A small gathering stands to one side of the pitch as the family arrives. They hang back from the group.
The woman’s brow is tightly drawn. She grips the arm of her husband, as if keeping him with her. His face is unreadable, but he offers a slight nod. With his left hand, he nudges his son in the direction of his teammates. He runs towards the group. His coach breaks into a huge grin, and welcomes him with a gentle slap on the back. The other boys in the team do the same. His mum and dad smile at each other, their relief palpable.
The boy’s parents shift from one foot to the other. The cold wind bites into their skin. The husband throws his arm around her shoulder, pulls her in close. She rests her head on his chest. He whispers something; her eyes dance with delight and she smiles widely.
The team move into positions, ready for the ref’s starting whistle. More parents arrive and settle into cliques. The couple hang back. It is around this time when she notices two women chatting. They’re in a close huddle, hands over their mouths. The skin on her neck breaks into a red, angry rash. Her head swims, memories drowning her now.
She leans on her husband, almost sinks into him. He places his arms around her, protective, supportive. Her eyes fill with tears as, behind her eyes, she sees the two women as teens at high school, lurking, bullying, taunting. It’s all flooding back now. She turns around, and nestles her face into her husband’s chest. She’s hiding her face and tears, lest they see and recognise her too. She doesn’t want a scene. Leopards never change their spots.
She grabs the keys from the pocket of his jeans, and walks to the car. She watches the rest of match from the driver’s seat, incapacitated and small again.