(Scholastic Silver Key Recipient)
Anna stood on the path, now overgrown with weeds. To her right stood a willow tree. It was warped with time and bent from the years of lending its branches to the fancies of children.
After eighteen years, Anna could still see herself playing here. Memories flashed back of racing with Cam on their bicycles or, if she couldn’t find him, playing reluctantly with the other girls. Nowadays, Cam could never be found and Anna had stopped looking. As she waded through the wayward, knee-high grass toward the tree, she wondered how this place had been forgotten or undiscovered in recent years. Looking up, Anna could still imagine the tree house in its former glory: Fresh wood that had been carefully assembled into a platform. Now it was dark and rotted. The ladder still hung precariously from a branch, though several of the rungs had long since disappeared. She circled the knurled trunk to where she remembered carving the “X”. One of the many imaginary adventures that she and Cam had cooked up before he moved on.
The pirate ship, a park bench, was still in place a little ways away. And the cave, a bush with a small space inside, was barely recognizable in its overgrown state. As Anna leaned against the tree, she wished that Cam were there to laugh with her about their made-up adventures.
They would both be leaving soon and she wished that they were close enough to say goodbye. Anna laughed a little at the memory of their daily farewell as they both parted to their respective houses: “Until tomorrow Captain Cam, bright and early Captain Anna,” followed by the secret handshake, which included a most elaborate salute.
The sky was gray and it was chilly for August. Nevertheless, Anna crossed to the park bench to stay a while longer. She didn’t hear or else ignored the rustling of the grass behind her, but she looked up surprised when there was a tall, gangly boy standing a few feet from her.
“Hey Anna,” he said.
“Cam,” she said quietly. His hands were in his jeans pockets as always and he had his head tilted to the side, concern in his eyes. “What are you doing here?” she asked after a too long pause.
“I might ask you the same thing,” he smirked.
“I was here first,” she reminded him.
“Fine. I just thought I would come check out the place before I left,” he shrugged. “Though I did expect to find it in better shape.”
“Want to sit?” Anna gestured to the space next to her on the bench. Cam sat.
“So, uh, where have you been?” Anna asked, looking at her hands.
“I’ve been around,” Cam shrugged.
“Oh, really?” Anna sat on her hands and looked out across the field.
“An, don’t be like that. We both found new friends.”
“Cam. Come on, we might as well be honest.”
“I’m sorry, okay? I was twelve and I know that isn’t an excuse, but I think it should be. Twelve year olds are weird,” he looked at her hopefully. Anna raised her eyebrows at him.
“So, I hear you’re off to California.” Anna chewed on her lip. It was weird to talk like this with Cam, whom she hadn’t really spoken with in years. He nodded.
“And you are going to New York?”
“Yeah,” Anna smiled.
“That’s great, Anna,” he smiled at her and they fell into silence.
They sat on the bench until it started to get dark, occasionally exchanging a word or two. Anna’s cell phone buzzed in her pocket. Remy, her best friend, calling with some petty emergency. She sighed and stood up.
“I’ve got to go,” she said softly. Cam nodded before standing up. He pulled her into an awkward hug. Anna smiled and stepped back. She turned to walk away.
“Hey, I’ll see you around, okay?”
“Yeah, see you around,” she nodded. Cam stood still, hands in pockets, while Anna made her way across the field. She turned around to face him again, then called out: “See you tomorrow, Captain Cam,” and brought her hand to her forehead in a salute. She could see Cam chuckle before mirroring her salute and calling back, “bright and early, Captain Anna.”
When Anna turned around at the edge of the field, Cam had already gone.
One time I found a key in the street and I stared at it a long time before it winked at me, but I picked it up and it was burning hot so I had to toss it between my hands. Also, there were birds flying around me and they tried to take it (being that they like shiny things and all), but I held onto that key like it was the last thing my grandmother gave me and I fought the birds off.I found the key! When I went home I looked at the key to see what it could have led to, but I didn’t know and couldn’t figure it out. So, what I did was put an ad in the paper: “found key” and that is all the information I could put because I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know what it opened, but I wondered how anyone could lose something so important as a key. And I went to sleep that night, the key burning a hole into the countertop, but I kept waking up, so I would move the key first to the cabinet, then to the bookshelf, then to the table beside my bed and I scrubbed my hands with soap after every move. When the people lined up at my door the next morning they asked about car keys, house keys, locker keys, keys to closets, keys to drawers, keys to safe deposit boxes, each one different, each the same, but no one recognized my key and I asked myself if someone would be able to identify my house key from the millions of others out there, or were all keys equally mysterious? Or equally straightforward? And when everyone had gone and no one claimed the key I went to find my key to compare it to the one that I had found, but my key was gone and I looked down at the secrets on the counter and they were mine.