“What’s your name, kid?” I asked rather than answer his question.
“Buddy? What kind of name is that?”
He shrugged his little shoulders. “I don’t know.” He hopped from one foot to the other as a frown wrinkled his forehead. “It’s what my mommy and daddy and sister call me. But they call me Chance too, so I guess you can call me that if you like.”
I could tell by the look on his face he didn’t like the name. “I’ll call you Buddy,” I offered, making his face light up.
“Yeah, me, too. I guess it’s better than Chance,” Keenan added.
“So can I play with you guys?”
“I want to learn how to shoot like that.”
“You’re too small,” Keenan griped.
“Are too. You won’t be able to make the ball reach the basket.”
“I’m not too small. I can reach anything. Like… um… like the monkey bars. I bet I can get on top.”
“No way. Prove it.”
He looked at me with hopeful eyes, but I made sure to give nothing away as I stared back at him. “Do you want me to do it?”
“Do you want to do it?” I countered. He must have taken it as a challenge because he puffed up his small chest and ran over to the monkey bars. When he reached the ladder, he chanced a look up before turning back with nervous eyes, but again, I didn’t offer him an out. I wouldn’t take pity on him, and he must have sensed it because he turned back and began to climb. It took him a little longer because his legs were shorter than the kids it was meant for, but he eventually made it up to the top.
“See? I did it!” he yelled and flashed a toothy grin.
“You have to get all the way on top!” Keenan ordered. I quickly shot him a look that shut him up and moved closer to the bars. There was no way the kid would survive if he fell.
Buddy shot Keenan an impressive glare before slowly crawling his way on top of the monkey bars. His shaking and panic didn’t start until he looked down. I could see the trembles form in his arms even from down here.
“You can come down now.”
“I—I can’t. It’s too high.”
“Just move slowly like you did when you climbed up.”
“I can’t. I’m scared. Please help me.” Buddy was full out crying now as his sobs shook his body, and his hands formed a death grip on the bars.
“Quit shaking or you’re going to fall! I’m coming to get you,” Keenan yelled.
“No. Let him get down. He can do it.”
“But what if he falls? He’ll be hurt, and we’ll get in trouble.”
“We didn’t make him do it. He wanted to prove a point and be stupid, so let him prove his point. He can’t be afraid forever.”
“I said no. If he falls so be it.”
“Buddy!” A frantic voice called from a few feet away. I watched two girls run up to the monkey bars from the main playground. The girl who called out Buddy’s name wasn’t much bigger than he was. Her wild, curly, red hair was a rat’s nest on top of her head. I didn’t know much else about her though because my mind became transfixed by the person she dragged behind her.
It was her.
The girl outside the burger shack.
There she was again, looking perfect and… innocent.
An unfamiliar feeling similar to an electric shock started at my fingertips and worked its way up to my brain. Why was she still here? It had only been two days since I first saw her at Pies, Shakes, & Things, but her still being here made me… afraid?
I haven’t felt fear in two years, and I wasn’t about to start now because of some girl I haven’t even met. She had to go.
My eyes never once left her, though she didn’t seem to notice me at all. More kids started to gather around the monkey bars as Buddy’s cries grew louder until he was nearly screaming. No one moved to help him. Most of them had witnessed what I did to the other two boys, so they assumed I either would help him, or I knew better than to interfere. I’d all but forgotten about him when she appeared. Her appearance was perfectly polished, complete with rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes.
She nudged the wild looking girl and said something to her. Whatever her response was seemed to annoy her because she released a heavy breath and took a step forward.
I wasn’t about to let her get up there.
What if she hurt herself?
Why did I care?
By the time she touched the ladder, ready to start her climb, my old self from six months ago was in place. I wanted to make her hurt.
I would forever remember the moment her eyes met mine. A sea of green and a sky of blue. I tracked every subtle movement her body made—the way her hair blew when the wind picked up, the single bead of sweat on her brow, the way her lips parted as if she were dying of thirst, how her fingers clutched at the bars, and her chest heaved up and down as she watched me watch her.
Buddy started to cry harder and said something about going home. Whatever it was caused the girl to break our connection and start to climb the bars again. I was on the other side before I realized my feet had even moved. My hand closed around her foot, stopping her from taking another step.
“No,” I said again. What was the stupid girl trying to do?