Playing Pretend

February 13, 2008
By Elizabeth DiGangi, Westerly, RI

Lisa needed a vacation. Badly.

Lately, it seemed like nothing was going right. She offered her heart to her best friend and he refused it, proceeding to torment her by purposefully trying to make her jealous, because he thought it was funny. He thought she was over it. She wasn’t.

The previous night, she’d lain awake in bed daydreaming, remembering being five years old with him, playing pretend. There were enemies all over the yard, she was the Pink ranger, he the Red ranger. Power Rangers was their favorite TV show until about age 7, when they decided they were too cool for it. Lisa missed those days, the days before appearances mattered, before her hormones had awoken, before, at age 17, she realized she loved him.

Actually, it was only very recently she’d had such a revelation. When he told another girl he’d go to Winter Ball with her. She’d been complaining about not having a date, echoing many of Lisa’s unvoiced sentiments, when he just offered. It didn’t help that it hurt to chew her lunch, as her wisdom teeth had recently been removed, and that now she was the only one of her friends without a date to the dance. That afternoon, Lisa broke down. She picked her other best friend Chelsea up from work in hysterical tears; it was a wonder she’d managed to drive in such a state. So long she’d loved him, denying it to herself and everyone else—even when they fooled around a few months previously and the emotion grew stronger, she stifled her heart with the excuses given to her other friends as to why she spent so much time at his house. “We’re best friends, really, that’s it.” Yeah, sure, Lisa. She knows better now.

When the sun rose after her restless night of daydreams mingling with nightmares, Lisa got out of bed. She had another three hours or so before work, so she decided to escape for a little while. It was a Saturday morning; everyone else would be asleep, even when she left at 8:45.

Everything was very still when she walked outside in sweats, like the earth had hit the snooze button on her alarm clock when the sun peeked over the horizon. The air was cold enough to make her bones shiver, but she ignored it, the frosty grass crunching beneath her feet. The sound seemed very loud in the early-morning quiet, and she hoped she didn’t wake anyone. Across the street from her house was a relatively small woodsy area, probably the last place in her suburban neighborhood with enough room for a house or two that remained undeveloped. It was most likely its active role as a natural drainage system for the street that kept it that way.

She climbed down into it, nearly slipping on the dead leaves still there from autumn and the many twigs that used to be attached to trees. Once on firm ground, Lisa looked around, marveling, as always, at this tiny patch of wild in her structured world. She’d been playing in here ever since she was a kid, though recently the games had changed from the products of childish fancies to airsoft battles with her many guy friends. It looked much the same as it always had, perhaps with a bit more undergrowth. That big, sprawling tree still stood in the center of it, off to her right; in front of her were pine trees covered in twisted vines surrounding an area housing a multitude of huge rocks, big enough to lounge on when it was warm, to play hide and seek in, or to build a defensive fortress against the opposing team and their semi-automatics and sniper rifles. To the left of the rocks was her neighbor’s yard, which she’d climbed into multiple times, and even found wild daffodils flourishing in the two-foot-wide space between the drop into the woods and the garden-variety shrub-trees. To the right, beyond the big tree she’d climbed countless times, was more untamed woods, much more crowded with underbrush, thorns, and the old, disfigured toys left by past generations of kids from her neighborhood. Everything was brown and gray and apathetic in the wintertime, but she liked it. It was familiar.

Lisa sighed and closed her eyes, reminiscing. When she opened them, the woods were suddenly filled with black-garbed men, with a ninja-esque quality about them. She was very afraid for about a second, but then switched into Power Ranger mode. The enemies came flying at her with furious kicks and jabs, but she deflected the first wave, and they vanished. But there were so many of them—too many for her to handle alone. I wish Andrew were here, she thought fervently, and suddenly he appeared on her right in the middle of a spinning side kick, taking out the nearest ninja-man. He grinned his heart-melting grin, and together they defeated all of their enemies.

With a profound sigh of relief, Lisa turned to him and said, “Whew! That was amazing!”

“I know!” he exclaimed, and together they broke into laughter, the kind that rang with innocence and pure, unadulterated fun.

Once they’d had their laugh, he grabbed her hand and tugged. “Come on, let’s climb the tree, just like old times.” She willingly followed him as he scrambled up the knobbly trunk and to their favorite branch, where they could see her house, a reddish-brown color, bright relative to the dormant trees they peered through. Everything around them had begun to glow gold in the newborn rays of sunlight filtering through the canopy. Lisa sat between Andrew and the tree trunk, her usual spot, and her heart seemed at ease. He put his arm around her, and she shifted from leaning on the tree to leaning on him. They sighed simultaneously, and then simultaneously lapsed into giggles and chuckles.

After some minutes spent in comfortable silence, Lisa said, “I’m glad you’re here with me.”

“Me too,” he answered softly, hugging her tighter. Lisa bent her head backward a bit to look up at him. He was gazing at her, seemingly with love in his beautiful brown eyes, and she couldn’t look away.

Slowly, surely, he moved his arm so that his hand was between her shoulder blades, and he was leaning her back ever so slightly. With anyone else, she would have been scared, but she trusted Andrew with her life.

Slowly, surely, he brought his face closer to hers, and their lips met for the longest moment of her life.

Then he was gone. Lisa blinked stupidly, dazed, until she continued tipping backward, and her mind snapped into focus as she fell out of the tree, crashing through its branches on her way down, her hands grabbing wildly at anything she could latch onto to save herself…

Somehow, she managed to hit the ground without breaking anything, but the wind was completely knocked out of her. She stayed there for who knew how long, sprawled on the cold, hard dirt, sticks and rocks jabbing into her back, stunned, shocked, and angry. Hot tears began to spill, tumbling along her cheekbones to the ground, from both the pain in every fiber of her being and the terrible emotions rising in her. He wasn’t really there; she’d imagined it.

Lisa had never felt so alone in her entire life.

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