We are not a team because we work together. We are a team because we respect, trust, and care for one another.
I found this meme one night when I was randomly searching for teamwork on the Internet, because that is something I do sometimes. Maybe that sounds silly, but I do it to get inspiration. And this quote inspired me, so I made it my cell phone wallpaper, with a background of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team in a huddle.
Not long after I found it, I discovered how true that quote really was, and how bad it could be when a team wasn’t working together. When I think back about it, I realize that the problem started one day at lunch.
“Heads up, Devin!” a voice called out over the din in the crowded Kentville Middle School cafeteria.
Usually when I heard that expression, I was on the soccer field, ready to pounce on the ball that was coming my
way. At the moment it wasn’t a soccer ball sailing toward me; it was a wadded-up piece of paper.
As I caught the paper in my right hand, I looked up and saw my friend Steven grinning at me.
“Good catch!” He gave me a thumbs-up. “Those are my notes for the World Civ test. Carlo took it during third period, and he said it’s a killer. You might want to do some studying during lunch.” Then he shrugged. “Not that you need it. You usually ace your tests.”
“Thanks.” I smiled back at him. “I’ll check them out. You can never be too prepared. See you later,” I said as his friend Cody began calling his name, waving him over to an empty seat.
“Bye.” Steven smiled at me again before running over to join Cody. Both of them were on the boys’ soccer team at Kentville, and the team members usually all sat together.
That was who I was sitting with too, my bffs and soccer teammates. Officially we were the Kentville Kangaroos, but everyone called us the Kicks. Middle school could be a social nightmare, and so I was really glad that I had a team to sit with. My team.
Sitting on my right was Emma. Her family was Korean, and on most days her mom liked to pack her a totally tasty and loaded lunch: pickled vegetables, rice, chicken or some other protein, and fruit. It always looked so good, and Emma was so sweet that she regularly brought an extra pair of chopsticks in case someone wanted to dive into her bento box and try something new. Emma was the
tallest member of the Kicks and the team goalie. She wore her long, black hair in a ponytail, and she was dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt.
Zoe, sitting next to Emma, hovered her chopsticks over the food-filled compartments of the bento box. The shortest person at the table, Zoe was fast and feisty on the field. Off the field she was a true fashionista. That day, she wore a mustard-yellow cropped sweater with a black-and-white tartan-print short skirt. I would look like a clown if I ever attempted the prints that Zoe wore, but she always looked super-chic. She’d been growing out her strawberry-blond hair, and now it was long enough for her to tuck behind her ears.
“I can’t decide!” Zoe sighed as she contemplated all of Emma’s lunch treats.
“Mom made veggie bibimbap,” Emma said. “I know it’s your favorite.”
“The first day we met, I tried your mom’s bibimbap,” Zoe reminded her. “And that was all the way back in kindergarten!”
“I never knew if you liked me for me or for my mom’s cooking,” Emma teased, and Zoe gave her shy smile that I had come to know so well.
“Maybe it was a little bit of both,” she replied with a laugh.
“No bibimbap for you!” Emma pretended to pout as she grabbed the bento box and turned away from Zoe.
“If you don’t want it, I’ll have it!” Jessi exclaimed. “I
don’t know what’s in this salad my mom packed for me, but it tastes so bitter. Blech!” She stuck her tongue out.
Zoe grabbed a green leaf and nibbled. “Tastes like kale,” she said.
In the seat next to me on my left, Jessi rolled her eyes. “I think she’s spending too much time with your mom, Devin. First she confiscates all of my hot Cheetos. Now kale salad! It’s not natural!”
We all burst out laughing. Everyone knew that my mom was a total health-food nut, and she and Mrs. Dukes, Jessi’s mom, were becoming friends. Which was awesome, because Jessi had been my first good friend when I had first moved to Kentville, California, from Connecticut. I’ll never forget how nervous I was the first day of school. Meeting Jessi, Emma, Zoe, and Frida had made me feel not so alone.
Jessi was a midfielder. Today she wore her black hair in a cascade of bouncy curls. Jessi was high energy, on and off the field, and was always a lot of fun.
“Kale is a natural food, unlike disgusting processed snack foods.” Frida tossed her auburn hair over her shoulder as she spoke. My most dramatic friend, Frida, was an actress who usually pretended to be a character while on the soccer field. She’d been everything from a spy, to a princess, to an Amazon warrior. It totally confused the opposing team, especially when she shouted things like “Princess power!”
“You’re an athlete,” Frida continued. “You need to eat healthy, whole foods. That’s why I’m going on an organic, gluten-free diet. It’s great for the skin.”
“Why, so you’ll look fabulous on camera?” Jessi wondered “Do you have a new starring role?”
Frida had acted in a TV movie called Mall Mania and in several commercials. That was another big difference about living in California. None of my Connecticut friends were TV stars!
Frida beamed. “I thought you’d never ask,” she said. “I’ve got some exciting news! I’m the lead in the local theater production of the Mystery Date musical.”
“Mystery Date? Is that, like, a thriller?” Emma asked.
“No, it’s a board game from the sixties and seventies,” Frida replied.
“Yeah,” Zoe chimed in. “It’s this game where you try to get the best date while avoiding the dud. If you get the dud, you lose.”
“How do you know that?” Jessi asked her.
“My mom had it when she was a kid, and she saved it,” Zoe replied. “My older sisters love to play it. I’d rather play Monopoly.”
“Wait. I still don’t get how they could make a musical out of a board game,” Emma said.
“Musicals can be inspired by almost anything,” Frida said. “There are no rules to creativity.”
Jessi shook her head. “Seriously? Have they turned checkers into a musical too?”
“No, but there was an award-winning musical about chess,” Frida replied.
I was less concerned about the creative source of
Frida’s musical than I was about her schedule.
“Are you sure you have time to do all those play rehearsals?” I asked, thinking about soccer practice. “We’re right in the middle of the spring season, and we’re on track for the semifinals.”
“Don’t worry, Devin.” Frida waved her hand as if waving away my concerns. “I know it will take a lot of effort on my part to honor all of my commitments, but Miriam told me that live theater is exactly what I need to hone my craft.”
Miriam was a famous (and very old) actress who had starred in a lot of black-and-white movies. We had met her at a nursing home where we’d all been volunteering. Miriam and Frida had hit it off and had kept in touch ever since. They were both divas at heart, and it explained why Frida had been talking less like a seventh grader and more like a seventy-year-old lately.
“Tomorrow we’re playing the Santa Flora Roses,” Jessi added. “Not much to worry about there. They are the weakest team in the league!”
“Yes, tomorrow’s game should be a snap,” Zoe said.
Emma sighed. “I can’t believe I almost gave up soccer for good! If it weren’t for all of you, I never would have played again.”
Jessi reached across the table and patted Emma’s arm. “The Kicks wouldn’t be the same without you. So what if your cleat flew off during a game and banged you smack in the forehead? It could happen to anyone.”
“Jessi, you know that my flying shoe wasn’t the
problem—it was that somebody took a picture right when the shoe hit me in the head, and then I became a meme sensation,” she said with a groan. Then she started to giggle. “Looking back, I can see how funny it was. At the time, not so much!”
“I’m glad you’re back to your old self, Emma,” I chimed in. “Santa Flora might be an easy win tomorrow, but we’ll need you in the goal if we want to get to the semifinals.”
“I’m all in!” Emma said. “What’s everyone up to after the game tomorrow?”
Jessi smiled. “Devin and I are going bowling with Cody and Steven tomorrow night. I can’t wait to see the look on Cody’s face when I demolish him.”
Jessi could be really competitive when it came to Cody. At the mention of our bowling night, I got a big smile on my face. I wasn’t allowed to date, and neither was Jessi, but we were allowed to hang out in groups with some of our guy friends. I was kind of crushing on Steven, and Jessi had also been crushing on Cody, but things had gotten a little weird when Jessi had made a new friend named Sebastian. I wasn’t sure if Jessi still had a crush on Cody or if they were just good friends, but I was glad that the four of us could start hanging out together again. We always had so much fun.
“Well.” Emma put her chopsticks down and beamed happily. “Zoe and I are going to be attending the first ever in-person county fan club meeting for the Real McCoys!” she squealed.
“Wait, is Brady McCoy going to be there?” Jessi asked, sounding confused. Brady was Emma’s favorite pop star. He had starred in Mall Mania with Frida, and thanks to her, Emma had had the chance to meet her idol in person. “Haven’t you already met him? I thought maybe after that you would have cooled down a little bit, you know?”
“I am still obsessed with Brady,” Emma admitted. “But this is just a meeting of the fan club. It’s cool because we’ve only ever communicated with one another online. Now I finally get to meet some of my favorite peeps, like BradyLover4Ever and McCoyest, in person! We’re both so excited. Right, Zoe?”
Zoe stared blankly at the piece of mushroom trapped between her chopsticks, before shrugging and placing the chopsticks down. “I told you I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I have other plans,” Zoe said softly.
Emma laughed. “You’re kidding, right? What could be more important? Besides, you are almost as crazy about Brady McCoy as I am.”
Zoe sighed and shrugged again, but Emma acted like she didn’t notice.
“We’re going to watch his concert video for his second album, Brady’s Back,” Emma said. “I can’t wait! McCoyest has the director’s cut with special, never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage. It’s going to be totally amazing!”
Emma kept talking about the fan club thing, while Zoe kept looking down at the table, frowning. Emma’s
enthusiasm about Brady could be exhausting, and it looked like it was starting to get to Zoe.
I didn’t care if Emma talked about Brady McCoy for hours, as long as she brought that energy with her onto the soccer field. If she did that, the Kicks would have a clear shot at the semifinals! So I tuned out Emma. But sometimes I wonder, if I had been paying more attention that day at lunch, if I could have helped to prevent a crisis—a crisis like the Kicks had never seen before.