Settle the Score
“Noooooooooooooooooooo!” Jessi yelled. I groaned with disappointment. The two of us sat together, watching a boys’ winter league soccer game. Our friend Cody, on the Spartans, had taken a shot at the goal. It had gone high and to the left, looking like it would sail way over the goalie’s head. But the goalie had jumped up and made a spectacular save.
The Wildcats fans in the stands cheered. But for the players on the field, there was no time to dwell on successes or losses. You had to constantly move and run your next play. I knew this very well. Both Jessi and I were playing for the girls’ winter league, on a team called the Griffons. During the regular season we played soccer for the Kentville Kangaroos, or the Kicks, as most people called us.
That was the nice thing about living in California. I could play soccer all year round if I wanted to. Which was fine with me, because I lived and breathed soccer. I even dreamed about it!
“Oh, the tragedy!” Frida moaned theatrically. “It was not to be.”
“They’re still ahead by one!” Emma reminded her, cheerful as always.
“Frida can turn anything into a drama,” Jessi said, smiling at her. “I don’t know why you aren’t on The Real Teenagers of Beverly Hills!”
I laughed when Jessi mentioned the silly reality show she had gotten me hooked on. “Because as dramatic as Frida is, she’s way too nice!” I said.
“But I bet it would be really fun to play the villain,” Frida said, looking thoughtful. She was an actress. In fact, she had recently filmed a TV movie. When I’d lived in Connecticut, I hadn’t known anyone who was a professional actor. But here things were different. It was pretty exciting having a friend who was starring in a movie.
I kept my eye on the soccer field as we talked. Our friend Steven on the Spartans stole the ball from the Wildcats and passed it to Cody. Cody took another shot at the goal, feigning left before kicking it hard and low to the right. The goalie went left, and the ball hit the lower right corner of the net. Goal!
As we cheered, Jessi smiled at me. “I’m glad we didn’t have practice today, so we could be here at the game.”
“I wish we could do both,” I said. “The Griffons could use some extra practice if we want to make it into the semifinals.”
Emma chimed in. “Well, I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad Maisie’s team didn’t have practice either. This is fun.”
Emma and Frida helped my dad coach my sister’s elementary school soccer team. During the regular season they both played on the Kicks with me, Jessi, and our friend Zoe. Frida hadn’t tried out for the winter league because she’d been filming her movie. Emma, who was an awesome goalie for the Kicks, had had a disastrous tryout and didn’t make a winter league team. Zoe had, but not the Griffons. She was playing for the Gators instead.
“I know Zoe wanted to be here too,” Emma continued, “but the Gators coach called for an extra practice. They really have their eye on the championship.”
I looked at Jessi, my face creasing with worry. We really wanted to be winter league champions too. Why hadn’t Coach Darby called an extra practice?
To be the champs we’d probably have to beat the Gators—which meant beating Zoe. Also, some of the other Kicks were on the Gators with her, including Grace, my Kicks co-captain. The idea of playing against my friends was throwing me off a bit, and that was the last thing I needed. Not too long before, an earthquake had shaken me up, and it had taken a while for me to get back my confidence. I didn’t want to lose it again!
“Aren’t you playing the Gators this Saturday?” Frida asked with her eyebrow arched. “Talk about drama!”
“No worries! There are no friends on the soccer field, just players on opposing teams,” Jessi said with confidence. “Zoe will just have to understand when the Griffons wipe the field with the Gators!”
Now it was Emma’s and Frida’s turn to look worried.
“Oh my gosh, I just realized—who are we supposed to root for?” Emma asked. “The Griffons or the Gators? I mean, I was going to make a sign and everything, but now I don’t know who to put on it!”
“Well, if you just put a big G on it, you’ll be covered,” Jessi joked.
“But a pink G for Griffons, or a purple G for Gators?” Emma asked, sounding really worried.
I felt so bad for poor Emma that even though I was just as worried, I acted like it didn’t bother me.
“Don’t even make a sign,” I told her. “Just cheer whenever you want. We know you love us equally. And pretty soon this will all be over and we’ll all be back on the Kicks.”
Emma smiled. “I can’t wait for that!”
Pretending not to be worried actually helped as I turned the situation over in my head. This is soccer, I reminded myself. Someone wins and someone loses. That’s just how the game goes. Whatever happened, I knew there was no way it would make things weird between me and my friends. Right?
But before I could dwell on it any more, the whistle blew and the game ended. The Spartans were the winners, 3–1.
Emma’s and Frida’s rides were waiting in the parking lot. We said good-bye as I checked the time on my phone. My mom wouldn’t be there for another twenty minutes, and we were giving Jessi a lift home.
“Do we have time to congratulate Cody and Steven?” she asked.
I grinned. “Yep!”
Now, when I said that Cody and Steven were our friends, that was true. But it might have been a little truer to say that Cody and Jessi were friends, and Steven and I were friends—friends who really liked each other. Don’t get me wrong. Steven and I weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend or anything like that. After all, we were all only in the seventh grade. And I was pretty sure that my parents wouldn’t let me go out on an actual date until I was around thirty-five years old. But Steven did have a supercute smile, and sometimes, when he flashed it at me, I felt the butterflies begin to dance in my stomach.
“Hey, congrats!” Jessi shouted to Cody as we walked onto the field. The rest of the Spartans were heading home, but Cody was still standing there, his hands on his hips and one foot resting on a soccer ball, while he talked to Steven.
As Cody looked up and smiled at her, Jessi raced over and kicked the soccer ball out from underneath his foot.
“Impressive goal out there, but let me show you how it’s done!” Jessi called over her shoulder as she raced down the field with the ball.
Cody wobbled for a second before regaining his balance and tearing after Jessi.
Steven smiled at me, and I felt the butterflies start their cha-cha. He had short, dark hair that he stuck up a little with gel, but after the game it was more sweaty than spiky. That was okay with me. He still looked cute.
“Great game,” I told him. “That was some interception.”
“Thanks,” he said, and I thought I saw a slight blush creep up his cheeks. Was Steven embarrassed because I’d complimented him? I felt a little awkward, not sure of what to say, until Jessi saved the day.
“Devin! I need backup!” she yelled from down the field as she tried to keep the ball away from Cody.
“Bro! Come help me out!” Cody called to Steven.
Steven grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders. “Those two are so hyper,” he said.
“Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I smiled at him before racing away to receive a pass from Jessi.
Steven yelled as he ran after me, trying to steal the ball. All four of us kicked it back and forth for a while, laughing and messing around, while we tried to score on one another.
I was feeling so happy that any worries I’d had about playing the Gators had disappeared. I had my soccer mojo back and was ready for anything. Especially for the Griffons to win the winter league championship, no matter who I had to beat to do it. Game on!