The Cover-Up Cup
When I was five years old, Stella Cruz hit me in the face with a soccer ball. I didn’t know it then, but that would one day become the proudest moment of my life. I trailed my finger over the tiny bump on my nose, the only proof of that fateful day, as the plane landed on the runway of the Barcelona airport and taxied to a stop. Beside me, my brother groaned.
“If Nan pinches my butt again, I’ll slap her. I don’t care if she’s a hundred and fifty-five,” Xander said.
“She’s 67,” my mother chided. “And you will do no such thing.”
“She’s a corpse with crab claws for hands,” Xander said.
The pilot’s voice rung over the intercom, and the cabin stood up in unison, sighing at the relief of stretching after the 12-hour flight from La Jolla. Luckily for us, we still had a three-hour car ride to Puerto Runas. Joy.
The wind blew my ponytail every which way as we stepped out of the plane and down the stairs to board the bus. The sun beat down on us, unrelenting during the Spanish summer, and I thanked God I’d inherited my mother’s tanned Spanish skin instead of my father’s pasty white. Xander hadn’t been so lucky.
“Move, Addie,” he said, pushing me down the stairs. “It’s hot as hell.”
“Alexander!” my mother called from in front of me, stopping the procession of descending travelers as she stared daggers at my brother. “What did I say about cursing?”
“What? You mean hell? As in, this city is hell? This summer will be hell? Nan is a direct descendent of Satan from hell?” He cocked his head at her, daring her to punish him in front of everyone. Mom only narrowed her eyes at him in promise. Just you wait, that look said. You don’t even know what hell is yet.
“Ow!” Xander called, lifting a hand to his ear. Behind him, Dad grinned.
“Behave kid,” he said, and mimicked flicking his ear again. Mom chuckled, and pleased, continued down the stairs.
I rolled my eyes. Let Xander piss them off. The more they worried about him, the less they would worry about me. I had plans this summer that depended on their lack of worrying, because if they knew what I’d promised Lisa… Let's just say they'd be calling my brother Saint Xander.
We crowded into the bus, like a million sardines drowning in a can of boiling water. I counted the minutes in the bus watching dawn break across the Barcelona sky, counted the minutes we spent lingering through customs, counted the minutes it took to find Nan’s driver in the crowd of waiting faces. And then I counted the hours, counted each one down until we were pulling up to Nan’s beachfront mansion and I could see my entire summer playing out before my eyes in a perfect medley of tapas and soccer and moonlight fun. I ignored the hole in my heart that told me something was missing from the dream, and stepped out of the car.
Dad popped open the trunk and I fished out my bag, one half of a pink Samsonite set Nan had gotten us years before that I had covered almost entirely in stickers of bands and teams and anything black. Rolling it up the sidewalk, I passed Nan’s new butler who gave me a quick once over. You should be thanking me, I thought. After all, it was my fault he'd gotten this job, since Nan sent the last one away after she found us flirting in the kitchen. Good thing she hadn’t seen the things we’d done outside of the kitchen.
“Not a good Spanish boy, Addison,” Nan had said. “You act like such a gigoló sometimes.”
Nan was waiting in the foyer for us, her short black hair perfectly parted down the middle and curling up at each side like a wrinkled porcelain doll. She frowned at my bag, but shook it off when she remembered she would have bigger battles to fight this summer, such as securing me a nice Spanish husband. I had only just turned 18 and had no plans to ever have a husband, but Nan did not care what I thought of the matter.
"Niña!" she called, spreading fit, dark arms to grab me in a hug. I towered over her—at 5'10, I'd taken after my father in height—and so she had to stand on her tip toes in order to plant a sloppy lipstick kiss on my cheek. "Have you gotten taller?" she asked, holding me at arm's length and scanning me from head to toe. "Jesus Mio, you're so beautiful. The boys at the club are going to love you. Henrique has been asking about you. You really put quite the spell on him last time you were here." Nan wiggled her eyebrows at me. The pimp to my gigolo, apparently.
"Henrique is about three feet shorter than me, Nan."
She frowned. "But he's such a good Spanish boy. Good family too."
I didn’t want to hear this. Boys had always been Mandy’s thing, not mine. “It’s been a long trip,” I said. “How about you tell me more during dinner?”
Her eyes brightened. “I made reservations at Il Cantineiro. You’ll be ready by 8, yes?”
“Promise,” I said, and then with a last mollifying smile, I dragged my bag up the grand stairs to my room, taking extra care not to glance at the closed pastel pink door across the hallway, before shutting my own plain white one behind me.
With the exception of a tidy bed, my room was just as I’d left it nearly a year ago, down to the broken vase on the windowsill that I’d taped back together and stained with blood. Something inside me cracked at the memory, and, ignoring it as I always did, I fished my phone out of my jeans’ pocket.
First, I sent a group text to Rae and Quinn, assuring them I’d safely arrived in the pits of Spanish hell. I opened my contacts, my finger hovering over the same number I considered calling as often as I considered deleting, and with a sigh, scrolled past it. I opened Lisa’s contact, my heart surging with hope as I typed out my text and waited for the response that would define my summer.
It buzzed in seconds.
Lisa: You’re here already?
Addie: Just got in.
Lisa: Ah! I’m coming over.
Addie: Are you really not going to tell me?
Lisa: Trust me, this news is better received in person.
My heart sank. Did that mean bad news?
Lisa: Plus, I’m dying to see your face when I tell you.
No. It was good, I told myself. Lisa wouldn’t want to see me upset.
Addie: It better be worth the wait.
Lisa: Oh it is Sonny.
I collapsed onto the pink and yellow duvet of my queen size bed, clutching my phone to my chest, and waited for the buzz like it was an acceptance letter to Harvard. Which, in a way, it was.
I blinked up at the ceiling and the glow-in-the-dark stars Mandy had helped me paste there the summer we turned 8, and had been too lazy to remove ever since. Back home, I changed my room so frequently that all it ever reflected was my current mood, but here, stepping into my room was like opening an album of my life. Every corner of the room held some long forgotten memory of all the people I used to be. With the exception of the bedsheets, Nan hadn’t touched this room. Posters of Stella Cruz hung interspersed with those of the national Swedish Men’s team—my 10-year-old obsession with the local-turned-international soccer star juxtaposed with my 15-year-old lust for tall Scandinavian blondes. There were stickers from a My Little Pony album Nan had bought me when I was 7 peeking out from beneath band stickers I’d acquired after the past three years of attending the Barcelona Summer Music Festival with Lisa. On the bookshelf in the corner was a photo of two chubby 5-year-olds in matching green one-pieces beside a single shot of a grumpy, soccer-toned 17-year-old in a bikini. Even the stain on the carpeted floor held a memory, but this one, like the vase, was one I’d rather forget.
My phone buzzed and I sat up, unable to hold myself back. Patience had never been one of my virtues.
Lisa: At door. Come down. New Tiago is giving me strange vibes.
I chuckled as I headed down the stairs, and sure enough, the new butler was observing Lisa just as he’d observed me, like a predatory creep at a sports bar. A smile spread across her face as she saw me, her full lips a darker red than her strawberry blonde hair, which whipped across her face as she pushed passed New Tiago and assaulted me with a hug.
“You’re here, you’re here, you’re here,” she squealed.
“Would you look at that,” I said, stepping back and getting a good look at her. “Wow, you’re black. Like seriously dark. Skin cancer much?”
“SPF 50, chica. Not my fault I roast like steak on a grill.” She looked me over. “And you’re pasty as hell. I thought you lived in California?”
“I’ve spent the past year suffering from the hell that is junior year. Sun’s had no choice but to take a backseat.”
Lisa cocked an eyebrow. “And soccer?”
I looked around the foyer to make sure no-one was overhearing. “If I could play with prosthetics, I’d give up both my legs and maybe an arm for soccer.”
Lisa chuckled. “Good, because I’ve got news.”
My heart fluttered. “Tell me it’s good.”
“Better than good,” Lisa said. “Remember Laurel? Our striker?” I nodded. “She pulled her meniscus a few weeks back and had to get surgery. She’s out all summer.”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “Jesus, Lis—”
“I’m not done,” Lisa shushed me. “She was our best striker, she was coach’s only hope for victory in the cup, and now that she’s out, Coach is looking for a replacement.” It was right then that I realized what Lisa was trying to tell me. “I might have put in a good word for you,” Lisa said with a sly grin.
I gaped. “You’re kidding.”
“Tryouts are tomorrow at 10 A.M. You better be there, Sonny, or Coach will have my ass for even trying to convince him to consider y—an American.” Consider you, she’d meant to say. Consider the crazy girl. I didn’t call her out on it.
“I’m half-Spanish,” I protest. “And you’re half-American.”
“Yes,” Lisa said. “But I live here. You’re a wild card.”
I scoffed. “I’ll be the best damn wild card he’s ever seen.”
“You better be the best damn wild card the whole team’s ever seen,” Lisa said and frowned.
I sighed. “They don’t want me there, do they?”
“They do! They just—they haven’t forgotten is all.” Neither had I, despite my best efforts. “But I’m sure that once they see you actually playing, they’ll get over it in a heartbeat.” She smiled comfortingly. “I’m sure of it.”
I shrugged. “I’ll be there whether they want me or not. I need this, Betty.”
“I know,” she said, biting her lip. She hesitated, and I knew what was coming. Dreaded it before she even asked. “How’ve you been? How’s—”
“We’re doing good. How’re you and all the Gomez-Carters?”
She took the hint. “Same old, same old. Though Eddy’s developed a taste for glue recently, and Mom keeps trying to ween him off of it, except Tony thinks it’s hilarious, so he keeps sliding it to him like its some sort of drug, and Mom has no idea how Eddy keeps finding all this glue, and don’t even get me started on Cesca—Did I tell you she’s dating now?”
I bit back a smile. “You didn’t.”
“She says she’s dating at least, but every time that guy comes to pick her up, I get suspicious. And last time, I looked out the window, and do you know what I saw? She got out of the car! He drove her a block down and she got out of the car and walked somewhere else. Do you think—Ai, I don’t even know what she’s doing. She thinks that just because she’s 15 now she can do anything she—“
“Is that Lisa?” my mom called from the hallway behind the foyer stairs.
“Tia Flor,” Lisa called back, rushing down the stairs to meet her godmother. Mom appeared holding a dish towel and grinned, taking Lisa into a hug and kissing the crown of her head.
“So good to see you again, querida,” Mom said. “How’s the family?”
“Don’t ask,” I said. Lisa stuck her tongue out at me.
“They’re good,” she said. “Mama asked you to come by when you’re free.”
Mom smiled. “Tell Julie I’ll be by as soon as I’m done unpacking. Speaking of—” She cocked an eyebrow at me. “Have you unpacked yet, Addison?” I plastered a huge, innocent-until-proven-guilty grin on my face. She frowned. “What did we discuss on the plane? No friends until—“
“Until everything is clean for Nan, I know,” I said with a sigh. I gave Lisa my best apologetic smile. “See you tomorrow then, Betty.”
“Hasta mañana, Sonny,” Lisa said with a wave as I headed back up the stairs. “And don’t forget, 10 A.M. sharp!”
I froze, waiting for my mom to ask what our plans were and bust my perfect summer, but she said nothing. With a relieved sigh, I retreated up the stairs, my feet already taking me to the pale pink door before I reminded myself there was no one there now. No one to confess to. No one to ask for help. No one to be my perfect cover-up.
My legs itched to kick something, to run, to find an outlet, and I thanked God Lisa had gotten me those try-outs tomorrow, because if I had to spend one more summer silently blaming myself for what I’d done, I would explode. And this time, the whole world would be coming down with me.