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Under pressure, p.6

Under Pressure, page 6


Under Pressure

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  “Very chic,” Zoe agreed.

  “Come on,” Jessi said. “Let me show you the room so far.”

  We followed Jessi to her room. It looked much better than the last time we’d seen it. The walls had been painted a nice blue, and the bed had a cute blue bedspread with white stripes. But there were still boxes and bags of stuff stacked up against the wall.

  “Not bad,” Zoe said. “First we need to organize you. Then we can decorate.”

  We put down our backpacks and boxes and got to work. Zoe was an organizing whiz, and she barked out orders to us.

  “Don’t fold the T-shirts. Roll them! They’ll fit better in the dresser.”

  “Books on the bottom shelf of the built-in bookcase. Save the top shelves for electronic equipment!”

  “Bulky sweatshirts in the under-the-bed box!”

  Before we knew it, the room looked well organized.

  “Thanks, guys,” Jessi said. “This is awesome!”

  “But bland,” Emma said. She reached into the box she had brought. “Don’t worry. Zoe and I came prepared.”

  Emma pulled out a blue pillow with turquoise wavy lines. Then she placed it on Jessi’s bed. “Perfect!”

  Zoe took out a string of blue-and-white lights and started to string them on the wall above Jessi’s bed.

  “Oh my gosh, this stuff is awesome!” Jessi said. “Where did you get it?”

  “It’s the benefit of having lots of brothers and sisters between us,” Emma replied. “We always get lots of cast-offs.”

  Frida, Jessi, and I watched as Emma and Zoe added finishing touches—a metal desk lamp, a chalkboard in a white frame, and finally, from Zoe, a framed picture of all of us from her bat mitzvah. She placed it on Jessi’s dresser.

  “Voila!” she cried. “Now this looks like a room.”

  Jessi looked like she was almost going to cry. “Wow, guys. This is beautiful. Thank you! No more sleeping in the living room!”

  Jessi’s dad walked up to us then. “Girls, time for dinner!”

  We followed him to the dining room and sat down for a meal of spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and salad. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until the plate of spaghetti was in front of me.

  “You girls are so wonderful to help Jessi with her room,” Mrs. Dukes said. “We can’t thank you enough.”

  “It was fun!” Emma said. “But not as much fun as what we’re going to do after dinner.” Then she put her hand over her mouth. “Whoops! I think that was supposed to be a surprise.”

  Jessi looked right at me. “What kind of surprise?”

  “It will be fun, I promise,” I said. “See, I used to take babysitting classes in Connecticut. So I thought we could have a little babysitting class here, after dinner.”

  Jessi’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of class?”

  I put my napkin in front of my mouth. “Diapers,” I mumbled.

  “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Jessi asked.

  “Diapers,” I said, a little more loudly.

  “Gross!” Jessi wailed. “Anything but diapers, please!”

  “It’ll be fun!” Emma said. “Devin brought tiny diapers, and we all brought our old baby dolls.”

  “Well, I never had a baby doll, so I brought my stuffed T. rex,” Zoe explained.

  “A stuffed T. rex in a diaper?” Jessi asked. “Okay then, I’ve got to see this.”

  “What a cute idea, girls!” Mrs. Duke said, and then she started to cry a little. “Jessi is so lucky to have such good friends.”

  Jessi leaned over and whispered to me, “Mom cries all the time now. She says it’s hormones.”

  We finished dinner and helped clear the table.

  “Okay, everybody, it’s diaper training time!” I announced.

  Jessi groaned as we piled into her new stylish but tiny room. I opened my backpack and took out two dolls—Baby Sissy, my childhood doll, and Maisie’s beloved doll, Baby Tina. (I had borrowed it without asking her, which I knew could be disastrous, but it was for a good cause, I reasoned.) Then I took out some newborn diapers Mom had bought for me once I’d told her we were helping Jessi.

  I gave Baby Tina to Jessi and passed out the diapers. Frida and Emma both had taken out their baby dolls, and Zoe was clutching her green T. rex.

  “Baby dolls always scared me when I was little,” Zoe said defensively. “But Mr. T-Rex is super-cuddly-wuddly.”

  “And now Mr. Cuddly Wuddly needs a diaper,” I said. “Okay, if this were a real diaper situation, we would put a towel on the bed first. Accidents happen when you least expect it.”

  Jessi grimaced. “Oh, I’m expecting it.”

  “So, you lay the diaper out flat like this,” I said, demonstrating on Jessi’s bed. “And then you place the baby on top of the diaper, and then you attach the tabs here, and here.”

  I snugly wrapped the diaper around Baby Sissy. Emma and Frida did the same with their babies, and Zoe got the diaper on Mr. T-Rex. Jessi seemed reluctant, but she started to put the diaper on Baby Tina.

  Zoe moved Mr. T-Rex up and down. “I’m Mr. T-Rex, and I made a wee-wee!” she said in a deep dinosaur voice.

  Frida started talking in a TV-commercial voice. “Did your dino make a doo-doo? Then Dino Diapers are what you need. They’re prehistorically awesome!”

  We were all giggling by then. Jessi held up Baby Tina. “Finished! Are we done now?”

  “You did a great job,” I said. “You’ll make a really good big sister, Jessi.”

  “Big deal. I can diaper a doll,” Jessi said. “Real baby diapers are totally gross. And then what do you do when a baby cries, and screams, and won’t stop?”

  I started thinking about when Maisie was a baby. She was a crying machine! I wasn’t sure how to answer Jessi.

  Emma’s phone beeped then, and she looked at the screen. “It’s from Mom,” she said, and then she broke into a grin. “Jessi, I know how you can test your babysitting skills for real! What are you doing tomorrow night?”

  “Um, I don’t know. I guess being surprised by my well-meaning friends again?” Jessi guessed.

  “Yes!” Emma shrieked. “This one will be good, Jessi. And no diapers—well, maybe no diapers. I’m not sure.”

  “Well, I’m sure,” Jessi said. “No diapers!”

  “Except for dinosaurs!” Zoe said, in Mr. T-Rex’s voice, and we all burst out giggling again.

  Chapter Twelve

  On Saturday I slept in instead of going for another early run. I had soccer practice that morning, but that wasn’t the only reason I slept in. Since pulling the muscle in my leg, I had stopped all the extra training. I didn’t want to risk hurting myself again.

  I knew it was the right decision, but it was still frustrating, especially when I thought of Mirabelle, who was determined to get that soccer scholarship. She was probably training morning, noon, and night so she could beat us at our first game of the season.

  I also thought of Hailey. We both played the same position—striker. I was used to starting in almost every game. Would my lack of training cause me to fall behind and make Hailey be the star striker?

  I felt relieved when I jogged onto the soccer field that morning, because my leg felt much better. Other than an occasional twinge, I was almost back to normal.

  Yet Coach wasn’t taking any chances.

  “Devin, you walk,” Coach Flores told me as the rest of the Kicks did warm-up laps around the field.

  “But, Coach!” I protested. “I’m feeling much better.”

  “And we want to keep you that way,” Coach Flores said firmly. “No arguments.”

  I walked the perimeter of the soccer field as my teammates, especially Hailey, literally ran circles around me. I felt the butterflies churn in my stomach again. Hailey was fast. A lot faster than I had ever noticed before. Is she faster than me? I thought anxiously.

  It got worse when Coach had us do a juggling drill.

  “Devin, this is all footwork. I know this is hard for you,
she said kindly, “but I want to make sure that muscle has time to rest before you start stressing it again, so you’re going to sit this one out.”

  I gave a frustrated groan, and I might have stomped a little as I turned away from Coach to sit on the sidelines as the rest of my team worked. I wasn’t proud of myself for acting like that, but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you try to run but you can’t. Instead it was like I wanted to play soccer but I couldn’t. It wasn’t a dream. It was a nightmare!

  So I was going to have to sit trapped on the sidelines while the Kicks worked on juggling, kicking the soccer ball repeatedly, and keeping it in the air and not letting it hit the ground. The Kicks would hit the balls with their feet, knees, and even shins or thighs. Juggling was a great way to improve coordination and timing.

  “Today you’re going to juggle the ball between your left foot and your right foot. We’ll change up the routine as we go. Don’t worry if you drop the ball,” Coach Flores shouted encouragingly. “Pick it up and go right back to it.”

  Everyone grabbed a ball out of the bags and got started. Thanks to Sally Lane, we now had enough balls to go around. In the past we’d had to take turns for an exercise like this. Not anymore.

  Jessi was a great juggler. She hit the ball with the top of her right foot, then the top of her left, speeding up with each tap as she passed the ball back and forth effortlessly between her two feet.

  Zarine and Giselle lost the ball a couple of times, while Grace and Anna had a good pace going.

  My feet began impatiently tapping on the grass, imaging I was juggling too.

  “Now the right foot only,” Coach said, and everyone began batting the ball up and down on their right foot.

  “Left only!” was met with groans, because for most players the left foot was weaker than the right.

  Emma dropped the ball a bunch of times and gave an exaggerated sigh. “This is too hard!”

  I watched (okay, I’ll admit it, a little jealously) as Hailey handled the ball like a pro, even with her left foot. She was really good.

  “Now we’re going to have some fun,” Coach Flores said, and smiled. “We’re going to increase the number of times you juggle with each foot every time you switch feet. Hit it once on the right, then twice on the left, then three times on the right, then four times on the left. Keep it going as high as you can!”

  Everyone shouted encouragingly to their teammates as they tried to add in as many taps as they could without dropping the ball. It looked like fun, and I felt more miserable than ever having to sit it out.

  Hailey kept the juggling going, adding on tap after tap. It got harder as she went. Most everyone had dropped out and lost their ball by then, and a crowd gathered to watch. Oh, great, I couldn’t help thinking, not only is she an awesome striker, but she’s a pro juggler too.

  “I think she’s going to set a record,” Grace said admiringly.

  “That is some fancy footwork,” Brianna added.

  Hailey shifted slightly as she worked to hold on to the ball. Her control was excellent.

  Everyone chanted as Hailey did more and more reps. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve . . .”

  Hailey lost control, and the ball bounced away from her as my teammates clapped and cheered. “That’s how you do it!” Jessi shouted.

  “Awesome, Hailey!” Coach Flores said. “You’re the Kicks’ juggling expert.”

  Hailey blushed with pleasure at all the praise she was receiving. “Thanks,” she said as she smiled. “I’ve been practicing.”

  Humph. I crossed my arms over my chest. Maybe I could have gone further than Hailey if I had been allowed to participate, I thought. I had been working on my juggling too.

  I had a big-time case of the grumpies, and it didn’t help when Coach Flores broke us into two teams for a scrimmage and made me play goalie.

  “I don’t want you running too much today, Devin,” she said.

  I tried not to stomp as I made my way to the goalposts, but maybe I did—just a tiny bit. We had a game in a week, and I wasn’t getting the practice I needed. A little voice in my head reminded me that the injury was my own fault for pushing myself too hard. But I’m feeling better, another voice replied. Coach should let me play!

  I don’t know if the grouchies were contagious or what, but the happy mood from the juggling drill left the field. The other Kicks seemed tense and nervous during the scrimmage, and started making mistakes.

  “Megan, pay attention!” Grace yelled as Megan missed the pass Grace had sent to her.

  Then Brianna had a perfect shot at the goal, but her kick veered way off.

  “If we play like this against Pinewood, we’re toast,” Anna complained.

  Maybe I wasn’t the only one feeling the anxiety before the upcoming game. During our cool-down before practice ended, I talked to Grace.

  “How are you feeling about next week’s game?” I asked, trying to sound casual, but inside I couldn’t wait to hear if she was feeling the same pressure I was. Grace was usually so cool and calm. To know she might be feeling the same way I did would make me feel less alone.

  At first Grace focused only on strategy. “The Pinewood forwards got through our defense time and again during the scrimmage. We’ve got to beef it up and come up with a good approach for our defenders to take.”

  I nodded. “I agree. But how do you feel?” I asked, emphasizing the word. “Are you nervous?”

  Grace pressed her lips together before nodding. “The last two scrimmages didn’t go our way. And then after that article ran in the paper . . .” She trailed off before she got her thoughts together. “Well, it’s not only me. A lot of the eighth graders are feeling pressured. This is our last year on the Kicks. We don’t want to be almost-champions. We want to win!”

  I let out a huge sigh of relief, glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

  “Me too,” I revealed. “The newspaper, the pep rally, Ms. Lane donating all that stuff, plus the principal telling the entire town to come to the game. My grandparents are even flying out for it. It would be horrible to lose!”

  Grace nodded, and Giselle, who had been stretching with the other players nearby, joined in the conversation.

  “It would be so embarrassing!” she said. “I bet Sally Lane will change her mind about giving us that new sod.”

  Jessi jumped up from her seated hamstring stretch and wagged a finger at us. “No sod for you, losers!” she joked.

  We all laughed a bit, and it broke the tension. But then our faces grew serious again.

  “It doesn’t help how loud the parents have been at the games either,” Anjali admitted.

  “It’s getting kind of intense,” Zoe shared.

  “If we lost after we got built up so much by everyone, it would be humiliating,” Grace said as Giselle nodded. “We’re going to have to make sure we play our best.”

  Now it was clear that I wasn’t the only one feeling stressed. I didn’t know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe the Kicks would be able to take the strain we were under and turn it to our advantage, letting it motivate us. Or—and I shuddered at this thought—would we self-destruct, with the entire town watching?

  Chapter Thirteen

  That night I was ready to take a break from worrying about the upcoming game, and I tried to get into a good mood as my dad dropped me and Jessi off at Emma’s house.

  “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this,” Dad remarked when we drove up the circular, palm-tree-lined driveway with a big fountain in the middle. Emma’s house was really more like a mansion than a normal house. It was so big that the inside was like a maze. When we first became friends, I got lost more than once. It was very intimidating.

  With such a fancy house, you would think that Emma’s family might be uptight or snooty or something. But they were exactly the opposite—everyone was as nice as Emma, and they made me feel very comfor
table whenever I went to visit Emma. It wasn’t long before I’d learned how to find my way to the fancy, inground pool and deluxe movie room!

  We usually hung out in those places or in Emma’s room. But tonight was different.

  “My mom’s having a girls’ night in with her cousins and friends tonight,” Emma had revealed to us Friday night at Jessi’s house. “But some of her friends wouldn’t have been able to make it because they needed babysitters. Mom asked if I would do it, and I figured it would be the perfect practice for Jessi!”

  At first Jessi had wrinkled her nose at the thought. “How old are these kids? Do they wear diapers?”

  “Sophia and Lily are two-year-olds, and Mason is almost three,” Emma had said. “So yes, they are still in diapers, although Mason might be potty-training now.”

  “Potty-training!” Jessi had shuddered. “The horrors never end, do they? Fine. I’ll do it. But not alone. Who else is coming?”

  Frida had an audition after practice, and Zoe had plans with her family, so that left me, Emma, and Jessi on toddler patrol.

  When we got inside, Emma ushered us into the lower level of the house to a room I had never been inside before—the playroom. The big, open space had brightly painted cubby shelves all around the walls that were filled with toys and books. In the middle of the room were small, round tables with tiny stools, perfect for little ones to sit on. There was a forest mural on one wall, with woodland creatures peeking out from behind trees and flowers.

  “Wow!” I said. “It’s like a preschool classroom.”

  “I had a lot of fun times down here,” Emma said. “When my brothers and I got older, my dad wanted to convert this into a wine cellar. But my mom has such a big family, and there are so many little kids, that she convinced him to keep it. And we still use it. It comes in handy during family parties. It’s completely childproof, so that will make our job easier.”

  Jessi shook her head as she put her hands over her face. “This is my life now.”

  Emma slung an arm over her shoulder. “Cheer up! It’s not so bad.”

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