Author's Note: In honor of my boys playing (and more than likely losing, to be completely honest) their conference championship, I decided to post the next chapter. They're winning right now, but I'm not really sure how long that's going to last. If you read this within the before five or six-ish (central time) or so, turn the TV on to CBS and check out how the boys are going. (I'm cheering for the ones in the orange).
Chapter 1- Just One Little Girl in a Man's World
"Hey, Peyton!" I stopped with a grin, waiting for my best friend to sprint up the last couple of steps of school so that she could catch up with me. "Looks like your family had a good weekend," were the first teasing words out of her mouth when she stopped next to me.
I laughed, shaking my head. What a standard Monday morning greeting. "There was only one game, and it was pre-season. Don't act like you know what you're talking about."
Emma laughed herself, linking arms with me. "Just thought I'd throw it out there. I actually watched part of the game, I'll have you know." I quirked an eyebrow at her in disbelief. "Okay, I was in the same room as my little brother while he watched the game and happened to catch some of it. I watch your games. That's enough torture for me, thank you."
"Why are we friends?" I asked, grinning and easily ignoring the people that called out to me, wanting my personal feeling on my brother's playing abilities and skill level.
"Because you love and adore me more than life itself," she replied cheerfully. I laughed slightly at that, but I didn't bother denying it.
The typical Monday morning in the fall followed at least two football games that involved some member of my family (in the days of my brothers still living in the house, it had been three). On the typical Monday morning, I could expect at least three idiots coming up to ask me what I thought about how my older brother had played on Sunday. On the typical Monday morning, I could expect Emma to say 'looks like you family had a good weekend', even though we both knew that my game was the only game of the weekend she actually watched. On the typical Monday morning, I could expect to go to my locker, change out books, plop down on the floor in attempt to finish homework, and to not actually finish that homework because Emma would be talking or another player on the football team would have something important to tell me.
Basically, my typical Monday morning mirrored every other teenager's Monday morning. Plus football.
"Hey, Pey." I managed to work for approximately ten minutes before I was interrupted. Emma went off to do Lord only knows what, so I sat by myself in the middle of the hallway like a loser. Company was more than slightly appreciated, despite the fact that I had homework that needed to be done.
My center slid down to sit next to me, glancing at my homework. "Ug, Trig. It's a bitch." When I say 'my' center, I mean the starting center. As the starting quarterback, I think I have the right to lay claim. Besides, we had been on the same team, with him being the center to my quarterback, for years. Probably almost as long as we had played football. He's one of my best friends, and probably the only person on the entire team that never judges me based on my gender.
"Yeah, but I'll survive." Meaning I hate math with the flaming passions of many suns, and I HATE all things involved with it.
He laughed slightly, knowing just how much I disliked math. "I'm sure. We've got practice today, by the way."
"Fucking hell, are you kidding me?" I demanded, rounding on him. The grin on his face made me reach over and smack his arm. "Not funny, asshole. Jerk."
He just continued to grin. "Nah, the guys decided we're going to go down to the park and scrimmage a little. Unstructured, loose. No pads or cleats. You coming?"
"Dunno," I said, thinking of the million and a half things that my mom was going to cite as reasons that I shouldn't go, the number one being that planning football without pads (with all boys especially) could be dangerous. "We'll see what the parental units say. Pro'ly, though."
"Good," Jon said cheerfully. "I'll tell the others. You got crap?" 'Crap' was defined as a change of clothes that could actually be worn while playing tackle football with a bunch of guys. After you play on the same team for a while, you begin to be able to translate football player speak.
I snorted. "I never know when you idiots are going to plan stuff like this, so yeah, I brought crap. I think I have a football too."
"'Kay, good." He smiled brightly before getting back up. "I'm going to let the others know that you're coming. Try not to stress yourself out over that trig, alright?" Jon is also like another, nicer, not as overprotective big brother (like I need any more). I sometimes wonder if my brothers didn't hire him a while ago to make sure I don't get hurt on the field.
"Yeah, whatever," I said, waving my hand. "Go away. I need to finish this."
He just grinned before walking away to join another random group of people in the hallway. Emma took the spot that he had just vacated, a wide grin on her face that told me what she was going to say before she even said it.
"No," I said, cutting her off when she opened her mouth. "I know what you're thinking, and you really need to stop thinking it." Emma has teased me – jokingly and not so jokingly – by telling me that I should out with Jon. Like I said, Jon is like another brother to me. Ew.
"Aw, come on," she coaxed. "You two would be so cute together. You practically are each other anyway, and he's so adorable."
"And why would I want to date someone exactly like myself? You're so full of shit, Em. If you want him, date him yourself."
"Bleh, are you kidding me? He plays football." I laughed slightly at the look of mock horror on her face, making her grin. "One attachment on the football team is enough, thank you."
"I don't want anyone on the football team either," I said easily, snapping my book closed as the bell rang. "I'll see you at lunch."
"Mkay. See you later!"
"PEYTON!" I squeaked as a huge football player lifted me off the ground. Male football players are one hell of a lot more affectionate to their female counterparts than they are to each other. I'm not a tiny girl (I really can't be, playing football with all boys), but the guys aren't hesitant to remind me that I am smaller than most of then.
"Chris! Let me go!" I yelled. Chris Taylor wasn't much bigger than me height wise (I'm an inch short of six feet), but size wise, he made me feel tiny. Especially when he gave me bone crushing hugs.
He laughed, releasing me so that I could rub my ribs. "I call Peyton!" he yelled to the boys gathered around.
"Bull shit, Chris!" another boy yelled. "If you get Peyton, you automatically get Jon. Where's the fairness in that?"
"Shut up and suck it up, sophomore," Chris teased.
"Hey, be nice to the underclassmen," I admonished, making the boys snicker. A comment like that coming from me was more than slightly hypocritical. I hated freshmen more than any other singular person I knew. But that was only because the freshmen always took the first four games to realize that a girl was actually capable of playing football. "Okay, be nice to Andy," I amended easily.
"Yeah, be nice to the underclassman," the sophomore in question said with a grin. Andy was the only freshman I have ever met that, upon hearing that the girl was a quarterback, immediately reacted with an "Awesome!" Let's just say he's been one of my favorite people ever since.
Jon reached over and cuffed him on the back of the head lightly. "Give it up, sophomore. Just because Peyton likes you doesn't mean the rest of us have to."
You would think as the only girl on a team of all boys, I would develop a Wendy Complex. What, you don't know what a Wendy Complex is? A Wendy Complex is when a single girl in a large group of boys automatically feels as though she has to mother them (as in Wendy in Peter Pan with all of the Lost Boys). Luckily, I don't have one. More luckily, I'd never had one. Unfortunately, this means that the boys just treat me as their annoying older/younger sister that tells them what to do but that they never really listen to because she's such a girl.
I'm not really a tomboy, despite the sport I play. I'm tough because I have to be, but I'm not against dressing up and being girly as long as it still allows for me to play my sport. I don't mind breaking a nail during the games, but that doesn't mean I won't go home and paint my finger nails again while I'm relaxing after the game. The boys always said that, even if I wore a completely different uniform and added extra pads and height, they would still know it was me because of my finger nails.
I just told them that the finger nail polish helped me throw better. 'Course, none of them were man enough to actually try it, so my theory hadn't been proven wrong yet. But they really don't believe me regardless.
"Uppers versus Unders!" Chris yelled cheerfully.
"But I'm the only Under!" Andy yelled back. This was true. Like I said, Andy was the only underclassman I could stand, and most of the guys thought if an underclassman could earn my respect, he was worthy of attention. So when we "all" (all meaning the juniors and seniors, primarily) decided to play around in the park for a while, we generally tried to avoid inviting any underclassmen with the only exception being Andy.
"Alright, alright," I called. "Andy, you can be on my team. Seniors versus juniors, Andy's with the seniors. Anyone that doesn't like it can take it out with me, thank you very much."
"Youch," junior Harris Deen said with a grin, holding up his hands in self defense. "The sophomore can be on your team, if you want him to be. No complaints from over here."
"Hah, assholes!" Andy said cheerfully, sticking his tongue out at the Juniors. "You Unders have fun losing!"
"You keep rubbing it in, and I might send you back where you belong, Undie," I said, smirking slightly at Andy's antics. "Alright, boys. Let's get going. Mommy says I have to be home by five, and what Mommy wants, Mommy gets."
"Except for her only daughter playing football," Lance called teasingly as the two teams naturally lined up facing each other. I don't know why we even bothered fighting over who was on who's team anymore; we all ended up on the same teams we were always on with the same people we were always with. And even when it mixed up a little, everyone still knew where he belonged.
"Yeah, well, we give her everything else she wants so she won't complain as much about football," I said cheerfully. "F Blue 64 Orange Yellow! Set, hut!" I always yelled the most random combination of words just to confuse the boys. When we play randomly at the park, running actual plays really doesn't do anyone any good.
And if you're sitting there, asking yourself if a girl is actually capable of playing quarterback on a halfway decent team, the answer is yes. My team lost in the semi-finals for state last year, so you can stop rolling your eyes any time now.
Actually, it's a really common misconception that the female quarterback can't possibly be any good. I have to deal with it every year. It mostly comes from people that have just moved to the area, but that doesn't stop local freshmen from questioning me. There's always one boy that thinks he's better than me, determined to show his manliness by stealing my position from me. We can always tell who it's going to be because the conversation goes something like this:
Freshman: "So… your quarterback's a girl."
Upperclassman 1: "No shit, freshman."
Freshman: "Well, they just let her play 'cause they pity her, right? I mean there has to be someone on the team that's a little… better suited for the job, right?"
Upperclassman 2: "She's some tough shit, freshman. I wouldn't go around talking about her like you actually understand her playing abilities. And you probably suck more now than she did when she started playing. She could kick your mother fuckin' ass without even thinking about it."
Freshman: looks angry and ready to pop one into Upperclassman 2 so that he can prove that he's an amazing quarterback because EVERYONE knows that quarterbacks have to be able to pick stupid fights and punch people in the face
Upperclassman 3: "Hey, everyone, chill-ax. If prick here wants to prove himself against Peyton, let him try. Just makes it more fun when he can't do it."
You see the kinds of things I have to suffer through just because of my gender? But that's just the beginning. There's also the fact that it's damn near impossible to find a date. I'm so much taller than all of the boys to begin with, but add in the fact that I'm probably stronger than most of them, have the entire football team on my side in any disagreement, and the four legendary Graham quarterbacks to back me up, and there isn't a single teenager guy brave enough (or stupid enough, however you look at it) to go on a date with me more than twice. Not that it really bothers me, considering I'm not really one for commitment anyway (you try getting four brothers to agree on decency of a guy).
Another thing I have to suffer through because I'm a girl: I also have to play field-goal kicker. Why, you ask, and what does that have to do with my gender? Two reasons, actually. Reason number one is our school district has a silly rule that a girl can only play on a football team if she plays field goal kicker. I think the rule is technically supposed to read that a girl is only allowed to play field goal kicker, but we've managed to find a loophole, and I just play both. Reason number two is that very few colleges, regardless of how liberal they claim to be, are actually willing to give a girl a scholarship to play football (my family's even against it, but that's another story). Even fewer are willing to give that scholarship knowing that the girl only plays quarterback. I may have my dreams, but I'm realistic enough to know that I have to be good at both positions, get signed on field goal kicker, and then prove myself to the coaches if I ever want to really play quarterback on the college level.
Jon snapped the ball back into my waiting hands. I took a couple of steps back, my eyes scanning for an opening before launching it in a gap between two juniors. Two seconds later, Andy caught the ball easily and dashed a few more feet before managing to get tackled. My philosophy: I can get you the ball, but what you do after that has absolutely nothing to do with me.
On the next play, as soon as Jon gave me the ball, he moved out of the way. Ten seconds later, I squeaked as two boys tackled me at once. Both boys got off me relatively quickly, but that didn't change the fact that I would still have bruises the next day. "Jon!" I yelled, making him laugh cheerfully.
"Thought we should go ahead and get your bruises out of the way now," he said cheerfully, smiling innocently.
"Yeah, I'll give you bruises," I said darkly before all but charging him.
Chris stepped into my path easily, lifting me off the group when I ran into him. "Now, Peyton," he said in his most condescending tone, "attacking your fellow players without just cause isn't very nice."
"Without just cause?!" I demanded. "He let them tackle me! And put me down!"
I just want to go ahead and state that the entire act was pretty much part of our general routine when it's just us upperclassmen: Player piss off Peyton, Peyton attempt to hurt him, Peyton's attempt blocked by another player who gets way too much joy out of the fact that Peyton is typically more concerned about avoiding obvious bruises than she is actually getting revenge. Obvious bruises mean disapproving glares from my mother, and I would pass on revenge any day if it got me out of a lecture.
My mom has never been the most… supportive parent when it comes to me playing football. She comes to all of my games, of course, and she cheers for me enthusiastically just like she did for all the boys, but that doesn't change that fact that she really, really doesn't like that fact that her only girl decided to play football just like all of the boys.
Chris put me down, shaking his head sadly. "When will you learn, Peyton?"
"Never," I said, patting him on the cheek a little harder than would be considered friendly. I leveled Jon with a glare. "And you, my friend, just wait until tomorrow."
"Kind of pathetic that you need full football gear on to be able take me on, Graham," Jon said cheerfully.
"One of these days, Jonathon White, I am going to set my brothers on you and let them do whatever the hell they want to do," I threatened.
All the other boys 'oooo'ed at that comment, but they knew a threat when they heard one. And my older brothers are definitely a threat to all boys that ever hoped to be around me for any length of time. It didn't matter that all four of my brothers were out of the house; where their little sister is concerned, the Graham brothers are a force to be reckoned with.
"Mom!" I yelled as I closed the side door behind me. "Dad! I'm home!" Strangely, there wasn't anyone in the kitchen. I frowned in mild confusion, but before I could really wonder where everyone was, my mom appeared in the room.
One glance at me, and she was ready to start in. Clearly, someone had had a bad day. "Look at you. Your arms are covered in bruises. What were you playing, pick up and smear?"
"Oh, no," I said easily. "That's only on Wednesdays." She gave me a slightly dirty look, but I just smiled as I walked past her, kissing her on the cheek as I went. "I'm going to go rinse off before dinner. Is that okay?"
"That would definitely be preferable. Let me know if you need help with any extra scraps that you can't reach."
"Okay." When the boys played football, it didn't matter if they came home covered in bruises and scraps and grass stains. I come into the house, and my mom immediately worries that the scraps could get infected, the bruises are too painful, and the grass stains are too unladylike. Can you detect the sexism that exists in my house?
"Hi, Daddy," I said, kissing him on the cheek too as I passed through the living room on my way upstairs.
"Hi, Peyton," he greeted easily. "Did you have fun?" My dad is about as for me playing football as my mom is against it. He played quarterback in high school and college too, so his dream of all of his children playing football was being fulfilled through me.
"Yeah, the boys let me get tackled on purpose again. But it's okay. We had fun."
"That's good. I think we're eating as soon as you get out of the shower."
Let me just go ahead and say that I was 'the accident'. There's almost a six year age gap between Tim (the brother closest to my age) and me. That might not seem like a lot to most people, but you need to take into consideration that I have four older brothers. That makes my oldest brother Curt a good twelve years older than me.
My family – prior to me, that is – was the perfect American family that somehow managed to birth their children perfectly so that each one fell two grades apart. The boys were all adorable children that were a perfect combination of my mom and my dad. I've seen the pictures. All four of them were playing little league football, and they were all geared to be great quarterbacks just like their daddy.
Then the girl came along. Woo. Freaking. Hoo.
No, my parents have never told me that I was the accident. No, my brothers have never abused me or made fun of me more than any normal set of brothers would (although Tim and I don't get along at all, but that's another story). It's just a statement of fact that I messed up the perfect family. Although, admittedly, I think my mom was far more grateful to have a girl in the family than she would ever admit. Too bad I didn't turn into a perfect princess.
Curt's the oldest, a good twelve years older than me. He's the responsible one, and he's by far the best quarterback in the family. He has a secret ability to find the one gap on the entire football field and launch the ball right into that spot. Dan's the second oldest, ten years older than me, give or take. He's the quiet yet blunt one. For some reason, he's the one in my family named after Dad instead of Curt, but I suppose the name Dan fits him better anyway. Jim's the middle child, technically, but he's the loudest and most mischievous in the family. No matter who you are, Jim will figure out how to make you laugh within ten minutes of being in his presence. He's also the only boy in the family to get Mom's fair skin and blonde hair, so he's the brother I look the most like. Tim was the baby, before I came along. I suppose he's the moody one, but he's also the most condescending brother to ever exist.
And then there's me. Peyton Weslin Graham, the one girl in a family full of boys (and yet, I still don't have a very feminine name; where is the justice I ask you!). I'm not Mommy's dress-up doll. I'm not the pampered princess, worshipped by her brothers. I'm not by any means a shy prude that's afraid to come out of her shell, nor am I overtly outgoing and attention commanding. I'm Daddy's little girl, only because I decided to play football too.
I'm me, and that damn well better be good enough for everyone else.
When I came back downstairs a little while later, the table was already set and both of my parents were seated at the table waiting for me. The kitchen table really is too big for three people, but Mom's too reminiscent to get rid of the table where all seven of us sat at one point, so we just cover up half of the table with crap and papers and such and use the other half for actual eating.
"Don't her arms look awful, Daniel?" Mom insisted as soon as we started passing food around the table. "And her legs are all bruised up too! You would think that someone was beating her."
I rolled my eyes. Seriously, Mom over-worries about everything. Everything. Especially when it involves me.
"She looks better than the boys did when they came in from playing football," Dad said easily. In the fall, dinner conversation nearly always revolves around Peyton playing football. Not kidding or exaggerating. Especially on days where I come home with extra bruises. (That sounds awful, but you know what I mean.)
Mom huffed slightly. "But someone's going to think we're beating her if she keeps coming home bruised."
"Or, if they've lived here for any length of time, they'll know that she just plays football," Dad replied calmly.
I stifled a laugh, not bothering to insert anything into the conversation. The conversation was so old that anything I could've added wouldn't have mattered anyway. When Mom huffed again, I knew that it was safe to add whatever I wanted to the conversation again. "You know, if you let me play college, it would be televised that I'm just playing a really rough sport."
Not exactly the best thing to say, apparently. Both parents rounded on me, making me hold up my hands in self defense. "No," Dad said flatly. "You can ask as many times as you want to, Peyton, but you're still not going to be able to play college football."
"Not even field goal kicker?" I wheedled. I couldn't resist. I mean, granted, if he didn't want me to play quarterback; that was one thing. But to refuse to let me play filed goal kicker even (if I could even get on a team in that position) was something completely different.
"Not even that," he said coolly.
I just barely managed to stifle a sound of annoyance. I bit my lip and frowned slightly, but I didn't argue with him. There are times to argue, and there are times to keep your mouth shut. Arguing with Dad for the billionth time sure as hell wasn't going to get me anywhere.
But that definitely didn't mean I was going to give up that easily. As my dad has always told me, a real Graham never gives up.
I wonder if he ever knew that telling those words to his children would make them so determined to go against his decisions.