A young man, about 16 living in the suburbs of Union, New Jersey in the spring of 1969. His father’s a veteran from the great war, his mom appearing to be nothing but a pious Catholic house wife, and his friends an entirely uncharted world of pirates and seafaring adventures. In reality, he’s just another sophomore in highschool who is crushing on his next door neighbor, Annette, and journaling about his foibles.
I jumped out of my window onto what I thought was the soft grass, my knees cracked as I bent them, landing with a thud. I shook it off and walked around the line of bushes between her house and mine. She didn’t attack me in school today.
I looked around the bushes to her yard.
“Shh you’ll wake my ma!” I said and I started walking around the bush crouched down so my head couldn’t be seen.
“Oh shush,” Roozbeh said while he and Luke popped their heads from out of the trash barrels.
“You stink,” I said.
Luke wore a bandana over his nose and mouth. “Affirmative,” he saluted lazily.
“Cap’m, I spy ye a fair maiden, yonder window, twelve o’clock!” Roozbeh whispered.
We stood at attention, I huddled near the bushes behind the barrels.
“It’s Annette!” I said without whispering.
“Get down dammit!” Roozbeh pushed on my head.
She looked both ways out her window, then she look down. A rope ladder swung out from the bottom of the window and her head disappeared.
“She coming down!” Luke said.
“Cap’m! Retreat!” Roozbeh gestured with official battle hand warning to get out of the barrels.
Her legs popped out the window and timidly took the rungs. Then her full body. She was wearing overalls.
Roozbeh and Luke gave up on me and ran to my yard but I stood very still. This was it.
“Annette!” I said.
She jolted, the rungs of the rope ladder thudding against the house loudly.
“Agh, no.” I pulled on my hair and scratched.
She set eyes on me and run off the ladder, slapping me across the face. “Damnit James Madison, do you have any idea what a light sleeper my Pa is? Do you? And what the hell are you doing in my yard?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just – I just- I was out ya know – and then I saw you- so I waited. Why are you wearing-”
She put her warm hand over my mouth. “Shush, come this way.”
Annette lead me by the hand to her back yard which lay at the edge of the woods in the corner adjacent to my yard. A small gap where her fence of bushes thinned and the boards in my wooden fence were rotted off highlighted a little door between our yards I had never known about before.
“In here,” she said and slid into the shack.
She pulled me with her and we stood in the dark cramped space. I bumped my calf against her dad’s ride on tractor and it scraped the skin under my trousers.
She turned a camping light on and closed the shutters.
“Hi,” Annette said, she leaned up against the workbench and crossed her arms.
“Hi,” I said, and dug my hands into my pockets.
“Why were you looking at my window?” she said.
“Why were you climbing out of your window?”
“Because I like going out at night to—to be out,” she huffed.
“Because!” I got a scowl from her. “Now answer my question.”
“I was with Roozbeh and Luke, and they were hiding in your trash barrels waiting for me.” Oh sweet Jesus, that sounded horrible.
“Roozbeh Badie and Luke Winger were hiding in my trash barrels? What the hell were they doing?”
“Well we play this sort of game where Luke’s the captain and—“
“You were playing a game in my trash barrels? You have got to be….” She let out a sigh. “Whatever, keep going.” She pushed some loose hair away from her face. “Uh, you’re staring,” she said eyebrows raised.
“Oh, yeah, sorry, um spaced out. So Luke’s the captain, Roozbeh is Chief mate and I’m Third mate. And we were on a mission, I think, can’t remember why.”
“What’s Third mate?” Annette asked and looked at her dads tractor between us.
“It’s the guy that does the navigation stuff on a boat,” I said. “He’s the one that gets to drive the ship and command people where to pull the rigging when he has to do a maneuver in the water.”
“Oh right, cool.”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure we have to complete our mission, you wanna come?” Jesus Christ she is gonna think I’m like a fifth grader. I can’t believe-
“Sure,” she said and started around the tractor towards me.
“Oh. Okay,” I turned and we bumped into each other trying to get out of the shack.
“Sorry!” I said as I accidently pushed her into the other door, rattling it.
“Ouch, you jerk.” She pushed my shoulder and I hit the other door and tumbled outside. I got up and brushed myself off.
“I really am-”
“Shut up, now where’s your ship?”
I straightened and soluted without thinking. “Aye aye, this way.”
She looked at me sideways and shook her head, but followed me.
We walked across the street and through the neighbor’s yard over to the other street parallel to ours, entering into Luke’s back yard. His tree house had a small light coming out of it.
“Up there,” I said and pointed to the ladder.
She started climbing. After she went about 4 rungs up, I started to climb behind her.
“A hoy!” Luke said out one of the windows. He gasped. “You brought her!”
“It’s bad luck to have a woman on board!” Roozbeh popped out of the opposite window.
“Too bad,” she said “I’m already up.” She brushed off her overalls and went through the door into the small house. I went in behind her.
She sat on the bench in the corner and I took my chair around the stool we used as a table.
“Now gentlemen… and lady, this is a trust test.” Luke had a paper napkin sticking out of his left nostril. “I’m going to light this, and the first one to blow it out before the fire catches my nose will be the new captain!”
Roozbeh and I sat on the edges of our seats but Annette burst into laughter on her bench. “You have got to be kidding me. You are gonna burn your face off!” she said.
“Not if Roozbeh and Jmad do their part!”
“What if they don’t?” she said.
“They will, one of them will,” he adjusted the paper napkin in his nose.
“What if I do it?”
“You’re a girl! You can’t be captain,” Luke said. “Only men can be captain.”
“We’ll see.” She sat back, and waited. “You gonna light it or am I gonna have to?”
“I got it, I got it.” Luke flicked the lighter, but his hand shook. He flicked the lighter on the napkin, it caught fast and started burning. “I’m not finking out, promise.”
I sat still, waiting to grab it. Did I want to be captain? Third mate isn’t exactly a powerful position on a boat, but a third mate who has mutinied is a dangerous person on a ship.
“Grab it! Someone!” Luke was sweating, and clenching his fists.
Roozbeh lunged, but I took my chance too and both of us butted heads and toppled over the stool between us.
Luke shrieked and Annette pulled out the flamey napkin and stomped on it. “There, I’m captain, now go get some ice and vaseline Luke. You’re all show and no go,” she said and went for the door.
“You can’t be captain!!” Luke wailed and cradled his burnt nose.
“Beat feet sucker!” Roozbeh yelled. He looked back at Luke and saw through his fingers at the burn. “Damn that napkin really laid a patch on you man.”
“Stop your lip flapping and go ape on that girl!” Luke yelled.
“Sorry man, but I ain’t wasting my time on that paper shaker,” Roozbeh said.
I looked at the ashes on the floor. “I’ll find her.”
I climbed down the ladder and saw her run through the woods. I ran after her and easily caught up.“Hey, stop!” I said. She didn’t.
“I’m not on the hook for this one, Jmad, now go home.”
“I am going, we both have to go this way.”
She slowed down then, breathing heavily. I steadied myself to her speed and we walked in silence till we were in front of our houses.
“I’ll see you at school,” I said.
She looked at me in a way my sister would when she thought I did something stupid. “Goodnight James Madison.”
“Goodnight Annette Parker.”