In the first draft of The Call, I’d intended this scene to be the prologue. As I revised, and as some of my early readers gave me their thoughts, I realized that I needed to start a different way. Like a lot of writers, I’m loath to “kill my darlings,” but for the good of the novel, sometimes bits I love end up on the cutting room floor. Because I’m eternally optimistic that some scenes can either be used somewhere else or inspire a new story, I saved this chapter. I thought you might like to read it.
Margie’s twin brother had a wicked fastball, sharp and clean, and it landed in her mitt with a good solid thwock. She winged the ball back and pounded her fist into the pocket. Tim stood so tall on their improvised pitching mound, not quite sixty feet from where Margie crouched, squinting into the late afternoon sun that picked up the gold in his hair.
It gave him a halo, as if he needed one.
He stared down his target, turning the ball around in his hand, and she knew he was feeling for the seams, positioning it just right. Taking his damned sweet time.
“Okay.” She threw down her mitt and sprang to her full height, exactly one inch less than his, a fact that in the moment increased her irritation with him. “You suck.”
He smirked, tossed the ball a few inches up and caught it on the back of his hand, letting it roll down his fingers before he snatched it in his palm. “Bite me,” he said with a smile and pointed her back to the imaginary plate. “Assume the position.”
“No. You suck. I have homework.” She spun toward the house.
“It’s Friday, Margie Bargie. Homework can wait.”
With a sigh, Margie returned and prepped her mitt. Thunk. She held the ball, digging her fingertips into the red seams, imitating the holds her father had shown her. Her father, who’d spent most of his baseball career in the bullpen. Her father, whose mitt she now possessed. “It’s not fair,” she said, and whipped the ball back as hard as she could. Tim caught it, cringing as if it really stung. “Sorry. But it’s not fair that you get a free ride on baseball. That you’ll probably get scouted by some major league team.”
His face fell. “You’re saying I’m not good enough?”
“No.” She sighed. “You’re good. You work hard and you’re good.”
“So. You’re good, too. Stick with softball.”
“Softball’s decent.” Tim set up to pitch again. “Hey, it’s an Olympic sport. You can play in college.”
“Not for full-ride money. Not for Nolan Ryan money. I get to play, and then what? Nothin’. I might as well be a cheerleader.”
Tim went into his windup. “You could ump.”
The pitch skipped off the edge of Margie’s mitt and rolled all the way to the swing set the two of them hadn’t used in years. She trotted after it.
“It’s not playing, I know,” he said when she returned. “But you’ve got a good eye. Nobody ever challenged you when you called my Little League games.”
“Cause I’m a girl,” Margie said. Although her father might have thought otherwise. “Who’s gonna yell at a girl?”
“Point made. Okay. I gotta practice my breaker.”
But as Margie set to catch the curve, she started thinking about the possibility. When she and her dad used to watch the games, she knew all the rules. She knew the infield fly, the dropped third strike, interference, even some a few of the professional umpires got wrong. Her mouth quirked. “They got scouts for that? Drafts, like the minors?”
“I could ask Coach.”
“You gotta yell at me.” Margie squeezed the ball hard before flicking it back.
He snapped it up in his glove. “I gotta do what?”
“Yell at me. If I’m gonna do this. Those umps in the majors, players get right up in their faces and yell, and they don’t even flinch. I’m guessing that takes some kind of training.”
“Probably. Mom doesn’t yell enough for you?”
“Please.” Their mother yelled a damn sight, but she was a pipsqueak of a thing. “It’s Mom.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
“What, now?” Tim looked around like she’d just asked him to steal a car.
Margie stood and pressed her fists into her hips. “I gotta see if I can take it.”
“Come on. Or are you scared?”
“I’m not scared. I just don’t wanna…you’re a girl.”
“Oh, please. I’m not a girl, I’m your sister. I’ve seen you puking your guts out. I’ve seen you comin’ out of the shower, like I don’t know what you’ve been doing in there.”
“Yeah. Not too embarrassing, Bargie.”
“Just yell at me already.”
Tim pressed his lips together and took two steps off the mound. “That was a strike!”
“Ha. You sound like Charlie Brown.”
Then he charged her, got nose to nose, his pale eyebrows scrunched together. Margie nearly jumped back. But she made herself stay. Waiting for it.
“You’re crowdin’ my strike zone! You’re givin’ the other team the inside corner, what the hell? Do you need glasses, you fuckin’ asshole?”
Silence. Tim’s expression crumpled. “Oh, shit. Margie. Margie, I’m sorry.”
And then she laughed; she couldn’t help herself or stop it. She laughed so hard she could barely breathe. She dropped to her knees in the grass, clutching her belly, still chortling. “If… you… saw… your… face!”
“That’s not funny!”
Margie couldn’t grab in enough air to reply.
His cheeks had gone beet red. “I’m not gonna help you get in now. You think I’m gonna help you?”
The screen door slapped open and their pint-sized tank of a mother shoved her upper half outside. “Hey. You two. Knock it off. Dinner in ten. And leave the friggin’ muddy tennis shoes on the porch. I just cleaned in here.”
Margie rolled onto her back, stared into the dimming sunlight, catching her breath, then turned to his sputtered-out face. “I’m sorry, Timmy. You just…you’re funny when you swear. You’re like John-Boy Walton.”
Tim grumbled something to the effect of what she could do to herself. And John-Boy. But with his straw-blond hair and innocent eyes, the resemblance was ridiculously easy. It would be his ticket. It would be his downfall.
She apologized again and even offered to do his laundry for a month, but he wasn’t having it. “Forget it, then,” she said. “It would be a total waste of time, anyway. Playing ball, umping. Either way, they’re not gonna take a girl.”
Then Timmy was standing over her, reaching down a hand. She stood without taking it. “You’re not a girl,” he said. “You’re my sister.”