Two Cool for School
Alex Sackett stared down at the pale-yellow wrap dress she’d laid out on her bed and nodded with satisfaction. Combined with her brand-new, first-ever pair of cowboy boots, it would be just the right first-day-of-school outfit. She even had a matching yellow headband to wear with it. Whew! Alex thought. Talk about a down-to-the-wire decision. School starts tomorrow!
She frowned at the heap of discarded clothes on the floor. She’d had to try on half her wardrobe before arriving at the perfect combo, so it was going to take a while to get her room back in shape. And she still had new vocabulary cards to memorize—she tried to memorize five each day.
Alex guessed that her twin sister, Ava, was not laying out her school outfit or memorizing vocab words. Ava wasn’t someone you’d describe as a slave to fashion. Just last week she’d appeared at breakfast wearing one of their brother Tommy’s T-shirts, inside out. Nor was Ava the plan-ahead type. Alex hoped that maybe this year she’d be able to convince Ava to try getting her stuff ready the night before, so their mornings would be less rushed. Alex loved her twin sister, but she could be pretty disorganized.
The smell of cookies wafted up the stairs, and Alex heard the oven door slam.
“Al! Tommy! Cookies!” yelled Ava from the kitchen.
With one backward glance at the outfit she’d chosen—maybe she should go with the green dress instead?—Alex headed downstairs.
“Second batch will be out in just a couple more minutes,” said their dad, Mike Sackett—or Coach, as Ava and Tommy called him. He had tied on one of Mrs. Sackett’s ruffled aprons, which made Alex giggle. It was a funny accessory on such a big, athletic-looking guy, complemented by the flowery oven mitts he wore
to pull cookies out of the oven. Coach loved to bake, and it was a Sackett family tradition to have milk and cookies the night before the first day of school.
“Got that outfit all set, Al?” asked Ava with a mischievous grin as Alex poured herself a glass of milk. Ava was sitting at the kitchen table, with their school schedules side by side in front of her. They had gone to Ashland Middle School earlier that day to pick them up and take a tour.
“Ave, don’t tease your sister,” said Coach as he transferred cookies to a cooling rack. Moxy, the Sacketts’ energetic Australian shepherd, sat beneath him, waiting hopefully for a cookie to fall to the floor. “It’s natural to be a little nervous for your first day at a new school. New town. New state. It’s a big change.”
“I’m not nervous so much as apprehensive,” said Alex, who liked to work her vocab words into sentences as often as possible. She sat down next to her sister to look at their schedules.
“We don’t have a single class together,” said Ava with a frown. “Not even homeroom.”
“We have the same lunch period,” Alex noticed.
“You have Mr. Kenerson, the middle school football coach, for homeroom,” Ava said, pointing to the name at the top of Alex’s schedule.
“Oh, great,” she said, blowing back a stray curly tendril that had escaped her ponytail. “You’re the one who knows football, but I get the coach. He’ll probably expect me to know every play in Daddy’s playbook.”
“Maybe it’ll inspire you to learn a little about the game,” said Ava. Their dad set a platter of cookies in front of them, and she helped herself to one of the biggest ones, which was still gooey in the center. “I mean, we have just moved to a football-crazy part of Texas, and our dad is the head coach at the high school.”
“Studying up on the rules is definitely on my to-do list,” said Alex. “Look, you have Ms. Kerry for homeroom. She’s my math teacher.”
“Awesome, she’ll expect me to be as brilliant as my twin sister,” said Ava drily.
Just then their mother burst into the kitchen with the phone in her hand. Her eyes were shining. “Guess what? I just got my first big—and I mean big—order!”
“Aw, honey, that’s terrific!” said Coach. He tugged off his oven mitts and gave her a hug.
“What’s the order for, Mom?” asked Alex. Their mother was a potter, and Alex had recently helped her create a new website to sell her pieces.
“Remember Katie McCabe, Daddy’s colleague back at the old school in Massachusetts? She’s registering with me for her wedding!” said Mrs. Sackett. “I’ll be making plates, bowls, coffee cups, serving platters—the works!”
“I knew your business would take off fast,” said Alex. “You’re so talented, Mom.”
“Of course she’s talented,” said their older brother, Tommy, walking into the kitchen with his easy athletic gait. “Where do you think I get all my talents from?” He grinned and put an arm around his mother’s shoulders. Alex was still not used to seeing her sixteen-year-old brother looming over their mom. He’d probably grown six inches in the past six months. He was looking more and more like their dad every day—he wasn’t as bulky as Coach yet, but he was getting there.
“It’s going to be a busy next few weeks, Michael,” said Mrs. Sackett, helping herself to a cookie. “I was talking with April Cahill earlier today, and she casually mentioned that as the
coach’s wife, I’m more or less expected to plan a barbecue for the team for Homecoming weekend. And evidently your predecessor’s wife gave each player a towel with his initials embroidered on it!” She shook her head and chuckled in disbelief.
Alex studied her dad’s face. He laughed along with her mom, but it was an uneasy laugh.
Mrs. Sackett must have noticed this too. She raised her eyebrows. “What?” she said, laughing. “You don’t seriously think I should take up embroidery, do you, hon?”
“Oh, no, no, of course not, Laur,” said Coach as he put a large football-shaped cookie down in front of Tommy. “But you know as well as I do that the role of a coach’s wife comes with its own set of expectations and pressures.”
Mrs. Sackett sighed and took a bite of her cookie. “I know,” she conceded. “It’s just that it’s a bigger deal here than it was in Boston,” she said. “Every time I turn around, people ask me about the team, your strategies. The newspapers call practically every day. And now I’ve got this huge order.”
“You should concentrate on building your business, Mom,” said Tommy as he stood up
from the table, his cookie only half-eaten. “So we can afford that piano.”
“There he goes with the piano again,” said Alex to Ava in a low voice.
Tommy gave his dad a playful block with his shoulder as he headed out of the kitchen. A couple of minutes later they heard the sound of his keyboard up in his room.
Their mom and dad exchanged a look.
“Something bothering Tommy?” asked Mrs. Sackett.
Coach shrugged. “I think he’s a little bent out of shape that he’s third-string quarterback, behind PJ Kelly and Dion Bell. But he’s still growing—he’s got the talent to be a really fine quarterback. He doesn’t have to give up on football yet!” he joked.
“But maybe with my business starting to grow, we should consider getting that piano he’s been asking about,” said Mrs. Sackett thoughtfully.
Coach turned back to his tray of cookies. “It’s just a phase. Football and music just don’t mix.”
Now it was Ava and Alex’s turn to exchange a look. Alex didn’t think Tommy’s love of music was “just a phase.”
Ava slid out of her chair. “Thanks for the snack, Coach,” she said, and headed upstairs.
Ava heard Tommy playing an old-time jazz piece and quietly let herself into his room. She sat on his bed as he finished.
“That sounded great,” she said. “You’re really good, Tommy.”
He shrugged. “It would be nice to have a real piano,” he said. “But I think Coach would sooner put a gridiron in the backyard than buy one.” He plunked himself down onto the bed next to her. “I did discover a really great piano—a Steinway baby grand!—at the church on the corner. And they said I can play it anytime I want as long as there isn’t a service going on.”
Ava loved how psyched her brother got when he talked about music. “Is there a piano at the high school, too?”
Tommy’s blue eyes danced. “Yup, several. And I think they maintain them pretty well. I’m going to the info session for the concert jazz band after school tomorrow.”
“How can you be in the band, with football?
Are you going to change uniforms for the halftime show?”
“It’s not the marching band, goofball,” he said, grinning. “It would be hard to march with a piano. But the concert jazz band is really good. Rehearsals are last period during sports study hall. That’s when we’re supposed to be in the trainer’s, getting taped and suited up for practice. So it might mean I’m a few minutes late for practice twice a week, but whatever. I’m only the third-string QB, Ave. And this is an incredible group.”
Ava swallowed down a worried lump that had risen in her throat. “Music is really important to you,” she said. “You’re right, you should at least go to the info session. Maybe you and Coach could work something out,” she added, but her voice faltered a little. She was pretty sure Coach wouldn’t care how incredible the concert band was—she wasn’t sure if he would ever understand if his own son, a talented athlete, chose piano over football.
“Thanks, pal,” said Tommy. “Now get out of here. I have to pick out my outfit for tomorrow.”
An hour later Ava joined her sister to wash up in the small bathroom the girls shared. It wasn’t
quite the same as sharing a bedroom, as they’d done back at their old house in Massachusetts, and it was pretty cramped for two, but they’d learned to take turns at the sink, and the bathroom was quickly becoming the girls’ favorite place to touch base and recap their days together.
“So, Ave,” said Alex briskly, rinsing off her electric toothbrush and putting it back in its charger. “Do you promise me you’ll get up on time? Maybe even a little earlier than usual, so our first morning isn’t the usual mad rush for the bus? It’s stressful enough starting a new school. I don’t want to be stressed waiting for you, too.”
“Yes, I promise,” said Ava, running a comb through her short wavy dark-brown hair. She’d had long hair like her identical twin until very recently, when she’d gotten a dramatically shorter cut so it was easier to play sports. At first Alex had been really upset with Ava for making such a drastic change without talking to her first, but the twins had since talked about it and made up. Now Alex called Ava’s haircut “adorable” so often that Ava wondered if Alex was going to cut her hair too. “I’m going to set my alarm clock and set an alarm on my phone, and I’m going to put them both across
the room so I can’t fall back asleep.”
“Good,” said Alex, but Ava could still see little lines of tension in her neck. She and Alex had always shared a near-telepathic ability to read each other’s moods and feelings, and Ava could tell Alex was nervous about their first day at Ashland Middle School. Ava was too—sixth grade in Boston was still a part of elementary school, so this was the first year the twins would be switching classes. Ava sometimes had a hard time keeping track of assignments with one teacher; she wasn’t sure how well she would be able to handle having six teachers. She gave herself a little shake as she rinsed off her toothbrush. It would be okay.
Alex paused at the doorway to her room and turned back toward Ava. “It’s going to be a great first day of school, right, Ave?”
Ava smiled back at her. “It’s going to be awesome.”