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What's Your Number?

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"One!" yells Uncle Tom, the so-called "ref" of the game.

"Seven!!" Michael calls as he quickly catches and then lobs the ball back to clouds. Everyone gets a number. My uncle softly whispers each person's number into our ears; it kind of tickles. We all gather around in a huddle in the middle of my wide street. The ball goes high up in the air, and someone calls out a number: one person dashes across the street, hurdling over anything in his way to make sure he catches it before it bounces. If the ball doesn't bounce, he calls another number and lobs the ball towards the heavens for the next player. That player has to run towards the ball, which is why he doesn't want to run too far when the first number is called. If the ball bounces we have to keep running til he catches it and yells FREEZE! Now he has the chance to take one of us out with a smack of the ball. We all scatter across the neighborhood, behind anything we can find–cars, trees, bushes, cable boxes, garbage cans, roofs of cars...you get the gist. Unfortunately, he gets three giant leaps toward whomever he wants to hum the ball at. I usually never have to worry about running too far because, honestly, who would wanna take out a sweet, innocent girl like me, right? Wrong, my brother would love to take out sweet, innocent Coco, the baby of the family. His name is Hugh, and my mom says we fight a lot. I am not the most athletic person you would meet, and he knows that good and well. Point being, I'm an easy target–I can't catch, duck, or throw, but I can surely jump for that three leap advantage. My cousins are always amazed at my ability to jeté (ballet term for jump) all across the street. What I lack in athletics, I make up for in dancing.

Whenever Jack, the oldest, hollers freeze we hope he won't choose us as his prey. In the mean time, he has begun to lunge in one of their directions, eventually towering over them. He barely even needs to use the three jumps though, because, he is so ginormously tall that his strides are bigger than my leaps. His brother Amos is two days younger than my brother, so when Hugh and Amos are both your opponents, watch out. Amos is one for me to look out for when I'm hiding because he would thoroughly enjoy to make known my hiding spot if I was near my biggest threat: Hugh Bartlett. Ben is the last of the "Jack Bartletts." (Because all of us are Bartletts, we identify each family by the uncle of that part of the Bartlett Family. Jack, Amos, and Ben's dad was named Jack. My family is the "Bob Bartletts.") Ben is older than Amos and younger than Jack. He can display a strong sense of aggression, that is, when his brothers rile him up. But who am I kidding? The whole gang is as rambunctious as a group of rhinos. When we take family pictures I angelically stand in the front while a circus pops out behind me. The next section of the crew is the "George Bartletts." George and his younger brother Michael are the biggest competitors to be my favorite cousin. Michael is definitely my favorite. These two cousins are the friendliest to me and make me giggle the most. Michael knows how to make me laugh in the blink of an eye, literally. He'll call me nick names like Cokey, miss lady, and other goofy names derived from Coco. He definitely encourages my dancing and even jokes about being a better dancer than me. George notices when I am not being included, considering I am the first and youngest girl in five generations of thirteen boys, and he works on getting me into the conversation. The uncles will join in on the game every now and again, three more kids added to the bunch...huffing and puffing, leg muscles tightening as they make their way to the ball, back and arms aching as they launch the ball not even past the roofs. I wonder if they were as wild as my cousins growing up together. Four boys and my grandma living in mid-city New Orleans. I wonder who gave them their numbers...





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