The Taking Page 1

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PART ONE

The moment you look away from the sky, a shooting star will appear.

—Murphy’s Law

PROLOGUE

WE KILLED THEM.

Crushed, to be precise. Crushed to the point that the other team left the field in tears, like a bunch of five-year-olds, falling into a defeated huddle in their grass-stained blue-and-gold uniforms and offering one another the lame consolations of runners-up. They did their best to avoid making eye contact with us as they had to go down the line and slap our hands, congratulating us on our win on their way to their dugout. On our massive, season-ending victory.

We, on the other hand, had hoarse voices and couldn’t stop jumping up and down and grabbing everyone within arm’s reach and gripping them to our filthy, sweaty selves as we screamed into their ears, again and again, that we’d done it. We’d done it. We’d done it!

Cat caught me in her tough, wiry arms and squeezed me so hard she nearly crushed the breath out of me. “It was all you, baby! All you!” She didn’t bother keeping her voice down, and everyone heard her. I could feel the dampness that soaked her uniform all the way through.

My face blazed in the wake of her comment, and I giggled nervously. She never seemed to understand the whole “there’s no I in team” that Coach was always drilling into us. As far as Cat was concerned, I was the team. “Shut up,” I insisted, shoving away from her.

“You saw him, didn’t you? The scout?”

I didn’t have to answer her or try to explain that I was sure he wasn’t there just for me, because we were caught up in another round of cheers and congratulations, and after a moment I forgot all about scouts and embarrassing best friends and focused solely on the fact that we’d just won the championship.

That was how Austin found me, still wearing my ear-to-ear grin as I nearly walked right past him on my way to the parking lot to meet my dad. It had taken almost half an hour to finally disentangle myself from my teammates, and another ten minutes for Coach to stop congratulating us, and herself, and then us some more, before excusing us so we could get on the buses to meet up for the victory celebration. Of course, my dad had asked Coach to make an exception. To let me ride with him instead of the rest of my teammates on the bus. He had things he wanted to discuss on our way to the pizza party.

Austin was propped against the fence, offering me one of his signature smiles. It was a smile I’d known almost my whole life, and in it I could picture our entire summer spreading out before us. Long days spent on the riverbank as we stretched our damp towels over sunbaked rocks. Climbing through his bedroom window after his parents left for work so we could sleep till afternoon in his cramped twin bed with its worn Batman sheets that he should’ve outgrown years ago but that he still hadn’t parted with. Late nights at the drive-in theater, staring up at the stars instead of watching whatever dollar movie was playing on the giant screen as we talked about our future and all the things we would do together once we were free of our parents and high school.

And kissing. Lots and lots of kissing.

Austin pointed playfully at my chin. “You got a little something. . . .” Then he grinned as his finger flicked downward to indicate the rest of me.

My eyes followed as I smiled wryly. “Ya think?” I was practically wearing the softball field: grass, dirt, chalk.

He reached for me, his fingers twirling around the orange and black ribbons, our team colors, wound through my hair. “You sure you don’t wanna catch a ride with me? I promise I’ll take you straight to the Pizza Palace so you can celebrate.” He leaned close, his Tic Tac–fresh breath tickling my cheek, and I only briefly wondered if I smelled as ripe as Cat had; but I knew he didn’t care. He never cared.

Glancing past him, I saw my dad watching us from in front of his silver Prius, clutching a stack of shiny new brochures in his hands. He didn’t wave me over with them or anything, but I could see it in the way he looked at me—the hurry-up look. The I’ve-got-something-to-show-you look.

I closed my eyes before answering but gave the only response I could. I pressed my cheek against Austin’s, transferring some of my grime to him in the process. “How ’bout you meet me there?” I leaned against him meaningfully. “We can celebrate later.”

My dad is probably my number one fan. He could outshout any peppy cheerleader when we were winning and could outscream any ump when I got a bad call.

My dad was definitely a bigger fan than my mom, who often worked too late, like tonight, to make it to my games. Apparently, an escrow closing on a foreclosure was more important than your daughter’s championship game.

“He gave me some pamphlets,” my dad announced from the front seat.

Pouting might be immature, but every sixteen-year-old girl has mastered some form of it: the silent treatment; crocodile tears; eye rolling; the fake, nothing’s-wrong response. The list goes on and on.

For me it was sullenness. Not pretty, sure, but effective.

Sullen sometimes forced a sixteen-year-old to banish herself to the backseat like a little girl. It was worth the payoff, I decided as I avoided his eager gaze in the rearview mirror.

But my number one fan wasn’t about to give up that easily. “It’s a great school. Big Ten. He was talkin’ full ride.”

I crossed my arms. We’d had this discussion. More than once.

My dad stiffened, sensing, if a little late, that I was digging in my heels. Again. “You don’t have to stay in-state, Kyra. You have more options than anyone else on that team. Hell, probably more than anyone else in this town. A good pitcher is hard to come by. A great one is damn near impossible to find.” I knew what he was doing. My dad, who knew me far too well—better maybe than anyone else—was searching for the right thing to say, something that would coax me into seeing his side of things.

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