A Level Up

by Lilly Hearle

At the Marsha Drive house, it had always been an unspoken tradition that once you could climb the old pine in the back-back yard, you were cool enough to hang with the older kids. Now it was my turn. I had only climbed the low-branched, small apple tree where stepping up as much as a foot was as far as one could go. I stood next to the trunk of the pine and looked up its long, never ending branches into eternity. "Come on!" My cousin, Shelly, stood on the first branch cheering me on. Shelly was the same age as me but she had been the first one up.

I reached up to where she stood, my fingertips barely touching the top of the branch. The bark was smooth and had a slight powder that dried out my hands that were damp from nervous sweat. I held on tight to the branch and walked my bare feet up the trunk, then wrapped my legs around the branch until I could make a sitting position.

That wasn't so hard, I thought. It was kind of nice actually, like I was hovering five feet off the ground on a magic carpet. I was like Aladdin, ready to go and meet the princess Jasmine in her palace.

I turned around to face the trunk. Shelly was already halfway up the tree. I followed her, making sure my feet and hands were firmly placed on the branches before I dared to move. I continued up this way until I reached the place where Shelly had stopped. Next to her, my older brother, Bruce, stood. They were looking past the ends of the pine branches to the roof of a nearby shed. Bruce went first. Making sure to keep his balance, he began to run down the branch like an airplane on a runway. He then jumped and flew right over the large gap between the branch's end and the roof. Besides a soft thud, his landing was perfect. Shelly was in place to be next, but she stepped behind me.

"Go, try it," she willed me on.

I couldn't do it. Others might think nothing of this, but for me, this was a bridge over a canyon, and on the other side was a new life just waiting to happen. The only inconvenience was that the bridge was broken.

I shook my head. "I can't do it."

I turned around and went down. The tree seemed to stretch out its arms to hug me as I went. Maybe it wanted me to stay. Shelly just shrugged and climbed in the opposite direction to the top.

I looked up at her. "How do you do it? Don't you think of falling or branches breaking?" She didn't look down to answer me. Her gaze was faced to somewhere off in the distant view only seen at the top.

“You have to trust the tree. Trust that it knows its limits, and know your own." Shelly would sometimes say funny things that would make me feel dumb. I had heard similar things from Shelly's mother, Aunt Carmen. If there was a path in life that everyone should follow, I had thought, she would be on it. Even though trusting a tree might have been the cheesiest thing I had ever heard, it was all I had to go on, so I did my best to believe in it.

At dinner that night, as expected, nothing was said about the event. You didn't make it, they didn't care. I wasn't sure to be relieved or mad that they didn't see the pain I went through to please them.

After dinner we played games that anyone could join in. It was more fun with more people, after all. We always had to wait until Allysa, the oldest of my cousins, got home or she would kill us for not including her. That night she got home at just the right time. It was as dark as a city could get. All the distinct shapes of the morning had become a mush of colorless shadows. "We want to play Ghost in the Graveyard, Allysa." Shelly was always first to take courage and speak for the team. The second that she said it was okay, everyone shuffled outside as fast as they could.

The "It" was usually chosen as the person who could run the fastest, which was Bruce. But today he had gone home early, so Shelly volunteered and everyone agreed. We all huddled next to our official safe tree in the back yard and closed our eyes to count, then spread out to find the "It."

I had no intention of looking for my death, though, I just wanted to find an easy escape route. With my mind set in determination to win the game and to clear my name from earlier, I went straight for the pine tree. I held my breath as my bare feet walked softly over the fallen pine needles. I didn't want to make a sound to alert the "It" if she was nearby.

My hands felt up to the first branch and I climbed up the same way. I slowly walked down the branch that Bruce had run before. I don't need to jump, I thought. The shed is close enough that a large step would do.

Thoughts raced through my head of falling. Would they even notice me in the dark before it was too late? Silence weighted heavily on my ears. My determination started to waiver. Maybe I should go back down after all.

"Ghost in the grave yard!" someone screamed and shook me from my wavering. I ran without another thought. Now was as good a time as any. Since everyone was focused on running away, they wouldn't hear my feet land on the metal. For a few precious seconds, I was flying. This was something I had dreamed about every night since I knew how to dream. My flying was cut short when I slipped on the roof and my elbows came down hard. My feet hung off the edge, but I managed to catch myself and I crawled to the tip of the shed. My newly won cuts and bruises stung to remind me of my accomplishment and stupidity. I could see Katie being caught and declared the new "It" through the leaves. Aunt Carmen came out of the back door of the house, making the darkness scatter in all directions. "It's time for bed," she called out softly. Everyone followed back inside, grumbling the whole way. Caught with no way to get down, I watched the stars and waited to see if someone would notice that I was missing.