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Boys Can Beat Girls
The sun beat down on the tanned backs of my brothers and me in the fierce Alabama heat. We can’t afford air conditioning and the house is so stuffy that before long we can hardly breath, We needed some actual air—Jimmy, James and I—so we left Ma fanning herself by the dishes and went off to play by the creek. Jimmy is nearly fifteen and James thirteen while I lag behind at twelve.
We were over by the creek, lazily tipping our toes in the cool water with a few boys from the farms next to us and little Annemarie Winkle. Annemarie was seven with strawberry blond hair and twinkly blue eyes. She had the skinniest legs I have ever seen. She was alright—a cute, little thing, but she was deathly afraid of the boys and didn’t talk much around them.
“Let’s have us a race,” Jimmy suggested suddenly.
“Oh yeah? How far?” James piped up, already rising to his feet.
“Reckon we could go to the woods and back.”
“The woods?” I asked, standing up to stretch, “well that’s at least a mile! Little Annemarie can’t do that!” My brothers sighed and one of the other boys with big, muscular arms snickered, “That’s true, wittle Annemarie can’t do much of anything. But then again, neither can you, dummy.”
“Neither can I what,” I demanded.
“You can’t even trot from here back to your house without slowing us up!” The boys roared in laughter now.
“I can, too!” I shouted, clenching my fists.
“You’re a girl.”
“And you just can’t keep up” the boy said more sternly, “Girls can’t beat boys.” Humiliated and hurt, I looked at my brother James for help, whom I had always liked best out of my family.
“Stay here with Annemarie,” he said pleadingly, “it’s not that you can’t do it—I know you can—it’s just boys are faster. I don’t want my little sister to feel all left out because we’re too far in front! That’s all it is, we aren’t trying to be mean or anything.” And with that they had me say “ready, set, go” and cheer for them as they took off, which was the proper thing for a girl to do.
“I think you can beat those boys,” Annemarie whispered once the boys were but little specks racing through the fields. I nodded thoughtfully. Maybe if I start preparing—getting up before breakfast every morning and running real hard to the woods and back— I’ll get really fast. And once I get really fast, I can challenge those good-for-nothing pea-brained bullies to a real race. Then they can get the dust in their mouths that they deserve.
Everyday forward I ran. Sometimes my brother James would run with me so I could have someone to chase. But mostly, it was the rising sun and me racing each other. I would get up when it was nearly dawn and the air was crisp and the sky still dark. I’d run to the woods (even farther sometimes), and when the first rays of sun hit the earth, I raced back toward home as fast as my legs could carry. When I reached my back porch, panting and clutching my sides, I looked up at the sun to see how high it was in the sky compared to when it was just peaking over the landscape.
For the first week or so my legs burned and ached terribly, but soon I got used to it, and it wasn’t all that bad anymore.
After running everyday for about two months, I asked James to race me and not hold back. The race would be to the woods and back—a run all too familiar to my legs. Pa and Jimmy and Ma even came outside to watch. When Jimmy said, “Ready, set, go!” I launched myself across the earth toward the trees way up ahead. When the woods neared, I was going too fast and couldn’t slow down much and overran the turnaround point. James, who had been right on my heels, pulled ahead. I sprinted next to him. When I heard Jimmy and Ma and Pa cheering, I sprinted with all my might. James sprinted right with me. Approaching the finish line, marked by to big stones at either end, it looked as if James and I would tie, but suddenly I pulled ahead and beat him by at least ten steps.
James collapsed to the ground as I walked around with my hands on top of my head to open my lungs to more air. Jimmy, Ma and Pa congratulated me and praised me while James, when he could catch his breath, told me I could beat any boy in the country with that sprint of mine.
It was set. I stopped by the creek where a bunch of the boys were throwing pebbles at ducks and challenged anyone who would dare to race me. I’d told James and Jimmy to not say a thing about my training. Naturally the gang of boys all whooped and howled with laughter.
“Save yourself some embarrassment—go play with your dolls or knit a sock and don’t bother us,” said the boy with big, muscular arms who also looked a bit like a gorilla. I told them that I was serious and if they didn’t race me that meant it counted as a forfeit and I would win.
Soon six of the fastest boys and I were lined up in between the two stones that served as the start and finish line. Annemarie stood on the sidelines and we waited for her signal.
I inhaled and exhaled deeply.
I closed my eyes.
I took off and immediately got behind gorilla boy who was so convinced that last was my place in society. But what he didn’t know was that I wasn’t last gliding through these golden fields with my heart yearning for acceptance. I wasn’t last. No, here—here I was fast.
Careful not to make the same mistake, I slowed up a bit when the trees became close. That’s when I ran smack into gorilla boy. He’d turned around early! He was cheating! He seemed a bit surprised to see me so close, but smirked at me when he saw me on the ground. I shot up and touched the tree before bounding after my competitor. I caught up to a boy who had passed me in the process of my falling. When I went around him his eyes widened and he cursed under his breath.
Finally the finish was in view and I knew that this was a now-or-never situation. I could lose to gorilla boy, or I could win to him. My legs were already burning, but I told them just to wait a little longer, because they were not going to slow down. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride. I was running so fast my eyes were watering.
I was neck and neck with gorilla boy. He looked at me. I only glanced at him for a second, but his eyes were wide, not unlike the boy I had passed earlier, and his face was that of a frightened, little boy.
I surged ahead and crossed the finish line two steps before he did.
Everyone cheered, some boys stood dumbly with their mouths wide open to collect the dust I had probably kicked up. Jimmy and James hugged me. “That’s our sister!” they boasted to bystanders who might not have known.
After my legs allowed me to walk again, I went and found gorilla boy, sulking by the creek. Only Annemarie was near and she pranced up to me, her strawberry blond hair swinging rhythmically. She told me she thought she wasn’t so scared of the boys anymore after seeing them get walloped by me in the race. I smiled and patted her little head.
I took a deep breath and held out my hand for gorilla boy to shake. He glared at it and turned away.
“I won,” I stated. I would be smiling over those two words for a while—at least until the next challenge.
“B-but girls can’t beat boys!”
Annemarie skipped right up to him. “I think you mean girls can beat boys.” She beamed with a smile as dazzling as the sun.