This was, admittedly, a very long wait. But this chapter is long, and hopefully worth it. This chapter is dedicated to: JanuaryBaby192, albinoblackswan, Alex B. Goode, anexandra, and last but not least, hippielicious. In short: thanks to all my reviewers!

Chapter 3: University

Laura took a right turn, hopefully down the right hallway. No matter how beautiful or enchanting a place was, a building was still a building. "201...," she murmured. "Yes! 203!" She opened it, and there stood Coach Yoast's daughter, her wavy blond hair tied into a frizzy ponytail.

"You must be the new player," she said, with surprising conviction for such a small girl. "I hope you fit in well with the team and have a good time at camp." Turning her back on Laura, she began putting her clothes into her dresser. Not very sure whether she should be offended or relieved, she hauled her suitcase over to the other side of the room and began to do the same.

Slowly she became immersed in her task, and was only aware of her surroundings when her hand scraped the bottom of her suitcase. She checked it: all her dental things, underwear, and toiletries were still in the side pockets and compartments. She smiled; she wasn't that far gone yet. Still smiling, she turned around. "Gah!" Sheryl was giving her one of the most intense stares she'd ever seen, and it seared into her bones from all the way across the room. "Miss Yoast," she said hesitantly, "what exactly are you doing...?"

The girl shrugged. "I was just thinkin'. And it's not Miss Yoast," she added as an afterthought. "It's all...old, y'know? Call me Sheryl." Suddenly, inexplicably, her eyes narrowed. "How old do you think I am, anyway?"

Sheryl looked almost furious, so Laura thought she should go at least a bit higher than what she really believed, but under the circumstances, decided to go with the truth. "Nine? Ten?"

She was more than relieved when Sheryl looked mollified. "That's close enough," the blond conceded. "I'm eleven and a half."

Feeling that this consent was enough of a signal to leave for breakfast, Laura stood up and glanced at the clock on the wall. 8:49. "Sheryl," she began, "I—"

"I know, I know," the blond sighed. "I'll be thankful that I look younger than I am when I get older. That's what Mama always says. But Coach Boone thought I was five when I was nine and a half! That's practically a baby!"

Laura had to smile. "I feel your pain, Sheryl, but that's not what I was going to say. Shouldn't we go to breakfast now?"

Sheryl blinked. "Oh." Regaining her composure, she walked out of the room and stopped just outside the threshold. "Are you coming or not?"

The cafeteria was enormous. Seemingly endless numbers of players sat together, several conversations lost amid the din. "Food's over there," Sheryl said beside her, and she looked over to where the younger girl was pointing. At the far end, some players were picking up food from trays on a spare table. "I'll see you!" Sheryl called. Laura spun around; she was already a few feet away, and still walking.

I guess it's true; everyone does leave you at some point." Snickering at the joke, she walked over to the table of food, her smile slowly failing as she tried and failed to ignore the looks she received from some of the boys as she walked by.

She picked up a plate at the 'buffet'. "Hey, guys," she said to the players still there. They only stared. Giving them a weak smile, she turned her attention to the food and didn't look up until she'd served herself all the food she thought she could eat in thirty minutes. Walking away from the platters, she stopped and look around. This was the real problem—trying to find a place to sit.

"Laura!" someone called. She looked up towards the sound, and grinned as she saw Gerry and Julius. Pushing the fact that they were sitting with six other people out of her mind, she hurried over. "How's it goin'?" Gerry asked.

She took a deep breath. "Do you guys mind if I sit with you?" She looked at the others, and they looked back.

"What position you goin' to play?" She turned to Julius, the one who'd spoken.

"Receiver. Why?"

"Well, we're a defensive table." He scratched the back of his neck. "I don't wanna be rude or anything like that, but if you eat with us, you won't get to know any of the people you'll be playing with the most, you know what I'm sayin'?"

She sighed. "Yeah. So where's an 'offensive table' I can sit at?"

Julius pointed to a table to their left and down two rows. "Sunshine, Louie and Rev are sittin' there; they're some of the best guys you could meet."

She thanked him and began to migrate once again. At this new table, she didn't hesitate and just sat down. The five people with her looked up. "Julius said I should eat here," she explained, and their heads went back down. Silence reigned, but after a few minutes of forks scraping against plates, one of the players, a big, blonde one, asked her, "So what's your name? Where are you from?"

She looked at him and swallowed. "I'm Laura Eldon, from Mississippi."

He nodded. "Which city?"

"Strawberry." (1)

He nodded. "Well, I'm Louie Lastik, offensive lineman, and these two—" he indicated the two boys, one black and one white, "—are David and Tommy, both running backs." They nodded at their plates, still shoveling food into their mouths.

"You two should be ashamed of yourselves," said the black player at the end of the table. "Here we have a new player, a lady no less, and you two are just eating?" He shook his head, and turned to Laura. "I'm Jerry Harris, but you can call me Rev; everyone else does." He reached over and shook her hand, giving the other blond sitting across from her an expectant look.

Taking Rev's cue, she let go of him and turned the last boy there. "And who are you?" she asked.

He gave her a wide, bleach-white smile. "My name's Ronnie Bass. Call me Sunshine." His smile turned wry. "Everybody else does."

"Oh. My. GOD. Why?" The team was on its twenty-fifth up-down, with only ten left to go, and she was just about ready to collapse. The whistle blew, and she nearly threw herself onto the ground, the weight of the world on her shoulders as she struggled to get back up. She tried to make it seem like she was jogging in place while lifting her legs as little as possible. What had she done to deserve this? Coach Boone blew the whistle again, and she felt like slapping him across the face. He'd said he was going easy on them because it was their first day! She glared at him as she jogged, glad he was looking at the defense. Another shrill tweet, and she went down and up. Five seconds of jogging, and she did it again. Just one more time! Five seconds passed, and they were still upright. Ten, fifteen...What is going on? Her legs felt like burning noodles!

Finally, just as she was getting ready to scream something, the whistle tweeted twice, and she collapsed. "Water break!" she heard Coach Boone yell, and she slowly picked herself up and walked to the table where Sheryl was standing, cooler and cups at the ready. As she drained a cup, the cold of the water rushed to her head, and something in her stomach violently reacted. Dropping to her knees, she put her head into the trash can by the table and promptly began to vomit.

Her stomach churned, and up came the eggs, toast, bacon, fruit, and juice of that morning. After she was finished, the smell and taste of what she'd done surrounded her, and she began to heave, choking and spitting out bile as her stomach tried to remove what wasn't there. Eventually she had the sense to take her head out of the trash can, and sucked in fresh air.

When she could finally focus on something other than her insides, the first thing she noticed was the silence. "Are you okay?" someone asked hesitantly—she recognized Sam, the guy she'd sat next to on the bus.

"No, I'm fine," she said, and stood up shakily. "I just need to sit down for a bit." Arms looped around her waist and shoulders as she began the trek back to where Sheryl was standing. "I told you, I'm fine..."She tried to shake them off, but they steered her to a soft-looking patch of grass near the coolers and lowered her gently onto the ground. "Thanks," she said, suddenly too spent to bother to look up at her two helpers. They jogged off, and twenty minutes later, Laura was back in the game.

So that was it! It was definitely longer than the last chapter, and hopefully a lot better. So, once again, thanks to all my beautiful readers, and even more to my reviewers and PM-ers! I appreciate you all.

—inspiration-arts