Samantha hated her name. The day I met her, playing with a soccer ball by myself in my yard while my Mom unpacked the stuff from the moving truck, she insisted that I call her Sammy, so that's what I did. She just walked right up and kicked the ball back to me, saying, as bright and bold as the sun, "Hi! I'm Sammy!". She was a little shorter than me, with thick dark hair that always needed brushing and almond shaped eyes. I had never heard of a girl named Sammy, but I went along with it. Sammy had a way of making you want to do what she said.
She was in my class when school started, and I soon understood that she was the center of almost everything. Teachers called on her first, she got picked for kickball before any other girl, the principal knew her name, the art teachers oohed and aahed over her work more than anyone else's. It was thrilling for me, because I gained instant credit when she introduced me as "Brit, who lives right across the STREET from me." Kids were impressed that I lived close to someone so magical.
Her mom used "Samantha" when she was mad at her. When I picked up the phone and her mom asked if "Samantha" was there, I knew she was probably in trouble again. My mom didn't care if Sammy came over while she was at work, but Sammy never asked her mom, so she wound up playing "where's Sammy" a lot. The answer was usually my house, but she called anyway.
One day, Sammy and I were watching cartoons on Veteran's Day. We had no school, but our moms were at work, so Sammy came over and we were sitting in front of the TV eating grapes from a bowl my mom had left in the fridge. Right in the middle of Jenny the Teenage Robot, Sammy sat up straight and said, "Let's go exploring!"
"Exploring? Where?," I said.
"In the woods." Behind our house, they were building more houses, knocking down trees and clearing grass. You could hear the engines and saws of the workmen if you turned the TV down low. We usually kept it loud.
"Are you crazy? We can't," I said. The only rule my mom had was a very serious one- don't ever leave the house, unless it's burning down. Don't answer the phone, don't answer the door. I could have Sammy over, but we had to stay in my house the whole time. She said it a million times, reminding me again and again until I could say the words at the same time she did. "No matter what, you stay in the house."
"I'll never tell," Sammy said. "Come on! I want to go look for treasure."
I knew treasure wasn't real. There were no angels, or pirates, or aliens. They weren't real like homework and lip gloss and soccer was real.
"No," I said firmly. "My mom says I can't."
"Come ON," Sammy said. "It will be fun. We'll just go into the woods a little bit, then come back. I KNOW there's treasure there." She was getting up, pulling her sneakers on and tying them.
I knew she was crazy. But I knew she would probably go anyway, even if I didn't. I felt like I was responsible for Sammy, like I had to keep her from doing dumb things. I sat up. My boots were at the bottom of the chair. All I had to do was slide my feet in and I could be right behind her.
"Sammy, we can't."
"Come ON, Brit. I promise we'll be right back. I PROMISE. Just come for 5 minutes."
I slid my boots on and stood up.
"Cool," she said. "Let's go!"
We grabbed our jackets and went out the back door of my house. I turned around and made sure it was unlocked so we could get back in. There are fences on the left and right, but our yard just ends where the woods start. My mom always says that she's going to put up a fence in the back, but she hasn't yet. We walked to the edge where the trees began.
Sammy found a spot where it looked like there was a path.
"This is going to be so fun!," Sammy said.
She went between two trees and we started to walk. The air was cold and smelled a little bit like smoke. The leaves, brown and yellow, crunched loudly under our feet. The path seemed to stop, and Sammy moved to the left, looking for another clear path. We were walking along the outside of the cleared out place where the new houses were being built. If we looked through the trees, we could see the yellow and red and orange trucks and equipment, digging and scraping at the ground like huge mechanical beasts. I kept walking behind Sammy.
She stopped so suddenly I almost stepped on her.
"BRIT!," she said in a harsh whisper. "Look!"
There was a box at her feet. It was made of hard blue plastic, with a snap on top, and it looked like the boxes I used to put stuffed animals in when I was little. My mouth went dry with excitement. I could taste the exhaust from the construction equipment. My heart was bounding.
"Open it," she said.
I fumbled around for a second, unable to speak. I wanted to run, could picture myself flying back through the woods, across the grass and back inside my front door. When I looked back, I could see my house's outline, so I knew exactly where to run.
Finally I found my voice. "YOU open it, Sammy."
She looked back at me. Her eyes were wide. "Let's do it together."
What could be in there? It could be nothing, or it could be something really bad, or something gross, or something dead. My legs felt trembly, like before you had to stand up in the spelling bee. I was clenching my fist and unclenching it, as hard as I could. It was cold. When you looked through the woods at the workmen, you could see tiny little dots of color where the men were working.
Is it a gun? A bomb? A dead animal? I had the overwhelming feeling something awful was about to happen. I wanted to stay there with Sammy, but I felt like I was going to throw up, and then I was running. It was like my legs were moving by themselves, and I was suddenly dashing away from Sammy, jumping over rocks, ducking under branches, digging against the loose sticks and leaves on the ground. I reached my yard, and then I was across it in a flash, up to the back door, yanking it open and slamming it behind me.
My heart was pounding now, big slamming beats inside my ribs, and I could feel sweat on my back. I ripped my jacket off, and walked over to the grapes and picked up the remote, jabbing at it to turn the TV back on. I was breathing hard, feeling anxious, like I had watched something terrible. I didn't want to turn around, but I finally did, looking back at the woods, half expecting to see a monster chasing Sammy back into my yard, or a big explosion of flame and smoke coming out of the woods. I didn't see anything, and I felt my stomach starting to settle down.
I didn't know what I would do, and I started to try to imagine trying to explain that Sammy wasn't here, when she walked out of the woods, swinging her arms, looking at me through the window in the back door. I opened the door with sweaty hands.
She took the steps up to the door and moved past me into the house.
"Why'd you leave?"
"I'm sorry, Sammy. I just...I got scared and I ran."
"It's OK. I was a little scared, too."
I almost didn't want to know, but the words tumbled out before I could stop them.
"Did you open it? What was in it?"
Sammy had stepped on the back of her shoe, slipping her foot out without untying it. She slipped off the other shoe, then sat down Indian style on the far side of the bowl of grapes. She was staring at the TV, which was showing a commercial for cereal. She seemed as cool as could be, the very opposite of everything I was. If I could have traded places with her in that moment, I would have. Samantha Norris, I wish I could be you, I thought.
"Nothing," Sammy said.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Kirsten Doyle challenged me with "You are walking in the forest and you trip over a wooden box. You open the box and find..." and I challenged Tara Roberts with "All I ever needed was the One".