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Settle the score, p.1

Settle the Score, page 1

 

Settle the Score
 


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Settle the Score


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  TO MY HUSBAND

  “Noooooooooooooooooooo!” Jessi yelled. I groaned with disappointment. The two of us sat together, watching a boys’ winter league soccer game. Our friend Cody, on the Spartans, had taken a shot at the goal. It had gone high and to the left, looking like it would sail way over the goalie’s head. But the goalie had jumped up and made a spectacular save.

  The Wildcats fans in the stands cheered. But for the players on the field, there was no time to dwell on successes or losses. You had to constantly move and run your next play. I knew this very well. Both Jessi and I were playing for the girls’ winter league, on a team called the Griffons. During the regular season we played soccer for the Kentville Kangaroos, or the Kicks, as most people called us.

  That was the nice thing about living in California. I could play soccer all year round if I wanted to. Which was fine with me, because I lived and breathed soccer. I even dreamed about it!

  “Oh, the tragedy!” Frida moaned theatrically. “It was not to be.”

  “They’re still ahead by one!” Emma reminded her, cheerful as always.

  “Frida can turn anything into a drama,” Jessi said, smiling at her. “I don’t know why you aren’t on The Real Teenagers of Beverly Hills!”

  I laughed when Jessi mentioned the silly reality show she had gotten me hooked on. “Because as dramatic as Frida is, she’s way too nice!” I said.

  “But I bet it would be really fun to play the villain,” Frida said, looking thoughtful. She was an actress. In fact, she had recently filmed a TV movie. When I’d lived in Connecticut, I hadn’t known anyone who was a professional actor. But here things were different. It was pretty exciting having a friend who was starring in a movie.

  I kept my eye on the soccer field as we talked. Our friend Steven on the Spartans stole the ball from the Wildcats and passed it to Cody. Cody took another shot at the goal, feigning left before kicking it hard and low to the right. The goalie went left, and the ball hit the lower right corner of the net. Goal!

  As we cheered, Jessi smiled at me. “I’m glad we didn’t have practice today, so we could be here at the game.”

  “I wish we could do both,” I said. “The Griffons could use some extra practice if we want to make it into the semifinals.”

  Emma chimed in. “Well, I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad Maisie’s team didn’t have practice either. This is fun.”

  Emma and Frida helped my dad coach my sister’s elementary school soccer team. During the regular season they both played on the Kicks with me, Jessi, and our friend Zoe. Frida hadn’t tried out for the winter league because she’d been filming her movie. Emma, who was an awesome goalie for the Kicks, had had a disastrous tryout and didn’t make a winter league team. Zoe had, but not the Griffons. She was playing for the Gators instead.

  “I know Zoe wanted to be here too,” Emma continued, “but the Gators coach called for an extra practice. They really have their eye on the championship.”

  I looked at Jessi, my face creasing with worry. We really wanted to be winter league champions too. Why hadn’t Coach Darby called an extra practice?

  To be the champs we’d probably have to beat the Gators—which meant beating Zoe. Also, some of the other Kicks were on the Gators with her, including Grace, my Kicks co-captain. The idea of playing against my friends was throwing me off a bit, and that was the last thing I needed. Not too long before, an earthquake had shaken me up, and it had taken a while for me to get back my confidence. I didn’t want to lose it again!

  “Aren’t you playing the Gators this Saturday?” Frida asked with her eyebrow arched. “Talk about drama!”

  “No worries! There are no friends on the soccer field, just players on opposing teams,” Jessi said with confidence. “Zoe will just have to understand when the Griffons wipe the field with the Gators!”

  Now it was Emma’s and Frida’s turn to look worried.

  “Oh my gosh, I just realized—who are we supposed to root for?” Emma asked. “The Griffons or the Gators? I mean, I was going to make a sign and everything, but now I don’t know who to put on it!”

  “Well, if you just put a big G on it, you’ll be covered,” Jessi joked.

  “But a pink G for Griffons, or a purple G for Gators?” Emma asked, sounding really worried.

  I felt so bad for poor Emma that even though I was just as worried, I acted like it didn’t bother me.

  “Don’t even make a sign,” I told her. “Just cheer whenever you want. We know you love us equally. And pretty soon this will all be over and we’ll all be back on the Kicks.”

  Emma smiled. “I can’t wait for that!”

  Pretending not to be worried actually helped as I turned the situation over in my head. This is soccer, I reminded myself. Someone wins and someone loses. That’s just how the game goes. Whatever happened, I knew there was no way it would make things weird between me and my friends. Right?

  But before I could dwell on it any more, the whistle blew and the game ended. The Spartans were the winners, 3–1.

  Emma’s and Frida’s rides were waiting in the parking lot. We said good-bye as I checked the time on my phone. My mom wouldn’t be there for another twenty minutes, and we were giving Jessi a lift home.

  “Do we have time to congratulate Cody and Steven?” she asked.

  I grinned. “Yep!”

  Now, when I said that Cody and Steven were our friends, that was true. But it might have been a little truer to say that Cody and Jessi were friends, and Steven and I were friends—friends who really liked each other. Don’t get me wrong. Steven and I weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend or anything like that. After all, we were all only in the seventh grade. And I was pretty sure that my parents wouldn’t let me go out on an actual date until I was around thirty-five years old. But Steven did have a supercute smile, and sometimes, when he flashed it at me, I felt the butterflies begin to dance in my stomach.

  “Hey, congrats!” Jessi shouted to Cody as we walked onto the field. The rest of the Spartans were heading home, but Cody was still standing there, his hands on his hips and one foot resting on a soccer ball, while he talked to Steven.

  As Cody looked up and smiled at her, Jessi raced over and kicked the soccer ball out from underneath his foot.

  “Impressive goal out there, but let me show you how it’s done!” Jessi called over her shoulder as she raced down the field with the ball.

  Cody wobbled for a second before regaining his balance and tearing after Jessi.

  Steven smiled at me, and I felt the butterflies start their cha-cha. He had short, dark hair that he stuck up a little with gel, but after the game it was more sweaty than spiky. That was okay with me. He still looked cute.

  “Great game,” I told him. “That was some interception.”

  “Thanks,” he said, and I thought I saw a slight blush creep up his cheeks. Was Steven embarrassed because I’d complimented him? I felt a little awkward, not sure of what to say, until Jessi saved the day.

  “Devin! I need backup!” she yelled from down the field as she tried to keep the ball away from Cody.

  “Bro! Come help me out!” Cody called to Steven.

  Steven grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders. “Those two are so hyper,” he said.

  “Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I s
miled at him before racing away to receive a pass from Jessi.

  Steven yelled as he ran after me, trying to steal the ball. All four of us kicked it back and forth for a while, laughing and messing around, while we tried to score on one another.

  I was feeling so happy that any worries I’d had about playing the Gators had disappeared. I had my soccer mojo back and was ready for anything. Especially for the Griffons to win the winter league championship, no matter who I had to beat to do it. Game on!

  “So then Addison went to the party as Taylor’s brother’s date, and Taylor flipped out,” Jessi told me as we walked to the cafeteria the next day at school.

  I gasped. “No way! What did Taylor do?”

  “She smashed a piece of birthday cake into Addison’s face!” Jessi sounded shocked, but then she started cracking up. “And then Addison’s dog started licking it off.”

  I shook my head. Thankfully, these weren’t people we actually knew. They were the stars of The Real Teenagers of Beverly Hills. I had missed last week’s episode, and Jessi was filling me in.

  “I wonder if Zoe’s seen it yet,” I said. Out of all of my friends, Zoe was definitely the most into fashion. She tuned in mostly to see what the girls were wearing, but like us, she couldn’t help getting sucked into the silly drama.

  “We’ll ask her at lunch,” Jessi said as we turned toward the double doors leading into the cafeteria.

  Zoe was standing there, waiting for us.

  “Hey, guys,” she said with her usual shy smile. “So, um, I just wanted to let you know that today I’m going to sit with Grace and Anjali.”

  Grace and Anjali were Kicks too, but in the winter league they were on the Gators with Zoe.

  “Gonna talk strategy for Saturday’s game, huh?” Jessi teased her.

  Zoe’s eyes darted nervously around the hallway, not making eye contact with either of us. “Um, maybe a little bit,” she said softly. “So, see you later?”

  Before we could answer her, she turned and jogged off into the cafeteria.

  Jessi looked at me and shrugged. “Pregame jitters?”

  I shrugged back. Zoe had been acting a little odd. “I guess.”

  As we walked into the cafeteria, Emma waved at us from the table she was sitting at that was filled with members of the Tree Huggers, Kentville Middle School’s environmental club.

  We waved back and kept walking, looking for a table in the crowded cafeteria. Then we heard Frida’s voice booming out from another table. “And then I told him he was blocking my light!” she said as her drama club friends laughed loudly.

  Most days Jessi, Emma, Frida, Zoe, and I all sat together at lunch, but sometimes we split up. Today was one of those days.

  “Devin!” I heard a voice yell my name. I looked up and spotted Steven at a corner table, waving me over. He was sitting with Cody.

  “Hey,” I said as I slipped off my backpack and sat next to Steven. Jessi sat across from me. I pulled my lunch out of my backpack. Jessi was doing the same.

  “So, how’s the pizza today?” I asked. Both of the boys had cafeteria trays in front of them with half-eaten slices.

  “Just like my mamma makes,” Cody said in a really corny, fake Italian accent. Steven and I cracked up, but I noticed Jessi was frowning, lost in thought.

  “Jessi, what’s up?” I asked, worried. She loved Cody’s silly jokes, so for her not to have a reaction was weird.

  She let out a sigh. “Should we be strategizing too? Zoe is, and so are Grace and Anjali. The game is in two days. I want to win!”

  “Are you playing the Gators on Saturday?” Steven asked.

  I nodded. “Yes, and if we beat the Gators, we’ll be guaranteed a spot in the semifinals. If we lose, we still get another chance. But why leave things to chance? We need to win!”

  “You’ll win,” Steven said confidently. He always complimented me on my soccer skills. Now it was my turn to feel my cheeks blush.

  “But what if you don’t?” Cody asked. Jessi shot him an angry look. He held his hands up in the air. “Aren’t the Gators good too? It could be anyone’s game.”

  Cody was right. The Gators were good. “Yeah, our record is pretty solid, but we had a loss to the Gazelles early on. If we lose against the Gators, the only other chance we’ll have to make the semifinals will be our last regular season game against the Giraffes,” I explained.

  “Zoe is talking strategy right now, and her coach called an extra practice,” Jessi said. She sounded stressed. “Demolition Darby needs to kick it into high gear!”

  Jessi had nicknamed Coach Darby, the Griffons coach, Demolition Darby. Coach had a strict, no-nonsense approach to coaching. At first that had been hard for me to get used to. But I had been learning a lot from her about how to be more assertive on the field.

  My thoughts drifted back to Zoe. She had definitely been acting weird around me and Jessi, and it was probably because she really wanted to beat us! And because we were friends, she felt uncomfortable about it. I wanted to win as much as Zoe did. But one of us was going to have to lose.

  I sighed. “This is too strange, wanting to totally destroy your good friend’s team!”

  Cody shrugged. “That’s soccer. It’s a small world, at least around here. You get to know most of the players. We’re playing against some of our Kangaroos on Sunday too.”

  “And after we slaughter them, we’ll be moving to the semifinals!” Steven joked. He didn’t look worried at all to be playing against his friends, and neither did Cody.

  Jessi nodded. “I guess all we can do is focus on playing our best at Saturday’s game. That’s what the Gators are going to do. We can’t worry about anything else. This is soccer, and it’s how the game goes.”

  “Yeah, you’re right,” I agreed. I felt better as I began to eat my sandwich, grilled chicken with avocado that my mom had made for me.

  Just then Hailey, a new student at Kentville Middle School, stopped by our table. Jessi glanced over at me. I knew what she was thinking. When Hailey had first come to school, Steven had spent a lot of time showing her around. Time he normally would have spent with me. It had gotten pretty awkward, and I had even wondered if Steven and I were no longer friends. But once I’d worked up the courage to talk to him about it, everything had gotten straightened out. And now I was starting to get to know Hailey for myself. She was really nice.

  “Hi!” she said cheerfully. Hailey had curly brown hair and a big smile. “So,” she said, looking to me and Jessi. “I know the winter league is winding down. Tryouts are right around the corner for the spring Kicks soccer season. Do you have any pointers? I really want to make the team.”

  Jessi laughed. “Don’t worry. All you have to do is show up. Coach Flores is a total sweetie. She doesn’t say no to anyone who really wants to play.”

  I nodded in agreement. Our Kicks coach was the total opposite of our Griffons coach.

  “She wants to give everyone a chance,” I told Hailey. “But if you want, I’d be happy to kick the ball around with you before tryouts. We can go over some of the drills that Coach Flores likes to run.”

  Hailey nodded. “That would be great, Devin. Thanks! I really want to be one of the Kicks.”

  “We’d really like to have you on the Kicks too,” I said to Hailey, and I meant it. She seemed superfriendly and really excited to play soccer.

  Steven looked up at the clock. “Oh man! Emmet’s giving us another quiz today, right? I meant to study during lunch.”

  “I studied last night,” I told him. After the earthquake, I had failed one of Mr. Emmet’s World Civ quizzes, and I was not going to let that happen again! “We’ve got ten minutes left. I can help you.”

  “Thanks, Devin,” Steven said, giving me the sweetest smile, and my heart did a little flip-flop. For the next ten minutes I didn’t think about soccer at all, just ancient trade routes and how when the sun hit Steven’s eyes, it looked like they were flecked with gold. Those ten minutes went really fast!

&
nbsp; “Faster! Faster! You’ll never be champions at this pace!”

  I furiously dribbled the ball down the field, zigzagging between the cones set up for practice. Even though I had my hair pulled back into a ponytail, sweat was starting to pour down my forehead and run into my eyes. I hated when that happened!

  A few hours before, I had worried that Coach Darby wasn’t making us work hard enough. But boy, was I wrong. She was in full Demolition Darby mode. We’d been drilling at a breakneck pace for almost an hour now.

  “Everybody drop where you are and give me twenty!” she called out, and we all fell to our knees as quickly as we could. My arms strained from the sixty push-ups we had already done today, but I gritted my teeth and did twenty more. I could hear a couple of the girls groaning, but I kept quiet. If Coach Darby even suspected you were weak, she would keep you on the bench. I had been benched by Darby before, and I was done with that. I wanted to play.

  “Eight laps around the track!” Darby barked, and some of the groans got louder. This was the hardest she’d ever pushed us.

  I jogged to the track, and one of my teammates, Katie, accidentally bumped into me from behind.

  “Sorry!” she said, and she was smiling. “Darby’s on fire today, right?”

  “Yeah,” I said, smiling back.

  “She’s burning up,” said Mirabelle, jogging up behind me. “But so are we!”

  She held up her hand, and we high-fived. Then the other girls started high-fiving one another as they jogged. Darby was being supertough, but nobody was giving in.

  I couldn’t believe it. When I’d first joined the Griffons, we’d had no team spirit. Everybody had been really competitive—it had been every player for herself. That was why we had lost our first game. Then Jessi and I had started doing some team building exercises, and once Coach Darby had seen that we played better as a result, she’d let us keep doing them.

  It had kind of felt like a miracle. After all, we were on a team with Mirabelle, who was a member of the Pinewood team, the Kicks’ biggest rival. We’d had some issues with Mirabelle before, but now she was someone I could call a friend. Not a close friend, but a friend.

 
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