The sound of the ball bouncing, feet pounding, shoes squeaking, is layered over the crowd’s clapping and shouting, cheerleaders’ chanting, briefly interrupted by the irregular swish of the ball through the net – Jasmine can barely hear herself think, let alone concentrate on the Barbie hairdresser shop she’s setting up on the back row of the bleachers. A loud roar from the crowd causes her to glance up but all she can see is row after row of heads swivelling left to right and back again in a sea of red and blue sweatshirts and pom poms. Somewhere down at the front, she knows a jumble of naked skinny legs leads up to cherry red skirts and royal blue shorts – but Jasmine is styling braids, and has no time to watch the boisterous cheerleading routines or the tall gangly boys sprinting up and down the court, not even her big brother.

Blocking out the clamour, Jason hears nothing and senses only the sweat trickling down his back as he waits to take his free throw. Grasping the ball firmly in his hands, fingers caressing its ridges, he eyes the waiting basket, bends his aching knees, and releases the ball into a graceful arc that neatly drops through the net. His teammates’ slaps and high fives leave a stinging sensation across his shoulders and on his palms, already fading away as he runs back into position.

Tiffany feels sick from the musty dampness of wet coats stacked on seats mixed with the smell of sweat, hot dogs, and her own perfume. Sidelined on the bench and chewing her mint gum, she ponders when to tell Jason her period is late. Her uniform is already feeling tight. She consoles herself by thinking of the salty, buttery popcorn and sweet, fizzy drinks she can devour after the game, and wonders whether maternity cheerleading uniforms are available.

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