Saving the Team
I was running as fast as I could, moving so quickly, the other players were a blur. My best friend, Kara, was streaking up the field not far behind me, the two of us connected by an invisible string. After dribbling around a defender, Kara lofted the ball way up high, incredibly high, a pass meant for one special person.
As the sold-out crowd rose to their feet, chanting my name, I leaped into the air. “Dev-in! Dev-in!” They knew what was coming.
Soaring over the other team’s defenders, I closed my eyes as I flicked my head forward, aiming directly for the center of the ball. I headed it in, right past the goalie’s outstretched hands. Goooooal! My teammates were already racing over to congratulate me. They lifted me off the ground and bounced me up and down on their shoulders.
“Devin, Devin, wake up!”
My eyes popped open, focusing on my little sister, Maisie, who was jumping up and down on my bed.
Ugh, I was so not ready to wake up yet.
“First day of school!” she shouted. “Dad’s gonna drive!” I tried to throw my pillow at her as she bounced out of my room, but it barely cleared the edge of the bed. I was exhausted.
I leaned back and sunk into my familiar mattress, wishing it would suck me in and transport me back home. I could be in Connecticut right now, getting ready to conquer the seventh grade as half of Kara-and-Devin. (I was okay with Kara’s name being first because she was five weeks older.)
This was supposed to be the year my best friend, Kara, and I became seventh-grade co-captains of the Milford Middle School Cosmos and got to wear the yellow captain armbands with the big letter C on them. Instead that C now stood for “California,” where my family had moved to.
Seeing dream Kara made me miss real-life Kara, so I did what I do whenever I feel that way—I reached for my phone in the hopes of having a message from her. The only thing I asked my parents for when we moved was unlimited texts so I could be in touch with Kara constantly.
Mom says it’s 2 early to ring u. Striped polo, red skirt. Sent a pic. Bye!
I clicked open the picture Kara had texted me. In it Kara was holding the camera in front of her full-length
mirror, capturing a shot of her wearing the outfit she’d described. Her long, brown hair was swept into a high ponytail. She had a huge grin on her face, and her big blue eyes had that mischievous look they always did. I let out a big sigh. I missed her.
Kara and I had agreed that we’d still pick out our school outfits together, like we always used to do, but with the three-hour time difference, we couldn’t exactly call each other up in the mornings. I may have just woken up, but Kara had already been at school for two hours by now. I would have to figure out what to wear without Kara’s help. Not that I couldn’t dress myself or anything. It was just a fun thing we’d done each morning. But everything was different now.
“Devin!” Mom’s voice called from downstairs. “You’d better be getting dressed. We have to get to school early and get your enrollment paperwork done.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” I groaned. I had been awake for only five minutes—and I wasn’t exactly ready to go rushing off into my new life.
“Setting a course for Kentville Middle School,” Dad said as he pretended to push buttons on the console of our family car. He even made the accompanying beeping sounds as he prepared to pull out of the garage.
“Whoosh!” Maisie cried, throwing her head back as Dad pushed the car up to a whopping forty miles an hour. Maisie was eight and didn’t mind playing along with my
dad’s silly games. I, on the other hand, was far too nervous to even pretend to want to join in.
Meanwhile my mom turned around and handed me and Maisie each a bottle of water.
“I already packed water in your backpacks,” she said. “But take extra. It’s important to keep hydrated!”
Maisie and I exchanged eye rolls. If we had a dollar for every time our mom told us to keep hydrated, we’d be rich. It was like she thought we were going to dry up or something. And now that we had moved to California, which is warmer all year than Connecticut, she had really gone water crazy, offering us a glass every time we turned around. But that’s Mom. She’s a big health-food nut too, so I’d rather have the water than her famous green smoothie. Blech.
“Can’t I have fruit punch?” Maisie pleaded. Mom shook her head. It was an argument they had all the time. What Mom didn’t know was that Maisie traded her snacks for fruit juice. I hoped she’d find some kids at her new school who liked kale chips; otherwise she’d be out of luck.
I squeezed my eyes shut so I couldn’t see us driving closer and closer to school. The drive might feel longer that way, I hoped. Sensing my nerves, my mom reached back from the front seat and gave my hand a squeeze. I opened my eyes briefly to give her a small smile, and then closed them again.
The problem was, I was completely unprepared for a new school. Mom had given me a “Welcome to Kentville
Middle School” packet—but that hadn’t told me anything I really wanted to know. Like, for example, who would talk to me? That was not adequately covered. Where did the nice, normal seventh graders eat lunch, and would it be awkward if I sat with them? There was not one hint or spot marked out for me on the brochure’s map. How would I fit in with the kids from Kentville? The pamphlet was useless there, too.
The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope was the fall calendar tucked into the brochure. Soccer tryouts were being held today—the first day of school! I might not know if I’d fit in with the Kentville kids, but one thing I did know for sure was that I was pretty good at soccer. But that had been back in Connecticut. Half the US women’s soccer team came from California. What if all the kids were superhuman soccer-playing robots? At the very least, competition for spots on the team would be fierce. But just the thought of playing soccer again made me happy, if I could make the team. It would be nice to play soccer in real life again, not just in my dreams. I hoped I didn’t get totally creamed at the tryouts.
Soccer or not, I still didn’t have the answer to the biggest question of all: How would I survive without Kara?
The one summer we’d spent apart, when Kara had gotten sick and couldn’t leave for sleepaway camp with me, I hadn’t managed to meet any new friends until she’d showed up three weeks later. It was the worst. What if I
didn’t meet anyone here, either? Who would come save me now?
Lost in thought, and with my eyes still screwed shut, I didn’t notice we’d arrived at my new school until Dad pulled up right in front of the entrance, and jerked the car to a stop. “Here we are at our first destination,” he announced. “Please disembark to the right.”
Kentville Middle School was a huge, plain-looking brown-and-yellow stucco building. It looked just like a normal school—not the glamorous California school I’d built up in my head. In front of the building was a big green gate, with the door swung wide open.
Students poured in through the gate, a sea of unfamiliar faces. A clump of kids was hanging out by the flagpole in front, with the US and California flags fluttering in the slight morning breeze.
Mom got out of the passenger seat, her papers scattering to the ground. “Devin, let’s go,” she said, scrambling to pick everything up. I ran my hands through my long, stick-straight brown hair to make sure it was presentable before opening the door and stepping outside into the warm, dry California air.
I took a deep breath. Kentville Middle School, here I come.
“Devin Burke?” my math teacher, Mrs. Johnson, called out.
“Here,” I said.
I was in my first period—algebra class. Algebra was usually just for eighth graders, but I had always been good
at math, and my placement test had landed me here.
“Ah,” Mrs. Johnson said, “I see you’re our only seventh grader this year. And you’re new to Kentville, I take it?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I moved here from Connecticut.”
“Well, welcome to the West Coast!” said Mrs. Johnson. “Our class is delighted to have you.”
But they didn’t exactly look delighted. They weren’t paying attention to me at all, as a matter of fact. I guess that’s what it was like to be the only seventh grader in a classroom full of eighth graders.
But even in my homeroom of seventh graders, it had been clear that most people already had their friends and weren’t necessarily on the market for a new one. I understood that. In Connecticut, because I’d had Kara, I hadn’t really tried to meet new people. I hadn’t been unfriendly or anything, but making new friends hadn’t been a priority. I was sure it was the same way for people here. I was afraid making new friends was going to be impossible. It wasn’t going to happen in algebra class, that was for sure. Here’s who talks to the only seventh grader in algebra: no one, apparently.
There was a group of girls in the back, who I kind of got a good glimpse of. One look and I could just tell they were the cool girls. They had their hair pulled up high in messy topknots, and their lips were shiny with gloss.
Looking at those girls, and the other girls in the class, one thing was immediately obvious: California girls dressed way differently from Connecticut girls. First of all almost
every girl in class had flip-flops dangling from her feet. I looked down at my Converse sneakers. I gotta ask Mom to get me some flip-flops. Generally speaking, California style seemed way more easygoing than back East. I didn’t see one polo shirt in the crowd. No plaid, either. Preppy was definitely not in here the way it always was in Connecticut. My carefully creased khakis were one of a kind here, and that paired with my crisply ironed dress shirt, I felt a little stiff. Luckily, long, flowing hair seemed to be the thing in California. At least I met that criteria.
“Devin, want to solve for x?” Mrs. Johnson said to me, breaking my concentration. On the board she had written down a too-easy equation.
As I got up to solve the problem, I thought, Yeah, x is how many friends I’ve made so far. X equals none.
At lunch I walked into the cafeteria, alone, and was completely overwhelmed. It seemed like everyone knew exactly where to sit, and they were already there, chatting away happily and eating their lunches. Not knowing what to do, and too scared to go sit with a total stranger, I brought my packed lunch to the steps by the library and pulled out my book to read so I didn’t look like a complete loser.
After finishing my food, with plenty of time left in the lunch period, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I snuck into a bathroom stall to call Kara. I knew we weren’t allowed to use phones during school hours, but if I didn’t
talk to somebody soon, I was going to explode. A trio of girls came in to hang out and gab in front of the mirror, and after a few minutes of primping, it didn’t seem like they were going to leave.
Not wanting to risk anyone overhearing my phone call, I settled on just texting Kara.
1st day is horrible. Haven’t met anyone. =(
Her response came back right away. Awww, it’ll get better. Gina and Vida say hi! Gina and Vida were two of our soccer friends. I immediately felt jealous that Kara was hanging out with them and not me.
Watr u doing?! I wrote.
School’s out, going 2 mall. Go meet people! =P
It’s SO not that easy! I responded. I wanted to tell her exactly what my morning had been like, but that would have to wait till later on Skype.
Just be urself, ur so outgoing! I didn’t feel outgoing. I felt like a girl who was hiding out in a bathroom, crouched on a toilet seat. My phone buzzed again. U R AWESOME!
Thanks, call you later. Luv u!
The primping girls finally left the bathroom. I stuffed my phone into my bag and unlocked the bathroom stall. Having texted with Kara, I felt a bit better. A little more hopeful. Maybe Kara was right. Maybe if I was more my usual outgoing self, I’d be okay after all.
At least my next class was girls’ PE. What a relief. I might have been having trouble meeting people, but sports I
could do. I was especially relieved when I learned we’d be playing kickball. I loved kickball. I was psyched when it was finally my turn at the plate.
As the pitcher rolled the ball toward me, I dug in my back foot and then swung forward with my right. The rubber ball took off with a satisfying thwok, launching way out into the outfield. It was nice to see all those years of soccer come in handy. I rounded the bases, stopping only when I got to third.
“Woo-hoo! Great kick,” the girl at third base said to me as I skidded to a stop. Her braided black hair was all bunched up into a messy ponytail. She had on a bright blue headband, and her wrists were filled with bracelets.
She snapped her gum as she talked. “Let’s see you do it again next time,” she said, punctuating her friendly challenge with a smile and a bubble burst. “I’m Jessi, by the way.”
My next turn up I kicked the ball harder, aiming it at right field, toward a tall girl with thick black bangs that went straight across her forehead. She took a few long steps backward, holding her arms out to catch the ball, but then she tripped over her own feet and fell down, right on her backside. When I saw that, I knew I had some time, so I looked straight ahead and chugged for third base again.
“Emma, get up,” Jessi called out to the struggling girl. “The ball is behind you!”
When I breezed by third on my way home, Jessi gave me a high five, even though she wasn’t on my team. The
girls on my team congratulated me when I got back to the dugout. It was the best part of my day so far, hands down.
Later, when we were headed back to the locker rooms to change, Jessi and Emma caught up to me.
“Hey, do you play soccer?” Jessi asked. “Because you have a mean right foot.”
I smiled. “I do! Well, I did. Back home in Milford. And by the way, my name is Devin.”
“Well, Devin, you have to come to soccer tryouts—they’re right after school today,” Emma said.
I nodded. “I know, but I’m a little nervous.”
“Nervous?” Jessi asked in disbelief. “With that kick of yours?”
I sighed. “But California is famous for its soccer players. I’m guessing everyone on the team can kick like me or better.”
Jessi and Emma looked at each other and burst out laughing. Jessi was doubled over with her eyes squeezed shut, and Emma covered her face with her hands as she laughed. I was totally confused. What was so funny?
“Oh, Devin,” Jessi said as she recovered from her laughing fit. “I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the Kentville Kangaroos stink!” Emma nodded in agreement, still grinning.
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. “Really?” I asked, shocked. “Then why are you guys trying out?”
Jessi shrugged. “I love soccer. And it’ll be fun, I guess. There’s no pressure to win, that’s for sure. And I heard we
get out of class early for games and stuff. That’s always a plus in my book.”
Emma laughed and nudged Jessi with her elbow. “You’d do anything to get out of class. But seriously, Jessi is a great player.” Jessi smiled modestly when Emma said that. “And I love to play too—even if I’m not always that, um, coordinated,” Emma said, and they both giggled. “But I’m a huge soccer fan! And I heard that Coach Flores is really nice, but they say she’s kind of flaky, too. This will be our first year on the Kentville team—it’s only for seventh and eighth graders.”
“The Kangaroos will have a better season this time around,” Jessi said confidently. “Because we’ll be on the team!
“They did win only one game last year,” she added.
Emma giggled again, and said, “And wasn’t that because the other team forfeited?”
“Wow,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t believe it. I thought everyone would be like Olympic soccer stars here.” How could this be true? Maybe the Kangaroos weren’t good by California standards, which were way high. The team was probably still awesome compared to my East Coast team. Or maybe Jessi and Emma were exaggerating about how bad the team was to make me feel less nervous about tryouts.
“You still have to try out,” Jessi pleaded. “If we get more players like you, maybe it really will be a winning year for the Kicks.”
“The Kicks?” Now I was totally confused. “I thought you were the Kangaroos?”
“It’s a nickname for the girls’ team,” Jessi said.
Emma nodded. “It goes way, way back. We’re not even sure where it came from. Maybe because, you know, kangaroos kick?” She shrugged.
“The Kicks,” I said, smiling. “That’s cute. But the team couldn’t always have been horrible, to get a cool nickname like that?”
“Who knows?” Jessi sighed. “But it’s a new season,” she added hopefully, “and maybe you, me, and Emma will be the Kicks’ new lucky charms! Here’s hoping all three of us make the team. Honestly, Devin, I think you’ll be a shoo-in.”
“Maybe we’ll even beat Pinewood,” Emma added optimistically.
Jessi snorted. “Don’t count on it. They’re the best team in our league. I’d be happy to win any game!”
For a second I felt crushed hearing how bad the soccer team was, even though I still found it hard to believe. Then I flashed back to my desperate texts to Kara from the bathroom. She’d told me to be myself, and as soon as I had been, I’d met two nice girls who played soccer too! Terrible soccer team or not, things were starting to look up in the friend department. And if the other girls trying out for the team were this nice too, I definitely wouldn’t be eating lunch on the library steps or hiding out in the bathroom anymore.
“Tryouts after school, got it,” I said with a smile. If
it meant spending more time with Jessi and Emma, I’d squash my nerves and give it a go. “I’ll see you there!”
“Excellent!” said Emma.
Now if only I could figure out where Mom had unpacked my soccer stuff . . .