Matchmaker (Empire High #4) - Ivy Smoak

Chapter 1


I blew my whistle as Jefferson kicked the ball…nowhere near the uprights. The football flew way left and into the parking lot, hitting the top of the principal’s car, setting off a blaring alarm. I cringed. Back when I used to be on the Empire High football team, our kicker was terrible and we still won all the time. But Jefferson’s ineptitude was on a whole different level. He hadn’t made a single field goal yet. Not even during practice. I knew we were only a few weeks into the season, but I’d already heard the whispers that Jefferson was going to be the worst kicker in the history of Empire High. I wanted to prove those whispers wrong, though. Jefferson deserved a fair shot, just like everyone else on the team.

I blew my whistle again. “Everybody in!” I waved the team over.

They were all out of breath, and to me that meant we’d had a good practice. We weren’t supposed to be done for another half hour. But we were ready for tomorrow’s game, despite Jefferson being better at hitting cars than doing anything useful on the field. If I cut the team a break today, they’d work that much harder when I needed them to.

Besides, I needed to have time to shower before heading over to Penny’s. I knew it was inappropriate to hang out with her. Especially one on one. But I didn’t really care about the consequences. All I knew was that being alone with her sure as hell beat going back to my empty place.

I realized the whole team was staring at me while I daydreamed about being alone with the one woman in this city that I couldn’t be with. I cleared my throat. “Okay, let’s do sprints,” I said.

There were a few groans.

“Come on,” the captain, Smith, said as he pulled off his helmet. He was still catching his breath from the last drill. “We’re going to be too tired to play in the game.”

I laughed. “I’m just kidding. Let’s call it an early day. That is…if you think we’re going to win tomorrow?”

“Of course we’re going to win,” Smith said. “With me as the quarterback it won’t even matter that we can’t make a single field goal.”

A few players snickered.

I glanced over at Jefferson. Everyone was literally standing a few feet away from him right now. Like he had some kind of contagious disease. Jefferson was the only freshman on the varsity team. He was also a scholarship student. The combination of the two would have been bad enough. But his terrible kicking made it even worse.

“We can’t win unless we all show up. And nice try, Jefferson,” I added. “A few more practices and I’m sure you’ll be knocking them through from 50 yards out.” Hopefully. I had a soft spot in my heart for scholarship students. And I wanted the team to accept him. I knew he’d been having a hard time at school because a few kids on the team had laughed at him just for walking onto the field for tryouts. And Smith swore it was an accident, but a ball had been thrown right at the back of Jefferson’s head when he went to try his first kick. I gave him a spot on the team because I wanted to help. I was hoping that despite the fact that he was scrawny, he’d magically have a golden foot. I was wrong. And I was pretty sure being on the team was just making his social life worse.

Jefferson pushed his glasses up. The kid was beaming.

“Go Eagles on three.” I put my hand out and they all threw theirs in too.

“One, two, three…Go Eagles!” we all yelled at the top of our lungs.

The team dispersed. But Jefferson hung back. “Coach Caldwell?”

Hearing the students call me that still seemed weird. I had started volunteering as the assistant coach several years back. And when Coach Carter retired last year, the head coach position had landed in my lap. I’d almost turned it down. But now I was glad I hadn’t. Coaching these kids was always the highlight of my day. It wasn’t like I had much else going on. “What’s up, Jefferson?”

“My mom wanted to know if she could bring some snacks for tomorrow’s game? She noticed that there haven’t been any at the last couple games. And that maybe everyone would like them?”

I smiled. I remembered when I played youth football and all the parents used to bring snacks