The One With Fire In Her Eyes

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Chapter 5: The Tryouts

The last bell rang, echoing through the corridor. A second later, the sounds of feet and a cacophony of voices erupted from everywhere, swallowing the words of the math teacher who was trying to remind them of the test they would be having in two weeks.

Gabriela got up with a sigh, grabbing her books and leaving the room before the others were even done packing their stuff. She didn’t want to show it, but she was excited. She had barely kept her focus through all her classes today, and now that they were over, her stomach had turned into a tight knot.

She opened her locker and shoved the books inside, taking out her sports bag with her spare clothes. The corridors were already full of people, most of them chatting about what they were planning to do during the weekend or hurrying to get out of school and enjoy two days of freedom.

She made her way in the opposite direction, towards the gym, her heart beating like crazy. As she found herself in the corridor leading towards the gym itself, she stopped, taking a deep, calming breath.

There was no point in being nervous. She was confident enough in her skills, so if her height was going to be a problem, there was nothing she could do about it. She would still have practice, so she would still be playing.

Gabriela stepped towards the door of the gym, pushing it open and peeking inside. The familiar sound of shoes screeching and hands hitting a ball tickled her ears, and she smiled involuntarily. Her eyes landed on the group of boys playing on one of the two volleyball fields and for a second she kept staring at the guy that jumped, spiking the ball so fast that the other team barely had time to react.

She looked at the second field where the net was already raised. There was only one person on it - a girl with shoulder-long dark hair who was preparing the balls for the practice and checking the net to make sure it was properly tied.

“Hey, shortie! Watcha doin’?” A now familiar voice whispered in Gabriela’s ear. She managed to keep her composure this time, turning her head slowly instead. The red-haired guy was leaning over her with a goofy grin, water dripping from his face and hair. “You came for the tryouts after all, huh?”

“Nope,” she said, pushing him out of the way and returning to the corridor so she could get to the change rooms before the others.

“What then? Come to watch me play?” He laughed.

“Nope.”

“It’s not good to lie, you know!” He shouted after her. She glared at him over her shoulder and a second later ran into a wall. A dull pain pierced her head as it bounced off of it, and she took a step back to steady herself. She could hear the red-haired guy’s laughter echo through the corridor, so she gritted her teeth, swallowing her embarrassment.

“You again.”

Gabriela jumped in surprise, turning towards what she honestly thought was a wall. It turned out the ‘wall’ was another familiar tall, handsome human that was now staring down at her with wide eyes. She recognized him at once, but unlike their previous collision, this time neither of them fell. He wasn’t wearing a jacket either, just the tight uniform of his team that was now stuck to his well-defined chest. Water dripped from his hair and face as if he had just splashed them, and the rest of his arms and neck were glistening with sweat. “At least you didn’t fall this time. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Gabriela said curtly, looking away from him while rubbing her forehead. Looking at his face wasn’t easier, she realized - those piercing eyes were making her all kinds of uncomfortable.

“For a volleyball player, you should be more aware of your surroundings!” The red-haired guy shouted from the door. She glared at him over her shoulder, then glanced back up at the other guy.

“Excuse me.” She muttered, moving around him and hurrying towards the changing rooms. There were already a few girls inside, but they just gave her a brief glance before returning to their conversation. She caught the name Kyle a few times, but was too busy changing to pay them any mind.

Gabriela checked her reflection in the mirror before going back, only to find a little red lump where she had hit her head. She clicked with her tongue, re-tying her hair into a high ponytail.

Was that guy made of stones? It certainly felt like it.

Adjusting her knee pads in their places, she left the changing rooms at last. According to the clock on the wall, there were ten more minutes until the tryouts, so she had plenty of time to warm up and check out the rest of the competition.

She headed towards the gym again, hoping she wouldn’t run into the red-haired brat. The doors were open now, and the voices coming from inside seemed much louder than before. She stepped through, looking in both directions.

The boy’s team had finished their practice and was now gathering the balls and clearing the court while a few of the girls from the girls’ team were already warming up. There were a lot more people sitting on the bleachers, chatting excitedly and laughing. Some of them even shouted encouraging words or let out teasing remarks to their friends, despite the fact that the tryouts hadn’t even started.

“Gabriela!”

She scanned the bleachers for the person calling her until her eyes landed on Harper. Harper waved enthusiastically as she made her way down to her. She had mentioned she would come to watch even though Gabriela had told her not to, but now she felt strangely reassured by her cheerful presence. Harper’s smile was running from ear to ear, a slight redness coloring her cheeks.

“How do you feel? Are you nervous?” She asked, catching her hands. She was still wearing the school uniform, her bag hanging from her shoulder. “You don’t look nervous at all! If I were you, I’d probably start puking right about now.” Gabriela’s lips twitched, urging her to smile, but she forced them down. “Especially since it would seem the male volleyball team has decided to stay and watch the tryouts.”

Harper nodded towards something behind her and Gabriela turned around reluctantly. Sitting on the higher seats of the bleachers on the other side of the door were most of the volleyball team, already dressed in their black tracksuits. The red-haired guy grinned, waving at them. The other guy that had joined them for lunch, Dylan, was sitting next to him and their tall one, which she had run into twice, sat with his arms crossed on the seat in front of them.

“Oh, my god! They are looking this way!” Harper shrieked, shaking Gabriela’s hands. “Or maybe they were looking at you? But why are they laughing? How can you be so calm?”

“Harper,” Gabriela said, catching her shoulders. “Calm yourself and pay them no mind.”

“But they are still staring.” She muttered, trying not to look. “Anyway. Shouldn’t you be warming up? Go. If you get nervous, just look this way. I’ll cheer for you!”

“Thanks, but that won’t be necessary.” Gabriela smiled at her. “Once I step on that court, all of these people will disappear. So don’t worry about me. Let’s go get coffee after this.”


“Look at her! She is the shortest of them all, but her confidence is overflowing.” Theo laughed and Kyle glanced up at him. “I bet she has some neat trick prepared to stand out. What kind of position is she going for? Libero?”

“Just because she is shorter?” Dylan scoffed. “She doesn’t move like one. I bet she has some insane jump to compensate for her height. I bet she is an outside hitter.”

“Ha, that would be a sight to see,” Kyle murmured, his eyes following the dark-haired girl as she finished warming up and joined the others. She moved slowly, with curt but deliberate movements, and her eyes were constantly running around as if noticing everything. It almost looked like she was nervous or as if she was checking her competition, but her expression was too calm, too calculating. “What was her name again?”

“Gabriela,” Theo said, jumping over the seat next to Kyle and then sitting down in it. Dylan moved a line down a moment later. “What do you think her secret weapon is?”

Kyle watched her as she passed the ball to her partner, again and again, switching between spiking and receiving. Her aim was good although her strength seemed lacking, but her receives were downright perfect.

“I’m not sure.” Kyle finally said, running his fingers over his lips. “Her passes are great and her defense form is probably better than most of the others, but we’ll have to see in a game.”

“Who do we have to see in a game?”

Kyle craned his neck back to find their setter, Asher, squatting right behind him.

“The short one over there,” Theo replied, nodding at the court. Asher looked at the girls for a minute, a small smile appearing on his lips.

“Cute.” He smirked. “Nice body.”

“Right?” Theo grinned, returning his attention to the court. “I think she likes me. We have biology and chemistry together.”

“Should we assume you’re talking about the subjects?” Asher said, and Theo showed him a middle finger.

“I think you need to check your head.” Kyle snorted, hitting at the back of his head.

“That aside, why do we care about her?” Asher asked, getting to his feet and jumping on the front roll next to Theo.

“We were just betting what kind of position she is usually playing.” Theo shrugged. Asher glanced at him, then returned his attention back to the court. The coach’s whistle echoed through the gym and the girls gathered around him.

“Setter,” Asher said suddenly, and all three of them looked at him. “But they won’t let her play that since Lina is the starting setter.”

Kyle nodded, turning his attention back to the court. The gym quieted as the coach whistled for the game to start. A tall, black-haired girl served the ball at a sharp angle, hitting the hands of one of the girls at the back, the ball ricocheting towards the bleachers.

The coach whistled again, giving the first point to the team on the left side. The girl served again, but this time the ball’s trajectory was much slower and parabolic, flying towards the girl in the center - one of the regulars of the team - which she received perfectly, passing it towards their setter.

Even before the ball touched the setter’s hands, Kyle’s eyes were searching for Gabriela. She had pulled back, securing herself a proper runout distance. His gaze stopped on her face and his heart skipped a beat. That focused expression, those determined eyes full of fire and love for the game, it sent a pleasant thrill down his spine, making him forget how to breathe.

The setter passed the ball on the right, towards her.

“Too high,” Asher muttered, but Kyle barely heard him. The time seemed to slow down as he watched her run forward, making one, two, three steps. She jumped, her body literally flying up. Her hand found the ball perfectly, sending it flying between the hands of the block. The ball landed in the spot between two of the players at the back, both of them staring at each other as if saying ‘It was yours!’.

“What the fuck?” Dylan muttered. “Did you see how high she jumped?”

“Still, not high enough,” Asher noted. “If the block wasn’t late, they would have stopped her.”

The two teams stood still and quiet for a second, then Gabriela’s teammates erupted in cheers. The captain said something to her and Gabriela nodded, catching the ball she was handed before rotating to the back to serve.

“What are the chances she is good at serving too?” Dylan asked, glancing at them. Kyle leaned his hands on his knees, watching her as she took her position. She dribbled the ball a few times before the whistle sounded again.

Her lips twitched upwards every so slowly, just before she tossed the ball up.

“Ha.” Kyle chuckled, shaking his head. The toss was high and quite forward, which only meant one thing. “Jump floater.”

Gabriela jumped, hitting the ball with such precision and strength that it dashed in the opposite court and landed on the ground before anyone moved. Another brief silence followed, then even louder cheers. Her team forgot they were playing and flocked around her with bright faces.

“That girl is a monster.” Dylan laughed. “Does anyone on their team do jump floater serve?”

“I think just their captain,” Kyle replied. “But nowhere as precise. I think she was aiming for that spot.”

“I think I’ve fallen for her.” Theo sighed, leaning back in his seat. “I should have known, though. Her friend said she transferred from Northridge Academy. Their female team wipes the floor with ours every year.”

“There is no guarantee she was a regular, though,” Asher said, getting to his feet. “But she would do a nice pinch server if nothing else.” He looked at the court again where the teams had retaken their positions and were playing again. They had shaken off the initial surprise of seeing her jump floater server and managed to get the ball in the air, albeit with difficulties, and now the game was in full swing. “I’ll be going. People with girlfriends don’t have time to sit around and lust over other girls in tight pants.” He grinned, glancing back at the field. “See ya, losers.”

“Get out of here, jerk,” Theo shouted, swinging with his hand to hit him on the leg but missing. Asher waved his hand without turning, disappearing out of the gym door. “Are we staying or going?”

“I’m gonna go,” Dylan said, getting to his feet as well. “I got to help at the shop. You?” Theo looked at the court, then up at him. He got to his feet as well, swinging his bag over his shoulder. “Captain?”

“I’m staying,” Kyle said without turning, his eyes following Gabriela as she threw herself on the ground, getting the ball up in the last possible second. She jumped to her feet, assuming her position, her eyes following the ball as if nothing else existed in the world.

Kyle rubbed his lips again, a small smile appearing on his face.

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