Soccer PracticeI rushed Gavin the way Elliot had taught me and managed to steal the ball. I barely glanced up before kicking it desperately away, hoping someone on my team would be able to take it down the field. Hoping that I hadn't just inadvertently passed to Tiana or Johanna, Gavin's team's other forwards.
Elliot came to the rescue. He sprinted over from the other side of the field, green basketball shorts billowing around his skinny legs, and seized the ball that I'd sent rolling randomly across the grass. Weaving around Johanna, he dribbled to the goal and dodged every mid and defender who came to block him. When Elliot shot, I wasn't sure it would go in—the kick practically looked like a pass to the goalie, Dominic—but Dominic lunged the wrong way and Elliot scored.
I wanted to run up the field and hug him, but it would have wasted everybody's time as they waited for me to run up to the middle of the field and back. I settled for clapping and cheering with Sarah, my fellow defender, and Sam, Elliot's goalkeeping younger bother. Meanwhile, Elliot, Maddy, and George—our forwards—took their places for the face-off. "Thanks for getting the ball from my pathetic kick!" I yelled at Elliot as Gavin positioned the ball in the center of the field.
Elliot turned around and flashed a grin, shoving his sweaty blond hair out of his eyes. "No problem. It was a good rush, Cara. Now we just need to work on your aim."
Gavin cleared his throat, moving the ball around impatiently with his foot, and Elliot turned around and immediately won the face-off. He passed to Maddy, one of his fellow forwards, who took it down the field while I blushed through the flush of exercise at Elliot's compliment. Elliot thought I'd done well rushing Gavin! Could I help smiling to myself?
Just as the ball was being positioned after another goal by my team (this time scored by Maddy), the bell rang. It was an actual bell, located on a balcony on one side of Scott, the building where all of our classes were held. That bell told us where we were supposed to be at all times. Right now, Club Time B was ending, so it was 4:30 p.m., and students were expected to report to Club Time C or start studying for the night. Not, of course, that one would really be missed if one were to, say, spend Club Time C behind the soccer fields with one's friends.
My fellow members of the soccer club and I responded to the bell, as everyone did at Westham; we trudged toward the goalie net where Maddy had just scored. Behind the net were our water bottles, sweatshirts, and, in the case of a couple of the guys, their shirts.
"Hey, guys," called Gavin as a few of the underclassmen started walking toward the dorms. They stopped, and he continued, "Remember, tomorrow night is our one real game this season. We're going to go into town on a bus and, for once in our lives, we get to play against somebody outside of our own club. I want you all to get some sleep tonight and stay hydrated tomorrow. We only get one chance to show those bastards what Westham can do. And remember to meet in the parking lot tomorrow night at 6:30, right after dinner. Okay, you can go."
It was kind of pathetic that we only got to play against people outside our school once a year. Officially, though, Westham Preparatory Academy didn't even have a soccer team. Sports groups were allowed to come together as "clubs" and scrimmage during Club Time, but that was it. Once in a while, if a teacher really took an interest in a club, a game in town might be arranged, but that was rare. Westham's real focus was on academics. In that area, we actually had teams—lots of them, including a debate team, a Science Olympiad team, a Quiz Bowl team—the list went on and on. Soccer club was just for fun.
"Hey, Elliot," I said after Gavin gave us permission to leave. "You had a really good game today."
Elliot stood up, having just retied his shoe. "Thanks. You were doing really well, too. You got the ball away from Gavin."
I tried to look unaffected by the compliment despite the fireworks going off inside of me. "All the credit really goes to you, you know. You taught me everything I know about soccer." It was true. I'd joined the club during my freshman year at Westham because I wanted to make friends and get exercise, not having any background in soccer. Elliot, then a sophomore, had spent a lot of long afternoons teaching me how to defend. I was definitely a work in progress, and I'd probably never be considered a really good player, but my improvement since freshman year was obvious.
"Nah, you've worked really hard. And some of the credit definitely goes to Sam," Elliot countered. Sam, now a sophomore, had joined us last year for some of those long afternoons of training, even taking over occasionally when Elliot was away at a Science Bowl or Linguistics Bowl tournament.
"Yeah, fine," I replied. "But it's thanks to you I didn't drop out after week one." We were already in front of Allen, the boys' dorm—campus was small—but Elliot made no move to go inside, so I asked, "Ready for tomorrow?"
"Once I get past that Calc test, I will be. I swear, Mr. Brooks is trying to murder us."
"I know! I am not going to remember to factor and cancel to find the limits of removable discontinuities." The schools I'd attended before Westham had offered more advancement options than Elliot's schools, so I'd taken Algebra as a seventh grader, enabling me to now be in Calculus as a junior—the same level, class, and hour as Elliot.
"Yeah. I should probably go study. But—hey, do you want to grab a corner in Scott after dinner and quiz each other?"
"Yes!" I cleared my throat. "Yeah, that would be good. See you then?"
"Yeah, see you."