chapter 8 - more attitude than my 3y/o sister

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ACE

The clock clicks down the final seconds as the score remains tied at one-one. With the ball in my possession, I push myself forward with the last bit of adrenaline, even with the sweat dripping down my forehead and my body screaming for a break. I glance over my shoulder to see a flash of dark green jerseys chasing after me. Our opponents aren't going to give up, but neither am I.

I turn my attention back to the field and see the opposing left back rushing towards me. His body language and the look on his face tell me that he's nervous as he tries to anticipate my next move. The stadium roars with cheers from the Harlock section, a blend of our school's signature colors: red, gold, and black.

"Ace, I'm open!" I hear Justin shout from the other side, but he's already got green jerseys trying to block him and Rohan. I run my options through my head, only thinking about winning. My eyes dart down to the left-back's wide stance and fake a pass, making the player flinch in that direction. I take the opportunity and tap the ball through his legs, slipping right past him. I shoot the ball towards the top left-hand corner, which grazes the goalie's gloved fingertips. The ball hits the back of the net, and the whistle blows a couple of seconds later, ending the game. The crowd from our side roars with excitement as the other side groans with frustration.

I try to steady my breathing, jogging to the center of the field to form a line. Justin slaps his hand on my shoulder blade, sounding disappointed. "Dude, you can't hog the spotlight all the time."

"I wouldn't have to if you guys gave me a better opening," I respond as we begin down the line for the post-match handshake. Their captain looks at me with bitter defeat, glaring at me like the sore loser he is.

"I would've been able to get around them, and what you did was ballsy. Their goalie is one of the best in the league." Justin reminds me as we make our way over to the sidelines.

"Yeah, I've seen his plays, but he's also got weaknesses," I reply confidently, crossing over to the bench and grabbing my water bottle to gulp down water. I sit down and lean forward to drench my head with water to cool myself, then run my hand through my damp hair, carelessly tousling it.

As we start packing our backpacks and duffle bags, our coach offers a few words of praise and advice. His speech gets interrupted by a group of girls energetically calling my name from the stands, with Cassie's voice being the most distinct. Unlike everyone else who turns to see what's going on, I don't even bother looking back. The coach hesitates, as if he's unwilling to continue over their shouting, and clears his throat before dismissing us.

Our team slowly makes their way back to the bus, and Justin, Rohan, and I lag behind. Rohan pulls out his phone and scrolls through something on the screen. "So you know how that post of Elle got taken down last night? Someone anonymously posted a different picture of her."

Gripping the straps of his backpack, Justin leans in closer to get a better look as he reads the caption aloud. "Cassie's jealous."

I catch a glimpse of the picture on Rohan's phone. Elle is sitting at her desk, her long hair falling over one shoulder as she concentrates on writing in her notebook. She appears completely unaware that her picture was being taken.

"What are you guys looking at?" Cassie and her friends suddenly appear in front of us. They're wearing our fan t-shirts in a certain style, either cropped or letting the shirts hang loose, oversized.

"Nothing." Rohan quickly tucks his phone into the pocket of his black hoodie with a guilty look on his face.

I try to slip by casually as Cassie snakes her hand around my upper arm with a falsely sweet smile that grates on my nerves. I pull my arm out of her hold, and she doesn't say a word, but her disapproving pout follows me.

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