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Authors: Matt Christopher

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BOOK: Windmill Windup
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“Coach?” Allie suddenly called out.

“Yeah?”

“Could I try out for shortstop instead?”

“Are you kidding? Stay right where you are!”

“Um, it’s just that, well, Kelly’s so great at first base….”

“Kelly?”

“Me, Coach,” Kelly said, reminding him who she was.

“Oh! Right. Well, okay, go on out there, and Allie, you take short.”

The poor girl who’d ducked took her place behind
Allie. No one else had even tried out for short. Apparently, none of these girls felt confident enough to handle the position,
one of the toughest on the field.

“Okay,” the coach said. “I’ll try again here with the hitting. I’m a little rusty. Kyla,” he called to the first shortstop,
“come on in here and play catcher for me. Catch it when the first baseman throws the ball in.”

The scared girl trotted awkwardly in and proceeded to take on her new assignment. The coach began hitting grounders, and it
was soon apparent that Allie Warheit could play any position she wanted to.

Even Kelly was impressed. She had nothing against this girl, now that she’d stopped trying to compete with Kelly. And for
a sixth-grader, she was awesome in the field. If she could hit at all…

She could. When they took their turns hitting batting-practice pitches from the coach, Allie nearly took his head off with
her first line drive. She sprayed balls all over the outfield — every one of them a lined shot. No pop-ups, no grounders.
With her compact, level swing, she never missed a pitch that was anywhere near the zone.

Kelly stepped up for her turn, determined not to
be upstaged. When the coach threw her his first pitch, she sent it screaming skyward. The ball traveled so far that someone
in the outfield of field number four turned around and caught it on the fly!

“Wow!” Coach Beigelman gasped. “Have we got a cleanup hitter, or what?”

Kelly couldn’t help smiling a grin of secret satisfaction. She hit the next three pitches even farther.

“Okay, enough hitting!” Coach Beigelman said, throwing his hands up. “I’m getting embarrassed here. Let’s see how you girls
run the bases.”

It turned out that Allie Warheit was fast, too — even faster than Kelly, who’d been the fastest girl on the Devil Rays. For
a minute, Kelly started to fantasize about herself and Allie leading the Diamondbacks into battle …but then she caught herself.
There was no way this team could win with just the two of them. And as nice as Allie was, Kelly could never see herself making
friends with her off the field. She was a sixth-grader, after all. It would just be too embarrassing. Totally uncool.

Besides, she wasn’t going to be here long. Once her dad talked with the commissioner, she’d be back with her old buddies again
in no time.

6

K
elly could hear the shouting before she even turned the corner onto her street. She knew instantly what was happening. It
sounded exactly the same as all those other times, in the last two years before her mom and dad’s marriage had broken up.

As she neared the house, the sounds grew clearer, and she could make out some of the words. “What kind of parent —?” “— Your
business to spy on my social life?” “Keep an eye on my daughter!” Kelly could see his car, a gold Firebird from the ’70s with
two new dents in it, parked in the driveway.

Kelly was going to wait until the fight was over and her dad had left before going inside. She didn’t want to get into the
middle of everything. But just then it began to rain, and Kelly could hear thunder
getting closer. She opened the kitchen door and went into the house.

There they were, in the living room. It was a scene out of nightmares past. Her dad was pacing the living room, tossing magazines
on the floor and kicking them around as he raved on and on about her mom and Ken.

“You’ve really lost it this time,” her mom was saying, shouting to get through to him. “Ken’s brother is a lawyer, you know.
If you ever threaten him again —”


That
sounds like a threat to me,” her dad countered, waving an accusing finger.

“And if you call me at my office again,” her mom went on, oblivious to his taunts, “I’m going to have to take legal action.”

“Take it!” her dad yelled. “I’m going to take some action myself. What kind of a mother do you think you are, running around
and leaving my little girl home alone?”

“It was just for the evening,” her mom tried to explain. “She’s almost fourteen, Bill.”

“A baby!” her dad insisted. “And she was put on the wrong team because of your neglect!”

“My
neglect
? Bill, we are not married anymore. Do you get it? It’s over! It’s been two years! Have you read the divorce papers lately?
Or the custody agreement?”

“We’ll see about custody!” he snapped back. He reached for the door and yanked it open. “You’ll be hearing from
my
lawyer!” As he was about to step through the doorway, he caught sight of Kelly for the first time. “Oh — hi, angel,” he said,
trying unsuccessfully to smile. “Your mother and I, um…”

“Your father is just leaving, Kelly,” her mom needlessly informed her. “If you have anything to say to her, Bill, make it
quick. You’re trespassing.”

“I’ll …I’ll call you, baby,” her dad said, blowing her a kiss and starting to close the door.

“Wait! What about the team?” she asked, then held her breath.

“The team?” her dad repeated dumbly. “Oh! Yeah …look, I spoke to the guy, and, um …I’m not through trying, angel —”

“He said no, didn’t he?” Kelly said softly.

“Well, he didn’t exactly use that word….”

“What happened, Bill? Did you threaten him, like you threatened Ken?” her mom blurted out. “You
did, didn’t you! I’ll bet you got him so ticked off that he hung up on you!”

Her dad turned to her mom, his eyes blazing. “I hear
your
method of persuasion produced a big fat zero results!” he shot back.

“You have got to get ahold of your temper, Bill.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” He was about to go on, but then thought better of it and turned again to Kelly. “Sorry, baby.
Like I said, I’ll keep trying….”

“Sure,” Kelly said, her voice a mere whisper. “Bye, Dad.”

“Bye, sugar.” He shut the door softly. A minute later there was the sound of burning rubber, and he was gone, speeding down
the wet street, his taillights disappearing into the distance.

“I’m sorry you had to walk in on that,” her mom said, coming over to hug Kelly.

Kelly shrugged her off. She wasn’t feeling good now, toward either of her parents. Her dad was acting like a jerk, sure. But
her mom hadn’t exactly stuck up for her with the commissioner, either. And besides, her mom was making a total fool of herself
with Ken. Her dad was right about that much.

“I’m sorry, Kelly,” her mom repeated. “How was practice today?”

It was the absolute wrong question. Kelly burst into bitter sobs. When her mom tried to comfort her, Kelly wrenched herself
from her grasp, yanked open the door, and went running out into the stormy night.

“My life is one big misery!” Kelly moaned to Sue, while her friend used a pair of big bath towels to dry her off from the
soaking she’d undergone on her way over there. Kelly held her hands out to her sides so Sue could dry them. “My mom is seeing
Mr. Cornball Ken, my dad is acting like an idiot, just like he used to do — no wonder my mom left him — and nobody cares if
I live or die!”

“Oh, come on, Kel,” Sue said with a smile, fishing out a set of dry clothes for Kelly to put on. “You’re exaggerating. Look,
I know how you feel. My parents are divorced, too, remember. And life around here is no picnic. My mom dates some of the biggest
losers around. And my dad lives in Anchorage, Alaska. I’m lucky if I see him once a year. So, okay, I’m on the Devil Rays
and you’re not, but —”

A moan from Kelly stopped her. “Sorry,” Sue said
quickly. “Didn’t mean to touch a raw nerve. It’s rotten luck, I know. That stupid Lacey. She is such a nit.”

“She hates me,” Kelly said, letting Sue throw a sweatshirt over her head. “And my team is a bunch of losers, too. You should
see them.”

“I’ll be seeing them soon enough. We play you guys in the first game of the season.”

Kelly spun around, wild-eyed. “What!”

“Didn’t you look at your schedule?” Sue asked, blinking. “Yeah, first game’s in three days. You’d better hurry if you want
to get switched.”

“Forget it. There’s no chance,” Kelly told her. “My dad blew up at the commissioner.”

“Oh, god,” Sue said, sinking down on the edge of the bed next to Kelly. “Boy, no wonder you’re depressed.”

“You see?”

“I do. But Kel?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t go jumping off a bridge when we beat you, okay? I mean, we can’t go soft on you guys or anything. We have to win the
championship, y’know?”

“Sure,” Kelly said, feeling lower than a worm. “Go ahead. Stomp all over our pathetic bones.”

“Aw, Kelly. Isn’t there anyone on your team who you like?”

“No,” Kelly groaned. “Well, just this one girl, Allie. She’s a sixth-grader, though. She’s so pathetic, the way she keeps
trying to make friends with me.”

“What’s pathetic about that?” Sue wanted to know.

“Duh, are you thick?” Kelly asked sarcastically.

“Kelly, who cares what anybody thinks? It’s okay to be friends with a sixth-grader.”

Kelly gave her a long, hard, searching look.

“Well, okay, I personally would not do it, but it’s better than having nobody on your team you like.”

Kelly sighed. She wondered if Sue really meant what she was saying, or if, by tomorrow, everyone at school would be whispering
about how desperate Kelly Conroy had gotten.

When she got home, there was another car in the driveway — Ken’s. Obviously, her mom had wasted no time, calling him the moment
she’d run out the door and crying to him to come over and comfort her in her misery. Yuck. Kelly went inside, shaking her
head in disgust.

She stopped short when she came into the dark living room. Someone was sitting there in the shadows! Kelly let out a little
gasp and froze when an unfamiliar male voice said, “Hello.”

Kelly inched backward and reached out to turn on the lights. A boy was sitting on the couch, his arm up in front of his face
to shield his eyes from the sudden glare.

He looked about fifteen, with long, straight, shiny, dark hair and a tall, slim frame. He lowered his hand and she saw that
his face, with its long lashes covering his large brown eyes and its strong jaw, was familiar to her. He looked like Ken.

“It’s me, Ryan Randall,” he said. “We met once in French, before I got transferred to the AP class. Remember?”

“Um, yeah!” Kelly said, a little too quickly. She sort of remembered, but not really. “I know I’ve seen you around a few times.”

“Yeah. Eighth-graders and seventh-graders don’t mix much, I guess,” he said, giving her a small smile.

Kelly couldn’t help noticing how cute he was, even if he was kind of shy. She knew from the grapevine that he was really smart
and sometimes
hung out with the kids in the computer club. But she also knew that Ryan was supposedly one of the stars of the middle school’s
baseball team.

“Where’s my mom?” Kelly asked.

Ryan motioned with his head toward the stairs. “Up there,” he said. “With my dad.”

“Oh.” There was an uncomfortable silence.

Ryan broke it. “Your mom’s nice,” he said, giving Kelly a little smile.

“Yeah, she is. Sometimes,” Kelly agreed halfheartedly. She did not say that Ken was nice, too.

“My dad’s a good guy, once you get to know him,” Ryan assured her, picking up on her train of thought.

“Really?” It was half a question, half a sarcastic remark.

“I guess you and he haven’t been getting along, huh?”

“Do
you
get along with him?”

“He’s my dad,” Ryan reminded her with a shrug. “He’s kind of strict,” he elaborated when she didn’t answer. “But he’s always
there for me, even though he doesn’t live with us anymore. He comes to all my ball games and stuff.”

“You’re on the team, right?”

“Yeah, I pitch for them.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

Kelly went to the foot of the stairs and listened. She could hear her mom crying softly, and Ken’s kind voice comforting her.
With a sigh, she sat down across from Ryan.

“My dad is pretty nuts about your mom,” he told her.

“She likes him a lot, too,” Kelly said, sighing again.

“Maybe they’ll be good for each other,” Ryan suggested hopefully.

“Don’t you want your mom and dad to get back together?” Kelly asked.

Ryan shrugged. “They were pretty miserable, if you ask me. He seems much happier now, and she’s not doing so badly, either.
She’s got a new career and stuff.”

“Oh.” Another uncomfortable silence fell. Now that they were done talking about their parents, there seemed to be nothing
to say. Kelly couldn’t look at him, except when he wasn’t looking at her. And he seemed to look away every time she raised
her eyes to his. It was beginning to feel weird.

Kelly knew that the reason she was uncomfortable was that she thought Ryan was cute. But she
assumed his discomfort was because …well, because here he was, having to sit around with some dorky, shy seventh-grader.

“So …you play ball, huh?” she said, and immediately felt stupid.

“Yeah …you?” he asked, obviously not wanting to talk about himself.

“Uh …yeah …softball, actually,” Kelly said. Why, oh why, was everything out of her mouth sounding so dumb?

“Oh. Wow,” Ryan said, nodding slowly.

This was torture. Kelly couldn’t stand it anymore. Luckily, at that moment the grown-ups came back downstairs, and pretty
soon, after a few quick pleasantries, Ken drove off with Ryan.

“So,” her mom said when they were alone again. “Where did you go off to?”

“To Sue’s,” Kelly said dully.

“Did you and Ryan get acquainted?”

“Mom!” Kelly said in an annoyed tone. “What are you, the Spanish Inquisition? Stop asking me so many questions!” She stormed
upstairs — and all the way to her room, she could feel her mom’s inquiring eyes following her.

BOOK: Windmill Windup
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ads

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