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The weather acted as if it knew something was going to go awry today. The clouds were grey, the breeze tangled up everyones’ hair, and even the young kids would rather stay inside. Marionberry Park sat sadly in all its smothered glory, swings fidgeting in the wind and climbing rope hanging limply from its wooden balcony.
It was a popular park; usually around this time there were kids buzzing around every shiny facet. The tire swing always had a line, and the slide always had kids scrambling at each end. There was always a Head Captain perched at the tallest part of the big toy, hands proudly gripping the steering wheel. There were always kids on the lookout for alligators, and kids swimming in the ocean, frantically trying to reach the boat.
Today, however, there was not a single kid at Marionberry Park.
A few blocks down, a cashier rang up a box of cereal, a tube of toothpaste, and a loaf of bread. She announced the price around an exhausted sigh and stuck her left hand out, palm up. The high-school-aged boy on the other side slipped the ten out of his pocket and stuck it in her hand.
The boy grabbed his mother’s groceries from the paper bag she insisted he ask for and walked out of the store. There weren’t many people out and about today; it was a lazy Sunday and he figured there was nothing at all going on. A very boring day. Not even his friends felt like hanging out, it seemed everyone just wanted to lounge around in their pajamas and catch up on things around the house, watch those recorded television shows they never had time for.
The boy looked up at the sky, trying to gauge how long it would be before that huge black cloud was directly over him and dumping rain, soaking the groceries. It was pretty far away, he figured it’d be awhile. He could take his time getting back home.
He looked back down and his eyes fell on Marionberry Park. It used to be his favorite place as a child, and now every morning it was the first request out of his younger sister’s mouth. The boy didn’t think he could remember a day where it was absolutely empty, as it was now. His feet slowed and then stopped. He had time to kill.
He turned and walked across the street, toward the park. He set the paper bag down by a tree and made a mental note not to forget it. First, he walked over to the swings. He fingered the chains, pushed the rubber seat a little bit, the poles screeching in protest. Then he went to the rocking horse, remembering when he was small enough to hop on and move it back and forth, pretending he was in a race. He always won, of course. The memory made him chuckle.
Then he walked over to the big toy. He remembered being so afraid of crossing that bridge, afraid it would give out from underneath him. He saw now that it wouldn’t be a painful fall; the bridge was barely three feet from the ground. He smiled at everything he passed, nostalgia washing over him.
Caught up in the moment, the boy climbed up the rope ladder and up and up until he reached the Captain’s Quarters, his favorite spot as a kid.
He froze when he got there, and his eyebrows mashed together in confusion.
“What are you doing here?” he asked the girl, about his age, who was on her knees, playing with the steering wheel with shaking fingers. Her hair was long and dark, almost to her hips, and she was wearing a big sweatshirt and thin leggings. When she looked up at him, he noticed how beautiful she was, despite all the makeup she had on. Her skin was pale, and her lips were dark red. Her eyes were big and almond-shaped, and the smile she was giving him now made his own lips raise.
“I could ask you the same.” she said, raising to her feet and flicking her hair back from her face in one quick, almost nervous motion.
“You could.” The boy said, laughing. “But I asked you first.”
She shook her head and started walking down the steps. He followed. He waited for her to say something, but she was silent as she slipped down the rope ladder.
“Wait, don’t leave!” he called out, jumping down behind her.
She walked over to a bench and sat down. He saw her slip her bag down and kick it under the bench with her feet. She smiled at him again. “I’m not.”
He walked over and sat down next to her. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Jenna.” she said, and her voice caught a little. Her face turned pink and she cleared her throat. “Yours?”
For a minute, they were both quiet. Jenna’s eyes were flickering around a bit anxiously, and he noticed her slide her sleeve back briefly and check her watch.
“Do you have to be somewhere?” he asked, worried that she was just being polite by staying with him.
She shook her head quickly. “No. Not really. Do you?” Her eyes searched his face as if she was worrying about the same thing.
“Oh, no.” he laughed. “I was just getting groceries for my mom. As long as I’m back in the next hour it’ll be fine.”
She smiled, and looked down at her feet.
“So, now I’ve told you what I was doing. Are you going to tell me about yourself?” he asked.
She squinted her eyes. “You didn’t tell me why you were at the park, climbing up to the Headquarters.” He smiled when she called it that. She must have grown up here.
He shrugged. “I haven’t been up there since before I started school. I was just curious.”
Her eyes searched him again as if she was trying to decide if he was telling the truth. “Oh.” she finally decided, looking back down at her feet.
She stood up suddenly. “Why don’t we really take a trip down memory lane.” She walked over to the swingset and slid onto one of the swings, motioning for him to do the same. “Come on!” she laughed.
He shook his head, but he was smiling. He got up and slid onto the swing next to her. He pulled himself as far back as he could go and then lifted his feet, feeling himself fly forward. He moved his legs as he remembered doing as a kid, trying not to let his feet scuff the ground, and each time he went higher and higher.
“Let’s see who can go the highest!” the girl shouted.
“Challenge accepted.” he laughed.
He pumped his legs hard, leaning back when he went forward and forward when he went back. But she was smaller and more dynamic and it was soon obvious that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get up to her height.
Then, suddenly, she let go and for what seemed like minutes she was flying through the air, soaring, her legs out in front of her and her arms raised, cutting through the wind.
Then she landed on her feet, bending her knees a little to catch the momentum and stood, arms wide and a grin lighting her face. He slowed himself to a stop and just stared.
She closed her eyes, and then she began to twirl. She twirled and twirled, getting faster and faster, until she fell on the ground in a mangled heap of arms and legs and long, beautiful hair.
She didn’t rise for a second, and he slowly got out of his seat. He walked forward to make sure she was okay.
When he reached her, he looked down and saw that she was in a fit of hysterics, clutching her stomach and laughing so hard there was no sound and tears spilled down her cheeks.
He wanted to laugh with her, but his body suddenly felt cold and numb. Something wasn’t right. He knelt to the ground and pulled her up. She was laughing so hard there were little hiccups escaping from her lips. But something about her face...
That’s when he realized she wasn’t laughing anymore. He opened his arms and pulled her close, and she sobbed through his shirt. She was shaking so hard in his arms he could hear her teeth chattering. When she finally stopped and lifted her face, there were streaks of black racing down it, like her makeup had tried to slide off. Like she wanted to show him who she really was.
She stood silently and started walking over to the bench they had been sitting on. He followed, not speaking.
She bent down on the ground and lifted her bag.
She turned and looked up at him; her eyes were so sad. She raised the bag to eye level and then opened it. She turned it over and shook it a few times.
Bottles and bottles of pills spilled out, rattling onto the ground. Her eyes teared up again and she didn’t raise her eyes to meet his. Her arms fell to her sides and the bag slipped out of her hands, falling to the ground atop her biggest secret.
“You weren’t going to...take those, were you?” He whispered.
Slowly, she nodded her head.
He reached forward and embraced her again. “I’ll get you some help.” he said.
He felt her melt into him like no one had held her in a very long time. “You already have.”