The One With Fire In Her Eyes

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Chapter 7: The Starters

“Gather up,” Lina shouted while everyone was fussing around the court after the practice. Gabriela was sitting on the floor in front of their captain, finishing her stretching so she didn’t bother getting up. “Oi, shut up! I’m going to announce the startup team for the preliminaries.” Everybody quieted at once and gathered around, finding a spot on the ground. Ruby, the team’s manager, strode next to the captain, carrying a huge cardboard box which she dropped in their feet.

Lina looked them over one more time before lifting the piece of paper she had been holding in her hand.

“Number 1 - Lina Spenser - setter.” She announced, and the rest of the team cheered and clapped enthusiastically. She sighed, waving for them to quiet down as Ruby hung the T-shirt with the number 1 on her shoulder. “Number 4 - Anna Lou - libero.” She continued and another wave of applause overtook the gym as Ruby tossed the pack with her team uniform to Anna. Just like the captain, she was a senior and had been a regular ever since her first year. Despite her slight build and short height - or maybe because of it - she was so quick on her feet that she could cross the court in the time most people took to blink and assess the situation. Gabriela had been watching her from the very start - Anna was probably a few levels above everyone else, even the captain.

“Next, number 5 - Crystal Morana - outside hitter.” The cheers were even louder than before, and the girl next to Crystal pushed her shoulder playfully. Crystal herself was grinning from ear to ear as if she hadn’t expected that outcome, despite being the best spiker they had on the team. Her strength and arm span could rival half of the players on the boys’ team. She received her uniform, raising it over her head and waving it as if it was some sort of trophy. “Number 7 - Naomi Potter - outside hitter.” Lina continued, and another uniform flew in the lap of a tall, willowy girl with short blonde hair and over ten piercings on her face.

“Number 10 - Maya Collins and number 11 - Christine Dower - middle blockers,” Lina said, glancing over her paper while Ruby handed the next uniforms to the girls sitting next to Gabriela. Maya was the only six-foot-tall person on the team, so even if she was a brand new member, the chances were that she’d be put in the game no matter what. Christine was half a foot shorter than her, but her block reading skills were scary. Gabriela couldn’t remember a single time when she played against her and had her spike go in cleanly.

The atmosphere quickly turned tense. Out of all the regular players, only one girl had left the volleyball team due to injury last year, which meant that the final spot was up for grabs. And while Gabriela was confident in her skills, she had to admit there were some stronger attackers among the others.

“Number 13,” Lina started, pausing for a moment as if nervous to continue, “Gabriela Howell - right side hitter.”

A long silence followed where previously there were cheers. Gabriela stared up at the captain, trying to contain her surprise, while everyone else’s gazes were drilling a hole in the back of her head.

“Are you kidding me?” Someone shouted and Gabriela glanced sideways towards the owner of the voice. It didn’t take her long to recognize her. Olivia’s long dark hair and pretty face along with the label ‘bitch’ had stuck in her mind thanks to the Theo guy. As much as she tried to get along with her during practice, Gabriela could see why, despite her cute appearance, even that annoying guy disliked her. She had heard that after the other player got her hand hurt last year, it had been Olivia who replaced her as a regular for the rest of their games. She had probably thought the spot was as good as hers. “She is almost shorter than Anna!” She spat, glaring at Gabriela. “And you’ll put her as a hitter?”

“Hey, watch it.” Anna frowned.

“Yet she jumps almost as high as you, despite being shorter. How interesting.” Lina said in a harsh tone, and Olivia’s face flushed with anger. “Not that I owe you an explanation for this choice, but I plan to have her take the role as a second defense specialist when necessary since our defense still needs work. While she might not be Anna, her defense game is much better than most of yours at this point.”

“And don’t forget she can do a jump-floater serve,” Maya pointed out, winking at Gabriela. “We’ll definitely need to capitalize on that.”

“That’s not the reason for my decision, but yes, that is a plus.” Lina nodded, glancing down at Gabriela. Her eyes were harsh and challenging as if saying ‘Don’t make me regret it.’ She looked back at Olivia. “As for you, Olivia, watch your temper if you wish to play at all this year. I don’t need a ticking bomb that might explode at the slightest provocation.”

Olivia looked away, her jaw tightening.

“Here you go,” Ruby said, handing Gabriela the uniform with number thirteen on the back. “Congratulations. Try it at home and if you see anything that needs stitching or fixing, let me know.”

“Sure, thanks.” Gabriela nodded gratefully, squeezing the black-and-red t-shirt and pants. It felt lighter than her last uniform, and the cloth was of lower quality, but she didn’t mind. She had made it into the starters team contrary to her expectations so nothing else matter. She was going to be on that court, she was going to play.

“Ruby will distribute the rest of the uniforms for the reserves so make sure to wash them and store them properly,” Lina called over the commotion that was raised as everybody got to their feet and moved to surround the manager and her box.

Gabriela moved out of their way, looking down at her uniform.

“Don’t take it to heart,” Lina said, eyes still on the rest of the girls who were swarming over the manager, asking for particular numbers. “Some of them have been part of this team and almost never played in official matches, so it’s understandable that they get jealous that a new girl showed up and stole their spot.”

“Then why not give it to them?” Gabriela asked.

“Because I want to play with this team for as long as possible,” Lina said, finally turning to meet her eyes. “And for that to happen, I need the team to be at its best. So don’t mess up or I’ll kill you.”

Gabriela raised an eyebrow and the captain laughed, waving with her hand to show she was joking. Despite that, Gabriela felt like she should probably still avoid messing up if she valued her life.

“Hey, Lina.” Somebody called behind them and they both turned. Kyle strode to them in his school uniform, bag hanging over his shoulder. “Did you remind them?”

“Oh, shoot. Give me a sec.” She murmured, shouting for everyone to shut up since she had an announcement to make. Gabriela stared at her until she felt Kyle’s insistent gaze on her face.

“I see you made it.” He said and Gabriela looked up at him. “Congratulations.”

“You don’t look particularly surprised.” She pointed out and he smiled.

“I had a feeling.” He shrugged. “Do your best.”

“Right.” She nodded, looking away from his face. Lina had managed to grab their attention and everyone was staring at her - or mostly at her while stealing glances of Kyle standing behind her.

“Listen up. Since I’m going to drill you to death for the next two weeks starting tomorrow, I decided that you deserve a little reward. We’re having a little get-together with the boys’ team tonight at Johnny’s so you all better show up. Dinner will be covered by us, so just go home, change and get there. We’re meeting at eight pm so don’t be late.”

Everybody cheered again, and a whirlpool of conversation and laughter filled the gym. Lina turned to look at Kyle, giving him a thumbs up.

“Um, Lina,” Gabriela said just as the captain was about to walk away. “I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. Sorry.”

“Why?” She frowned. “Do you have a curfew or something? If your parents are the problem, let me speak to them and I’ll…”

“They’re not.” Gabriela interrupted, sighing. “I’m working and my shift ends at nine. By the time I close and change and get there, you’ll probably be ready to go home. So I’ll just come next time.”

“We can make it start at nine,” Kyle suggested. Lina shrugged, opening her mouth, but Gabriela was faster to speak.

“That’s okay, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you tomorrow at nine.”

She turned on her heel and left before either of them could stop her, hurrying to the dressing rooms and changing before the rest of the team came in. On her way she almost ran into Olivia who gave her her deadliest glare, shoving her shoulder as she strode to her locker.

Gabriela sighed, throwing her backpack over her shoulder and leaving the gym.

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