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Under pressure, p.4

Under Pressure, page 4


Under Pressure

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  “That was one stressful game,” Jessi said, taking a bite of her burger.

  “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” I said. “I mean, the school is expecting us to win. The parents in the stands were putting more pressure on us. And my grandparents are coming to the first game!”

  Emma looked puzzled. “Do they like to yell out things at games?”

  I shook my head. “No, but I want them to see me win a game. They’re coming all the way across the country! It would stink to lose.”

  Everyone nodded sympathetically.

  “Well, I feel anxious about the new you-know-what coming,” Jessi said. “I still haven’t finished my new room. And those couch cushions are not comfortable!”

  “We could help you again on Saturday,” Zoe suggested.

  “Actually, I had another plan for us on Saturday,” Jessi said. “But it all depends if Frida is available. Do you have any auditions, Frida?”

  “No,” Frida said, a dark look coming across her face. “Talk about pressure. I can’t even get any auditions!”

  “All this talk about pressure is making me feel pressured,” Emma said. “But you’re right, Devin. Everyone is expecting us to win this season. I hope we don’t let them down!”

  “Listen, if we do our best, that’s all we can do,” Zoe said.

  “So you’re not feeling stressed too?” I asked her.

  Zoe shook her head. “Compared to planning my bat mitzvah, this is nothing,” she said.

  “That was such a fun party!” Emma said. “We need to look at those pictures again. Maybe we can do that on Saturday.”

  “I told you, I’m planning something,” Jessi said.

  I turned to face her. “Okay, you’re being very mysterious right now. What’s up?”

  “I want it to be a surprise,” Jessi said. “Just trust me, okay?”

  Zoe shrugged. “I trust you.”

  “Me too,” said Emma.

  “This better not be one of those let’s-cheer-up-Frida things,” Frida said, frowning. “I am not in the mood for balloons and clowns and ice cream.”

  Jessi traced an X across her heart. “I promise. There will be no balloons, or clowns, or ice cream. Although, I don’t see what you have against ice cream. That’s just wrong.”

  Frida actually smiled a little, and that was when I realized that I should trust Jessi too.

  “All right,” I said. “What time do you think it’s going to be?”

  “Why, do you have other plans?” Jessi asked.

  “Actually, I do,” I answered. “If I’m going to deal with all this pressure, I’ve got to push myself to be in top form. I want to get in some extra training.”

  “That sounds like the exact opposite of what you should do,” Emma pointed out.

  “This is Devin we’re talking about,” Jessi said. “If she’s not pushing herself, she’s not happy.”

  “That’s not true,” I said. “Other things make me happy.”

  “This Barn Buster burger is making me happy,” Emma said.

  I hadn’t even had a bite of mine yet. I took one, and it was delicious.

  “This is really good,” I agreed.

  For now I would have to settle for burger happiness. Tomorrow, I vowed, I would start training harder.

  Because even though I hadn’t admitted it, I knew Jessi was right! I wasn’t happy unless I was pushing myself.

  Chapter Eight

  When the alarm went off on my phone the next morning, I groaned and pulled the blankets over my head. I allowed myself one quick moment to feel sorry for myself, then threw the blankets off and sprang out of bed. It was only five thirty, but if I wanted to fit in some extra training time before school, this was what I had to do.

  Coach Darby used to say to us when I was on the Griffons, “Somewhere in the world, someone is training when you are not. When you face her on the field, she will win.” Now that Coach Darby was the coach for Pinewood, I knew that Mirabelle was getting that same advice. I imagined her getting up early to train too. Maybe she had gotten up even earlier than I had! The drowsiness faded as I hurriedly pulled on my favorite pair of running pants, a sleek, black pair with a bright pink stripe down each side. I thought of them as my racing stripes. I knew it was probably all in my head, but I felt like they made me run faster.

  The house was quiet and still. The rest of my family was sleeping as I threw on a tank, pulled my hair back, and started stretching. I put on a Windbreaker and then was out the door. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so it was still dark.

  My mom used to never let me run before the sun was up. “You could get hit by a car. It’s just too dangerous,” she would say, even though I begged and pleaded.

  Finally she relented after I talked her into buying me a special Windbreaker for joggers. It reflected the light from car headlights, making it way easier for drivers to spot me. Not that there were many cars out this early in the morning. But that’s how moms are. They worry.

  The other part of the deal for being able to run in the early morning was that I had to keep within a couple blocks of our house, which got boring fast. I was running in circles, passing the same old houses over and over again.

  But listening to my inspirational, fast-paced running playlist got me into the groove. As my feet hit the pavement in time to the music, I imagined every step making me faster on the field. To keep the routine exciting, I added some fast sprints every few minutes. I’d jog at my normal pace, then take off racing like a cheetah for a minute or so, before slowing down again. I repeated this throughout my run. Soon the sweat was pouring down my face and the Windbreaker started to feel too hot, but I left it on for safety. And because if my mom caught me running without it, I’d be in big trouble!

  As I wiped the sweat off my face, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Pinewood had beaten us at that scrimmage. I knew it hadn’t been a game, but a win would have gone a long way toward boosting our confidence.

  “A strong start leads to a strong finish,” Coach Valentine, the boys’ coach, had said to us when he’d been filling in for Coach Flores.

  Losing to Pinewood in the scrimmage was a weak start, but I decided it didn’t count. The official start to the season would be our first game. We’d just have to win in order to set the tone that would carry us to the state championships. I felt the nerves begin to build up in me, thinking of how everyone would be there watching. My grandparents were flying across the country to see me. What if I totally blew it?

  I shook my head to clear those negative thoughts. Relax, I told myself. That’s why you’re doing this extra training. To be the best you can be.

  Then I thought of something Coach Flores always said to all of us Kicks: “Have fun and do your best. I’m so proud of you!”

  It made me smile as I turned the corner and jogged back to my house. Coach Flores was so sweet. When I had first joined the Kicks, she hadn’t wanted to push her players at all, and the team had suffered because of it. When Coach had realized that we wanted to win, she’d figured out how to combine her emphasis on fun and fairness with solid coaching skills. It had worked, and the Kicks had started to succeed.

  As I walked up the steps to our house, I grabbed the morning newspaper, the Kentville Chronicle, on the way inside. There was some stuff on the front page about a big election, but a small picture in the top corner caught my eye. I’d recognize that blue-and-white uniform anywhere. It was my Kicks co-captain, Grace, leaping into the air as her head made contact with the soccer ball. Underneath the picture, it said, Can the Kicks Do It Again? Page C1.

  When I walked into the house, I could smell coffee brewing in the kitchen, so I knew my dad must have been up. But I couldn’t wait to walk even the few feet into the kitchen. I stood in the hall and opened the newspaper, pages falling to my feet as I did so.

  On the front of the sports section was the photo of Grace, taken at practice last fall. I eagerly read the article underneath:

  The middle school spring soccer se
ason is starting, and everyone is wondering if the Kentville Kangaroos will “Kick” their way to the state championships. The Kicks made it into their first play-off season since 1996 this past fall. The success of the team is attributed to a combination of new coaching techniques by Coach Maria Luisa Flores, a member of the Kangaroos when they were two-time state champs in 1991 and 1992, and a talented roster of athletes.

  “We’re having fun, but my girls are serious competitors at the same time,” Flores said. “I’m very proud of how well they did.”

  As for the team’s chances of becoming state champs, Flores had this to say: “Anything is possible with a group of girls as talented as this. More important to me is that they learn a lot about themselves, what they’re capable of, and what it means to be part of a team.”

  Sally Lane of Lane’s Sporting Goods is one Kentville resident expecting big things from the Kicks. In fact, she has donated new equipment to the team, and will be paying for the resodding of their field after this season is over.

  “A team of champions needs a field worthy of them,” Lane said. “Lane’s Sporting Goods is proud to be a sponsor of the Kicks. I’d be surprised if we got anything less than a spectacular season from this group of players.”

  “Let’s just say that I’ve been dusting the trophy case that has the 1991 and 1992 state champion trophies in them,” Kentville Middle School Principal Santiago Gallegos joked. “I have a feeling we’ll be adding another one soon.”

  The first game of the season will take place at noon on March 23 at Pinewood Preparatory School in Pinewood. Admission is free.

  “Come on out and cheer our girls on,” Principal Gallegos said. “Wear blue and white. Let’s show Pinewood that Kentville supports our team and bathe the stands with blue and white. We want this to be the biggest turnout for a non-home game in Kentville middle school soccer history!”

  The relaxed feeling I’d had after my run immediately disappeared. I felt the butterflies in my stomach begin tumbling and turning, as if they were in a snow globe someone was shaking really, really hard. The pressure felt even more intense now.

  But was I the only one who felt it?

  At school practically everybody was buzzing about the article.

  “We’re famous!” Jessi said gleefully at lunch. She turned toward the table where Grace sat with some of the other eighth-grade players. “Grace! Can I get your autograph?” she yelled.

  Grace laughed and waved. Everyone seemed really pumped up about the article. I totally got it, and I thought it was awesome how everyone believed in us. Except, I couldn’t help feeling that it put too much of a burden on the Kicks. But no one else seemed to be thinking like that.

  I didn’t want to be a downer by saying anything. Instead I bottled it up and decided to put that energy into my training routine every day. If I worked as hard as I could, I wouldn’t let anyone down. Not Ms. Lane, not Principal Gallegos, not my teammates, and not my grandparents!

  There was no soccer practice that Friday afternoon, so when I got home, I took another run around the neighborhood. I was glad that it was light and I didn’t have to wear the jacket, because the day was sunny and unseasonably warm.

  As I got back to my room, I started searching for online workouts to add to my routine. I found this high-intensity exercise video where you worked out at maximum intensity for twenty seconds, then rested for ten seconds. It began with burpees. That’s a move that you start by squatting. Then you put your hands on the ground and kick your feet back to form a plank position. Next you do a push-up, return to the squat, and stand up and jump. I did it as fast as I could along with the video. Squat, kick to plank, push up, squat, stand, jump. I did it over and over. Twenty seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but it started to feel like an eternity, especially when I was on the fourth round. When the ten-second rest came, I sprawled out, panting, on the floor of my room. That was when I heard a chime on my computer—someone was trying to video chat with me. I looked up and saw that it was Kara.

  I heaved myself into my desk chair, puffing as I accepted her request. Her face popped up on the screen, smiling until she got a good look at me. Then she gasped in horror.

  “Devin! What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned. “Are you sick?”

  I could see myself in the chat screen. My face was bright red and I was sweating. Hair had escaped from my ponytail and hung in wet clumps next to my face.

  “Ugh!” I said as my hand flew to my face, tucking the wet strands of hair behind my ears. “I’m not sick. I just got back from a run, and then I was doing a round of burpees.”

  Kara wrinkled her nose in disgust.

  “ ‘I love burpees,’ said no one ever,” she said. “Why are you torturing yourself with those?”

  I grabbed the bottle of water on my desk and took a chug before answering.

  “It’s the spring soccer season,” I told her. “We’ve got our first game in a couple of weeks. I want to win.”

  Kara looked at me, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. “You always want to win,” she said. “What makes this so different that you’re running and doing burpees? Something else is up. My best-friend sense is tingling. Fess up, Devin.”

  I took a deep breath, and then everything came spilling out of me.

  “There’s so much pressure on us this time!” I confided, glad to have Kara to talk to. “When I first joined the Kicks, no one cared if we won or lost. Besides the people on the team, hardly anyone knew we even existed. Now everyone is expecting us to be phenomenal—like state-champ-level phenomenal. This lady even donated new equipment and is fixing up our cruddy field for us.”

  I grabbed the towel I had tossed onto the floor and mopped the sweat from my head. I didn’t know what was making me sweat more, all the exercise or all the stress.

  “And the principal invited the entire town to our first game,” I continued. “But that’s not all. My grandpa and grandma are flying in for a visit, and they’ll be at the game too. So if we lose, we lose spectacularly and in front of everyone we know!”

  I slid down in the chair, the weight of everything pushing me down.

  “Oh, Devin,” Kara sighed. “Why do you have to be so hard on yourself?”

  I shook my head. “It’s not me. Everyone is expecting so much!”

  “You’re the one who always expects the most,” Kara insisted. “It’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s what makes you such a great athlete and competitor. You’re always ready to go that extra step. But then sometimes it can just eat you up, like it’s doing now. You’ve got to give yourself a break. All you can do is your best. Anything after that is out of your control. And you have to remember, it’s just one game.”

  My ears were hearing what Kara was saying and transmitting it to my brain. But my brain was being stubborn. It didn’t want to believe that everything was going to be okay, or that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. All it wanted to know was that my team was going to win!

  Chapter Nine

  Even though spilling my guts to Kara had made me feel a teeny bit better, I still got up early the next morning to get another run in before Jessi and her mom picked me up. It was Saturday. We were finally going to find out what Jessi’s mysterious plan was to help Frida!

  When I climbed into Mrs. Dukes’s van, Jessi, Emma, and Zoe were inside.

  “Next stop: Frida’s house,” Jessi announced. “Then we’ll see if my plan works.”

  “Will you tell us now?” I pleaded.

  Emma shook her head. “We’ve been trying to get it out of her, but she won’t say a word.”

  When Frida got into the van, she looked apprehensive.

  “I’m trusting you completely, Jessi,” she said. “If there is a clown anywhere, I’ll freak.”

  “But clowns are so cute!” Emma insisted.

  Zoe shuddered. “They give me the creeps.”

  As we debated the pros and cons of clowns, Mrs. Dukes pulled up in front of a long, L-shaped building. It looked vag
uely familiar. I had been here before. I just couldn’t place it.

  “Wait a minute,” I said as the memory came back to me. “Is this Lavender Hills?”

  “What’s Lavender Hills?” Frida asked suspiciously.

  “It’s a place where a very interesting person lives,” Jessi said, still being mysterious. “She might be able to help you.”

  We walked along the brick pathway leading to the front door.

  “It’s an adult care home,” I explained. “You know, where they take care of old people.”

  Emma, Zoe, and Frida exchanged questioning glances.

  “What are we doing here?” Frida asked. “And have you been here before, Devin?”

  Jessi nodded. “We both have, when we were on the Griffons. Coach Darby took us here for a team building exercise. Her mom lives here. We played games with the residents.”

  “Aha!” I exclaimed. “So that’s what you were talking to Coach Darby about at the Pinewood scrimmage.”

  “Yep.” Jessi smiled.

  “I don’t understand. How will this help me?” Frida asked, totally confused.

  “When we were here with the Griffons, Devin and I got to hang out with Coach Darby’s mom, Mrs. Darby,” Jessi explained. “But I also got a chance to meet Mrs. Darby’s best friend, Miriam. She was so cool and funny. And it also happens that she used to be a movie star!”

  “A movie star? What movies was she in?” Frida was intrigued.

  Jessi shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s, like, really old. So they were definitely before our time. But she’s someone who knows about what it’s like to be in show business. I think she’ll be the perfect person to give you some advice, Frida.”

  We rang the doorbell and were buzzed inside. Jessi gave our names at the desk and said we were there to visit Miriam Hall. The receptionist gave us guest badges that we hung around our necks.

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