A small town Midwestern high school football game is exactly like you think it’s going to be: wholesome, classic, and a little bit corny.
The Emerald Eagles were battling the Durant Wildcats and besting them in the fourth quarter, 34 to 7. Kelly green and gold everywhere, from the fresh-faced football players to the cherubic cheerleaders to the picture-perfect soccer moms and dignified grandparents.
It was all just a little too perfect.
On our way back from the refreshment stand, sipping sodas, we heard a giant roar from the crowd. It went on and on.
Rafael was impressed. “Did we just win the Super Bowl?”
“You’d think,” I laughed.
Just then a gaggle of loud, elated children scrambled by us. Behind them, a tired-looking pregnant woman waddled.
“I told you NO POP!” she bellowed at them as she waddled. “Only root beer or 7-Up!”
After she passed, I glanced back at her and the herd of children, not believing that they all belonged to this woman who looked no older than me. Could she possibly have that many?
I jolted back around when I heard, “Imagining your future?”
It was Georgia, smirking at me, holding the hand of her little boy, standing next to a tall, bearish man I assumed was her husband.
“Georgia!” I said, surprised. I gave her a squeeze, and Rafael followed suit.
Georgia pronounced Rafael’s name like a Yankee, with a hard “r”: “Rafael, Nora, this is my husband Jed and our son Robbie.” Rafael didn’t blink an eye, like he never does.
Jed and Rafa shook hands like they were old friends. Jed was the type who’s never met a stranger. He was tall and broad-shouldered with a swath of black hair.
“The famous Nora! Finally!” he bellowed. “And Rafael, I hear you’re from Brazil?”
Rafa nodded. “That’s right.”
“We had a foreign exchange student from Rio, when? Two years ago?” Jed asked.
Georgia shook her head. “Three, now.”
“Sweet kid,” Jed began. “He was our kicker. Holy cow, could that kid kick a ball-”
“We almost won state that year,” Georgia added.
“But I guess all you guys are real good at soccer, huh?” Jed asked.
Rafael chuckled. The things people asked him. “Well, eh, not…not all of us.”
“Rafael went to Northwestern on a business scholarship,” I cut in, a little defensive. There was an awkward silence. I knew I should’ve let it go, but the silly things people said to Rafael while I was with him was ridiculous…I can’t imagine the things they said before we met.
Rafael took it all in stride. “We can’t all be Pele,” he grinned.
Jed let out a guffaw and slapped Rafael on the back. “Don’t I know it! I’m no Tom Brady, myself, even though I tried! Played four years of high school ball and now I’m a pastor.”
I almost spit my Diet Coke out. A pastor? Wild child Georgia married a pastor?
“In fact,” Jed continued, “You all should come on Sunday. First Lutheran…”
A firm voice interrupted us. “I’m gonna have to ask you folks to stop blocking this walkway.”
I turned to see good old Xander Martens, all decked out in his police uniform. He was standing firmly, trying to look imposing, but he had a broad smile on his face. In reality, he was far from imposing. Xander had one of those friendly faces you couldn’t help but like.
Maybe that’s why I was heartbroken when he dumped me senior year.
Georgia rolled her eyes and picked up a sleepy Robbie. “Come on Xan. Be nice.”
Xander looked at me for a moment before recognizing me, I could tell. “Nora?!” he lit up. “I can’t believe you’re here!” He threw his arms around me and Georgia gave him a smack on the arm, widening her eyes. Xander shrunk back.
“Nora, geeze, I’m so sorry. Your dad. Of course you’re here. I hope he’s doing ok.”
“Don’t worry about it, really,” I said. But honestly, I wondered if it was a genuine instance of being forgetful of the circumstances, or did no one think I’d come to my father’s side?
Rafael stretched out his hand toward Xander. “I’m Rafael, Nora’s fiance.” The men shook hands, then a pause.
“You’re a lucky man,” Xander said earnestly.
Rafael grinned widely. “This, I know.”
Another roar from the stands erupted, causing us to turn to the field.
“I better get back to my post,” Xander said. “The end of the game is always bananas.” He gave us a nod and ran off.
“We’d better run, too,” Georgia said. “The parking lot is about to be a zoo.” They waved goodbye as they left, leaving just Rafael and I.
He paused and smiled. “Xander?” he asked, sensing the history.
“Senior year boyfriend,” I said, rolling my eyes and taking another sip from my soda.
“Ahh, so my beautiful Nora did have admirers,” Rafa smiled. We began walking toward the parking lot. I laughed, because that was soooo not how it was.
“He dumped me for a cheerleader,” I said, tossing my drink in a trash can. “Via a note slipped into my locker.”
“Fools, all of them,” Rafa said, kissing me on the cheek.
If I could’ve stopped time right then, I would’ve. Rafa and our little peanut – they were all I needed.