I met Albie in the abandoned parking lot across from her house and climbed through the tunnel that led to our makeshift fort.
Al was the first person to talk to me after mom and I moved. I walked into my new classroom and all eyes bore into me. I felt like an animal locked in the zoo. I almost took off down the hall, but for the small tanned fingertips that reached out for me. Her hair was in a sideways pony and she had three animal clips pinning back her bangs. “I’m Albie,” she smiled a toothy grin at me. “You can sit by me.” She pulled me into the plastic chair next to her. She chatted on and on about her dog and anything else that popped into her head. She was a constant chatter box, she still is. I still can’t get her to shut up.
We built our fort the summer before fifth grade. We pushed together whatever materials we could find abandoned in the parking lot and on the side of the road. The walls were old sheet metal wedged between barrels. In the center was a pole submerged in a cement bucket that held up a torn blue tarp. We patched up the holes with any kind of fabric we could get our hands on. We covered the walls in posters and pictures and buried a treasure chest in the back corner, the one spot in our section of the parking lot that the concrete had disintegrated to the dirt below. We planned on digging it up after graduation.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain?” Al said poking her head through the tunnel entrance.
“Permission granted, Lieutenant.” Al pulled her gangly legs through the opening.
“We should really make this tunnel bigger. I don’t fit through anymore.” She pushed her corkscrew curls back with her headband then launched herself at me. We crashed into our stack of magazines.
“Girl, you are not allowed to go.” She unwound her arms from my neck and gave my shoulder a shove. “I won’t have anyone to go rollerblading with now.” I pushed myself into a sitting position and picked up the People magazine my knee landed on.
“I don’t want to leave all of this behind. We won’t get to dig up our time capsule, or catcall as we get our diplomas.” Albie yanked the magazine out of my hands and smacked me with it. Her chocolate eyes gleamed mischievously.
“Okay, stop. You get to live in one of the best cities. You’re leaving this tiny place behind, and don’t think for a minute I won’t hoot for you when you graduate. I’ll yell so loud all of New Harmony will know when our very own Jacks graduated from high school.”
“You would too, wouldn’t you?” I cracked a smile. “You’d wake up the whole town if you had to.”
“”Of course I would. And you better do the same for me.”
“Promise.” I pulled my knees to my chest. “I can’t believe I’m going to miss our cruise. Your parents already bought that ticket for me.”
“Don’t worry, they already asked Nana to come.” She pulled me to my feet. “It won’t be as much fun without you, but I haven’t seen Nana in a year. As for the time capsule, we’ll just have to dig it up now.” She grabbed two spades from her bag and handed me the rusted green one. We plunged our shovels into the hole. She took a giant scoop of dirt and tossed it at me.
“Stop!” I laughed and chucked some at her. “I’m wearing this to the airport, you goof.”
“Okay, okay. Keep digging.”
We dug a few more inches before we finally heard the thump of metal on wood. We dug the rest out by hand and pulled the box from the dirt.
“Do you even remember what we put in here?” I asked. Al pushed the box into my arms.
“Go on, open it.”
I scraped the dirt out of the corners and edge of the box. The wood was cold under my grip and I couldn’t help but think of this as an end to something.