Illustrated by The #1 Sports Writer for Kids
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Table of Contents
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Jamie Bonner looked up at the bleachers running along the sides of the gym. The crowd was rocking the house, cheering for the opposing team. Jamie wiped the sweat from her brow with her wristband so she could get a better look at them.
The crowd was getting desperate, she realized. Pretty soon, if she had anything to do with it, this gym would be as quiet as a tomb.
Jamie's team, the visiting East Side Middle School Sharks, had already won the first game of the volleyball match, 15–13. Now they were up, 12–10, over the Gaston Torpedoes in the second game of the best-of-three match.
Three more points, and another Sharks win would be in the books. Another step on the way to the statewide middle school play-offs. Jamie tried to catch her breath as she rotated to the front row left position—hitter.
Hitter, that was her. That was the role that suited Jamie best. The attacker. The shark. Go for the kill and spike it down their throats!
She was definitely the most sharklike of the Sharks, although, at five feet six inches, she wasn't the tallest girl on the team. That distinction went to Jamie's best friend, Laurie Gates, who was now about to serve. Laurie was five nine, with blond hair tucked back into a ponytail. Her blue eyes danced among a million freckles.
There was a gentleness in those eyes that Jamie loved. Sometimes she wished she were more like Laurie, but she couldn't change who she was, could she? Ah, well. In some other ways, she realized, Laurie probably wished she could be more like Jamie. After all, that's how it was with best friends, wasn't it?
Laurie and Jamie looked like complete opposites—Jamie had dark hair, fair skin, and dark brown eyes—but they'd been inseparable since kindergarten. Jamie's dad sometimes called them "the mismatched bookends."
The ref's whistle blew, and time was back in. Jamie watched as Laurie tossed the ball up and served overhand—a line drive that barely cleared the net.
Jamie turned to face the play, watching as the receivers for Gaston got the ball to the setter, who hit it up to the front line—the hitters.
"Spike it!" Jamie heard the crowd shouting.
The girl opposite Jamie leaped into the air, let out a bloodcurdling yell, and reared back to smash the ball home. But Jamie was ready for her. At the last moment, she sprang into the air and blocked the spike!
As Jamie came down to earth, she could see the Gaston players diving to keep the ball alive. But it was no use. She had placed it perfectly. The ball skidded off to the side and hit the ground. The Gaston crowd groaned, and the Sharks let out a whoop.
"What a block!" Keisha Morgan shouted, giving Jamie a slap on the back. "You're bad, Bonner!"
Jamie gave her teammate a high five, then quickly turned her attention back to the game.
Jamie needed to keep her focus now. It wasn't easy. All day long, her mind had strayed back to the disturbing phone call from her dad.
Jamie looked up and saw Laurie glancing at her. She can read me like a book, Jamie thought, catching the look of concern on her best friend's face. She knows I'm just barely holding it together. Then it was back to the game, and the moment had passed.
Laurie's next serve was underhand, a high lob that caught the tense Gaston players off guard. Two of the girls in the back row went for the ball at the last instant, confused as to whose play it was. They just managed to get the ball to the front row, and the setter had to lurch to reach it. The best the hitter could do was a weak shot to the Sharks' back row. Keisha received it easily, and Laurie set up Jamie perfectly.
Jamie leaped up as the ball came to her, swung her right arm around in a windmill, and smashed it with all her might. The shot knocked one of the Gaston players to the gym floor, and the ball flew off into the disappointed crowd.
"One more!" Coach Molly McKean yelled, clapping her hands. "One more!"
The ball came back to Laurie and she served again, a line drive this time, to the far right corner. The receiver sent it high into the air, and the girl in front of Jamie spiked the ball right at her head!
Before Jamie could react, the ball was past her, just missing her head and landing out of bounds by inches! The crowd groaned in unison, and the Sharks mobbed each other in triumph.
But Jamie held back, shaken for the moment. That ball should have been hers. She could have blocked it. She had let her attention wander for one split second, and it had almost cost her team big-time. If the spike hadn't missed its mark, Jamie's mistake would have cost her team the serve—and maybe the victory.
On the court, the other girls were celebrating. "Nine and three!" Kim Park yelled, pumping her fists in the air. "Yes!"
"Still in first place!" Brittany Hernandez said with a big grin that showed her braces. "Look out, West Side, here we come!"
High fives were exchanged all around, and then the girls went over to shake the hands of the defeated Gaston team. Afterward, in the locker room, they gathered around Coach McKean, as they did at the end of every game, win or lose.
"All right, Sharks," the coach said, her penetrating ice blue eyes taking them all in. "We played our game today, and that's why we won. But as you know, the toughest part of the season is still ahead of us—including West Side Middle. They're nine and three, just like us, and only one of us is going to make the state play-offs. So enjoy this one, but stay hungry. Keep up the seamless teamwork, keep setting each other up and staying in position, and we'll be okay. Now, let's get cleaned up. The bus is waiting."
With one more cheer, the girls all moved off to their lockers.
As she showered and changed, Jamie felt herself getting all worked up again. She knew she was probably letting her imagination run away with her, but she couldn't stop thinking about that phone call from her dad last night. He'd said he had some big news to share when he returned.
He'd sounded happy—too happy. Jamie had a feeling she wasn't going to like what he had to say. As far as she was concerned, no news was good news. Her life was okay just as it was. She didn't need—or want—anything to change.
On the bus ride back to Milford, Jamie kept silent while the other girls whooped it up, laughing and kidding each other as they always did after a big victory.
Jamie caught Laurie eyeing her a couple of times, but she avoided her friend's glance. She didn't want to talk about what was bothering her. Not in front of all the others, anyway. Laurie seemed to understand, and didn't come over and sit next to her.
The bus dropped all the girls off in front of East Side Middle School, and Jamie and Laurie began walking the six blocks to Laurie's house. Since Jamie's dad had been in New York on business all week, she and her little sister, Donna, had been staying with Laurie's family.
"Okay, Jame. What's up?" Laurie finally asked her.
"Nothing, really," Jamie said.
"Sure. Right. Come on, this is me, remember?"
Laurie was like a twin sister to her, Jamie reflected. Ever since the day eight years ago when Jamie's mom died, the Gateses had been like a second family.
It had happened so suddenly—sick one night, an ambulance rushing her to the hospital, but the next day, Mom was… gone. Forever. Donna had been just a baby then. But Jamie had been old enough to remember her mom's face, and precious moments together. Jamie kept a few treasured photos of her mother in a leather envelope in her top drawer. Some nights, she looked at them before she went to bed.
The Gates family had been lifesavers back then. Even now, whenever Chuck Bonner had to go away on business, his girls always made their way over to Chester Avenue.
It was fun staying at the Gateses', Jamie thought with a smile. Donna was best friends with Laurie's little sister, Samantha, so neither Bonner sister felt lonely. The two fifth graders hung out together, leaving eighth graders Laurie and Jamie pretty much to themselves.
And then, of course, there was Jeff.
Jeff Gates was Laurie's real twin. He had the same blond hair as all of the Gateses, and he was tall, like both his sisters, but without Laurie's and Samantha's freckles.
Jamie had known Jeff for years, of course. But lately, every time she saw him she would feel herself blushing, and her heart would start pounding. Once or twice she had even dreamed about him. It was the one secret Jamie had never shared with Laurie—and never would.
"So come on, what's bothering you?" Laurie asked. "Even during the match you were thinking about it. Not that it hurt your game much."
Jamie sighed. "Oh, all right—it's my dad. When he called last night, he was unusually happy—and something he said just got under my skin."
"Oh, really? What did he say?"
"Only that he had something really important to tell us," Jamie said. "The last time he said that was when my mom died."
Laurie blinked. "Yeah, but if he's happy, it must be something good."
"Good for him, maybe," Jamie said. "You know why he went to New York?"
"On business, right?"
"Yeah, but there's this lady who lives there. Tracy Gordon. I think I told you about her."
"She works for the same company, right?"
"Right, that's her. My dad met her at a company picnic in June, and Donna and I could tell right away that he had a crush on her. She's really beautiful, with this dark red hair down to her shoulders…. And every time he goes to New York or she comes here, they see each other."
"And now, he calls and says he has big news. I see…." Laurie nodded.
"Nothing against Tracy. I've met her a couple of times, and she's nice and all," Jamie said quickly. "It's just that—I'm so afraid he's going to marry her and we're going to have to move to New York!"
"Oh, Jamie!" Laurie dropped her book bag and gave Jamie a big hug. "You're getting yourself all upset, and it's probably nothing! Why don't you wait till you hear what your dad's got to say?"
"I just can't help it," Jamie moaned. "I'm so afraid something will come along and change my whole life. I don't want things to change!"
"Everything changes," Laurie pointed out.
"I know, but you know what I mean," Jamie insisted. "I've finally got to the point where I like things the way they are, even without my mom…." She fell silent, blinking back tears.
"Look, promise me you'll just relax until you know more," Laurie said. "Why should you upset yourself in advance? Come on, at least wait till your dad gets home."
"Okay," Jamie said, sniffing and wiping her eyes. They were almost at the house, and she certainly didn't want Jeff to see her like this.
Donna and Samantha were riding bikes on the sidewalk, screaming their heads off and having a great time. When the ten-year-olds saw them approaching, they rode over.
"Did you win?" Donna asked, looking at Jamie expectantly. Donna had big blue eyes, just like their mom's. Jamie wished she had eyes like those.
"Yeah, we won," she answered. "Two games to zip."
"Was it close?"
"Not now, okay? I'll tell you about it later," Jamie said, heading for the front door.
"What's the matter, did you mess up?" Donna called after her.
Jamie rolled her eyes, shook her head, and kept on walking.
"I'll bet you messed up. Otherwise you wouldn't be so crabby."
"I'm not crabby!" Jamie shouted back. She didn't turn to look at Donna. She just yanked the door open, and she and Laurie went inside. "Ugh. Little sisters can be such a pain!"
"Tell me about it," Laurie agreed with a laugh.
"Samantha's all right," Jamie said. "You don't know how lucky you are. You didn't get stuck with Donna."
"Oh, come on, Donna's not so bad," Laurie insisted. "She worships you, you know."
"Yeah, right!" Jamie said sarcastically. "That'll be the day."
- On Sale
- Dec 19, 2009
- Page Count
- 144 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers