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Despite being told to the contrary, Tora was not exactly greeted warmly on the practice fields. Coach Amani was kind enough to let him practice during the tryout sessions.
Two days had gone by. While he was raw, he showed ability. But she was the one working with him exclusively for those two days. Every time Amani tried to introduce him to work with someone, the girl walked away.
Tora’s excitement at finally getting to have a chance to play seven-pitch were fading. Fortunately, someone had been watching him the whole time.
“You’re throwing it all wrong,” a rather intimidating looking Serval girl said, her tall black ears twitching. Tora hadn’t seen many Servals before. He wasn’t even sure at first that this fellow was even a girl. “You really don’t know what you’re doing, babe, do you?”
“I’m not a babe!” Tora protested.
“All of you are to me,” the girl said with a grin, “Name’s Jinx.”
“You’re awful tall to be here,” Tora noted.
“I’m nine. This is my third year. But the team here was desperate for some actual players so I brought my talents downtown.”
The limit was age ten for this league, and everyone else around them was not particularly very good. While Tora wasn’t really impressing anyone, even including Coach Amani who was being a bit too nice, this Jinx girl seemed to believe differently.
“You have a great arm, babe,” Jinx said. “But you’re throwing it all wrong. Your arm action is funky. And seeing you swing a bat has been quite the carnival attraction.”
“You talk smart,” Tora said.
“I read a lot,” Jinx said. “Good habit my parents forced me into.” She ran her fingers through her neat, close-cropped black hair. “By the way, I love your do, babe.”
Tora suddenly felt self-conscious, “What’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing at all, babe,” Jinx giggled, “You have a magnificent mane. But you really should pin it up when you’re playing ball, you know.”
“Auntie Pauley never does. Why should I?”
“Because Paola Daubee is…” Jinx stopped herself. “How the hell do you even know her?”
“She’s my big sis,” Tora shot back.
“Interesting. Then why the hell do you call her Auntie?”
“Because she likes it. And you shouldn’t swear.”
“I’ll ducking swear as much as I want, babe,” Jinx argued, “Do you want my ducking help or not, Tora Sheridan?”
“You know my name?” Tora seemed shocked.
“The whole ducking city knows your name, babe,” Jinx laughed. “But I like you. The other girls don’t get you.”
“I’m not a girl!” Tora protested.
“Could’ve fooled me. Though I must say, I love your Clair uniform. She’s quite the hurler.”
“She’s the best!”
“That’s debatable,” Jinx said, “If you grew up watching the Servals as I have, we have girls who throw a lot harder than your beloved Clair.”
The Servals played in the South. The Ocelots only played them a few games a season, and usually on their home turf. The results were usually not pretty for the Ocelots. “You talk a big game, Jinx.”
Jinx picked up a ball and tossed it up in the air. While it was still up in the air, Jinx grabbed a bat. As soon as the ball came back down, she swung the bat like a quick switch and the ball went flying deep into downtown. Tora swore he could hear glass breaking in the distance and alarms going off.
“Oops,” Jinx giggled.
Tora just stared at her. He’d found his first real friend on this field.
“So you want my help, babe? Or do you want to keep embarrassing yourself?”
Tora just nodded and Jinx grabbed his hand and dragged him off to the other girls. The other girls were talking amongst each other, obviously about Tora.
“Listen up, ladies,” Jinx said, “This is Tora. She’s my babe. So you all screw off, okay?”
Tora was about to protest being referred to as a girl. But then he realized what Jinx was doing, and smiled with appreciation.
“Ginnifer, that is no way to speak to your teammates!” Amani scolded softly but firmly.
“They’re not teammates. They’re a bunch of losers who call themselves seven-pitchers.”
“Do you want to play for this team, Ginnifer?” Amani asked.
“Only if they learn to get their act together and treat their fellow seven-pitcher with respect.”
Amani turned to the other girls, “Ginnifer has a point. Treat Tora with respect or I’ll send you home.”
Jinx and Tora high-fived one another.
“As for you, Ginnifer, one more curse word out of you and I’ll make sure you never play in a youth league again!” The usually quiet Amani stomped off, clearly holding back her true frustration.
“You didn’t even curse there,” Tora pointed out.
“She’s just cramping my style,” Jinx chortled, removing her cap and running her fingers through her hair again.
“You do that a lot,” Tora noted.
“Yeah, we gotta do something about your hair, babe. It’s gorgeous. We just have to figure out something with out. I know.”
“What?” Tora looked stunned.
Jinx took a scrunchie from her pocket. “This should do.”
“No problem, babe. But you really shouldn’t try to keep it that long. Even Clair probably gets tangles like you wouldn’t want to believe.”
“And that’s why you wear your hair short?”
“No, my parents don’t let me wear it any longer. Doesn’t matter. It suits me.”
“And if they’re that strict, why do they let you swear?”
“They don’t,” Jinx said. “They cramp my style. That’s what I have seven-pitch for.”
“Amani will kick you off the team with that attitude.”
“My attitude is going to be what makes this team a winner. And you a winner, too, babe.” Jinx grabbed his hand, “I know you’re a boy, Tora. And I like that. You have a lot of guts coming out here. And you have talent. Now it’s time to learn how to use it.”
Jinx then let go of his hand and slapped Tora on the back so hard that he almost coughed out his lungs. “Move it, Tora!” Jinx bellowed, rounding up some of the other girls, reluctant at first but intimidated by Jinx.
Tora smiled and sighed. At least he had one friend.