Sixteen year old Ally Reynolds' life revolves around soccer and writing. She's been the best on her soccer team since as long as she could remember. Her older brother, Grant, has been in the military since the day he turned eighteen to pay for her to attend college. But with Grant heading off towards Iraq, the only think she can think about is that he's in danger.
It is the duty of a soldier to protect the lives of innocent people even at the risks of their own. Since the days of the Americans fighting off the redcoats in the days of the American Revolution to the modern times in Iraq, being an American soldier has meant much more than being a soldier. It’s being a soldier for your country. Some would call these men heroes, fighting to defend the security of America.
But having been a soldier since the day I turned eighteen, it is people like Ally that are the defenders of America. For it is because of people like her that people like me enlist in the army. During the short span of human lives, most people go to a school, get married, have kids, and finally die but are then forgotten as the waves of time go by. Then there are the people like Ally. Who begin their lives in a normal way, but then get caught up in something too large for any one person to handle. And then eventually die, and should be remembered, but are forgotten as the waves time go by.
These people are the soldiers of America. Who put others before themselves, not bothering to think ‘what’s in it for me’ or ‘I may die trying to do this.’ Because in the battle to defend America, Ally was in the front lines with army men like myself.
A simple girl, some would call her. But if you knew her as well as I did, you would know that she was much more than that. She was the world to me, and I admit that I would be willing to die or her. The reason I joined the military was for people like her, so people like her wouldn’t have to die or be drafted. At first it was only a way to get a quick buck so she would have some money to go to college, but after returning home once my time was done, she was also the reason I re-enlisted. Being a soldier suddenly became a way to protect people like her, to make sure that Ally would never be hurt.
We wrote frequently, and there was not a letter from her that was shorter than three pages. She had dreams of becoming a writer. During her free time she would write a story, it didn’t have to necessarily be long or short, and then she couldn’t stop. Sometimes with her letters she would send me one of her stories, and I would read them over and over again when I missed her. I still have every one of these stories and letters, they are my greatest treasures.
The military tore us apart from each other, but it also brought us closer together. Whenever I returned, even though it would only be for short amounts, every possible moment I would spend with her.
Goodbyes were the hardest. Whenever I left, we both knew that there was a chance that I would never return, that somehow in the course of battle I would die form some sort of an injury. But this is not why they were hard. It was because I was afraid that I would leave her without anyone to look up to. But maybe I’m just over-estimating how much I really meant to her. But I had to mean something to her if she wrote to me every day, right? I had never thought of how much she meant to me until one of the worst days of my life.
It wasn’t until I was standing in the rain at Ally’s funeral so many years after it had all started with a black umbrella, thinking of how unfair it was that she had died. I had gone into the military to protect people like her, but she ended up being the one who lost their life. I would’ve gladly taken her place, and have her looking down at me in a coffin.
I’m not sure what compelled me to write this down, nothing I ever wrote could ever be as heartwarming as what Ally wrote. But my father told me to write this down, to make it into a novel or something like that. ‘Ally’s words are alive in you’ was what he’d said. With the exception of this, I’d never written anything outside of school and my letters for Ally. I had written a story with a letter one day when I was bored for someone to give to her if I ever died in battle. She never read it. Instead of me giving her a death story, she left me with many stories. It all started that morning when I came back that morning only to discover she was still in school.
Ally Reynolds awoke to the sound of a ringing alarm clock that Monday morning, ready for school. Unlike most children, school was where she wanted to be. It allowed her to spend time with her friends, learn more about the English language, practice soccer, and keep her mind off of Grant. She was easily one of the most likable girls in school. Getting in a fight with Ally was hard, and she would try to stop any she would see. Some would call her naive, which is perhaps the reason that she got along with people so well.
Her mother had been raised in a small farm in the countryside of Italy. Her father was from the same small town. On both sides of the family the children ended up living in that same small town with the exception of Ally’s parents. They moved to America in hopes of a new life. They ended up in New York owning a pizzeria with an apartment above it. They had two children. Ally was eight years younger than her twenty-four year old brother. The family was working class. None of the members had ever attended college, but they were all hoping that Ally someday would so she could someday become an author.
She had blonde hair with a few brown highlights that came down just past her shoulder blades. Her light eyes were a shade of blue that sparkled like stars in the night skies. Her skin was a dark tan that resembled her family’s Italian origin. That morning she barely had any time to put on anything ‘cute’ so she put on a pair of Nike shorts and a plain old tee-shirt from somewhere. The blonde hair was tied up quickly in a pony-tail before she grabbed her backpack and headed downstairs to star walking to school.
To leave the building, she had to pass through the pizzeria that surprisingly had people there early in the morning. There were a few breakfast items on the menu, it was most likely business people who needed something quick to eat on their way to work. A few breakfast regulars waved as Ally made her way down the stairs. Her father was behind the cash register, giving a cup of coffee to a man in a business suit. Her mother was in the kitchen getting the oven ready to make some pizza. When she came running down the stairs, afraid she would be late for school, her mother stopped her. “Ally, don’t forget your lunch again!” she called out, handing Ally a lunchbox.
“Thanks, Mom!” Ally shouted as she picked it up then headed out to the dining area where everyone was. “Bye, Papa,” she said to her father with a wave on her way out.
“Ally!” he shouted as she was at the door. Her foot stopped halfway through, her hand on the door as she spun around. “Don’t forget you have to be back by five.”
“I know!” was all she said as she headed out towards school. Her bike was waiting on a rack outside of the pizzeria. Pink and built for mountains, it was the fastest way to school. She had no time to waste, so riding on the side walk was her only option. “Move or I’ll be late for school!” she shouted while honking the bike horn. A short three minutes later, she was rushing to get to English class. People would wave as she walked by, smiling. Standing at the entrance to her English class was Mr. Hemingway.
Mr. Hemingway had golden hair and light eyes. It was only his first year teaching, having just graduated. He was just under six feet tall and held the spot as Ally’s favorite teacher. “Ally, your essay was wonderful! I can’t wait to read what you have when we start today’s lesson. Fantasy.”
Ally laughed, blushing. Modesty was always one of her greater qualities. “Thank you.” Inside the room, posters of modern books were held. Desks spaced neatly apart held students that were organizing their things. Ally’s desk was in the front and center.
During the course of English, Ally’s mind went wild with visions of far away lands that she planned to write about for her fantasy story. A note was quickly jotted down on her hand to read books such as Harry Potter during her free time. Aside from English, the day was slow-moving. Lunch with friends then a class of biology. Soccer was her escape. Whenever she was playing on the field, there was nothing better than being able to kick the ball and score whenever she felt upset or angry at someone.
Standing out in the field in her blue and gold jersey, Ally had been drown in what felt like gallons of sweat. “Ally! Keep moving!” the head coach shouted from across the field. Resisting the urge to quit, Ally continued to chase the soccer ball.
Somewhere in the African safari, a lioness was probably hunting. A lioness on the hunt must first find her prey. Ally goes in and searches for the ball. Upon finding her prey, the lioness lurks in the grass and looks for an opening to attack the gazelle. In order to score, Ally must run through the false grass on the field and find a way to get the ball. After finding it, the lioness pounces. Once she finds an opening, Ally runs at full speed to get it. The lioness’s sharp claws bring the gazelle down. Ally kicks the ball. The teeth of the lioness sink into the gazelle to eat. The ball hits the net. Score.
Meanwhile, there was a muscular, tall man with tanned skin and dark hair that was exiting a plane. There was only one person on his mind. Ally. For six months, she’d been the only person he’d thought about. During the entire flight he’d been reading the stories and letters she’d sent to him. Ally was his entire life. After grabbing his camo duffle bag, he took the subway to Madison High School. He had to walk a block, but it wasn’t long before he saw the Varsity girl’s soccer team practicing.
And there was Ally, scoring a goal. The girls on Ally’s team began congratulating her. Smiling, Grant stepped towards the coaches. They turned their head towards him, eyebrows raised. “Can I help you?” a short one with curly blonde hair asked, stepping forward.
“No, could I just watch? I’m Grant. I’m here for Ally.” He gave an innocent smile. When the coach hesitated, he decided to use his backup plan. “Please? I haven’t seen her in six months.” At that, the coach nodded and turned back to the game. He placed the duffle by his side. His coming was a surprise, so Ally had no idea that he’d be there.
Ally was used to her team congratulating her, but she’d always hated it. It made her feel awkward. Once the crowd finally receded, the game began again. Her light eyes were focused on the ball. After she scored her second goal, her eyes moved towards the coaches. The man who was standing next to them was all she saw. It was a face she’d known forever. The kind that would never fade from her mind. The ball was at her feet, ready to be kicked. It was disregarded when her feet took off in the man’s direction.
“Grant!” she exclaimed, attacking him with a hug once she reached him. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. “You’re here.”
The team moved their feet around awkwardly, unsure of whether or not to continue. “Who’s that?” one girl asked.
Ally’s bets friend answered. “That’s Grant. Her big brother.”
After a moment, the head coach stepped forward. “Ally?”
Grant spoke. “I’m checking my sister out of school for the day. You wanna go get your stuff?” I’ll wait at the office.” Ally nodded and headed off towards the gym where she ran into the basketball team practicing. Not interested in watching the basketball game, she headed into the locker room.
Passing in his old school was scary for Grant. The lockers and classrooms brought back old memories like a flood crashing against him. His old locker, the desk where he’d once sat, the room where he’d failed a test. The school that was now Ally’s. It hadn’t changed since he’d been there. Except for the students and the teachers. When the bell rang and students poured out of rooms, he suddenly felt like a teenager again. Part of him expected to see his old friends to come and give him and a hi-five. Students stared and moved out of his way through fear of his large body. After navigating his way through the school, he finally reached the office to check Ally out.
His sister arrived with a blue duffle with her soccer stuff and a tote bag with her school things. As always, Grant was stunned by how beautiful his sister looked. There almost seemed to be a glow around her face. Perhaps it was just the lighting, but it was still radiant. Her soccer uniform was still on, it would’ve taken her too long to change which would mean less time with Grant. “Where are we going?”
“Movie and ice cream. Like we used to,” he responded with a smile. It was what they’d done when she was six or so. Until he’d left. “What do you wanna see?”
“You wouldn’t happen to be interested in seeing Letters to Juliet, would you?” she asked him with an innocent smile.
Grant laughed. “I’ll see it if you want to.”
“I only have one bike.”
“Leave it and I’ll take you to school tomorrow. We’ll take the subway.”
The movie might’ve not been in Grant’s best interest, but it was in Ally’s. There was a small gelato shop owned by one of their family’s friends not too far from their home that both of them agreed to hold the best gelato. Ally, as always, got cinnamon. Grant tried something new. Tiramisu. “How do you like it?” she asked, locking some of her ice cream. He lifted his hand and shook it to indicate so-so. Fruit-based flavors had always been in his interest while Ally as into flavors like vanilla. “So why are you back early?”
“I’m being stationed somewhere else, so they gave me a break before I have to leave.” He’d been avoiding this question for a while. Prior to being re-stationed, he’d been in Germany.
Ally blinked with curiosity, unaware of his new station. “Where are you going?” she asked.
At his little sister’s innocence, Grant’s heart nearly melted. He couldn’t tell her. But he had to. She had a right to know where he was. If he didn’t tell her, she’d figure out anyway. And hearing from their parents wouldn’t be the way he wanted her to know. “Iraq.” His eyes shifted away from her towards the ground. Ally didn’t deserve a brother like him, that’s what he thought at least. One who couldn’t make it into college so he left her by joining the army. She deserved someone who was there. But to Ally, he was the best big brother in the world. He’d joined the army so she could have money for college, he hadn’t told her, but she’d overheard him talking to their parents.
Concern filled Allly’s eyes when her brother’s words registered. The only thought that ran through her head was ‘he’s in danger.’ But she couldn’t let him see that she was upset. If he did, he would refuse to go. “Oh.” It was the only word that seemed able to come past her lips, even though she wanted to start crying. Suddenly her ice cream didn’t taste as good. She looked away, wishing that he didn’t have to leave.
“Your ice cream’s melting,” he pointed out to her.
She took a few licks. “Thanks...” No other words passed between them as they ate their gelato. Once they were both finished, Grant stood up.
“Someone needs a cheerer upper. How ‘bout we go shopping around Time Square?”
A smile quickly grew on Ally’s childish face. “Mkay.”
Shopping got Ally’s mind off of things. They dropped their things off by the apartment, their parents had been out on a late lunch break, and then headed down towards Time Square. Going to the center of Manhattan always eased Ally. The first top was the Hershey’s Store, where they got a few bites of Hershey’s kisses. Next came wandering around all the tourist shops. Window shopping was fun, pointing out things you’d want to buy but never end up actually purchasing. Then there were the Broadway billboards. Showcasing shows like Wicked and Mamma Mia. Grant noticed her eyeing the billboards and smiled. “Tomorrow I’ll take you to see one,” he offered.
Ally looked up with surprise. Broadway shows were one of her favorite ways to pass time. “Really? You hate Broadway musicals.”
“But you love them. Which one would you want to see?”
She bit down on her lip as if it was a serious decision. “Well...Wicked is my favorite, but I’ve been dying to see Beauty and the Beast.” With the money she’d earned from working at the restaurant, she’d been saving up to buy a few good tickets for her and her friends.
“Sure, I’ll get us some tickets. Once you get to the apartment we can go from there.” By the excited expression on her face, Grant could tell that she was happy. His parents had told him that she’d been saving her money for it. Now she could buy a pair of the new soccer cleats she’d been eyeing as they were window shopping.
They stopped by a Chinese restaurant and then arrived home at about seven. The pizzeria was practically packed, and when she walked in, her mother was glaring at her from behind the counter. “You’re late...I told you to be here at five.”
“Sorry I got caught up. But guess who’s here!”
Grant stepped in behind her, a smile on his face. The woman’s eyes went wide, and immediately she dropped the receipts she was sorting through. “Grant!” The boy went behind the counter, and was then immediately attacked by a hug and two kisses on the cheek. “What are you doing here? And stealing your sister from her work.”
“I’ll work down here while Ally gets working on her homework, how’s that?” he offered, kissing his mother’s cheeks in return.
Ally’s eyes went wide. “Thank you!” she said before running up the stairs to begin working on her homework that she’d have to get started on. She had to write a rough draft for the fantasy story in English, do thirty problems of math homework, and read chapter six in her History book. Naturally, she began with English seeing as it was her favorite subject. Grant had read every story she’d ever written, so she’d give it to him once she was done. It was only a rough draft after all. Fantasy wasn’t her favorite, but it was much better than other topics such as persuasive essays. She’d always found it hard to be persuasive, being a pushover. After finishing her rough draft, she printed it out and begun working on her math homework. It didn’t take her long to finish. It was eight-thirty when she hopped into the shower, and nine when she was wearing her pajamas and walking into the living room.
The restaurant was open until eleven, so Grant and her parents would most likely be down there until then. Since there was school in the morning, a copy of her rough draft was in hand when she walked into her brother’s room and placed a copy of it on his bed with a note attached. After that, she headed off to bed.
Grant worked for three whole hours to make up for Ally’s lost shift before heading upstairs where he broke the news about his new location to his parents. They nodded with understanding looks before heading off to bed. When he stepped into his old bedroom, Grant paused. It had been cleaned. Ally no doubt. His mother hated cleaning.
It was blue, with a Queen sized bed in the middle. The walls were covered with enough posters that sometimes the wall was hard to be seen. Bands he liked, girls. His mother hadn’t approved of the girls. When he’d left, there had been underwear and various clothing articles thrown around the floor. Now they were gone. He opened the door to his closet where there were everything was organized properly. He smiled. Ally. Had to love her.
And Ally’s paper was lying on his bed. He read the note. Rough draft for English paper on fantasy. There weren’t any books in your room, so I thought this might suffice. Of course. Grant never read books, he’d never enjoyed it. The only things that he enjoyed reading were Ally’s. They felt more real. After changing into a pair of boxers, he hopped into bed and picked up the paper and began reading. Immediately, he was entranced.
The town was small. Too small for the likes of the man. To anyone who had grown up there, it was a pleasant, quiet place to live. But to any of the travelers passing through or anyone who ended up having to live there and was used to the bigger city life, it was a nightmare. The man fell into neither of those categories. A vigilante some might call him. He had a large sense of justice. No one who defied the law could get in his way unless they wanted to be punished.
Grant was a large man. His dark hair was short from his days of being a soldier, he’d never gotten out of the habit of cutting it, and held a brownish black color. Light brown eyes had been hardened by war and were hard to get through by anyone who didn’t know him. But to those who did know him, compassion and a deep understanding was hidden underneath them. His skin had been tanned from many hours of working long and strenuous out in the sun. He was the type of man who could break an arm easily of anyone, even someone twice his size. His knowledge did not come from any books or school, it came from being in the real world. Living in the streets, having to fend for himself. Being in an army. These were the types of things that had kept him alive.
If you asked him about his life, you would get the average answers. The son of Italian parents and the older brother to a sister. But that would not be the real answers to the question. He was a hardened man who protected the weak no matter what the cost, didn’t take no for an answer, and was about as stubborn as a mule. These words make him sound harsh, but if one looks deep enough they can see the kindness inside him. The sacrifices made for his little sister and parents.
He paused reading. Ally had named this character after him. And not only that, she had described him in a heroic, romantic way. A smug smile appeared on his face as he continued reading, unable to put the pieces of paper down. He read the story, about the hero named Grant who accomplished the old task of slaying a dragon. The only thing out of the ordinary was that there was no damsel in distress to save. There was always a damsel in distress. Normally a Princess or the daughter of a noble.
Frowning, the thought continued to bug him in his sleep. It wasn’t something that he should think about it, but it was bothering him. Was it because every girl Grant had ever dated was afraid of commitment to a soldier who had no intention of quitting the army? Or was Ally incapable of seeing him with a woman? Or...Was she afraid of giving up her brother?
Finally, sleep came. But when he awoke the next morning, he was still thinking about it. Ally was in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal. Their parents were already downstairs opening up the restaurant. Deciding to ask her about what had been bugging him, he approached her. “Where’s the damsel in distress?” he asked, handing her the story.
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. In the story. Where’s the damsel in distress? When the guy comes in, slays the dragon and rescues the girl that had been captured. There’s one in every story.” He began starting the coffee machine.
Ally simply shrugged, as if it was no big deal. “Not every story needs one. Not every story’s a love story. Plus, I think it makes women look like objects for strong men to come in and claim as their wives.”
He hadn’t thought about it that way. Grant decided to dismiss the object and got his own bowl of cereal then sat down next to his sister. “How’d you sleep?” he asked.
When Grant moved towards the seat, she couldn’t help but notice the muscles in his stomach. The six pack that had developed over the years. Her brother was most definitely attractive, her best friend had even agreed. Then why was it that Grant had yet to find a girl? She pondered over the fact and decided that she would try to get him to meet a girl while he was here. One who could understand why he left for the army. “Good, and you?”
“Fine. You still up for Beauty and the Beast?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked, afraid that he hadn’t gotten the tickets.
“Just making sure. Didn’t want these to go to waste,” he said, showing her three third row tickets.
Her eyebrows crunched together in confusion. “Why are there three? There’s two of us.”
“It was buy two get one free, they were trying to sell ‘em all I guess. I figured Mom or Dad could tag along or you could bring one of your friends or something. Or we can just give one to somebody who wants to get in. When will you be ready for school?” he asked, noticing that she was still in her pajamas.
After thinking for a minute or so, she set down her finished bowl of cereal. “Twenty.” She placed her bowl in the sink before heading off to her room to get dressed.
Smiling to himself, he went into his own room to get something to wear. After all, he couldn’t walk to the school in boxers, now could he?
Thirty minutes later, Grant was giving Ally a kiss on the forehead to see her off to school. She raced off in the building so she wouldn’t be late to English, where she turned in her paper. As always, the day was boring except for English. Thankfully, her best friend sat next to her in Math.
Naomi had been her best friend since sixth grade when they met in reading class. She was shorter than Ally, about five three or so. Her parents had moved from Japan when Ally was about two years old. Her long black hair came down to her mid back. She was one of the defenders on Ally’s soccer team. When asked about her by her parents, Ally had described her as polite, slightly quiet, and a good student. Naomi was the type of student every teacher wanted. She’d even taught Ally a few words in Japanese.
They tended to whisper a lot during classes, as they were that day in math. “So Grant came back? Why?”
“He’s going to Iraq so he’s allowed a week here before he heads back.”
“Oh...What’d you guys do yesterday?”
“See a movie, get gelato, go to Time Square. We’re seeing Beauty and the Beast today after school. Wanna come?”
“Can’t. Grandma’s coming from Kyoto, so that apparently means we have to spend every single minute of the day with her. It’s really annoying. I’m getting pretty tired of it.”
“Ally. Would you like to answer the question?” Mrs. Smith asked. Ally paused. Mrs. Smith was the oldest teacher in the school. Her hair had turned white long ago, and now you could see all of her blood vessels where her skin stuck to her bones. She was short from old age, and had been there for at least forty years. No one liked her. She noticed everything. Whispers during class, note passing, glancing at someone’s paper because you didn’t know just one answer. Mrs. Smith covered it all.
Ally blinked, looking at the screen. She was a good student in math, one of the few people that passed her class. Much less had an ‘A.’ There was no problem that appeared to be written on the screen. “I’m sorry I’m afraid I missed it. Could you repeat it?”
The only reason she repeated the question, because she never repeated questions for anyone, was that Ally was one of the top students and because she was always polite to her while everyone else was rude. “Number twenty-seven on the homework.” When she looked down at it, Ally remembered that number twenty-seven was the hardest one. It had taken her a good ten minutes to finish it, and she was good at this kind of stuff. Naomi admitted that it had taken her about thirty. They’d overheard another kid saying that it had taken him a whole two hours until his brother came in and finished it up for him.
“Fifty-seven,” Ally responded casually as if it were no problem, and it hadn’t been for her.
The rest of the day came and went until Ally went to soccer practice, where she once again scored all of her team’s goals. Their first playoff game was coming on Friday, and no one was as eager as Ally. For nearly everyone else on the team, soccer was just a quick way to say they were an athlete or a ticket to college. For Ally, it was a way of life. Her mind revolved around soccer. The only thing that filled her room besides books was soccer stuff.
When she was heading out of the locker room, Ally was stopped by the head coach. “Ally, can I talk to you for a sec?”
Afraid that she might be in trouble, Ally quickly nodded. “Sure.” They stepped into her office. “What is it?”
The coach was about five five, a god two inches shorter than Ally at the age of twenty-three. She had curly blonde hair and emerald eyes. Ally had only seen her play soccer a few times, but her talents didn’t lie in the game but coaching it. The woman knew just about every strategy that there was concerning soccer. Ally had made Varsity as a freshman, being one of the best players, and the woman had become somewhat of a big sister to Ally whenever Ally had found it hard to keep up with the seniors as a freshman. They’d come to the point where Ally no longer regarded her as ‘coach’ but called her by her first name, Harper. When Harper saw the girl’s face, she laughed. “You aren’t in trouble, Ally. Don’t worry. Go ahead and sit down.”
Slightly confused, Ally sat and listened as Harper spoke. “Ally, as you may know, you were one of the best players after a little practice as a freshman. And last year, as a sophomore, you were one of the main reasons we got into the playoffs. In fact, you scored all of our goals at State. And you’re the entire reason we’re in the playoffs again. Last year, at State, a few talent scouts from various colleges were present, looking for some good Juniors. Instead, they saw a good Sophomore. A few weeks after we won, I was approached by a few of them.
“They asked a few things about you, and I answered. I probably should’ve told you, sorry I didn’t. It didn’t seem important at the time. Occasionally one would stop by and ask when they’d been present a game, nothing too big. But last week I got a very...interesting call.” Harper paused.
Ally leaned forward. “What was it? Who was it from?”
“Ally, I got a call from the Olympic scouts.” A silence filled the room. “I know you told me it was your dream to play on the woman’s team for Manchester United, along with become and author and all of that, and I think this might be a good opportunity for you. You’re old enough. One of their scouts was present at that game where we won 5-0, all of the goals were scored by you. Here,” she handed Ally a file that held all of the information.
On the front cover it had the Olympic symbol and an American flag. She opened it up, a letter was in the front. “So you’re saying I should try out for the Olympics?”
“The scout wants to come to the playoff game on Friday, she told me to ask you first. It’s up to you.”
Unable to speak, Ally nodded. After a few moments, words finally passed out of her mouth. “Tell the scout that she can come on Friday.”
At that exact moment, there was a knock on the door. Ally turned to see Grant standing in the door wearing blue jeans and a blue tee-shirt that held her school’s logo on it. “Ally, we’re gonna miss the show.” Then he saw Harper. He paused. At first, he was surprised that the head coach was about his age, and that she was so...beautiful. He’d seen her the other day, but he’d been paying too much attention to Ally to notice her. It took him a good moment and a cough from Ally to continue. “Sorry...I’m Grant, Ally’s older brother.” He stepped over to the desk and extended a hand for her to shake.
Harper stood up, noticing the surprised look on Grant’s face. The first thing she’d noticed was his big, bulky body. Ally had mentioned that he was in the military and pretty big, but she hadn’t been expecting him to be like a mini Hulk. “Yes, I saw you yesterday. I’m Harper, Ally’s soccer coach,” she responded as she stood up to shake his hand. His grip was so strong she had to look down when he shook her hand.
Realizing that he was still holding her hand, Grant quickly released it. “Oh yeah, Ally mentioned you yesterday.” He recalled the conversation, remembering that Ally had spoken so fondly of her. They both seemed to be staring at each other awkwardly, and Ally couldn’t help but feel slightly forgotten.
“Ally mentioned you were in the military?” Harper offered.
Grant blinked, as if forgetting his occupation. “Oh! Mhm, I’m in the Army. Just got back from Germany for a week.”
She nodded. “My father was a colonel in the army for a while.” Ally coughed, and Harper looked down at Ally then back up at Grant. “I was just talking to Ally about some talent scouts coming to watch the game on Friday. Your sister’s a very good soccer player.”
“I know, and a great writer too.” He smiled down at his sister. “I was actually just taking her to see Beauty and the Beast. We ended up with an extra ticket, do you wanna come?” he offered.
“I would love to come. If that’s okay with Ally, of course.”
Ally looked up, glad that she had some input. “Sure, that’s cool,” she said as she hopped up out of her seat. On their way out, she playfully nudged her brother with raised eyebrows and a smile. He simply rolled his eyes. Girls...He thought to himself.
During the subway ride over, Ally listened intently as Harper and Grant made small talk to each other, secretly interested. Grant needed a girl, and Harper need a distraction from soccer, which seemed to be all she ever thought about. Why hadn’t she thought of the possibility before? They were a good match. Harper’s father had been in the army during her childhood, she knew what it was like to have someone who was gone all the time. They were still talking when they exited the subway and made their way into the show. And it wasn’t until the curtains finally rose and the lights dimmed that they stopped.
Entranced in the world of Belle and her tales in the ‘lair’ of the Beast, Ally seemed to forget about her brother and Harper until the intermission came and Grant bought Harper a glass of Coke without asking Ally if she’d like anything. She ended up buying her own Sprite since caffeine made her hyper in the middle of the night. The second act started and Ally was once again caught up in the world of the show. Occasionally she glanced over to see Grant eyeing Harper or vice versa.
After the show was over, they reached the subway, both having to take different routes to get back home. Ally waited while Grant spoke to Harper. “So...umm...Can I call you?” he asked, shuffling his feet around. The man’s experience with girls wasn’t exactly as great as he wished it was, but Harper seemed to understand what he was trying to say.
“Sure. Bye. See you later.” Suddenly she seemed to remember that Ally was there. Turning towards the girl, she seemed to regard her as a student again instead of a little sister like she normally did. “See you at practice Ally,” was all Harper said before boarding the subway heading the opposite way.
Turning towards her brother after Harper had gone, Ally raised her eyebrows with a smug smile on her face. “So...You and Harper? Interesting...When the girls on the soccer team hear about this. I wonder what your army buddies would think about the ‘great bachelor’ dating his little sister’s soccer coach,” she teased him as they got on the subway.
For maybe the firs time in her life, Ally saw Grant’s face turn as red as a ripe tomato. “Whatever...” he muttered.
They talked like they normally did on the way home. When they arrived home, their parents were waiting for Ally to start her normal shift, seeing as she was late once again. It was honestly, quite boring, and the teenager was itching to get back up in her room and read that file about the Olympic scout. She was thinking about it so hard that she was leaning over the counter with her head in her hand, staring off into space about the idea of standing in front of thousands of people playing soccer for them.
She was so out of it that she didn’t notice the customers staring at her. “Miss? Miss? Miss?” a man in his mid-thirties asked.
Ally blinked, finally realizing that there was a family in front of her. “Sorry...Yes?” she asked as she stared at a family with two kids, a boy of about six, and a girl about eight standing in front of the cash register.
“We’ll take a large pepperoni and a small cheese please. And to drink?” she asked. Normally people sat down, ate, then went up to the cash register to pay. Ally had tried to explain that this wasn’t Europe and people preferred to get their food fist, but her mother paid no attention.
“Two Cokes and two glasses of water, please.”
After the man paid, Ally nodded to the tables. “Take a seat somewhere and I’ll bring your drinks out to you.” Once she’d given them their drinks, she headed off to start making the pizza. Thankfully, Grant walked down and offered to help. The siblings ended up getting sidetracked while the pizza was in the oven by flicking flour at each other. When Ally had to go take orders again, she probably looked like just about the strangest waitress ever. Her apron was covered in flour, and there were even some white spots in her hair and on my face from where Grant had flicked some on her. Grant didn’t look all that normal either. He had been wearing a black tee shirt and blue jeans, now both covered in flour, and he hadn’t removed all the strands of cheese Ally had crumbled onto his head.
“Ally! The pizzas are ready!” he said, handing her the two pizzas that she then carried to the family that had ordered earlier. They had already paid up front, so they had left, leaving Ally to clean up all the plates and leftover pizza. The dinner crowd was in its peak, which meant that her parents had stepped in to help out.
After taking some orders, her mother shouted from the kitchen. “Ally! Give this to table seven then you can get some dinner and work on your homework.” The teenager gave the pizza to table seven as instructed, then headed upstairs to get some dinner. Not pizza. She’d eaten too much pepperoni here and there to even think about eating pizza. After a while, pizza became pesky and whenever anyone mentioned the word about a suggestion of what to eat, she shot it down. Instead, she made herself a quick bowl of heatable ramen then sat down on the couch and ate. Once finished, homework. Just math and science that night.
She had to head back down to work that night. Everyone had a night of the week they worked late. After soccer games on Fridays, which would be the most likely day for her to stay late since she didn’t have school the next day, she collapsed at home on the couch before she even got to her room most days. Instead, she ended up working late on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So math homework ended up being squeezed in when she wasn’t doing anything at the cash register.
A few of the late-night dinner eaters came in, not that many, which gave her more time to finish up her math. She’d finally finished her homework at about ten, when she ended up pulling a stool the cash register and resting her head on the counter and dozing off. Normally she wasn’t that tired. Barely any people came in that late, and it wasn’t until a man who came in to order that he pointed out that a girl had fallen asleep, which resulted in Grant carrying her and her math homework up to her bedroom.
The next morning when she woke in her bedroom, she was completely confused. Strolling out of the room, she found Grant reviewing the file that Harper had given her. “When did I come upstairs last night?”
Grant chuckled, looking up at his sister, who was still wearing an outfit with flour on the majority of it. “When I carried you after you fell asleep at the cash register. I suggest you take a quick shower before going to school. By the way, your math homework’s on your bedside table.”
Ally quickly looked down and realized what he was talking about. Face red, she ran back in to her room to clean up. When she came back out, a bowl of lucky charms was out and ready with Grant sitting in the chair next to it. “Thanks,” she muttered as she began eating her cereal. She wasn’t exactly sure what all happened that night, but she was sure she’d fallen asleep at the cash register and ended up being carried back into bed by Grant.
“No problem. I’m having dinner with Harper tonight.” Ally simply nodded and ate her cereal. He pushed the file from the Olympics to her. “Pretty big stuff...Guess I’ll have to go to your game on Friday and meet this talent scout.” he flashed a smile.
“Gimme that!” Ally said, taking the folder and opening it. She hadn’t had time to read it last night because of homework and working in the pizzeria. When she looked at the clock, she realized that it was only six thirty. “Why’d you wake me up at six?”
“I didn’t wake you up. You woke up on your own, remember?”
“Oh yeah...I’m gonna head downstairs and get my lunch.” She hopped up, grabbed her backpack and the folder and headed towards the restaurant, that opened early at six for the businessmen who wanted a quick bite to eat before they went off to a meeting. A few people were inside, but there was room, so Ally took a seat at an empty table before finally getting to read through the file.
Because of the slow crowd, her mother was able to take a break and come talk to her. “What’re you reading?” she asked, her thick Italian accent coming out. Ally looked up, surprised to see her mother there. Her mother, Maria, was a woman about the same height of Ally, with even tanner skin. But Maria’s hair was dark, while Ally’s was a blonde color. Her mother’s eyes were a light brown like Grant’s, while Ally’s was a baby blue. While Maria had once had the youthful, childish look that Ally had, her expression had grown wearier after many years. Wrinkles were beginning to grow on her skin, her hair beginning to gray, and Ally was beginning to notice that her mother was asking that Ally take more of the shifts. For instance, Grant would never be forced to take a shift during his leave, but this time he was. Ally gave the page speaking about wanting to be recruited to the woman, who read with interest as her eyes grew wide. “That’s...something. Have you spoken to your father about this?”
“I talked to Grant. Now that he’s got a date with my soccer coach.”
The woman’s eyebrows raised, a smile growing on her face. “Grant. A date with Harper? That’s something. When?”
The woman laughed, and the two of them talked for a while about how they both hoped that Grant would find a woman. Her mother hoped he’d find someone in hopes of leaving the army, out of harms way, but Ally wanted him to find a girlfriend in order so he could be happy for once. Sometimes she got the feeling that the only reason he ever came back was just to see her.
“Head off to school. Wouldn’t want you to be late. And good luck. By the way, we’re having a girl come in for a job interview this afternoon, so she’ll come in soon after you get back from school. It’s your turn for an afternoon shift,” she reminded Ally before her daughter headed off towards the school. Once again, Ally was reminded that her mother was growing wearier of old age. There had only been someone working in the shop when Ally and Grant had been too young to work, and even then their parents worked most of the time. Now Ally ended up taking most of the shifts. She had come to know the regulars, who came in for most of their lunch breaks. Some she knew now by name, others she just recognized their faces.
Ally nodded and headed off to school, noting that her bike was still there, which forced her to walk. It wasn’t too far, so she didn’t mind. English arrived quickly, and Mr. Hemingway was passing back the rough drafts with corrections written on them. When it came to mine, there weren’t many. Grammar was one of my strong points. There were a few suggestions at the bottom. Written neatly at the bottom was the standard ‘good job.’ Mr. Hemingway went up to the front of the room and spoke. “Your final drafts are due on Friday, no exceptions. If you have anything you’d like to look at before them, come in after school.”
The rest of the day went by fairly quickly, she was too caught up in picturing Grant and Harper’s date to focus on anything else. Naomi asked her what she was thinking about a few times, but Ally would shake her head and say ‘nothing.’ Soccer practice was crucial since there was the big game on Friday. She hadn’t told any of her friends about the scout coming, knowing that they would try and outshine her at the game. After practice was over, Ally ran a few extra drills to get some practice in. Naomi helped out, but was still curious as to why her best friend was practicing so hard. Harper stayed and watched, and finally approached Ally when she fell down. Defense had never been Ally’s thing. Extending a hand to Ally, she helped her up. “It’s all right, you did a good job,” Harper pointed out.
Ally nodded, trying to hide that it still hurt. “Naomi, kick a few more over here,” she said. Naomi went ahead and kicked three balls in Ally’s direction, one right after another. Ally managed to kick two out of the three this time, much better than she had last time.
“Ally, I’m not gonna make you play defense on Friday, so you can go ahead and relax.” Harper laughed, smiling. “Anyway, I’m gonna go.”
“I should head in too so I have some time to do homework and work.” Ally picked up her soccer balls before heading inside to the locker room, where she changed back into her ‘work shirt’ that read the pizzeria’s name on it and Nike shorts. Her parents didn’t really care what kind of shorts or pants she wore.
She walked with Naomi on the way to get her bike. “So what’s been bugging you all day?”
Uncertain if she should talk about her brother’s date with their soccer coach, Ally decided to go ahead and tell Naomi at least. She sighed before continuing. “Harper has a date with Grant.” Naomi immediately broke out laughing. “Hey! At least Grant managed to get a girl this time,” she pointed out as she buckled on her helmet.
“True...” Naomi muttered as she picked up her own bike.
“I gotta get to work. See ya.” They exchanged their goodbyes as Ally raced off on her bike to the pizzeria. She parked her bike outside only to find that it was more crowded than usual. Ally’s Pizza had a reputation for being the best pizza place in the entire district, and was a hotspot for people in nearby apartments and people passing by. It even ended up with a few good review in the local newspaper. Her friends occasionally stopped in, and raved about it. Even a few teachers had said they’d been and talked about how great it was.
As soon as she walked in, Ally heard her name being called. “Ally! Where’ve you been?” her mother called from behind the counter.
“Soccer practice!” she responded before grabbing an apron and placing it over her neck and tying it behind her.
“I need you to talk to the girl with the job interview when she comes in.”
“All right.” she replied as she took a few orders and gave them to her father and Grant in the kitchen. When a woman stepped in and paused, Ally looked up. “Go ahead and take a seat,” she told her. “I’ll get you in a minute.”
The girl paused. “Actually I’m here for the job interview. I’m Sophia.”
Ally looked at the girl for a long moment. She had blonde hair that was tied up in a messy bun and dark eyes. She was probably about Ally’s age, maybe a year older or so. “I’m Ally. You can go back by the counter. I’ll be there in a minute,” Ally said. When she went to the counter, she found that Sophia was looking back at the kitchen. “So do you have your paperwork?”
“Here it is,” Sophia said, handing it to Ally.
Glancing at it, Ally placed it on the counter then handed Sophia an apron. “Know how to take orders?” Sophia nodded, putting on the apron. “Then take some. There’s a list of all the tables on the wall over there,” Ally nodded towards it. “Come back and I’ll get Grant and my dad to start making the pizza. You can get the drinks.”
Ally was taking up money while Sophia took orders. When she came back an successfully got the drinks and handed them to the correct tables, Ally couldn’t help but frown. It was her family’s restaurant. They didn’t need any help. They never had. Even when Grant would be gone. For some reason, Sophia seemed like a replacement. A replacement she didn’t need. “Good job, now go in the back and tell the boys what kind of pizza we need.”
Sophia and nodded and did as she was told. After an hour or so, Ally spoke to Sophia once again. “You can go. My mom’ll call you in a few days or so.” she said, working for another hour or so until she was allowed to go get dinner and work on her homework. At about six, when she was working on math, Grant came in and got dressed up, combing his hair. When he stepped out of his room, Ally giggled.
“What? Do I look weird?” he asked.
“Nope. I’ve just never seen you all dressed up,” she pointed out.
“Oh. Gotta go pick Harper up. See ya later,” he said as he left.
Still giggling, Ally continued to work on her homework. Grant absolutely never dressed up. He almost always wore his army clothes or blue jeans and a tee-shirt. Now he was wearing a pair of slacks and a black button-up long sleeved shirt all for a date. What women made boys do...Ally rolled her eyes and continued working on her math. It was about ten when she finally got to sleep, and Grant still wasn’t back.
She awoke the next morning to find Grant in the living room, as usual. Immediately, she hopped up in the seat next to him. “So, how’d it go? Tell me everything!” she insisted, beginning to eat the cereal that Grant had lain out for her.
Grant smiled, looking at his sister with a smile. “Well...We went out for dinner at a steakhouse, then went back to her place and talked for a while. That’s about all there is.”
“Do you have another date with her?”
“Yup. I’m picking her up after school gets out.”
Ally smiled, eating her cereal before heading back to get dressed into a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt, it was colder that day. Her hair was quickly braided, and she was out the door and heading out to school on her bike in a matter of minutes.
When she got back that day, there was a slightly unpleasant surprise. Sophia was waiting tables. Ally decided to be polite, seeing as they were now co-workers. “Hey, you got the job,” Ally noted, placing her hands on the straps of her backpack.
Sophia nodded, looking down at Ally’s soccer uniform. “You go to Madison?” she asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Ally made an ‘mhm.’ “I go to Jefferson. You a Junior?”
“Me too. So you’re on the soccer team?”
“Yeah, what about you?”
“No, I’m not a sports person. I’m in band though,” she offered.
Ally simply nodded, shuffling her feet. “Wanna do some homework together after our shifts?”
Sophia smiled, glad that Ally seemed willing to become friends now. “Sure.”
“I’ll go put my backpack up, change, and come back down.”
Against Ally’s first impression, she and Sophia made a surprisingly good team. Ally learned that Sophia was an expert in science, and hoped to become a zoologist one day. Sophia learned of Ally’s love to write and her dreams of playing for the Manchester United ladies’ team and being an author. Ally helped Sophia with English, and Sophia helped Ally with her science homework. Sophia was taking Spanish, which Ally could help with since her parents had taught her Italian. When Ally’s mother came down and found the two girls working on their homework together, she smiled. “Would you two like something for dinner?”
The girls looked at the clock on the wall and seemed to suddenly realize it was six thirty. “Sure,” they both said at the same time.
“Ally, how ‘bout you show Sophia the apartment upstairs. You can fix something up there, get some pizza here, or order some Chinese food.”
Ally nodded and showed Sophia the way to get to the apartment. When they entered, they immediately went to the kitchen. “What do you want to eat?”
“Whatever you want’s fine.”
“How ‘bout we order some Chinese food? It’s always funny when the people downstairs see a guy coming up the stairs with food that isn’t pizza.”
Laughing, Sophia agreed. “Sure. So where’s your brother?” She’d already met Grant on his way out.
“On a date with my soccer coach.”
“Really? That must be awkward.”
Ally simply shrugged. “Nah. Grant needs a girl, and Harper’s always been more of a best friend.” She got on the computer and began looking up the menu. “What do you want?” she asked, turning around to see that Sophia was right behind her.
“Hmm...Teriyaki sounds good.”
“That’s what I wanted too. Two Teriyakis...” she clicked the ‘order’ button and turned back around. “It should be here in about half an hour. Want something to drink.”
“We have a restaurant, we have just about every drink there is,” Ally reminded her with a laugh, pulling two cans of Sprit out of the fridge and handing one to Sophia.
They talked for a while, mainly about school, seeing if they knew any of the same people. Sophia had met a few of them through band, and Ally through soccer. Ally learned that Sophia played the flute, and Sophia learned that Ally must’ve been a very good soccer player since Olympic scouts were coming to her game on Friday. A knock on the door. Ally hopped up and opened it to find a man with a bag of food. “Two Teriyakis,” he said, handing her the bag. “That’ll be fifteen forty.”
Ally grabbed her father’s wallet, lying on the counter, and handed him a ten, five, and a one. “Keep the change.”
She and Sophia continued talking as they ate until they were interrupted by Grant coming through the door with Harper. “Hey Ally, I brought Harper over to get some dinner. Have you-” he paused when he spotted Sophia sitting on the couch next to his sister. “Hiya, I’m Ally’s brother, Grant.”
“I’m Sophia. I’m the newest worker at the pizza restaurant.”
Grant nodded and smiled, looking that the girls were already eating Chinese food. “So I guess you’ve got dinner already. Do you want some pizza, Harper?” he asked.
“Sure. Hi, Ally. Remember you’re staying at school until the soccer game tomorrow,” Harper reminded before heading back downstairs with Grant.
“That’s Harper, my soccer coach,” Ally said as soon as they left. “Grant’s back on leave for a week from the Army. They just started dating yesterday, but I think they make a fairly cute couple.”
Sophia nodded, taking a bite of her food. “That’s cool. Where’s he being stationed?”
“Oh um...That’s nice...I guesss.” Ally simply nodded, knowing that Sophia probably didn’t want to respond. “So what’s your favorite color?”
Ally hadn’t ever thought about her favorite color, but it was probably pink. “Pink.”
“Me too,” Sophia said. “Anyway, are you gonna be at work tomorrow?”
“Nah, I’ve got a soccer game. Sorry.”
The girls talked for a while as they ate until Sophia had to get back home, which meant Ally had to take the late shift. She took a book, it got boring since there weren’t too many customers. When she came downstairs she found Grant and Harper sitting at a table, talking while they slowly munched on their pizza. Maria was intently watching them with a smile. She’d been trying to get Grant married off for years, which was hard considering his occupation. But Harper seemed nice enough. “What do you think of her?” Ally asked her mother, who hadn’t seen her daughter come down.
Maria looked up, then back towards the couple. “Well I’d known her through soccer of course, but I think Grant really likes her, and that’s all that really matters. And she likes him too. Do you wanna work in the kitchen?”
Ally nodded and hopped off to the kitchen where her father was working. “Hey. You seen Harper?”
“How do you think she and Grant get along?”
“I think they look nice together. Wanna toss the dough?” he offered, and Ally smiled. Her favorite part of making the pizza. Tossing it up in the air and having it spin around always pleased the little kids that stopped in too. Only there weren’t kids coming in to get pizza at this hour. It was mainly people who worked late shifts, the working class kind. “Big soccer game tomorrow. I looked over that folder.”
“Yeah...You gonna come to the game?”
“Of course. We’ve invited Harper over for dinner afterward.” He noticed the small crowd and then turned to Ally. “Ya know what, I’ll take your shift. You need some sleep for the game tomorrow. Go ahead and take a shower and get to bed,” he said with a smile.
Ally smiled, setting down the tomato sauce she had been ready to spread over the crust. “Thank you!” she said before practically hopping up the stairs to her room to get ready for the game the next day.