TITLE: One Up
For seventh grader Jace Evers, basketball and a friendly rivalry of "one-ups" with a teammate are welcome diversions from his deteriorating home life... at first. But when the rivalry escalates into malicious pranks, Jace must choose between going along with the one-ups to keep his only friend, or stopping a prank that would endanger an elderly gentleman's life.
If Jace pulled the hood far enough over his eyes and hunched his shoulders just right, he could walk down the crowded hallway without seeing anyone.
Just inside the locker room door he stopped. Brushed the hood off his head. Then took a deep breath. Sneakers, new basketballs, sweat. Jace felt better already. At his locker he traded his tattered sweatshirt for shorts and a t-shirt, and headed to the gym.
Coach blew his whistle with the force of a cargo ship horn. Everyone gathered around him. "Gentlemen," he boomed, "to make the traveling squad you will have to work hard, work together, and do it until it hurts. Now run! Twenty warm-up laps!"
Other players groaned. But Jace smiled. He'd played for Coach the year before, and had predicted that exact speech. Jace was grateful for it. And to be at try-outs instead of on his way home.
He jogged alone in the middle of the pack until he heard a steady flap, flap, flap behind him. Then a new teammate fell into step beside him.
"Name's Owen," the kid said, pushing his shaggy, sandy brown hair out of his eyes. "You gonna make the traveling squad?"
He reminded Jace of an English sheep dog. A big one.
"Hope so," Jace answered between breaths, knowing that as a seventh grader he'd have to beat out a few eighth graders to do it.
"Me too, Owen answered. "Wanna make a bet on it?"