“Possibilities” was a good start for me. Steve and I hung in there for the entire seventh-grade-level words. It surprised me half of the students couldn’t make it beyond the first round.
Actually, we’d had most the words—overrated, wheelchair, windshield, hitchhike, and ninety-nine—in our advanced reading groups. Steve and I were in the blue group, the eighth-grade Readers, and so far none of the words had tripped up either one of us. By the third round, the eighth graders had dropped like flies sprayed with Raid.
There were four us left, and I felt pretty confident I would make it to the inner-schools contest. I almost stumbled on “succession” but added the second “s” instead of a “t” at the last minute. I noticed Steve looking intently at me, as if he thought for sure I would miss it.
He got “zucchini” and almost ate it but stalled only long enough to spell it right. “Astrology” was too much for the last eighth-grade girl, and I felt lonely with two guys and the big words about to be pulled out for the final round.
Well, it went pretty quickly, after all. “Entrance” and “naturally” got the other two eighth graders, Steve spelled “mythology” without a hitch, and I got through “performance” without a slip. I heaved a sigh of relief and smiled back at Steve as we walked to class.
“Next week’ll be us against the two best from Holy Cross and St. Michael’s.” Steve slowed down before we got to the door. “If you get past them, it’s you against seven in the all-city. It’s a written test for the regional.”
“Well,” I shrugged, running my finger along the wall, “I think we might, at least, get an easy A in spelling for this quarter.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.” Steve swung the door wide, and I had to sidestep out of the way real fast or I’d have gotten clobbered.
We were just in time for P.E. and filed right back out with our class. The boys got the soccer field, and the girls got the volleyball court. Miss Ford ran down a few tips, gave the serve to the eighth-grade girls, and then left us to a practice game while she drilled the boys in mid-field defensive maneuvers.
We took the game away from the eighth graders and were all feeling pretty good about it. Marcy, Sue, Ursala, and Annie were talking to the team captain of the eighth graders.
“You guys won by only two points!” Tracy squared off with Marcy, looking her down as she spoke. “And you’ve been practicing twice a week. Not our team. I’m lucky to call them together once during the week before a game.”
“Boy, I know what you mean. It’s hard to get everyone to show up for practice, let alone the games.” Marcy puffed up with her own importance as if she’d been our captain forever. Actually, Miss Ford rotated team captain every game so each girl had the chance at being a leader, so for Marcy to have put out that she was our team captain wasn’t exactly true, but she sure let on as if she were the one and only all the time.
Marcy had the exact same expression as Tracy, the weary leader look. “I just wish we had a few more good players and fewer bad ones, know what I mean? We have four wins, one loss, though. The last two games, we had only one sub, which meant some players stayed in longer and didn’t do so good, know what I mean?”
Tracy looked a little irritated when she replied. “Yeah, but seems to me you have a pretty good team. If you win this game Saturday, you’re in the play-offs, so I don’t see why you’re making such a big fuss.”
“Oh, we’re pretty good,” Marcy piped up, “but we could be a lot better.”
Steve, Mark, and John came over to talk to us. Steve punched the ball out of Rachel’s hands and bounced it down court to make a basket. I ran down to intercept the ball. It circled the rim and popped out, right into my hands. Steve made a grab for it, but I pulled the ball away, about to put it in the basket when Miss Ford blew the whistle for us to go inside. Steve popped the ball out of my hands.
“You know, Franny,” he dribbled the ball up the stairs, “you’re pretty good at serving the volleyball. We’re playing St. John’s basketball team Saturday morning, so we’ll be there when you guys start your game. Their basketball team is lousy, so it’s going to be a real short game.”
Steve might have been the best all-around athlete, but it got to me the way he always assumed his team would be undefeated, although even I had to admit that he had to be good since his team rarely lost unless he didn’t play. But still, I felt he could be wrong. “I wouldn’t be so sure that you can take the game that easy. Maybe they’ve practiced a lot and are better now.”
He twirled the ball on his finger and then pitched it to me. “I know we can take the game that easy, Fran. Trust me.”
And he was right. Saturday as we lined up for pre-game drill, the boys’ basketball team showed up on our side of the gym. Steve cupped his hands over his mouth and hollered, “Hey, Fran! I told you it would be easy!”
I nodded at him and caught the quizzical looks of Mom and Granny as they tried to figure out what Steve had meant. They motioned for me to come over and talk to them, but I ignored them. This was our most important game, and I wanted to do my best, without any distractions.
Everyone looked pretty good in our blue and yellow uniforms; not one jersey was even wrinkled.
Miss Ford made Stella, the smallest girl on our team, the captain, and she called “heads” but the quarter flipped on its tail side. Although St. John’s got first serve, they lost it after scoring only one point.
We took the first game by three points. During the huddle before the second game, Sue whispered fiercely, “I want us to win this game!”
Well, didn’t we all? I was team captain and mighty relieved to win the serve. Marcy scored five points the first round before losing the serve because Tina in the first row didn’t return the ball over the net. You could see Marcy’s face screwed up in anger, but she didn’t say anything. The other team kept the ball for nine points and then lost it on a net ball. Sue picked up eight points on her serve, losing the last return when I missed the ball. I had it, until Marcy went for it, stepping in front of me, so naturally I thought she was going to get it, but she didn’t.
“Stupid!” she hissed at me. “You should have had it! Get up closer to the net!”
I didn’t have time to tell her that she was the one that had stepped out of her position, in my face, and muffed the play. Suddenly, the score was tied, then game point for the other team.
All along, the boys had made enough noise cheering for us to rattle the bones of a corpse, but you could hear the parents over everyone else. Except for my mom. She comes to every game, but she just sits on the sidelines and watches. Granny whoops and hollers at us, then gives me all sorts of “pointers” after the game. I listen politely but don’t take anything she says too seriously. I don’t think they even had volleyball way back when she went to school.
Marcy, all red in the face, stomped off the court. Miss Ford called me out for the first half of the next game, and then I got back in time to rack up the winning five points of our third game. We made play-offs, but I wasn’t as happy as the rest of the team. You would have thought Marcy, Sue, and even Annie, who had played well all three games, had won without any help from the rest of us the way they carried on about this play and that play they had made. I didn’t stick around to talk with anyone, not even Annie.
Granny pounded me on the back. “Let’s go celebrate with a sundae. What do you say?”
“All right,” I said, sliding into the back seat of my mom’s car.
Mom looked in the rear view mirror at me, speaking so soft I almost missed what she said. “Frances, you’re going to have to stand up to Marcy sometime, or she’ll push you around forever.”
“I know, Mom, I know. Please drop it. I mean, we won the most important game, didn’t we?”
“And you played well!” crowed Granny. She smiled so big her teeth flashed in the bright sunshine streaming through the windshield. She turned around to face me. “You have to get under that ball and keep your eye on where it is. But my, you’ve improved! And I was really proud of how you kept your cool when that little snit, Marcy, yelled at you. I might have popped her one right in the old kisser, but I’m glad you had your wits about you! No, siree, you did just right by keeping calm and collected.”
What she didn’t realize, and I wasn’t about to tell her, was that I had almost started crying on the court, and I was so shaky that, when Miss Ford called me to the benches, I was glad to sit down for five minutes. Then I was mad enough to go back in and prove to Marcy that I wasn’t stupid at all.
“Well,” Mom said as she parked the car at Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Store, “this has been some week! First you go all the way to inner-schools spelling contest, and now your team makes the league play-offs. I’d say this is at least a double-scoop-sundae-with-two-toppings sort of commemoration.”
“All right by me,” I said stepping up to the counter to order. “I’ll have a Jack and Jill, vanilla and chocolate. With extra sprinkles.”
And that was the last good thing that happened to me.