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Under pressure, p.7

Under Pressure, page 7


Under Pressure

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  I spied something in one of the cubbies and pulled out a stuffed toy of one of the Sunshine Puppies. I rubbed it against Jessi’s cheek.

  “You make my tail wag when skies are gray,” I sang the theme song in a silly voice, trying to imitate the Sunshine Puppies.

  Jessi looked up and smiled. “Ray!” she said, grabbing the toy from me. “Ray was always my favorite. Maybe this place isn’t so bad.”

  Just then the sound of a screeching baby echoed through the room as the door opened. In walked Emma’s mom and four other women. Three of them were each holding a toddler, but the fourth was carrying two—twins!

  “I hope you girls don’t mind two extra,” Mrs. Kim said as the women put the babies down on the floor.

  “Auntie Sue!” Emma squealed and hugged the woman who had been holding the twins. “I didn’t know you were coming!”

  “When your mom said babysitting was available, I jumped at the chance,” Emma’s aunt said, and smiled. She looked a lot like Mrs. Kim. “I know the twins will be in good hands with you. And you’ve got plenty of help tonight!”

  Jessi narrowed her eyes and muttered to me, “We’re totally outnumbered now. Too bad Zoe and Frida couldn’t make it.”

  The moms left us with diaper bags, snacks, and plenty of instructions.

  “No juice for Sophia. Water only, please!”

  “Mason can get a little rambunctious. It’s best just to let him tire himself out.”

  “Lily didn’t have a nap this afternoon. She’s a little fussy.”

  Lily was the one who had been crying when the women had walked in. Her big brown eyes were red, and she hung on to her mom’s leg.

  “If you need anything, we’ll be in the movie room,” Mrs. Kim said.

  The moms thanked us before leaving, and then we were left alone in the room with five toddlers. I had a little sister and had taken babysitting classes, but this was a lot to handle. This was turning out to be a big-sister boot camp for Jessi!

  The twins were Emma’s cousins, girls named Ava and Emily. They wore cute matching purple striped leggings and T-shirts. Emma swore she could tell them apart, but I didn’t think I’d be able to. They looked identical to me!

  Mason immediately ran over to the cubbies and pulled out a book. Sophia, who had light red hair in pigtails, toddled over and tried to grab it from him. Mason hit her over the head with the book. Luckily, it was one of those soft, squishy ones, so I knew Sophia didn’t get hurt. But that didn’t stop her from screaming at the top of her lungs.

  “Five seconds of babysitting, and it has already descended into chaos,” Jessi complained, covering her ears. “This is what I have to look forward to?”

  Emma scooped up Sophia. “Do you want to play blocks with Ava and Emily?”

  Sophia stopped crying, and Emma grabbed a basket of blocks, sat down with the three girls, and started building with them. Mason was still rifling through the cubbies.

  “Is he looking for something harder to hit Sophia with this time?” Jessi wondered.

  Lily sat by the door. She hadn’t moved since her mother had left. Her lower lip was quivering, and I thought she might burst into tears at any second.

  “Do you want to take Mason and I’ll take Lily?” I asked.

  “I feel like we’re on the soccer field, covering other players,” Jessi joked. “Okay, Coach!”

  Mason had gotten another book out. “Read!” he demanded as he handed it to Jessi. She sat down on the floor next to him, and he plopped into her lap.

  Jessi began to read as I approached Lily. I sat on the floor next to her. “Hi, Lily,” I said softly. “Do you want to play? We could play blocks with the other girls?” I pointed at Ava, Emily, and Sophia.

  Lily sniffled. She pointed at the door. “Mama,” she said.

  “Mama will be back soon,” I said. “Let’s go play.” I tried to pick her up, but she stiffened her entire body and started screaming.

  “Noooooooooooo!” she cried.

  Emma left the girls playing and came over to help.

  “It’s okay, Lily,” she said soothingly. “Do you want me to read you a story?”

  But Lily only cried more loudly.

  Jessi looked up. “I guess I got the easy one,” she said. Mason was very quiet, sitting in her lap. Then Jessi wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”

  “Poopy!” Mason said triumphantly. He smiled. “I made poopy!”

  “Ugh!” Jessi slid Mason off her lap as if he were radioactive. She stood up and hurried away from him. “I’m not changing that diaper. A baby is one thing, but that kid is eating solid foods, and a lot of them, I’m guessing from that smell. Not it!”

  Lily kept crying and wouldn’t move away from the door. “Mama!” she sobbed.

  The smell of Mason’s diaper drifted over to me too. “Uh-oh,” I said to Emma. “That smells like a two-person job.”

  “At least Ava, Emily, and Sophia are playing nicely,” Emma said as she glanced at the girls, who were engrossed in the colorful blocks. “Devin and I will change Mason’s diaper. Jessi, can you try to calm Lily down? Nothing seems to be working.”

  “So these are going to be my choices in the future—disgusting diaper or nonstop crying?” Jessi asked with a roll of her eyes. “Whatever.”

  Emma got the diaper bag Mason’s mom had left, and she and I got to work as Jessi sat with Lily, who kept on sobbing.

  “Hey, don’t cry,” we heard Jessi say as we cleaned up Mason.

  “Mama!” Lily continued to cry.

  As I handed Emma some extra baby wipes (Jessi might have been right about Mason!), she frowned with concern.

  “If Lily keeps crying like that, I’ll get her mom,” Emma said. “I don’t think anything is going to make her happy.”

  We finished up with the diaper change, so engrossed in what we were doing that we didn’t pay attention to anything else. Once Mason was clean and dry with a fresh diaper, we noticed something: The room was very quiet.

  “Hey, Lily isn’t crying anymore!” Emma said.

  I laughed as I pointed. “That’s why!”

  Lily was sitting with a baby blanket over her head.

  “Where did Lily go?” Jessi asked in a loud, wondering voice. “I can’t find her anywhere!”

  Lily grabbed the blanket off her head, her brown hair sticking up as she smiled broadly.

  “There she is!” Jessi said. “I found her.”

  Then Lily got up and toddled over to Jessi, the blanket in her hand. She put it over Jessi’s head.

  “Where did Jessi go?” Jessi asked from under the blanket. “Lily, can you find me?”

  Lily pulled the blanket off Jessi’s head, laughing as she did.

  “You did it!” Emma cried, clapping her hands together. “You got her to stop crying!”

  Jessi shrugged. “It was no big deal.”

  “I couldn’t do it,” Emma reminded her. “And Devin couldn’t do it either.”

  A grin broke out on Jessi’s face. “Hey, you’re right! Maybe I’ll be able to get the hang of this big-sister thing, after all.”

  “The next diaper is all you,” I told her.

  Jessi put her hands up into the air, as if to block a barrage of dirty diapers flying at her.

  “One thing at a time!” she laughed.

  Chapter Fourteen

  “Where are they? Where are they? I can’t see anything!” Maisie complained next to me.

  We were in the airport, waiting for Grandma and Grandpa to come out through the boarding gate. It was Sunday afternoon, and the place was really crowded. People kept bumping into us as they hurried through the terminal. And while we saw lots of people walking down the ramp toward us, none of them were Grandma and Grandpa.

  “Be patient, Maisie,” Mom said, gently putting a hand on her head. But I could tell that Mom was just as excited as Maisie. She jumped a little bit anytime somebody who looked like Grandma or Grandpa appeared.

  Finally we saw one head of short, brown
hair and one bald head appear over the wave of people getting off the plane. Then I heard a loud voice.

  “Noodles! Maisie Daisy!”

  “Grandma!” Maisie shrieked, and Mom had to hold her back from going through the gate. But Grandma and Grandpa hurried toward us, and soon I was wrapped in Grandma’s peppermint hug, and Grandpa had picked up Maisie.

  Then it was Mom’s and Dad’s turns to do the hugging.

  “How was your flight?” Mom asked.

  “Just lovely,” Grandma said. “I finished my book.”

  “And I slept,” Grandpa replied, putting Maisie down so he could stretch.

  “So you’re not too tired?” Dad asked. “We were thinking of taking you on a little tour of the town on the way home.”

  “Sounds good, as long as one stop on the tour includes some California cooking,” Grandpa said. “That airplane lunch they gave us wasn’t enough to fill up little Maisie here, let alone a grown man.”

  “We could go to Atomic Burrito,” I suggested as we began walking through the terminal. “The burritos here are much better than they are in Connecticut.”

  “Oh dear, that sounds very spicy,” Grandma said.

  “Let’s go to Pirate Pete’s Pizza Palace!” Maisie suggested. “There’s a talking parrot that’s really a robot there!”

  “Actually, I made us early dinner reservations at the Palm Café,” Dad said.

  I wiggled my eyebrows. “That place? It’s fancy, isn’t it?” I looked down at my flip-flops, which I wore almost all the time now, except when I was playing soccer or practicing soccer.

  “We can sit on the patio. It’s more casual out there,” Mom said.

  It took us a while to get the bags, but soon we were all piled in the Marshmallow and heading to Kentville. Dad drove past Maisie’s school, and my school, and then the soccer practice field that the Kicks used.

  “Is this where the magic happens, Devin?” Grandpa asked.

  “Well, sometimes . . . ,” I replied, and my voice trailed off.

  “They lost the last two scrimmages!” Maisie piped up.

  “Maisie!” Mom scolded.

  “No, she’s right,” I said with a sigh. “Our season isn’t getting off to such a great start.”

  “And it didn’t help that Devin pulled a muscle,” Dad added.

  “Oh no! Are you all right, Noodles?” Grandma asked.

  “It’s all better now,” I said. “I should definitely be ready to play in our first game on Saturday.”

  “I can’t wait!” Grandma said. “If you have some craft supplies at the house, I’d love to make a sign to cheer you on.”

  “Thanks, Grandma,” I said. “Just as long as it doesn’t say ‘Noodles’ on it!”

  We both laughed, but inside I was feeling worried. I could imagine Grandma and Grandpa in the stands, Kicks blue on their faces, cheering like crazy . . . while the Kicks went down in flames against the Panthers.

  Then we pulled into the Palm Café parking lot, and everyone forgot to talk about soccer. We sat on the patio in the bright California sunshine and ate salads with grilled chicken while Grandma and Grandpa talked about the family back home.

  “Your cousin Jason is doing very well,” Grandma told us. “He’s on the school baseball team this year.”

  “I don’t know how we ended up with such an athletic family,” Grandpa said. “The only sport I’m good at is darts!”

  “Why didn’t you order the noodles, Noodles—oops, I mean Devin?” Grandma asked.

  “Grandma! I don’t even remember when all I would eat was noodles,” I replied.

  “I’ll never forget. You were three years old. You ate buttered elbow macaroni, buttered spaghetti, buttered penne, buttered shells, buttered fettuccine. Any kind of buttered noodle, you would eat, and nothing else. Your mother was beside herself. You would point at your mouth and say ‘noodles’ whenever you were hungry.” Grandma laughed. “It was the cutest thing. You loved it when I called you ‘Noodles’ because you loved eating them so much.”

  “I’m so glad her diet has improved,” Mom said. “She eats a variety of healthy foods now, thank goodness.”

  “Hey, so do I!” Maisie complained, which was really funny, because we basically had to trick her into eating food that was good for her.

  My phone vibrated, and I looked down to see a text from Frida.

  Can I come over and borrow your English book? Left mine in my locker.

  I had already finished my English homework, so I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal.

  “Mom, Frida needs to borrow my English book,” I told her.

  “Tell her to come by in an hour,” Mom said. “We’ll be home by then.”

  Come by at 6, I texted back. You can meet my grandparents.

  Frida replied.

  I was kind of excited for Grandma and Grandpa to meet one of my new friends. They really didn’t know much about my life in California.

  We finished our meal and went back to the house. Maisie and I helped carry Grandma’s and Grandpa’s bags with us. They started oohing and aahing over everything.

  “So bright and sunny in every room!” Grandma said.

  “And those plants! I bet they grow all year round,” Grandpa remarked.

  They were settling into the guest room when the doorbell rang. I opened it to see Frida standing there.

  “Devin, dahling,” she said, and she kissed me on the left cheek, and then the right one.

  “Wow, you’re all dressed up,” I said. Frida had her hair in that swept-to-the-side style again, and she was wearing a red dress with a flouncy skirt, and shiny black flats.

  “Oh, this old thing?” she asked, flipping her auburn hair with her hand. “People just don’t dress up enough these days, that’s what I think.”

  I suddenly realized that Frida was sounding more and more like Miriam, the film actress from the senior home. She’d had the new hairstyle the other day at Jessi’s, but now she was really going all out. Normally she saved her characters for the soccer field, but it looked like Miriam was spilling over into Frida’s real life more than ever.

  Grandma and Grandpa came downstairs. “Noodles! Is this your friend?” Grandma asked.

  I turned to Grandma and gave her my please-don’t-call-me-“Noodles” look. But Frida was already walking toward them with her hand outstretched.

  “Wonderful to meet you,” she said. “I’m Devin’s friend Frida.”

  Grandpa took Frida’s hand and pumped it hard. “Nice to meet you, young lady.”

  “Are you on Devin’s soccer team?” Grandma asked.

  “Yes, but that is mostly for exercise,” Frida replied. “I am an actor by trade.”

  “How nice for you,” Grandma said. “I would imagine that there are a lot of opportunities for actors out here.”

  Frida flinched a little bit. “Yes, but it’s a very difficult business at the moment.”

  “So is soccer,” I pointed out.

  “Well, we have had a rough start this season,” Frida admitted. “But our team still looks very promising. We’ve got a new player, Hailey, who’s simply fantastic.”

  I inadvertently flinched when I heard Hailey’s name. It was bad enough that I hadn’t been playing my best yet this season—but seeing Hailey succeed when I wasn’t made it worse. Which stank, because I really did like Hailey!

  “Let me go get that book,” I said, taking two steps at a time up the stairs to get to my room.

  When I came back down, Frida and my grandparents were in a deep conversation about some actress named Katharine Hepburn.

  “You’ve got her hair, young lady,” Grandpa was saying. “If you’ve got her talent, too, you’ll go very far.”

  Frida was beaming. “Thank you!” Then she noticed me. “And thanks for the book, Devin. I’d better go. My mom’s waiting in the car outside.”

  “That friend of yours is quite a character,” Grandpa said after Frida had left, and I couldn’t help smiling.

h, that’s the exact right way to put it!”

  The rest of the night with Grandpa and Grandma was nice and relaxed. Grandma played a board game with me and Maisie while Grandpa napped. Then Mom made us all a snack because we had eaten dinner early. When Maisie’s bedtime rolled around at eight, Grandma and Grandpa announced that they were getting ready for bed too.

  “There’s something about planes that wipes the energy out of you,” Grandma explained. She gave me a kiss on the forehead. “See you in the morning, Noodles.”

  As I made my way up the stairs to my room, I realized my leg wasn’t bothering me at all. In fact, it felt great.

  One early-morning jog won’t hurt, I told myself. I’ll take it easy. No parkour this time.

  But when I crept downstairs the next morning in my running gear, a delicious smell filled the air. The light in the kitchen was on, and I saw Grandma in there, wide awake.

  “Devin!” she whispered. “Come eat breakfast with me.”

  I hesitated. Then I jogged into the kitchen. “I’m going on a run,” I whispered back.

  “A run? This early?” Grandma asked. “Can’t you take a morning off and have a muffin with your grandma? I just baked them.”

  I spotted the muffins cooling on the counter. The smell of apples and cinnamon was too hard to resist. It smelled like Connecticut. I opened the fridge, poured myself a glass of milk, and sat down at the kitchen table. Grandma brought me a muffin still steaming and sat down next to me.

  “Thanks for skipping your run,” she said. “You’re working awfully hard, Devin. I know soccer means a lot to you.”

  I nodded. “It means everything!”

  “And I can tell that it bothers you that the team is having a rough start,” Grandma said.

  I bit into the soft, warm muffin, thinking. “Of course it bothers me,” I answered. “I mean, I always want to win. But now everyone is expecting us to win. The school, the parents, even the town!”

  Grandma gave me a sympathetic nod. “That sounds like a lot to handle.”

  “It is!” I cried, forgetting that everyone else was still sleeping.

  “Just make sure you don’t put too much of a burden on yourself, Noodles,” Grandma said. “There will always be demands in life. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can be kind to yourself. Putting too much stress on yourself can lead to trouble—like a pulled muscle.”

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