Darcy dragged a toe through the gravel beneath the swings as she was pulled slowly backward by momentum. She sighed as the swing moved forward again.
She hated the swings.
“Are you okay?” said a voice.
Darcy looked up and spotted a girl she’d seen on the playground before, with slightly messy hair and a red t-shirt. She’d never heard her voice before, though, or her accent that told Darcy she was probably still learning the language.
“No,” she replied bluntly. “I hate the swings.”
“Try the monkey bars instead,” the girl suggested.
“No thanks,” Darcy said, after spotting a boy perched on top of them like he was guarding his domain.
“The climbing wall?”
Darcy shook her head. “I’d come up right next to the slide.”
“You don’t like the slide?”
Darcy huffed out a sigh and hopped off the swing. “No, the slide is my favorite. But Jimmy and Tony are up there pretending robots, and they said girls aren’t allowed.”
The girl turned to look up at the boys playing on top of the playground. “Come on,” she said to Darcy, holding out a hand. “You just have to ask the right way.”
Darcy allowed herself to be tugged over to the playground equipment, then followed the girl up the twisty ladder that always looked more fun than it actually was.
“What’s the plan?” Darcy whispered as the boy with the red and gold striped shirt noticed them and jumped up, blocking their way to the final set of stairs.
The girl smiled. “First step: ask nice,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Darcy.
“No girls allowed,” sang the smirking boy, leaning over the stairs and sticking out his tongue.
“Can we use the slide?”
“Sorry,” called the other boy, who was sitting at the top of it with a couple of expensive-looking Transformer toys. “Top secret government testing.”
“It’s not secret if you tell everybody, Rhodey,” the obstructor pointed out, then turned back to Darcy and her new friend. “So no girls allowed .”
“What’s the next step?” Darcy wondered, whispering in the girl’s ear.
“Ask nice again,” she was informed. The girl turned back to the stairway and simply requested: “Please?”
“Nope,” said the boy in the striped shirt, then turned away dismissively.
Darcy was disappointed. She didn’t know why she’d expected that to actually work. She opened her mouth to tell the girl this, but she was… doing something: she pushed her hand toward the boys, and suddenly they both said, “Ow!”
“What did you do?!” demanded one.
“It’s our turn for the slide,” the girl said, crossing her arms.
“But how did you do that?”
“Come on, Tony, let’s go,” Jimmy said, thrusting one of the toy robots into his hands and tugging on one of his arms.
“No, not until I know how—”
The girl pointed at him again, and this time Darcy thought she saw something sail through the air before Tony flinched backward and followed Jimmy down the slide.
“How did you do that?” Darcy breathed.
“Magic,” the girl replied, mounting the stairs.
“Really?” Darcy asked, awed.
“Not really. See him?” She pointed at the boy lounging atop the monkey bars. “He’s my brother’s friend Clint. He likes pretending to be my bodyguard, but if I want him to play that, I have to call him ‘Hawkeye.’ Watch!”
She thrust a hand out toward the retreating boys, and this time Darcy watched Clint: his arm shot out, and three seconds later, Tony protested, “ Okay ! We’re going !”
“Having friends is kind of like magic,” Darcy allowed.
The girl nodded. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Wanda. Want to play house?”
“Okay, but this has to be the front door,” Darcy said, holding out her hand for Wanda’s. “It’s the best way to get out of the house, I’ll show you.”
Wanda took her hand, and stepped up next to Darcy. The two girls giggled all the way down the slide, then ran for the climbing wall.
The playground, rid of a small mechanical menace, returned to its normal tranquility. From his perch, Hawkeye watched the two friends play.