Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner (Excerpt)

Cleat Cute by Meryl Wilsner

  One The vending machine takes the crumpled dollar bill Phoebe feeds it, then immediately spits it back out. Phoebe huffs, taking the bill and flattening it against the thigh of her spandex shorts. “Don’t let me down now,” she murmurs as she tries once more. When the dollar isn’t smugly returned, Phoebe pumps both hands above her head in victory. She jams her index finger against buttons with only vague outlines of C and 4 left after years of use, and peanut M&Ms plummet to the bottom of the machine. “How many blues in this bag?” she asks her brother, Teddy, who always times his break at the front desk for when Phoebe is between personal training clients. Teddy picks at the chipped top of the lone table in the break room, legs splayed wide like that will make him taller. “What do I get if I win?” “I’ll share ’em with you,” Phoebe says. “If I win, you buy my next bag.” “Is that just because you’re out of cash?” He isn’t wrong—she’d had to dig through her drawstring bag, thinking all hope was lost until she found a bill in the bottom corner. “It’s because it’s an equal bet,” Phoebe says, then admits, “Or, well, it can be because of two things.” Teddy used to be her Mini-Me, before he’d chopped his hair and changed his name. Not that it affected too much—no one could look at their flaming red hair and fully freckled faces and think they’re anything but siblings. Teddy leans into the messiness of their matching hair, always looking like he’s just rolled out of bed, but somehow managing to pull it off. (At least Phoebe knows she’ll look good if she ever decides to cut hers and go butch.) “Ten,” Teddy says. “And if I win, you take me to New Orleans with you.” “That seems like awfully high stakes for a bet about M&Ms.” It’s better than Teddy’s usual bet, though, which is to make Phoebe wash his binder. He always waits until after working out to collect, the asshole. Still, she’d take him with if she could. Her only reservation about heading to Louisiana at the end of the month is how far she’ll be from her family. College was one thing—Mapleton was close enough to bring her laundry home. Moving to NOLA will be her first time living outside of Indiana in her twenty-two years. On the table, Phoebe’s phone rings with a shrill melody. She got it out of her locker earlier to scroll TikTok during the half hour she waits for her next client to arrive. It’s weird to have this long of a break between clients. Throughout college, she always scheduled an entire day of back-to-back sessions to make the thirty-minute drive from Mapleton worth it. Plus, it’s the first week of January, when the gym is still full of people yet to give up on their resolutions. Phoebe typically shoots for 100 percent retention of New Year’s clients, because it means she proved to them working out is fun, but she didn’t take anyone new on this year. It wouldn’t have made sense, since she’ll be leaving for New Orleans in a few weeks. “Why in God’s name is your ringer on?” Teddy says with a grimace. Phoebe hurls herself into the plastic chair beside her brother and looks at her phone. It’s a Chicago number. She didn’t used to pick up numbers she didn’t know. She didn’t used to have her ringer on, either, given that she’s not a boomer, but since New Orleans drafted her in December, there’ve been a lot of phone calls to set things up before the preseason starts next month. Granted, most of those numbers are from Louisiana, but just in case, she answers the call. “Hello?” “Hi, is this Phoebe Matthews?” The voice is accented—Phoebe doesn’t know enough about the UK—Great Britain? the British Isles? whatever it’s called—to place it exactly. “Yup, that’s me.” Phoebe pins the phone against her ear with her shoulder so she can open the packet of M&Ms. “Phoebe, hi. This is Amanda Greene with the US Women’s National Team.” Phoebe’s hands pause. Her heart slingshots around inside her rib cage. “What?” “I wanted to congratulate you on being drafted last month,” the person says. “You’ll do well with New Orleans. But more specifically, I wanted to invite you to training camp with the national team in a couple of weeks.” “Shut the fuck up.” Phoebe laughs, high-pitched and awkward. This has to be some kind of prank. She pulls at the edges of the bag of M&Ms again and says to her brother across the table, “Did you do this?” “What?” both Teddy and the person on the phone say. Phoebe swallows. “This is really Amanda Greene?” Teddy’s eyes go wide. “It really is,” the person on the phone says. The bag in Phoebe’s hands finally opens—but too enthusiastically, sending M&Ms skittering across the break room floor. Phoebe doesn’t move to pick them up. She told the coach of the US Women’s National Soccer Team to shut the fuck up. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry for—I shouldn’t have—I didn’t mean that. When I said to shut up, it was just an expression. I’m—wait, are you really serious? You’re inviting me to camp?” “We are.” The person—Amanda fucking Greene, apparently, coach of the national team—sounds like she’s smiling. “I can’t make any promises about the likelihood of getting called up again this year, but I’m looking forward to getting a look at you.” Phoebe grins. “I’m looking forward to earning another call up.” Copyright © 2023 by Meryl Wilsner

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