Chapter One: Striking Out
1 STRIKING OUT
Today was the day.
I could feel it in my bones.
Well, I could feel it in my legs, which were aching from the nonstop pumping I’d been doing.
Today was the day one of my best friends, Myka, and I would go all the way over the top bar of the swing set on our playground.
Many at Erie Elementary had tried, but none had succeeded.
We were about to change that.
We were ready to go for the glory.
This was what the two of us had been preparing for, every day at recess.
“We’ve got this,” Myka said, and grinned at me.
My feet kicked up little puffs of dirt as I gained momentum.
I gripped the chains so tight, it was as if someone had superglued my hands to them.
Higher and higher I went. I swear, my feet almost skimmed the bottom of the white cotton-candy clouds in the sky.
My best friends—in the Invincible Girls Club—had helped plan this moment out.
Emelyn, who loved science, had calculated how fast and high we’d have to go to make it over the bar, and Ruby had her camera ready to document it and planned to write an article about it for our elementary school newspaper.
“Are you ready for this?” I shouted to Myka.
“I was born ready!” she replied, and pumped even harder.
And I was too. Really, I was.
Well, okay, maybe I was a little teeny bit nervous.
Who wouldn’t be? The swing set was massively tall, and I was about to catapult myself over it on a tiny piece of rubber and chains.
But what was life without a little adventure?
“Pump! Pump! Pump!” Ruby and Emelyn shouted from below.
“Higher! Higher! Higher!” Myka added in between their chants.
Other girls stood around clapping and bouncing from foot to foot as they waited to witness the event of a lifetime.
We had an entire cheering squad, and I refused to disappoint them.
One more pump, and I’d fly over the bar like a bird and come back down, the twisted chains around the top a memorial to our great feat.
Kids would talk about Myka and me for centuries.
We’d become local legends.
Teachers would include us in their history lessons.
The school would place a plaque next to the swing set to honor our accomplishments.
“Ready or not, here I go!” Myka yelled.
Emelyn and Ruby cheered louder.
All I had to do was go a little bit higher. Pump a little bit harder…
“Lauren and Myka, you slow down this instant!” a voice demanded. “You know the rules. You can’t swing that high!”
The recess monitor.
Also known as… the destroyer of fun.
I was almost certain that if there was a good time to be had, Ms. Kratus could sniff it out and stop it in its tracks. Every. Single. Time. She was never without her whistle, which she used for ultimate recess torture.
We couldn’t throw snowballs in the winter, dodgeball had been banned, and once she had even tried to stop us from pretending that the ground was lava, as if we were running through actual lava. There was no doubt in my mind that if she could make it happen, she’d demand we take naps during recess.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to swing that high?” she demanded, and I was smart enough to know that was a question I wasn’t supposed to answer.
I slowed down and jumped off the swing in midair.
“No jumping off the swings!” she added as my dreams of becoming a playground legend were officially destroyed.
Myka slowed her swing down, got off, and followed me as I stomped over to our friends.
“It’s so unfair! She never lets us have any fun,” I said.
“I was totally about to go over,” Myka added.
“What a bummer,” Emelyn said.
“Don’t worry,” Ruby whispered. “You can try again in a few days when she’s not looking.”
“I’ll be watching the two of you!” Ms. Kratus said, as if she could hear our conversation.
“Or maybe not,” Ruby said, and frowned.
Myka gestured toward the field, where a big group of boys was playing kickball. “We should join them. Then we can have some fun.”
“We should!” I said. “You’re great at it when we play in gym class.”
“Totally,” she agreed, which was super modest because Myka was an amazing soccer player. I bet she’d be the best kickball player out there.
I watched the boys throw the ball and run around the bases.
Why hadn’t I thought of playing with them before? Maybe our plan to go over the top of the swings had been destroyed, but we could be known for something else.
The kickball all-stars.
I liked the sound of that.
“Let’s go!” I said, and gestured toward the rest of the Invincible Girls to come with me.
As we made our way toward the game, I watched Nelson at home plate. His foot connected right in the sweet part of the ball, and it sailed up into the air toward me.
“I’ve got it!” I yelled, and ran forward with my hands outstretched. The ball landed in my arms with a satisfying thunk, and I held it over my head like a prizefighter showing off her trophy. My friends cheered and congratulated me.
Except we appeared to be the only ones excited about the catch.
“Why did you do that?” Nelson demanded.
“Yeah! You cost us a potential win. Syed could have scored, and we would’ve been ahead,” Brady complained.
I held the ball, not sure what to do.
Nelson came over and took it.
“I didn’t mean to mess up your game,” I told him. “I saw the ball coming and, well, I wanted to play.”
“Play?” he asked.
“We all do,” I said, and pointed toward my friends.
“Yep, we’ll be great,” Myka added. “I’m on the soccer team. Tell me where you want me to aim, and I should be able to get the ball right there!”
She pretended to kick a ball to show him that she had what it took.
“And I already proved to you that I could catch the ball,” I said.
“This is our game and our field,” Nelson said. “You girls have the playground.”
He didn’t want us to play because we were girls?
“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “Since when is the field only for boys?”
“It’s always been our place,” Nelson said.
“Um, why?” Ruby asked, joining the conversation.
“Because that’s the way it is.” Nelson turned his back to us and threw the ball to those waiting in the infield. “Okay, Brady, you’re up!”
I made a face at Nelson’s back and turned to my friends.
“This is ridiculous!” I said.
“You’ve got that right,” Ruby agreed.
“Maybe the boys playing kickball is the way it has always been, but that most certainly isn’t the way it will stay,” I announced. “It’s time to change that. It’s time for a meeting of the Invincible Girls Club!”