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(previous)

Saturday afternoon at the Fish N Stuff was a quiet day. Oliver was savouring his lunch break with his friends.

“Can’t believe you’d decide to eat here, of all places,” Oliver whispered.

“Oh c’mon,” Stacy snapped. “Do we look like food snobs? This is infinitely better than some crappy TV dinner.”

“Yeah, the food’s great,” Ren added. “Besides, we owe ya, buddy.”

Oliver was taken aback. “For what?”

“For your essay, of course!” Ren said.

“We’re gonna be tipping extra generously today,” Cheryl explained. “So you can still claim your 100 dollar prize.”

“You definitely deserve it more than that Prince guy,” Stacy added.

Oliver smiled. He was about to insist that they totally didn’t have to do it, but he knew they would insist on it anyway, especially Stacy. In between bites of his Super Salmon Burger, he took a look at today’s paper. He groaned at yet another Rob Smith article, but upon seeing Stacy’s eager eyes watching him, he quickly flipped the page.

“Say, Olly,” Stacy said, grinning. “Whatcha looking at?”

“Nothing,” he replied nervously.

“Nothing, you say? Was it the swimsuit page?”

Oliver shook his head in embarrassment. “The editorials.”

Stacy frowned. “Really, Oliver?”

He said nothing, scanning the papers for something to change the subject. “Hey, there’s an article on one of the roller derby teams from the city! Didn’t know it was getting so popular.”

The rest of the table became excited, except for Cheryl. “Yeah, it’s one of those niche subcultures they feature every so often. I’ve heard of the team from Sofia,” she replied calmly. “They’ve been training in the East End for years, and have become quite a formidable team.”

She suddenly paused, with the table hanging on in suspense. “The Axel Rangers.”

Everyone’s eyes widened, impressed.

“Why is their name so much cooler than ours?” Stacy asked.

Cheryl shrugged. “Guess someone really loves Power Rangers.”

Oliver lowered the paper as everyone gathered around to see. Posing in the picture were five girls all skating in a row, sporting outfits in red, yellow, green, blue, and pink respectively. Upon seeing the photo, Stacy was ecstatic.

“Just think, if we beat them and win…Fame! Glory! Everyone in Cedar Grove will be grovelling at our feet! The little Beemobile that could, standing in triumph! Our town, no longer under the big city’s shadow! We’d be…”

“Uh, Stacy…” Cheryl interrupted. “You do realize they’re way more experienced than us, right?”

“I knew that,” Stacy answered sheepishly. “But it would be nice to see how we measure up, at least.”

Cheryl smiled. “I know what you mean. It’s great that you’re eager to challenge yourself. But remember, we’ve got our own league to worry about first.”

Stacy sighed. “Yeah, I know,” she said dreamily, still obsessing over her David vs Goliath fantasy.

“Say, can I have the paper now?” Ren interjected.

Oliver promptly handed over the paper as Ren quickly flipped to the end of the Sports section, staring in awe. Cheryl looked on in amusement, while Stacy snickered. As her eyes wavered, she noticed Tori merely staring at them, having said nothing until now.

“Say, Tori, what’s up?” she asked.

Tori looked back at her. “Um….”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Oliver’s mom coming.

“Did you kids enjoy the meal?” she asked.

Everyone nodded in approval, reaching for their wallets.

“Your total comes to $63.21. Are you all paying together…”

Before she could finish, everyone had already slapped down more almost three times that amount. Oliver was ready to contribute his fair share, but Ren gestured for him to stop. His mother looked pleasantly bewildered.

“Thank you very much….” Ms. Palmiero said, trying to catch her breath.

“Don’t worry, Oliver,” Ren said. “Like we said, we got you covered.”

—-

It was lunch time, and the Games for Everyone club was meeting in their usual haunt. Oliver was catching up with Memories of the Sleeping Village while Cheryl and Tori looked over his laptop screen.

“Separate and unbroken, four lines make up the seal,” Oliver muttered. “Through the square of nine, a secret it will reveal…‘Think outside the box.’”

Stacy, who just got up after trying to stay still on her wobbly chair, overheard her friend’s thoughts. Oliver saw her approach with a weird grin on her face, still trying to connect all the dots together.

“Ugh, only four lines? There’s no way!”

“Got any ideas?” Cheryl asked. “I’ve been stuck on this one too.”

Stacy continued to smile. “Oh, this one.”

She gestured at Oliver to move over, and he obliged. Stacy began drawing a line from the bottom right corner to the bottom left just as Oliver did. Smirking, she paused for a second, and then continued the line just one space outside the square. The other three gasped as Stacy continued to move diagonally right to just above the top right corner, and then reconnected the lines to form a right triangle. She finished connecting the last two dots with another diagonal. The seal began to glow as she returned the seat to Oliver.

“Wait, the veiled lady meant literally outside the box?” Oliver exclaimed. “God, I feel stupid.”

“Hey,” Stacy said. “It’s not exactly intuitive if you’ve never seen the puzzle before. But now you know!”

The other three were impressed to see the solution revealed in plain sight. But after a few seconds, they noticed the seal was still glowing, and were confused.

“The seal’s not doing anything,” Oliver remarked.

Stacy merely flashed another smile and pointed at the region where the arrow pattern was pointing. Oliver noticed that the background was a map of the apothecary, and proceeded to click on the jar it was pointing at.

“Remarkable!” Abd-al Malik told the player character. “That’s where the Rosetta Stone must be hidden! We’re one step closer to uncovering the King’s message!”

“Wow,” Oliver told Stacy, overwhelmed. “Lydia sure is sneaky. How would we ever know it was supposed to be in that specific direction too?”

“Well, if you drew the pattern in the other directions,” Stacy explained. “It wouldn’t point to anything. Took a while for me to figure that one out too.”

Oliver shook his head. “How did she ever expect anyone to get through this without writing up a guide?”

“Well, you and Tori helped Stacy last time,” Cheryl pointed out. “I think we can get through this if we work as a team.”

“Yeah, perhaps that’s what she was going for,” Stacy concurred. “Four heads are better than one, after all. Speaking of which, how’s your game coming along, Tori?”

“Um, I’ve noticed this ragged-looking girl show up every so often,” Tori said. “She’s always smiling despite being so alone. When I see her, I try to give whatever I have to make her feel better.”

“Oh yeah, her,” Cheryl said. “Gave her something once, but it didn’t seem to do anything.”

“Yeah, same,” Stacy added. “Who knows? She’s probably just an item sink.”

“I just wanted to be nice,” Tori replied.

“Yeah, but don’t you think you might need the items later on?” Oliver suggested.

“Maybe,” Tori replied. “But it’s so sad to see her try to get by with no one to talk to.”

Stacy was concerned. “It’s just a video game.”

Tori paused, wondering if she was being too sensitive. She didn’t have much time to think about it, though, as Cheryl looked at her watch, and gasped. Lunch hour was ending soon. She didn’t realize time flew by so quickly, since the room’s clock was frozen in the same position. Somehow, it’s been that way since her first class in the room.

“So anyway,” she said, with a huge smile on her face. “Everyone excited for the Spirit Day presentation?”

Stacy and Oliver were silent, looking unenthusiastic at the prospect.

“I guess so,” Tori replied. “I’m curious to see what it’s all about, even though they didn’t seem to put much effort in drawing the ads.”

Cheryl frowned. “See, Tori’s excited…sort of. What’s wrong with you two?”

“Nothing,” Stacy said. “Trust us, it’s really nothing.”

“Aside from cheesy speeches,” Oliver added.

Cheryl was astonished to see the others brush it off so casually. “C’mon, where’s your school spirit?”

“What spirit?” Oliver protested. “We’re one of the worst schools in the province, we lose almost every competition we’re in, we’re a laughingstock compared to Cedar Valley…”

“Wait,” Cheryl interjected. “What’s up with Cedar Valley anyway?”

Oliver searched his laptop, pulling out a picture of an alleyway in downtown Cedar Grove, featuring a graffiti-plastered wall saying “Class of ’99. Cedar Was Here, Pollock Are Losers.”

“That’s how it all started,” Oliver explained while Stacy nodded.

“Aw, c’mon,” Cheryl retorted. “I’m sure not everyone from Cedar Valley is like that. I mean, your cousins go there, right Stace?”

“Yeah, there are exceptions,” Stacy replied. “But we’re talking the collective student body here.”

Cheryl looked to Tori, hoping she’d back her up. “What about you, Tori? What do you think of Cedar Valley?”

“Honestly, I don’t have very fond memories of that place,” Tori answered nervously.

The school bell rang, and the foursome started heading out the door. Cheryl grinned. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for Spirit Day! And for class off!”

“Yeah, I guess we have that going for us,” Oliver said, cracking a weak smile.

—-

The students of Pollock Secondary had all gathered in the gym. Unlike the spacious auditorium from Cedar Valley Secondary, Pollock’s was small and basic. The bleachers were worn and easy to wobble, making a lot of students feel uneasy. At Tori’s request, the Games for Everyone group came early to sit near the front. Lucas, Abigail, and the Gamer Club also wanted front seats, but upon seeing the foursome, they decided to go higher.

“So, happy to be out of class?” Ren asked Lucas.

“Hmph,” Lucas responded. “For what? Some stupid cheerleading routine? Even English class is better than this clown show.”

“Well, Dad’s in it,” Ren pointed out.

“Whatever. I’m not interested in another lecture here of all places.”

Ren grinned. “It’s not a lecture.”

Suddenly, a giant windsock fish came swishing into the gym, carried by multiple pairs of legs and accompanied by a group of cheerleaders in school girl uniforms. The pollock costume twisted and turned to the cheerleaders’ chants:

“Pollock School is the best! Send a message to the rest! P! S! We’re Pollock Secondary!”

The large fish came closer, pushing its big goofy grin in front of the students. When it was Stacy’s turn, the pollock looked like it was about to give her a kiss, and she recoiled in disgust.

“I’ve heard of lion dances, but this is ridiculous,” Stacy whispered to her friends, relieved that the fish left.

“Tell me about it,” Oliver concurred.

Cheryl paid the two no mind as she was strangely enraptured by the show. Soon afterwards, the students were greeted to the sound of bagpipes. Mr. Stewart, dressed in a traditional Scottish kilt, sounded out the peppy tune of I’se the B’y. The giggling cheerleaders grabbed each other’s armed and danced the jig to the music. Even the fish was invited along. Ren was amused by the sight.

“Woo-hoo! Go Dad!” he yelled while the Smith siblings stared at him awkwardly, rolling their eyes.

The rest of the crowd had mixed emotions about the sight in front of them. Some were dozing off, just happy to be out of class. Others were cringing at the bizarre sight in front of them. The cheerleaders and Mr. Stewart broke out into chants once again.

“P! S! Pollock Secondary! P! S! Pollock Secondary!”

“P. S. Pollock Secondary,” Cheryl said, following along. She was quiet at first, but her voice started growing louder. “P! S! Pollock Secondary! P! S! Pollock Secondary!”

Her friends were astonished to see her so deeply invested in this circus. Stacy and Oliver looked at each other with shocked expressions, then decided to join in.

“P! S! Pollock Secondary!”

Stacy tapped Tori’s shoulder, and she too began chanting. Sofia, seeing the foursome chant, got her friends to join in. Ren too managed to convince Eric and several others aside from Lucas and Abby to chant. Eventually, the Smith siblings were some of the few students left that weren’t going along with it.

“P! S! Pollock Secondary! P! S! Pollock Secondary!”

Few people knew why they were chanting. But nearly everyone else was doing it, so why not?

—-

Sofia and her friend Melanie, otherwise known as Quadrachromia Iridis, joined up with Cheryl and friends as everyone cleared out of the gym.

“Well,” Sofia remarked. “I never knew Spirit Day could be this fun.”

“Yeah,” Mel agreed. “I can’t remember the last time Pollock actually went along with the cheer.”

The other students nodded as Sofia gestured towards Cheryl. “It’s all thanks to Cherie here.”

“Aw, it was nothing,” Cheryl replied.

“Nothing?” Stacy told her. “You got the whole school going!”

“First time in years!” Oliver added. “Why’d you do it, anyway?”

“No reason,” Cheryl answered. “The whole thing was silly fun, and everyone worked hard to put it together. I guess if you’ve seen it year after year, it wouldn’t be as impressive, but even so, don’t they deserve some appreciation for trying to cheer the school up?”

Everyone nodded.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Oliver said.

“It does take a lot of guts to do all that in public,” Stacy added.

“Exactly!” Cheryl replied.

Just then, Ren and his dad left the auditorium, both with huge grins on their faces. The sight of Cheryl caught Mr. Stewart’s attention and he briskly walked over.

“I must say, I can’t express enough just how thankful I am that you led the cheer,” Mr. Stewart told her as they shook hands. “It’s nice for the students to actually appreciate Spirit Day for once.”

“No problem,” Cheryl said.

“Say,” Ren added. “Ever thought of becoming a cheerleader?”

Cheryl paused, anxious at the prospect of parading around in a miniskirt. “Um…maybe. I’ll think about it.”

“In any case, you’ve got the heart of one, and that’s what matters,” Mr. Stewart remarked. “Anyway, I’d love to stay and chat more, but I’ve got a staff meeting to get to. See you again sometime!”

“Bye, Mr. Stewart!” the older students replied while Tori and Sofia merely nodded. As father and son walked away, Sofia turned towards Oliver.

“So, how have you been?” she asked.

“Fine,” Oliver said. “I’ve been thinking, maybe I should get more involved in some Spirit Day event.”

“In what way?”

“Well, I remember a lot of kids here sharing some cool urban legends about Pollock Secondary. It’d be neat to talk about Old Mabel, or the Pollock Secondary ghost.”

Tori flinched. “G-ghost?”

Oliver smirked. “It’s just something we use to scare the 8th graders. It’s as real as the house hippo.”

“Wait, it’s not real?!” Stacy shrieked.

The others glanced at Stacy awkwardly.

“I guess someone had to break it to her eventually,” Sofia remarked. “Anyway, how’s life been treating you, lil sis?”

“Aside from having my childhood dreams crushed?” Stacy answered. She was glum at first, but suddenly became cheerful again. “Actually, I’ve been thinking. If the Axel Rangers were to come to Cedar Grove, hypothetically speaking of course, would you be willing to challenge them to a game?”

Sofia and Mel looked at Stacy in shock. “Really? You think they’d even give us the time of day?” Sofia said. “We’re only juniors!”

“Well, Stacy thinks we’ll be town heroes if we beat them,” Cheryl added. “To be honest, I’d like to see how we measure up ourselves.”

“Hmm….” Sofia pondered. “I guess you can’t fault a girl for being ambitious. Mel, what do you think?”

“I’m game,” Mel replied.

“Alrighty then. I doubt they’d even look at us, but if you see them, let me know and we’ll try to arrange something.”

—-

It was a bright Saturday morning. Two of the Axel Rangers had arrived early in Cedar Grove to do some sightseeing. One girl was sitting on the rock, admiring the extended family of ducks geese that gathered in the lake this morning, with no other people in site. Another was returning from her lap around the lake, and out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a pair of other visitors trying to catch some photos of a pileated woodpecker. Suddenly, the bespectacled girl noticed her, and she was looking awfully eager for some reason.

“Hi!” Stacy greeted the girl. She had short black hair, matching eyeliner, and was wearing a black tank top over white pants.

“Um…, hello,” she replied, taken aback by her cheerfulness.

“Nice day, isn’t it?” Stacy asked.

“Yes,” the girl replied, unsure of what she was getting at. “Very peaceful here. Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from city life.”

“Oh, you’re not from here?” Stacy said curiously. “Well, this place doesn’t have much going for it, but hey, if you like it here, that’s cool! What’s your name, anyway?”

“Sayaka.”

Both Stacy and Cheryl gasped. “Are you Sayaka Akihara? Citrine Tsunami?” Cheryl asked.

“Yes.”

Both Stacy and Cheryl looked at each other in excitement. “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Cheryl. We’ve been looking forward to meeting fellow roller derby players.”

“Oh, you guys play too?” asked the other girl on the rock, who was wearing a red dress with a floral headband. “Well, if you’re familiar with Saya here, I guess you know my name?”

Stacy was ecstatic. “The glorious Red leader, Xuân Phan, otherwise known as Trini Vermilli, right? I’m finally glad to meet you at last. My name’s Stacy.”

Xuân smiled at Sayaka. “Looks like we got fans.”

“Ever since I heard of you guys, I’ve been dreaming of the fateful day we’d meet,” Stacy declared. “Us, the lowly Beemobile of Cedar Grove, up against the great Axel Ranger titans from the city! A chance to bask in greatness, hoping some of your brilliant moves will shine down upon us! It is for this reason that I, Stacy Nazarenko, challenge you to this clash of quads!”

The other three just stared at each other blankly.

“Someone’s been watching too much shounen anime,” Sayaka remarked.

Xuân gave a nervous giggle. “Well, it’s good to see her be so passionate about the sport, at least.”

“What Stacy here is trying to say,” Cheryl explained. “Aside from being really excited to meet you, is that we’d like to play a few rounds of roller derby with you guys. We know we’re only rookies, but, just a fun match. Please?”

Sayaka looked at them curiously. “I don’t know. It’s going to be hard to just find a place.”

“That’s okay. We’ll do whatever it takes to find one!” Stacy exclaimed.

“Well, if you insist,” Xuân said. “I’ll contact the rest of the gang and see what we can do.”

“I’ll do the same!” Cheryl said.

“Awesome, can’t wait!” Stacy exclaimed.

Sayaka was less enthusiastic about the prospective game, deciding to instead focus on the scenery from the park. She scanned the environment, admiring the tall enclave of Douglas firs, and smiled. Stacy, initially disappointed by her lack of response, noticed her peaceful expression, and got an idea.

“Hey, since you’re here,” Stacy said, grinning. “How about we show you around town?”

Sayaka turned towards Stacy. “I’d love that, thank you.”

—-

And so they were off. Bald eagles were soaring high above them, with one eventually coming down close and fast. Luckily, Cheryl had her camera ready and got a shot. Stacy was impressed at her accuracy, and everyone huddled around to admire the photo. After they had their fill of nature, they left for the bus downtown. On the way, they passed by Cedar Valley Secondary School and its immaculate lawn.

“Is this your school?” Xuân asked.

“Nah,” Cheryl said. “We go to Pollock Secondary. It’s pretty far from here.”

“In the middle of nowhere,” Stacy remarked. “Honestly, you’re not missing much.”

“Hey,” Cheryl remarked defensively. “It’s not that bad. We do have a nice maple tree that everyone likes to relax under.”

She showed a photo of Pollock Secondary’s front entrance. Xuân and Sayaka both huddled around her phone, impressed by the large and multicoloured leaves.

“We call it Old Mabel. According to our friend Oliver, it was planted by one of the town founders himself, Joseph Pollock, and every generation of students since then has worshipped her as a fixture of our school. Even the elementary students come to cool off under her leaves during summer.”

“Wow!” Xuân replied. “So the tree’s like everyone’s grandmother?”

Cheryl smiled. “Yeah.”

They arrived at the gate of the nearby Farmer’s Market. Before, Stacy came as a vendor. Now, the four of them came as visitors.

“This is our local Farmers’ Market,” she explained as they walked past the stalls. “It’s great if you want to pick up some cheap apples, and they’ve got all sorts of neat crafts!”

As Xuân admired some of the dresses, Cheryl added, “Stacy actually had a booth here once selling arts and crafts from video games. That’s how we met and became friends.”

“Ooh, that’s amazing!” Xuân remarked. “Do you have any crafts you could show us?”

Stacy was nervous. “It wasn’t me actually. The art was done by Tori, who was the only one to actually sell anything. My stuff kind of sucked.”

“Don’t say that,” Xuân said. “Crafting is a lot easier than you think.”

“You get the hang of it after a few tries,” Sayaka added. “I wasn’t good at first either, but I’ve got a couple of friends who make their own clothes, including cosplay, and they’ve helped me a lot.”

“Wow!” Cheryl replied. “I’d like to get into cosplay.”

“Me too,” Stacy added.

They arrived at a stall showcasing felt and glass. At the centre was a winter scene with snow-capped evergreens, glass snowflakes, penguins in the snow, and a rustic cabin, all lovingly hand-crafted by its owner, Mme. Morin. She was wearing a black star-patterned cloak and had a focused expression on her face. Stacy immediately requested the felt penguin, and she graciously obliged.

“I heard you were interested in crafts,” Mme. Morin said. “Would you be interested in lessons? I’m teaching some classes later this month.”

“Yes, please!” Stacy exclaimed.

“Count me in, too!” Cheryl added.

Sayaka was intrigued by the glass snowflake hanging near where the penguin used to stand.

“May I have the snowflake pendant?” she asked.

“Certainly, dear,” Mme. Morin responded. “That’ll be $25, please.”

—-

Leaving the Farmer’s Market, Stacy adored her penguin while Sayaka wore her snowflake pendant proudly. After walking down the street, they arrived at the nearby Cedar Grove Mall.

“Honestly, it’s kind of boring,” Stacy told everyone. “Mostly big chain stores that are in every small city. But there are some cool places around here.”

They stopped at the Chinese antiques store, stopping to admire the walls filled with precious stones and statues.

“They’re really pretty,” Cheryl said as she and the Axel Rangers duo went in.

“Yeah,” Stacy replied dreamily, looking at the jade fenghuang. “If only they didn’t cost so much….”

“I know,” Xuân said sympathetically. “It’s like they’re taunting you.”

“At least the rest of us have the Farmers’ Market,” Cheryl concurred.

Sayaka, noticing Stacy stand outdoors, asked, “Aren’t you coming in?”

“Nah,” Stacy said. “The store owner got mad at me for constantly coming in without buying anything.”

“I see,” Sayaka replied. “Well, let me know if you do want anything.”

—-

“And this is the arcade,” Stacy said after they arrived upstairs. “You guys probably have better ones, but we have DDR! That’s gotta count for something.”

“It does,” Sayaka explained. “We have a few other rhythm games nearby. Have you tried Taiko no Tatsujin?”

“No, but I always wanted to,” Stacy said.

Sayaka smiled, bringing out some coins. “Up for some games?”

“Sure!” Stacy replied.

They played a few round robin DDR games. Stacy managed to defeat both Xuân and Cheryl, leaving her to face Sayaka. Though she held her own, she stumbled a few times, which allowed Sayaka to edge her out for victory.

“Good game,” Stacy told Sayaka.

“Indeed,” she responded. “You’re pretty good.”

“Yeah, well, you should meet Tori. She’s a beast at this game.”

“Well, maybe if we meet again, you can introduce us to her.”

—-

The foursome took a stroll through downtown. Cheryl was in awe at the old buildings.

“You’ve never been here before?” Stacy asked.

“A few times,” Cheryl answered. “But it’s just fun to see those decade-old shops that managed to withstand the test of time.”

They stopped at one of the local coffee shops, Silver Leaf Organic. After ordering some coffee and scones, they sat down to relax and absorb the atmosphere of the cedar-filled building. Luckily for them, it was a relatively quiet time this afternoon.

“Thanks for the tour, Stacy,” Sayaka told her.

“Yeah, you’re really quite the tour guide,” Xuân added.

“Aw, shucks,” Stacy remarked. “Honestly, we don’t have much, but I guess you gotta appreciate what you got, right?”

“It’s not much, but it’s home,” Cheryl agreed. “I enjoyed the tour too. It’s amazing how much you know about this place.”

Stacy was surprised to see how enthusiastic her friend was. “Say, how was life in Brisling?”

Cheryl paused, gathering her memories. “It was nice. Kind of quiet, actually very similar to here.”

“Do you miss your old place?”

“Sometimes. Actually, Mom lived in Cedar Grove for a few years now. Parents got divorced, and she decided to move here. After a few years, Dad and I both agreed I should spend some time with her, so here I am. I may end up moving back to Ontario for university, but I’m not sure yet.”

Stacy was surprised to hear that, especially at how well Cheryl was taking it. Noticing her amazed expression, Cheryl added, “It happens. After some point, my parents didn’t see eye-to-eye on things anymore, so they decided it was best for all of us. And I know that Cedar Grove may not seem all that exciting if you’ve been here for years, but it’s new to me, and I want to make the best of my time here.”

“I understand,” Sayaka told her. “My family moved to the East End when I was a kid. I had trouble adjusting at first, but people there are really nice. It’s not as pretty as the West End, but it has its own charm.

“In a way,” Xuân continued. “That’s why we play; to make our region proud.”

“Wow, we feel the same way about Cedar Grove!” Cheryl exclaimed. “Speaking of which, we got a game tomorrow, and we’re gonna win, right Stacy?”

“Indeed!” Stacy replied.

The four of them got up, paid their bills, and left for the bus.

“By the way,” Xuân said. “The rest of our team is busy, so we won’t be able to play together in the near future. Sorry about that.”

“That’s alright,” Cheryl said. “We’ll just keep training until then.”

“Besides,” Stacy added. “It’s something to look forward to the next time we meet!”

“Indeed,” Sayaka replied. “Anyway, it was nice meeting you both. Good luck at the game! Until we meet again, maybe!”

“Bye!”

They hugged each other, then went their separate ways.

—-

“And after a successful block led by Sakura Bladerunner, Camellia’s Kiss takes the lead! It’s over! The Beemobile wins over Delta Psiforce!”

Mrs. Zhao was ecstatic. “I’m so proud of you girls!”

“Thanks for saving our butts back there,” Stacy told Cheryl as they high-fived.

“Hey, you did good too,” she replied.

“Indeed, lil sis,” Sofia added. “By the way, I’m still jealous that you two got to meet Xuân and Sayaka. Try to invite me next time, okay?”

“Sure thing, Sofie,” Cheryl replied.

“Job well done, team!” Mrs. Zhao told them. “How about we take you girls out for dinner to celebrate?”

The entire team yelled in approval.

“All right, I know just the place,” Mrs. Jackson told everyone.

“Say, Auntie, we we get there, can I have a beer?” Stacy asked as they walked out onto the street.

“Anastasia, you’re 17.”

“Aw, c’mon. You have no problem chugging litres of that stuff.”

“Tell you what. In a couple of years, when you get to university, you can have all the beer you want.”

“Lian!” Mrs. Jackson cried disapprovingly.

Mrs. Zhao suddenly frowned, her tone becoming harsher. “But drink responsibly, or else you’ll have us to answer to!”

(table of contents)

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