A few other guys from the other teams joined C.J., Alan, Jose, Manny and me for lunch and as we walked out of the park I started to get a sense of these four friends. C.J. had a strong, quiet confidence and would talk to anyone. He'd brought a skateboard and rolled alongside us. He was closest to Manny while Alan and Jose seemed like best friends. I tried to pick up on the inside jokes the four of them tossed around constantly. We were almost out of the parking lot, walking toward a mini-mall with a Jamba Juice, Subway and a Chinese restaurant when and I noticed a three girls sitting at the bus stop watching us.
"Alan! Jose! Where you guys going for lunch?" Yelled a girl with a blonde pony-tail. She waved but the boys ignored her.
"Amber Johnston," C.J. said with a scowl.
"Don't even say the name, that..." Alan stopped himself.
"Uh, you’re the cat who played with that shit last spring," Manny said, shaking his head.
"Shut up, man. We all make mistakes."
"And at least you got some play," Jose piped in as we reached the intersection and waited for the light to change. "So, Erika, where you going? Perry with the homies? Manhattan with the fags?"
I tried to think of the name of the school Auntie Laine mentioned at dinner but neither of those sounded familiar. "Um, I think I'm going where C.J. goes."
"Yeah, my mom is helping her aunt get her into Emerson."
"Well, I guess that's somewheres in the middle," Jose said, "It's a little bit hood, a little bit Hollywood."
"Where do you go?"
"Alan's a Manhattan Beach snob and so am I, unfortunately. Manny's at Emerson too. I was actually trying to see if Mom would transfer me to Emerson but she says it's too far."
The light turned and we strolled slowly across the intersection for lunch. C.J. said he'd get me and gave me a smile that for the first time ever made me feel what it must be to have an older brother looking out for me.
On the way back to the park Amber Johnston and her two friends walked toward me. They wore make-up and street clothes and I felt ugly in my soccer gear. I was still pulling on my sweaty shin guards and a fresh pair of socks on while the boys were played keep away a few yards away.
"Hey," Amber said standing above me so that she was blocking the sun. When I looked up she had her hand stretched out to me.
"Hi," I said remembering what Alan had stopped himself from saying about her as I shook her limp palm.
"I hear you just moved here from Argon."
I smiled, still looking down. "You mean Oregon. It's Oregon."
"Oh, yeah, well, whatever."
One of her friends, a tall girl with brown hair cut into a short bob and a super-dark tan piped in next. "I see you already trying your game with all our guys."
I had to squint because Amber stepped to the side. "I'm not trying my game on anyone. I just moved and I'm just playing soccer." I thought back to Portland, to the complicated web of boyfriends and crushes that shaded every relationship. I was walking into this situation completely blind.
"Okay, well, just be careful." This was Amber again. "Because those boys are a bunch of players. They think going out is just like soccer, a game, and they will pass you from one to the next just like that." She snapped her fingers for emphasis. "Just warning you."
"I'll keep that in mind," I said and moved my focus back to my cleats. I thought they'd all gone away until I heard another voice chime in.
"Mentirosas," the voice said and when I looked up, it was Marisela. "Don't listen to that mess, girl," Mari said loudly enough so the three girls who were walking away could still hear her. "They just jealous you went to lunch with the cute boys." She reached her hand out to help me to my feet. "I know everyone thinks I'll hate you because I'm used to being the chica suprema out here. But I figure if we can both keep up with the boys we ought to stick together."
"Hey, thanks," I said as the whistle blew and we trotted back to practice.
"Entonces," she said, "I can see you have something sad in your heart. You don't need no more enemies."
I smiled, glad that Marisela was on my side. I had a good feeling about her but worried that she'd find out the truth: that I was the mentirosa, and I was my own worst enemy.