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Under pressure, p.8

Under Pressure, page 8

 

Under Pressure
 


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  I must have blushed a little when she said that. Grandma knew me so well!

  “You don’t have to be better than anyone else, Devin,” Grandma said. “Just do your best. Do what you know how to do. No pressure.”

  “No pressure,” I said, but it was much easier to say than to actually feel.

  Mom came into the kitchen, yawning. “I thought I heard voices. What are you two doing up so early?”

  “I couldn’t sleep,” Grandma said. “And Devin was about to go for a run, but I talked her into a muffin instead.”

  Mom smiled. “Only you could do that, Mom,” she said, hugging Grandma’s shoulders. “I’m glad you’re here.”

  “Me too,” I said, and then I got up and grabbed another muffin. If I wasn’t going on my extra run that morning, I thought I might as well have seconds.

  Grandma’s grandmother powers were beginning to work. I was starting to feel the heaviness lift, just a tiny little bit.

  It felt good.

  Chapter Fifteen

  I gave up my early-morning runs over the next week and concentrated on practices. Believe me, they were tough enough. Coach Flores must have been feeling the heat too, because she had us drilling more than ever before.

  We didn’t have any scrimmages that week, which was kind of a relief. It gave us a chance to focus on making ourselves better, and not worrying about what the other teams were like.

  When I got home from practice on Wednesday, Grandma was helping Maisie with her spelling words, and Grandpa was making his world-famous chili. (Well, he said it was world famous, but I don’t know that for sure. It’s definitely famous in our family, though.)

  “How did practice go, Noo—I mean, Devin?” Grandma asked me, looking up from the kitchen table.

  “Great!” I replied, and I realized it was true. The Kicks had been a little rusty after the winter break, and I think it had taken us some time to find our rhythm again. But we were passing to each other much more smoothly and communicating better on the field.

  Still, I had butterflies in my stomach about Saturday’s game. Losing to Pinewood in the scrimmage had been rough, but it had been just a scrimmage. If we lost the first real game of the season, I knew we would be letting everybody down.

  “Did you tell her the idea?” Grandpa asked, stirring the big pot of chili on the stove.

  “What idea?” I asked.

  “Well, Grandpa and I would like to throw a barbecue on Friday for you and your teammates, on the night before the big game,” Grandma said. “Your mother told me that sometimes you all go out for pizza or frozen yogurt, so we thought it might be nice to host everyone here.”

  “Really? That would be so cool!” I said. In the fall I’d started organizing team get-togethers to help with team building. A pregame barbecue was a great idea.

  Grandma smiled. “I thought you’d like it. Your mom is taking care of emailing your teammates’ parents. Grandpa and I will take care of the food.”

  “I’m making extra chili so we can have chili dogs!” Grandpa announced.

  I reached down and gave Grandma a hug. “You guys are the best! Thanks!”

  I really did have awesome grandparents. When I got home from school on Friday, I found the backyard decorated with white and blue balloons, and the tablecloths, paper plates, and napkins were all Kicks blue. Grandpa was cleaning the grill, and Grandma and Mom were in the kitchen, surrounded by what looked like every bowl we owned.

  “What can I do to help?” I asked.

  “Wash your hands, and then you can start filling some bowls with chips,” Grandma said. She looked at the clock. “Your teammates should all be here in about an hour.”

  The hour went quickly. I filled up a big tub with ice and bottles of water and soda. When it got closer to party time, I helped Grandma carry out bowls and bowls of salad—sesame noodle salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, black bean salad, jiggly green gelatin salad, and regular salad. There were plates of pickles, and dip for the chips, and mountains of burgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs ready for the grill, along with a small pot of Grandpa’s chili. On the dessert table was a fruit salad and four of Grandma’s Boston cream pies. They had a graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding for filling, and whipped cream on top. Yum!

  Dad came home from work just as the barbecue started. It seemed like the whole team showed up at once: Jessi, Emma, Zoe, Frida, Brianna, Sarah, Anna, Olivia, Grace, Megan, Giselle, Gabriela, Anjali, Alandra, Taylor, Maya, Zarine, and Jade. Even Coach Flores came.

  When Hailey came, she smiled at me and gave me a big hug. “Thanks for having us all over, Devin!”

  I felt a pang of guilt. Hailey was so nice. And it had been my idea for her to try out for the Kicks. I was still feeling jealous of her awesome skills. But we weren’t at a soccer game or practice, so I decided to forget about it and focus on fun.

  Everyone started talking right away, and grabbing plates of food. I brought my best friends over to meet my grandparents at the grill.

  “Grandma and Grandpa, these are my friends Jessi, Zoe, and Emma,” I said. “And you guys met Frida already.”

  Grandpa was busy flipping burgers, so Grandma shook everyone’s hand.

  “So nice to meet you,” she said. Then she looked at me. “You have such lovely friends, Noodles!” Her hand flew to her mouth and she gasped. “I mean Devin.”

  But she had caught herself too late.

  Emma started giggling, and Jessi’s eyes got wide. “ ‘Noodles’? Oh my gosh, that is perfect.”

  “Yeah, well, it’s kind of a family thing,” I explained, blushing.

  Jessi grinned. “Whatever you say, Noodles!”

  I knew I had to change the subject. “Come on, let’s get some plates and eat!” I said.

  We grabbed plates and then got what we wanted from the grill. (Veggie burger for me, hot dogs for Emma and Jessi, hamburgers for Zoe and Frida.) Then we went to the food table to get our salad.

  “Is that noodle salad I see?” Jessi asked.

  “Yes, it is. Sesame noodle salad,” I replied calmly, ignoring her teasing.

  “This looks like amazing noodle salad,” she said, spooning some onto her plate. “Did you make this, Noodles?”

  “No, my grandmother made it, and please do not call me Noodles,” I replied.

  I turned quickly and marched over to one of the tables and sat down. Zoe and Frida sat on the same side as me, and Jessi and Emma took seats across from us. I took a bite of my veggie burger.

  “How is that veggie burger, Noodles?” Jessi asked.

  I put down the burger. “Please. Do. Not. Call. Me. Noodles.”

  “Aw, come on,” Jessi pleaded. “It’s so much fun to say. Noodles! Noodles! Noodles!”

  Emma was giggling again. “It is really cute, Devin.”

  Zoe nodded. “It definitely has a ring to it. Noodles Burke.”

  I groaned. “Oh, I knew this was going to happen!”

  Jessi reached over and patted my arm. “It’s okay, Noodles.”

  I picked up some of the sesame noodles from my plate. “These are noodles!” I said. I waved the noodles at Jessi. “I am not Noodles!”

  As I waved my hand, the slippery noodles flew out of my fingers—and landed on Jessi’s face. She started shaking her head.

  “Oh, no you didn’t!” she said.

  I couldn’t help giggling. “Jessi, it was an accident!”

  Jessi picked up a forkful of green gelatin salad. She held up the fork and moved it back, like she was going to fling it at me.

  “No!” I squealed, and ducked.

  The jiggly green gelatin flew over my head and landed with a splat on Grace’s neck.

  “Gross!” she cried. Then she turned around. “Who did that?”

  “It was Jessi! It was Jessi!” I cried, laughing.

  Grace got a gleam in her eye. “Oh yeah?” She put some potato salad on her fork and stood up to face Jessi.

  “It was an accident! I was trying to hit Devin!”
Jessi protested, but Grace sent the potato salad soaring toward Jessi. Jessi moved fast, grabbing a fistful of noodle salad and hurling it at Grace.

  “Mom! Dad! Devin and her friends are having a food fight!” I heard Maisie yell, and then I saw her run into the house to get them.

  “Did somebody say food fight?” Anna called out. She jumped up and grabbed her paper plate.

  I jumped up too. “No! Wait!” I called out, but a glob of macaroni salad was aiming for my forehead.

  Then chaos erupted. My teammates started hurling food at each other! Noodles, tomatoes, grapes, potato salad, hot dog buns—you name it!

  Grandma stepped into the middle of the fray. “Now, girls, I know that—” she started to say, but stopped when a piece of Boston cream pie hit her in the face.

  Suddenly everyone stopped throwing food, and the yard got quiet. I held my breath.

  Grandma wiped some of the whipped cream off her cheek and tasted it. “Delicious!” she said. “But much better in our stomachs than on our faces, don’t you think?”

  Everyone started laughing then, and I looked around. We were all a mess! Emma had a red tomato stain on her white tank top, and Zoe’s face had a big splotch of chocolate pudding on it. Nobody had been spared.

  Mom and Dad came out of the house, followed by Maisie.

  “What on earth is going on here?” Mom asked.

  “I think these girls needed to let off some steam,” Grandma said. “And I can’t say that I blame them. But they’re going to clean everything up now.”

  We all nodded.

  Then Grandma turned to Maisie. “Get the garden hose.”

  A grin came over Maisie’s face. “You got it, Grandma!”

  Dad sighed. “I’ll get some beach towels.”

  After we cleaned the food off the lawn and the tables, we lined up, and Maisie hosed each of us down. She looked happier than when she was playing video games. We dried off with beach towels and then sat back down to finish eating.

  “I got another round of hot dogs here. Chili dogs!” Grandpa said, and a bunch of girls got up and made a beeline for the grill. I walked up to Grandma.

  “Sorry, Grandma,” I said.

  Grandma smiled. “It’s okay. I made plenty of food,” she said. “And let me tell you something—if you girls bring the same energy to your game tomorrow, you’re going to win for sure!”

  She said it loudly, and all the Kicks let out a cheer. I just hoped she was right!

  Chapter Sixteen

  Even though I knew the Kicks would have good fan turnout for the Pinewood game after the newspaper article, I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I got to the field. The stands were a sea of blue and white, packed with our families and friends ready to cheer us to victory!

  There was a lot of Pinewood purple too, but for an away game it was a pretty amazing showing for the Kentville Kangaroos.

  I gulped as the butterflies in my stomach started waking up and stretching their wings. Letting off steam and having such a blast at the barbecue the day before had really calmed my nerves. But the sight of so many people got my anxiety kicked back up. What if the parents started yelling again? I didn’t think I could handle that stress on top of everything else.

  As if she could read my mind, my mom put her hand on my arm.

  “The parents should behave themselves during this game,” Mom said. “We had an informal meeting at your last practice and talked it out. Everyone agreed it was best to back off.”

  I smiled as I felt at least that one worry disappear. “Thanks, Mom!” I hugged her.

  She squeezed me back before handing me a bottle of water. “Remember to keep hydrated!” she said.

  I ran onto the field to warm up with the other Kicks. I reached up to touch my pink headband and make sure it was securely in place. If I had anything close to a lucky charm, the headband was it. I had been wearing it since elementary school, ever since I’d first started playing soccer with my best friend, Kara.

  I watched as the Panthers warmed up on the field, dribbling through cones with speed and precision. I spotted Mirabelle’s head, her glossy black hair pulled back in her usual game-day French braid.

  Jessi, Frida, Emma, and Zoe came over next to me, and for a second we all stood silently watching our competition.

  “Those Pinewood girls always look like Amazons to me,” Zoe said, breaking the silence. She was the shortest of my friends, so I could understand why that made her nervous.

  Frida laughed, a chuckle very reminiscent of Miriam’s.

  “You’re in luck, then, darling,” she said. “Because today the character I have chosen is that of Antiope, the Amazon queen. It was Miriam’s first starring role.”

  “Good!” Jessi said. “We need all the power we can get. Amazons were, like, really strong women warriors, right?”

  Frida nodded. “The strongest.”

  “That’ll come in handy,” Emma said. “It’s a lot better than being one of the Sunshine Puppies on the field!”

  We all laughed as we joined the rest of the team. Coach Flores led us in warm-ups. And I made sure to pay extra attention to my legs while stretching. I didn’t want to pull a muscle during the game!

  “Sock swap!” Grace called, and we gathered in a circle to swap socks with the person on our left. We all did our silly toe wiggles and laughed as we did, but something seemed off.

  “Is it just me, or did the laughter seem a little forced today?” I asked Jessi.

  “I faked mine,” Jessi admitted. “I’m feeling the anxiety big-time. Everyone is here watching!”

  I exhaled slowly, trying to calm myself as I took my place on the field. Grace, Hailey, and I were starting as forwards. Frida, Sarah, Giselle, and Jade were our defensive line, and Jessi, Zoe, and Anna held the midfield.

  I heard someone yelling “Devin” loudly. I looked up. Sitting with my dad, mom, and Maisie were Grandpa and Grandma. I saw Grandma holding up a sign, and for a second I was afraid it would say “Noodles” on it. But instead it said, in bright blue letters, GO, DEVIN! Whew!

  The ref blew her whistle and the game began.

  The Panthers quickly got control of the ball, and they tore down the field with it, but our midfield was ready. Zoe was going in for a side tackle, poised to steal the ball, when a member of the Panthers’ offense blatantly grabbed on to Zoe’s jersey sleeve to stop her.

  The ref’s whistle blew, and the Panthers got a foul. The Kicks had a free kick, and Zoe sent the ball directly to Hailey, who was open.

  But Hailey fumbled the ball, and it went skidding directly to the waiting feet of a Panthers defender, who passed it back down the field.

  Seeing that made me realize that Hailey wasn’t perfect. I had built her up in my head to be my biggest competition. But we were a team, and we won and lost together. Not one of us was perfect, including me. Did I think less of Hailey as a player because she’d made a mistake? No way. Then why would I think less of myself? Or any of the other Kicks, win or lose? I felt like a lightbulb had gotten switched on in my brain, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. The game was on!

  The Panthers kept committing fouls, with aggressive behavior and going offsides. Nervous energy radiated all across the field, and it was clear that the Kicks weren’t the only ones who were feeling it.

  We were making silly, careless mistakes, but so was Pinewood. Neither team was making progress over the other, until Jessi got a hold of the ball and ran away with it down the field, right toward me.

  “Devin!” she yelled as she launched the ball to me. I felt my excitement rise. I had a clear path to the goal.

  Suddenly a dark shape came rushing at me. I didn’t know what was happening, but the ball that was headed my way ended up in the mouth of the dark shape. It was a black Labrador retriever!

  The dog had run onto the soccer field to chase the ball. The dog began nudging the ball with its nose. When the ball rolled away from it, the dog began happily chasing it, its tail wagging the entire ti
me.

  The whistle blew as the game stopped. Jessi came running down the field.

  “Here, doggie!” she cried, but the dog ran away from her outstretched arms.

  Soon everyone, both Kicks and Panthers, was chasing the dog around, trying to get it off the field. The dog thought it was a game, and ran from one player to the next. I don’t know if dogs can smile, but this one looked like it was.

  “Shadow! Come back here, boy!” I saw a man standing on the sidelines, holding a leash in his hand. There was a park next to the Panthers’ field. I guess the man must have let his dog off leash, and when Shadow had seen all the fun happening on the soccer field, he’d bolted.

  Even though I was frustrated to have been so close to a scoring opportunity only to lose it, I had to laugh.

  “This is crazy!” Zoe giggled.

  “Hound of Hades, I command you to desist!” Frida yelled in character as the Amazon queen. The dog bounded over to her, jumped up, and licked her face, before racing away again.

  “He does not respect your authority,” Jessi yelled to Frida, before she broke out into hysterical giggles.

  Finally Coach Flores snuck up behind Shadow and scooped the dog up into her arms. It was a big dog, and Coach Flores wasn’t a big person, so I was pretty impressed. The dog started licking Coach all over her face.

  “Stop! That tickles!” Coach laughed as Shadow’s owner rushed out to meet her. He clipped the leash onto Shadow’s collar and helped Coach set him down on the field.

  “I’m so sorry!” he apologized. “I shouldn’t have taken him off the leash. I didn’t know there was a soccer game today.”

  A quick break was called to give everyone a chance to get their heads back into the game and get a drink before play started again.

  “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen at a soccer game,” Emma remarked.

  Jessi grinned. “We did end up with a Sunshine Puppy on the field today after all!” she joked.

 
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