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CHAPTER FOUR – CAPTURE THE FLAG
Swimming in the morning and lounging in the afternoon was enough to fill my summer days. At the end of June, we were barely into summer. We had a shore vacation ahead and the promise of plenty of days like these. But Jackie was always looking for the next thing. Tommy, Jackie and I were sitting on the grass in our yard, in the shade of our oak tree, sipping lemonade.
Jackie stood up and said, “I’m bored. Let’s do something.”
I was doing something. I was busy trying to split a blade of grass with my fingernail. And I was happy sitting there under the tree. I had started to recognize this restlessness of hers and noticed that we didn’t always want to do the same things. I looked over at Tommy and he too jumped up and said, “I’m in. What, though?”
I had started to see, too, that when Jackie said Let’s do something, most of the time she had already decided what that something was.
“How about Capture the Flag?” she asked.
Capture the Flag was a regular game on our street and a favorite of mine. It was never hard to get a group together to play. Tommy said, “I’ll go get the guys” and he ran to get his friends, Jimmy, Brian and Chuckie.
We found Amy and Rena from down the street and set the teams. It was boys against girls with girls in the front yard, boys in the back. Our flag was a white rag we found in the garage and Tommy’s team used the ripped sleeve of an old red shirt. Before we started, Jackie grabbed our rag, dug a hole in a flower bed out front and buried it. Amy, Rena and I looked at her and Amy said, “Jackie, you can’t bury the flag. You have to be able to see part of it.” Jackie laughed and said, “That’s the old way to play. This is the new way.” Amy and Rena looked at each other. Jackie was my new friend and they didn’t know her very well. And from the exchanged glances between them, I think they were still deciding whether or not they liked her. But there was no time to disagree with Jackie because an instant later she yelled to the boys in the back yard, “Okay, we’re ready!”
We all started running into each other’s territories, looking for our opponent’s flag. Tommy and his friends made mad dashes into the front and took flying leaps through the bushes, hoping to spot our flag before getting captured. They made several trips into our territory, but did not find our flag and we knew why. It was only a matter of time before we got their flag. We were going to win because of Jackie’s trick.
About ten minutes into the game, we spotted the boys’ flag peeking out between the thick leaves on the branch of the oak tree. All at once, Jackie made a crazy leap over Tommy to reach it. She fell for an instant, then scrambled to her feet and ran over to the tree and pulled it down. Jackie sprinted out of the boys’ territory, her arms pumping, her long legs passing over the ground, a flash of red in her hand with Tommy and his friends close behind. When she reached the front yard, she stopped and turned to the boys and said, “Ha! Ha! The girls win! We dominated – you didn’t even come close!”
Tommy ran up to us and said, “Yeah, well you were just lucky this time.” He was breathing hard, but he was smiling. My brother was a competitor, but he knew he had been beat and he was giving into the loss. But I had played endless games with Tommy and knew that he would want to start a new game. “Show us where your flag was. Then we’ll have a rematch.”
Amy, Rena and I all looked at each other, wondering what Jackie was going to say. We knew we had cheated. We looked at Jackie and waited for her to answer.
Jackie didn’t look at us. She looked straight at Tommy and the boys, and as natural as ever said, “Our flag is over by the flower bed. I bet you still can’t find it because you guys are amateurs.”
We all went over to the flower bed and Tommy and his friends searched for our flag. After a couple minutes, Jackie said, “Can’t find it, can you? I told you. We outmatch you, every time!”
Tommy stopped and looked at Jackie. “Okay, I give up. Show us where you put it.”
What Tommy didn’t know is that he was standing right on top of the buried flag. I wondered what Jackie was going to do. Jackie smirked and she said smoothly, “No way. I’m not going to show you exactly where it was because we might just use the same hiding place next time. Go over by the driveway and I’ll pull it out so you can see that it was in this area.”
Tommy was getting mad. He kicked the ground. “No, that’s crap! You can’t use the same place twice. Show us where the flag is, Jackie or you forfeit.”
Jackie was good at stalling but I could tell by the way Tommy’s mouth was set and how he was breathing hard through his nose that he wasn’t going to let it go. The rest of us stood there and watched.
Then Tommy turned to me and said, “All right Em, where’s the flag?”
Jackie said, “Don’t tell Emily,” but Tommy was my brother and he was being tricked and I thought it was time to give it up. I said, “Look down. It’s under your feet, Tommy.”
We all watched as Tommy looked down and stepped backwards and then we all saw a tiny corner of white showing through the mulch. Tommy grabbed the rag and pulled it out of the ground, dirt and mulch still sticking to it.
Tommy looked at Jackie. “You buried your flag, Jackie. That’s against the rules. We win.”
Jackie was not ready to give in. “It was partly visible. You wouldn’t have found it if it wasn’t. We won fair and square. Your team just wasn’t as good as us.”
Tommy yelled, “That’s crap Jackie! You cheated!”
I don’t know why I didn’t stop her. It was to me, after all, a meaningless backyard game meant to fill our time on a summer afternoon. But I could see that the game meant more to Tommy than the rest of us, and that for Jackie, it wasn’t the game so much as the tricks she pulled and the power she wielded that were important to her. The truth is I was a little bit afraid of Jackie right then. She had a look on her face that was at the same time happy and nasty and I was sure she wasn’t finished messing with Tommy. She smiled an evil grin and said, “Well, run away and cry if you can’t handle real competition.”
We all looked at Tommy. His mouth was set, his teeth were clenched tight and I could tell he was ready for a fight. His buddies stood behind him. All of a sudden, Tommy threw down our flag and then he was right in front of Jackie. In a split second, he raised his arms and opened his fists and gave Jackie a powerful shove. Jackie stumbled backwards, but she regained her balance and laughed at Tommy and said, “You want to fight little boy? Let’s do it.”
I didn’t like the way she was talking to Tommy, but I stood there frozen. In all the games we played Jackie always goaded Tommy and pushed him hard in what she always said was the spirit of competition. Now Tommy was literally pushing back. I was starting to notice that Jackie was a master at twisting the rules and restating the facts to put herself on top. Before, I hadn’t cared enough to be mad about it and Tommy could usually fend for himself. I thought Jackie was wrong to hide the flag but instead of acting, I only watched to see what Tommy would do.
Sure enough, Tommy took the bait and went right up to Jackie’s face. For a second, I was sure he was going to hit her. During that split second, I thought of the fight that would unfold, my little brother punching my best friend. I wondered who would win. Instead, Tommy narrowed his eyes and looked right into Jackie’s mocking face and said, “You suck, Jackie.” Then he turned away from her and headed into the house. It was a good thing Tommy didn’t see the sneer on Jackie’s face when she called out “Baby!” and I was glad Tommy had the sense to keep on walking.
For the same reason I didn’t stop Jackie when she buried our flag, I didn’t say anything then. Jackie was the one who was in charge and, even with something as small as this game, that power scared me into doing nothing. I let her cheat at the game and I let her make Tommy mad. And I probably would have let her have a fight with Tommy. Instead, I said to Jackie and the others, “I’m going inside” and I headed to the back door of our house.
Jackie called over to me, “Hey Emily! Wait up!” and, as I turned to look at her, I thought she looked almost sorry for what had just happened. “What?” I said, impatiently, feeling emboldened enough to show my irritation.
“Don’t you want to hang out a little more?” she asked. “My mom won’t be home from work for at least another hour.”
“No,” I said. “Game’s over. I’m done. I’ll see you later.”
“God, Em, you’re not mad because of the game, are you?” she asked.
I didn’t want to explain it to her. I didn’t think I should have to do that. We were all there, we all saw what happened with the flag and the almost-fight between her and Tommy. She should have been able to figure it out.
I said, “Look, Jackie. I’m going to check on Tommy. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Jackie looked at me. She was shaking her head and her shoulders and her eyebrows were raised up like I was making a big deal out of nothing. “Okay, suit yourself,” she said and she grabbed her bike and rode down our driveway and out of sight.
I went inside to look for Tommy. He was in the kitchen and when he saw me he said, “You know, sometimes your friend Jackie can be a real jerk!”
I sat down at the table and said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right, but, you know Jackie, I think she just got carried away with the game.”
“Well,” said Tommy. “That was stupid, hiding the flag like that. Why’d you and the others agree to that?”
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Well,” he said again, “Like I said, it was stupid.”
“Yeah, I know,” I agreed. “I thought you were going to hit Jackie. I’m glad you didn’t.”
“I was about to,” he admitted. “But something made me stop.”
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