Authors: Alex Morgan
By the time the rest of the other seventh graders got
into the game, the score was 4â1 and we weren't threatening to come back.
Jessi came in to sub as striker for Mirabelle, and since she had been itching to play, she ran around like a wild horse set free. Using her insane speed, she had no trouble blowing by the slower Eagle players. I was up at striker too, and I was sure that if I could get her a good pass, a goal would be easy.
I eventually got the ball, and I looked for Jessi, who was jetting up the field. Concentrating, I lofted a perfect pass to her. She easily sprinted to get underneath it, zooming past the last Eagles defender.
The ref blew a sharp note on his whistle. “Offsides!” he yelled.
“Jessi!” Mirabelle barked from the sidelines. “Stop going offsides!”
“I don't need your help,” Jessi shot back. But the next time I got the ball and passed it to Jessi, she didn't go offsides, and instead booted it right into the net.
Finally it was my turn to come off the field. Zoe took my spot as striker.
“Zoe, get to the ball,” I encouraged her. “Don't be nervous!” But Zoe, her eyes darting to the crowd in the bleachers, drifted away when the ball came toward her.
“Zoe, get it together!” Mirabelle shrieked in frustration. Screaming at Zoe didn't help. It just made her more nervous.
Frida, in goal, was even worse, not even paying attention
as the ball made its way toward her. She was daydreaming about Shakespeare, the school play, or whatever dramatic thoughts occupied her mind. Keeping watch over the goal was obviously not one of her priorities. To make matters worse, Emma tripped over her own two feet, no ball anywhere near her, twice.
“Jeez, Emma, learn to walk, for crying out loud!” Mirabelle yelled. We had a lot of solid players, like seventh graders Jessi, Brianna, Sarah, and Anna, and eighth graders like Grace and Anjali, but they couldn't overcome the sloppiness of the rest of the team.
In the end, with only Jessi's and Mirabelle's scores, we lost to Victorton by three.
Mom and Dad met up with me before our team got on the bus. My dad wrapped me in a big bear hug.
“You did great,” he said, ruffling my hair. “I'm so proud of you.”
I frowned. “We were awful.”
“It's a new team and only your first game,” my mom said in a soothing voice. “You'll get better. Just be patient. Here, have some water,” she added, handing me a bottle.
Maisie smiled up at me. “I like your socks!
I gave her a quick hug before climbing onto the bus.
On the ride home everyone was a little bummed outâexcept for Emma, that is, who was still full of positive energy.
Emma leaned over the seat she was sitting in with Zoe to talk to me and Jessi. “Aw, don't look so sad. It's only a game! But I know just the thing to fix it.”
“What's that?” Jessi asked.
“A sleepover!” Emma said. “Tomorrow night, my house. Zoe's coming too!” Emma said.
“Awesome!” I said. My first sleepover in my new town, with my new group of friends! Losing the game hurt, but this went a long way to make up for it.
Emma's house was in a private gated community, and as Dad drove me slowly around early Saturday afternoon, looking for her exact house number, we gawked as each house we went by got bigger and bigger. A guard at the gatehouse had even given us a map of the place, in case we got lost.
I was all smiles in the car. After only my first week of school, I had made friends and was on my way to a sleepover. I wish I had known I was going to meet Jessi, Emma, and Zoe before the first day of school. I would have been so much less nervous!
“Fancy,” Dad said when we finally pulled up to Emma's mansion. Palm trees lined the big circular driveway, and a fountain splashed loudly in the middle. I couldn't even tell exactly how many stories the house was, or how wide around it went, as the building extended out of view. Emma lived in an absolute castle.
After my dad parked and we got out of the car, I grabbed my heavy sleepover bag and we walked up to ring the doorbell. As we waited at the oversize wooden door, Dad joked, “Don't touch anything.”
A moment later the door swung open and Mrs. Kim's round friendly face greeted us. She had on a flowery apron, and her graying hair was short and curled. “Devin, we're so happy you could make it,” she said.
“Thank you for inviting her, and if she causes you any trouble, just toss her into the fountain,” Dad said with a laugh.
“Bye, Dad.” I gave him a quick hug and ushered him away.
Once I was inside, Emma appeared. “Thanks for coming,” she said. “Zoe and Jessi are here already. They're out back. Take your shoes off and come on in.”
Emma led me from the foyer into a gigantic kitchen, where a group of ladies was preparing food. “These are my mom's friends and some of my aunts,” Emma said, introducing me around. Then we picked our way through another room filled with people, this time a living room outfitted with a huge flat screen television.
“Move, move!” they screamed at us.
Emma attempted to duck and ended up tripping over someone's sneakers. She landed on her rear end on the floor, laughing as the room broke into applause. I helped her up, and she took a bow as everyone laughed.
Emma gigged before explaining, “My brothers and
our cousins all come here on the weekends. My family is obsessed with sportsâespecially soccer. We watch everything.” Just then someone on the TV scored, and the room exploded in cheers. “KO-RE-A, KO-RE-A!” they chanted as we were caught in a celebratory tornado. It was high fives and fist bumps all around.
I totally understood now where Emma got all her enthusiasm from. It was obviously built into her DNA! We managed to make our way through the noisy television room. Emma slid open a glass door leading outside.
“You brought your swimsuit, right?” Emma asked, taking us into her backyard. I couldn't even answer her because the sight of her pool made me speechless. It was humongous, and edged in dark stones instead of the usual concrete curbing. Over at the far end of the pool, a water slide curled upward, all the way toward the roof of the house. Once, when our family went on vacation, the resort we stayed at had a pool like that. To live here would be like being on vacation all the time. But I couldn't help wondering whether it was safe to have a giant slide in your backyard when your daughter was as clumsy as Emma.
Zoe was next to the pool, lounging like a mini-model. Her strawberry-blond hair had been cut into a super-stylish pixie cut, the bangs long and swept across the front from left to right. She was flipping through a magazine and wearing sunglasses that were half the size of her face, even though she was in the shade.
My power of speech returned to me. “When did you
do that to your hair?” I exclaimed, making my way over to get a closer look. “It looks incredible!”
“Thanks! My mom took me this morning,” she said. “I'm still getting used to it.” It must have taken Zoe a lot of inner confidence to pull off some of her looks, which was surprising, given how shy she was.
“Where's Jessi?” Emma asked.
From above us we heard Jessi's kamikaze yell as she barreled down the slide and flew off the edge, cannonballing into the water. She landed with a huge splash.
She climbed out of the water and gave me a big, wet hug.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, laughing as I looked down at my now wet clothes. “I don't even have to bother changing into my suit now!”
But I did change, in a fancy cabana next to the pool. After I had my suit on, I raced over to the pool and jumped in. Zoe had gotten off her lounge chair and was floating around on a raft, obviously trying to keep her new hairdo dry. Emma was floating on her back next to her.
“You've got to try the slide!” Jessi said, and we both raced up the stairs. As we stood at the top, I felt my tummy start to churn. It was really high.
“Come on!” Jessi yelled, and she slid down again, screaming the entire way. I heard a loud splash as she hit the water.
Here goes nothing,
I thought as I sat down at the top of the slide. I pushed off, and my body went whoosh! I careened into the water next to Jessi.
“Isn't that awesome?” she asked, her brown eyes shining.
“Yes, but I think my stomach is still up there.” I pointed to the top of the slide. “Wow, Emma has a really cool house.”
“It's the best. We have lots of sleepovers here,” Jessi said. “I hope I'll be able to come to more.”
“Why?” I asked as I saw the smile fade from her face.
“My parents almost didn't let me come today,” Jessi explained. “They're worried about my schoolwork. If I don't get my grades up, this might be my last sleepover party for a while.”
“If you ever need any help, just ask me,” I said. “My friend Kara and I used to study together all the time.”
Jessi smiled. “Thanks.”
Then Mrs. Kim called us inside for some food. There was a long table filled with ribs, potato salad, and cold noodles. There were also delicious-looking cupcakes.
“Let's take our plates to the game room. They'll be screaming over that soccer game for hours,” Emma said, leading us to another part of the house. When she slid open the door, I could see that behind it was yet another gigantic television, plus a pool table, a foosball table, and a wall of DVDs and board games.
We settled into the big, comfy couches, eating Mrs. Kim's delicious Korean food.
“Ugh, food coma,” Zoe said as she finished up her plate.
“That always happens when we come here,” Jessi said happily. “Mrs. Kim always has the best snacks!”
I made a mental note to myself to make sure my mom had something other than kale chips and green smoothies if my friends ever came over to my house for a sleepover.
We all sat comfortably together for a while before the conversation turned to the team.
“So, what do you guys think of Coach Flores?” I asked, curious. “I've never had a coach like her before!”
“She's so nice,” Emma said. “But sometimes I think she treats us like we're a bunch of babies. Did you see my loud family? I can handle a little healthy competition.”
“The team is so disorganized,” Jessi complained. “It's like a free-for-all whenever we hit the field.”
Zoe frowned. “I wish I was more of a help on the team.”
Emma laughed. “You can't help it!” she said to Zoe. Then Emma turned to us and said, “You should have seen her last year before our group presentation for Spanish class. She threw up in the girls' bathroom.”
“Hey!” Zoe said with a laugh. “That's not funny! Okay, maybe it was a little.”
“Did that really happen?” I asked, astonished.
“Yeah,” she said. “People watching me does that to me sometimes, when there's a lot of pressure. Stage fright, I guess.” She shrugged.
I felt bad for Zoe. I couldn't imagine getting that nervous about playing. The soccer field had always been where I felt the most confident. Plus, Zoe had real talent
when she felt like no one was watching her. It seemed like a shame, really.
“All you need to do is stop worrying,” Emma said encouragingly. “Then you'll be great!”
Zoe let out a big sigh. “Maybe.”
“We've got lots of problems as a team, not just Zoe's nerves,” I said sadly. “There's no structure. It's all chaos when we hit the field. I know I'm a co-captain, but really it's up to Coach Flores to step up and whip us into shape.”
Jessi got a mischievous grin on her face. “How about you and your fellow co-captain have a talk with her?”
I shuddered at the thought of doing anything with Mirabelle.
“I'm still surprised the eighth graders voted her as captain,” I said.
“I think it's a combination of respect and fear,” Zoe said. “She is an awesome player.”
“But not all of them seemed happy about it,” Jessi reminded her.
“You know what I was also wondering about?” I said. “We've got a game coming up with Pinewood. Didn't you say that Mirabelle is friends with some of the girls on that team?”
Jessi nodded. “Yep, they are her bffs!”
“Do you think she would try to sabotage us, so Pinewood would win?” I wondered.
Jessi, Emma, and Zoe all started laughing. “Um, the way we're playing, no sabotage is needed,” Jessi said.
I chuckled too. “I guess you're right.”
“And Pinewood is the best team around,” Emma added. “They don't need much help.”
Jessi rolled her eyes. “Knowing Mirabelle, she wants to show off in front of her friends. She'd be, like, sooooo embarrassed if our team was a total disaster.”
The team's troubles seemed like too much. I was tired of thinking about it. I eyed the foosball table. “Want to play some foosball to work off some of that food?”
“I'll play with Devin. Jessi, you and Zoe can pair up,” Emma chimed in.