A Star Is Born
Butterflies crashed around inside Paivi’s stomach. St. Andrew High School was hosting the biggest girls’ basketball tournament in the area, and her team had made it to the championship game. The night before, Paivi had a vision that showed people cheering for her, but she was unable to see the events that led up to it. She woke up briefly and tried concentrating really hard on the game, like Christian had told her, but it didn’t work. She was a little nervous about her abilities as well. She was supposed to tell Christian the score of the Chicago-Green Bay game tomorrow, and she still hadn’t had any luck there, either. She had been a bit preoccupied with the tournament all week and in addition to that, her mind had been clouded with thoughts of Jason.
Maybe tonight after the game, I can focus a little more, she thought.
As she sat in her Math class, she thought back to Monday. Jason had come to her locker that morning, looking a bit sheepish.
“Hey, Paivi, I, uh, I wanted to apologize for getting so mad the other day about the election,” he had said.
Paivi had given Jason the cold shoulder the entire week before. When Senator Stevens actually won the election, Jason fell into such a funk that Paivi didn’t dare talk to him. Besides, she felt he still owed her an apology and she wasn’t about to give in, as much as it pained her to avoid him.
“It’s about time.” She gave him a dirty look.
“Please don’t be mad,” he pleaded. “I had to suffer the whole weekend because you weren’t talking to me. I’ve been punished enough!”
“I just don’t know if an apology will be enough to win me over,” she added playfully. “What else have you got?”
“I know you have three games this week, what if I came to watch you play?”
Paivi was thrilled, but she couldn’t show it, she had to keep playing the game.
“That’s pretty good, but it did take you until Monday to apologize. That means you were a super sourpuss for almost a whole week.” She straightened some items in her locker that were already straight.
“Wow, you drive a hard bargain, Miss Anderson. Okay, what if I throw in a movie on Saturday night. Your choice. I’ll even go to,” he gave a loud sigh, covered his eyes and whispered, “a chick flick.”
Paivi slammed her locker and turned to face him. It felt like they were the only two people in the crowded hallway.
“Mr. Santos, I am impressed! That’s quite the offer! I think I can live with that. Apology accepted.” She held out her hand to Jason and shook it. Her fingers tingled as their hands touched.
“See you later in Current Events,” she struggled to get the words out.
A movie with Jason…could the day get any better? she thought, turning in a daze, and running smack into Christian Nelson. Her heart dropped a little.
“Are you sure he’s not your boyfriend? You are with him and awful lot.”
“No,” she answered curtly. “I don’t have a boyfriend. He’s just a friend.”
“Just a friend? Right. Whatever. Anyway, any luck with those scores yet?” He walked next to her as she moved down the hall towards her biology class.
“No, not yet, but I’m working on it. I promise. See you later!” she added hurriedly as she dashed away from him through the classroom door just as the bell rang.
Paivi blinked her eyes, waking from her daydream. Mr. Patel was still going over the same problem on the board with the class. At least she hadn’t missed much. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. What if she couldn’t get those scores? What would Christian do? Paivi rubbed her eyes and tried to focus on the problem. She was letting all of these things cloud her mind when she should really be focusing on the game tonight. Everything else would just have to wait until later.
Paivi picked at her dinner, swirling the peas around the plate with her fork.
“Mom, Paivi didn’t eat her peas,” Torsten shouted to Mrs. Anderson, who was already cleaning up the kitchen. “Tell her she can’t go to her game unless she finishes her peas!”
“Shut up, Tor!” She flung a pea at him from her plate.
“Mom! Paivi is throwing peas at me!” he screamed.
“Torsten, mind your own business, Paivi, stop throwing peas. Honestly, how old are you two? I could swear your kindergarten graduations were a long time ago!” said Mrs. Anderson, coming to the table to grab a few dirty dishes. “Now hurry up and get your stuff together or we will be late to the game. Your father is meeting us there when he gets off work.
“Mom, Torsten is trying to look pretty for the high school girls ‘cause he thinks he’s going to get a date. Look at all that gunk in his hair!”
Mrs. Anderson walked up next to Torsten’s chair, inspecting his overly-moussed hairstyle. She wrapped her arms around him in a big bear hug.
“Of course my little Torsty is so pretty. He’s just darling! What girl wouldn’t want to go out with him?” She squeezed his cheeks. Torsten, still wrapped in his mother’s embrace, turned to Paivi and stuck out his tongue. “So handsome, my baby boy!”
Paivi looked on in horror, her eyes and mouth open wide. “I think I’m gonna be sick!”
“Come on now, get your stuff and get into the car, we’ve got to go!” Mrs. Anderson rushed them out of the kitchen. “Paivi, make sure you have all of your things for the game.”
Paivi rifled through her bag again quickly. Shoes, two pairs of knee-length white socks, ponytail holders, water bottle. Check, check, and check. She had already checked the bag three times before. She always felt her game was off if she forgot something. She knew it was all stupid superstition, but she didn’t care.
As they drove through St. Andrew, they passed the First National Bank. Out front stood the bank’s sign, which showed the time and temperature. Paivi was surprised to see what was not the time or the temperature.
GOOD LUCK PAIVI
She blinked and looked again, but all she saw was the lights showing 5:42 PM.
She half smiled at the thought of the message, but stopped herself. She couldn’t start getting sucked into Christian’s game. He was using her. He just wanted her to like him so he wouldn’t feel so guilty about what he was doing. She was impressed to think that he might actually feel guilty about something, but she wasn’t going to let him win that easy.
The school parking lot was already packed with cars when they arrived. Paivi said a quick goodbye to her mother and brother and made her way downstairs to the girls’ locker room. After getting dressed, the team headed down the hall away from the gym and the crowds. Coach Espinosa and their assistant coach, an extremely thin man that went by the name of Chubby, waited for them in a classroom at the end of the hall.
The faces around the room were serious, solemn. Game faces. Coach Espinosa felt that if you were smiling, you weren’t thinking about the game. The girls were all about business and listened intently while Coach Espinosa went over what plays and players to watch for. She began to go through the line-up. Missy, Elena, Gina, Leyla, and…Paivi?
Paivi looked up with a start at Coach Espinosa, a bit bewildered. She was starting? Her palms started to sweat.
“Paivi, Buffalo Glen is playing their usual center, Brooke West. I want you to guard her and only her. Paivi can’t help anyone else tonight. And you all should double-team on Brooke any time she gets the ball. Don’t leave Paivi alone. She is just as big and strong as Brooke, but Brooke has a lot of experience and she can score. She averages twenty-five points a game. If we are going to win tonight, we have to make sure she doesn’t get those twenty-five points. Clear?” Coach Espinosa asked.
“Yes coach!” they shouted back in unison.
Coach Espinosa looked directly at Paivi.
“Remember, Brooke is all yours and make sure she does NOT score.”
Paivi narrowed her eyes, focusing on her task. She nodded her head.
“Got it coach.”
The girls made their way upstairs, chanting ‘Tartans’ as loud as they could until they reached the door of the gym for warm-ups. They waited in the doorway until the music started, the beats echoing through the entire gymnasium. They ran in one after the other and then split into two lines, running around the court and slapping hands with fans in the crowd.
When the music stopped, the girls returned to the bench and the starters were seated. As they were introduced to the crowd, they made their way to center court to shake hands with their opponents and then returned to their bench.
At last it was time for the jump ball. Paivi went to center court. She balanced on the balls of her feet, knees bent, arms up. Her body was tense, she felt like a lion, ready to pounce. Brooke West stood inches away, in a similar stance. They looked at each other for a second until the referee presented the ball. Their eyes were glued to the prize.
“Ready?” the referee asked.
Paivi felt like she was going to explode.
The whistle blew—the referee threw the ball straight up in the air.
Paivi shot up like a rocket, going for the ball. Two hands on it, she pulled it down towards her and passed it off to one of the guards. Leyla Bianchi scored the first points for the Tartans.
The game continued at a quick pace. Paivi stuck to Brooke West like glue, struggling and shoving on both ends of the floor. Brooke managed a few shots over her, but not without receiving a few bruises. By the fourth quarter, Brooke West had given up. Every time she turned, Paivi was there. Every move to the basket caused her to get tangled in two or three Tartans. The Buffaloes were frustrated but had stayed in the game, always keeping within at least five points.
As the time wound down, the Buffaloes had a burst of energy, shooting a three-pointer and making a quick shot off of an out-of-bounds play to tie up the game. The Tartans couldn’t get a shot in the final second and the game ended in a tie, forcing the game into overtime.
The girls returned to the bench to regroup.
“Keep fighting in there, Paivi, you’re doing great. Guys, we need some good shots, quickly. Come on! Run your offense and stay on your toes. Let’s go!” Coach Espinosa shouted.
Paivi looked up at the scoreboard and instead of the score showing a tie of 65-65, she saw the lights rearrange to spell out something else.
GOING FOR 3
And on the other side was one number.
She turned to look into the crowd, trying to quickly scan for Christian’s face. There wasn’t enough time, the buzzer rang and they were pushed back onto the floor.
Her mind was racing. Number 15 was going to go for a three. But if she did anything about it, she would be cheating, wouldn’t she? They were lining up for the jump ball. There wasn’t time to think. Elena had number 15, but there was no way to tell her now.
Focus, just focus, she thought, forcing herself to look at the ball and get into position for the second jump ball of the game.
The referee threw the ball between her and Brooke West and they jumped. They both touched the ball, tipping it sideways into the hands of one of the Buffaloes.
The teams took off down the floor towards the basket. The Buffaloes took their spots on the floor, setting up their next play.
I have to do this, thought Paivi, scanning the floor for number 15.
The girl was coming in her direction, off a pick set by one of her teammates. Paivi saw the ball being passed to the short blond, who had set up out by the three-point line. She took her chance, leaving Brooke West unguarded, which she was sure to get in trouble for, but she didn’t care.
The ball was almost to number 15, who didn’t even notice Paivi approaching. Paivi got one hand on the ball and slapped it out of her hands, towards the other end of the floor and chased after it. The crowd erupted in cheers as everyone jumped to their feet. It was exhilarating. She saw Missy running for the hoop, she tossed her a quick pass and Missy scored two points with a lay-up. The walls of the gym were shaking from the roar of the crowd.
There was no time to enjoy it, however, the game kept going. The Tartans lined up into their man-to-man full-court press. Elena and Missy forced the Buffaloes to turn over the ball to them at half court and called a time out.
The noise was immense, the band was playing the school song and the fans were singing along as the five players ran over to the bench.
“Good play, Paivi, but don’t leave Brooke West by herself again. That’s dangerous. Now, go out there and run the play for Leyla, keep up the momentum!” Coach Espinosa screamed, her voice lost in the noise of the crowd.
The girls lined up at half court and were able to get the ball in quickly and set up their offense. They set their picks and moved around the court. Leyla fought hard to get open.
“Run it again!” Leyla shouted at Missy, and the girls went through the play again.
Two Buffaloes double-teamed Leyla under the basket. Paivi was left alone, wide open, on the opposite side. Elena, with the ball at the top of the key, saw Paivi and dished her a pass. Paivi went up for a lay-up and scored. As she was coming down from the shot, a Buffalo took her legs out from under her, sending her crashing to the floor.
Foul. One shot.
Paivi’s teammates helped her up and she headed to the free-throw line. It was hard to focus; she could barely hear herself think. She stood at the line and took a deep breath. The referee took a look around and gave Paivi the ball. She looked at the basket, lined herself up, bent her knees and felt her body go through the motions. She released the ball and watched it as it silently spun through the air. It felt like time had stopped.
The ball sailed straight through the hoop, without even touching the rim. Paivi breathed after what seemed like an eternity. The crowd went wild. The score was now 70-65. Only one minute left. The Buffaloes were frantic. They attempted to get off another shot during the last minute to no avail. The Tartans played out the last few seconds, passing the ball around the court to run out the clock.
At the buzzer, scores of cheering fans ran out onto the floor to congratulate the Tartans. The team gathered at center court to receive the tournament trophy.
Paivi hung back a little, looking around the crowd for her parents and for Jason. She spotted Christian in the midst of the crowd. He met her eye and smiled. She scowled and turned away.
They hadn’t won because she played hard. They’d won because she had cheated. She was angry, angry with herself for using the tip and that she was letting Christian win. Now he had even more dirt on her. And he knew she could be used just like he used everyone else.
She turned back to the team.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad, she thought, looking at how happy they all were. I did it for them, for our team. I didn’t do it just for me.
The girls were passing the trophy around to have their pictures taken. Paivi posed for a few and then headed over to the bench to pick up her things. As she approached the bench, she could see Coach Espinosa surrounded by the local reporters. The three reporters turned to Paivi with their notepads and tape recorders.
“Paivi, great game!” said the first reporter, a short, stocky man with a moustache and a baseball hat. “I’m Dan Reinhard from the St. Andrew Herald. What were you thinking during the overtime? That steal was spectacular! It changed the whole tide of the game!”
“Well, I, uh, I don’t know. I was just doing what I could to help the team, you know,” she stammered, a little surprised by the sudden attention.
“You know, you held All-Stater Brooke West to just eight points. That was some amazing defense. Her average is around twenty-five points, you know. How did you do it?” asked a tall, skinny man.
“Well, Coach Espinosa told me not to let her score, so I just did the best I could,” she answered, happy to turn the conversation to something she had accomplished without Christian Nelson. “And the other girls helped me by doubling down any time Brooke had the ball.”
“Steve Johnstone.” The third man stuck his hand out. Paivi shook it. “Tartan Times. You must have felt really good about that shot in the overtime. Your points put the game to bed.”
“I guess, but it was only three points out of seventy,” said Paivi. “It’s like, nothing.”
“Well, thanks for your time, Paivi. You are truly a team player,” said the second reporter. He snapped his notebook closed and moved to talk to the Buffaloes coach. The other two reporters nodded and followed him across the floor.
There was still a large crowd in the gym after Paivi’s team meeting had ended. She spotted her parents and Torsten first and went up to greet them.
“Great game Sweetheart!” said Mr. Anderson, giving her a big hug. “I’m so proud of you! You really gave the old ticker a run for its money. What a steal and what a basket. All I can say is wow!”
“Thanks, Dad.” She tried to lighten up a little bit. She didn’t want her parents to think anything was wrong. This was something she would have to keep to herself. Well, to herself and one other person.
“Why don’t we go out for ice cream to celebrate?” asked an excited Mrs. Anderson, patting Paivi on the shoulder.
“Can I invite Aimee?” Torsten glanced sideways at Paivi.
She said nothing. Torsten was the least of her problems.
“Of course, Tor, that’s fine. She can ride with us if she likes. Just make sure she calls her parents,” Mrs. Anderson called after Tor, who had already sprinted off in Aimee’s general direction.
“Paivi, I just saw the Lorenzos, and I want to say hi to them, so go visit with your friends and see if anyone is up for ice cream. We’ll leave in ten minutes.” Mrs. Anderson tapped her watch.
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson wandered off towards a large group of adults near the door.
Paivi could hear Michaela’s loud voice in the crowd and started to follow it. She greeted a few people she knew from around school and headed into the throng of students. Out of nowhere she felt someone grab her from the side and arms slid around her waist. She was lifted the air and spun around in a circle.
“You were amazing!” shouted a familiar voice.
She smiled. Jason.
He set her back on the floor, spinning her around to face him.
“Dude—that was an amazing game! The steal was just unbelievable and man, you gave that big girl a run for her money!” he said excitedly.
He pulled her close and she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him. She pulled back quickly, remembering that her jersey was soaked with sweat and hoping she didn’t stink too badly.
“Come on.” Paivi grabbed Jason’s hand. He squeezed hers back and didn’t pull away. “I have to find Michaela.”
He followed her as they wove through the crowd. Paivi continued to follow the sound of Michaela’s voice.
“OHMYGODPAIVI!” squealed Michaela as she launched herself off the bleachers and on to Paivi. “That was amazing! You’re a beast!”
“Do either of you want to come with us for ice cream?” Paivi said, glancing nervously at Jason. She wasn’t comfortable asking Jason to go out unless other friends were involved. She was pretty sure he liked her; after all, he did ask her out for Saturday and he was still holding her hand. She hoped that their little date would help them figure out if they were more than friends or not. She was definitely hoping so.
“Yeah, sure,” answered Jason quickly.
“Dude, like I would turn down ice cream! Lead the way!” Michaela laughed.
“Come on, let’s go find my mom.” Paivi grabbed Michaela’s arm and dragged her along. As they turned around, she came face to face with Christian Nelson and some members of his usual entourage.
She didn’t know what to say.
“Paivi that was an awesome game! I mean, that steal, wow!” he paused, giving her a knowing look.
“Uh, yeah, it was pretty crazy.” She hardened her gaze a bit, hoping he could read that she wasn’t pleased.
“So, how about that Chicago and Green Bay game this Sunday? It looks like a good one too. Are you going to watch it?” Christian asked, smirking. She looked away. Sometimes she just wanted to smash him in the face, if only that were socially acceptable. He was just so smug.
“It’s cool,” he responded, picking up on her discomfort. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Have a good night, Paivi! Sweet dreams!”
He waved and chuckled as his group sauntered away.
A wave of nausea washed over her. She still had to figure out that score tonight. If she didn’t, well she didn’t want to think about what he would do.
“Are you friends with that guy?” asked Jason, eyeing Christian suspiciously.
“Well, I wouldn’t call him a friend.” She thought for a minute. “But he’s alright. He’s harmless.”
She just hoped that was true.