And she was. She was a modern woman, and you’re not sure how you felt about it. She didn’t come over anymore, early in the morning, her hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail on the back of her head, ready to play whatever silly games you and the rest of gang concocted. No, she didn’t even cross Kimball Street anymore, going through her backyard and out onto Haden Avenue when leaving the neighborhood. You would wave to her, sometimes, when she would be getting the mail or helping her mom in the garden, and she wouldn’t wave back. Her face would drop to the ground pretending not to see you, or she would hide behind her mom or even run back inside the house. She ignored you now, and when you stop and think about it, about two of you and how you used to be, it really upset you.
She didn’t come over and play basketball anymore, leaving the teams horribly uneven and the game not as much fun to play. Sure, she wasn’t very good, always tripping over her stray shoelaces or kicking the ball instead of dribbling it, but at least she was there. You might go over and help her up when she would fall, sometimes, depending on if the other boys were watching, but you would always make fun of her, calling her names like CLUTZ! and LEFT FOOTED FREAK! The two other boys who played with you would laugh and giggle at her, joining in on the fun. You always thought that she would be back, but now she plays tennis with two very different boys. They have leg hair and mustaches, and drive around the neighborhood with their music playing way too loud. She goes out with them late at night, sitting on the lap of one of them as the other drives the sleek, black, coupe car down Kimball Street.
She didn’t come hunt for buried treasure anymore, making the task of finding the riches much more cumbersome. She used to help you draw up the map and key, marking out the latitudes and longitudes and symbols because you had a hard time reading and writing. None of the tutors that were hired could do anything for you, and that upset you too: the fact that you were kind of hopeless in that sense. She was the only one of the three who knew about it, and she never made fun of you for it, having you tell the others that it was the woman’s job to make the map. She would steal her dad’s big, denim overalls from his closet, the pockets large enough to hold all the equipment needed for the dig: the map, a mini-shovel, a small flashlight, and diary to document what you found. You would all give each other really snazzy sounding explorer names, like Bobby Trouble or Darren Danger. She was Kathryn Caper, the crappiest of all the names, yes, and you felt the need to tell her that in front of the gang over and over. Now she lays outside in her front yard wearing an orange bikini. She sits on a big yellow beach towel, looking at preteen magazines about boys and makeup while talking on her parent’s cordless phone. You watch her as the three of you set up to dig for more treasure, her tiny, tanning hands rubbing lotion into her legs, and you think about how she used to help you dig. Tiny smudges of dirt would smear on her cheeks as she would giggle and throw clumps of soil and grass at you. You try not to cry as the other two boys break ground.
She wasn’t around when it came time to play cowboys and Indians, making it impossible to play that game. You can’t have one of the other boys be the damsel in distress that the Indians kidnap; that would be gross. Instead you have to play cops and robbers. It’s quite unfair, the two other boys being the thieves and you playing the cop, making it almost impossible for you to stop crime. You chase the robbers around the backyard, following far behind because one of them distracted you while the other grabbed the cash. They spilt up, one of them ducking down the side yard and the other springing down the street. It would be so much easier if she had just come back over. She could take the one boy who ran down the side of the house, while you chased after the other boy running down the street. Between the two of you, the crime could be foiled, but they always got away, taunting you as they ran. You get mad at her as you cross your front yard and see her lying out on the yellow towel. You yell STUPID! and LAME! as you circle around hoping she hears you.
She didn’t come play Ghost In The Graveyard anymore, which really made you mad because you were still scared of the dark. You would have to take a small flashlight with you, using it carefully so as not to let the two other boys see you, for they would call you a WHIMP! or a WUSS! That would really hurt. The game would go on forever. She was a great seeker, and without her it was hard for you to find the boys on your own. While you were tiptoeing through the dark, she would be having a loud party across the street with those damn tennis boys. You would watch their shadows as they swayed back and forth with the music, all of the bodies in the room meshing into one. There would be this pain in your gut, this twisting, binding, sensation that made you have to call the rest of the game off so you could go in your room and lay down. From there, you would watch until the tennis boys leave, which was always way after 10:30—much longer than she ever stayed out with you.
Then there was that one time when she kissed you. She really didn’t do that anymore, that’s for sure. The four of you were playing house, not one of your shining moments. You all played in her basement because that’s where her Playskool kitchen set was, and because no one could see you down there. The two other boys were the children and you and her played the husband and wife. She was almost done cleaning up after dinner while you finished putting the kids to bed, when she stepped right in your way and kissed you. It was real gentle, on the mouth, smooth and lukewarm. And at first you hated it. She looked right at you as she pulled away, both of you surprised that it actually happened, her eyes like coins in a wishing well. First, you spat, saying things like EWWW! and GROSS! It was then you noticed that her hair wasn’t pulled back. It was down, flowing onto her shoulders looking like a stream of blonde chocolate. It smelled good too, like flowers and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You spat some more, rubbing your hands on your tongue trying to get the girl cooties off. And then she started crying. She ran upstairs, the back of her polka dot dress—the one dress she had that she tried to keep nice—kicking up as she tore off toward her room. You felt awful, not because of what you said, but because at that moment you didn’t like the kiss. You wanted to though, maybe.
She never did that again, no sir.
She was sitting outside, her skin a nice basted brown color, the white of the lotion being sucked into the meat on the backs of her legs. You were standing outside by your basketball hoop, shooting some baskets by yourself. The other two boys had stopped coming around soon after she did. You tried calling them, a lot, but they were too busy with after school football games and reading car magazines behind the gymnasium, and all they talked about was trying to get laid. You watched as her tiny fingers turned page after page in some teen bopper magazine, while you have to ran to catch the ball every time you missed, trying to prevent it from rolling under two big pines trees next to the hoop. It was then when you decided you had enough. You picked up the ball and crossed Kimball Street, that tightening feeling returning to your gut. You stand over her, the small straps of her bikini lying carelessly on her golden brown back.
“Wanna play some basketball?” you asked, holding the weathered old ball out for her to see.
“I’m just too old for that now,” she said, her body not flinching in the slightest.
You walked back across the street alone, heaved up a jump shot that rimmed in and out, and decided to try and hunt for buried treasure by yourself.
Nick Ostdick is a fiction writer from the Chicago area. His short novel, Sunbeams and Cigarettes, was released in October of 2005. Ostdick’s short works have appeared in Word Riot, Decomp, and Automiguel.