This is a piece I wrote for a high school writing contest in ninth grade. Although I didn’t win the contest, I’m still really proud of my work.

I feel the vibrations under my cleats, running up into my legs. The thunderous roar of thousands of fans, it feels like drowning in admiration. 

My heart beats furiously inside my chest. Each breath shaking on the way out. I have the urge to wipe my sweaty hands on my shorts, but instead squeeze the little girl’s hand beside me tightly. She must notice the subtle change of pressure in my grip because I catch her staring up at me. 

I look down at her, smiling as she gawks.

“Hey, what’s your name?” I bend over and ask her gently.

“Morgan.” She says, barely audible.

Her lips move but she shows no signs that she’s aware of what’s happening. Her eyes have a faint sheen over them. I stare down at her face. Beautiful, wide eyes as the centerpiece. Her cheeks tinted pink and jaw slack. I feel her small hand in mine. Soft skin compared to my rough fingertips.

“Do you play soccer Morgan?”

She only nods.

“You like to play?”

“I want to play for the national team. I want to play during the world cup, just like you.” 

I feel tears prickle at the corners of my eyes and pray they won’t intervene with this moment.

“Well Morgan, are you ready?”

“Ready for what?” She says, tilting her head to one side.

I smile again, more genuinely now. My nervous jittering gone, replaced by a feeling of reassurance.

“For a great game of course.”

Morgan smiles. But not the kind of smile you’d give the photographer on picture day at school. She smiles with determination. Her eyes are alive and focused. The glaze gone from her irises, replaced by a fierce ambition. A want. A need. 

“Yes.” She replies.

I smile back at her, matching her intensity. 

The crowd cheers again, flooding the arena in applause. Morgan and I glance up, our conversation disturbed by the crowd. My eyes are met with a bright red jersey with the number sixteen written in white. 

Janine Beckie is standing right in front of me, I think to myself in utter shock. 

She moves forward, stepping out into the sunlight of the arena. Her jersey lights up, blinding me at first. 

I straighten my back, adjusting my shoulders before nodding to Morgan. She follows my lead, adjusting her posture before nodding back. 

We walk out into the arena hand in hand. The light of the arena is blinding and I squint at the daylight.

I’m met with the smell of fresh grass. My heart beats in my ears, pounding so loud it’s the only sound audible. I see a woman to my left in a red Christine Sinclair jersey, holding a red and white flag screaming, but no sound reaches my ears. Another girl, to my right no older than sixteen is crying, washing her Canada leaf face paint right off her cheek. She meets my eyes through her tears and opens her mouth, forming the words, we love you.

My breaths come quick and short, causing my hands to shake again. Realization hits me like a slap to the face.

They’re cheering for me… for us…

Cameras flicker all around me, causing spots to explode across my vision. I refrain from looking at the opposing team walking out onto the pitch next to me. 

Someone is pulling at my jersey. I glance down and see Morgan looking up at me. Unlike me, she’s calm and collected, giving me the best reassuring look an eight year-old can muster.

“Are you ready?” She asks, squeezing my hand. 

My tremors stop. The crowd – gone. My teammates – gone. The cameras – gone. I only see Morgan, looking up at me, eyes bright and sharp. Light brown hair tied tightly into a high ponytail. A loose red jersey hanging off her shoulders. 

Then suddenly it’s not Morgan at all. I see a short girl with brown skin and dark hair. A tiny, slender girl with little muscle. I see myself. Small, tender, innocent me. The only thing that hasn’t changed are my eyes. I’m looking down into the same eyes as I had a moment before. The same intensity. The same certainty in a world with so much uncertainty. The same fire in a place of darkness. The same quiet confidence.

Dreamer eyes.

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