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Under pressure, p.3

Under Pressure, page 3


Under Pressure

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  “It’s okay, Jessi,” I said instead. “It’s good practice to get used to those shows again for when the baby comes.”

  As soon as the word “baby” came out of my mouth, I realized the mistake I had made. Jessi’s eyes narrowed as she looked at me.

  “Oops, sorry, I meant ‘the B word’!” I said. “Don’t be mad, Jessi. After all, you are my sunshine!”

  We all laughed so loudly that kids sitting at the tables around us got quiet and stared at us.

  “I’m not ashamed,” Jessi called out to them. “I love The Sunshine Puppies!”

  That did it. Emma spurted a mouthful of water onto the table, she was laughing so hard, which of course just set us off even further.

  After we finally calmed down again and cleaned up the water, the talk turned to the pep rally the day before.

  “Now I know what you must have felt like on the red carpet for your movie premiere, Frida,” Emma said, and beamed. “It was like we were rock stars or something.”

  Jessi nodded in agreement. “So many kids were coming up to me afterward to wish me good luck for the season. Even Trey Bishop!”

  We all gasped at that. The Kicks had performed a lot better than the boys’ team last fall. Some of the boys, like Steven and Cody, had been disappointed that they hadn’t made it further but had been happy for us. Trey, an eighth grader, had been nasty to the Kicks, especially me. But the other eighth graders on the Kicks had stuck up for me, and Trey had backed down.

  “What happened to him?” I wondered.

  “Was he being sarcastic?” Zoe asked.

  Jessi shrugged. “He seemed real, but we’ll see. If the Kicks go further than the boys again, that will be the real test.”

  “Frida!” Emma said suddenly, like she had just remembered something. “You need to tell us about your audition. What was it for? How did it go?”

  Frida smiled. “I’m pretty sure I nailed it. It was for a fruit snack commercial. They seemed to really like me.”

  “I’m sure you got it, Frida,” Emma said enthusiastically. “You’re the best!”

  “If I could land something, anything, at this point, it would give my confidence a big boost,” Frida shared. “Otherwise I have to rethink my entire existence on this planet!”

  Jessi and I exchanged smiles. It was good to see Frida back to being her old, dramatic self.

  I started munching on the sandwich my mom had made for me: turkey with cucumber and hummus on a whole wheat pita, with some carrot sticks and a yogurt on the side. Sometimes I complained about my mom being so strict about soda, candy, and cookies, but really I was glad. As an athlete, it was important for me to eat healthfully. Besides, I still got to have treats, like at Jessi’s house the other day. My friends and I also loved going out, especially after games and practices, for burritos, frozen yogurt, and other fun foods.

  “How far have you gotten in the reading assignment?” Jessi asked me. We were in the same English class together.

  Before I could answer her, Frida gave a strangled cry. I looked up, alarmed. We all knew Frida liked to be dramatic, but this sounded different from anything I had ever heard from her.

  “Are you okay?” I asked. Frida was staring at her phone. All the color had drained from her face.

  “I didn’t get the part,” she said softly and slowly at first. Then she yelled, “I didn’t get it!”

  Her shock and hurt were evident. This wasn’t Frida acting. She was really, really upset.

  Emma got up and ran around the table to put her arms around Frida. “It’s okay,” she said soothingly. “You’ll get the next one.”

  Frida pushed Emma away. “You don’t understand!” she wailed. “Nobody wants me. I’ve tried and tried. If I can’t land a part right after starring in Mall Mania, it’s over. Over!”

  Tears began streaming down Frida’s face. She stood up, grabbed her things, and ran out of the cafeteria before we could say anything else.

  “Oh no! Poor Frida!” Emma cried. She looked almost as upset as Frida had been.

  “Emma and I are done eating, so we’ll go after her,” Zoe said. She stood up and began hurriedly packing up her stuff as Emma did the same. “We’ll bring her back.”

  They hurried out of the cafeteria. I put down my sandwich. Seeing Frida so upset had made me lose my appetite.

  Jessi, on the other hand, continued to eat her wrap. “I don’t understand,” she said between bites, “why anyone would want to be in show business. It’s so competitive.”

  I thought about that. “I guess, but soccer is too. After all, we had to try out for the winter league. Not everyone made it.”

  Jessi nodded. “That’s true. I guess if you really want something, and you don’t get it, it’s going to hurt, no matter what it is.”

  Emma and Zoe returned to the table, but Frida wasn’t with them.

  “Frida went to the nurse’s office,” Zoe explained. “She didn’t want to talk to us. She just wants to go home.”

  “She looked so upset, and she couldn’t stop crying,” Emma said. She frowned. “I hate seeing her like that. Frida is usually so confident.”

  “I’m worried about her too,” I added. “The pressure is really getting to her!”

  “I wish there was something we could say to make her feel better.” Jessi shook her head sadly. “But everything we say seems to be the wrong thing and just makes her more upset.”

  “There must be some way to help her,” Zoe pleaded. “There’s got to be something we can do.”

  Emma sighed. “It’s too bad we don’t know any other actors who have been through rejection. If Frida had someone she could talk to about this, someone who has been through the same thing and could understand how she is feeling, it might help.”

  “Hmmmm.” Jessi tapped her finger on her chin. She looked lost in thought. “Emma, that gave me an idea. I’ll have to look into it some more. But it might be exactly what Frida needs to get over this!”

  Chapter Six

  Frida was quiet for the next two days. She seemed embarrassed about freaking out during lunch, and we all got the vibe that she didn’t want to talk about it—so we didn’t.

  I was glad to see her at Thursday’s Kicks practice, though. We were having a scrimmage against the Pinewood Panthers, the team from the fancy private school a few towns away. They’d never had to train in a field with garbage can goalposts, and their players were all fiercely competitive.

  We all got into our Kicks uniforms in the school locker room and then walked to the Kicks field for the scrimmage.

  “Gather round!” Coach Flores said. We all ran to form a circle around her. “After this season is over, Sally Lane has agreed to pay for resodding our entire field!”

  The Kicks cheered.

  “No more kicking up dust when we play,” Jessi said next to me.

  “Or tripping over rocks,” Emma added.

  “That Sally Lane is like a soccer genie or something,” I said. “I can’t wait to get on that field and play!”

  “Let’s warm up, team!” Coach Flores called out. “Twice around the field!”

  I started jogging, and Jessi ran alongside me. As we finished our first lap, a gleaming white bus pulled up to the parking lot. The word “Panthers” was written in script in purple and gold along the side.

  “Looks like the Panthers are here,” Jessi said.

  The bus parked, and as we watched the doors open, I literally gasped. A woman with spiky blond hair stepped off the bus. She wore purple sweatpants and a gold Panthers jersey, and had a whistle around her neck.

  “Coach Darby!” Jessi and I said at the same time.

  Our winter-season coach was now coaching the Panthers! I started to feel the butterflies in my stomach. Coach Darby was strict and tough, and demanded excellence from her players. Her fierce coaching, combined with the aggressive Panthers players, was going to be tough to beat.

  Then the Panthers marched off the bus, like soldiers marching in the army. They we
re doing a version of our chant.

  “I don’t know but I’ve been told!

  “Panthers are gonna get the gold.

  “We can’t be stopped, we can’t be beat!

  “Because we’ve all got magic feet!”

  Coach Darby blew her whistle. “All right, girls, let’s see you warm up in unison!” she yelled, and the players started jogging around the field in single file.

  I knew the girl at the very end of the line, the one with the long, black braids. Mirabelle had started out on the Kicks, and then transferred to Pinewood. We had started out as total enemies, but we had become friends when we’d ended up on the Griffons together in the winter league.

  Jessi and I slowed down our jog to talk to her.

  “Hey, Mirabelle,” I said. “Coach Darby’s with the Panthers? That must be interesting.”

  Mirabelle nodded. “It’ll be interesting when we wipe the field with you losers,” she said.

  Jessi and I looked at each other.

  “Seriously?” Jessi asked. “I understand that we’re competing, but I thought we were cool.”

  “We’re not cool,” Mirabelle said. “I’ve got to get another scholarship next year, and I can’t lose focus.”

  “You can stay focused and still be nice,” I said.

  “Maybe you can,” Mirabelle replied. “Not me. Let’s see how that works for you today.”

  Jessi and I shook our heads and jogged away.

  “Wow, I really thought she had changed,” I said.

  “My dad always says that a leopard never changes its spots,” Jessi replied. “Now I know what he means.”

  When we returned to our side of the field, Grace was getting the players into a circle.

  “First lucky sock swap of the spring!” she called out.

  Jessi and I joined the circle and sat down on the grass. The Kicks had started the tradition in the fall, and it always raised our spirits before a game. We each took off one sock (Coach Flores let us wear socks with any pattern we wanted) and passed it to the teammate on our left. That way, on the field, none of us wore matching socks.

  Jessi was sitting to my left, and she passed me a sock with rainbow polka dots on it. It looked pretty cool along with my other sock, neon pink with black zebra stripes. Ever since we’d been doing the sock swap, my mom had been on the lookout for fun socks I could wear.

  When we’d finished swapping, we jumped up and each put a hand into the center of the circle.

  “Goooooo, Kicks!” we cheered.

  “Okay, girls!” Coach Flores said. “This is just a scrimmage, so don’t get too stressed out. Just do your best, like I know you can. Zarine, you’re starting on goal. Let’s see Sarah, Anjali, Jade, and Frida on defense. Jessi, Taylor, Maya, you’re my midfield. Devin, Hailey, Grace, I want you on forward.”

  I nodded, excited to be starting the game. I looked up into the stands. They had quickly filled with Kicks fans—parents, brothers and sisters, and Kentville students. I saw Mom and Dad with Maisie, and waved.

  The Kicks starters jogged onto the field and took our positions. Grace faced off against one of the Panthers’ forwards, the ref blew his whistle, and the game began.

  The Panthers player got control of the ball and quickly sent a long pass lobbing down the field to another Panther. Jessi intercepted it and zoomed toward the Panthers’ side of the field. A Panthers midfielder raced in front of Jessi and kicked the ball away from her. I watched Jessi bump into her, lose her footing, and fall hard. It looked like she might be injured.

  The ref’s whistle shrieked for a time-out. Jessi jumped up.

  “I’m fine!” she called out. The ref nodded, and the game continued, with the Panthers in control of the ball.

  As I watched the Panthers player move toward our defenders, I heard yelling coming from the stands.

  “Are you blind?”

  “That was a foul!”

  “No fair!”

  I glanced back at the stands. It was hard to tell who was yelling, but it sounded like Kicks parents—which was weird, because Kicks parents were not normally the yelling kind.

  I saw Zarine glance at the stands too, distracted by the yelling. And that was when a Panthers player sent the ball whizzing past her into the goal.

  Cheers erupted from the Panthers side of the field. On the Kicks side I actually heard boos!

  “Okay, don’t worry, girls!” Coach Flores called. “Just keep your eyes on the ball!”

  So that was exactly what I did. Grace got control of the ball. She passed it to me, and I drove it toward the goal. I saw Hailey open, so I passed it to her. She raced up really close to the goal and then lobbed it high, over the goalie’s head.

  The ref’s whistle blew for our goal, and I high-fived Hailey as we hustled back to our positions.

  Fifteen minutes into the game, we were still tied with Pinewood. Coach Flores took out me and Hailey and replaced us with Megan and Brianna. I watched as Mirabelle made two goals, back to back. At the half it was Pinewood 3, Kicks 1.

  During our halftime break we heard more yelling from some of the Kicks parents.

  “Give it your all!”

  “Send them packing!”

  I glanced into the stands, trying to figure out who was doing all the yelling. I knew for sure it wasn’t my parents. Coach Flores saw me looking.

  “Just drown it out,” she told me. “I’m going to have a talk with some people after the game. They just don’t realize how distracting it is. Not to mention poor sportsmanship.”

  We all nodded. Coach Flores put Hailey and me back in for the second half. Hailey scored again right away, which was great, but I was itching to kick that ball into the net.

  I got a chance about ten minutes into the half. One of the Panthers tried to pass the ball to a teammate, but I intercepted it. I raced down the field, heart pounding. The goalie was ready for me, but I sent the ball skidding across the grass so low that it was a white blur against the green.


  Hailey and I had evened things up. But the Panthers quickly scored another goal. Panthers 4, Kicks 3.

  Coach Flores benched us again, and I watched as the Panthers scored two more times during the second half. Megan scored one more goal for the Kicks, but it wasn’t enough.

  The game-ending whistle blew, and the Panthers let out a cheer. We lined up and walked across the field and slapped their hands, one by one. When I got to Mirabelle, she was grinning widely.

  “Good job,” she said when I slapped her hand. “But not good enough.”

  That stung, and I didn’t say anything. When I got to the end of the line, I looked around to find Jessi, to tell her what Mirabelle had said. To my surprise (although I didn’t gasp this time), I saw her talking to Coach Darby!

  I wanted to wait and ask her what she was doing, but Mom, Dad, and Maisie walked out onto the field.

  “Good job, Devin,” Mom said.

  “Yeah, but not good enough,” I mumbled, repeating Mirabelle’s words.

  “Don’t worry. It’s only a scrimmage,” Maisie said. “It doesn’t count.”

  That didn’t make me feel much better. Yes, it was only a scrimmage. But the loss felt like a big letdown after the pep rally. The school had high hopes for us. My grandparents were coming out to see us play our first game—which also happened to be against Pinewood.

  The pressure was on!

  Chapter Seven

  “Earth to Devin!”

  Emma roused me from my worried thoughts by tapping me on the shoulder.

  I jumped a little.

  “I’ve been calling you,” she said. “We’re going to that new burger place, remember? My mom’s driving us.”

  She nodded toward the parking lot, where Mrs. Kim waved from in front of her red minivan. Frida, Zoe, and Jessi were standing next to her.

  “Oh yeah, right!” I said, remembering. Usually after a game some or all of the Kicks went out to eat together. Grace had suggested we do it after the scr
immage today.

  “Tell your mom thank you for driving,” my mom said to Emma as she handed me some cash. “See you back home, Devin.”

  “Thanks!” I said, and Emma and I ran to join the others.

  “Good scrimmage today,” Mrs. Kim said as we all climbed in. “You all played very well. I wish I could say the same about some of those people in the stands. So aggressive!”

  “Yeah, it was really distracting on the field,” I agreed from my seat behind her and Emma.

  “Did you notice who was doing it?” Jessi asked.

  Mrs. Kim shook her head. “Some parents I didn’t recognize started it, and then others joined in. Megan’s father has such a loud voice! Adults should know better than to behave that way.”

  “Coach Flores said she was going to talk to parents about it,” Emma informed her, and Mrs. Kim nodded.


  She pulled into the parking lot of Bob’s Burger Barn.

  “I’ll pick you up in one hour. Have a good time,” she told us.

  We all thanked her and headed inside. Most of the other Kicks were in line already, waiting to order their food. Everyone was talking about the game. Grace and Megan were on either side of Hailey.

  “Great game today,” Grace congratulated her.

  “Yeah, we’re really lucky you joined the team,” Megan said.

  Hailey smiled. “Thanks! I’m glad I joined too.” She spotted me and nodded her head toward me. “Devin and Jessi really convinced me to do it.”

  “Well, I’m glad they did,” Grace said. “You’re our secret weapon.”

  I felt a little twinge of something . . . not jealousy, exactly. (I had already been through that with Hailey, when I’d thought Steven liked her and didn’t like me anymore.) No, it was more of a competitive feeling. I wanted to be the secret weapon. I wanted to be the best player on the Kicks.

  “May I take your order?” asked the girl behind the counter, wearing a red-and-white checkered cap.

  I looked at the menu and ordered one Barn Buster (barbecue sauce and bacon), with a country lemonade. Within a few minutes we all held trays of food and drinks. Jessi, Emma, Frida, Zoe, and I found a table together and sat down.

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