The following story is by guest author Ann Stanley.
“Ha, ha, I win,” I shouted. Everyone else sat up. I was still standing, the last one left in the game we’d been playing.
My mother walked over and gave me my prize: a huge multicolored lollypop.
“Aww,” Charles said. “I wanted that.”
“I’ll share,” I said. As each of my friends and siblings stood, shook and looked hungrily at the treat, I considered how to break the hard candy. It came to me; I’d use Dad’s hammer to smash it.
I set the sucker on the picnic table. “Be right back,” I shouted over my shoulder and ran around the house towards the tool shed.
Dad and the other fathers huddled around the shed, sitting on lawn chairs, with beer cans in their hands. They stopped talking when I approached.
The sight of those men took my voice away. I knew that Charlie’s dad used his belt to punish Charlie, because Charlie had shown me the welts on his bottom one day. Susannah’s father was worse. He was huge, with a loud voice and a funny way of looking at me. All the girls whispered about him when Susannah wasn’t around. Some claimed he liked to get little kids alone and do bad things to them.
I didn’t need the hammer enough to face them. I turned to run back to the party, but a big paw grabbed my shoulder.
“What’s up, birthday girl?” Susannah’s father’s voice boomed in my ear. “Can we help you?”
The men laughed in a way I didn’t like, a way that spoke of mysterious things I knew nothing about. I shrunk down inside myself, trying to be as small as possible.
But then my dad stood. “Leave her alone, Matt,” he said. He put his arm around my waist and kissed my cheek. “How’s it feel to be seven?” he asked.
It’d felt great when I’d won the game, but now I wished that I could stay six, safe from mean men, with their dangerous behavior and their horrid jokes. I leaned into him, but even Dad didn’t feel strong enough to protect me anymore. He walked me around to the front yard where the other kids were playing tag, as if he knew, somehow, all that had transpired in those few seconds and wanted to turn me back into his naïve, pampered little girl.
I saw the candy, and remembered the hammer. It seemed like a thousand years had passed, but the other kids didn’t know that I’d done more than turn seven that day. I wanted them to still believe in the kid who’d left them only five minutes before. “Can you break the lollypop so everyone can have a piece?” I asked my father.
“Of course, pumpkin.”
With those words, color returned to the world. I ran to join my friends, but I never forgot those moments in the backyard.