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Sharp rocks strained up to thetender arch of my foot and in between my toes where the skinwas still soft despite my constant lack of shoes. Brandon hadcome over for the day and he, my little sister, Sofi, and Iwere deep into a game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket, analternative to Kill-Whoever-Has-It, the game my mom hadforbidden. Brockian Ultra-Cricket had very few rules - mostlyit consisted of punching the other players and running away.My lungs were scorched from the raspy deep breathing from ourfrantic running and shouting. I called another time-out, andBrandon rolled his eyes as I went to stand in the large coolpuddle at the end of the driveway.
"I don't getit! Why don't you two just wear shoes?" he chided. I justshrugged.
"Why do you wear shoes? They getdirty," I challenged.
"Your feet are a lotdirtier than my shoes! And I don't have to call a time-outevery time I step on a rock!"
"You talk toomuch," I blushed, pleased at myboldness.
"Yeah, you talk too much!" Sofichimed in. She destroyed my remark, but was pleased to gang upon someone instead of being ganged up on.
"Andbesides, Mom can't make me take off my feet when I come in thehouse! And I don't have to tie my shoes when I want toleave!" I announced.
"I never tie myshoes!" he struck back.
"And I've scored apoint every time you've fallen down!"
My yard wasmostly weeds cut down to size that were dry and painful; eventhe tough pads of my heels were beginning to get sore. As Icoated my feet in the sticky mud, I tried to pull the sweatylocks of hair off my neck and forehead. We began towalk.
Brandon strolled down the middle of the road, butSofi and I carefully picked our way along the hard-packedrolling ridges and valleys of dust. The mud on our feetcollected dust and grit and dripped off in moist lumps. Thesun beat down unmercifully in greasy delight on the bone-dryclay roads and three skinny little kids. Two of them weresoftly browning, and their skin grew darker around the bordersof accumulated dirt and Band-Aids. The third grew slowly pinkand gently fried in the glossy sunlight. Sofi becameprogressively scarlet as we walked.
Declaring war onthe sun, Brandon and I appointed ourselves guardians of mylittle sister against the tyranny that sought to harm her.With much drama and no-nonsense tones, we covered Sofi's barearms and legs and face with the muck from the puddles at theend of the Dunsly's driveway. We then proceeded down the roadto the gigantic hollow log that lay in a cluster of trees. Thetwo of us hurried Sofi along as though it were only a matterof time before she boiled away into the blazing white ball inthe sky.
With Sofi safely in the log, Brandon and I setabout the task of disagreeing over what to do next. We finallysettled on making a sun-shade and walking home because it wasnearly lunch and we hadn't told Mom we were leaving. Thesun-shade was a rough frame of springy tree branches tiedtogether with Brandon's shoelaces and our hair-ties and drapedwith Bran-don's shirt. Brandon and I held it aloft over mydirty red dumpling of a sister as we walked proudly home. Thesun seemed hotter than ever, blazing in fury on theover-dramatic soldiers and their needlessly elaborateefforts.
We arrived home to a rather put-out mom, butwe stood before her glowing with pride and purpose: her twodaughters, both with loose, tangled hair mingled with bits ofmud and tiny pieces of sticks - one covered with mud andbright with pleasure that she had been so brave on thisadventure - and her tiny guest, shirtless and brown as theneighbor's cows. All three of us stood in over-glorifiedtriumph for a few fleeting moments. But the mo-ment broke asMom swept Sofi off to the bathtub, ordering us to hose off ourfeet.
The ice cold water stiffened my grimy feet. Wedidn't speak, fearing the punishments that awaited us whenSofi finished her bath. Even Brandon, with all hisindifference toward trouble and little (to no) respect forauthority, had enough sense to be worried when my mom wasangry. A light breeze blew the magic scent of the woods to us,and I shivered. We walked inside and I became absorbed withshaking the water and dust from my feet.
"Let'snot try that again today, shall we?" Brandon and I lookedup, startled. Mom stood next to the kitchen table. Sofi wassitting, swinging her feet and still, despite our bestefforts, red as a baked apple. She looked terribly pleasedwith herself. Brandon and I risked an uncertain glance at eachother.
"Sofi told me what you all did. You're notin trouble for the mud, but you are in trouble for leaving theyard without telling me. You three are going to have to spendthe rest of the day in the house."
"Yes,ma'am," I complied.
"Yes, ma'am,"Brandon followed suit. He wasn't used to saying"ma'am."
Mom walked over to the sink and wedashed dramatically into the bedroom. In the safety of mycluttered room we discussed our "close call" in low,earnest tones. And, in the manner of children, we confinedourselves, desperately trapped, until Brandon discovered howto pull the screen off the window.