"My jacket's buttoned okay, right?"
"Yeah, you're fine."
"You can't see the bulge?"
Bekka glared at me. "I always see the bulge. I always feel it when you hug me. You know I hate it, I know there's nothing I can do about it. Finish your cigarette and let's go."
We were in the parking lot of La Jolla High. We were at La Jolla High for Jane's first tournament. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and I'd swapped Bekka for another girl in a loop so we'd be able to make it. Ultimately this didn't matter, as Bekka had seven years of loops under her belt and the other girl would be happy with getting Bekka's fee. We wanted to give Jane our support.
Jane knew we'd be there, was counting on our support. In a spirit of camaraderie, she'd left the Cutlass in the parking lot of Carlsbad High and ridden the bus with her fellow teammates. We wanted to cheer her on, but she had explained to us that during play, a volleyball round was like a tennis set: the spectators were quiet, saving up any noise until after the ball was out of play. We didn't know that. Just the fact that we wouldn't have beers in our hands made this different from the volleyball we were used to.
Jane was well prepared. After she'd made the team, we'd stocked her up on zip-front sports bras and those little tiny Spandex shorts they all wear. Sand volleyball players are barefoot, but she still had a pair of $140 running shoes for doing laps on the track. She'd done her first lap for the team wearing a pair of Doc Martens that were a size too big for her, and still turned in a good time. Determination. She had it. For a 5'5" player, she was going to set a benchmark, in both saves and points. Whether any other player matched her in hair color and attitude, that remained to be seen.
The sand pit had bleachers on both sides, and it didn't seem to matter whose team you were for when it came to which side you sat on. The coaches were at each end of the pit, so that didn't help matters. I wished I was more familiar with the parents of fellow players. That way I could have told whose adults were whose.
We took a seat in the bleachers, armed and ready to go. We each had Carlsbad High pennants (go Lancers), cigarettes, bags of peanuts in case anyone freaked on us for smoking, and I had a sterling silver flask full of Johnnie Walker, a gift from Bekka and Jane. They'd been prowling antique stores in downtown San Diego, and Bekka spotted it. It really was a "I saw this nice thing for you" gift. Too cool, I'd get mileage out of it.
The squad for each school hit the sand, to cheers. Bekka and I waved our pennants. Carlsbad served, and the game was on. The two teams volleyed, feeling each other out, and La Jolla suddenly returned with a spike. Jane landed on her chin, keeping the ball in play. She was on her feet immediately, setting up for a spike into La Jolla's territory. First point, Carlsbad.
We cheered. There was booing from behind us. Bekka turned and yelled "Fuck you!" at whoever opposed. We turned and watched the opposing serve, Carlsbad serving to La Jolla. After a few volleys, La Jolla got aggressive again, and the theme seemed to be, take out the blue-haired bitch. She was shorter than her teammates, and right up front, so a target. Spikes were aimed at her end of the net. Jane kept her cool, no matter how many times she hit the dirt keeping the ball in play. On the next shot at her, she saw it coming, jumped, and hammered it back into La Jolla's side of the net, the ball skipping across the sand. Her first point against an opposing team.
Bekka and I cheered loudly. Our pet was making us proud. We were so happy we couldn't even speak, simply yelling our approval. Bekka tapped me for the flask, which I provided her. Booing came from behind us again, to which we both turned and yelled "Fuck you!" at.
The next point started. The theme of "take out the blue-haired bitch" continued. The tall girls on the far side of the net hammered the ball in her direction. Jane wasn't giving up, keeping the white sphere in play when it was anywhere near her. She lofted the ball up to her teammates, who put it back into foreign territory. A sloppy shot came from the La Jolla side of the net, Jane jumped and pounded it back into their territory. Carlsbad, 2-0.
We cheered again, yelling "Go Gator Bait!" at the top of our lungs. Jane looked up at the stands, saw us sitting there, and beamed. No set of parents in the bleachers could have felt more proud than us. And boos rained down from behind us.
"Fuck them, they're locals, they're just pissed," I muttered to Bekka, who had swiveled again to see where the noise was coming from. She swore and ate a handful of peanuts.
The third volley was a short one. Jane's side knocked one out of bounds, Carlsbad 2, La Jolla 1. Bekka and I remained silent.
Fourth volley La Jolla came on strong again, again aiming at the blue-haired short one up front. Jane was spending a lot of time with her chin in the sand. She was tired, no question, she was dragging herself up into play with each shot. Jane made too good of a target. She lofted the ball into her own side, one of the other players caught an angle on it and spiked it into La Jolla's sand. Carlsbad 3, La Jolla, 1. There was a break.
We went down to see how she was doing. She sat on the bench with her fellow players and coach, catching her breath. "Those bitches play tough," she panted. "I thought fucking was supposed to give you better wind. If that's the case, I need to have Lance fuck me a lot harder."
"Still, two points your first game," I said. "You're doing great."
"You guys really drove all the way down here to see me play?" Jane asked.
"Hell yeah," we responded.
"But I thought you had work to do. Bekka, weren't you doing a loop this afternoon?"
Bekka grinned and said, "What's one loop? Some other girl's pussy is taking my place right now, no big deal. A hole is a hole."
Jane gave each of us a hug, and meant it. "Thank you guys so much."
The coach called all the girls around for strategy. She correctly called Jane out for exhaustion for the next two plays, no matter how good she was doing. La Jolla played a strong offensive game, and they had to answer that. The coach called in a girl who had a good six inches on Jane to take her place. Bekka and I gave Jane a kiss and returned to the stands. We ate more peanuts and shared the flask. I'd chop us a line of speed in the parking lot if we were feeling too goofy from the scotch.
Play resumed. The new girl was a lot slower on her feet than Jane, a good blocker, but struggling to get her hands under the ball on point shots. Two volleys later, the score was tied up. Jane's coach called a time out and sent Jane out to take the other girl's place. She was rested, ready, and up for action.
La Jolla's focus on the blue-haired object returned. They pounded the ball in Jane's direction at every opportunity. Maybe the goal was to exhaust her, I don't know. But the shots kept coming. She matched every one, constantly preventing points and keeping the ball in play on her side. La Jolla put up a bad lob, right at the edge of the net, which Jane jumped up and smashed at their feet. Carlsbad's fourth point, Jane's third.
A voice behind us yelled, "Take out that blue-hair cunt!" Bekka and I pivoted to locate the source of the noise. It was some yuppie-looking chump, standing in the bleachers of a high school with a beer bottle in one hand. None of the people around him seemed to be paying him any mind.
"He's mine," said Bekka, and began scrambling up the bleachers towards him. I followed, hoping her Colt would not come into play. She grabbed big handfuls of his shirt, pulled him close, and growled, "Motherfucker, watch your mouth."
The yuppie tried to untangle himself and asked, "Who are you, her mom?"
"What passes for it, yes," said Bekka through a feral grin.
"Call me daddy," I said, coming up next to Bekka.
For a loudmouth who had just been called out, he looked surprisingly reassured. He asked, "And what are you two going to do to me?"
I pointed behind him. "These bleachers sit at least twenty feet off the ground from the back. Do you know what kind of damage a fall like that would do to you?"
He got snotty. "Asshole, I bought these bleachers. I paid for that sand pit down there. The district wouldn't cough up, so I did. Don't think you can tell me how I can behave around here."
"Well, it does give you an excuse to stare at teenage girls in tiny shorts, right?"
Bekka interjected, "Barefoot teenage girls in tiny shorts. We can't overlook that he may be a toe sucking fetishist."
An oversized guy in a security uniform came puffing up the bleacher steps. He put his hand on the yuppie's shoulder and said, "Please Mr. Mulvoney, we've talked about this before. Give me the beer."
I said, "Wait, Mulvoney? You got a brother up in Hollywood? Drives a 3-Series BMW?"
"Yeah, my brother Rick."
Bekka and I started laughing. "We've pointed guns at him!" Bekka exclaimed.
The rent-a-cop was tugging at this new Mulvoney's sleeve. He was ignored. New Mulvoney snarled, "Are you the criminals who attacked him outside that Italian restaurant in Century City? He said there were six of you, and you all had guns!"
"Just four of us," I said. "One of whom was the restaurant owner. And yeah, we all had guns. It was the quickest way to get your brother to stop being an ass."
"Mr. Mulvoney, please give me the bottle," said the rent-a-cop.
Mulvoney blindly shoved the bottle to one side. He said, "My brother says that restaurant is mafia owned. He's afraid to go back. Well, if you're connected to that restaurant, I don't like your connections. You're not welcome here. The mafia isn't allowed on this campus."
I laughed. "Dude, the mafia goes wherever it feels like. Whenever Carlsbad girl's volleyball plays, we're gonna be there. If they're playing here, too bad. This being a public school, there's not a lot you can say about it. Capiche?"
The rent-a-cop got his arm around Mulvoney's shoulders. "C'mon, Mr. Mulvoney, you can sit in your car for a little while until you've calmed down. They ain't our people, they just visiting. C'mon, we'll relax some...." Mulvoney allowed himself to be led off.
Bekka and I began clambering back down the bleachers. As we did, a voice behind me muttered, "White trash."
I spun at the voice and showed a lot of teeth. "Yeah, and dangerous white trash. Would you like to learn how dangerous?"
We resumed our seats. The flask went back and forth. The score was 7-4, Carlsbad. The coach had sidelined everyone who had been on the sand, sending the B squad in to mop things up. They were playing to eight points. La Jolla scored again, and served. A dark girl with a mass of curly hair popped at the serve with both fists and drilled the ball into La Jolla's sand. Final score 8-5, Carlsbad coming out on top.
Bekka and I ran down the bleachers and across the sand pit to hug and congratulate Jane on her first win. She introduced us to her coach, Ms. Lark. She was everything you expect from a girl's volleyball coach. She crushed the bones in my hand and told me what a great performer and fine athlete Jane had turned out to be.
"To be frank, I was worried about Jane. Her living in a shelter, away from home, and she showed up for her first practice in Chuck Taylors. She ran a lap wearing boots! And on top of...."
"Wait," I said. "Living in a shelter? Where'd you get that idea?"
"Well, I was told by the administration that she was a runaway. It only made sense."
"And you didn't wonder about the car she drives home?"
"She's always been fast to finish practice and get through the showers, so I assumed it was so she wouldn't miss the second bus."
Bekka said, "To be frank, she's in a hurry so she can go home and fool around with her boyfriend. Jane lives with us."
"Who are you two?" asked Ms. Lark.
"We are friends of hers. She lives with us on the understanding that she bring home good grades and help around the house, and not get in trouble. We take care of her as best as we can, including a car to drive to school. She is our ward in every way but legally."
"So she's in a stable living situation?"
"We like to think so, yes," I said.
Ms. Lark looked terribly relieved. "Thank god for that! Jane is a fantastic player, very gifted, and I was afraid I would lose her by way of her deciding to hit the road, like runaways often do."
"No, she lives with us, and as near as we can tell, she's happy. When and where's the next game?"
"At home, against Oceanside. It should be another good game."
We thanked her for her time and caught Jane before she got on the bus. We asked her where she wanted to go for her celebration dinner.
"I'd love a good steak, so Evelyn's. Right now I feel famished for red meat."
"And Lance isn't around, so you can't eat his," teased Bekka.
We agreed to just meet up at home and go from there. Rolling up I-5, Bekka said, "I couldn't be any more proud of our little Gator Bait."
"I'm glad she's got the focus in her life," I replied.
"She's doing well at keeping busy. She's got school, she's got drama, she's got volleyball, she has a boyfriend.... I was afraid we'd have this teenage girl rattling around the mansion getting in the way of shoots."
We got home, and I immediately checked the office machine for messages. There was one, from our contractor. The house was completed. The keys were in the lock box on the front door. We could move in.