Authors: Alex Morgan
Mirabelle got our kickoff and tried to do the same thing. Pinewood's players were much more disciplined than ours, though, and three of them swarmed her,
forcing Mirabelle to kick the ball out of bounds.
Their ensuing sidelines toss-in cleared a third of the field, the ball soaring right over Emma's head. The Panthers were there, though, and they scored again. They didn't just have first-rate facilities and uniformsâtheir play was first-rate too. Pinewood made us look like a joke.
“Jessi!” Mirabelle yelled when she managed to take control of the ball again. Mirabelle voluntarily passing to Jessi? She must have really wanted to win. Jessi was open on the flank, but she wasn't paying attention to where the last Pinewood defender was. Instead of slowing down to prevent offsides, she sped up.
The referee blew his whistle. “Offsides!” A scoring chance evaporated.
Pinewood scored again on a corner kick. 3â0.
Mirabelle was getting angry. You could see it on her face.
“Get the ball, Devin!” Mirabelle screamed at me. I was trying! I managed to steal a pass. “Go, go, go!” Mirabelle yelled as I charged up the field.
Where was I supposed to go with it? No one was open, and I was too far back to score. Mirabelle's losing her cool was throwing me off my game.
I kicked the ball as hard I could downfield, just to get rid of it. Even though I was supposed to be a midfielder, I was now basically full-time defense. Everyone had shifted back a line, except for Jessi. She was stationed all the way up the field, the loneliest Kangaroo. I guess if we ever got
a chance to score, she would be poised to do so.
The Pinewood fans in the stands started doing their stomping thing on the bleachers again, and I was getting a serious headache. “There's a mercy rule in soccer, right?” Anna huffed.
“Maybe we can come back,” I said hopefully.
“Maybe we can forfeit,” Anna suggested.
Another ball came flying back down our way. Anna tried to slide tackle someone, but she missed. Now there were two Panthers for me to stop. I managed to intercept their pass and knock the ball toward Emma.
Pressured by another Panthers player on the wing, Emma turned her back, shielding the ball.
Good. Now get it out of here!
I thought. Emma cleared some space by swinging her arms wildly, and, facing the goal, she pulled her leg back for a huge kick.
goalie, Frida, was right in front of her, and Frida held out her arms as her eyes got really big.
Emma had no idea she was facing her own team's goal.
If I could have frozen time, I would have right then.
Emma blasted the kick of her life. Right on target, right past our goalie, right into our own goal.
The crowd completely stopped chanting. Nobody moved. For the first time since we'd arrived at Pinewood, there was silence. Emma gasped, her hands flying to her open mouth as she realized what had just happened.
I felt terrible, but I couldn't help thinking:
I should have listened to Mirabelle
Breaking the spell, an appreciative clap started from the Pinewood stands. The clap grew into thunderous applause, all directed at Emma. It wasn't even mean-spirited. They just felt bad for us. Some even yelled words of encouragement: “Don't worry. You'll do better next time!”
Inexplicably Emma took a bow, which generated more applause. I was shocked at Pinewood's positivity. What kind of people were nice to you as they annihilated you? Monsters, that's who.
At halftime the score was 6â0, including Emma's massive mistake.
Mirabelle grabbed my arm as we gathered in the visitors' locker room. “I hope you're happy,” she hissed into my ear. “You friend made us look like fools out there.” She let go and stalked off angrily to the other side of the room.
I sighed. How could anyone have predicted that Emma would do that?
Coach Flores didn't have much to say. Even her usual sunny smile was dimmed. “We're doing okay out there. Not the best, but okay. Just keep hustling and try to have fun. Everyone who hasn't played yet, let's get in there.” The girls on the bench weren't that excited to join the slaughter. When we got our only goal in the second half, by Mirabelle, I couldn't even celebrate. For the rest of the game I tried not to look miserable while sitting on the bench.
As the game wound down, the Pinewood fans
serenaded us with the losers songâ“Who do we appreciate? Kangaroos! Kangaroos!” Frida summed it up perfectly: “At least in theater no one applauds when you mess up.”
Feeling defeated, I decided to head home with my parents instead of taking the bus back. When my family was walking back to our car after the game, my mom and dad offered to take me for frozen yogurt to help ease the sting of that awful loss. I was all for drowning my sorrows with an extra helping of crushed cookies, and peanut butter cups on top. As I climbed into the backseat, I saw Mirabelle and her dad standing with the Panthers coach. Her eyes glanced around and landed on me for just a second. Then she just as quickly looked away, an almost guilty look in her eyes. Huh, I thought. That wasn't like Mirabelle. I wondered what she was up to now.
“Nice goal on Wednesday!” one of the eighth-grade soccer boys shouted sarcastically at Emma as she, Jessi, Zoe, and I walked by him on Friday on our way to our usual courtyard lunch spot. He put his fist up in the air in mock salute.
I couldn't help flinching even though he wasn't talking to me.
“Thank you, thank you,” Emma called back while curtsying. “My best goal ever!”
“How are you not embarrassed?” I asked Emma. I wanted to be embarrassed for her. “You're acting like it's just a big joke. And I know it was an accident, but we lost the game.”
“What's the big deal?” Emma said. “It's not like we would have won anyway, and honestly, I figure it's better to just embrace my stupid mistake than feel too terrible about it. Plus, we all lost together, right? My brother said soccer is the ultimate team game.”
“I guess you're right,” I said, impressed. I really admired Emma. I would have wanted to crawl under a rock or pretend I was sick and skip school. But she didn't let it bother her.
As we settled into our spots and began to eat our lunches, Brianna, Sarah, and Anna showed up. “Hey, Devin!” Brianna called. “Thanks for inviting us.”
“We're a team!” I smiled. The game had been awful, it was true, but standing up to Mirabelle had given me new confidence. My dad was right. Our team needed leadership, but not the nasty kind offered by Mirabelle. I wanted to bring us together. It was time for me to start acting like a captain, not Mirabelle's puppet.
“What happened between you and Mirabelle at the game?” Anna asked, her brown eyes curious. “I saw her grab you in the locker room.”
“You know Mirabelle,” I said, trying to play it off. I hadn't told the other girls about how Mirabelle hadn't wanted Emma to play.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “There is no making that girl happy!”
Jessi was once again furiously scribbling in her notebook, not paying attention to our conversation.
“More last-minute homework?” I asked her.
She sighed. “I totally forgot about the Spanish assignment, and I'm still doing terrible in math.”
“I told you I would help you!” I reminded her. “Anytime! All you have to do is ask.”
“Devin is in eighth-grade algebra,” Zoe reminded her. “You couldn't get a better tutor!”
“It's all just so boring!” Jessi complained. I could understand. Jessi was always full of energy. It was hard to picture her sitting quietly studying. She always needed to be doing something.
“But you can't just not do the work for the class,” Brianna said, shocked. The more I got to know her, the more I realized she was a typical overachiever. Straight As in everything and always rushing off to one extracurricular after another. You could tell Brianna would never dream of watching a reality TV show instead of doing her homework.
Jessi looked embarrassed. “Let's just change the subject,” she said. “How about the dance tonight? Aren't you guys excited?”
We all nodded. “Definitely,” I said. “And I overheard Cody say to Steven in English yesterday about how he's going to the dance.” I gave her a sly look.
“You're making that up. If he said that, then why didn't I hear him?” said Jessi. She threw a pretzel at me.
“It couldn't have been because you were concentrating on your work!” I exclaimed with a laugh as I tossed the pretzel back at her.
And once again we all started laughing. I couldn't believe that I had been in school for a little less than two weeks, and here I was surrounded by friends. I had come a long way from hiding in the bathroom stall.
We met up at Emma's house before the dance to get ready. When I got there, Emma and Zoe were already crowded into her bathroom, playing around with some makeup.
“Whoa, you look great,” I said to Emma. She was out of her usual uniform of shapeless hoodies and shorts, and had on a light blue sleeveless dress with white polka dots, and a white patent leather belt around her waist. Her hair was tied up into its usual bun, but she had added tiny silk flowers for decoration.
“Zoe helped me pick the dress out,” Emma said. Zoe was on her tippy toes, looking into the mirror and fussing with the front of her hair. She had on a slim dress with a Peter Pan collar, and her legs were wrapped in dark floral tights. As always she looked like she had just stepped out of a magazine. Zoe waved at me from her reflection as she perfected her bangs.
“My mom is demanding that we take pictures before we leave,” Emma continued.
“Awesome,” I said. “I need a cute picture of the four of us.”
“Here, let me do your makeup,” Zoe said, pulling me in front of the mirror. Lip gloss, mascara, and eye shadow were littered around the countertop. It looked like she had borrowed everything she could get her hands on from her older sisters. She put mascara on my eyelashes, a tiny bit of peach blush on my cheeks, and topped it all off with some sparkly light pink lip gloss.
I gazed at myself in the mirror, unused to seeing myself with makeup on. “It looks so natural!” I said.
Jessi showed up after we had gotten ready, just in time for pictures. She had on a silver sequin top and black pants, and her hair was pulled to one side.
“Fashionably late, as usual, Jessi,” Emma teased.
Jessi looked glum. “My mom almost didn't let me come. My math teacher gave her a call this afternoon.” She shook her head. “But let's forget about that. You guys look fantastic!”
“So do you!” I said, and we gathered in front of Emma's fireplace for photos.
My soccer pals sure did clean up nice!
After Emma's brother dropped us off at school, we headed inside to the gymnasium. The place had been given a complete makeover. A giant banner with the words “NEON
NIGHTS” scrawled across welcomed us as we walked in. Festive bunches of balloons were scattered around the edges of the room, and the walls were draped with glow-in-the-dark posters. Black spotlights made the white and neon colors glow. To add to the effect, everyone was wearing flashing necklaces and bracelets.