The screen door off the kitchen slammed shut. A tall lanky boy loped through the door, sweat dripping from his brow – his short dirty blonde hair sticking up in spots – his cheeks smudged with dirt – grass clippings clinging to his perspiring legs.
“Samuel, you weren’t wearing shorts to mow the lawn again, were you?” asked a tall woman with flour on her hands. She was wearing a pair of white Bermuda shorts, a bright blue t-shirt, and no shoes. Her honey blonde hair fell in soft waves around her face. Her mouth quirked up slightly on one side, and her soft blue eyes revealed that she already knew the answer to her question.
The boy responded with a roll of his hazel eyes. “Yeah. Dad asked me to cut the lawn before he would give me an old tire from his workshop. I promised to put a swing up for Marnie. I was going to change, but…”
“But… you got distracted and forgot the promise you made to me.”
“Yes, ma’am. I forgot. I’m sorry. I just wanted to get it finished so that I could put the swing up.” Sam’s head hung for just a moment – then he heard the freezer door open, a bit of rustling and then the door closed. His head shot up, and he stared into his mother’s face. She was smiling, and handing him an orange Popsicle – his favorite.
“Off with you! Your sister and her new friend are eating Popsicles out on the veranda,” Sophie Reilly said with a wave of her hand and a grin. “Remember to put your jeans on the next time. A rock is going to kick back at you and rip your leg open one day. Between you and your sister… our emergency room visits are getting expensive.”
“Thanks, Mom! I’ll remember!” Sam called out as he walked through the house to the veranda.
“Don’t slam…” Sophie Reilly called out just as the front screen door slammed shut. “…the door! The two of them will be the death of me.” Sophie shook her head, smiled, and went back to making piecrust.
“Hey, Squirt! Who’s this?” Sam pointed his Popsicle at Tom.
Marnie hopped up and danced from foot to foot – excited to share the news of her new friend with her brother. “This is my new friend Tom. Tom Keller. He and his family just moved here, and he helped me get the rope up over the branch!”
Sam nodded. “Hi, Tom…”
Marnie cut him off. Her face beamed with pride. “Tom this is my big brother, Sam. He’s the biggest kid in the whole neighborhood. He’s 12! He’s real strong, and he plays baseball, and football, and he runs really fast! And he’s funny, too. And he gives me piggyback rides, and he reads to me, and he’s really, really smart. He’s smarter than just about anyone – except my mom and dad…” Marnie stopped and took a deep breath.
“Breathe, Marnie! You’ve got Popsicle all over your face!” Sam laughed, pulled the hem of his t-shirt out of the waistband of his shorts, and wiped Marnie’s face with it.
“Yuck! That’s all sweaty and dirty!” Marnie pushed Sam away and spit on the deck of the veranda. “Blah! That’s gross! Blah!”
Sam laughed and pulled the visor down on Marnie’s cap.
Sam stuck out his hand to Tom. “Hi, Tom. I’m Sam – Marnie’s brother. You wanna help us put the swing up?”
Tom hopped up and shook Sam’s hand. “Yeah! I wanna help! I don’t have a big brother!” Tom turned to Marnie. “You are so lucky to have a big brother!”
Marnie grinned. “I know! I have the best brother in the world.” Marnie threw her arms around Sam’s legs and hugged him tight.
Tom’s eyes danced. “Geez, Marn! You have two dogs and a big brother! You’re the coolest girl I know!”
“I know! I’m real lucky!” Marnie grinned. She grabbed Tom’s hand and raced down the steps, and across the front lawn to the big old oak tree. “C’mon, Sam! Let’s make a swing!”
Sam loped off the veranda steps, and walked around the side of the house. “I’m coming! Let me get the tire. It’s leaning on the fence.”
Marnie hopped up and down. “Look, Sam! Tom and me… Tom and I got the rope over the branch! We tied it around a rock, and threw it real high! Look, Sam! Look!”
“That’s really good, Squirt! Did Tom come up with that idea?” Sam asked, as he rolled the tire across the lawn.
Marnie nodded, too. “He sure did! He’s pretty smart, huh?”
“Okay. Can you two hold the tire up while I tie the rope around it?” Sam asked.
Tom grabbed the tire and tried to pick it up. “Whoa! This is heavy!”
Marnie pushed her way around Sam. “Here, Tom! Let me help. I’m 5. I can pick up that tire!” Marnie curled her arms and flexed her muscles.
Sam put a hand on Marnie’s shoulder. “Marnie, what did Mom and Dad tell you about pushing people? You’re not supposed to push people!” Sam scolded.
“Dang it, Sam! I didn’t push you. I just nudged you a little, that’s all.” Marnie crossed her arms and stuck out her bottom lip.
“Marnie, you know darn well you pushed me. You gotta slow down, Squirt. You don’t always have to be in a hurry,” Sam said, frowning down at his sister.
Marnie threw her arms in the air and tossed back her head. “I know! I’m just excited about the swing. We’ve been talking it about for years!” Marnie stomped her foot, and looked up at her brother with frustration.
“We’ve been talking about it since breakfast,” Sam said, smirking down at Marnie.
Marnie sighed a big frustrated breath. “Fine! Since breakfast!”
“Hey, Marn! Look at this caterpillar!” Tom shouted.
“Where!” Marnie pushed past Sam again and ran to Tom’s side.
“It’s right here! Look at it! It’s blue!” Tom was squatting in the grass watching a caterpillar squirm across a fallen oak leaf.
Marnie squatted next to him. “That is so cool! We should get a bottle and keep him!”
“Leave the caterpillar alone! He’ll die if you put him in a bottle,” Sam said.
Marnie wrinkled her nose up at her brother. “How do you know it’s a boy caterpillar? It could be a girl!”
Tom wrinkled up his nose, too. “It’s probably a boy. It’s blue!”
Marnie rolled her eyes. “Pfft! So! My shorts are blue, and I’m not a boy! Mom’s shirt is blue, and she’s not a boy!”
Sam rolled his eyes, too. He put his hands under Marnie’s armpits. He swung her up over his head, and onto his shoulders. “Okay! Enough with the caterpillar. Let’s put up this swing!”
Marnie threw her arms above her head. “I’m the king of the castle, and you’re both dirty rascals!” She giggled, and messed up Sam’s hair.
Sam reached up and tickled Marnie. She giggled, squirmed and fell backward off Sam’s shoulders onto the lawn with a sickening thud.
Sam whirled around and knelt on the lawn next to his sister. “Oh, my gosh! Marnie, are you okay? Marnie, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to drop you!”
Tom – mouth open and eyes wide – stared down at his new friend. Her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t moving. “Is she dead?” he asked in a small voice.
Sam shook his head. “No, she’s not dead. She’s just knocked out. She’ll be okay. She falls down all the time.” Worry spread across Sam’s face. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.
Tom knelt down on the lawn next to Marnie. “Marn! Hey, Marn! Wake up! Please don’t be dead.” Tears welled up in Tom’s eyes.
Marnie opened one eye, and then the other. “Sam?” she squeaked out in a tiny voice.
Tom clapped his hands together lightly and produced a smiled. “She’s not dead!”
Sam pulled her up into his arms. Marnie wrapped her arms around her brother, and snuggled into his neck.
“I’m sorry I squirmed,” Marnie cried.
“That’s okay, Squirt. You’re okay. I promise I won’t ever hurt you again. You scared me. I’m sorry. Is your head okay?” Sam pulled off Marnie’s cap and ran his hand over the back of her head.
Marnie turned to Tom – her eyes wide. She put a finger to her lips. “Shh…don’t tell my mom. She’ll get mad at Sam. He’s not sposed to put me on his shoulders.”
Tom gave a quick nod, and put a hand gently on Marnie’s shoulder and rubbed comfortingly. “I won’t tell. I promise. I won’t tell.”
Sam set Marnie gently on her feet, and stood up. “Wanna finish this swing?”
Marnie and Tom hopped up and sprang across the lawn to the tire.
“Yay!” Marnie shrieked.
“We can hold the tire for you, Sam!” Tom shouted with excitement.
Marnie grabbed one side of the tire, wrapped her arms through the middle, and held tightly to the tire. Tom did the same, and together, he and Marnie heaved the tire up into the air between them. They struggled to hold it up while Sam put the rope through the middle of the tire and tied a knot at the top.
“There you go. You can let it go,” Sam said. “What do you think?” Sam stood back, and admired his work.
“That is so awesome!” Marnie yelled.
“Yeah! Awesome!” Tom shouted.
“Can I try it?” Marnie asked.
“Sure. Be careful though. I don’t want you to fall again,” Sam said, as he helped Marnie into the middle of the tire.
Marnie, legs dangling, turned to her brother. “Push me, Sam! Push me!”
Sam pushed the tire, and Marnie giggled as she swung back and forth on the tire swing.
Tom hopped up and down next to them. “Can I try? Can I have a try?”
“Sure!” Marnie said.
Sam stopped the swing, and helped Marnie down from the tire. Tom grabbed hold of the top of the tire with both hands, and swung himself through the hole. His legs dangled. He couldn’t reach the ground to push himself, so Sam pushed him, too.
“You want to try it, Sam?” Marnie asked.
“Nah! I’ve gotta go get my glove and bat. I’ve gotta go to baseball practice,” Sam said.
“Ah!” Marnie cried. “Will you be home soon? I wanted to show Tom the pond, but I can’t if you’re not with us!”
“I’ll be home for dinner. You two play on the swing, and I’ll be back in couple of hours,” Sam called back to his sister.
Marnie ran across the yard to Sam. She pulled his hand so that he would bend down in front of her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a huge hug.
“I love you, Sammy bear!” Marnie squished up her nose.
“I love you, too, Squirt.” Sam squished up his nose, and hugged her back before going into the house to get his glove and bat.
Marnie turned, sprang across the lawn, scooped up her cap and shoved it onto her head. She grabbed Tom’s hand, and pulled him forward as she ran toward the sidewalk.
“C’mon, Tom! I’ll show you the bridle trail! It’s really cool! There are heaps of grass snakes, and frogs, and rabbits, and bugs!”
“Cool!” Tom ran alongside his new friend – excited to explore the bridle trail down the street from Marnie’s house.