“Are you ready?”
I nod. Readjust my grip and nod again. Bend my knees a little. Nod once more.
This time I’ll do it. There’s nothing holding me back.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Liesel shouts from the pitcher’s mound in a rare show of concern. “You’re bad at baseball. So what?” She repeats, “You don’t have to do this.”
But I do, I do. And I’ve already done everything I can to help my chances: I switched bats, I switched balls, I tried it left and right handed, I used different swinging techniques. Now I have the combination of variables that work best. This has to be the one.
Lord so help me, I will hit that ball.
“April! Are you listening?”
“Yes, yes. I can do this!”
“If you don’t though, remember that it’s okay—”
“Just throw the damn ball!”
I’m angry now. I mean, I’ve been angry ever since Gym class, where I found out how truly bad I am at using a bat.
(“How could you not know how to hit a ball?” Liesel asked then, taking her baseball cap and turning it backwards on her head. “You know how to do everything.” “Shut up,” I answered her, brilliantly.)
I’ve been angry the whole afternoon. But now, out on the school ball diamond quite some time after classes have ended, “borrowing” the gym equipment and using my best friend as a pitcher-slash-coach, my anger has been simmered to the perfect point. I pack my rage into a tiny combustion chamber in my chest. It will fuel me, and fuel my bat, and fuel the baseball as I hit it out of Earth’s atmosphere. I can do this. I can do this.
I nod for the fourth time. I strengthen my grip. And Liesel, after an overindulgent eye-roll, relents. She throws the ball.
It flies forward. I give it everything I’ve got.
It’s a clear miss. My bat keeps searching, straight and blind, and the force of it pivots me against the dirt. I spin in nearly a full circle then yell out at the diamond, “God dammit!”
“Told ya!” Liesel calls back, her usual smug self. I point the bat at her, trying to think of a comeback, then give up, tossing it away. It clanks hollowly against the packed dirt.
Turning around, I stare at the baseball, which has hit the jangly chain-link behind me and come rolling back. I don’t know what to do, so I kick at the dirt with my sneaker until a bit of dust comes up. Then I walk over to the bat and pick it up again.
“One more time,” I say. Liesel groans, but I ignore her, grabbing the baseball and throwing it back to the pitcher’s mound—throwing is something I’m good at, at least. I return to home plate and get into my stance, nodding, gripping the bat’s handle.
Liesel squints and pulls her body back before throwing. I focus on accuracy. I don’t need a home run, I just need a hit. Anything.
The ball bears down on me. I swing.
And I miss.
I don’t spin around this time. I don’t throw anything, I don’t curse. I just inhale; close my eyes, and groan, sighing out until my lungs are empty. When I open my eyes again, Liesel is walking back from the mound.
“Sometimes you have to face the facts,” she says, reaching home plate.
“I don’t want to give up yet.”
“I know.” She wraps an arm around my neck and leans on me. She grins. “You’re too stubborn.”
“Do you need to head home now?”
“Nah,” she lies. “I do need a snack break, though. And we can even work on homework. Do something you’re actually decent at.”
“. . . Fine.”
She smiles. Still draped around me, she leads me off the diamond, towards the bench with our backpacks resting on it. Her skin is warm against mine. It makes me buzz.
We take our backpacks farther out onto the field and sit cross-legged side-by-side, grass prickling our bare skin. It’s hot out; we’re both wearing clothes that let us feel as cool as possible while still abiding the dress code. I’m wearing a pink tank top and shorts, and Liesel has overalls, a white shirt, and a sky-blue baseball cap. Adding that to her straight, dirty-blond hair and the freckles on her nose, she’s the poster child for “summer tomboy”.
I’m not a poster child for anything—looks-wise, at least. I’m too busy to bother with fashion.
Liesel has pulled our textbooks out, although we both know they won’t be used—Liesel hasn’t opened hers since the second day of school, and I’ve already reviewed mine and made notes with better wording and summarization. I pull those notes out and read over them aloud, hoping some of it will happen to stick in Liesel’s mind. I know she doesn’t care about the upcoming exams at all, but I can’t help caring for her. I don’t have enough worry for myself, apparently.
Liesel understands what I’m doing and seems to try to pay attention, but after a while she lies down and I get the sense she’s lost interest. I keep talking anyway, to help me remember but also to give my mouth something to do. I go through subject after subject until my notes have all been read, then I try to recite facts by memory. When I’ve done enough of that, I start talking about my extracurriculars: piano lessons, dance class, student council. Things like that.
I run my mouth until my throat feels sore. It’s something Liesel and I do sometimes, when we’re bored and have nothing better to waste time on. I talk until I lose my point, until I’m only speaking for the sake of speaking, as we both stare up at the wide swipe of sky above us.
“April?” Liesel murmurs.
“You have a nice voice.”
I look at her, and immediately glance back up. Liesel gets this way sometimes, when she’s leaning against me and we can feel each other breathing and something inside her just melts, for a moment. I’ve seen it in other places, too—backstage before the school play where our hands almost touch, right before we get our cues; days in the gym changing room where we’re both aware of how blatantly we’re not staring. Times like that.
She gets this way, and so do I. I think we both know what it means. What it could mean, what it would mean, if we acted on it.
What it will mean is that we will continue to be best friends for years to come, always close but never colliding, running parallel and living our good lives and not interfering with anything when I have worked so hard to make my life perfect—
Liesel’s great. But it isn’t worth it.
Thinking about it too much makes me stomach-sick. I need to distract myself.
Liesel is dreamy-eyed and staring at the clouds. “Are you sure your dad doesn’t want you home?” I ask, knowing full well that he does.
“No way.” Her voice is still mushy. “Aren’t you the one with all of the extracurriculars you need to be doing, anyway? You can’t be late to your lesson where you recite the digits of pi while composing piano music while riding a horse. Or whatever.”
“I’ve got a day off. My instructor’s on vacation.”
“Must be nice.”
“Liesel,” I say.
“I want to try again.”
She groans. Thank God I’ve snapped her back to normal. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I stand up and lean over her, disrupting her vision. She flops an arm over her eyes to block me out. Then she starts getting up.
We pack our things into our backpacks and head back to the diamond. “This is the last time,” I promise her. “Just one pitch. I’ll see if I can hit it. Then we’re done.”
She stops and looks at me for a moment. Something in my expression tells her I really mean it. No more do-overs this time. It’s now or never.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll pitch.”
I head to home plate, grabbing the bat and positioning myself: Readjusting my grip, bending my knees, backing up the slightest bit. Readjusting my grip again. I can feel my pulse in the base of my palms. It taps against the bat.
Liesel takes her time picking out what she deems to be the best ball at the pitcher’s mound. She’s taking this as seriously as I am, for once—I can’t remember a time before where I actually promised her a do-or-die moment. She grabs a ball and looks back at me.
Mentally evaluating my body, I feel the urge to readjust once more. I ignore it and squint out at the horizon line. The day is starting to slow down, to cool off, to tint orange in the nearly-but-not-quite-setting sun. Normally, I’d have left school grounds a lot earlier. By now I’d be finishing up whatever lesson I was in. I would head home for dinner with my family, spend some time texting or reading or procrastinating. Practicing a hobby, maybe. Doing things with Liesel or without Liesel, always accomplishing something new, checking achievements off of lists. Then I would go to bed and start over again the next day.
I stare Liesel down. And I nod, just once.
She nods back. Moves her body, perfectly, and throws. I hold my breath. The ball comes, I see my chance. And in my do-or-die moment, everything feels clearer. And in my do-or-die moment, I know exactly what matters.
The ball is rushing forward, and it’s coming and it’s coming and it’s coming—
Meghan Rennie is a fifteen-year-old writer, musician, and art enthusiast, who has an affinity for cats and chocolate oranges. Her work has previously appeared in The Claremont Review, Skipping Stones Magazine, and The Courier.