Tammy hung upside down from the domed monkey bars. She loved the way her arms hung free below her head, with the tips of her long auburn hair almost bushing across the ground as she swayed gently back and forth. She thought the world looked funny from that angle. People weren’t as big and scary, and she could never see the angry expressions most grown-ups carried on their faces. Upside down frowns looked like smiles to her. Her world just felt better from this point of view.
Reaching up, Tammy pulled her favorite object out of her pocket. It was a beautiful tiger-eyed marble her new friend Jude had given her. It was one of the big ones, too. Not one of those little marbles nobody really cared about they called ducks. She often felt like one of those forgotten, insignificant marbles; just one of the same among a dozen. But Jude didn’t give her one of those, he gave her the best one he had, the one she admired most. She loved the way the inside swirls of gold and black sparkled in the sunlight, a lot like the way Jude’s eyes had the day before.
“You’re going to get your hair all dirty hanging like that.”
Tammy moved her focus from the sparkling marble to the upside down form of a little boy. He had his hands shoved into the pockets of his patch-worn jeans. “So, dirt don’t hurt. It’ll wash off.”
“Your mama won’t get mad at you?” He kicked a stone with his foot. “My mama gets mad at everything. ‘Specially when I tear holes in my jeans.”
Tammy pulled herself upright and then jumped down from the monkey bars, landing in the sand right in front of Jude. He stepped back, but kept his hands in his pockets. She closed her little fist around the shooter, and put her hands behind her back so Jude wouldn’t see it and take it away from her. “What ‘cha doin’?”
Jude arched one of his eyebrows as if Tammy had asked the dumbest question in the world. “I’m standing here talking to you. What else would I be doing?”
“Wanna play tag?” Tammy brushed a strand of hair out of her face.
With a shrug, Jude answered. “Okay, but I do the chasing. I don’t like girls chasing me.”
“’Cause they don’t do it right. That ain’t the way it’s ‘sposed to be.”
Jude scrunched his brows and crossed his arms over his chest. “Says me. Now you gonna run or not? I ain’t got all day.”
Tammy lightly punched him on the arm and shouted, “Tag, you’re it!” She took off running, zig-zagging through the playground equipment and then onto the nature trails that webbed through the park. She loved the trails. She loved the woods. She loved the thrill of the chase. She didn’t have to look back to know he was there, she could feel him behind her, keeping pace with her almost step by step, but he didn’t tag her.
Soon Tammy forgot she was playing tag and stopped at an old fallen log covered with moss. A fat, black beetle skittered across the top. She knelt down next to the tree and watched it busily make its way across the moss. Jude plopped down next to her and watched the beetle too. They both sat mesmerized at the beauty and wonder of nature.
“Where do you suppose he’s going?” Tammy whispered.
“Probably back home to his mama,” Jude answered and then looked back over his shoulder the way they had come. “My mama’s gonna be mad when she can’t find me.”
Tammy nodded her head. “Yeah, mine too.”
“You taking care of my marble?”
Tammy smiled at him. “You mean my marble?”
With a shrug, Jude answered, “Whatever.”
“Yeah, I got it right here. I take it with me everywhere.” Tammy tapped the outside of her pocket.
Jude stood up tapped Tammy hard on the shoulder and then took off running, yelling back over his shoulder, “Tag, you’re it!”