Brooklyn Gartner eats, sleeps, and breathes ballet. But after her mom gets remarried and moves them to Texas, everything changes. Thanks to her star football player stepbrother, her family is football obsessed. And thanks to a new conditioning program, the middle school football team starts to take classes at her dance studio—the only place Brooklyn felt like she belonged.
She has a chance to escape if she can get into her dream high school, The Texas School of the Arts, where she’ll be able to pursue her passion for dance. Brooklyn just has to get through the big All-City showcase first, where a ton of scouts will be there, including one from TSOTA.
But when Brooklyn’s dance partner gets injured, she has to turn to an unexpected ally—Logan, a boy on the middle school football team—to help her get through the showcase. With some fancy footwork, teamwork and a little understanding, can Brooklyn make her mark, and dance her way onto a bigger stage?
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Friday Night Stage Lights
Most people would say the best way to watch a Leighton High School football game is cheering the team on to yet another victory, in between bites of Frito pie and sips of Dr Pepper.
I would disagree with them.
Because to me, the best way to watch a Leighton High School football game was with the volume on your earbuds turned all the way up so you couldn’t hear anything around you.
That’s how I watched all of my stepbrother Tanner’s games.
Tonight, I had Tchaikovsky playing at full volume. It was easy to get lost in the music and pretend I was back home at my old dance studio. I could almost feel the creaky wood floor in the changing room and see the sunlight as it streamed through the tiny windows in the main practice space. My eyes might have looked as if I were following the players on the field, but really, I was picturing myself back in my favorite place in the world, leaping and moving so fast it would make you dizzy to watch. I’d just imagined myself taking off into a grand jeté when a finger jabbed me in the shoulder.
“Brooklyn, stand up,” my friend Mia whispered and gestured toward everyone around us. The whole stadium was on their feet as they clapped like crazy.
Well, everyone except me.
“You could at least cheer,” she said and shoved one of her red-and-white pom-poms into my hand.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” I said but waved the pom-pom in the air and yelled along with everyone so it looked as if I’d been paying attention.
Mia rolled her eyes; she was used to my cluelessness to football, which in a town that lived football was a rare feat. I’m pretty sure the elementary school classes taught the stats of all the players who ever played for Leighton High and you couldn’t pass on to the next grade until you could recite all of the big games and their outcomes.
“Go, go, go,” Mom shouted.
“Yes, go, go, go!” I repeated, even though I didn’t know what was going and where it was going to. But if I had to place a bet, I’d say it had something to do with Tanner. He was the star of the team and most likely in the process of doing something that would make the town love him even more. As if that were possible. I mean, he had a pizza named after him at Reigert’s Pizza Zone, for goodness’ sake.
“He did it again! Another touchdown! He’s unstoppable!” yelled the man behind me, and Mom clapped her hands together.
“That’s our boy!” Stephen high-fived Mom, and the spirit buttons with my brother’s face on them that Mom had pinned on her jacket clanged together.
Mia stuck her phone in my face and switched to her journalist voice, which pretty much sounded like her regular voice, except she used words like “eyewitness,” “scoop,” and “the source.” I’d never tell her that, though, because she planned to be a world-famous sportscaster when she was older and took reporting very seriously. She always had the camera on her phone running. In fact, that’s how I met her at the back-to-school picnic this summer: She stuck her phone in my face and said she had some questions to ask for a special feature about the new members of Leighton Middle School. I was excited to hear I wasn’t the only new person until I found out the other people were a bus driver and janitor. I’m used to her camera now, but at first it kind of felt as if I was the star in a reality show.
“So tell me, Brooklyn. What do you think of Tanner scoring his third touchdown of the game?”
“His third?” No wonder Mom was so worked up.
Mia raised her eyebrows at me.
I changed gears to make it look as if I were really into the game.
“Incredible. His skills on the football field rival any college player right now,” I told her, which was what my stepdad Stephen always said.
“Sources say there’s talk that he may stay in Texas to play.”
I shrugged, figuring the vague approach is best, even if the same talk and speculation in our house was anything but. Mom and Stephen were obsessed with Tanner getting recruited to play college football in Texas, and I swear, Tanner’s phone couldn’t even ring without one of them getting all worked up that it might be a recruiter.
“The viewers would love to hear your take on the game tonight,” Mia pressed on like she does with all her interviews to get down to the truth of the matter, which was probably why everyone at school loved her YouTube channel, Mia Speaks Sports.
“Oh, it’s absolutely riveting,” I told her and made good use of my vocabulary words.
“Really? Can you be more specific? What’s been your favorite play of the night?” And now I was sure she was messing with me.
“It’s all been good. I can’t take my eyes off the game.”
She grinned and put the camera down. “My job is to get the real story out of people. It doesn’t work when you lie to me.”
Mia knew I didn’t watch the game, but my secret was safe with her, which is why she’s such a great friend. And it’s really one of the biggest scoops around. Could you imagine what this football-crazed town would think if Tanner’s stepsister admitted to knowing nothing about the game?
Mia turned to Mom, who is always up for an interview if it means she can talk about Tanner’s greatness. “What do you think about Tanner’s work on the field tonight?”
“He’s unstoppable!” Mom gushed as if she were talking about a celebrity.
I turned away from them and watched the field. Tanner was at the end zone doing his signature dance to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” He twisted right and left and then twirled in a circle with his arms in the air. The little kids along the fence did it with him. People sang along as the song blasted from the speakers and the cheerleaders faced the crowd and did their traditional push-ups: one for each point Leighton High had on the scoreboard.
“You don’t think this is a bit over-the-top?” I asked Mia, who simply laughed, threw her arm around my shoulder, and joined in to belt out the song with everyone else.
It was unbelievable.
This was a high school football game.
But you’d think that the biggest NFL star in the world had walked across the field.
And I happened to live in that star’s house.
It was as if the moment you stepped into this town, the sport infected you. Everyone ate, slept, and breathed football, and if they didn’t show up at the stadium on Friday nights, there was no doubt they were listening to it on Sports Radio.
Well, everyone except for me.
Because I only had room for the one love in my life.
I’ve been dancing since I learned to walk and fully intended to get a spot in the Texas School of the Arts freshman class. The idea of it began the familiar tingle of excitement about what my life could be like. Not only would I get to go to a school that focused on dance all day long, but the teachers there were some of the best in the state. The school graduated amazing dancers who went on to do incredible things. Going to TSOTA would get me one step closer to my ultimate dream of getting into Juilliard’s Summer Dance Intensive and one day dancing in a professional company.
The crowd exploded into another round of cheers, and instead of bleachers full of football fans, I pretended it was from the audience in a packed theater giving me a standing ovation. I turned my music back up and dreamed about a world where it wasn’t Friday-night lights that shined down on me, but the bright lights of the stage.