Ignoring her, Isobel broke forward in a sprint.


Isobel lifted her arms. Bending forward, using her gained momentum, she launched into a round-off.

The world blurred, becoming a mesh of light and streaking colors.

Catapulting into a midair Arabian, knees tucked in, she became weightless. Then bam, her feet met the bare floor, ankles jarring from the impact on the hard, mat-free surface.

But like a windup toy set into motion, there would be no stopping.

A millisecond later and she’d completed the second round-off, pulled through the hands-free whip, and finished the back handspring, air whistling in her ears.

Her feet slammed the ground and she pushed off for the last time, hard as she could. Clutching her arms in tight, she launched upward, recognizing somewhere in the back of her mind that this was the longest pass she’d ever attempted.

The air greeted her, holding her like a stray leaf in its nonexistent grasp as she twisted once, twi—

The ground rushed toward her, as fast as the grille of a speeding semi. She completed the rotation and her heels connected with the floor, but like a spinning plate, the gym floor whizzed out from beneath her.

She heard a collection of gasps and gave her own strangled cry, which the floor pounded out of her as it slammed her back hard, like the palm of a giant’s hand.


Isobel lay motionless, her muscles going slack.

There was a moment of silence as she stared up at the rows of piercing lights high, high above. She focused again on the lone blue balloon, and it helped to steady her swirling vision. Then her ears began to ring, the blood rushing through her skull loud enough that she didn’t hear the sound of stampeding sneakers until a moment before several members of the squad converged on her.

Through the circle of stunned faces, Coach’s appeared at her right, chili-pepper red and blotchy with anger. Lacking only the smoking nostrils, she looked like a dragon, puffed up and prepared to heave fire.

Isobel struggled to sit up, her entire body humming with a mixture of adrenaline and humiliation.

Even though she felt no immediate pain, she knew better than to think it wasn’t coming. It would. Later. Tonight. Worse in the morning.

“Lanley,” Coach grunted. The low, rattling way her voice shook reminded Isobel of the sound a pot top makes when the water inside begins to boil. “You hurt?”

“N-no?” she managed to croak. Her voice sounded small and far away in her still-ringing ears. She felt suddenly tiny herself, too, as though she were a gnat in a room full of elephants.

“Then get your ass up off the floor and out of my gym. The rest of you, back to your positions.”

With that, Coach whirled away.

Isobel’s squad mates turned to follow, not a one of them wanting to draw attention to themselves and risk unleashing Coach’s scarcely contained wrath by speaking to Isobel or offering to help her up. Even Stevie and Nikki jogged back to their places, though Isobel liked to think that Stevie might have lingered for half a second.

Slowly, achingly, Isobel brought herself back to her feet. As she hurried to gather her bag, somewhere from her retreating squad mates she heard Alyssa’s stifled laughter and the whispered word “loser.”

No, Isobel thought as her head began to pound.

This was definitely not a dream.

SHE GOT DRESSED IN THE girls’ locker room, thankful for the solitude.

Out in the gym, she could hear Stephanie calling the names of various stretches as she led the rest of the squad through cooldown, and Isobel was glad no one had been sent in to retrieve her.

No matter how she spun it, there was no way she’d be able to explain her actions.

She knew how it must have looked: like she was trying to give Coach the showdown after being corrected in front of everyone; like she was a huge brat who had something to prove.

Isobel slammed her locker shut, her face flaring hot with renewed mortification.

How could she have done something so stupid?

And to top it all off, Alyssa had witnessed everything firsthand. She must be throwing herself a little squee session inside that pigtailed, baby’s-rattle head of hers, loading her verbal gun with clever little jabs to send Isobel’s way when they passed each other in the hall tomorrow.

Worst of all, Isobel couldn’t be sure if she could still count herself as a member of the squad at all. Coach hadn’t formally kicked her off, but still, Isobel had broken her number one rule to never (ever) throw a pass without mats or someone spotting. Not to mention that the pass itself had been an illegal one, since twists greater than one rotation were always forbidden. Not that Isobel had been able to accomplish the full double ending anyway.

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