Slam! The beige metal door of the locker slammed shut. The friendly round face of my best friend Annie, framed with blond curls, peeked out at me.
"OK, Francie, finished changing my books!" A large grin formed on her face. "We can go play Laura now."
"Hurry up! Katie and Emilia are already out there!" I pranced ahead of my slim friend, my chin-length brown hair blowing in the nipping November breeze.
Katie was my twin. We were both twelve, with dirt-brown hair and hazel eyes. When people first met us, they always thought we were lying when we said we were fraternal. But most of our friends never knew how people could mistake us for identical, since they said we looked "nothing alike."
The other girl, Emilia, was a tall, also blond comrade we'd known since first grade. We hadn't become best friends until fifth grade, when Emilia's former best friend Jenny dumped her to join the "popular" group, a sad fate many of our peers had chosen to follow.
Annie and I walked across the cold blacktop, where many of the popular boys were playing basketball, a sport I'd never really liked because of the fact all the populars loved it. The popular girls stood huddled in a corner, giggling and pointing at a certain boy. I could see Jenny, wearing a revealing Bebe tank top.
I turned around and wrinkled my nose at Annie. "God, they are s0000 disgusting," I remarked under my breath.
"I know," Annie whispered back. "They were making eyebrow signals to the boys all during math. Mr. Cosden had to ask them three times to stop talking. If I were him, I'd send all of them to the principal's office."
"Forget the principal's office! I'd send them to a different planet!" We both burst into laughter. Then we arrived at Laura's cabin.
"Laura" was a game we had played since fourth grade. It was supposed to be a depiction of the famous pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, although this one wasn't exactly historically accurate. I was the gruff but lovable Pa, Laura's beloved father. In this version, though, I was always trying to find a reason for Laura (a.k.a. Annie) to go to the corner.
In fourth grade, Laura's house had been nothing but a crude circle of grass clippings. In fifth grade, our house was behind a huge pine tree trunk and was a little more realistic, but we still had to use lots of imagination. But, now that we were in sixth grade and technically in middle school, we had claimed a small plot of land for ourselves behind the basketball courts. It had four cedars planted in it, with a rarely used sand pit on the right that was used for long jump in P.E., and an old, abandoned part of yellow machinery on the left that we used as a toilet (in the game, I mean.) We'd never really found out what its former purpose was.
In the back left-hand corner of the fence was a tall bush. The space behind this bush was used by us as the stables, where the many horses were kept. The rest of our rooms had dead pine branch wall outlines. The rooms consisted of a kitchen, pantry, corner (where Laura was sent for punishment), parlor, a horse exercise station (the sand pit), and many bedrooms.
Emilia played different parts. She was all of our horses, Carrie (the younger sister of Laura), and Jack (the family dog). I was just Pa and Annie was just Laura. My sister was both Ma and Bessie, the old heifer who would never let Pa milk her.
As we approached Emilia and Katie, we saw they were talking with Adam, the boy I "liked." I hated to use that word. I mean, he wasn't necessarily cute, but he was cute in my eyes because of my "admiration of his good personality," the words I preferred to replace "like" with. I gulped and gratefully grabbed one of our pine brooms when Annie offered it to me. Then I concentrated feverishly on clearing debris off the hard, dusty floor.
"Hey, Pa and Laura, aren't you even going to say hello to Uncle Adam?" Emilia's questioning voice rang in my ear.
"Uncle Adam" was the nickname that my twin and two friends called Adam whenever he visited our cabin. Annie and Emilia would ask embarrassing questions to him, such as "Uncle Adam, where do babies come from?" for no other reason than to see him blush.
I looked up at him. His green eyes were hidden behind his solar changing glasses. Right now, the lenses had acquired a dark color because of the strong sunlight peeping through the pine boughs. His shiny black hair was slightly tousled from the wind. My palms grew sweaty and I took a deep breath. Better stay in character, I thought.
"Adam!" My voice was thick with a pioneerish accent. I swaggered over to him and slapped him hard on the back. "Fancy you comin' all the way up here from Virginie just to see yer sister 'n' nieces. Ma, bake this man some a yer corn dodgers."
Katie bustled off while she called in a singsong voice to Annie and Emilia. They busied themselves with imaginary batter and ovens while I took Adam aside.
"Best get outta here soon, Adam, or Ma'll never let you go. You know women. Always jabberin' on 'bout this, that, or the other thing." I whispered comments loudly in his ear.
"Uhh . . . yeah," he replied, somewhat bewildered and mystified about the stretches of our imaginations. I could tell his own imagination was somewhat rusty from disuse.
"Corn dodgers're on the table!" Katie called to us. We walked into the kitchen. Katie, Emilia, Annie, and I all sat down on the floor and bit into the air in our hands, pretending they were biscuits. Adam stayed standing, unfamiliar with our game. I took a deep breath. Reviving Adam's imagination was going to take time and patience.
"Well now, Adam, a man doesn't come up all the way from Richmond to not sit down to his own sister's meal! Come 'n' take the chair by me." I scooted over to make space for him.
"I think I better go and ummm . . ." His voice trailed off.
"Go to town?" I pointed to the willow tree across the basketball courts, our imaginary town. "Why, that'd be a great idea!" I finished off for him.
"While you're there, Adam, could ya pick up a pound of flour at the dry goods store? We're all out," my sister explained.
"Sure," he replied. Then he raced off to join his friends, the "Stardust Crew," a name our class called the kids who were into computers, after a game they all played.
* * *
The next day day, something awful happened.
Katie was off exercising "Star" (Emilia, playing one of our horses) in the field next to the basketball courts. Annie and I were trying to keep the floor clean, which was pretty hard on a windy day such as this one. That's when it happened.
The populars had just grouped together and the boys were about to start the basketball game when Jenny suggested something to the girls. They giggled and nodded their heads, and called the boys over. Once the boys had heard what the girls had said, they erupted into loud guffaws and agreed. Then they started walking our way, evil smiles lining their faces.
Oh no, I thought. "Annie, whatever they do, don't let them see that they've irritated you."
She replied with a solemn nod.
"Is this the door?" I heard Jenny's voice behind me. It sounded like she was talking to a two-year-old.
I whipped around. The whole group of popular girls, heavy makeup and all, stood there, milling around at the front entrance. "Yes," was my curt reply, my eyes narrowing down to slits.
"Come on, everyone, let's knock on the door. Knock, knock." Shrill schoolgirl giggles pierced the air.
Meanwhile, timid Annie was trying to fend off the boys, although not having much luck. They were kicking around our "walls," laughing all the while. It looked like we'd had a tornado in our cabin, what with the dirt and pine twigs strewn all around and the populars invading the rooms, knocking over many of our carefully laid-out props. I could have screamed, but fortunately I didn't.
After a while, the populars got bored with this "game" and went off to play basketball, leaving their empty soda cans for us to pick up. Annie was on the verge of tears, and I was ready to explode. How dare they taunt our imagination! We had never done anything of the sort to them! And to think that once Jenny had taken part in our game! I vowed then and there that I would never be friends with Jenny again for as long as I lived.
* * *
The day after that was cold and rainy. We were condemned to eat inside one of our classrooms. We were also not allowed to play outside, although I was determined to break this rule.
"Hey, you guys," I whispered to my table mates, "do you wanna go play Laura?"
"After the populars did what they did?" replied Annie. "Thanks, but I'll pass."
"That'd be breaking the rules, Francie," said Emilia. She was always paranoid about rules.
"It's too wet," said my sister, motioning to the rain pelting down outside of the window.
I looked at them after that, chattering gaily about our latest history project. How could they let me down like this, when the house needed our help the most? "Well, I'm going," I told them, "and you can't stop me." I slid out of my seat, walked into the hall, pushed open the door, padded down the concrete steps, and ran. I ran across the basketball courts, rain pouring down and water spraying up at me whenever I splashed through a puddle. My hair became soggy brown strings and my clothes were drenched, but I didn't care.
I collapsed in the cabin, taking deep gulps of air after my long run. Then I righted myself and sat upright, my back pressing against the wet pine trunk. I faced the fence with my school behind me. And I just cried.
I cried because I was all alone. I cried because my friends wouldn't join me. I cried because I knew that never again would we play this game. I cried because I knew that without this game, my imagination would eventually burn out. And, most of all, I cried because we were growing up, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I wish I could say Adam came and comforted me. I wish I could say that we all made up the next day and continued our game. I wish I could say that the popular group never bothered us again. But I can't. The cabin still lies forgotten at the edge of the basketball courts.