On the first day of summer in Nebraska, kids from all over Boone County gathered at Wonderland Park. I tip-toed through the living room with my sneakers in hand.
“James Bailey, where do you think you’re going?” my mother flipped on the lights in the kitchen.
Busted. I straightened from my hunched stance and dropped my shoes to the floor.
“I’m meeting Brandon at the park.”
“Not that old rusty deathtrap down the street!”
Wonderland wasn’t the nice, new park in the neighborhood, but it had its charm.
“No, the other one.” I lied.
I stood on my toes and kissed her cheek and ran out the door before she could get another word. The clicking of the Mickey Mantle card pinned to the spokes of my bike was the only sound in the empty streets.
I peered over the last hill and saw it. The sun-faded red jungle gym, high field of grass, and three broken down lawnmowers. Two girls in muddy jeans were chasing Brandon through the fields, weaving between the cracked plastic chairs. I skidded my bike in the loose gravel and they came over.
“Hi, Jay. We were about to play Capture the Flag.” Jenna said. The mud on her jeans matched the smeared lines under her eyes hiding her freckles.
Maggie whispered to Jenna, and the both giggled. Brandon and I shrugged our shoulders. He and I perched on top of the jungle gym guarding our red bandana and made binoculars with our hands, looking for the girls.
“Jay, I see their flag.” He pointed across the field at the barn. “Between the slats.”
“Our best route is through the field.” I whispered and jumped down. I laid flat and army crawled through the high grass. Something wrapped around my ankle and I screamed.
“Got ya.” Jenna snickered.
“Brandon, fall back! The mission is compromised!” I yelled.
Jenna walked me to the barn with my hands behind my back like a prisoner. She stopped at the hay bale inside the door. We sat in silence and I hoped that Brandon was having better luck than me. Sweat ran down the back of my neck in the Midwestern heat.
“Aren’t you going to tag Brandon?” I asked.
A sheepish grin creeped across her face as she walked towards me. Then, it happened. She leaned down and caught my lips between hers.
“It was my first kiss too.” her face turned the color of the jungle gym
30 years later I’m back at the barn, or where it used to stand. I breathe in the smell of summer and can almost hear the creaking of the rusted swings.
“And here is the spot where you attacked me.” I laughed and pulled my wife close.
“Oh, you liked it.” She grinned.
Jenna leaned down and put two fingers in the dirt and smeared the mud under her eyes. She pulled a red and blue bandana from her back pocket and handed the red one to me.
“Go.” She whispered.