KULTI: Outtake

 

*****

 

“I’m going to say it…”

 

“Don’t do it.”

 

“I have to…”

 

“Rey, stop.” I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from laughing out loud. The sea of parents surrounding us were always watching. Always. The fact that my chest was shaking with expectation of what was about to be said didn’t help make me any less inconspicuous. I could see Mandy’s mom sitting on a bleacher two rows down, looking in our direction but trying to be real freaking discreet. She didn’t understand I was a pro at catching people talking about us.

 

He slid a hand over to rest on my bare knee, giving it a squeeze, oblivious and uncaring to our audience. “I can’t hold it in any longer.”

 

“Don’t say it…” I hissed, knowing exactly what was on the verge of coming out of his mouth.We’d been together too long for me not to know.

 

Out of my peripheral vision, I could see him shaking his head. In reality, I don’t think he’d stopped shaking his head from the moment Maria had started FPS. I’d been tempted to start taking Tums, if I was going to be honest.

 

“I have to,” he did as close to a gasp as he was capable of, dead serious, on the verge of bursting with his comment.

Rey’s profile was taut and perfect against the sunset. Sixteen years together now and he was still the most handsome man in the world. Strong and tall, timeless, with more gray sprinkled throughout his hair than when we’d first met, my Reindeer had come out on top against aging. He simply hadn’t gotten older. Not really. “She’s…”

 

At that exact moment, the eight-year-old on the field who looked like a perfect replica of her dad took control of the soccer ball… and started running in the opposite direction she was supposed to be going.

 

Oh God.

 

As much as I didn’t want to, I thought about smacking my forehead with my palm. Rey, on the other hand, reached up to touch the side of his face, his fingers went to his brow bone and his chin dropped a fraction. I think his eye might have started twitching a little. Neither one of us yelled as the coach in her Fun Positive Soccer team started screaming from the sidelines, “Maria! The other way! You’re going the wrong way! YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! MARIA!!”

 

We both sighed at the same time, leaning into each other in resignation. Extreme resignation. “Oh God,” I finally breathed out just loud enough for him to hear.

 

“She should stick to gymnastics,” he whispered.

 

Was it the wrong moment to start laughing? Definitely, but I tried to muffle it by turning my upper body and burying my mouth into his shoulder. Tears prickled my eyes, and I had to use his shirt to wipe them off. My cheek muscles were going crazy, as I tried even harder not to crack up but failed like I hadn’t ever.

 

If someone had told me twenty years ago that my kids weren’t going to have an ounce of soccer talent, I would have told them they were out of their damn minds. If someone had told me thirty years ago that I’d have kids with Reiner Kulti, kids who didn’t give a single crap about our beloved sport, I would have told them they were insane.

 

But that was the thing about fate—she was a funny, slightly psychotic bitch.

 

Somehow, by some grand chance in the cosmos, I married the man I’d loved since I was a kid. And we had kids years later. Two kids that didn’t remotely think twice about the fact that their dad was the greatest soccer player alive or that their mom wasn’t too shabby either. Two girls that wanted hugs and snuggles from the one-time sexiest man in the world, and didn’t understand why he had to wear a hat constantly in public or care about all the trophies he had when they did stuff like run toward the wrong goal during a game.

 

They didn’t care about all the things we’d been through before them. They would never know how I quit playing to have them. Moved back to San Antonio so that they could grow up close to my parents, their abuelito and abuelita. I’d known that Rey liked living in Germany when I played there, but it had been his idea to move back. For our children, he’d said one night when we’d been in bed together before I’d even gotten pregnant. We can’t do that to your father, he’d said.

We couldn’t. We really couldn’t.

 

“Mami, can we leave yet?” the small troll sitting directly in front of us, asked as she poked at my leg.

 

The six-year-old blinked up at me with green eyes just like her dad, but the rest of her was mostly all me. Dark haired and freckled, she was my mini-me in the physical. But she was my sister in every other aspect. I sat up straight and touched the top of Gisela’s head. “Five more minutes.”

 

She huffed and draped her head back in exasperation. “This is so boring.”

 

That time, it was Rey that started cracking up.

 

Yeah, fate was something else entirely.

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