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Under pressure, p.5

Under Pressure, page 5


Under Pressure

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  “Mrs. Hall is waiting for you in the community room,” she said, pointing to an open doorway at the end of the corridor.

  We went inside, and there were a bunch of elderly people sitting at tables and on couches and chairs scattered around the room. At one table next to a large picture window sat an elderly woman with dyed bright red hair. Jessi made a beeline toward her.

  “Hello, Mrs. Hall,” Jessi said. “It’s me, Jessi. Thanks for agreeing to meet with us.”

  “Please, darling, call me Miriam,” she replied. Her face was very wrinkled, and she had on bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow. She wore loose black pants with a blue shirt, topped with a floral, long-sleeve kimono-style sweater. It had fringes on the edges that fluttered as she moved her arms.

  “Sit, sit,” she said as she motioned to the chairs around the table. We all introduced ourselves. “So what brings you here today, my darlings?” she asked, arching an eyebrow at us.

  “She’s an actor,” Jessi said, pointing at Frida. “And she’s been having some problems. I thought you might be able to help.”

  Miriam looked at Frida, appraising her. “So you have the calling, do you, my dear?” Miriam asked. “It’s both a blessing and a curse.”

  A blessing and a curse! That was what Kara had said to me about my competitive nature. I guessed that soccer and acting had more in common that I’d thought.

  “Right now it’s more of a curse,” Frida confided to Miriam. Then she told Miriam everything, about her starring role in Mall Mania and how she couldn’t get any more parts.

  “So basically I’m a has-been at thirteen!” Frida ended with a wail.

  Miriam laughed. Loudly. Her deep, rich chuckle echoed throughout the community room.

  “Your career is just beginning, my silly little child,” Miriam said once she had stopped laughing. “Why, if I had given up the many times I had been rejected, I would never have worked a day!”

  “Were you in movies?” Frida asked.

  Miriam nodded. “Many. But it didn’t come easily. I had to work and hustle to get those parts, especially the first few. I even lied a few times. Sometimes that worked, but sometimes it backfired. Like the time I said I was a terrific swimmer, so I could get a part in an Esther Williams movie. Of course, I didn’t know how! I sank to the bottom of the pool like a rock. One of the crew had to dive in to save me. Otherwise I would have drowned. Of course I was fired after that, but I didn’t give up.”

  “Who is Esther Williams?” Zoe wondered. I had never heard of her either, so I was glad Zoe asked.

  “She was a champion swimmer and an actor,” Frida explained. “She made ‘aquamusical’ movies popular. They featured synchronized swimming and diving to music.”

  “Very good.” Miriam nodded approvingly at Frida. “You know the history of your craft. That’s very important. So many young people don’t bother.”

  Frida beamed under Miriam’s praise, but then she wrinkled her forehead. “Esther Williams was a star in the 1940s and 50s. That means you’d have to be . . .”

  “As old as dirt!” Miriam supplied with a chuckle. “I’m ninety years old. I got my first movie role in 1947. I was twenty years old.”

  “Wow!” Emma’s eyes were huge. “Ninety years old!”

  “I should sell tickets for people to come and look at me,” Miriam said.

  Emma’s cheeks turned red. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

  Miriam laughed again, her deep, rich chuckle.

  “I wish it were something to brag about, but around here”—Miriam waved her arms—“nonagenarians are a dime a dozen. That’s the word they use for old coots who are in their nineties.”

  This time we all laughed. Miriam was so funny. She might have looked old, but she didn’t act it.

  “One time,” Miriam continued, “I got let go from a movie because the leading man didn’t like it that I was taller than him. Another time the director wouldn’t hire me because he said my feet were too big. I didn’t let any of that stop me. I kept going. Not everyone is going to like you. In this business you’ve got to like yourself. Otherwise this business will destroy you.”

  When Miriam asked one of the aides to bring us all lemonade, Frida took her phone out and started furiously typing on it.

  “You starred in more than three dozen movies?” Frida asked, shocked. “Some with Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart?”

  I didn’t recognize most of those names, but from Frida’s tone I could tell they must have been really big stars.

  “I did indeed.” Miriam nodded. “The stories I could tell you! You’ll have to come back for another visit. It’s almost lunchtime, and I like to take a nap after I eat.”

  Frida stared at Miriam with awe. She was clearly starstruck. “Will you be my new best friend forever?” Frida asked her.

  “Darling, at my age I can’t promise forever,” Miriam said, and then chuckled. “But you can come and visit me anytime you want.”

  As we left Lavender Hills, Frida was unnaturally quiet. But unlike after that disastrous soccer practice when she wouldn’t say anything, this time was different. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were glowing.

  “I can’t believe it,” she murmured, more to herself than to us. “She’s a living legend. And I got to meet her!”

  Zoe put an arm around Jessi and smiled up at her.

  “That was a great idea,” she said.

  Frida suddenly launched herself at Jessi.

  “Aaaarrrggghhh!” Jessi cried as Frida almost knocked her over.

  Frida wrapped her arms around Jessi and hugged her tight. “Thank you, thank you!” she said. Frida’s auburn hair glowed in the sunshine, and it reminded me of someone.

  “Hey, don’t you think Frida will be a lot like Miriam when she’s ninety?” I asked.

  Everyone laughed as Frida untangled herself from Jessi.

  “I hope so, darlings,” Frida said, before imitating Miriam’s chuckle perfectly. We were all cracking up as we got into Mrs. Dukes’s van.

  “What’s so funny?” Mrs. Dukes asked. “I could use a laugh. I stopped at Lullabies to see if the stroller I wanted was in stock, but the salesperson said they no longer carry it.”

  “Don’t worry. Jessi can carry the baby around for you everywhere,” Emma joked.

  Mrs. Dukes glanced in the rearview mirror and beamed at Jessi, who was sitting next to me in the very back of the van.

  “Jessi is going to be such a good big sister,” Mrs. Dukes said, smiling. “But I wouldn’t ask her to do that!”

  I looked at Jessi, expecting her to make some kind of joke, but her face fell. She looked upset.

  “What’s wrong?” I whispered to her as Frida started telling Mrs. Dukes about meeting Miriam.

  Jessi took a deep breath, and her lower lip trembled.

  “It’s just,” she whispered, and then she bit her lip to keep it from quaking. “It’s just . . . I have no idea how to be a big sister! What if I totally screw it up? What if I’m the worst sister in the entire history of sisters?”

  Poor Jessi! Just when Frida was feeling better, now Jessi was all worried. Jessi had helped Frida. But what could I do to help Jessi?

  Chapter Ten

  Beep! Beep! Beep!

  I won’t say I sprang right out of bed at five thirty on Tuesday morning, but after four days of my early routine, I was a little more used to it. I suited up and headed outside to run around—and around and around—my neighborhood.

  The running-in-circles part was starting to get to me more than the early wake-ups. So that was probably why, when I passed that pink concrete wall in front of the house on Palmetto Court, I decided to mix up my routine.

  Maybe you’ve seen videos of those guys who do parkour, jumping on top of things and somersaulting in the air and stuff as they make their way around a city? Well, I didn’t have anything as crazy as that planned. But when I saw the wall, which was maybe four feet high, I thought, I should jump ont
o that wall and then run across it and jump back down.

  Sounds easy, right? And it should have been, except that when I jumped on top of the wall, I led with my right leg, and when I landed on top, I felt a jolt of pain hit my right calf. I ran across the wall, limping. Then I jumped down and stopped, hands on my knees.

  I had pulled a muscle. At least that was what it felt like.

  Smart move, Devin! I scolded myself. That’s what you get for being bored!

  I jogged home, feeling pain in my right leg the whole way. I was really mad at myself. We had another scrimmage that afternoon—this time with the Riverdale Rams, another one of our big rivals.

  “How was your run, Devin?” Dad asked, sipping his coffee as I walked through the front door.

  “Fine,” I mumbled, and I headed up the stairs to shower.

  “Are you limping?” he called after me, but I didn’t answer him.

  I couldn’t be hurt! Not today. I jumped into the shower, and the hot water felt good. Too good, because soon Mom was knocking on the door.

  “Devin, you’re running late—and wasting water!” she called.

  I ended the shower and quickly got dressed. When I got downstairs, Mom and Dad had their eyes focused on me.

  “Devin, Dad says you might have hurt yourself on your run?” Mom asked.

  I shook my head. “No, I’m fine,” I lied, but only because I did not want to admit to anyone that I was hurt—not even to myself. If I kept telling myself I was fine, I would be.

  Mom raised an eyebrow. “Well, okay, honey. I know you’re very focused this season, but just don’t push yourself too hard.”

  “I won’t,” I promised, even though it was probably already too late.

  I tried my best not to limp all day at school, and nobody even noticed. We had a health lesson in gym class, so I didn’t have to worry there. By the time school was over and we were on the bus to Riverdale, I was feeling a lot better.

  “Think we can beat Riverdale?” Jessi asked me.

  “We beat them before,” I told her, which was true—even though they had tried their best to sabotage us. I realized my foot was anxiously tapping on the bus floor as I talked. I couldn’t wait for this game!

  The bus pulled up to the Riverdale field, dotted with Rams in their red-and-yellow uniforms kicking the ball around. We piled out of the bus and made our way to the away-team side.

  On the way, we passed a Rams player with long, blond hair—Jamie Quinn. Jessi and I had first met Jamie when she’d orchestrated her team’s sabotage attempts against the Kicks. I hadn’t liked her very much then, for good reason, but I’d gotten to know her better when we’d both been on the Griffons winter league team. We had become friends, kind of, but I wondered if she was going to have the same attitude as Mirabelle, now that we were back on opposing teams.

  But Jamie actually smiled when she saw us, and gave us a nod.

  “Good luck today,” she said, and then went back to her drills. Jessi and I looked at each other.

  “Looks like we’re still on Jamie’s good side,” I said.

  “That’s nice,” Jessi said. “But I still want to beat them!”

  And so did I. We did our sock swap and warmed up, and with every minute I got more and more pumped up for the game. I was feeling pretty good because nobody had noticed that I was still limping a little bit. If Coach Flores thought I was injured, she wouldn’t let me play.

  Coach Flores put me in to start, along with Grace and Hailey as forwards. Grace got control of the ball when the whistle blew, and we raced down the field. Grace and Hailey passed the ball back and forth, and Hailey took a shot at the goal, but the goalie jumped and caught it.

  We went back and forth down the field a few times, with neither team scoring. My leg was starting to hurt again. I gained control of the ball midfield and passed it to Grace—or at least I tried to. My leg twisted funny as I kicked, and the ball went skidding to Jamie on the Rams! It was like I had passed it right to her.

  Jessi was on Jamie like a monster and got the ball back from her, but I was still mortified. I hadn’t made a mistake like that since, like, third grade. Coach Flores called a time out and waved me over.

  “Devin, is there something up with your right leg?” she asked. “You’re limping.”

  I couldn’t keep up the lie. “I think I pulled a muscle this morning,” I admitted.

  Coach nodded. “Take the bench then, Devin. I don’t want you to hurt yourself any more than you already are.”

  Tears stung my eyes as I went to the bench. And I couldn’t even tell myself that it wasn’t fair, because it was my own fault!

  The game started back up, and I sat down next to Emma.

  “Devin, are you okay?” she asked.

  “Just a pulled muscle,” I mumbled.

  “I’m sorry!” Emma said, hugging me. “But don’t worry. We can still beat the Rams. Frida is back to her old self!”

  She pointed to the field, where Frida was glued to a Rams player trying to get past her.

  “Are you ready for your close-up?” Frida yelled, lunging toward the Rams player and kicking the ball away from her.

  “Wow!” I said. “So, who’s she channeling this time?”

  “I think Miriam,” Emma answered. “She’s been using actor terms. Like, I just heard her tell one of the Rams that it was time for her curtain call.”

  I smiled a little then. Frida was a true original. “Whatever works!” I said.

  It was tough watching the game from the bench. Despite Frida’s best efforts, Jamie scored a goal right before the half ended. Then, when the second half started, the Rams scored again right away.

  That was when the Kicks parents started yelling.

  “Look alive out there, defense!”

  “Wake up, goalie!”

  I looked over at the goal, and Zarine looked like she might cry. So she wasn’t on her game when the next Rams player came charging toward the goal and lobbed one in over her head.

  And that was when Coach Flores lost it—for the first time ever. She turned toward the stands.

  “Parents, please knock it off!” she yelled. “This is NOT helping!”

  The Kicks were all stunned—and so were the parents, because Coach Flores never got upset and never yelled. That quieted down the parents, and the Kicks were more focused after that. Jessi scored, so it was Rams 3, Kicks 1.

  Right after that Hailey got a ball past the Rams’ goalie, making it a 3–2 game. For the newest member of the team, Hailey was excelling. Usually I was happy about that. Everyone on the Kicks needed to be at their best in order for us to win. Yet it was a lot easier to be happy when I was playing, not benched on the sidelines, watching Hailey making a goal that could have been mine. Yet I pushed those feelings aside and cheered. We had a chance to win this!

  But the Rams fought back hard. Coach Flores had put Emma on goal, and the Rams got two balls past her before the final whistle blew. The Rams had won the scrimmage. It wasn’t that Emma had been playing badly either; their offense had plowed through our defense.

  Poor Emma looked really upset as we lined up to congratulate the Rams. I didn’t feel much better than she looked. The bus ride back to Kentville was a quiet one.

  I knew we were all thinking the same thing. Yes, it had been only a scrimmage. But so far the Kicks were not looking like a championship team.

  Chapter Eleven

  A couple of days later Jessi, Emma, Zoe, Frida, and I were in the noisy school cafeteria, eating lunch.

  “So you guys will help me finish the room tomorrow, right?” Jessi asked. “The paint is dry, and my new bed came. My new, teeny tiny bed for my teeny tiny room.” She sighed.

  “Of course we’ll help you!” Emma said.

  “So do you get to decorate it any way you want?” Zoe asked.

  “I could put a disco ball and a chocolate fountain in there, and Mom and Dad wouldn’t notice,” Jessi replied. “All they talk about is the baby.” She looked down at h
er salad and started pushing the lettuce around with her fork.

  Emma gasped. “You said ‘baby’!”

  “I’ve given up,” Jessi said sadly. “Pretty soon it’s going to be all baby, baby, baby anyway.”

  She put down her fork. “Gotta go to the girls’ room. BRB.”

  “Wow, she seems really bummed about this baby,” Zoe remarked.

  “Probably jealous,” Frida guessed. “She’s been the center of attention for all these years.”

  “That might be part of it,” I said. “But I also know that she’s worried about being a big sister. She thinks she doesn’t know how.”

  Emma frowned. “Poor Jessi. She’ll be a great big sister. It just comes naturally. It’s not like you need to take a class in being a big sister.”

  “Well, they do have babysitting classes,” Zoe pointed out.

  I nodded. “I know. I took one back in Connecticut.” As I said the words, an idea came to me. “I think I know how we can help Jessi!”

  I leaned in and whispered my idea to my friends. We finished just as Jessi walked back up.

  She raised an eyebrow. “What, were you guys talking about me?”

  “Just talking about how cool we’re going to make your new room,” Zoe replied smoothly.

  That seemed to satisfy Jessi, and she sat down and we all finished our lunch. I was a little distracted, thinking about our surprise for Jessi. Friday night was going to be interesting!

  We didn’t have practice on Friday afternoon, so we all went to Jessi’s house after school, at about four. Each one of us had a backpack with us. Zoe and Emma each had a box filled with stuff too.

  Jessi greeted us at the door. “Come on in! Mom’s making spaghetti for dinner, but we can get started on the room.” Then she stopped. “Whoa, Frida, your hair looks cool!”

  I looked at Frida. I hadn’t noticed, but Jessi was right. Frida’s auburn hair was totally different from usual. Her hair was kind of swooped back off her forehead, and then it cascaded down the left side of her head in waves.

  “Do you like it?” she asked. “Miriam had this hairstyle in Treasure of the Lost Cavern. I thought it was pretty chic.”

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