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Playing Like a Girl: Jair Tollet's Story


by excita

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"Trae, I have to go to the store; Mom's out of seashells. Wanna come with me?" asked the small Maraquan Eyrie.

      "I can't, sis. The guys and I are going to play some Yooyuball," the Maraquan Shoyru replied.

      "Yooyuball... what's that?" questioned the Eyrie.

      "Little sis, you've been living in a bubble," joked Trae. "It's the most popular sport in Neopia! I'm going to play with Halt, Erik, and the rest of the guys for a while. But you'll still see me in the morning and after dinner." With that Trae gave his little sister a kiss and walked out of the door. "See you later, Jair."

     ~*~

      After Trae started playing Yooyuball, Jair never saw him. She felt left out, shoved aside. She had never once gone to see him play, despite his begging. Yooyuball was the enemy.

      Jair's parents, Harvey and Glikka Tollet, tried to convince Jair that Yooyuball was fun. Harvey, after all, had been a champion Yooyuballer. Jair would have none of it, however. Every night, as she sat at the dinner table, she stared at Trae's empty chair. She wished her brother would eat with them, not her friends. The Eyrie didn't understand why her parents allowed him to be gone for so long.

      She did know one thing, though. She was never, ever going to play Yooyuball.

     ~*~

      The older Jair got, the more intense her brother grew. Trae got up at the crack of dawn and didn't come back until far after her bedtime. She never saw her brother.

      One day, Jair stayed late after school to do some research. The library contained 10 books on Yooyuball. She decided to start with A Detailed History of Yooyuball, a five-hundred page "biography" on the sport.

      Surprisingly, Jair found the sport intriguing. She left a note for the librarian and left the school with the book tucked under her arm.

      "A Detailed History of Yooyuball," read Jair's father when she got home. "Starting to get interested in Yooyuball, eh?"

      "No! Not at all," Jair snapped. She was lying, though. Late at night, Jair was still up reading the book. When she was on page 302, she heard the front door open- Trae! Excited, the Eyrie leapt off her bed and ran down the hall.

      "Trae! How are you?" Jair asked.

      "What are you doing up?" Trae frowned.

      "Oh, you have a right to know," sighed Jair, "I've been reading about Yooyuball. I... I was wondering if, maybe, I could... erm... come play with you tomorrow?"

      "Really? That would be great," Trae exclaimed. "I get up at 5:00, but maybe we could sleep in 30 minutes... "

      "No, that's okay, I don't want to be late," cringed Jair. "Well, we better go to bed, then!" She gave him one last hug before returning to her room.

      Maybe Yooyuball wasn't so bad, after all.

     ~*~

      Jair's alarm sounded, loud and clear, at 5:00 in the morning. Groaning, she rolled over and hit the clock hard. Suddenly, the Eyrie remembered what day it was. She leapt out of bed and raced to her dresser. Inside sat dresses, skirts, jeans, T-shirts and a pair of sweatpants. This would have to do. Jair pulled out the sweatpants and grabbed a T-shirt that read, "I Survived Kelp- All 3 Helpings!"

      "Jair, are you ready?" Trae poked his head into the room. His sister nodded in response and they were off.

     ~*~

      After a disgruntled Jetsam dropped them off ("What are you doing up at this hour of the day?"), the siblings hustled to the Yooyuball field. Before them stood eight other people.

      "Guys, this is my sister, Jair," said Trae, "Jair, these are the guys- Halt, Erik, Gyven, Dalton, Rallen, Quinn, Arte, and Briggs." Each of Trae's friends stood forward and grinned at Jair.

      "So, Jair, are you ready to play?" Erik, a Maraquan Gelert smiled.

      "Yeah... um... where should I go?" Jair looked at her brother.

      "Well, Trenton's sick, so you can take his position. He's left forward." Jair nodded and took her position. Sweat poured down her face. What was she thinking? She had never played Yooyuball before in her life! Now she would look like a fool in front of all her brother's friends. The whistle sounded and the game began.

      Halt, the right forward on Jair's team, snatched the ball immediately and ran for the net. Jair struggled to keep up with him, knowing he would try to pass it to her. She was right, but not prepared. As Halt flung the ball in her direction, Quinn stepped in front of her and intercepted the pass. His team members cheered as the Koi scampered down the field. The game hadn't been going for five minutes, and Jair had already made herself look like a fool.

      As the game progressed, so did Jair's mistakes. On the rare occasion that she did catch the ball, she always shot too quickly or got too close to the net. Her teammates were getting disappointed.

      Frustrated, Jair asked to sit down. Her teammates happily obliged and switched around the line-up. Looking concerned, Trae walked over.

      "What's up, little sis? You look angry." He frowned.

      "I am," Jair snapped, turning away from her brother.

      "C'mon, you can't expect to be perfect at something the second you first try it!"

     Jair laughed, "Trae, I am so far from perfect... it's awful! I'm embarrassing myself and you."

      Trae put his hands on Jair's shoulders, "You need to relax. You're worrying too much. It's some big thing to you. Just calm down... don't stress on what move you're going to do next. Just... be the game. Don't think about what might happen- evaluate what will. When you're really playing, you just know what to do... without even thinking about it. I promise."

      "But..." Jair stopped. Her brother really believed in her. She didn't want to let him down. "Okay, let's do it!" She picked her head up, re-tied her braid, and strode back to the field. Her teammates were disappointed, she could tell. But Jair didn't let that affect her. She could show them.

      TWEET! The whistle sounded, and everyone sprang into action. Once again, Halt grabbed the Yooyu. It was a mutant - the trickster. Jair remembered from her book that the mutant Yooyu always curved when it was thrown. As Halt prepared to shoot, Jair positioned herself into the net. If she was correct, the ball would go right at the goalkeeper. She was in a perfect position to catch the ball if it rebounded.

      Sure enough, Halt flung the ball and it hit Gyven, the goalkeeper, in the stomach. Surprised, Gyven was too slow to react. Jair snatched the ball and flung it into the top right corner.

      "GOOOOOOOOOOOAL!" Trae and the rest of her teammates ran over to her, looks of incredulous delight on their face.

      "I knew you had it in you," Jair's brother cried. "That's my little sis!"

     ~*~

      Jair went to every game with her brother after that. With each match, her talent improved. Soon they fought over which team Jair was to play on. One day, a few years later, someone caught Jair's eye.

      "Hello, I'm Len Gairt. I coach a travel Yooyuball team called the Tide. Would you be interested in joining us?" Jair was overjoyed. Everyone knew who the Tide were - they were the best Little League Yooyuball team in Maraqua... and they wanted her!

      Everyone in Jair's family shared her excitement. Everyone, that is, except for Trae.

      "I guess this means you won't be able to play for us anymore, huh?" he asked sadly.

      "No way! I'll play with you every chance I get," Jair said, hugging her brother. "After all, if it wasn't for you, none of this would have happened."

     ~*~

      There was one minor detail that Jair had overlooked - the Tide consisted of all boys. Extreme, competitive boys. This didn't hit Jair until she stepped out on the field.

      Jair's breath caught in her throat as she examined the stadium. No more unorganized games - this was the real deal! The artificial grass was completely even and the white boundaries looked like they had been painted on that morning. Thousands of royal-blue seats filled up the stadium, the same color as the locker room.

      The rest of the team, however, wasn't as appealing.

      "What are you doing here?"

      "Are you gonna give us some water, water girl?"

      "You're a girl... go play in the sissy leagues!"

      Jair held her head high, but avoided eye contact with her new teammates. Why had she ever agreed to this? Her cheeks reddened as Coach Gairt introduced her to the rest of the team.

      A tall, pudgy Koi raised his hand.

      "Yes, Tonie?" Coach Gairt asked.

      "So, you mean she's actually gonna play with us?" he asked, frowning.

      "Yes, that's right, Tonie. If any of you have a problem with this, then you can tell it to the minor-leaguers. We are a team, and we're not going to let a silly thing like gender get in the way of that. Do I make myself clear?"

      The boys mumbled their consent. Unfortunately, Jair could tell they were far from pleased.

      The practice started with sit-ups, which Jair found surprisingly hard. She could see the boys sneering as she struggled to touch her elbows to her knees.

      Next, they ran five laps around the fields. Although she did not finish first, Jair was fit enough to keep up with the rest of the boys.

      After a few passing and stopping drills, it was time for a scrimmage. Coach Gairt separated them into two different teams. Along with the plump Koi named Tonie, her team consisted of a wiry Techo, an aggressive-looking Jetsam and a short Shoyru who looked not unlike Trae. The Techo stepped forward and called them into a huddle.

      "I'm Barit Jowes," he said to Jair. "Nice to meet you. Anyways, we'll take our regular positions, but with Jair at left forward, since that seems to be your strength. Does everyone like that? Okay, let's play ball!" Jair was pleased to meet someone on the team who actually respected her. As they got in their positions, Barit winked at her.

      Unlike her previous "games," a Buzzer sounded to signify the beginning of the scrimmage. A Kougra from the other team pounced on the Yooyu and darted towards the net. Without getting too far back, Jair went in the direction of the game. The Kougra got past both defense and advanced to the goal. He went to the right, but at the last minute, jerked to the left and released the ball. The Buzzer sounded, signifying a goal.

      The goalkeeper, Tonie, was angry and embarrassed. He tossed the Yooyu back to the middle and went back in the net.

      The game began, once again, with the Kougra grabbing the Yooyu. This time, though, he went towards Jair's side. She decided to go after the ball. Situating herself right in front of him, she waited until the exact moment before charging at him.

      "OOF!" Jair slammed into the Kougra at full speed. Shocked from the impact, he dropped the Yooyu. Jair didn't waste a second in picking it up. Down the field she went, dodging the players one by one. Soon she was in a good position to score - but so was Barit. The Techo had a better shot at getting it in the net, so Jair tried something she hadn't done before. She tossed the ball to Barit, who scooped it up and threw it in the goal. The goalkeeper dove, but the Yooyu was too quick.

      "YEAH," the members of Jair's team piled around Barit. Looking on as her teammate was congratulated, she felt a bit of a sinking feeling in her stomach.

      But, she reminded herself, she was new to the team. She would still be able to gain their respect, one way or another. Suddenly, Barit silenced everyone.

      "Thanks, guys, but it wasn't all me. Did you see Jair Tollet's amazing pass?"

      As quickly as the goal itself, her teammates were by Jair, congratulating the Eyrie on her assist. Her stomach churned, but this time in excitement and glee. She could tell that she had made the right decision in joining the Tide.

     ~*~

      The Tide won almost every game that season, and qualified for the Maraquan Junior's Yooyuball championship game. When they found out, Jair and her teammates screamed and danced around. This was the biggest game in Junior Yooyuball.

      When game day came, Jair's stomach was in a bundle of tightly-twisted knots. What if she messed up? What if she lost the game? What if her teammates never spoke to her again?

      "Nervous, little sis?" Trae asked Jair on the way to the arena.

      "N-no, not at all," she stuttered, reddening.

      "Jair, it's okay... in fact, fear is part of the game. It gives you this... adrenaline rush that helps you to play your best. Just concentrate on the ball. Pretend it's just you and the ball. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. You're a great player, sis. You'll play great." With that, the Shoyru enveloped his sister in a huge hug.

      "Thanks, Trae. That means a lot." Jair returned the hug before rushing to the locker room.

      "Hey, Tollet, what took you?" Tonie, the goalie quipped.

      "Ah, just a little pep talk," she replied, pulling on her shoulder pads.

      "All right, guys," Coach Gairt strode into the locker room, clutching a brown clipboard, "I know we're capable of winning, I just know it." He showed them the starting lineup, and Jair's stomach churned when she saw her name. Coach Gairt led them through strategies, but then the starting whistle blew.

      "Time to go," Barit smiled nervously.

      "Okay, Tide. Let's win this!" Coach Gairt gave them all high-fives and they swam onto the field. Their opponent, the Whirlpools, stood menacingly in front of them. An arguing Acara and Flotsam caught Jair's eyes.

      "Just give me the ball, Filo, and we'll win," shouted the Acara.

      "No, Elon, we give everyone an equal chance," the Flotsam named Filo yelled back, "I'm sick and tired of your selfishness!"

      "Too bad, because my selfishness helps us win!" With that, the Acara, Elon, stormed away, taking his position on the right side.

      Jair groaned. Elon would be the one she was facing off against. Barit caught her eyes and winked, as if to say everything would be okay. She grinned worriedly and stood opposite Elon.

      "Hey, what are you doing on the field," sneered the Acara. "This is a boy's game!"

      "That's what you think," she replied, smiling sweetly. "That's what you think."

     ~*~

      It was an evenly-matched, suspenseful game, and Jair was getting nervous. It was the last minute of the game, and they were tied, 5-5. Elon, the selfish Acara, had scored four of them. Filo, the Flotsam, had managed to sneak one in while Elon was admiring a picture of himself someone was waving in the stands.

      Jair, on the other hand, had twisted her ankle in the first play of the game. Furious, she had begged Coach Gairt to let her play. Aggravated, he agreed to put her on in the final minute, warning her to be careful.

      As the whistle blew, she dove quickly for the ball, and, by some miracle, snatched it before Elon could reach it. She swam as fast as she could towards the goal, not daring to slow down. She dodged the first defender and neared the net. Filo stood in front of her, looking a bit nervous. As he lunged for Jair, she ducked underneath and found herself right in front of the net.

      "Hey, girl, take your best shot. It won't get in, though. 'Cause you play like a girl!" The goalie smirked. Jair froze. Maybe he was right. Maybe she was just a girl. She had been so weak, twisting her ankle in the first play. The goalie started laughing, and Filo closed in on her. Suddenly, something caught Jair's eye.

      Trae was standing on his seat, screaming, "Go, Jair! Go, Jair! You can do it! It's just you and the ball!" Jair's heart filled with warmth as she saw her brother cheering. She would do this for him. Using all her might, she threw the ball toward the right corner of the net.

      Surprised, the goalie dove, but he was too slow. The Yooyu flew in just as the final Buzzer sounded. Cheers and screams erupted from the crowd as Jair's teammates piled on top of her. Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. In front of her stood a tall, muscular Maraquan Scorchio.

      Jair inhaled quickly. "You're... you're..." she stuttered.

      "Hello, Ms. Tollet," grinned the Scorchio, "I am Dante Heffis, head coach of the Maraquan Yooyuball team. I saw your amazing, though short, performance today, and I've heard amazing things about you. You come of age next year, and I would like to offer you a spot on the team."

      Jair's mouth hung open, as did her teammates. The Maraquan Yooyuball team wanted her!

      "Would you like that, Ms. Tollet?" Heffis asked, brining Jair out of her thoughts.

      "Yes," she said, "I would like that very much." She ran over to her family and told them the good news. Obliging immediately, they went to talk to Coach Heffis. Suddenly, Jair saw the Whirlpool's goalie leaving.

      "I'll be back in a second," she told her family. Running, she managed to catch up to the goalie.

      "What do you want?" he snapped angrily. Jair merely smiled and looked him right in the eye.

      "I wanted tell you that you played very well today. Oh," she said, her smile growing even broader, "and I'd like to thank you for what you said. Because you're right, I do play like a girl... and I wouldn't have it any other way."

The End

Author's Note: Wow! This is my first time in the Neopian Times. Questions and comments are greatly appreciated!

 
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