Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.
I hope you enjoy it!
CHAPTER SEVEN – THE FORT
“Did you ever kiss anyone?” Jackie asked me one day. We were sitting on the floor in my room, listening to the radio and reading magazines. My skin flinched. I was sure she knew that I hadn’t. I didn’t want to tell her no. I stalled for time.
“What do you mean, like kiss my mom or dad?” I asked.
Jackie corrected me. “No, you know. Did you ever kiss a boy?”
I had kissed no boys. During the last couple years, I had liked a couple boys. That was all. I felt sweat on my back.
“Well, have you?” I asked, playing for time.
“I’m asking you.” Jackie countered.
I didn’t know why she had to know that about me, why she had to hear me say out loud that I had kissed no one. I looked at her and she was staring right at me, with a grin on her face. She was enjoying herself, sitting there making me sweat. I only wanted to end the conversation. I considered telling her I had kissed a boy, to get myself off the hook. But I knew nothing about kissing boys and was afraid she would ask me more. So I simply said, “No, Jackie” then I stood up and walked over to my desk. I pretended to look through some papers.
Jackie waited. I didn’t look at her, but I guessed that she was still smiling. And I guessed that her smile was a little bit evil. I was starting to know different sides of Jackie. We were best friends, but I began to notice that sometimes Jackie seemed to like to make me uncomfortable.
“I have,” she said.
I didn’t feel like asking her about it, but I knew there would be more coming.
“Oh?” I’d heard my mom use that small word, not as a sigh, but as an uncomfortable bridge between what was said and what was to come. And I was surprised to hear it coming from me. I was not surprised to hear Jackie say, “More than once.”
I didn’t know what to say after that. I knew Jackie wanted me to ask her all about it. I said, “That’s great.” Then I walked over to the door and told her I was going downstairs.
On a morning in the middle of August I opened my eyes to a wonderfully cool day. I pulled my covers up to my chin to keep warm against the cool breeze that was coming through my bedroom window.
As I lay in bed under the covers, I could hear Tommy and Mom in the hallway talking about the storm. We had just had a string of especially hot and humid days, capped off the night before with a violent thunderstorm that shook our house and made our lights flicker. “I’m glad the power didn’t go out,” said Mom. “And thank goodness the heat wave is over! I have so much to do around the house this morning and that heat had me worn out.”
I hopped out of bed and went to my window. Puffy white clouds blew across the bright blue sky and the morning air was full of the scent of fall. In two weeks we would be starting school. I pushed the thought from my mind and put my face close to the window. I looked out at our yard and felt nothing more than the promise of a day with no responsibilities.
We didn’t need to keep cool on this day, so instead of going to Morris Hills, I called Jackie to come over and spend the day. After breakfast I went out to the back steps and sat down to wait for her. Tommy came outside to look around after the storm.
He ran to the edge of our yard and picked up a branch that had broken from our tree the night before. “I heard a lot of wind last night and look at all these tree branches!” he said, looking around. “I bet there are a lot of broken branches down in the woods.”
“Probably,” I said, not really interested. I didn’t usually go down to the woods at the end of our street, except to cut through to the next neighborhood, but Tommy and his friends spent a lot of time there, playing in the stream and building forts.
Tommy brought the broken branch over to the steps and sat down next to me. He broke off some of the thin branches and then he picked up a stone and started scratching notches into the base. I sat with my head back, facing the sky and felt the cool breeze blow against my skin.
Jackie rode up on her bike and stopped right in front of us, legs astride and balancing her bike. “Hey guys! How about that storm last night! You should have seen the broken branches on the roads as I came over here. I’m surprised that the power didn’t go out,” she said.
“Our lights blinked on an off a few times, but that’s all.” Tommy answered. “Look at this branch!” He held up his stick for Jackie to see.
“That would make a good hiking stick, Tommy,” said Jackie. “What are the notches there for?”
“Oh nothing,” said Tommy. I didn’t know what they were for either. I would have liked to know, and I might have asked him too, but I could tell that Tommy didn’t want to say. Sometimes when Jackie asked him questions, he deliberately avoided answering. It surprised me that he was like that with her, because if I asked, Tommy usually told me what he was thinking.
Tommy and I were not alike in most ways, but we understood each other, the way a brother and a sister who have spent their lives together know how to be. We weren’t the kind of siblings who fought much, and we leaned on each other when we faced the small, everyday problems that were part of our childhood. I was the older sister, but Tommy had a confidence and ease that I admired. And I like to think that Tommy depended on me to navigate us through some of the tougher times, if only because I was older and knew a little bit more.
Jackie was the kind of person, though, who wouldn’t let something go. If she wanted to know something, she kept asking, especially with Tommy. Sometimes she would get her answer from him, but other times Tommy would get mad and walk away.
I was hoping this time that Jackie would stop before she made Tommy mad. We were at the start of a great day and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. And this time, she did. Jackie let it go and I was glad. I hoped that Jackie was beginning to understand Tommy.
Jackie got off her bike and let it drop down on the grass. She joined us on the steps and for a few minutes we just sat there, not talking. Suddenly, she jumped up and said, “Hey, what should we do today?”
When Jackie asked that question, she usually had an idea already worked out in her head. Her question was merely a way to present her scheme and any suggestions we had were usually put to the side to make room for her better plan. And because we were sitting there without talking, I was sure that she had an idea.
I had learned this about Jackie, and I played along with her game and gave my usual response, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” Tommy didn’t always take the bait with Jackie the way I did, but today his two best buddies were on vacation and I don’t think he had much to do.
I couldn’t tell if he had been thinking about how to spend the day, but he looked at us and said, “I want to go down to the woods and see what happened there in the storm. I want to check on the fort Chuckie and Brian and I built.”
“Genius idea, Tommy!” said Jackie. “I think we should go down there and, hey! Why don’t the three of us build a fort together? We can build it and then hang out there. Bring some Cokes and grab an old blanket to sit down on. And wait, you could bring your radio and we could listen to tunes. What do you say?”
I knew I wasn’t going to have a choice and a trip down to the woods didn’t sound too bad. With some of the comforts of home, I thought, it could be pretty good so I said “Okay.” Tommy agreed and we all ran down to the end of our street and headed into the woods.
Tommy’s fort was still in good shape so the three of us found a place to build our new fort. There were a lot of fallen branches in the woods, too and we were thrilled to find so much to work with. We spent most of the day clearing the ground, moving branches to the side. One of the neighbors had recently cut down a tree and we stacked the stray logs to form a couple makeshift walls. The ground was still wet and soft and in the middle of our fort we dug a hole and lined it with stones where we imagined we would build a fire pit. Tommy ran to his old fort and grabbed a large piece of plywood they hadn’t used and we leaned it against one of the trees as a sort of barricade against we didn’t know what. Finally, we found three large rocks big enough to sit on or lean against and together we carried them to what we imagined would be our new top secret meeting place. Our fort sat at the top of the embankment to the stream that ran through the woods and we all agreed that being close to the water was important to our survival if it ever came to that.
I was surprised at how much I got into building the fort, because playing in the woods was something I didn’t have in common with Tommy. Jackie was different. She threw herself into everything she did and today her enthusiasm for the fort spilled over to me. We felt great as we worked and as our place started to take shape it looked like it would be just right for hanging out and drinking sodas and listening to the radio. Although it was only a short distance from our house, it was hidden away and already it had an air of secrecy about it. We were conspirators and without saying, we knew we would not tell anyone where our fort was.
When we finally finished, we ran back to the house to grab our sodas, a blanket and the radio and ran back to the woods. I laid down the blanket and Tommy handed out the Cokes while Jackie fiddled with the radio to get a good station.
Once Jackie tuned into a station we sat on the blanket and sipped our sodas, looking around us and admiring our work. It had been hard work and I was glad for the rest. Jackie lifted up her Coke and said, “Here’s to one cool fort!” and Tommy and I lifted our cans and said, “Cheers!” Jackie stood up and walked over to a tree and leaned against it.
“So,” she said. “A secret fort like this needs just one more thing. It needs something to seal its secrecy from everyone else. Something to tie the three of us together. This is the kind of place where secrets are told and kept. Right guys?”
I looked at Tommy and he was looking down. I knew Tommy was into building the fort and hanging out there, but I could already tell that he wasn’t interested in this part. He picked up some stones and starting tossing them at another nearby tree.
“Right, Emily?” she persisted.
“Uh, I guess so,” I answered. I didn’t know where she was going with this, but I started to feel uncomfortable. I wondered if there was more to Jackie’s big plan than just building a fort and hanging out. Tommy said nothing.
“Why don’t we play Truth or Dare? How about it?”
I was starting to recognize this about Jackie. Whenever she started talking like this, I knew I wouldn’t like what came next. We were both the same age, but there was something in Jackie that always wanted to spring forward into her life, to experience what lay ahead before it was time. I couldn’t understand this part of Jackie, why she couldn’t just enjoy a perfectly comfortable situation. All I wanted to do was figure out how to be myself right then and there. I did not want to play. “Gee, Jackie, I don’t think so. I’d rather not.” I answered.
“What about you, Tommy?” she pressed. “You’re always up for a good dare. How about we mix some truths in there and have a good game?”
“No way! Not interested,” said Tommy. I could tell he was uncomfortable as he threw a handful of stones at his target. Right then, I felt both a little bit afraid of Jackie and what she was doing and protective of Tommy.
“You guys are no fun,” lamented Jackie. “This is a secret fort. We have to do something here to break it in.”
Since both Tommy and I said no to her idea, I thought that was the end of it. But Jackie kept on.
“So, Emily. We never did finish talking about first kisses.”
I froze. Kissing was not something I wanted to talk about, especially in front of Tommy. I didn’t know what she wanted from me. She already got me to admit I hadn’t kissed a boy yet.
“Uh, I think we did, Jackie. Besides, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not? With Tommy here, we could get a boy’s point of view. Right, Tommy?”
Tommy looked down and didn’t answer.
“Okay, so I know you haven’t had your first kiss, but if you had the chance, who would you kiss?”
I didn’t understand why Jackie kept pushing me, but she was laughing as she looked at me. “I don’t want to talk about this, Jackie, okay? Let’s change the subject.”
“Okay, Emily. I’m sorry. We won’t talk about it anymore.” Then she turned to Tommy. “But how about you Tommy?” she asked. “Have you had your first kiss yet?”
I couldn’t believe that Jackie was asking Tommy such a question. I never would have asked him something that private. I wanted to tell Jackie to stop and stood up just to do so. Before I had the chance, Tommy jumped up and shouted “Shut up Jackie! It’s none of your business!” And with that he kicked a rotten piece of wood into the trees. Jackie grinned. “Well, I guess that means you haven’t. Maybe you should get some practice now.”
And with that, Jackie walked up to Tommy so that their faces were inches apart. Tommy froze. Jackie grinned. She put her hands on Tommy’s shoulders and pushed her mouth against his lips. Tommy pushed her away with such force that she fell down on the blanket. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“What the hell, Jackie? What did you do that for?”
Jackie laughed. “Well now you don’t have to tell anyone to shut up when they ask you if you’ve kissed a girl yet. Because you have!”
I looked at Tommy and I don’t think I had ever seen him so angry and embarrassed at the same time. I didn’t know what to do, so I just froze and watched as Tommy picked up one of the heavy rocks we had carried to our fort and hurled it down the hill into the stream behind us. We watched as it landed with a thud.
“I hate you Jackie!” he yelled and then my little brother ran out of the woods and headed home. I watched Tommy run away and I felt the same kind of anger toward Jackie, for pushing Tommy too far, not just this time, but other times and for pushing me into telling her things I didn’t want her to know. I started to think that maybe I didn’t want to be just like Jackie.
Jackie grabbed her Coke and moved over to one of the other rocks and sat on down. “Oh well,” she said. “I guess it’s just us girls now.”
“God, Jackie,” I said. “Why did you do that to Tommy? He’s just a kid.”
Jackie laughed at me and said, “Loosen up, Emily. Everyone has to have a first kiss and it’s better to get it over with.”
“Well, maybe he didn’t want you to be his first kiss. Did you ever think of that?”
Jackie defended herself. “Hey, I’m just as good as the next girl for a first kiss. Maybe even better. I was doing him a favor.”
I didn’t think about it. I just knew I had to defend Tommy. “You’re wrong, Jackie. And you need to tell him you’re sorry.”
“No way!” she yelled. “I’m not sorry, Emily. Boys need to have a first kiss. They need to practice on someone. I did him a favor and I’m not going to apologize for that.”
For the first time that summer, I didn’t back down with Jackie. “What do you know about boys and practicing kissed anyway? God, Jackie, we’re only twelve years old! You keep asking me if I’ve done things you know I haven’t done. I wish you’d just shut up sometimes!”
Jackie stood up. “Okay, okay! Relax, Emily. I was just having some fun and I thought Tommy could handle it. I should have known better. He really is such a baby.”
“Shut up, Jackie! He’s not a baby. He’s ten years old and one of the toughest kids out there. Plus he’s my brother and I’m telling you to leave him alone.”
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