I, the great Tracy, had forced my family to venture outside. The great outdoors, the great unknown, other stuff that starts with “great” — we gathered on the great sidewalk, just outside our house.
“Listen up, ladies, ’cause I’m only going to say this once,” I announced, putting my hands on my hips and staring at my family. “We’re going to play soccer!”
There were a few excited cheers from Savannah, Emily, Eve, and Ivy, but the other girls frowned skeptically.
“Not quite the reaction I was hoping for, but it’ll do,” I muttered to myself. Then I raised my voice and proclaimed, “I hereby make myself the captain of Team One, and Ivy the captain of Team Two. I will now choose my first teammate!” I pointed dramatically at MJ Valdez. “Sis, you’re up!”
She skipped over and we slapped each other high fives.
MJ wasn’t the best soccer player in the family — that title belonged to me — but she was my best friend. And who doesn’t like having their BFF on their sports team?
The choosing of the teammates went back and forth. Ivy would call someone’s name — “Emily, come on!” — and then I would call on another girl: “Eve Cortez, I want you for Team One!”
Soon, everyone had been called . . . everyone, that is, but Saige and Caroline. They were staring at the ground and shuffling their feet uncomfortably. Everyone knows that if you’re the last to be picked for a team, it means that you’re not a very good player.
It was Team Two’s turn to choose a player. Ivy made her choice and stammered, “Um, I chose . . . uh, Caroline.”
Caroline gave her a tight smile and joined the team. The teams were currently even: five against five.
Saige saw an opportunity and took. “Hey, the teams are even all ready!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have to play. I can be the umpire. No, that’s baseball . . . I mean, I can be the referee.” And she wandered away, playing on her phone.
The players surged onto the soccer field and claimed positions. If there was a dispute, it was settled with a good old fashioned thumb wrestling battle. In a matter of minutes, everyone was ready for the game to begin. I got the position of right sweeper.
“Saige!” I shouted, waving to get my sports-hating sister’s attention.
She was sitting on the sidewalk, crisscross applesauce style. Saige was smiling at her phone, maybe watching a video on YouTube about babies eating lemons for the first time. She looked up when I yelled at her, a scowl appearing on her face. “Yeah?”
“Give us some awesome music!”
She frowned at her phone and tapped the screen. Epic rock music blared out of the tiny speakers.
I gave Saige a grateful thumbs up before returning my attention to the soccer game. “Ready?” I asked Ivy, who was left sweeper on Team Two.
She nodded, and her silky black hair shook with the movement.
I put three fingers in the air and started counting down. “Three . . . Two . . . One . . . GO!”
I was about to pass to MJ, my team’s other sweeper, when a cheery, feminine voice called, “Hello!”
Everyone on the soccer field looked around for the speaker.
I spotted her first. She was on the sidewalk. The voice belonged to a young girl, dressed in odd, vintage clothes. She caught my eye, beamed, and waved.
“Hello! Hi! I’m Ellie Larkin. A nice lady at the airport told me to come here, so here I am!”
Slightly wary of this enthusiastic girl, we introduced ourselves. Caroline — sweet, considerate Caroline — invited her to play soccer with us. She readily agreed, but they tugged on her long skirt with a pouty frown. Saige offered to take Ellie inside and help her find clothes more suited for playing soccer in.
As soon as Ellie Larkin had disappeared inside the house, Eve threw her hands up and exclaimed, “There’s another girl staying with us? Seriously, Trace, how often does Loren tell you that you’re getting a new sister?”
“Not very often,” I admitted. “The ‘new sisters’ just pop up out of nowhere. Mom hardly ever tells us that we’re getting a new sister. She just waits for them to arrive without telling us anything . . .”
Saige and the new girl returned momentarily. Ellie was dressed in a childish combination of a sky blue tunic and lime green leggings.
“I’m ba-a-a-ck!” she sang. “So, which team do I get to be on?”
“Mine,” I told her. “Hey, Saigie, looks like you’ll have to play after all! To balance out the teams, ya know?” I shot a smug, cocky smile in her direction.
She huffed several dramatic sighs before marching onto the field. Saige was the midfielder for Team Two; Ellie held the same position on Team One.
Once everything was sorted out, the soccer game began. I passed the ball to MJ and shouted, “Look, Savannah, a unicorn!” I pointed off to the right.
Unicorns were Savannah’s favorite animal. She immediately looked in the direction I was pointing.
That was a mistake on her part. She was the right sweeper for Team Two, and was positioned in front of MJ. With her distracted by the fanciful promise of sparkly unicorns, MJ was free to run on Ana’s blindside without being spotted.
The only complication in my otherwise perfect plan was the fact that MJ tripped over the ball. The sound of her faceplanting into the grass drew Savannah’s attention. Ana dashed forward and took the ball. MJ struggled to her feet and made a desperate lunge to reclaim the soccer ball, but Savannah was already driving it up the sidelines.
Eve was not happy as the goalie, just watching her teammates chase the ball across the field. In fact, she got so frustrated that she abandoned her post, hollering, “Charge!” She plowed through the defense, knocking over Nevaeh. Ellie rushed toward Eve in a vain attempt to keep her in the goal, but to no avail: she was floored. She lay on the grass beside Nevaeh, and the two moaned in unison.
Eve sprinted down the field, zeroing in on the soccer ball that MJ was in possession of. Eve slapped my best friend in the face in an excited haze. She stole the ball from her teammate and bore down on Savannah, who fell to the ground in terror.
She thundered down the field. Emily, the goalie for Team Two, was trembling, she was so scared of Eve. Eve came to a halt in front of the goal . . .
. . . readied her power foot . . .
. . . and kicked!
The ball zipped across the field at a frightening speed. Emily dove for the ball, but she just missed it, and the soccer ball zoomed into the goal.
“GOAL!” Eve screamed at the top of her lunges. She pumped her fist in the air and did an elaborate victory dance.
We called it quits after Eve’s goal, because it was getting excruciatingly hot. The victorious Team One, made up of MJ, Nevaeh, Ellie, Isabelle, Eve, and, of course, myself, gathered on the sidewalk. We gave each other celebratory fist bumps.
“GOAL. GOAL. GOAL,” we chanted, smirking smugly at the defeated Team Two.
Just loud enough for the other team to hear, I sang, “You’ve got mud on your face, you’re a big disgrace, kicking your can all over the place.”
My teammates picked up the song. “We will, we will, ROCK YOU.”
After our victory-fueled adrenaline rush faded, everyone meandered over to the porch. Ellie was eager to introduce herself properly. She backed up against the brick wall — “center stage,” she told us — and smoothed out her tunic. We gathered around her in a semicircle.
“Hello!” she said, waving happily. “I am Ellie Penelope Larkin. I’m ten! My birthday is June 7th, in case you were wondering. It’s only a few months away!” Ellie twirled in a circle, clearly daydreaming about her not-so-distant birthday. She continued, “I used to live in Florida, but I’m not there anymore — obviously.” She giggled.
“Hey, I’m from Florida, too!” Savannah put in. “Did you ever meet a girl named Cass? My best friend from Florida is named Cass.”
“Cass?” Ellie mused, scrunching her face up in concentration. “No, I don’t think so. But Florida’s a big state! I can’t possibly no everyone. And I’m sure there’s multiple girls in Florida named Cass, so even if I did happen to meet someone by that name, it’s not likely that she would be the Cass you’re talking about.”
It was obvious that Ellie Penelope Larkin was a chatterbox. I wanted to tell my sisters not to ask anymore questions — I was afraid that Ellie would prattle on instead of giving a straightforward answer — but Caroline asked, “What are you doing here, Ellie? You’re a long way from Florida.”
The girl’s hazel eyes became unfocused. Her mouth drooped slightly at the corners. She looked . . . sad.
When she finally spoke, her voice was a scared whisper. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know. I remember being at my home in Florida . . . and then I was at the airport . . . then I was here. I don’t know why I’m here!” she repeated, her voice rising into a scream. “I don’t know!”
Yes, I did just end this photostory there. I know you’re all so pleased with my decision. 😉