Ava and Alex are taking sibling rivalry to a whole new level in the seventh book of the It Takes Two series!
It’s Homecoming Week in Ashland! That means a big game, a big dance, and, most importantly, Powder Puff. But when Alex and Ava are placed on different teams for the middle school girls’ flag football game, trouble brews. Ava is getting loads of extra attention because of her athletic ability, but this leaves Alex feeling majorly left out. Not one to hide from a little competition, Alex is determined to beat her sister at her own game by becoming her team’s secret weapon!
But Ava isn’t worried about her jealous sister or Powder Puff. Because she has ADHD, she’s supposed to get extra time on her tests, but her new substitute science teacher is refusing to give it to her. Ava knows it isn’t fair—but how is she supposed to fix things in her science class and win Powder Puff for her team?
May the Best Twin Win CHAPTER ONE “Hey, Emily! Hey, Lindsey!” Alex Sackett waved at her two friends, who were weaving their way through the crowded hallway in her direction. “Wow, they look super excited about something!” Alex said to her twin sister, Ava, whose locker was right next to hers.
Ava grinned and slammed her locker closed before the clutter inside could spill out. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s important, like a sale on makeup,” she joked, hoisting her backpack onto her shoulder. She was already thinking about her upcoming Spanish class and wondering if she had her homework with her. Had she left it at home?
“Don’t joke. It probably has to do with Homecoming!” said Alex.
Emily Campbell and Lindsey Davis stopped on either side of Ava and linked arms with her.
“Ava! Just the girl we wanted to see!” said Emily breathlessly.
This sudden attention alarmed Ava, but she tried to make a joke out of it. “Uh, hi, guys. I realize that Alex and I are identical twins and all, but she’s the twin you want to see,” she said.
“What? No! I mean, no offense, Alex,” said Lindsey, barely glancing at Alex. “But actually, it’s you we were coming to find, Ava, because we want to make sure you’re signing up for the big game.”
“What big game?” asked the twins at the exact same time.
“The Powder Puff football game?” prompted Emily, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. And Ava noticed that even though Alex had also asked, Emily still addressed her response to Ava.
“Powder what?” asked Ava. This did not sound like something she’d be interested in.
“I know what it is,” Alex jumped in. “It’s a flag football game, and it’s all girls. We talked about it in student government on Monday. Next Wednesday, the seventh-grade girls play one game and the eighth-grade girls play another. Then the winning seventh- and eighth-grade teams play each other at the big pep rally on Friday. It’s a Homecoming thing they do every year to raise money for the local soup kitchen.”
Ava could see where this was going. No wonder Emily and Lindsey were interested in her, not Alex. Alex was not known for her athletic prowess, whereas Ava was the one and only girl on the Ashland Middle School football team.
“Do they have to call it ‘Powder Puff’?” asked Ava, wrinkling her nose. “That sounds so last century.”
Lindsey laughed. “It’s just the traditional name for it. But trust me: It’s a serious game. We always raise a ton of money.”
“And it won’t interfere with your football,” Emily added quickly. “We only have one practice, this Sunday afternoon.”
“This is going to be so fun!” Alex chimed in brightly. “For once I’ll get to be on the same team as my twin!” Ava knew that tone of her sister’s—Alex was feeling left out.
Ava noticed that Emily and Lindsey exchanged a quick look, just a flick of their eyes. She also noticed that Alex didn’t seem to have noticed.
“Well, ha-ha, you probably will be,” Emily said to Alex. “Coach Jen appointed Lindz and me to pick one team, and Rosa and Annelise are picking the other.”
“We’re not the captains or anything,” Lindsey added quickly.
“And after people sign up, we flip a coin to see who gets first pick,” continued Emily. “Then we just take turns choosing until everyone is on a team. We’re getting together tonight to choose the teams, and they’ll be posted tomorrow morning.”
Ava gulped. Would Alex’s friends be loyal to Alex and choose Alex, or would they be more interested in choosing talent? Ava thought she knew the answer, and she didn’t think Alex was going to be very happy about it.
“The sign-up sheets are outside the gym,” said Emily to Ava. “Don’t forget!”
“I won’t,” said Ava.
“I won’t either!” added Alex. But Emily and Lindsey were already hurrying away.
Alex turned to Ava and frowned. “Should we sign up now? The first bell hasn’t rung yet.”
Ava shrugged. “I guess.”
They found the sign-up sheets just where Emily had said they’d be. The seventh-grade sheet already had fourteen names on it. Ava smiled when she saw that her friend Kylie McClaire had signed up. Kylie had hated football when Ava first met her, but after spending a few of the high school games in the bleachers next to Ava, she now liked it almost as much as Ava did. Ava liked to think it was all thanks to her influence that Kylie now wanted to play on the Powder Puff team.
Ava scrawled her name just below Alex’s neatly penned name.
“Are you sure you have time for this?” asked Alex, pursing her lips. “You know you need to keep your grades up.”
Ava scowled at her sister. “Thanks for your concern. I think I can handle one Sunday practice and a couple of Powder Puff games without flunking out,” she said irritably. But deep down, she knew her sister had a point. She had been diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of the school year, and she’d been working extra hard to keep her grades up ever since. She had a big science test on Monday that she really needed to do well on, because she was in danger of getting a C. That could land her on academic probation and jeopardize her ability to play on the AMS football team—the real football team.
But she had a plan. Today was only Thursday. Her tutor, Luke, was making a special visit to her house tonight to help her with test-taking strategies. She’d study all weekend and then ace the science test on Monday.
Dinner that night at the Sackett house was quiet. Alex had set places at the table for her brother, Tommy, and for her dad, but they were late coming back from practice. The twins’ father was the coach of the high school football team, the Ashland Tigers, and Tommy was the third-string quarterback.
“We’d better start,” said Mrs. Sackett to the girls. “Luke will be here to tutor Ava at seven thirty.”
Thinking about Luke made Alex’s face grow hot, so she looked down intently at the vegetarian taco she was assembling. She couldn’t believe how out of control her mad crush on him had gotten! What had she been thinking? Not that he wasn’t totally gorgeous, and smart, and funny—in short, a perfect match for her. But he was a sophomore in high school, just like Tommy. Alex knew now that that was too old for her. Whatever. She was pretty sure Luke hadn’t noticed how much she’d fawned over him—boys were oblivious at any age, it seemed.
“Have you heard what the committee decided the dress code for Homecoming will be?” Alex asked Ava, as Ava handed her a bowl of black beans. “?‘Snappy casual.’ What is that supposed to mean?”
Ava shrugged without looking up from the large taco she was constructing. “You know me, Al. I never let these things bother me. I have you to help me avoid any fashion don’ts.”
Alex eyed Ava’s football jersey and sniffed. “Well, I wish you’d listen to me a little more often,” she chided her sister. “Anyway, I’ll do some research about this and find out what people mean by ‘snappy casual.’?”
“I’ll be anxiously awaiting word from you,” said Ava.
They heard the front door burst open, and suddenly Tommy loomed in the kitchen doorway. Did he grow another inch since I saw him this morning? Alex wondered. Their Australian shepherd, Moxy, who had been slumbering on top of Alex’s feet under the table, scrambled to her feet and barreled into him, her tail wagging like crazy.
Coach slipped past his son and dog and bent down to kiss Mrs. Sackett on the cheek.
“Sorry we’re late, honey,” he said, plunking down his oversize leather briefcase and stepping to the sink to wash up. Alex was always amazed at how well the orange Tigers coaching shirt complemented his skin tone—how was that possible, for such a bright, garish color? Maybe it was the deep Texas tan he’d acquired in the few months since they’d moved there.
“Are you ready for the game tomorrow?” asked Mrs. Sackett as she playfully slapped Tommy, who was attempting to sit down, and pointed at the sink for him to wash his hands.
“It’s going to be an easy one, right, Coach?” asked Ava.
“There are no ‘easy ones’ in this league, Ave,” said Coach.
“Well, easier, then,” amended Ava.
Alex didn’t know football the way her sister did, but she’d known their dad long enough to know that he never conceded that a game could be easy. She supposed this was a coach thing.
“It’s the Homecoming game next week we have to worry about,” said Coach. “We have to beat Western if we want any chance to make it to state.”
“Oh, I am so excited for Homecoming Week!” said Alex, bouncing up and down a little in her chair. “I can’t believe the dance is a week from Saturday! So, Tommy, are you going to the high school dance with a big group?”
Tommy had built himself three towering tacos in a remarkably short time. He picked up the first one, his mouth open wide, but stopped before he took a bite and said, “No. I’m thinking of asking someone.” Then half the taco disappeared.
The other four Sacketts stopped and stared at him.
Alex recovered first. “You’re going to ask a girl?”
Tommy swallowed and glared at her. “No, it’s actually a pet armadillo,” he said, and made the rest of the taco disappear.
This was big news. Tommy was supercute, and Alex knew lots of girls were interested in him, but to her knowledge, he’d never really reciprocated any of their interest. Or at least, if he had, he had never talked about it. Tommy was funny and playful and pretty nice about driving Alex and Ava places when they asked, but he didn’t share much about his love life.
“Who is it?” demanded Ava. “Anyone we know?”
So this is news to Ava, too, Alex thought. She was glad. Sometimes she felt a little jealous of the close bond her brother and sister shared.
“He’ll tell us when he’s ready,” said Mrs. Sackett, with a glance at Coach. “Tom, honey, you’re acting like you haven’t had a meal in three days. You don’t have to eat quite so fast. I’m afraid you’ll choke.”
He had already polished off two tacos and was starting on the third. “I’ve got rehearsal in twenty minutes,” he said.
Tommy also played piano in a jazz trio in the little time he had off from football. Alex smiled. Tommy’s group had gotten tons of attention recently, ever since she’d done a feature story about them for the “Tomorrow’s Reporters Today” segment on the local news.
“I need to get ready for Luke,” said Ava, pushing her chair back from the table. “I have a big, huge, important science test on Monday.”
“I think it’s wonderful that you’re applying yourself so much, honey,” said Mrs. Sackett.
Alex jumped up and helped her brother and sister clear the table. “I need to go too,” she said. “I’m going to ransack my closet to see what items qualify as ‘snappy casual’—that’s the dress code for our Homecoming dance—so I can do an inventory of possibilities.”
Tommy grinned. “You do that, Al. And be sure to start a spreadsheet so we can run the numbers later.”
Alex knew Tommy was teasing her, but that was okay. He was never a mean teaser.
Mrs. Sackett sighed and put a hand over her husband’s. “Well, we did enjoy five minutes of overlap when all of us were together at the dinner table. Not bad for the middle of football season.”
Belle Payton isn’t a twin herself, but she does have twin brothers! She spent much of her childhood in the bleachers reading—er, cheering them on—at their football games. Though she left the South long ago to become a children’s book editor in New York City, Belle still drinks approximately a gallon of sweet tea a week and loves treating her friends to her famous homemade mac-and-cheese. Belle is the author of many books for children and tweens, and is currently having a blast writing two sides to each It Takes Two story.
For A Whole New Ball Game: "The twin device is effectively deployed as each girl seeks to understand herself independently, in relation to her twin, and in the context of her new town; there's also appeal in the plot's sitcom elements of overheard conversations, secret observations, and all the uncertainty that comes with being a new place."