“Dang rope! C’mon! Get over that branch!” A little girl wearing a baseball cap with a strawberry blonde ponytail poking through the back of it, threw a scraggly old rope in the air aiming for a large branch on an old oak tree.
“Whatcha doin?” asked a boy with dark wavy hair and violet eyes.
The little girl turned around, squinted into the sun, adjusted her cap, and saw the boy standing on the sidewalk, his bicycle resting against his legs. The little girl threw the rope on the ground in frustration.
“My brother went looking for an old tire in my dad’s workshop. He told me to get that dang rope over that branch up there, and he would make me a tire swing.” The little girl scowled, pointed at the offending rope, put her hands on her hips in disgust, and looked up at the long, knobby oak branch.
“I can help!” called out the little boy, laying his bicycle on the sidewalk.
The little girl squinted in his direction, and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Tommy. Tommy Keller,” said the boy.
“Tommy?” the girl giggled. “That’s a silly name for a boy. Can I call you Tom? My mom’s cat is called Tommy, and I don’t think you look like a cat.” The girl giggled again, and kicked an acorn across the yard.
“Sure! You can call me Tom. I like it better than Tommy, anyhow. Hey! What’s your name?”
“Marnie Reilly,” she answered. “Well, c’mon. Let’s get this rope over that branch.” Marnie planted her feet, adjusted her cap, and stared up at the branch.
Tom raised his eyes up to the branch, twisted his mouth to the side, and then ran his eyes across the front lawn of Marnie Reilly’s home.
“How ‘bout we tie a rock to the rope so that it goes up high, and over the branch?” Tom suggested, assessing the situation.
Marnie snapped her little fingers awkwardly, a smile spreading across her freckled face. “Hey! That’s a great idea. Thanks, Tom!”
Marnie and Tom wandered around the lawn, searching for the perfect rock to tie to the scraggly rope.
Marnie held up a rock about the size of baseball. “How ‘bout this one?”
Tom crossed the lawn, examined the rock and shrugged. “We can try. Do you know how to tie a knot?”
Marnie shrugged. “Yeah! I can tie the laces on my sneakers.”
Marnie squatted on the grass underneath the big oak tree. “Careful! Don’t sit in the grass. There are bitey ants in the grass. They’ll crawl up your shorts and bite your bum.”
Tom frowned. “Okay. I’ll be careful. I got stung by a bee a couple weeks ago. I had to go to the hospital and everything.”
Marnie’s aquamarine eyes grew as big as saucers. “You got stung by a bee? Wow! I’ve never been stung by a bee. Are you lergic?”
Tom nodded. “Yeah. I’m lergic. Mom made me breathe into a lunch bag all the way to the doctor. She said I was… umm… I can’t remember the word. It was a big one. She was real scared. She called my dad at work, and told him she was taking me to the doctor.”
“Did you die?” Marnie asked, eyes wide.
Tom burst out laughing. “No! If I died I wouldn’t be here.” Tom rolled into the grass and laughed.
Marnie stood quickly and scowled at Tom. “Yeah, you could be! You could be here if you died! Stop laughing! Stop laughing at me!” Marnie balled her hands into fists. “Stop it! It’s not funny!”
Tom stopped laughing, pushed himself up onto his knees and looked up at his new friend. His face grew serious, and his eyes became teary. “I’m sorry, Marn. My sister died. She got hit by a car. That’s why we live here now. Mom and Dad didn’t like our old house no more – not without my sister.”
Marnie put a hand gently on Tom’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Tom. Is your sister’s name Annie?”
Tom stood, swallowed hard, and nodded. Eyes wide, he asked, “How did you know that?”
Marnie shrugged, pointed to the sidewalk and gave a curt nod of her head. “She’s right there, silly. Don’t you see her? She’s been watching us look for a rock.”
Tom looked sideways to the place Marnie was pointing. “I don’t see her.”
“Right there! She’s standing right there! She has black hair and blue eyes and a blue dress and white sneakers. She’s right there!” Marnie continued to point. “You can see her. I know you can!”
“No, she’s not there! She’s in heaven! She’s not here!” Tom demanded – his face red – eyes watery.
Marnie threw up her hands. “She just told me that you won’t believe me. She’s been trying to talk to you, but you won’t listen. She told me that Mr. Kramer hit her with his big car, and that it wasn’t his fault. She said that she ran in front of his car to get her doll’s head – it fell off and rolled into the street. She said he didn’t see her. She said Mr. Kramer is in big trouble, and she’s sad about him being in big trouble.” Marnie took a deep breath. “She said she shouldn’t have been outside because it was getting dark.” Marnie stopped talking, put her hands on hips and glared at Tom. “You can hear her, can’t you?”
Tom stared down at his sneakers. Kicking an acorn, he shrugged. “Sometimes. I think so.”
“Well, I can see her, and she wants you to tell your mom and dad it’s not Mr. Kramer’s fault,” Marnie replied. She put a hand on Tom’s shoulder, and stared into his face. “You have to tell your mom and dad. Annie wants you to tell your mom and dad.”
Tom nodded reluctantly. “Okay. I’ll tell them tonight. They’re just gonna tell me I’m making it up, but I’ll tell them.” Tom took a deep breath, and then glanced up at the branch. “Let’s get this rope up into the tree so we can swing.”
Marnie nodded. “Okay.”
Tom glanced over his shoulder to the sidewalk. “Is she still there?”
Marnie shook her head. “Nope. She’s gone. She said what she needed to say.”
Tom visibly shuddered.
Marnie frowned. “Are you afraid of ghosts, Tom?”
Tom held a hand out in front of him. “I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to hear them, and I don’t want them in my room at night.”
Marnie shrugged. “You watch too much T.V. Ghosts can’t hurt you.”
Tom glanced sideways at his new friend. “How do you know?”
Marnie rolled her eyes. “Pfft! I see them and talk to them all the time!”
Tom’s eyes widened. “You do? You see ghosts all the time?!”
Marnie stuck out her bottom lip, nodded and shrugged. “Yeah! C’mon, let’s get that rope over the branch. My brother is gonna be back with the tire soon.”
Tom and Marnie squatted down under the oak tree. Marnie tied a perfect bow around the rock; Tom threw the rock as hard as he could, and the rock and rope sailed over the large oak branch.
Marnie jumped up and down, and clapped her hands. “Yay! You did it! You got the rope over the branch!”
Tom beamed, and looked up at the rock dangling from the scraggly old rope, which hung over the branch.
“Hey, Marn?” he asked.
“Yeah?” Marnie answered.
“If you do see a ghost, will you let me know?” Tom asked.
Marnie nudged her cap up just a bit so that she could see Tom’s face. “Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you. You might get scared.”
Tom nodded in agreement. “Okay. Maybe that’s a good idea. Pinky swear? If you see a ghost, you won’t tell me.” Tom held out his hand and extended his pinky.
Marnie wrapped her pinky around Tom’s. “Pinky swear! If I see a ghost, I won’t tell you –unless I have to.”
Tom frowned. “Why would you have to?”
“Well, what if it’s a good ghost and it can help us?” Marnie asked.
Tom nodded. “Okay. Only if it’s a good ghost.”
Marnie twisted her mouth. “What if it’s a bad ghost, and we need to run. Can I tell you then?”
Tom thought about it for just a moment, and then he nodded. “Okay. If we need to run, you gotta tell me!”
“I swear on my dogs’ life!” Marnie replied.
Tom’s eyes dance and he said, “Wow! You’ve got a dog?” Tom asked.
“I’ve got two dogs,” Marnie replied. “C’mon! You can meet them! They’re inside with my mom.”
“First, we gotta pinky swear on the ghosts! You see a good one, you tell me. You see a bad one, and we gotta run, you tell me. Deal?” Tom stuck out his pinky.
“Deal!” Marnie stuck out her pinky and they sealed the deal, wrapping their pinkies around each others.
Pinkies still wrapped together, they wandered up the path into Marnie’s house to get a red Popsicle.