs ached. I hadn't played against boys in a while I knew I didn't just want to hang. I wanted to be one of the best. Alan and I partnered up even though I could tell the coach wanted Mari and I to practice together and through the whole session Mari and I kept our eyes on one another. She beat me in the flat out sprints but she and I were toward the front of the whole pack. In the side-to-side and back-pedaling we were pretty much neck-to-neck. Once coach threw a ball into play I noticed she seemed stronger with her left foot and although she was quick, she was also small. If I played a physical game I could always knock her off the ball.
"Nice work," Alan said as we walked back toward our bags for the lunch break.
"You too," I said with a smile, automatically feeling at ease with Alan who, with his height and strong build, would probably play striker.
"We have a mean squad, huh?"
"Yeah, well, we'll soon find out," he said taking a long sip at his water bottle. "After lunch we'll get to scrimmage."