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Under pressure, p.2

Under Pressure, page 2


Under Pressure

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  “Frida, we can tell something’s been upsetting you,” I said. “Do you feel like talking about it?”

  Frida looked at each of us, one by one, as if deciding if she could do it. “It’s not easy,” she said finally.

  “Frida, we are your friends till the end,” Emma said. “If you can’t talk to us, who can you talk to?”

  Frida nodded. “You’re right,” she said. Then she took a deep breath and began. “After Mall Mania came out, I was sure I was going to have casting directors knocking down my door, looking to hire me. But I haven’t booked a single job since then! I was, like, so close to being famous, and now I’m back to being a nobody!”

  Zoe raised an eyebrow. “You mean like the rest of us?”

  “Of course that’s not what I mean,” Frida replied. “You wouldn’t understand. It’s an actor thing. You’re only as good as your next job. But there is no job for me. I’m a has-been at thirteen!”

  “No way!” I cried. “Frida, you’re just beginning. Nobody becomes famous overnight.”

  “Of course they do,” she said. “Look at James Dean. Or Kim Kardashian.”

  Zoe rolled her eyes. “I’d rather not.”

  “I’m just saying, I had my fifteen minutes of fame, and I could have turned it into an hour, or a week, or a decade,” Frida said, her voice rising. “Instead I’m sliding backward into oblivion!”

  “Oblivion’s not so bad,” Jessi said, holding up her slice. “We have good pizza here.”

  Frida shook her head. “I knew you guys wouldn’t understand.”

  I felt so bad. This conversation wasn’t going the way it was supposed to.

  “We’ll try to understand, Frida, promise,” I said. “We’ll help you get through this. Maybe you’re just off your game. It happens to the best of us.”

  Frida sighed. “Maybe.”

  I frowned. The gears in my mind started spinning like they always do when one of my friends has a problem. We would have to find some way to help Frida. I hated seeing her so unhappy. And besides—we needed her head in the game when she played for the Kicks!

  Chapter Three

  We helped Jessi with her bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. By the time we finished, we had four bags and three boxes of stuff to give away. We moved the rest down to Jessi’s new room.

  “Stage two will be decorating,” Zoe said. “We’ll make this your dream room, I promise.”

  Jessi looked around at the boxes and bags, frowning. “Until then I guess I’m sleeping on the couch,” she said. “My bed doesn’t even fit in here!”

  “Make sure you get plenty of sleep before the pep rally on Monday,” I told her, and Jessi shook her head.

  “And Devin takes it back to soccer, as always!” she teased.

  As we’d been finishing, I had texted my mom to pick me up. Now my cell phone dinged, and I looked to see that she was outside.

  “Gotta go,” I said. “See you Monday!”

  When I got to the car, I saw Maisie in the backseat. She was eight years old and, for some reason, could bug me more than any other person on earth. I was relieved to see she was playing some kind of game on her tablet involving ladybugs. That meant she’d be quiet on the ride home.

  “How did it go?” Mom asked.

  “We got a lot done,” I reported as I strapped on my seat belt. “I feel sorry for Jessi, though. She’s got to totally rearrange her whole life for her new brother or sister.”

  I emphasized “sister” with a glance back at Maisie.

  Mom shook her head. “One day you’ll be so grateful that you have a sister, Devin. Trust me. I don’t know what I’d do without Aunt Amy, and she’s six years younger than I am. She used to drive me crazy too.”

  This was something I hadn’t thought about before. “Like how?”

  “Like, she was always taking my stuff without asking, and whenever we went on a car trip, she sang along to the radio with the loudest voice in the universe,” Mom said.

  I nodded. “That would drive me crazy.”

  “But now she’s one of the most important people in my life,” Mom said, and she quickly started to tear up a little. “I miss her so much, you know?”

  “I miss her too,” I said. “And Grandma and Grandpa.”

  Mom’s family had all lived pretty close to us when we’d lived in Connecticut. But my grandparents on my dad’s side lived in Florida. His brothers, Uncle Matt and Uncle Drew, lived far away too. One lived in Chicago, I think, and the other one was in Cleveland or something. So we hardly ever saw them.

  My mom and I were both quiet during the rest of the drive. I couldn’t stop thinking about Grandma and Grandpa, how Grandma always smelled like peppermints when I hugged her, and how Grandpa’s big laugh seemed to fill the room whenever I told him a silly joke when I was a little kid.

  So it was pretty awesome when I walked into the house and found Dad at the kitchen table on his laptop.

  “Here she is!” he was saying to the screen. “You can tell her the good news yourself.”

  “Who is it?” I asked, and Dad got up so I could take his place in the chair. There on the screen was Grandma! Her brown hair was cut cute and short, but I knew from pictures that she used to wear it long, just like me.

  “Noodles!” Grandma cried, using her nickname for me.

  “Hey, Grandma,” I said. “What’s the good news?”

  “Grandpa and I just bought our plane tickets!” she said. “We’re coming out to see you.”

  By now Maisie was trying to climb onto the chair with me. “I’m here too, Grandma! It’s Maisie!”

  “Maisie, chill!” I said. “I’ll make room for you, but you have to stop climbing all over me.”

  Grandma shook her head. “Just like your mother and your aunt Amy, you two.”

  “That’s what Mom just told me,” I said. “So when are you coming?”

  Grandma’s eyes twinkled. “That’s the best part, Noodles! We’ll be there in time to see your first Kicks game of the season. Isn’t that exciting?”

  “That is awesome!” I said. I loved the idea of Grandma and Grandpa cheering me in the stands. But then it hit me.

  “Um, can you do me a favor and maybe not call me Noodles when you’re here?” I asked.

  Grandma looked a little sad. “Oh, I understand. You’re not a little girl anymore, are you?”

  “Noodles! Noodles!” Maisie chanted.

  I rolled my eyes. “Was Aunt Amy really this bad?”

  “Your mother thought so,” Grandma said. “But Maisie’s not being bad. She’s just full of energy. Right, Maisie?”

  “Noodles!” Maisie replied.

  Mom tapped my shoulder. “Can I please talk to Grandma?”

  “Sure,” I told her. “Bye, Grandma. See you soon!”

  “Good-bye, my grown-up Devin. Good-bye, Maisie!” she said.

  Maisie and I got up from the chair, and Dad walked up to me.

  “Devin, can you wash your hands and help me make dinner?” he asked.

  “Sure,” I said. “What are we having?”

  “Whole wheat spaghetti with broccoli,” he replied.

  “Noodles!” Maisie cheered, and I groaned.

  I couldn’t wait to see Grandma, but I hoped she would leave my nickname back in Connecticut!

  Chapter Four

  On Monday morning I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my room, my cell phone in my hand. I was wearing my blue-and-white Kicks jersey, denim capris, and flip-flops—one white and one blue. My long, brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail with one of the blue-and-white sparkly scrunchies that Coach Flores had given to all the Kicks to wear today.

  I smiled and snapped a selfie. I texted the pic to Kara, my best friend in Connecticut, with the message, Pep rally 2day!

  Since there was a three-hour time difference between California and Connecticut, I didn’t know when she’d get a chance to reply, but it was something we did just about every day. When I’d woken up this morning, the
re’d been a text from Kara with a picture. She was wearing a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt with tiny hearts all over it, and boots. She wore her hair in a messy bun on the top of her head. She was making an exaggerated sad face, her lips pulled down into an oversize frown. Overslept!

  I’d laughed out loud when I’d seen it. Kara had a hard time waking up every morning. She was always barely making it to the bus on time, which drove her mom crazy. Yet she still found the time to text me!

  Sitting in class that morning was tough. I was a good student, and it was usually easy for me to concentrate, but I found myself tapping my foot impatiently a few times. I was just too excited for the pep rally that afternoon. It was being held to kick off the beginning of the spring soccer season. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams would be celebrated today.

  • • •

  When Jessi, Zoe, Emma, Frida, and I finally walked into the gym that afternoon with the rest of our team, I felt myself getting even more pumped up. A bunch of blue and white balloons floated above the podium on the gym floor. And a big banner hung from the basketball backboard. It had a picture of a kangaroo on it kicking a soccer ball, and the words, “Go, Kangaroos!” It looked like it had been recycled from the pep rally that had been held for us last fall when we’d made it to the championships. It’s hard to describe the feeling of having all your classmates and teachers come out to support you. But I can tell you this: It’s pretty awesome!

  “Wow!” Emma said, her eyes wide. “I’ll never get used to this. It looks like the entire school is here to cheer us on again.”

  “The entire school is here. It’s a school-wide assembly,” Zoe said as we watched sixth graders, seventh graders, and eighth graders fill the bleachers. Since Zoe’s pixie hairstyle was too short for a ponytail, she wore her blue-and-white Kicks scrunchie on her wrist.

  “An adoring crowd. I love it!” Frida said, finally sounding more like herself.

  “It’s good to see you feeling better,” Jessi remarked. “See, I told you it wasn’t so bad being part of the oblivion.”

  Frida shook her head. “I tried to explain it to you, but that is a fate worse than death, Jessi,” she said in her usual over-the-top way. “No, what’s got me feeling better is that my mom texted right before the pep rally. I have an audition after school today. And I think it’s going to go really well.”

  “You’ll do great, Frida. After all, you’re the most talented actor I know,” Emma said, upbeat and positive like always.

  “I’m also the only actor you know,” Frida reminded her, and we all laughed.

  As we lined up next to Coach Flores, I saw the boys’ team lining up too. They stood next to their coach, Coach Valentine. Our friends Steven and Cody were there, and Steven gave me a wave and a smile. I waved back, and I heard Jessi yelling, “Cody!” He looked up and grinned.

  “Jessi!” he yelled back.

  Jessi and I liked hanging out with them. To be clear, I liked hanging out with Steven, and Jessi liked hanging out with Cody, and we all liked hanging out together. I wasn’t allowed to date yet, but if I could have, Steven would have been a contender. He was supercute and very nice, and he loved soccer just as much as I did.

  Before I could think more about how cute Steven’s smile was, a drumbeat echoed through the gymnasium. The marching band paraded into the gym, playing an upbeat tune. The cheerleaders, dressed in blue and white, waved their pom-poms from the sidelines and danced.

  When the song was over and the applause had finished, Principal Gallegos got in front of the crowd, holding a microphone. He always wore a suit. Today he wore it with a white shirt and blue tie—school and Kicks colors. This pep rally was just as impressive as the one they’d held before the state championship! I got the feeling that the school was expecting big things from us this season.

  “Good afternoon!” Principal Gallegos’s loud voice boomed out across the gymnasium. He didn’t even need a microphone. “We’re here to start off the spring soccer season with some Kentville spirit! Our boys’ team will be a force to be reckoned with. Let’s give it up for Coach Valentine and the Kangaroos!”

  “Coach! Coach! Coach!” the boys chanted as Coach Valentine waved to the crowd. His team loved him, but he was tough. When he had subbed for Coach Flores last season, my arms had ached from all the push-ups he’d made us do. My legs hadn’t felt much better from all the laps we’d had to run either.

  After Principal Gallegos introduced the captains of the boys’ team, the cheerleaders did a dance routine, complete with jumps, flips, and lifts, to a high-energy pop song. The kids in the bleachers went crazy, cheering and stomping. The sound echoed through the gym.

  I guess I’m not the only one pumped up today! I thought. Even if you didn’t like soccer (although that was hard for me to imagine!), most kids liked being at a pep rally better than sitting in math class.

  “Now,” the principal said after the applause had finally quieted down, “I’d like to introduce our girls’ Kangaroos soccer team, or as we like to call them, the Kicks. They are returning to the field this season after playing in the state championship tournament. To ensure that they have everything they need to succeed this spring, Sally Lane of Lane’s Sporting Goods will be donating even more new equipment to help them reach their goals. Ms. Lane, please stand up.”

  A tall, blond woman rose from her seat in the first row of the bleachers.

  “Let’s give Ms. Lane a round of applause!” Principal Gallegos said. Everyone clapped enthusiastically, and Ms. Lane smiled.

  “This is crazy!” Jessi had to shout above all the noise. “Just think of what we started with last season. Soon our field will be better than the boys’!”

  When I had first joined the Kicks, the team had been practicing on a shabby field with two bright orange trash cans for the goalposts. It was totally lame, and it had been hard not to get upset about it, especially since the boys’ team had a much nicer field with top-notch equipment. After the Kicks had started winning, Sally Lane had donated real goalposts. To think she was going to donate even more equipment made me really happy. I wasn’t the only one. Coach Flores had the biggest smile I had ever seen on her face. Grace and Anjali high-fived, Sarah and Anna hugged each other, and the rest of the team was screaming their heads off in excitement and jumping up and down.

  “Now, this doesn’t come without a price,” Principal Gallegos said. “We are hoping that the Kicks will add the state championship trophy to the Kentville Middle School’s trophy case.”

  State championship? Principal Gallegos sure wanted us to aim high. I was in total agreement with him. I wanted to be a part of bringing that honor to Kentville.

  “Let’s meet the Kicks soccer team captains who will carry us to victory,” Principal Gallegos continued. “Grace Kirkland and Devin Burke, come forward.”

  As Grace and I stood next to Principal Gallegos, the cheers and applause continued. I could hear hoots and hollers coming from the stands. The entire school had been rooting for us when we’d gone to the state championships. In fact, the entire town had shown their support. It had been a really big deal. I couldn’t help but notice that we got even more cheers than the boys’ captains had.

  At first I felt pretty great, standing up there and getting all that applause. But then I began to feel the pressure. All those faces looking at us, expecting us to do well. Not just do well but be the best in the state! Principal Gallegos and Ms. Lane were beaming at us as they clapped. Principal Gallegos had basically said we owed it to Ms. Lane to win the state championships. When we’d lost the last time, I had taken it hard. We had tried our best and given it our all. Everyone had been amazed at how far we had come. But back then no one had expected anything from the Kicks. Before I had joined the team, they had won only one game the year before. And that was because the other team had forfeited! Now everyone was talking about winning state.

  Blue and white confetti started to fall around me and Grace. The band began playing again. As I stood there, the but
terflies in my stomach began banging their own drums in time to the music. Could the Kicks repeat the magic we’d had in the fall? And if we didn’t, would we let everyone down?

  Chapter Five

  At lunch the next day Jessi, Emma, Zoe, Frida, and I all sat together at the same table. It was another reason why I was excited that we were all back on the Kicks. During the winter Frida had been away making her TV movie. Emma, who hadn’t made a winter league team, had joined the school’s environmental club, the Tree Huggers, and she would eat lunch with them some days. Jessi and I had been on the Griffons, but Zoe and some of the other Kicks, like my co-captain, Grace, had been on the Gators. The Gators had eaten lunch together in order to strategize. It had been awkward, to say the least.

  But that was behind us. Now I could focus on playing soccer (and eating lunch!) with my best friends again.

  As Jessi unpacked her lunch from her bag, I heard her singing softly under her breath.

  “You are my sunshine—woof, woof—my only sunshine—woof, woof. You make my tail wag—woof, woof—when skies are gray,” she sang.

  Emma giggled and pointed at Jessi. Zoe and Frida looked at Jessi and started cracking up.

  “Jessi, were you watching The Sunshine Puppies?” I asked teasingly.

  “It makes her tail wag!” Emma laughed.

  “Woof, woof!” Zoe and Frida barked at the same time, which had us all hysterically laughing, even Jessi.

  “I couldn’t help it,” Jessi admitted once we had all calmed down. “After you guys left on Saturday, I was feeling really sorry for myself. And the DVD was just sitting there, staring at me.”

  “Hypnotizing you,” Frida joked. Then she put on a monotone voice. “You are getting sleepy. You must watch me.”

  “So I just popped it in,” Jessi continued, ignoring Frida. “And you know what? It made me feel better. I’m not gonna lie.”

  I got that. Sometimes when Maisie was watching her silly kids’ shows, I would sit on the couch and pretend to be busy on my phone, but I would secretly be watching too. I wasn’t going to admit that to everyone, though.

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