Kickoff

Donna King

Kingfisher

Chapter One
<p
Hey, Lacey,
How are you doing, babe? How's Tampa Bay without me? How's the beach?
And have you been down to the mall today? Did you check out the guys like
we usually do—or like we usually did, should I say?
<p
Tyra Fraser tapped away at the keyboard furiously. In her head she could
picture sunshine and a blue sea. Outside her window she saw wet, gray
clouds, gray slate roofs, and a muddy gray river.
<p
Oh gosh, you don't know how much I miss Florida, she wrote. England
stinks. Specifically Yorkshire—specifically Fernbridge!
<p
How come you get to have a dad who runs a pizza place in the best
shopping mall in the entire world and I have an army sergeant father who gets
sent here? How dumb is that?
<p
I mean, it's September, for God's sake, and it's freezing!!!!
<p
Tomorrow I go to my new school. I am seriously gonna hate it, for sure.
<p
Write me a long e-mail, Lacey. Give me your news, or I'll go crazy.
From your totally, 110 percent miserable friend,
<p
Tyra!!!! xxxx
<p
"Tyra, honey, could you come down?"
<p
Tyra trailed downstairs to the tiny kitchen in the poky house they now called
home.
<p
"I need to iron your dad's shirts. Can you watch Shirelle?"
<p
"I'll take her for a walk," Tyra said. Looking after her five-year-old, hyperactive
kid sister in a space the size of a closet was asking for trouble. "C'mon,
Shirry, let's go!"
<p
No sooner did Tyra speak than the two girls were out on the main street,
heading for the park. They walked hand in hand past the butcher's shop and
the grocery store, down the hill, and over the old stone bridge. Shirelle pulled
on Tyra's arm to stop her so that they could stand and stare at the flotilla of
ducks swimming underneath the arch. She wanted to dash across the road
to see them come out the other side, but Tyra held her back—luckily,
because, just then, a guy on a motorcycle whizzed past.
<p
This is one hick town! Tyra thought. One main road. One bus stop. One play
area with swings and a rickety jungle gym. A few kids messed around in the
park, kicking a ball and yelling.
<p
"Push me!" Shirelle demanded, plonking herself on the closest swing. "I
wanna fly! Push harder!"
<p
"Hold tight," Tyra warned. She felt spots of cold rain on her face and looked
up at the steep hill that rose almost sheer out of the narrow valley. A thick
mist rolled toward them.
<p
"Cool!" Shirelle squealed, her pink fluorescent sweater standing out against
her light brown skin. Shirelle was the most colorful thing around, forming a
bright downward arc in the dull air. She was into wild movement—running,
leaping, splashing, yelling. She wasn't into sitting still, and boy, was she
going to be a handful in her new school. Tyra was glad she wouldn't be there
to see it. Instead, she'd be at the junior high school just down the road, along
with a dozen other U.S. Army kids whose parents worked at the early-
warning base out on the Yorkshire moors.
<p
"Watch out!" a voice called.
<p
She turned from the swings in time to see a ball flying toward her. It was
going to be a direct hit on Shirelle, but at the last second Tyra jumped up and
headed it to one side. The ball bounced away harmlessly.
<p
A boy came running to get it. "Neat," he said with a surprised grin. "That was
a cool header."
<p
"Yeah, thanks."
<p
Quickly, the kid picked up his ball and ran off.
<p
For a while, Tyra watched them play. Now, soccer! she thought, once more
remembering the Astroturf with the Florida sun beating down, Lacey in
midfield neatly passing her the ball so that she could forge ahead past
defenders and blast the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net. Soccer is
the one good thing about England! After all, it's the home of the greatest
game in the world!
<p
"Higher!" Shirelle demanded, pushing with her feet and kicking her
legs. "Tyra, make me fly!"
<p
Hey, girl! Lacey e-mailed back later that evening. This does not sound like
the Tyra I know! What's with the misery, dude? Where's the go-getting, world-
beating kid that I remember?
<p
Seriously, though, is it really that bad?
<p
Okay, so the weather's not exactly wall-to-wall sunshine over there, but they
have cool music, don't they? And you get to watch English soccer—Chelsea,
Manchester United, Liverpool!
<p
Yesterday I played striker for the Tampa Bay Butterflies—your old position.
We won three–zero. I scored two of the goals. I know that sounds like we're
not missing you, but we are—big-time! The girls said to say hi!
<p
Okay, gotta go now, Tyra. Lots of luck tomorrow at the new school. Go, girl!
<p
Love you—Lacey xxx
<p
Walking into a place for the first time was always hard, Tyra told herself. The
big glass entrance was buzzing with kids in uniforms, which was the weirdest
thing. At her school in Florida, everyone had been able to wear whatever they
wanted. Here, the boys wore dark green blazers and gray pants—trousers,
Tyra thought, correcting herself. The girls wore white shirts and ties, with the
same blazers as the boys. But they did the fashion thing with their skirts,
wearing them short or long, narrow or wide, with their ties knotted loosely to
show the top shirt button. Self-consciously, Tyra fiddled to loosen her own tie.
The corridor ahead was wide and crowded.
<p
"Walk—don't run!" the teachers shouted. But the kids ignored them. They
slung their bags inside their lockers, staring at Tyra and, by the scornful
looks on their faces, giving her seriously low marks out of ten.
<p
What's up? Do I have two heads? She glared back at a fair-haired girl who
was giving her the evil eye.
<p
"Are you the new girl?" the kid asked, looking like she was sucking on
lemons. "It's time for attendance. Miss Jenkins said to get you."
<p
Tyra nodded. Her long hair swung forward as she stooped to dump her bag
inside a low locker. "Hey, I'm Tyra," she announced as she stood up
straight. "I'm from Tampa, Florida."
<p
The girl stared.
<p
What did I say—that I came from Mars? Tyra wondered, already crushed.
It got worse as she was led into the classroom. There, 30 heads turned.
Thirty faces stared. Thirty classmates seemingly wrote her off.
<p
"There's an empty desk here at the front," the teacher told her without looking
up. "Thank you for that, Alicia. Please be sure to show Tyra around for the
rest of the day."
<p
At the back of the room, Alicia leaned over from her desk and muttered
darkly to her friends. At the front, Tyra swallowed hard and tried not to notice.
<p
"Mikey Swales has got the hots for you, Alicia!"
<p
"No way!"
<p
"He does. He told me!"
<p
"When?"
<p
"At morning break. He asked me to tell you."
<p
Tyra stood to one side of the group of girls who were giggling in the
playground. She shivered in the cold wind. Already she'd been told to tie her
hair back by the assistant principal and yelled at for not paying attention
during math. The day was turning out even worse than she'd imagined.
<p
"Anyway, Emma, you can tell Mikey that I'm not interested," Alicia scoffed. "I
wouldn't be seen dead with a weedy little geek like him."
<p
Tyra winced. Poor Mikey!
<p
"He's not a geek," a girl named Molly protested. She was tall, like Alicia, and
seemed more likely to stand up to her than Emma, who was Little Miss
Mouse. "He plays on the boys' soccer team for a start."
<p
"Well, Molly, you go out with him, then," Alicia shot back, making a beeline
for one of the teachers on duty.
<p
"It's not me who he's got the hots for!" Molly laughed, dragging Tyra along
with the crowd.
<p
"Hey, sir!" Alicia yelled.
<p
The teacher took no notice, but walked on with his green fleece jacket zipped
up to his chin, cradling a mug of coffee between both hands.
<p
Alicia went after him. "Mr. Gray, we want to talk to you about the under-
thirteen girls' soccer team!"
<p
Soccer! Tyra's ears pricked up.
<p
With a pained expression, the gym teacher turned. "Ah, yes, the under-
thirteen girls. The magnificent eleven who were the under-twelves last year
and didn't manage a single victory during all of last season!"
<p
"That's because you concentrated too much on the boys!" Alicia reminded
him. "You never gave us any real coaching."
<p
Mr. Gray was obviously way past his sell-by date, Tyra decided. And he
looked it, with his gray hair draped over his head to disguise his big bald
patch, and his eye bags, and his belly hanging over his belt.
<p
"Ah, the boys who won the English Schools Football Association Coca-Cola
Cup!" he reminded Alicia. "That was the remarkably talented team I wasted
so much time on last year!"
<p
"Ha-ha, very funny, sir!" Alicia frowned. "Anyway, this year we want real
coaching. Molly wants to go in goal, and Emma wants to be midfield
defense. I'm a center forward—the main goal scorer!"
<p
Yeah, why am I not surprised? Tyra thought. Alicia Webb had already gotten
under her skin, and it was only day one. Back home in Florida, Tyra had
been the top goal scorer of the Tampa Bay Butterflies.
<p
Mr. Gray sipped his coffee and shook his head. "I don't have anyone in the
department who's interested in coaching you girls, I'm afraid."
<p
"But that's not fair," Molly pointed out. "My mum says it's discrimination, and
it's not allowed!"
<p
Right on! Tyra thought.
<p
"Whoa!" The teacher took a step back. "Quite the little feminist, aren't we,
Molly Thomas?" His eye fell on a fellow member of staff who was patrolling
the playground. He gave a cynical chuckle. "Then again, it doesn't have to be
a member of the sports staff, does it? It could be, for instance, an English
teacher!"
<p
While Alicia shrugged at Molly and Emma, Mr. Gray beckoned to the
passing teacher.
<p
"Mr. Wheeler, just the man for the job!" he announced. "I know you're new to
Fernbridge and you haven't gotten properly settled in yet, but I hear through
the grapevine that you're the proud possessor of a Football Association
coaching diploma!"
<p
Blushing, the young teacher nodded. "Soccer's my thing," he acknowledged.
<p
"He's young!" Alicia muttered.
<p
"And cute!" Emma pointed out.
<p
"Shut up and listen!" Molly told them.
<p
Mr. Gray seized his chance. "Luck is on your side, girls! Mr. Wheeler here is
a soccer coach. I'm sure he'd be willing to take on you girls!"
<p
"Um—um—I would?" The chosen candidate seemed unsure.
<p
"You would!" Mr. Gray insisted. "So, Mr. Wheeler, meet Alicia Webb, Molly
Thomas, and Emma Dean, who will be the key players on your new team."
<p
He turned to Tyra with a vague look. "And you are . . . ?"
<p
"Tyra Fraser," she stammered.
<p
The shy new teacher smiled at the shy new student.
<p
"Ignore her. She's from America. She doesn't play soccer," Alicia broke in as
Mr. Gray walked off.
<p
She does, actually! Tyra protested silently. And she's good, if you only cared
to ask!
<p
The English teacher looked down at Alicia. "Actually, I hear they play a lot of
soccer at U.S. schools," he said.
<p
Tyra nodded, but still couldn't speak. No, this was not a good start to her
new school career.
<p
"Oh, and good luck, Mr. Wheeler," Mr. Gray called from a distance. "Believe
me, with these girls, you're going to need it!"