Authors: Alex Morgan
“So, Devin, are you ready to tell me about whatever is bothering you?” he finally asked.
I let out a big breath of air and kicked the ball so hard, it went flying over the fence and into the neighbor's yard.
My dad grinned at me. “I bet that felt good.”
It did. And before I knew it, the entire saga of Mirabelle and Coach Flores came pouring out.
“What if everyone hates me?” I wailed as I finished telling him everything that had happened.
Dad wrapped his arms around me, giving me a big hug. “Relax,” he said. “Nobody is going to hate you. It sounds like this Mirabelle is a strong personality. I'm sure all your friends understand that.”
Strong personality. I laughed to myself. That was one way to describe her!
“And I understand the motivation behind why she did what she did, even if her methods weren't sound,” Dad continued. “Coach Flores needs to give the team more
direction. I don't blame Mirabelle for wanting to take charge. Do you want me to talk to the coach about this?”
“No!” I said, my eyes wide. That would be so embarrassing. And the last thing I needed was Mirabelle's wrath for having my dad tattle on her.
“Okay. Then let's look at the facts,” Dad said. “According to you, Mirabelle is not that nice. But she wants the team to be better. So don't worry about her lineup strategy until you see it. It might be something you can agree with her on. If you don't think everyone is getting a fair share of playing time, you'll have to say something. Do you think you can do that?” My dad cupped my chin with his hand and looked into my eyes. “You're a natural-born leader, Devin. And people really like you. Don't forget that. You don't have to be afraid of Mirabelle.”
I felt myself standing up straighter. My dad always knew what to say to make me feel better.
After dinner that night Kara called. It was like her best friend supersense was tingling, and she just knew I needed her.
“I am so glad to hear your voice!” I gushed when I answered the phone.
“What's up?” Kara asked.
I filled her in on the Mirabelle drama and told her what my dad had said.
“He's right,” Kara agreed. “You don't have to be afraid of her. She's just a bully. If you stand up to her, she'll back down.”
Kara and my dad were right. If I had to, I would totally stand up to Mirabelle!
I'm usually a good student, but I found it pretty hard to concentrate during class on Wednesday, knowing I had to face Mirabelle and the Pinewood Panthers that afternoon.
The day dragged on, but finally I was sitting in my last class of the day, English, next to Jessi. Mr. Williams was writing on the board, and I was taking notes when I felt something brush against my arm. I looked down. A paper airplane had landed on my desk.
I looked around, confused. Where had it come from? I slowly opened it up. It was a note!
Good luck against the Panthers today. I'll be there cheering you on! âSteven
I glanced up. Steven looked at me and grinned. I felt my cheeks turn pink. I mouthed “Thanks” to him before looking away.
Of course, Jessi had seen the entire thing. She raised her eyebrows at me. Great. I knew she'd ask me all about it. And not only did I have to worry about Mirabelle and the Panthers, but now I had to think about Steven watching from the stands too!
Even though their school was only half an hour away, it felt like a different universe before our bus even pulled onto campus. Cars were lined up around the block, slowly rolling past the security gate and into the parking
lot. What were they all here for? A carnival?
is all for a girls' soccer game?” I wondered.
“They take their soccer seriously at Pinewood,” Zoe said.
As our bus passed the Pinewood fans, some of them honked their horns at us, and they smiled and waved little flags. “They seem nice,” I said to nobody in particular.
Jessi snorted. “They've beat us five years in a row, so it is pretty easy for them to be nice to us. We're like human sacrifices for them.”
Zoe laughed nervously. She still hadn't gotten over her stage fright, and I could tell that if anyone felt like a human soccer sacrifice, it was her!
But Emma wasn't nervous at all. “I can't wait to play,” she said, her eyes shining as she looked out the window. “My entire family is coming to cheer me on. Hopefully I won't fall on my face this time,” she said with a laugh.
Brianna sat next to Anna, her head buried in a book. “Earth to Brianna!” Anna called. Brianna didn't even notice, she was concentrating so hard. “She's got a test tomorrow,” Anna explained.
“Gotta keep up that four-point-oh!” Sarah chimed from the seat in front of them. Frida sat next to her, looking glumly out the window.
“I could be at an audition for a nationwide commercial today,” she complained, slumping farther into the ratty old bus seat. “But no. My mother is all like, âYou need to have a normal childhood, blah, blah, blah.' Doesn't she get it? I'm not normal!”
Everyone burst out laughing at that, and even Frida had to join in. Soon we were driving onto the Pinewood campus. It looked like a superfancy private school. Each of the school's buildings seemed to be made out of silvery metal, and the main building had giant windows that reflected the afternoon sunlight. In comparison Kentville Middle School looked like a bunch of dirt huts.
When we got off the bus and onto the field, the stands were filled with at least two hundred people, all chattering excitedly and all wearing purple and gold, Pinewood's colors. There was a drum line in the front, leading their fans in singing and chanting. “Knock, knock, guess who? The Panthers are gonna stomp on you!” Then everyone in the stands stomped twice, and the crowd cheered wildly.
Our cheering section, over in the away-team bleachers, looked kind of pathetic. Mom, Dad, and Maisie were cheering us on. I noticed Maisie was triumphantly holding a juice box in her hand. Emma's immediate family was there, along with a lot of uncles, cousins, and aunts, but all the Kims and their friends couldn't compare to the number of people crammed onto the bursting Pinewood side of the stands. I was continuing to scan the Kicks' cheering section, looking for Steven, when I felt Jessi nudge me in the side with her elbow. Of course she'd wanted the lowdown on the note as soon as class was over, so I had told her everything.
“Is that Cody with Steven?” she whispered loudly.
I spotted not only Steven and Cody but the rest of the boys' soccer team too.
Steven saw me and raised his hand, waving and smiling. Cody joined him. Jessi and I waved back. But no one else on the boys' team looked happy to see us.
“Their coach made them come,” Frida said when she spotted the team. “A couple of the guys are in my Spanish class, and they were complaining about it today. I told them I didn't want to go either, so they should just shut their traps.” Boy, was she grumpy.
“Well, I guess we'll just have to show them how awesome we actually are, right?” Jessi said as she lifted her chin and crossed her arms.
“Uh, sure,” I said. I thought Jessi's crush was making her a little goofy. And a little forgetful of how our team had been playing.
My stomach began to clench up. This time the butterflies brought a rock band with them. Not only did I have Steven's eyes on me, but also what looked like the eyes of a million Panther fans. And I had to worry about Mirabelle and her lineup, too. I looked over at Zoe, who was standing next to me, nervously chewing on her nails. Her face was pale. She looked like I felt.
“You okay?” I asked. She barely nodded. I had to cheer her up, and myself, too.
“Sock swap!” I yelled. All the seventh graders came running, but once again Mirabelle held the eighth graders back, loudly calling us a “bunch of babies.”
The seventh graders didn't care, though. We all stood in a circle, and each of us handed a sock to the person standing on our left. Then we sat down on the grass and put them on the way Jessi had shown us, giggling the entire time. After we were finished, I touched my hand to my pink headband. I was ready to play!
Just then the cheering intensified and the Pinewood team appeared. The Panthers jogged onto the field in three perfectly straight lines, wearing matching warm-up suits. “They can't be middle schoolers,” I said. I flashed back to seeing Mirabelle for the first time, how intimidating she'd looked. The Pinewood team was like a pack of Mirabelles, a team of Amazons. No wonder she was friends with them. She fit right in.
“Devin, let's go,” Mirabelle called to me. It was the captain's meeting at midfield. I rushed to catch up with her long strides. Three of the Panthers approached, all of them holding hands in solidarity. When Mirabelle saw that, she slowed down to grab my hand too. “Smile,” she whispered to me. Grudgingly I made myself put on a small smile.
She is so fake,
I thought as her hand clamped down on mine like a steel trap.
“Pinewood, call heads or tails,” the referee said, a coin in one hand and a ball tucked underneath his other arm.
“Heads,” one of the Panthers captains said. Their uniforms were so pretty. All white with purple stripes running down the side. It looked like their uniforms had gold flecks on them too. Our blue away uniforms suddenly felt
like trash bags, especially mine, with its masking tape on the back.
The coin came up tails. “We'll defend first,” Mirabelle said, without consulting me.
“Let's have a clean game,” the ref said. “Go ahead and shake hands, girls.”
We cheerfully exchanged “good lucks,” and as we walked away, Mirabelle said, “I want to win.”
“Sure,” I said. We all did.
“No, you don't understand. I
to win. Which means Emma can't play.”
I stopped in my tracks. “What?”
Mirabelle stopped too. “You need to tell Coach that Emma won't play.”
Why single out Emma? There were lots of reasons our team wasn't doing well, and it wasn't fair to Emma to pin all the blame on her. The team needed to work together. It wasn't one player's responsibility.
Maybe Mirabelle singled Emma out because she's such good friends with Jessi,
I thought. After all, Jessi had warned me that Mirabelle wasn't nice to any of Jessi's friends. My stomach knotted up. The butterflies were back, and this time they were doing some Olympic-level gymnastics. Imagining myself standing up to Mirabelle, and actually doing it, were two very different things. As she looked at me with her laserlike eyes, I almost crumbled. But I thought of what my dad had said to me and Emma's excitement on the bus. I reached deep inside and found my courage.
I stood up straight and looked Mirabelle dead in the eyes. “No way. Emma
playing. Her entire family is here. And she's my friend. I won't take her out of the game,” I insisted.
“She's going to make us lose.” Mirabelle was practically shouting.
“We're a team!” I shouted back.” How can one person make us lose? We win
lose together.” I held her gaze and didn't blink. “Emma is playing.”
“Fine,” Mirabelle said angrily, stalking away. “You're in charge of subbing her out when she messes up.”
I let out a deep breath as I walked back to the rest of the team on the sidelines. I had done it! But it wasn't over yet. I watched as Mirabelle got ready to assign starting positions, and I was ready to jump in if she left Emma out. All the forwards and defenders were eighth graders, except for Brianna. “Devin, Jessi, Emma. You three can play midfield. All right, let's go,” Mirabelle said. She had listened to me! Standing up to Mirabelle had worked.
Once the game started, however, it became clear that Emma was the least of our problems. Pinewood was just too good. After the kickoff one of their players streaked right through the middle of the field untouched. We weren't even set up yet. Pass. Pass. Score. It was that simple for them.