My cleats were a blur as I raced across the soccer field, keeping the ball close to me. I darted quickly around the other players.
Was it my speed that got everyone’s attention? Or my control of the ball? Nope.
“Devin, you haven’t stopped smiling since you stepped onto the field,” Jessi remarked, panting slightly as she ran alongside me.
My grin got even bigger. I was back on my home turf, surrounded by my best friends. How could I not smile? I was one of the Kicks again, and we were all together at our first practice of the spring season!
I used to live in Connecticut, where I could compete in soccer only during the spring and summer months. Here in California I could play all year long. When the school soccer season had ended in the fall, I’d been going into
some serious soccer withdrawal. Jessi had suggested we try out for the winter league, and I had jumped at the chance.
The winter soccer season had ended a few weeks ago, and even though I’d been a member of the champion team, the Griffons, I had been eagerly waiting for the spring soccer season to start. Now that it had, I was with my friends, playing on the Kentville Middle School Kangaroos (otherwise known as the Kicks) again. As a Griffon I’d had to compete against some of my very best friends. That had been tough. But now we were all on the same side once more. Together we would be unstoppable!
An image of the Kicks sweeping the spring season and being crowned champions flashed through my mind. I pictured the crowd, dressed in the Kicks’ colors of blue and white, chanting our team’s name. I had just scored the winning goal. My teammates hoisted me up on their shoulders, cheering as we celebrated. I guess I got a little too caught up in my fantasy, because I was taken totally by surprise when I felt something push against the front of my shoulder, throwing me off balance. I fought to regain my equilibrium, but it was too late. I had lost control of the ball.
I saw a girl running away with it, her curly brown hair bouncing on her shoulders as she raced down the field.
“Way to fight for the ball, Hailey,” I heard Coach Flores shout approvingly. “Perfect use of your body to win the ball!”
Whenever Coach Flores yelled, she still sounded nice, no matter what she was saying. Coach Darby from the
Griffons was always barking at us, whether she was praising or correcting. She was tough, and I learned a lot from her. Yet I couldn’t be happier to be back with Coach Flores—except that I wanted her compliments directed at me! (Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m competitive.)
Hailey charged down the field with the stolen ball. She passed it to Grace, who was the co-captain of the Kicks with me. Grace sent the ball flying over the grassy field, over the goalie’s head, and into the net. Everyone clapped and cheered.
“Go, new girl!” Maya, one of the eighth-grade players, yelled. Hailey was a new student at Kentville Middle School and new to the Kicks, too. She was a seventh grader, like me and my best friends on the team—Jessi, Zoe, Emma, and Frida.
“Her name is Hailey,” Jessi called to Maya, her hands on her hips. “And something tells me you won’t forget it.”
As we switched sides to continue our practice game, Jessi gave me a knowing grin. “She’s going to give you a run for your money, Devin,” she teased.
“That’s why I encouraged Hailey to join,” I replied. “I want the Kicks to be the best they can be!”
Yet even as I said this to Jessi, I felt a pang of jealousy rise up inside me. My friends knew I was competitive too. They also knew that I ate, slept, and breathed soccer. I did want our entire team to be the strongest it could be, yet part of me wanted to be the strongest of the strong. Was that so terrible?
The ball was in play, so I didn’t have time to dwell on Hailey or anything else. The other team in our practice game had control of the ball. Brianna raced toward our goal, her blond hair flying behind her. Frida, a defender, stood between Brianna and the goal. While Brianna drew closer, Frida stood gazing up at the sky, completely oblivious to what was happening.
Giselle, the other defender closest to Frida, yelled in frustration. “Frida! Look alive!”
At the sound of her name, Frida turned her head from the clouds back to the field. It was too late. Brianna was in striking distance. Giselle rushed in to descend on her, but Brianna quickly took her shot. Our team’s goalie, Emma, dove to catch the ball, but she missed. It hit the back of the net, hard.
Jessi looked at me, one eyebrow arched questioningly. “Frida’s head was totally somewhere else,” she said. “Maybe back on the movie set?”
Frida was a good soccer player and an even better actor. She had recently had a starring role in the TV movie Mall Mania with teen pop star Brady McCoy. Impressive, right? When I’d lived in Connecticut, I hadn’t known anybody who was a TV star. It was just one of the many ways life was different in California, like mild winters and having to always be careful to conserve water. An actor friend was by far the most glamorous thing about living in Cali, although I enjoyed being able to wear flip-flops pretty much year round too.
I shrugged. We all had our bad moments on the soccer field. Frida being inattentive at a practice wasn’t the end of the world.
“She’ll shake it off,” I said. “It’s only the first practice of the season. Maybe she’s just rusty because she didn’t play in winter league, like the rest of us.”
But Frida didn’t shake it off. After our scrimmage Coach Flores had us work on a simple passing and receiving drill. When Emma tried to pass the ball to her, Frida was looking up at the sky again.
“Oops, Frida!” Emma said in that cheerful way she had. “Maybe I overshot that.”
Jessi gave me a pointed look. We all knew Emma had been on target. Frida hadn’t been paying attention again.
When Frida passed the ball to Zoe, it went far and wide. It was nowhere near Zoe. Actually, it was nowhere near anyone else, either. Frida, who was usually very dramatic and expressive, was very quiet. After each mistake she made, she looked at the ground or up at the sky. She didn’t react at all. Maybe Jessi was right and something was up with Frida.
Frida continued blundering her way through practice. After Coach blew the final whistle, Jessi, Zoe, Emma, and I ran up to her.
“Is everything okay, Frida?” Emma asked. She put a hand on Frida’s shoulder, and I noticed that Emma seemed even taller than usual. She must have had a growth spurt over the winter.
Zoe peered out from underneath her strawberry-blond bangs. “Yeah, is anything wrong?”
In the beginning of the school year, Frida hadn’t wanted to play soccer, but her mom had made her. After we gave Frida the idea to imagine she was playing a different character in each game, Frida began to love soccer as much as the rest of us. She pretended to be everything from a fairy princess to a military commander to a space alien. Not only did it help Frida play better, but it made the games much more fun for the rest of us. I’ll never forget the looks on the opposing team’s faces when she yelled at them, “Surrender, earthlings!” We all still laughed about that.
But today Frida wasn’t laughing. She didn’t seem angry. Or upset. She was just . . . quiet. Which was really weird for Frida.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Frida said in a quiet, mousy voice that was very un-Frida-like. She shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
We all exchanged worried glances as Frida turned away from us and jogged back toward the locker rooms.
Emma’s brown eyes got big with concern. “What’s up with Frida?”
Zoe frowned. “Do you think she doesn’t want to play anymore now that she’s a famous actor?”
I hadn’t thought about that. Frida had chosen acting over playing in the winter league. If it had been me, I would never have given up soccer for anything, even to star in a movie. It just went to show that even though we
were all Kicks, we were all different. Zoe loved fashion and had dreams of being a designer one day, but she was just as competitive as I was when it came to soccer. She was one of the first friends I’d made after I’d moved here from Connecticut, but during the winter season she’d been on a different team, the Gators. When the Gators had faced off against the Griffons for the championship, it had put a lot of stress on our friendship. We worked through it, though. And now, thankfully, we were better friends than ever.
With the Kicks finally back together, the thought that Frida might quit was stressing me out. But I didn’t want to start panicking yet.
“Are we still on for your house this Saturday, Jessi?” I asked.
Jessi nodded. “You bet! My mom is even letting me pick out total junk food snacks. I know she feels guilty about making me give up my bedroom, so I can ask her for just about anything right now and she says yes.”
“That’ll probably stop once your new baby brother or sister comes around,” Zoe said.
Jessi’s eyes narrowed. “What did I tell you? Do not say the B word, please. I have four more months of peace, and I want to enjoy them.”
Emma laughed. “Well, at least we know what’s bugging you, Jessi. Too bad we don’t know what’s up with Frida.”
“It’s pretty obvious that Frida doesn’t want to talk about whatever is bothering her now,” I said. “Maybe whatever
it is will have blown over by Saturday. If not, we’ll talk to her then and figure out what’s going on.”
“And how we can help her,” Zoe added.
That was exactly what I loved about my Kicks friends. We definitely had each other’s backs, both on and off the soccer field. I was so psyched to be back, and couldn’t wait for the season to begin.
Grace started clapping her hands loudly. “Great first practice, everyone. This is going to be an amazing season. Let’s sound off!”
All of the remaining Kicks quickly formed a circle.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told!” Grace began.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told!” we repeated.
“This year the Kicks will grab the gold!” she shouted.
“This year the Kicks will grab the gold!”
“No one can beat us on the field!”
“No one can beat us on the field!”
“And when we play, we never yield!”
“And when we play, we never yield!”
Then we all cheered together. “Sound off. One, two, three, four—sound off!”