Chapter One Chapter One
Adrenaline pumped through my body as I raced down the field. One of the Marlins was dribbling at rocket speed toward the Kicks goal, and none of our defending midfielders could catch up to her. With her hands on her knees in front of the goal, Emma waited for the ball, eyes alert. The score was tied, 17–17, and the clock was running down.
Wham! The Marlin kicked the ball hard. Emma lunged for it, and it bounced off her gloved hands, careening back onto the field. The same player got control of it again.
My friend Frida, a Kicks defender, charged up to her. Frida was an actor who pretended to be different characters to gain courage on the soccer field. Today she was a pirate.
“Aaargh. We shall give no quarter to thieves who try to steal our pirate gold!” she yelled.
Frida’s strange cry startled the Marlin, who stumbled just enough for Frida to kick the ball away from her. It went flying and landed between another Marlin and Zoe, who got to it first, which was not a surprise because she had some of the fastest moves I’ve ever seen. She dribbled toward the Marlins’ goal, with the player who missed out on the ball at her heels.
I changed direction to get clear in case Zoe wanted to pass. She kicked it right to me just as the player behind her caught up to her.
I got control of the ball and dribbled into Marlin territory. In twenty feet I’d be close enough to shoot …
I saw a turquoise-and-white blur out of the corner of my left eye. One of the Marlins was coming at me fast. I turned and saw another defender charging toward me from the front.
“Devin! Over here!”
Jessi called to me from my right. I turned to face her and saw that she was clear.
Wham! I sent the ball skidding across the grass. Jessi stopped it and zoomed toward the goal. I could hear our fans screaming in the stands.
Jessi got within range and sent the ball soaring. I stopped, watching it fly through the air. The Marlins goalie jumped up to block it, but she fell short. It grazed the top of her fingers and slammed into the net.
The ref blew her whistle. Game over!
“The Kicks win!” somebody shouted.
I ran to Jessi and slapped her on the back. “You were awesome!”
She grinned at me. “We were awesome, you mean,” she said. “Thanks for setting me up.”
“No problem,” I said.
We ran to line up with the rest of our teammates, to slap hands with the Marlins. I knew how much it hurt to lose—especially when a game was that close—and I could see the disappointment on their faces.
After I slapped the last palm, I jogged back to the sideline where the Kicks were gathering. When everyone arrived, we huddled in a circle, jumping up and down with excitement.
“Great game, everybody!” congratulated Grace, an eighth grader and my co-captain.
Coach Flores approached us, and we broke up the circle.
“Good work, girls!” she said. “This means we’ve made the playoffs!”
We began yelling and cheering.
“You all certainly earned it,” Coach continued as we quieted down. “The first playoff game is in two weeks, so our practice schedule is going to change a bit. Our weekday practices will continue. But there’s a break next weekend, with no regular games, so we’ll practice at ten a.m. that Saturday.”
Megan, another eighth grader, raised her hand. “Do we know who we’re playing in the first game?”
Coach shook her head. “No, but we’ll know when all of today’s games are finished. I’ll send out a group text when I get the word.”
“This is great news,” said Grace. “Let’s go to Pizza Kitchen to celebrate!”
Everybody started packing up their water bottles and duffel bags. Jessi, Emma, Zoe, Frida, and I gravitated toward one another as we got ready to go. We all looked like kind of a mess, except for Zoe, who always managed to look neat and whose short, blond hair kept her head cool when she played. Jessi’s long braids helped with the heat, too, but like me, her jersey was soaked with sweat. Frida’s curly auburn hair was falling out of the high bun she’d had it in, and Emma’s arms and legs were streaked with dirt from her diving after the ball.
“That game was intense, and I’m starving!” Jessi said. “I’m going to eat a whole pizza by myself.”
“I’m pretty hungry too,” Zoe said. “Want to split a veggie pizza with me when we get there, Devin?”
“I can’t go, remember?” I said. “I’ve got to go get my dress for Charlotte’s party.”
“Aw, come on. That’s, like, a week away,” Jessi said. “We made the playoffs! You have to celebrate with us!”
“I know, but Sabine is helping me pick it out, and this is the only time she’s free,” I explained.
“You know, I should be insulted that you didn’t ask me,” Zoe said. “But Sabine is flawless, so I understand.”
“Oh, no!” I said. “I told Sabine I was going to a sweet sixteen party, so she offered to take me shopping, but I should’ve totally thought to ask you. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Zoe replied. “Just send us a picture so we can see how gorgeous you look, okay?”
“I promise,” I said, and I glanced at Jessi. By her frowny face I knew she was upset that I wasn’t going to celebrate our big win.
I hugged her.
“Go get your pizza. I’ll be there in spirit,” I told her.
“I’ll make sure to eat an extra slice for you,” Jessi promised, and I knew that everything was good between us.
I headed back home with Mom, Dad, and Maisie, who had come to cheer me on at the game because they’re awesome. I showered and changed into shorts and a T-shirt when I got home, a fitting outfit for an 80-degree day. It was that warm even though it was still spring. That wasn’t unusual for Southern California, but it was my first spring living here. Almost a year before, my family had moved here from Connecticut, and less than a week from now I was heading back for a few days.
My best friend in Connecticut was Kara. She and I talked almost every day, and I still missed her. I missed seeing her at school and playing on the same soccer team. It helped that I’d made some new best friends here in California, but I wished Kara could be part of my life here too.
When Kara and I were in third grade, an older girl named Charlotte was our soccer mentor. Now Charlotte was turning sixteen and she had invited both me and Kara to come to her sweet sixteen party. I had thought that I wouldn’t be able to go, but then Dad had found out he had to go back to Connecticut for a meeting, and he’d said he’d bring me with him.
I was kind of excited to be going back to Connecticut, and totally psyched for Charlotte’s party. I was less excited when Kara told me I needed to find a semiformal dress for it, though, because fashion was not my thing. That was when Sabine had offered to help.
Sabine and I had met on a modeling job. For a hot second I’d done some photo shoots for sports fashions, until I’d decided that modeling wasn’t for me.
The best thing about it was meeting Sabine. She modeled too, but she went to another school, so I never would have met her if I hadn’t done those gigs.
When I was ready, Mom drove me to the mall to meet Sabine.
“Text me when you find a dress you like, and I’ll come check it out,” Mom told me as we walked to the fountain in the center of the mall. “I need to find a new yoga mat.”
Sabine was waiting for us by the fountain.
“Devin!” she called out, and I swear her perfect white teeth gleamed when she smiled at me. Zoe was right—Sabine was flawless, without a hair out of place or a pimple on her smooth, brown skin. Thanks to a daily combination of sweat and sunscreen, three bright red pimples had popped up on my pale white chin just that morning.
“Hey, Sabine,” I said. “Thanks for helping me find a dress!”
“Yes, thanks,” my mom said. “Please guide Devin toward something youthful and tasteful? And not too short?”
“Mom!” I said.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Burke,” Sabine said. “I actually have the perfect dress picked out already. I think you’ll like it.”
“Terrific! Devin will text me once you’ve figured it out,” Mom said, and then she waved and took off.
“Congrats on winning your game today,” Sabine said.
“Thanks—wait. How did you know?” I asked.
“Zoe texted me,” she replied.
“Oh, right,” I said. After I’d told Zoe about Sabine, they’d connected on social media. I knew they had a lot in common, and I’d had a hunch that they could be friends. It sounded like they’d clicked pretty fast—so I’d been right!
“How was your photo shoot yesterday?” I asked.
Sabine rolled her eyes. “It went on for hours,” she said. “The client was there, and she kept telling the photographer what I should do, and she kept changing her mind. ‘Smile. Don’t smile! Smile. Don’t smile!’?” Sabine shook her head. “I think I pulled a mouth muscle.”
I laughed. “I’m glad I decided to stick to soccer,” I told her.
“I get it. But, Devin, you were good,” she said. “Anyway, you need to model one more time, in this dress I picked out. Come on.”
She took my hand, and I followed her through the packed mall. We ended up at a big shop called Belle of the Ball, with lots of fancy dresses in the window. My eyes widened.
“These look like runway gowns,” I said. “Are you sure I’m supposed to wear something like this?”
“This shop has semiformal dresses too, and I found one that will work perfectly. Trust me,” Sabine said.
She led me through the shop to a rack of dresses and pulled out a light blue one with little sparkly stones scattered across it that reminded me of stars.
“The blue goes with your eyes,” she said. “Try it on!”
I obeyed and tried on the dress in the changing room. It was sleeveless, with a straight neckline and a skirt that went out at the waist. I looked at myself in the mirror. The skirt hit right at my knee—not too short, just like Mom had asked for. Even with my pimples, and my skinned knee from practice, I thought I looked beautiful.
I swung my arms, and then I did a twirl. The dress was comfortable, too! It was amazing!
“Come on, Devin!” Sabine urged from outside the curtain.
I stepped out of the changing booth, and Sabine smiled widely. “It’s spectacular! You look gorgeous!”
“I love it,” I admitted. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever looked this good in anything. You are a genius!”
“When I was scoping out the dresses, I just knew this was the one,” she said.
I went back into the booth, took out my phone, and gave it to her. “Can you take my picture, please?”
“Sure,” she said. She held up the phone. “Let’s see some model poses, Devin. Smile! Don’t smile! Now smile!”
I stuck my tongue out at her. “Very funny,” I said. I took the phone from her. “But thank you.”
I texted Mom the picture and the name of the store, and by the time I had changed back into my shorts and shirt, she was at the register, waiting for us.
“I love it!” she said. “Thank you so much, Sabine.”
“You’re welcome,” Sabine replied. “I had a good time.”
Mom paid for the dress and then took me and Sabine to the salad place for a late lunch. Then we dropped Sabine off at her house on our way home.
I walked into our house, clutching the bag with my dress in it. Weird, I know, but it was the first time I’d ever been in love with an item of clothing.
Maisie ran up to me. “Let me see it! Let me see it!”
I set the bag down on the coffee table and carefully pulled out the dress. Maisie’s eyes went wide.
“It’s a fairy princess dress!” she exclaimed. She turned to Mom. “How come Devin gets a fairy princess dress and I don’t?”
“When you have a special event to go to, I will get you a fairy princess dress,” Mom promised.
Maisie frowned. “How come Devin gets to go to a special event and I don’t?”
Mom sighed. “Maisie, we’ve been over this.”
I put the dress back into the bag and ran up the stairs, two at a time.
“Thanks, Mom! I’m going to show Kara!” I called behind me.
I ran into my room and closed the door. First I texted Kara the picture of me in the dress. Then I turned on my laptop and called her on video chat.
After a few beeps her face appeared on the screen.
“That dress is amazing!” she said. “Devin, I’m so excited!”
I held up the dress so she could see it again. “I know!” I said. “I’m excited too.”
“My parents are getting me out of school early on Thursday so we can pick you and your dad up from the airport,” Kara said, talking quickly. “And Friday I’m taking off from school and we’re going to do something special, but it’s a surprise. And we have practice before the party on Saturday night and you can come and watch. And—”
“Okay. Slow down. You’re going to make my head explode!” I teased. “Trust me, I’m really excited to be going back ho—”
I stopped myself from saying “home.” Connecticut used to be my home, but it wasn’t anymore.
“We’re going to have an awesome time,” Kara promised. “Hey, I have to help make dinner. I’ll see you in five days.”
“Five days!” I replied, and then we ended the call. I was all happy and floaty.
The Kicks were going to the playoffs. I was going back to Connecticut to see Kara. And I was going to wear a beautiful dress and go to an awesome party.
I do feel like a fairy princess, I thought, and then I heard Jessi’s voice in my head.
Really, Devin? What’s next, are you going to grow wings?
I laughed, but then I got a little bit sad, thinking about how I would miss Jessi while I was visiting Kara.
But it was only for a few days.