Henry had long shaggy red hair. In the teepee, our little hideaway glowed with sunlight, but we were shielded from the heat. I could hear the other children squealing with laughter and shouting as they raced about and climbed on the jungle gym. I focused on Henry’s freckles. I lunged towards him kissing his mouth. I tasted dirt. He must have just eaten some. He smelled funny, but I didn’t care. My small painted fingers groped his thigh, exploring the texture of his tan grass stained corduroys. I giggled and kissed him again. It was fun and it was our teepee. No one else could come in.
But someone did come. A boy stuck his head through the small slit of the teepee. He wrapped the cloth tight around his head so only his face was visible. His eyes widened as he saw my tongue exploring Henry’s open mouth. “AWWWW,” he began. He reveled in his discovery and a victorious smile spread across his face. Now there was something to tell to the others. Now there was a song to sing. The two flaps of the teepee came down and his sneakers kicked up dirt as he ran off singing:
“Henry and Kirstyn sittin’ in a tree.
First comes love, then comes marriage
Then comes a baby in the baby carriage.”
The boy’s voice was loud and soon the others stopped their play and began to laugh as they realized the truth of his discovery. Henry was the first to come out of the teepee. Perhaps his face was as red as his hair. I waited, not wanting to leave the cool shade of the teepee. Others joined in the song. It became louder.
Finally, my purple sparkled fingers pushed open the flap and I crawled out. I stood up brushing the dirt off my skirt, blinking my eyes in the bright light of the sun. I looked up to the trees and noticed the sun’s rays shifting behind the leaves as they moved in the breeze. “Henry and Kirstyn sittin’ in a tree.” Actually, it would be quite difficult to sit in a tree and kiss. There’s so much to feel when you kiss someone. You really need your hands to be free to touch them. You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your balance while you reach for them and then falling out of the tree. But I guess it happens a lot. You can fall and get hurt after a kiss.
But, then, I wasn’t falling. I wasn’t scared. The song continued and I didn’t it let it bother me. The teacher tapped the triangle. It was time to go in.
At the end of the day, I gathered up my drawings of rainbows and the green imprint of my five fingers and the palm of my hand. I packed them in my purple book bag. I put on my pink chapstick and then, my mom’s best friend, Grace, came through the door. She came to pick me up everyday because my mom was still at work.
My teacher whispered to Grace and they moved away from me. What were they talking about? I stared at Grace, wondering why we weren’t leaving yet. She wore her white uniform. She worked in the kitchen at a convalescent home. She fed all the old people. Her polo shirt rode up a little bit and I could see a bit of her stomach over the top of her elastic waistband. Her hair was pulled back and the bobby pins were too big for her tiny little bun. She looked down at me, then back to the teacher and nodded, pushing up her wire rimmed glasses. Her glasses were always falling apart. She scotch taped her glasses together at the center to keep them from splitting in two. One temple was completely missing, only one leg wrapped around her ear. She looked at me again, through greasy lenses.
I turned to face the door impatiently. Why weren’t we going yet? My ears and belly burned and I stared down silently at my patent leather shoes. Grace’s hand reached over my head to the doorknob and turned it. I could smell her smell from behind me. It was a combination of that day’s turkey and gravy lunch at the convalescent home and her own musky odor. She opened the door.
“Time to go home. Do you have everything? You didn’t forget anything did you?”
No. I have everything. I’m not fallen yet.
We stepped out onto the sidewalk and my patent leather shoes clicked along the path. I had to sit in the backseat because the front passenger side of her old Chevette had a big hole in the floor. You could see the road whiz by through the hole. Plus her passenger door didn’t shut. So, I held onto the rope that was tied in knots around the handle of the passenger door. I kept the door from flying open. I sat in my usual spot behind the driver’s seat. Peering at the hole, I was ready to zip away from the school so that I could be hypnotized by the pavement that would move so quickly beneath us.
Grace looked at me in her rear view mirror.
“So, how was school?”
“I heard you were kissing a boy.”
I looked at her reflection. I looked at the tape holding the glasses together. I looked at her blue eyes. And she had a small hint of a smile on her lips. I could see her teeth. I looked away. Now I knew what she and my teacher had been discussing. I clenched one set of my purple nails around my skirt and squeezed really hard. My other hand clenched tighter onto the rope. I felt its burn dig into my palm.
It was the way she spoke. It was high-pitched and sweet sounding. “Were you kissing a boy? I think you were. Is he your boyfriend? Uh oh! Do you have a boyfriend now?” It was a sugary sweet coating around something sinister. Sugar coated judgment. Frosted condemnation. My eyes flashed back to the rearview mirror. Her smile was larger now. I quickly looked out the window and stayed silent.
“What’s the matter? Cat’s got your tongue?”
The car roared to a start. The sound of the motor was especially loud because of the hole in the floor. I looked out to the Gingerbread House with its candy canes and little gingerbread girls and boys painted on the walls. The roof was coated with white frosting. Cupcakes grew like shrubs around the school. Their bright colors blurred into one another as I blinked back a tear. Little gingerbread girl freshly made. I stared at the gray cement of the road through the hole as we sped towards home. I wondered how much nail polish remover I had left. Did we have any more cotton balls? I wanted to get this purple polish off as soon as I could.