I stopped at the bottom of Sanford’s huge sycamore tree and looked up the ladder of wooden slats that led to the door of our clubhouse. I avoided looking at the sign that read, “FOR BOYS ONLY” nailed to the tree trunk.
I glanced back uneasily at Meg and Michelle, the two sisters who had moved in next door to us the day before.
“The clubhouse is way up there,” I muttered, nodding toward our hideout overhead. “It’s pretty high up—kind of scary too. There’s not much to see. Are you sure you want to go up?”
Meg, the older of the two, gazed up into the branches. “Looks like a pretty neat place. I’m not afraid of heights, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Who put that up?” Michelle asked, pointing to the sign.
“Well, it’s kind of dumb, if you ask me,” she muttered. “Why aren’t girls allowed?”
“We like it that way.”
“Your mom said you’d take us up,” Michelle reminded me. “I’d like to see what it’s like.”
When Mom asked me to show Meg and Michelle around the neighborhood, I told her that I wouldn’t. She just shrugged and said something about my not getting to do something the next time I wanted to. Well, I knew what she was thinking about: Garett Hadfield’s family was going to Disneyland in two weeks, and Garett had asked me to go with them.
Slowly I turned back to the ladder, grabbed the first slat, and started up. When I reached the trapdoor in the middle of the clubhouse floor, I could hear voices inside. I gulped and knocked softly.
“Who’s there?” a voice growled.
“Me, Jared,” I answered meekly.
The trapdoor opened. I pulled myself up through the opening and sat there with my legs dangling down. “Hi,” I greeted them sickly. I looked around. Sanford was there. Garett too. Then I saw Will, Andrew, and Mark in the dim light. The whole club was there, except Paul. “I brought some … uh … some visitors,” I explained. “They’re our new neighbors.”
“Let’s have a look,” Sanford said.
I gulped again, pulled my feet up, and slid across the floor to sit against the wall. Then Meg’s head poked up through the trapdoor. She looked around and grinned. “Hi. I’m Meg.”
“A girl!” all the guys gasped, jumping to their feet. They stared at Meg as she climbed into the clubhouse, then glared at me.
Before the guys had a chance to get over their shock, Michelle poked her head up through the hole.
“Another girl!” the guys groaned.
“What’s wrong with girls?” Michelle challenged them.
“You brought girls into the clubhouse?” Andrew asked, pointing at me. He turned to the girls. “Didn’t you read the sign?”
“Sure,” Michelle retorted before I had a chance to open my mouth. “But we figured anybody dumb enough to put up a sign like that didn’t know what he was doing anyway.”
“It’s just for today,” I put in. “I’m just showing them around. Mom made me.”
“I haven’t even let my mom come up here,” Sanford protested. He glowered at the girls. “I say they leave right now.”
I looked at Garett. He looked back at me and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “They look all right.”
Well, as long as Garett was with me, I still had a shot at Disneyland, so I didn’t much care what the others thought. “I say they stay,” I said, standing up. “The clubhouse is part mine.”
“My dad built it!” Sanford shouted.
“He couldn’t have built it without my dad’s lumber,” I reminded him. “I say they stay.”
For a few minutes we all just sat there glaring at each other. Then Mark spluttered, “Listen, guys, we have a bigger problem than these girls to worry about—remember? Today’s the day we’re supposed to play the Highland Heights team.”
Then all of us boys groaned. We had been bragging to the Highland Heights team that we could beat them. All that they had to do was name the time and place. Well, they’d named the city park as the place, and this morning as the time. But our best pitcher had the chicken pox!
“We just can’t play them today,” Will croaked. “We don’t stand a chance without Paul pitching.”
“I can pitch,” Sanford volunteered.
“And we can help out,” Meg said.
“We let you come into our clubhouse just this once,” Sanford growled, “but that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you play baseball with us. Those guys would laugh us clear out of the park.”
“We’re going to need all the help we can get,” Garett said uneasily.
“Are you saying that we should let girls play ball with us?” Sanford yelped.
Garett shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe they can fall down in front of a ball. At least we can cover the field that way.”
“I say girls don’t play on our team,” Sanford insisted, folding his arms across his chest defiantly. “If they want to come, they can cheer for us.”
“We’re not cheerleaders,” Michelle protested. “We know how to play ball. Meg and I were in a league where we used to live.”
“I say we let them play,” I said, starting for the door. “If we lose, we’ll just say it was the girls’ fault.”
Michelle grabbed my arm and turned me around. “We don’t play on a losing team. We play to win.”
When we reached the city park, the Highland Heights team was there waiting for us. “We thought you got scared and decided not to show up,” TJ Blake called out as we walked up. TJ was the leader of his team and their best player. He could hit a home run almost every time. He started to grin. “No wonder you’re late. You had to find some girls to help you out. That’s OK with us—you’ll need all the help you can get.”
Well, the Highland Heights team batted first. We put Meg and Michelle in the outfield, where there’s a little less action. Sanford pitched, but he pitched everything that the other team wanted. The first three batters got hits and loaded the bases. Then TJ came to bat, grinning.
“I thought you said you could pitch,” I shouted at Sanford as I covered first base. “Now they’ll have four runs and no outs.”
“Well, you haven’t done anything to help,” he growled back at me. “The only thing you’ve done is drag those two girls along.”
“Michelle can pitch,” Meg called from center field. “She’s a good pitcher. She pitched for our old team.”
I looked at Garett, who was playing second. He shrugged. “She can’t be much worse than Sanford,” he muttered.
TJ laughed as Michelle came in to pitch. “Oh, I love it! I get to bat against a girl.” Then he frowned. “Just make sure you get it this far,” he grumbled at Michelle.
Michelle ignored him. She turned to me. “Meg plays shortstop better than any guy I know.”
I looked over at Mark, who was playing shortstop. “Mark, why don’t you trade places with Meg?”
“With a girl?” he protested.
“It’s just for a little while,” Garett explained. “Besides, we’re going to need three good outfielders while TJ bats.”
“Come on, little girl, throw it here,” TJ taunted when Michelle was ready to pitch.
Michelle just glared at TJ, then wound up and let the ball fly. It zoomed right across the plate, and TJ swung hard enough to knock it clear over Mark’s head. But he missed the ball! Instead, he spun around and fell on the ground. Everybody on our team laughed as TJ stood up, brushed himself off, and got ready to bat again.
“Don’t let a little girl strike you out!” chortled Jason, who was catching.
TJ glared at him, then turned back to Michelle, who was already winding up. Again she let the ball fly across the plate. TJ swung and got just a piece of it. Foul ball. The next time, Michelle wound up and looked like she was going to throw that ball clear into next week. But it was a slow one. TJ swung and missed the ball completely.
We all cheered as TJ stomped away from the plate. Clay Barnes came up to bat next. He missed the first two pitches, but on the third pitch, he hit a line drive—straight for Meg! I thought for sure that it was going to knock her right off her feet, but she snagged the ball and burned it over to me for a double play.
TJ pitched for his team. Boy, was he mad! And the first one to go to bat was Michelle. The fielders came in, since it was just a girl batting, and on the first pitch Michelle got a piece of that ball and knocked it over Clay Barnes’s head into right field.
We beat the Highland Heights team that afternoon ten to eight. And we were sure glad that Meg and Michelle had refused to cheerlead for us.
When we got back to Sanford’s backyard, his mom called from the back porch, “Sanford, there are some cookies and punch in your clubhouse.”
“How’d they get up there?” Sanford asked, surprised.
“You’ve never invited me up, so I decided I’d use the cookies and punch as an excuse to take a look around.”
“You went into our clubhouse?” Sanford gasped. “But it’s just for boys!”
“Don’t worry about it, Sister Nichols,” I called to Sanford’s mom. “You’re not the first girl that’s ever been there.”
“And you won’t be the last,” Michelle added, grinning.
As we were about to climb the tree, I looked at the FOR BOYS ONLY sign. I shook my head and turned to Garett. “There’s a pencil up in the clubhouse. Would you go get it?”
When Garett came back down with the pencil, I grabbed it and scribbled on the sign, “(AND A FEW GOOD GIRLS).”
We all looked at the sign and grinned, then climbed up for cookies and punch.