“Ani? Hey man, you in here?”
“Yeah. I’m coming,” Anish croaked, his hand fumbling to undo the grimy latch. He could not believe he had just sat on the floor, hands pressed to the cool tile, in the sports center bathroom. He could already picture Yiayia, his grandmother, baring a reproachful look and decided not to mention it later during their weekly video call.
“Ugh. Gym floors are so gross,” Trevor said as he patted Anish on the shoulder.
“Come on. Coach is about to announce who made the cut.
Anish’ stomach did another flip at these words. He had always been confident in his playing skills, but this was next level. He’d never been pushed so hard during tryouts but it was fun, at least up until the point where he was seeing stars leaning over the toilet. He had managed not to vomit but the light headedness was not fading as quickly as he had hoped. The level of intensity during that last set had his maroon shirt soaked. Anish normally wouldn’t have minded too much, given that the match made him forget he wasn’t in an actual game, but he also didn’t want it to look like he was overworking himself.
Anish, or Ani, Tobias was average height, had tan skin and dark green eyes. His jet-black hair, trimmed on the sides but long on top, was usually swept back. However, given the amount extreme exercise he had just taken part in, it now hung down just above his bushy eyebrows. He was never the tallest guy on his previous teams, but he certainly wasn’t the shortest. His broad shoulders, as Yiayia had frequently reminded him, were the genetic sign of greatness. After all, his name did mean “Supreme,” or at least that’s what his mother had told him growing up. And Tobias was Greek for the “goodness of God.” He had always appreciated such a combination of names, despite the complexity that came with discussing his parents’ religious backgrounds at the time of his birth.
When he was 7, Anish’s family moved to Boston where his mother began working long shifts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a Neurologist. His father was a renowned Architect and had built the very house Anish had grown up in. Soon after they moved to Boston, Anish's grandfather, or Papou, as Anish had called him, had passed away. Yiayia had offered to watch over Anish while his mother worked and his father traveled. Although he did not get to spend as much time with his parents as he’d have liked to growing up, he was constantly reminded by Yiayia that they worked such long hours so that he could do whatever it was that he wanted with his future. Anish had learned at an early age to be grateful for his parents’ hard work and dedication to their family. Yiayia had always said that ambition, courage, and passion were the traits glued to the Tobias name, and he, Anish, was not planning on tarnishing the family reputation any time soon.
With this on his mind, Anish followed Trevor out of the bathroom and into the hallway. He hadn’t really had the chance to look at Trevor up close, given he had only met him a couple of hours ago. Recalling that his new friend was Irish, Anish wondered just how false American stereotypes were. Growing up, he had always seen the Irish characters in films with curls of flaming red-hair and freckles. Trevor’s hair was a light shade of brown and there was not a single freckle on his face. The films had also always portrayed the Irish to be short, but Trevor’s height was the first thing Anish noticed about him. Remembering how height granted an extreme advantage in the sport they were playing, Anish sighed. He was positive that Trevor would make the team. After all, he was a third year and had already played on the men’s team last year, not to mention he was on the mixed team his first year at St. Gardner’s.
“How’d,” he cleared his throat, “how do you think you did?” Anish asked, pushing through the door and into the massive gymnasium.
“I think I did well, but that last point was a total fluke. I didn’t even mean to tip the ball over, I just swung too early.”
“Oh, please. There’s no way Coach noticed that. He was too busy scolding Nick for that shady set,” Anish said, glancing towards Nick.
“Yeah, that set was awful. He’s practically a prodigy though. I have yet to see him slip in a match, if being I’m honest. Nice save in the second set though, you definitely caught Coach’s eye with that one. None of your competition landed a stunt like that.” Anish rubbed the tender spot beneath his lower abdomen where he had dived and miraculously managed to keep the ball in play. Wincing as his finger pushed against the already browning skin, he decided to wear a long sleeve shirt when calling Yiayia so as not to give her an excuse to fly over to London and force him to sit in a concoction of one of her infamous home remedies: bruise-healing-water. Last time she made him do this the heavily lingering scent of bitter herbs had everyone he knew steering clear of him in the hallways.
A loud whistle blew and everyone turned their attention to the head coach, who waved his hand and signaled them all to line up at the edge of the court. Standing next to Trevor, Anish felt his heart begin to race. At least my stomach is feeling better now. I knew I should’ve planned to eat earlier but I just got caught up with homework and the café was on the way here. I barely had time to scarf down a sandwich before we had to start running laps.
“If I call your name, step forward,” The coach called out in an almost bored voice. Anish wondered where he was from. His harsh accent made it sound as though English was definitely not his native language.
Holding his breath, Anish waited for his name to be called. Eight…nine…ten. He said he’d only be taking twelve of us, right? Anish struggled to recall. At least that’s what I thought—well done, Trevor. I totally heard him say twelve? Honestly, it’s so hard to understand him. Maybe it would just be better if I didn’t make the cut, that way I wouldn’t look like an idiot every time he spoke to me.
Right, that’s number twelve. I’ll just go to mixed tryouts tomorrow then.
“Anish,” Trevor said pulling him forward.
“Oh!” He said, wiping his damp palms on his shorts. He could feel the blood rushing back to into his face, waves of embarrassment flooding over him.
“Alright. Those of you in the back row, I’m sorry but this just isn’t your season for the men’s team. I highly recommend that each of you turn up to the mixed team tryouts tomorrow,” the coach sighed. “Boys in the front, welcome to this year’s volleyball team. First practice is tomorrow night at eight, don’t be late or I’ll call back one of these guys to take your place.” Whooping and applause filled the gym and Anish let out a sigh of relief as Trevor clapped him on the back.
“Let’s go for drinks!” Nick shouted. “The Rocket is just down the road.”
Anish looked around at his new teammates, smiling. This was definitely the most diverse team he had ever had the privilege to play with. Recalling the introductions they did at the start of the trials, he remembered that many of these guys were from all over Europe and Asia.
“And this year we even pulled our first ever guy from the states!” Someone chuckled.
Making his way over towards his bag, Anish turned his head. Flinching slightly, he saw a tall, fair-skinned guy sticking his hand out. How hadn’t he noticed this man? He was massive, 6’5 at least. His blond hair damp with sweat had somehow maintained its combed over shape.
“It’s Anish, right?” Anish’s hand trembled slightly as he reached out and shook.
“Yeah. Am I really the first American?”
“Yes sir,” Trevor smiled, handing Anish a water bottle. “You look as pale as Tommi here. Better get some H2O in your system before you faint again. Next time don’t eat right before practice, would you?”
“I didn’t pass out,” he retorted, chugging the bottle. He’d done it. He made it through trials and was going to be the first American player on the St. Gardner University men’s volleyball team! Yiayia is going to be raving. Anish thought as he slung his bag over his shoulder, launching a crumpled piece of paper out of a pocket and onto Trevor’s bag.
“What’s this?” Trevor asked, picking up the paper and unfolding it. Anish looked down at the receipt he had shoved in his bag after darting out of the café a few hours back. His memory flickered to the charming barista who had made the sandwich that he had scarfed down immediately upon realizing that he was late for tryouts. “I know we just met, mate. But if you really want to take me out to dinner, just ask,” Trevor joked.
“What?” Grabbing the receipt, Anish noticed the phone number penned on the back. Underneath the arrangement of digits, the name “Jaime” was written faintly in emerald green ink. Eyes widening and ears turning red, Anish stuffed the paper in his pocket. He could feel his face burning and hoped that it was still flushed from the overexertion of tryouts. Anish scrambled to recall the face of his barista. He could vaguely remember two people who had served him at the café: a bubbly young woman with caramel brown hair and bright green eyes had taken his order at the till, but he hadn't bothered to look at her name tag having been in such a rush. The other was a tall, dark-haired guy with glasses who had brought Anish’s sandwich out to him. When did they give me my receipt? Was it when I was ordering, or did she say I was going to get it when they served my food? Did I even ask for a receipt?
“Sorry, but I can’t come for drinks tonight. I told my family I’d give them a call but I’m down for next time,” Anish said.
Nick sighed, “Right, well next time drinks are on you!” Anish smirked as the others jeered. It was true. He had promised Yiayia that he would give her a call as soon as he could to update her on tryouts, but he really wanted to know who Jaime was. Slipping into his sneakers, Anish wondered when the café would close. He could hear the others beginning to discuss the potential starting line-up for the first game, which, as they were told at the start of tryouts, was scheduled to take place in only a week’s time.
The café’s probably closed by now, right? It’s already been three hours since I left and even if it is open, do I really want to turn up looking like this. Honestly, after playing for six years, you’d think I’d have learned to bring a change of clothes to tryouts...
“Hey! Keep an eye out for a text, Anish. I’m going to start a group chat later tonight,” Trevor called.
“Sure thing! Congrats, guys! I’ll see you all tomorrow,” Anish waved, pushing the gym doors open. His mind was racing as he began navigating his way out of the Sports Center. He knew he was going to have to backtrack his steps just to find his way to his flat, but that meant he was going to pass by the café as he walked back. After much contemplation, Anish decided that if it was open, he would stop by and see if the same employees were still there. Taking a deep breath, he tossed his duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped out into the warm September air.