Living Up To My Father's Name
Locker doors slam around me, echoing off every wall of the changing room. I shut mine quietly.
Outside the stadium, the sound of cheering Yooyuball enthusiasts grows louder and louder, but all I can hear is the pounding of my nervous heartbeat. Today is the championship game of the 30th Annual Altador Cup, and my team is in the running for first place.
Roo Island versus Darigan Citadel.
These teams have not been in the top two places together since the Altador Cup II; and last time, my team lost. Although that was before I was even born, I’ve been a fan of Yooyuball my entire life and I know that this is a pretty big deal. As the newest player to the team (my first year ever playing with the pros, in fact), I look towards my companions for inspiration. Some have only been here a few years, while others are much more experienced.
I look first to Martin Poole, a White Blumaroo only a few years older than myself. We call him Marty. Marty is usually very energetic with an upbeat personality, but now he is very quiet. I catch our goalkeeper’s eye for a moment and I can tell he is as nervous as I am. Although he has been with the team for a few years now, this is the first time he has ever made it this far.
Then there’s the more experienced Cody Randall, a Spotted Lupe who took Gordo Gunnel’s place as Right Defender some years ago. He’s been through this a couple times now, but I imagine he must still be nervous as well. I look for signs of this, but I cannot read his stoic expression. I wonder what thoughts are running through his mind.
Jair Tollet, my fellow forward, smiles warmly at me. As one of our most experienced players, she must know the anxiety I am feeling. I greatly admire the Maraquan Eyrie whose age is really starting to show. She says that if we win this year, it will probably be her last. If not, she’ll give it one more chance next summer.
Finally, I gaze at our captain, Fenny Vail, with the utmost respect. I can see the courage, determination and wisdom in the Usul’s middle-aged eyes. Never have I questioned Lilo’s reasoning for choosing her as captain when he left the team at a relatively early age to focus on raising a family. And that is where I come in.
My name is Lillian Blumario, and I am his daughter.
People often tell me that I would look exactly like him were I a Yellow Blumaroo instead of a Brown one. Now I hope to be just like him in another way, too. I want to live up to being the great player that he was, and I know my chance is coming. I pull my long brown curls back into their usual ponytail and slip on my gloves. I am ready to face the challenge ahead of me.
“Okay, team,” Fenny says, standing up on one of the benches. Height is something that has never been in her favor; but now, standing slightly taller than the rest of us, her appearance is given the leadership to match her personality. “I want you all to remember something. As my captain always said, ‘Nothing’s worth it if you aren’t having fun.’ So have fun out there to today. Whether we win or lose, enjoy the game and try not to stress too much.” Her captain, my father, spoke the same words to me at the beginning of the season. I have had fun, and I can see that my teammates have as well; and look how far it has taken us! I plan to have fun today too, but I cannot promise that I won’t be stressed. This is the real deal.
Fenny jumps down from the bench and comes to speak to Marty and me. She places one hand on his shoulder, one on mine, and speaks to us with confidence. “I know this is new for both of you, but try to relax. If you tense up too much, your performance will suffer. And remember, we’ve already secured at least second place. No matter what, the fans will be proud. Your families will be proud.” She pauses, then looks directly at me and says, “Especially yours, Lilly. Your father was in your position once. He knows what it’s like being a young player facing a chance at the cup for the first time.” Her words encourage me, but I am still determined to win. I exchange glances with Marty, and can tell he is thinking the same thing.
Moments later, a blue Scorchio comes in and speaks a single sentence. “We’re ready for you, Roo Island.”
And I am ready, too. We are all ready.
We make our way down the dimly lit hallway leading to the door that will soon open up onto the playing field. Fenny stops in front of it. We gather behind her. The roaring of the crowd seems louder than ever. Now all we have to wait for is the Darigan Citadel team. As soon as they are ready at their entrance on the other side, both doors will be opened simultaneously.
“You guys ready to kick some Darigan butt?” I whisper.
“Let’s do it,” Marty says in reply. Cody, older and much taller than I, pats me on the head in friendly agreement. Jair fidgets with nervous excitement and Fenny flashes me a brief smile.
Then the doors swing open; I am temporarily blinded by the bright sunlight, but my hearing definitely still works. All around me, the fans cheer with excitement. When my eyesight returns, the first thing I see is the opposing team coming towards the center of the field. Then I search for my dad in the stands. I cannot pick him out amidst the enormous number of Neopians, but I trust he is there somewhere. I have not seen him since the cup started, but he promised he’d be here today. I do, however, manage to spot that crazy old Blue Techo right in the front row. I sometimes wonder if anyone knows which team he really supports. Sometimes, I wonder if he even knows himself, or if he just enjoys screaming.
The captains shake hands. We get into position.
This year, Layton Vickles plays Right Forward rather than his usual position on the left. Yes, the old Hissi still plays, but rumor has it that he may be retiring after this year. Though still an excellent player, I can see that he does not have the energy he probably did when he was young. He now stands across from Jair, who does not seem the slightest bit threatened by him. I suppose it is because she has known and played against him for years, and knows his strengths and weaknesses very well; still, I feel as though I’d shrink under his prowess if I had to stand that near to him. She says something to him, and though I can’t make out her words, I believe she is taunting him. By the looks on their faces, however, I can tell it’s all friendly rivalry. I wish I could do the same, but I don’t feel as though I am close enough with players from other teams to do so.
Besides, across from me is the Darigan Gelert known as Lucas Shaye, son of the well-known Tandrak Shaye. He annoys me so much. He winks at me, but it means nothing. He’s just being obnoxious. It is only his second year and he has as many fangirls as his father had, possibly more; it’s quite obvious that he is aware of this fact, too. I, however, am one girl unaffected by “Shaye Fever.”
The whistle blows and the floor opens in front of us. A normal yooyu pops up. Good, this one will be easy to handle. Of course, Jair is the first to grab it. I sprint down the field behind her as backup. She easily slips past the Forwards but now needs to get past the Defenders. This is not quite as easy a task.
Terra Wilde, a Darigan Kougra and the opposing team’s only female player, tackles her almost instantly, causing her to lose possession of the ball. I know what I must do and I retrieve it quickly, just before Doon Cole, a Darigan Bori, can stop me. I must now face their goalkeeper, a very large and somewhat intimidating Darigan Uni. His name is Vincent Rea; I heard once that he is a distant relative of Faerieland’s retired Valtonous Rea, but I do not know whether this is actually true.
I aim the ball just past him, hoping to get it in the net, but he blocks it perfectly and it bounces back in my direction. The Citadel’s fans cheer. Jair has just caught up with me and she recovers it perfectly, then places it in the net like it’s no big deal. Our fans cheer louder. One point for Roo Island; if we can keep this up it will be an easy win. I give Jair a high-five and ask her how she does it.
“It’s called experience, sweetie,” she tells me, then adds with a laugh, “And luck, of course. It’s not like I can always pull off a stunt like that, especially now that I’m getting older.”
We return to our positions and I am feeling confident. Darigan’s players are tense. I glance at Lucas and see that his full attention is focused on the center of the floor. I focus mine there, too.
This time it is a fire yooyu.
My Gelert opponent dives directly in front of me to snatch it, and though he hits the ground he is able to pass it over to Layton. He smirks up at me, knowing he had just executed a smooth move.
“How’d you like that?” he asks coolly. I roll my eyes and continue on my way down the field.
Layton attempts to score before I reach a point where I can intercept the ball. This yooyu is much faster than the normal one. Thankfully, Cody is able stop it before it reaches the goal.
“Lillian!” he calls out, prepared to make a pass. I start at the sound of my own name. I had expected him to send it in Jair’s direction because she is closer to him, but I see now that she is blocked by Vickles. Besides, with a faster yooyu distance is less of a problem.
“I’m open!” I respond, raising my Yooyuball sling as a signal to show I am ready to accept the pass. It lands in the sling with a fair amount of force (a combination of Cody’s strong arm and the fast nature of the fire yooyu) and it knocks me back for a moment. I quickly regain my balance, though, and sprint as fast as my legs can take me towards the other goal. When I approach it, Terra and Doon close in on me. In a moment of panic, I pitch the yooyu past the Defenders in the direction of the goal. I watch in amazement as it miraculously slips past the goalkeeper and rolls into the goal. For a moment, I am speechless. Then I jump up and down in excitement, squealing with delight. Though I’m not usually one to brag about my victories, I cannot believe how well that turned out.
Then things turn for the worse.
The next yooyu is a clockwork. I see my opponents hesitate, and I take advantage of this. Perhaps this is a bad decision on my part. It quickly becomes hot and, knowing it will soon detonate, I get rid of it as fast as I can. It explodes in the middle of the field. No one is injured, no one scores.
The fourth yooyu is an ice one. Determined to make up for my mistake, I snatch this one first as well. I try to pass it to Jair, but the slowness of it makes it easy for Vickles to intercept. He slips past Jair and I easily, but Fenny manages, with some difficulty due to size, to tackle him and he drops the ball. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, Shaye runs over, scoops it up and flings it towards the goal, aiming high. Although it is a slow moving yooyu, it is just out of Marty’s reach even as he jumps for it. It barely makes it into the goal. Darigan Citadel scores a point.
The score is now 2-1. Roo Island is still in the lead, but my confidence is a bit shaken.
To our misfortune, the fifth yooyu is a Darigan one. I feel as though I shouldn’t even have to explain what happens now, as anyone can probably guess. Let’s just say that the Darigan team has a lot more natural talent when it comes to dealing with these things.
The score is tied.
Now I am nervous. I can feel the tension rising between the two teams. Our time is running short, so whoever scores the next point will probably win the game and the Altador Cup.
The floor opens up for the final time; another normal yooyu. Okay, Lillian, you can do this.
Here’s the rundown:
Lucas Shaye takes the ball first. I try something I’ve never done before; I tackle him. He loses the yooyu and Jair Tollet quickly retrieves it. On her way to the goal, however, she stumbles and drops it. Doon Cole picks it up and makes an unexpected long-distance pass to Layton Vickles, but it is intercepted by Fenny Vail, who passes the yooyu to Cody Randall. Cody passes it back to me, and I make my way past Darigan’s defenders. I take a shot at the goal, but it is blocked by Vincent Rea. I take the ball again, but I am tackled by Terra Wilde.
Doon grabs the ball. He passes it to Shaye, who passes it to Vickles.
Vickles shoots but is too far away. The yooyu bounces off the goal post.
With lightning speed he is on top of it again, but everyone can see that he is rapidly wearing down.
I check the time left on the game. There are only fifteen seconds. We cannot win now, but if we stay tied we will be able to go into overtime and we will still have a chance.
He tries again. This time, Martin Poole keeps it from going in.
But the ball rebounds directly in front of Layton. With a final, tired effort, the Hissi aims way to the Blumaroo’s left.
The ball rolls casually into the goal.
Darigan Citadel wins.
The crowd roars in a wild frenzy for this year’s champions. Meanwhile, I am still picking myself up from being tackled. A little dirt covers my face, and tears begin to fill my eyes. I try hard not to cry. We were so close to winning the cup.
Fenny and Layton shake hands once again. I cannot hear my captain’s voice, but I can read her lips as she offers congratulations. Although she smiles, I can see the disappointment in her eyes. I see it in the eyes of all my teammates, but I can also see they are good sports about it. I try to be strong, like them.
The awards are handed out soon afterwards, and as I watch Fenny stand up to receive her silver metal for our team, I remember what she told me before the game started. We still secured second place. I clap proudly for all we accomplished this season.
That evening, I make my way out of the coliseum. I have just finished meeting with fans and doing a few interviews with journalists. Now I am ready to head back to my hotel so I can get a good night’s rest and head home first thing in the morning.
“Blumario,” someone calls, and I turn to see Layton Vickles approaching me. “I wanted to congratulate you,” he says.
“Me?” I ask. “It was your team that won.”
“I know, I know,” he replies. “But I’ve learned over years that, while winning is nice, it isn’t everything. I was really impressed by you today. You ain’t bad for a rookie.”
“You think so?” I am very flattered to hear this from someone so experienced.
“You’ve got guts, kid. I like ya.” He pauses for a moment, and then adds, “You really are your father’s daughter.”
“Like I don’t ever hear that,” I laugh. “Would you say I’ve lived up to his name?”
“It’s a little early to say for sure,” he answers, “but I’d say you’re on the right track.”
I smile. “Thank you, sir. It’s a real honor to hear that from someone who played against him for a number of years.”
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. And please, call me Layton.”
“Okay, then. Thanks, Layton.”
“No problem, Blumario... if I may call you that, of course. I always called Lilo by his last name.”
“Sure, I don’t mind it.”
“Oh, and speaking of your father, I just talked to him; he should be along any second to see you.”
I grow excited by this news. It’s been over a month since I last saw him, and now I know for sure that he had been there supporting me today.
He’s right on time. Almost as soon the Hissi is finished saying this, my dad walks out of the coliseum. Layton bids me a friendly farewell so the two of us can have a moment alone.
“Daddy!” I exclaim, running over to give him a hug. Yes, even as a young adult I still call him “Daddy.”
“How are you, Lilly?” he asks, embracing me.
“A lot of mixed emotions are running through me right now,” I admit. “I’m thrilled that we placed second, but disappointed that we didn’t make first.”
“I know how you feel,” my father replies. “I was in your place once upon a time.”
“I know, Fenny reminded me of that earlier.”
“She’s a smart one,” Lilo chuckles. “You’re really lucky to have her as a captain.”
“I know I am; she’s awesome.”
“That she is...”
“I just was hoping to make you really, really proud of me today,” I tell him, changing the subject slightly. “I was hoping to bring home the cup.”
“My dearest Lillian,” he begins. Oh no, here comes some more of his wisdom. “You did make me really, really proud of you today. Really. You may not have won, but you still reached the top two in your first year. That’s more than I can say for myself. And you could be playing for a long time after this; so believe me, you’ll have plenty more chances.”
“So I’ve lived up to your name, then? Layton says he thinks I’m on the right track.”
“You’ve done more than that,” he says, giving me a second hug.
Well, then I am satisfied. I realize now that this is what I truly wanted all along.