Soccer Is Life
Published in Little Boy Lost: More Tales of Youth Disrupted
At the soccer field, every one of my teammates hid behind a copy of the newspaper’s sports section. My own face stared back at me twenty times over. Ugh!
“Whatcha reading?” I said. “The good article’s on the front.” I should know; Dad wrote it. “Oakmont High Boys’ Soccer Favorite in State Semi-finals Tonight.” He included a team photo and several action shots from the season, but the only full-face image was of the team captain, which happened to be me. “Tyler McLoud” appeared in bold under the photo. My best friend and teammate, Carter, thinks Dad’s job is a perk for the team, I beg to differ.
“Fun’s over, let’s get to it,” Coach said. “Bus leaves in ten minutes.”
The unusually quiet ride to Keystone Heights took less than an hour, each of us in his own thoughts, preparing for yet another ‘most important game of the season.’ We’d made it to the semis before, twice in fact, my freshman and sophomore seasons. But both years we’d been embarrassed in the finals, and last year we lost at District. I’d missed that game with a concussion. This was our year.
During warmups, I found my family in the stands. Mom, Dad and my sister, Addison, waving with way too much enthusiasm. I acknowledged them with a wave of my own, anything to get them to stop shouting my name. If Oakmont lost tonight, that little pre-game ritual would die at last. Thank Heaven. But a small part of me ached at the thought. A much larger part craved one more game—the state finals. One last chance for a state championship.
“Looks like you drew some scouts.” Carter nodded toward a couple leaning on the fence. Without clipboards or binoculars, they looked more like parents from the other team. How desperate did you have to be to scout warmups?
Assembled on the sideline for team introductions, I looked more closely at the couple. The man saw me, took the woman by the arm and led her away. Definitely not scouts, but he was vaguely familiar. Maybe from the newspaper?
“I haven’t seen the UF scouts yet,” Carter said. Like me, he dreamed of attending University of Florida, but not as a player. To hear him tell it, my odds of scoring a soccer scholarship were higher than his of being admitted. “That’s why they’re called dreams.”
Once the game began, dreams vanished. I thought of nothing but the ball, the goal, and my teammates who put me in the position to score three goals in a four-to-one win. After the game, we celebrated but were already looking ahead to next Saturday. I hugged my parents, begged Dad not to put me on the front page again, then headed for the team bus and Steak and Shake.
We basically took over the restaurant, pushing together five tables. Carter nudged me. “Isn’t that the scouts from the field?” He pointed to a corner table where a middle-aged couple sat sharing a meal.
Maybe, but it didn’t matter, they weren’t scouts, at least not from UF. I continued eating and talking and laughing with our teammates, but found myself glancing at the corner table. Thanks, Carter.
Coach announced the bus’s impending departure and we filed out. I looked back into the restaurant for Carter, who’d lagged behind in the restroom. The woman from the corner table stood behind my vacated seat, leaning forward against it and taking something from the table.
Carter grabbed my arm. “Let’s go.”
As always, Sunday was for recovery. The team met at my house where we put hot and cold
compresses on new bruises, analyzed video of the game, and more video of Saturday’s opponent. Mom served pizza and ice cream, despite the forty-degree weather—a February cold snap in Florida.
At practice on Monday, my sister, Addison, watched from the stands. Not yet sixteen, she wanted a free ride to the mall after. As we walked to the car, she gestured to the far side of the parking lot. “Do you know that lady?”
It was the woman from the game on Saturday. “No. Do you? I keep seeing her.”
“Ohhh, you have a creepy stalker. She watched you the whole practice.”
The stranger climbed into the driver’s seat of a light blue sedan, alone. She seemed in no
hurry to pull out, maybe waiting for the man who’d been with her? I thought about walking over to ask who she was, but what was the point? I unlocked the car and tossed my bag in the trunk.
Carter yelled to me from across the lot. He held up a backpack. “Your sister left this in the stands.”
“Sorry,” Addison said from inside the car, but made no move to retrieve it. Whatever.
I walked toward Carter in the near-empty lot. Tires squealed nearby, a car barreling toward me. I tried to move, but it was as if the air had thickened to gelatin. I wouldn’t make it.
Then I was shoved from behind, straight into the door of a car parked in the next lane. A loud thud, screams, more skidding tires. Then chaos. Carter was at my side in seconds, Addison soon after.
“I’m fine.” But they wouldn’t let me up.
A small crowd formed around a figure on the concrete. I tried again to stand, to find out who had saved me, but Coach knelt beside me and I wasn’t going anywhere until the paramedics arrived. One crew checked on me. “No, I didn’t hit my head.” “No, I didn’t lose consciousness.” “No, nothing hurts.” That was a bit of a lie, but better than going for unnecessary x-rays.
I stared as a gurney rolled by and caught a glimpse of a bloodied face. It was the man who had been with the stalker woman. What the hell?
My parents arrived. Again with the questions, this time from my physician mother. I knew the concussion exam by heart from years of soccer, and had to stop myself from reciting the memory recall words before they were introduced. Carter mouthed them with me.
The police wanted the whole story. Addison and Carter helped, but made it sound like something from a superhero movie. At last we were excused. On the way home, I apologized to Addison for missing her mall date.
“I guess I can forgive you, this time.” She grinned. “I’m glad you weren’t smushed.” “Yeah, me too.”
Unable to sleep that night, I pulled out my sketchpad and drew. His face gradually took
shape. The face of the man who saved me, minus the blood. Who was he? And why did he look so familiar? I could ask Dad—he knew everyone. Maybe in the morning.
“Tyler?” Addison cracked the door open.
“Come on.” I slid over to make room, as I had so many times before. I would miss this. I wouldn’t miss chauffeuring, but this I would miss. Though I would never admit it to anyone, not even her.
She put her head on my shoulder. “I keep seeing that car about to...” “Yeah, me too.” Addison shuddered, or was it me?
“You’re sure it was the guy you saw with the woman?”
“Pretty sure.” I continued sketching. I couldn’t get the hair quite right. She looked at the sketchpad and sat up. “Who’s this?”
“The guy. The one who saved me.”
“It can’t be. He’s dead.”
Addison led the way to the pull-down stairs in the hallway between the bedrooms. We tried
for silence, but it wasn’t really possible, the stairs were old and rarely used. We climbed into the cold, unfinished attic. She led the way to a corner, shifted a small, dusty wood dresser out from the wall, and pulled something from the top drawer.
“How did you find this?” I asked.
“I used to get bored a lot.” She handed me an unfinished wood box, like a jewelry box, with latches that no longer latched. I raised an eyebrow.
I lifted the lid and stared at the photo lying within. Addison was right. It was him, fifteen or twenty years younger, with his arm around Mom.
“Look under it.”
It was an obituary, cut from a newspaper, for Steven Warner, killed in an auto accident eighteen years before. Pre-deceased by his parents. No other family was listed.
“Did you see when he died?” Addison asked. “Eight months before you were born.”
“Yeah, but I was premature.” I said it without thinking, and decided to keep it that way...for now.
“Do you think it’s the same guy?” Addison said.
“Have you looked him up on the internet?”
She shook her head. “It’s too long ago and his name is common.” “Did you ask Mom?”
“Are you kidding? I broke into her box.”
Next morning, Addison was too tired for school. Not an option for me if I wanted to start on
Saturday. The day was a blur, but I held it together through practice. After, Carter asked for help with calculus.
“I’ll come by after dinner. I have to do something first.”
I strode into the hospital clutching the photo and obituary, but my confidence stayed outside as the glass doors closed behind me. I had no room number, not even a name. There had been nothing in the newspaper. Thanks, Dad.
And then he walked by, arm in a sling. I blinked, certain it was my imagination. Nope. It was him. I hurried to catch up. “Sir?”
He turned and the color drained from his face. Instinctively, I reached for his good arm and helped him to the seating area. He slumped in the bright plastic seat and stared as some pink returned to his cheeks.
“I’ll get you some water,” I said, because it seemed like the right thing to do, and it was better than his piercing stare.
I handed him the paper cup. “I came to thank you for saving me. My name is Tyler McLoud.”
He put down the cup and offered his uninjured left hand. “Allen Barker.”
I shook it awkwardly and met his searching eyes. So familiar. I reached into my pocket and handed him the photo and obituary.
His mouth opened in a small oval.
“The woman is my mother.” I waited, giving him time to absorb. “And the man looks like you.”
His eyes blinked slowly. “It isn’t.” He moved on to the obituary and whispered, “We have the same birthday.”
He cleared his throat. “Sit, please.”
“I was adopted as a baby,” he said. “I’ve never been able to find my birth family.”
I looked again at the striking resemblance. “Twins? Who would split up twins?” I didn’t
realize I’d said it out loud until he answered.
“Who knows? Maybe no one could afford two kids, or maybe our birth parents could only
handle one and Steven here won the lottery.”
Or lost it.
“You have his eyes,” Mr. Barker said. He looked at me strangely then, like he was trying to find someone else in my eyes. A rushing filled my ears. I looked back at the photo. His eyes? But
that would mean... I looked again at the eyes, at the crooked grin. It looked familiar because I saw it in the mirror every day. Mom lied. When I was old enough to do the math, she said I was born a month early. She lied.
“Tyler?” He touched my arm. “Are you okay?”
The rushing sound went away.
“When were you born?” he asked, his voice soft.
I swallowed a rock in my throat. “Eight months after he died.” I heard Addison saying it the
His mouth formed a grim line. “You didn’t know.”
I shook my head.
“Dean McLoud loves you,” he said.
Of course he does, he’s my dad. Followed by the next shock. What if he doesn’t know? “Wait, how do you know my dad?”
“Um, I spoke to him.” He shifted in his seat. “I promised not to approach you.”
“You didn’t. I approached you, unless you count saving my life.”
“Yeah, I need to apologize for that. You wouldn’t have needed saving if my ex-wife hadn’t
“The woman who’s been following me?”
He nodded. “Yeah, not very subtle. When I told her what your father said, she... I shouldn’t
have left her alone.”
Completely lost, I said, “I’m sorry, can you start at the beginning?”
He paused as a large group passed on the way to the elevators. “Can we go somewhere?” I led him to my black Corolla.
“You shouldn’t offer rides to strangers.”
“You’re not a stranger, you’re my uncle, apparently.”
We grinned at each other.
Once buckled in the car, he said, “You’re quite a soccer player.”
“Thanks.” I pulled out of the parking garage.
“Your dad says you’ve had some interest from colleges.”
“Yeah, the College of Billy and Mary’s Little Sister.”
His eyebrows came together. “Sorry?”
“Lesser, Division II schools that don’t even offer engineering degrees.” He laughed. “William and Mary?”
“Lesser than William and Mary.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“University of Florida. I’ve always wanted to play there. They haven’t offered a scholarship yet, but if I play well Saturday and at their skills camp later this month, there’s a chance.” My voice rose, like it always did when this topic came up, except with Dad. He was more interested in the mini-camp at Duke.
“Could you walk-on at Florida if you don’t get a scholarship?”
“Dad went to Florida State. Even if Florida offers money, it’ll be a hard sell.”
“Ah.” He understood. “What about your mom?”
“She went to University of Central Florida, but doesn’t care where I go. They play football in
the American Athletic Conference. What fun is that?” He laughed.
Uncle Allen. Strange. I’d never had an aunt or uncle, or cousins for that matter.
I pulled into Panera and reassured Uncle Allen that Dad never ate there. He insisted on paying. We claimed a corner table.
“You have a cousin,” he said.
I nodded. “Great.”
“He’s about your age.” He paused a second, then his voice roughened. “You look a lot alike.” “Do you have a picture?”
He pulled out his phone and tapped a few times, then handed it to me. The guy did look like
me, same brown hair, same light brown eyes, same crooked smile. I touched the screen and the image shifted to another. The same eyes, but now sunken, and his wavy hair was gone. I looked up and he reached for his phone.
“He’s sick,” I said.
He nodded. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ...”
My thoughts churned. Uncle Allen had met Dad. “Tell me the rest.”
He hesitated. “Andrew has leukemia. He needs a bone marrow transplant.” “And we’re related. I might be a match. So you already knew...”
“No, not at first. Leah, Andrew’s mother, saw your picture in the paper and noticed the resemblance. None of Leah’s relatives is a match, and I wasn’t able to trace my family. Andrew is an only child. Leah’s been running donor registry drives all over the state. When she saw your picture, she became obsessed, certain you were a long-lost relative. She, um, got a sample of your DNA—”
“At Steak and Shake.” She’d taken something from the table.
He nodded, shoulders bowed.
“And I’m a match?”
“So far, but there’s another test. I went to your father. I know you’re eighteen, but it’s what
I’d want if the roles were reversed. He told me about your collegiate soccer plans, and that now is the worst possible time for you to be out of commission.”
“Out of commission?”
“You wouldn’t be able to train or play for a while.”
My appetite vanished. Dad refused him? Refused to save this man’s son? “Did you tell him
I’m a match? That I could save him?”
He waited, and then I understood. “You couldn’t.”
“Right. I just asked if you could be tested for the donor registry. I made up something about
physical features correlating with specific genes. I don’t think he bought it, and maybe I scared him, because he was adamant that I leave you alone.”
Dad was protecting me. Or was he protecting my soccer future? Or my chance for Duke?
“Leah went even more insane, if that’s possible. I didn’t know she planned to hurt you, but I should have stayed closer.” His eyes closed. “When I saw her coming for you...”
“You saved me.”
“In her screwed up mind, she thought that if you couldn’t play soccer, you could donate.” I thought about how my mom would handle it if Addison or I were sick. Not like that. “I
want to do it, but can it wait until Sunday? I’d hate to let my team down.”
His eyes became glassy, but he didn’t speak.
“Do you know how long the recovery is? Will I be able to play by next fall?”
He wiped at his eyes. I looked away.
“You’re amazing. Yes, you’ll be recovered by the fall. But it does take about a week, and
you won’t be in top shape for the recruitment camps coming up.”
“I’ll just have to blow them away on Saturday, then.”
Dad would be ticked about Duke. I wanted to play college soccer, but walk-ons make the team sometimes, and as long as I stayed in-state, tuition was already covered. “If he needs me before Saturday, my team will understand.” That part was probably a lie, but for the first time in recent memory, something was more important than soccer.
Uncle Allen wiped his eyes again. “We’ve been waiting months. I don’t think another week will matter.”
I took a couple bites of my sandwich in the awkward silence that followed. “I’d like to meet him.”
“He’s in Gainesville. Let’s wait until after your game. I’d feel better if your parents agreed.” “I’ll talk to my mom.”
He looked up sharply. “What do you plan to tell her? I don’t want to cause your family any
The whole, Dad’s not my dad was kind of a bombshell, but I deserved to know who my
I shrugged. “I’ll figure it out.” But I wouldn’t. Subtlety was not my strength of mine, or so
Addison always told me.
As we ate, he told me more about Andrew and his love of tennis and music, and about
himself and his inability to trace his family when Andrew became ill. “I’d never cared to find my birth family before that. My parents were wonderful.”
I watched him, his mannerisms, and wondered if I was seeing the ghost of my dad. How similar were identical twins separated at birth? If they were identical twins, they had the same DNA, which meant, genetically, Andrew and I shared the same father. He was as much my brother as Addison was my sister. I had a cousin, one who needed me big time.
I left Uncle Allen at a car rental agency and returned home, my mind a jumble. I had a new uncle and cousin. Dad wasn’t my father. Mom lied to me.
Carter called. I’d completely forgotten my promise to help him with calculus, but was grateful for the excuse not to go home yet. I texted Mom, “Sorry, forgot to tell you I’m helping Carter with calculus. Be home by nine.”
By then, I had a headache, and Mom and Dad were watching television together on the couch. I said goodnight, hardly slept at all, and struggled again to concentrate in school. Practice
was long and sweaty. I was yelled at more than once. “Get your head in the game, Tyler.” I tried, but my mind kept returning to the image of a sick boy with no hair and a sunken version of my eyes, until a ball smacked me in the side of the head, knocking me to the ground.
Coach towered over me as I rolled onto my back. “You okay?” “Yes,” I said, more ashamed than hurt.
“Take a break.”
“No, I’m fine.”
But Coach gave me “the look.” I’d seen it many times, but never directed at me. I walked off the field, head bowed. Soccer usually cleared my mind, except today. I drank Gatorade and squeezed my temples. This couldn’t continue. Decision made, I went back in and was able to focus for the rest of a reasonably productive practice.
I texted Mom that I’d be late and headed north on I-75. Music failed to stop thoughts of Andrew, or of my real father. Was he adopted like Uncle Allen? Did he play sports? Draw? Mom did neither; no one in the family did.
This time, I approached the hospital receptionist with confidence. “I’m here to see Andrew Barker. He’s my cousin.”
Uh-oh. “Tyler McLoud.”
She typed it in the computer. “You’re not on the approved visitor list.”
Shocker. “I just came to town.”
“Let me check.” She picked up the phone receiver.
After a brief conversation, she printed a sticker with my name, and Andrew’s, and provided
directions to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. Once there, I followed instructions posted in the anteroom: yellow gown over my clothes, hat, mask, gloves after washing with disinfectant. Andrew lived in a bubble.
Exiting through the second door, I approached the desk and asked for his room. I slowed as I approached. What if his mother was there? Or his father? I should have rehearsed what to say. Did Andrew even know about me? I almost felt ashamed to be healthy.
Deep breath. I knocked softly, almost hoping Andrew was out. Stupid. Where exactly would he go?
I opened the door. On the bed, sat the boy from the second picture, the one with sunken eyes and no hair. He looked ghostly pale, but smiled the crooked smile we shared. “Cousin, huh?” He held out a skeletal hand.
I took it, the bones seemed to rattle. “Did your dad tell you?”
What remained of his eyebrows came together.
I sat in a nearby chair and told the story, minus the part about his mother’s attack. “I might be
“We don’t know that yet.” Uncle Allen stood in the doorway, his expression a bit like
Coach’s that afternoon. I was getting good at disappointing people all of a sudden.
“Can we do the test now?” I asked. “It’s just a blood test, right?” I’d looked it up that
A nurse appeared. “If you’re over eighteen, we can.”
Uncle Allen grimaced, but he didn’t argue.
I rolled up the sleeve of the gown and my jacket underneath.
She pulled items from a cabinet and wrapped a tourniquet tightly around my left arm. I bit
the inside of my cheek to keep from flinching. I couldn’t complain of pain here, heck, I couldn’t complain of pain ever again. The nurse labeled the tube with my name and birth date.
“How long until we know?” I asked.
“By tomorrow,” the nurse said. “Fingers crossed,” she said to Andrew as she left.
Andrew looked at me, a new shiny glint in his eyes. “A cousin. That’s so cool.”
I stood. “I’m sorry I can’t stay, but I’ll come back as soon as I can.”
“Not until Sunday,” Uncle Allen said.
I wanted to argue, but didn’t. I’m eighteen after all. An Adult. In the elevator, I checked my
phone—a dozen texts and missed calls from my parents and teammates. I called Mom. “Sorry for worrying you. I had to do something. I’ll explain when I get home. I love you.”
With the help of Bruce Springsteen, the drive home went quickly. Both my parents stood when I arrived, neither looked pleased. “Mom, I need to talk to you.”
Dad glared with that vein pulsing in his temple, the one that always popped up when he was angry. Mom’s eyes darted to him.
“Please?” I said.
He flinched and I almost caved, but no, this had to be shared with Mom alone. He nodded slowly and walked toward his study. I sat with Mom on the couch and handed her the photo and obituary. Never had I seen her speechless. Eyes wide, mouth open, she said nothing. Tears filled her eyes.
“He’s my father, isn’t he?”
Still, she stared.
“He has an identical twin.” No reaction. “Whose son needs a bone marrow transplant, and I
might be the only match.”
Now Mom looked at me. I showed her a photo on my phone, of Andrew and his father at the
hospital. Hand to her mouth, Mom took the phone.
“Mr. Barker showed me a picture from before Andrew was sick. He looked just like me. He
plays tennis and music. If I’m a match, I’m going to donate.” Mom nodded. “Of course.”
“He approached Dad,” I said.
“He didn’t know we were related, but thought we looked alike and asked if I could be tested, but Dad refused. He didn’t even ask me. He refused on my behalf because of soccer.”
“He loves you. He has to protect you. That’s what dads do.”
“Yeah, I know.” It still seemed wrong. “Tell me about Steven.”
Her face softened like when she watched sappy love stories with Addison.
“We dated in high school. He was quarterback of the football team. It sounds so corny now.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that “corny” sounded even more corny.
“He wanted to play for UF. Even though he wasn’t recruited, he planned to walk-on.” Sounded familiar.
“UCF offered me more scholarship money, so we split up. I met Dean, and Steven had a
girlfriend. But senior year, when I told him that Dean bought a ring, Steven came to Orlando and insisted we have one last weekend together. It was stupid. I knew it was stupid, but I couldn’t refuse him. He was my first love.”
She was looking off into the past and I felt tears burn in my own eyes.
“We had a wonderful weekend together but agreed it would be the last. We had different plans for the future. He had an offer from the Canadian Football League, and I had just been
accepted to medical school.” She caressed his face in the photo. “I loved him, but it wouldn’t have worked.”
Was she trying to convince herself all these years later?
“I said yes to Dean the next weekend, and Steven died soon after. When I found out I was pregnant, we decided to have a small wedding before I started to show.”
“When did you know Steven was my dad?”
She shrugged. “Denial is a powerful thing. It was easier to assume you were Dean’s. You could have been. Boy, that sounds all Mama Mia, doesn’t it?”
I didn’t get the reference, but wrapped an arm around her and we sat quietly for a while. “Steven was also adopted. His parents died when we were in college.”
I nodded. “I have to do this for Andrew. Even if it means missing out on camps.”
“Of course you do.” She patted my leg. “And I have some ‘splainin’ to do.” Right then, I
loved my mother more than ever.
I didn’t see Dad that night, or in the morning. I texted with Andrew between my morning classes, but in the afternoon he stopped texting back. Before practice, I called. No answer. I left a
message. “I’m worried about you. If I don’t hear back by the end of practice, I’m driving to the hospital.”
Somehow, I made it through practice without incident and ran straight to the car. I heard my name, but ignored Carter as I pulled my phone from the glovebox. Then Carter was blocking my door. “What’s going on?”
“We have the biggest game of our lives on Saturday and we’ve lost our captain.”
“I’m sorry.” I couldn’t add, “There’s more to life than soccer.” Instead, I said, “I have to go.” “No, you don’t.” Coach appeared behind Carter. “You’re letting down your team. They’re
Funny analogy, considering.
“If you’re going to abandon them, you have to explain why,” Coach said.
He was right. “I just found out I have a cousin, and he needs a bone marrow transplant, and I
might be the only match. Now he’s not answering his phone and I’m afraid something’s happened.”
“How can you have a cousin?” Carter said. “You don’t have any aunts or uncles.”
“It’s a long story.”
“See if he called back,” Coach said, gesturing to the phone in my hand.
One text from an unknown number. “This is Andrew. Your dad doesn’t want us to talk.
My sweat-cooled face suddenly heated again. I called Mom.
“I’m sorry, honey. He’s angry and worried.”
“It’s not Andrew’s fault.”
“No, but his mom could have killed you, and donating bone marrow isn’t risk-free. He wants
to learn more first.”
“It’s not his decision. Come with me to meet Andrew.”
She was silent a long moment, then, “Okay. We’ll go Sunday.”
I texted the unfamiliar number back. “To Andrew Barker: Sorry too. See you Sunday.”
Dinner that night was a quiet affair. Addison asked what was wrong. No one answered.
After, I retreated to my room, Addison close on my heels. I filled her in. She teared up at the picture of Andrew. “I can’t believe he’s your cousin ... I can’t believe Dad’s not your dad.”
“We’re still siblings,” I said.
She left to finish homework just as Dad appeared in the doorway.
He looked so sad as he sat on the edge of the bed, more tears threatened. Jeez, I’m too
frickin’ old to cry.
“You may not share my genes, but you are my son. From the moment you entered this world,
I’ve loved you. All I want is what’s best for you.” He cleared his throat, maybe choking back his own sob. “I owe you an apology. I couldn’t be prouder of you, willing to sacrifice for a total stranger, relative or not. You are amazing, and I will support whatever decision you make.”
We hugged, and I let a few tears fall. “I love you, Dad.”
On Saturday, I kept waiting for my traditional pre-game adrenaline rush. Soccer had been my
life since grade school. Carter and I played travel ball, attended camps and clinics, played
together and against each other, and now it was our last game. The culmination of years of hard work, but suddenly it was just a game.
But my team deserved nothing less than my best, so I pushed Andrew to the back of my mind. It worked. Under the lights, I became old Tyler. I acknowledged my family in the stands, especially Dad. I played my game, aggressive and fast. The defense was equally aggressive and maybe faster, but I held my own. Tied at two as the seconds wound down, I received a pass, went left instead of right for a change, and caught the defender off-guard. As I dribbled toward the goal, Carter appeared to my right. The defense collapsed on me. I waited until the last possible second and passed the ball to Carter. He knocked it into the goal as the whistle blew.
We won! He and I ran together, arms spread wide and collided in a life-affirming hug. Screams and shouts and even a few tears. Then we were on the ground, a pile of sweaty, smelly, amazing, wonderful teammates. We calmed long enough to shake hands with the other team and take photos with the trophy. I hugged my family, thanked them for their support, then climbed on the bus one final time. I texted Andrew the good news. Moments later, a series of celebratory emojis appeared from an unknown number.
At Steak and Shake, I listened to the inevitable rehashing of the game, but for the first time, I felt apart. Winning State had been my goal throughout high school. Why was it so anti- climactic? Stupid question.
The other seniors were quieter than usual on the drive back, mourning the end of our soccer careers. Now they had to consider real life, and graduation, and what would come next. They had no idea how lucky they were.
Back at the school, Carter hugged me in a tight man hug. “Keep me posted tomorrow.”
I promised and headed home where a congratulatory sign hung on my bedroom door. I showered, then slept soundly for a change. Rising early, I cleaned up and packed a small bag. Downstairs, Mom had made pancakes, but I refrained. I’d read somewhere that patients couldn’t eat before surgery.
“You guys about ready?” Dad said.
“I’d like to, if that’s okay.” He held up his hands. “To support you.” I crossed the kitchen and wrapped my arms around him.
“Me too,” Addison said around a mouthful of food.
It took another half-hour, and several deep breaths, before we piled into the minivan. I texted Andrew. “On our way.” My stomach growled. It was used to breakfast, or maybe it was nerves. I’d read about the donation procedure. It was no big deal, but anesthesia seemed weird. What if I woke up in the middle?
We parked and I led the way to the receptionist and on to the transplant unit where I showed them how to gown up. Uncle Allen was there. I handled introductions. Mom looked like she’d seen a ghost, staring at him, but recovered to shake Andrew’s hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Andrew.”
“Dr. Lynch should be here in a few minutes,” Uncle Allen said. “He’s our oncologist.”
The whole situation felt surreal. Everyone was in constant motion, without actually moving. Conversation was awkward, mostly about the game, which seemed strange. It was a relief when the doctor arrived.
After more introductions, Dr. Lynch took my parents and me to a nearby consultation room. I noted the boxes of tissues on the end tables. “We received the results of your blood test,” Dr. Lynch said as we sat, my parents on either side of me.
“What blood test?” Dad said, but Mom put a hand on his and he quieted.
“I’m a match, right?” I hadn’t considered any other result.
Dr. Lynch’s face held so much compassion. Did he always look that way? Or was he about to
give bad news? “Yes, you are a match, but you can’t donate.”
I was on a roller coaster, jolted up and down and thrown between turns. “Why?”
He leaned forward, forearms on his thighs, eyes on me. “You can’t donate because you have
early stage leukemia, too.”
The roller coaster crashed.
Hands gripped my shoulders from either side.
“It’s very early, but it’s the same type as Andrew’s. I’m told you are related.”
I heard the words but couldn’t quite put them together.
“Yes,” Mom said. “They’re first cousins, sons of identical twins.” She sounded so strong. I
felt tackled by the boys’ lacrosse team.
Dr. Lynch raised an eyebrow. “So, genetically half-brothers. That explains the close match,
and might also explain the leukemia. This form has a genetic predisposition. We’ve caught it extremely early, so there’s an excellent chance at a cure with chemo alone.”
I excused myself and stepped into the hallway. The wall felt cool against my back. I had leukemia. Yesterday I was playing soccer, next week would I be like Andrew? To my surprise, tears didn’t come. “We caught it early,” he’d said. “Just chemo.” Andrew had probably saved my life, but now I couldn’t repay the favor.