Sworn Enemies by Rebel Hart
Despite that I wasn’t scheduled to report to work until ten o’clock, I was there bright and early at seven, just like always. I worked at the local recreational center, better known to most as MontRec, in the small, barely-a-coffee-stain-on-a-map town of Montpelier, Idaho. I didn’t own it per se, but the owner was almost a thousand years old and wasn’t hands-on. There was a manager above me, technically, but it was the owner’s daughter, and if she didn’t feel obligated to take care of the place, she wouldn’t. So, I showed up every day, first thing in the morning, to get the place unlocked and ready for business.
It was a Wednesday, so it meant three of my favorite things in the world were happening. One, lunch would be brought in for the rec center employees—pizza and pasta from Pizza Roma, the best pizzeria in barely-a-coffee-stain, Idaho. Two, it was Wild Wednesday—the day when all the kids’ programs take place at MontRec. I was the office manager, so I didn’t run any programs myself, but I liked to peek in on the kids when they arrived in the early afternoon. I could be biased, but kids from Montpelier were just cuter than the rest of the world. At least, that’s what I and all of their parents thought.
I was a major football fanatic. I was only six when my dad walked into my bedroom with a football and asked me to play with him. We started with catch, then went on to drills, and by the time I was ten, he was teaching me how to tackle. I might look like only five feet, seven inches of dainty damsel, but my dad used to say that the most dangerous thing in the world were bullets, and those were small, too. Tackling wasn’t about having fifty pounds over someone else. Sure, that would help, but it was really about the center of gravity. You can tuck and plow right into someone’s core and hit them perfectly to knock them off their balance. That’s what my dad wanted me to master, so I tied back my sunny-brown hair, narrowed my dark brown eyes, tucked my shoulders, and charged.
I must have fallen flat on my ass after hitting my dad posing as a brick wall about a hundred times. My tailbone and thighs bruised, but he kept pushing and pushing, and one day, under the roar of my mother screaming at my father to knock it off, I did it. I got him just above the belly button with my shoulder. I put some weight against my calves and thrust forward as I tackled, and he went flying backward, sprawling out across the grass as I had done dozens of times that day.
The high of knocking the wind right out of someone to sail past them and head for a touchdown, it was unlike any I’d ever felt. I chased after it so hard that I didn’t notice my dad fading into the distance behind me. I didn’t notice him fighting more with my mom, I didn’t notice when he started sleeping in the guest room, and I pretended not to notice when he started spending whole weeks away on business. Football kept me focused and kept my eyes on something that didn’t crush me.
By seventeen, I was the first girl accepted onto the varsity football team at my high-school, and my dad was long-gone. Moved to Detroit to be with his new girlfriend. Funny how life works. I spent all that time chasing the dream he gave me, and he wasn’t even there to see me realize it. I didn’t have time to worry about what he chose to do with his life, though. I had to help my mom take care of my baby sister, Honey. So, I came to the rec center for a job and never looked back. I refereed weekend games through high-school, became a part-time records keeper during college, and when I graduated, the owner made me the office manager. He said I knew the most about the place, anyway. It was with that promotion that I was able to leverage establishing an all-women’s football team—the Black Widows.
The Widows had practice on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and we played other rec teams on Fridays. It was my favorite thing in the entire world. Wednesdays were even better because I got a double-dose of football. First, I’d have practice. Then, some of the Widows and I would retire to our favorite bar, where my brother also happened to work, to get some discounted drinks and watch the Montpelier Vipers play semi-pro ball.
“Mornin’ Quinn.” The grate of the security gate blocking the front doors screeched out, nearly drowning out Jansen. Jansen was always the next person in after me at MontRec on Wednesdays. She had some senior swimming classes in the morning and then led some of the kids’ classes in the afternoon. She was also a Widow, one of our wide receivers. “Happy Wednesday.”
“You too. Ready for some football tonight?” I high-fived her as I passed her by on the way to the breaker to flip on the community center’s lights.
“You know it. I know you are, so I won’t even ask.” Jansen was tall and thin, with long blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes. She was a typical cheerleader type, but when it came to football, she preferred to be on the field instead of cheering next to it. “Spritz after practice for the Vipers versus Minnesota, yeah?”
I watched as the lights clicked on one by one, staring at each of the sub-rooms to make sure they illuminated, as well. “Yep. Hollie and Kris are in, too.”
Jansen wiggled her hips in a little dance as she walked toward the back where the pool was. “I can’t wait.” She was out of sight a moment later.
The day passed by just like any other. We didn’t schedule any programs between noon and three o’clock on Wednesdays so that we could flip MontRec and get it ready for the influx of kids. We started the three-hour prep time with our provided pizza lunch, and then we all buzzed around, getting things in place. MontRec wasn’t a five-star facility by any means, but it had a lot of expensive stuff that I simply felt better having padded or out of sight. Each of the program directors was responsible for getting their own room ready, and I filled in where I was needed.
Around the time that schools let out, the kids arrived. I stood at the front door, offering high fives and hugs to those that wanted them and moody, silent head nods to the older teens. From three to four-thirty, I walked around and looked in on all the classes. The kindergarten Run, Jump, and Play classes helped keep the babies active. In the middle school Busy Bodies, Busy Town program, the kids created and ran their own city to prepare for the adult world. They were in week five and had already established a bank and mini-MontRec, which made me proud. The high-schoolers mostly had tutoring and grad-prep programs, but there was one athletic program that Jansen led, my favorite of the bunch—the MontRec PowderPuff Prep League. Ninth and tenth-grade girls who wanted to try out for our high-school’s junior varsity and varsity football teams could prepare and practice as a group.
“Oh, looks like we have a visitor.” Jansen motioned me onto the field when she noticed me standing behind the fence. “The captain of my football team, Quinn Dallen.”
One of the girls let out a little gasp. “Are you number twenty-eight?”
I unzipped my sweat jacket and revealed my t-shirt underneath. It was one of our Black Widows’ t-shirts, gray cotton with a black spider on the front, but instead of a black widow’s notable red keyhole shape on its back, we each had our numbers in red. I pointed to the number twenty-eight in the middle of my spider, and the girl squealed.
“Looks like you guys are doing good work! You’re learning from the best, so I won’t take up your time.” I smiled at them and could see myself reflecting back at me in each of them. “Good luck. You can tell Coach Cal I said hi.”
I didn’t hang around because if I did, I’d end up getting lost in the fun. I still had my own practice to prepare for, so I left MontRec’s personal football field, designed and painfully painted by me, and headed back into the center.
Most of the Widows’ practice gear would already be outside from Jansen’s class, but the really important stuff—our regulation footballs, jerseys, and pads—I kept locked in my office. Not only were they among some of the most expensive things in MontRec, but they were also the most important to me. I entered my office, unlocked the closet, and started to pull everything out.
“Jesus.” I jumped and hit my head on the rod that fed through the closet and had the jerseys hanging off of it. I turned around, and there was a body in the chair that I kept opposite my desk. “Lila.”
Lila Skeddit was one of our team’s tackles. She was a hundred and eighty pounds of pure muscle. She stood at an impressive six-foot-two and had her head shaved on both sides and in the back, leaving just a single tuft of medium-length black hair flowing down in a mohawk tail hairstyle. She was the only one of the Widows that I had gone to high school with, and though we hadn’t played football together back then, she followed my lead when she entered college and demanded her team allow her to try out. One look at the way she nearly separated a guy’s torso from his legs, and they offered her a full-ride scholarship. She became one of the starting tackles for that team. She was a monster on the field, but it was as if she’d sacrificed basic social skills to become such an elite player. She was short, brash, and assertive. Lila believed that anything a man did could be done twice as well by a woman. She didn’t talk to men, she didn’t date men, and she didn’t like men. In short, Lila was a nega-feminist.
“How are you?” I greeted. I continued pulling things out of the closet, and though I hadn’t directed her to grab anything, specifically, Lila stood up and got the footballs and one of the barrels of pads.
“Will practice end on time today?” she asked, totally ignoring my conversation starter.
“Yes.” I took the hangers that the jerseys hung on and looped them onto my arm, grabbed the other barrel of pads, and led the way out of my office.
“It didn’t on Monday.” She stepped out of the way so I could lock my door but not so far away that I wouldn’t be forced to deal with her issue. “I have to be home by seven.”
“You will be home by seven, Lila. Some of us want to catch the Vipers’ game, too, so we’ll be done by six-thirty, for sure.”
We detoured past the receptionist’s desk so that I could leave the keys for the receptionist to lock the building. I could let myself back in to put stuff away after practice and didn’t want the building unlocked while no one was inside to keep an eye on the place.
I led the way back out to the field just as the girls were cleaning up. A few of the other Widows had gathered already and were waiting for the high-schoolers to clear out so we could get our own practice started.
There were eleven of us in total. It was just enough to play football legally, but most of us had to double-up on offense and defense, and we were permanently short a running back. I was the captain and the quarterback. It’d been a point of contention between me and Lila, who felt she had the stature to fit the position more, but it was the position I was practiced in and the one I’d spent years mastering. I very rarely pulled this-is-my-team rank, but I had to about my position to get Lila to let it go.
Jansen was one of our wide receivers, along with another woman, Beck, who you’d miss if you blinked. She was five-foot even and had well earned the name, Speed of Light Beck. Jansen was fast, but Beck could run laps around her like a cartoon character running to the finish line and back before their opponent had ever made it down the first leg.
Our center was Kris, and she was also the one I was closest with on the team. She had dark brown skin and black dreadlocks. She was a Montpelier native, as well, but had been homeschooled. She nearly broke the rec center doors down when I posted the ad for the team. She was a good center, both physically and mentally. She could rally us with just a few words, and even Lila tended to bend to her will. Kris was the only one who could elicit that response out of Lila.
Jazz and Lila were our tackles and our blockers. Lila was stacked, and Jazz was a crossfit champion with an insane center of gravity. When she steeled herself to take a hit, it was almost impossible to take her off her feet. Mala was interchangeable with them, although she was always our offensive guard. Jazz and Lila had been best friends since elementary school and had a sixth-sense with one another. Their ability to predict an opponent’s play had saved us more than once.
Gria and Hollie were our running backs. They were utility members who could do almost anything on the field. They’d joined the team with no particular position in mind and fell into the running back position because their slight height and heft gave them an advantage.
Georgia and Maxine rounded out our team as the tight-ends. They preferred their short-hand names, George and Max, and were closest to Lila, as she’d brought them with her from her college team. Though they didn’t cause half the trouble she did, when they got together, they could wind each other up until I had to shut down practice while they debated over which female journalist would do a better job than Anderson Cooper. I kept them away from one another as much as I could, but down-times always had them huddling together, and once they were off on some tangent, they were difficult to drag back.
Were my Black Widows the toughest team in the country? Not by a long shot. Could they scrap with the best of them? Ask all the faces we’d put in the dirt.
“Quinn!” Kris threw her hand in the air. “Double-football Wednesdays!”
I pumped my fist in the air. “Yeah!”
Hollie bounded over, her bob cut flipping all around her head. “Is Alec on tonight?”
“Of course.” I set the barrels of pads down and held out the arm I had all the jerseys hooked on as Hollie and Kris flipped through them.
Lila set the things she was carrying down and walked over to my arm, as well.
“Hey, Lila,” Hollie greeted.
Lila didn’t respond, and Hollie didn’t try again. The team was used to her attitude now. They all pulled their jerseys free and moved over to collect some pads. I’d love to get my ladies their own pads someday, but our resources were limited, so we had to share. I had enough sets for everyone, but they weren’t specified to any particular player and were just about the right size to fit everyone. Some of the ladies, like Jansen and Beck, were always swimming in whatever pads they ended up with, but they were troopers and made it work.
Once the high-schoolers had cleared out and the entire team was present, we suited up for practice. The adrenaline I felt when I was about to go on the field, even for practice, was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. They say that nothing feels quite like true love, and if that was true, football was my one and only.