“You can’t come up!”
      My words echoed across the park, bouncing through the crowd of children like bees among flowers.  Several kids turned away, but others, unperturbed, persisted in attempting to climb the ladder up to my house in the tallest of trees.  One boy tauntingly set a foot on the bottom rung, his smile as sneaky as a mosquito darting away after stealing several drops of warm blood and leaving only an itchy welt in its wake.
      “No, Paul,” I repeated, staring down the end of my short plastic rapier into the boy’s face.  “I told you, you can’t come up!”
      “Who’s gonna stop me?” Paul jeered, and the swarm of children giggled like a chorus of sycophantic wasps, sworn to uphold proper playground order.
      “He said you can’t come up!”  The clear voice rang in my ears.  The crowd parted for a girl no older than nine, thin to the extreme, red hair brighter than Mars falling in waves down her back.  She walked right up to the base of the ladder and Paul moved aside without complaint.
      “Clear off!” shouted the newcomer, and her word was taken as law: the other children scattered.  Then, turning back to me, she said, “Jimmy Dale, you let me up that tree right now.”  She ended the sentence there but the threat of consequence was clear as day.  I withdrew my weapon and tugged my felt pirate hat down to cover my eyes.
      The girl emerged at the top of the ladder.  She was Juniper, my best friend.  She stretched her pale legs out in front of her, and each freckle looked like an individual star in the sky.
      “What’s got you so upset?” she asked, in the way that was typical of Juniper, practicality out-measured only by tenderness.
      “Nothing,” I told her, focusing my attention instead on an ant that was trying to climb out of a spider’s web.
      “Have it your way, then,” she replied.  We sat in silence.
      The ant struggled in the confines of the sticky goop, causing the entire web to tremble.  Finally, the pause became too stressful, so I said the words that I’d been trying to forget for the last several hours.
      “Mom called today.  She says I have to move back with her.”
      The ant, with one last heroic effort, freed itself from the deadly silk, so astonished that it promptly fell through a crack in the house’s wooden floor.  Juniper’s sharp intake of breath told me what her words did not: she was surprised.
      Her voice, though, was steady.  “You’ll always belong here, Jimmy, with us.”
      “Don’t pretend,” I told her angrily.  “In just a few months you’ll forget all about me.”
      “Don’t say that,” she said, tears shining in her eyes like stars.
      “It’s true,” I plowed on ruthlessly.  “Paul, Jacob, no one will remember me once I’m gone.  I’ll be less than a memory.”
      “I’ll remember you,” Juniper promised, tears finally spilling from those startling blue eyes; blue like the sky showing through the tree’s leaves.  “Besides,” she continued, smiling for the first time, “it’s not like this will change anything, really.”
      “What do you mean?”
      “Well,” she said, speaking with wisdom beyond her meager years, “the same sun will touch your skin, and the same moon will wax and wane at night.  No matter what changes down here, you can trust whatever’s up there to remain the same, true.”
      I looked up at the blinding sun, ignoring the burn in my eyes.  It was no small comfort, finding solace in that profound thought.
      “You’ll write to me?” I asked.
      “Always,” she replied.  We grasped hands firmly, sealing the promise of friendship with the touch of skin, blood, and bone.
      “Now, come on,” she said, hopping down from the tree and joining the other children.  They darted around like insects on the green grass, but Juniper was always easy to pick out, a cardinal among bugs.  For a moment I pictured what the park would look like during winter, snow covering its rolling fields, a speck of red just visible at the top of the tallest tree.  I dropped my sword and pulled off my pirate hat and jumped down from the tree myself.  Then, following in my friend’s footsteps, I raced to the middle of the field with the sun beating down on my shoulders; the same sun, incidentally, that will light my life forever, no matter where chance takes it.