The Abduction(5)

By: Mark Gimenez

“Gracie! Gracie!”

That was no screaming fan. That was a screaming coach. Gracie snapped; the whistle had blown to restart the game, and Coach Wally was spazzing out on the sideline, frantically pointing at his watch like he had just discovered time.

“Time’s running out! We need another goal to win! Gracie, it’s up to you!”

Focus, girlfriend!

Gracie’s official position was striker, but Coach had told her to play the entire field. That required extra running, but she could run the whole game. She could run all day. She was running now, to the sideline, to the ball—

—to the ground, face first, breaking her fall with her hands and elbows, hitting hard, sliding across the field, and eating dirt and grass.

“Panty check!”

A snarling voice from above. Gracie rolled over to see the snot glaring down at her. The snot had tripped her from behind, a flagrant foul and a real cheap shot, especially for a girl.

What a total hussy!

The snot ran off. Gracie spat out the gritty dirt and grass and vaulted to her feet; her teeth and fists were clenched and her entire four-foot-six-inch, eighty-pound being was filled with an overwhelming urge to chase after the snot and thrash her right there in the middle of soccer field no. 2.

“Gracie, get a goal!”

But the victory was more important than introducing the snot’s face to Ms. Fist. So Gracie chased after the ball instead, barely noticing the blood and burning on her elbows.

Sally blocked a shot at goal and cleared the ball. Gracie anticipated Sally’s kick and thigh-trapped the ball. One quick fake and she was sprinting up the sideline toward the Raiders’ goal; the referee was keeping pace down the middle of the field, and the snot, her face screwed up with anger, was closing down on Gracie. The snot had the angle, which meant Gracie couldn’t simply outrun her. So Gracie slowed slightly, allowing the snot to catch up, then she took a big step forward, hoping the snot would think she was going hard up the sideline like she had on the previous goal. The snot went for the fake big time, taking one step that way to protect the sideline route, one step too many—and Gracie punched the ball between the snot’s open legs, spun around the snot, and recaptured the ball. The snot tried to stay with her, but she lost her balance and hit the ground hard, right on her big butt, and rolled out of bounds. Gracie glanced down at her and said, “I’m so sorry … Not!”

Then she raced to the goal—a breakaway!—only the keeper standing between her and a last-second victory for the Tornadoes and glory for Gracie Ann Brice, the next Mia Hamm. The referee put his whistle in his mouth and checked the time; only seconds remained in the game. Gracie moved into position for her patented power kick—the keeper ran out to meet her this time, leaving the goal unprotected—aimed just inside the near post, planted her left foot, timed her kick perfectly, and—

—slotted a through ball to Brenda in the goal box behind the keeper instead. Brenda kicked the ball into the open goal just before the cute referee blew his whistle to end the game.

The Tornadoes’ stands erupted in cheers!

The Raiders’ keeper was now looking at Gracie with a stunned expression on her face, as if to say, You passed off the game-winning goal? Gracie shrugged. She figured Brenda needed the glory more than she did. Heck, Mia Hamm was a team player.

The other girls mobbed Brenda. Gracie was about to join in when she heard a manly voice: “Number nine—you’re a player!”

The studly referee was walking past and pointing to her—and winking at her. Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, Orlando, but I’m like, totally in love! She stopped dead in her tracks and stared open-mouthed at the referee as he walked off the field; he was dreamy and she was dreaming of him coming to the house after the game on a Friday night like tonight and picking her up to go to a movie—of course, it would have to be rated PG because she was only ten, which might prove a bit of a problem but … she was rudely bumped back to reality by Coach Wally barreling past. His big belly was bouncing, his arms were spread wide, and he was blubbering like a baby. He scooped up Brenda and bear-hugged her like he hadn’t seen her in years. Coach Wally was Brenda’s dad.

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