“Marco Polo” by Amanda J. Lee






"POLO!" Where is she? Just at the same moment I felt the water ripple as she swam. I reached out and grabbed her foot.

"You're it!" I yelled.

"No fair," she whined. Chelsea may be my best friend, but she is a champion whiner. We had been playing Marco Polo everyday that it was nice enough to hang out at our neighborhood pool. School was out and it was time for me to get out of my childish stage and gain some independence. I guess getting a great tan may nothave been the best way to go about it, but I felt a certain freedom I had never felt before when I wasn't spending my days in the house. Playing this game,eating picnic lunches, and sleeping over at each other's houses became our lifestyles. Of course we have always been a big part of each other's lives, growing up together and all. We had been in the same kindergarten class, and since the day I met her in the sandbox, we have been inseparable. I suddenly came out of my reminiscing world by Chelsea's patient tapping on my shoulder.

"Your turn." She disappeared under the surface of the water. I was about to follow her, when I saw my mom walk up the pathway. I glanced at my watch. I was late for dinner.

"Katherine May Voight, I told you to be home half an hour ago! What's your excuse this time?" She tapped her foot. You would think only moms in the movies do that, but no, my mom does everything unbelievable.

"Well, Mom, you see, I was, um, what I mean to say is, well we were just about to, you know......"

"We were just about to call you," Chelsea cut in, "to see if Kate could have dinner at my house, my dad already said it was okay, she can even spend the night if she wants to." I nodded nervously and cast a glance at Chelsea, she was calm and cool, as usual.

"Well, all right, but I want you home early in the morning, let's say ten o'clock, no later." She looked at her watch. It's kinda funny, but my mom looks her best when she's under stress.

"Yes, Mom."

"Are you going to come home to get your things?" I looked at Chelsea, she mouthed the word "no".

"Probably not, I'll borrow from Chelsea," I said. I mean, it was what I usually did anyway.

"Well then, goodbye, honey. Get some sleep tonight okay?" We both smiled, and once she was out of earshot, began to laugh at the lie we had just gotten away with. Her smile slowly dissipated.

"What's wrong?" I asked, my smile leaving as well.

"What about my dad?" Chelsea's parents were divorced and the only time she got to see her mom was when she made a trip to Paris where her mother lived. It was hard to believe, but Chelsea was born in Paris. When she was five her dad and she moved here to the quiet town of Highland, Illinois. Don't get me wrong, I like it here, but, Paris, how could you not want to live there. I mean, even if someone you don't love is there. I had questioned mom on this many times, all she said was "you can't keep following the footsteps of a broken heart." I think what she was trying to say was that her dad wanted to start over. I guess that also meant that he can't start over in Paris.

"We'll just have to suck up, a lot." Chelsea rubbed her arms, it was getting kind of cold. I realized that we were the only ones left at our neighborhood pool. I also saw that the sky was turning a weird shade of gray.

"We better go home, we don't want to be caught in the rain." Chelsea is awfully motherly for someone who grew up without a mother.

"Wait a minute, couldn't we just talk to Diane?" I said, beginning to brainstorm. Diane was Chelsea's stepmother. Her father got married to her three years ago when Chelsea and I were ten. We got to be in the wedding as flower girls. Twins in perfect white dresses. Each of us still had those dresses and loved to
dress up in them from time to time. Diane was really nice, and would agree to practically anything.

"Yeah, now let's go," I could tell she was getting worried. It had already started raining and I thought I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. We gathered our things and set off towards home.

As we walked in the door of the small atrium ranch styled house, I could smell garlic and the strong perfume that Diane always wore. Chelsea's house was comfortable. I always felt at home when I got to go there. I think that Chelsea felt the same way in my house.

"Hi hon. Hi Kate," said Mrs. Tupper without looking up from a large cookbook.

"What are we having?" Chelsea asked giving a glance to the cookbook.

"I was just about to ask you the same thing," she said turning around to give us a smile.



"Can Kate spend the night?"

"I guess so, is it all right with Kate's mom?" We nodded and trotted off to her room. Once we got there, I glanced outside to see that it was already pouring. Lightening shot across the sky. We both counted while we waited for the thunder. CRACK. It was close. We were waiting for another lightening bolt when we heard
the phone ring, making both of us jump. Chelsea reached to her phone.

"Hello? Oh, hi mom! Yeah, oh right... that's cool... really? Yeah I miss that too..." I looked around Chelsea's richly decorated room. Her mom was in the money as they say and the entire room was decked out in leopard skin stuff from some expensive designer in France. Chelsea was the only person I knew that could pronounce his name. I listened impatiently to Chelsea's end of the conversation. The only thing that kept me interested was the more Chelsea talked,the more excited she got. She hung up the phone quickly and jumped off the bed.

"Oh my gosh, Kate, guess what!"


"My mom is flying me out to Paris, and she said I can bring you with me!"


"In three weeks!"

"No way!"

"Yes! Can you believe it?" I couldn't. We were jumping up and down making a lot of noise, when we heard Diane call to us to say that dinner was ready. We ran downstairs and ate quickly and barely even swallowed before we were back up in Chelsea's room planning the aspects of the trip. The night was spent talking away about everything that Chelsea knew about Paris. As we drifted off, we talked sleepily about things.

"Chelsea, you are my best friend. You know that right?"

"Yeah Kate, I don't think you and I will ever not be close."

"Chelsea, what's Paris like?"

"Kate, we've talked about it all night."

"That's not what I mean, what does it feel like to be there?"

"Well, it smells great, like pie."


"Yeah, apple cinnamon pie crust."

"I like pie," I said, almost asleep.

"So do I." And we were asleep, dreaming about Paris, and pie.

"No, absolutely not! I'm not sending you to Paris, a foreign country, to live with a woman for two weeks when we don't even know her. Are you crazy?"

"Dear, you mustn't be too harsh on her. Honey, imagine how homesick you'll get, and how much we'll miss you. Besides, flying by yourself? I had to drag you on the plane the last time you flew."

"Mom, I was six, you seem to forget that we never leave this little town. We are boxed in here for our lives and we take it. I want to leave, I want to experience life outside Highland."

"Don't talk back to your mother."

"As I was saying, I would be overcome with worry. Maybe the fact that you haven't been out of Highland means something. You know how much this will cost us."

"Her mom is paying for the plane ticket."

"I'm talking about phone calls, food, souvenirs, sight-seeing... the list, it's just endless honey. I don't think that you are ready for this kind of a thing."

"So, in other words, this is not the summer when I can finally grow up and gain some independence from this small town life. Well, that's just fine." I ran upstairs. I had been home for an hour, the entire time spent arguing with my parents about the trip to Paris. I threw myself on my bed, and cried for a little while.Then I picked up the phone and told Chelsea the bad news. We talked, but I decided I didn't feel like making conversation and told her my mom needed thephone. I lay back on the bed. I fell asleep, again dreaming about Paris, but this time, a lot less hopeful.

Chelsea and I were at the mall. I was completely broke, but Chelsea hadn't bought anything yet. It was like this every time we went to the mall. I always spent my money the minute I walked in the mall and she spent all of her time looking at the same pair of shorts and analyzing actually purchasing them. She finally decided to buy a pair of khaki shorts and a blue fitted cardigan. The price of the stuff was outrageous, but Chelsea's family was rich, she didn't have to worry about it. Her mom had wired her the money along with some for me, which my mom forced me to give back. We were on our way out of the mall when this womancame up to us that was from the new travel agency. She handed each the us a plane shaped magnet with the phone number of the agency on it. As she began to walk away the basket of magnets she was holding got knocked out of her reach and all the magnets went crashing to the floor. My first thought was to help the ladypick up the magnets, but suddenly this weird feeling came over me. I kept seeing the magnets fall again and again. Chelsea gave me a strange look.

"Hello? What's wrong with you? Come on, help me!" She gathered up another handful of magnets and handed them to the lady. She pulled my arm.

"Come on! Earth to Kate. Earth to Kate." She waved her hand in front of my face. I was still seeing the airplanes. Finally I jerked myself back to reality.

"Did you say something?"

"Yeah, I said you are too weird for words. What is with this spacing out thing? Come on, are you feeling okay?" She pulled my arm again, but I wouldn't budge.

"I'm sorry. It's just that this weird vibe hit me when that lady dropped the planes."

"Are you going to pass out or something?"

"No, really, I'm fine." I gave the lady with the planes one last glance and allowed Chelsea to pull me from the mall. I knew it was an omen of some sort, but I didn't want to worry Chelsea, so I kept my mouth shut.

It was storming outside. We had been getting a lot of rain lately, unusual for this time of year, but I was happy for any kind of change around me. There was nothing to do. Chelsea was shopping for clothes with an additional amount of money that her dad had given her for the trip. I hadn't been speaking to my parents. If they want to deprive me a trip to Paris, then I was going to deprive them of speaking to me. I knew it sounded childish, but I couldn't believe they were making me pass up a chance like this. I was thinking about this when that my little brother walked in through the doorway.

"What are you doing?"

"No, the question is, 'what are you doing' in my room?"

"I came to see if you wanted to see me beat my video game."

"No, get out of my room, and shut the door behind you!" He scrambled off to his room, leaving the door deliberately opened. I turned over so that I wasn't facing it, but soon the rhythmic beeps of his video game started up and I slammed the door shut. I was seriously depressed, what was I going to do while she was gone? Chelsea was leaving tomorrow. It was going to be a long two weeks. Just then there was a knock at my door.

"Who is it?"

"Dear, please open up the door. This moping around isn't good for you. Please talk to us about it."

"Mom just leave me alone. I don't want to talk about it."

"Are you going to have dinner tonight?"


"We already ate, an hour ago, and I am starting to put the leftovers in Tupperware." Tupperware, that's what they called Chelsea. Her last name was Tupper. It was one of those things the boys called you which you pretended to hate, but secretly loved. Of course, I was her best friend and I knew she loved it.

"I'll be down later," then I quickly added, "Maybe."

"Suit yourself." I could tell my mom was starting to get ticked. I didn't care. I'm sure she could tell that I was ticked about not going to Paris, and she didn't care about that either." My reason for being mad was a little more practical anyway. Suddenly I wasn't finding my mother's stress so cute. I finally decided that I couldn't be in my room forever and my stomach had started growling an hour ago. I walked downstairs to find my dinner,spaghetti and meatballs, fresh rolls, and a small salad. I ate every bite of it, having skipped breakfast and picked through lunch. As I ate I thought about my promise to Chelsea to see her off tomorrow. Maybe there was a way I could get out of it. No way, I scolded myself, Chelsea would be devastated. I promised her, soI'm going. I looked at the clock, it was only eight-thirty. I went upstairs and pulled out the book I was reading. I curled up on my big arm chair and read until almost eleven o'clock. I fell asleep exhaustedly on my arm chair.

When I woke up I realized that I had to be at Chelsea's house in fifteen minutes. I pulled on jeans and an old sweatshirt, brushed my hair, and looked in the mirror. I didn't look too bad so I decided to go to the airport like this. I ran downstairs and after calling a goodbye/be home soon, I ran out the door.

I got to Chelsea's house just as her dad closed the trunk to the car. Chelsea walked out. She was wearing a beret and striped black and white shirt over black drawstring pants. She looked very French.

"Bonjour, mon amie!" she cried as she ran to give me a hug.

"Hi," I answered trying to sound cheerful. I didn't do a very good job.

"Don't worry, my mom is coming back here with me, and then she can meet your parents, and then you can go with me next year!" I brightened up, even though deep inside I knew something would go wrong by this time next year, I mean, with my luck, I would never get to leave this town.

"Let's go now, that way you can get all those bags checked and still have time to say your good-byes." We both looked up at Diane who was suddenly standing behind us.

"Okay," we answered at the same time. We both got into the car. The nearest airport was in St. Louis, which was an hour drive. The whole ride was silent and solemn. We all seemed to be deep in thought. I studied Chelsea's family. Diane was chatting with Mr. Tupper. She had this soft smile on her face that neverleft, in fact she smiled when there was nothing to smile about. It was as if she had happy memories in her mind that if she would run out of things to smile about she could think to. As for Mr. Tupper, he had this set expression that showed no feeling. He had a low monotone voice that he used at all times. They were a nice family, better than mine. I knew that was a bad thought, but sometimes, I wished that I was a Tupper. Chelsea's sister. It would be great. We came to the airport and quickly found a parking spot. We awkwardly got out of the car, but once we checked the bags and had stepped into the noisy airport, we all seemed to regain the ability to talk to each other.

"Which gate, Dad?"


"That's right there!" We abruptly walked into the seating area for that gate. Chelsea opened up her knapsack. She pulled out a package and handed it to me. I looked at the label, it said 'baked apple pie'. I laughed.

"This is to remind me of Paris! How thoughtful, thank you!" I sniffed it.

"Mmm, cinnamon!" We both giggled loudly until we realized that the gift wasn't that funny. I fiddled with the hem of my sweatshirt.

"I'm really going to miss you," she said and I smiled at her. I could tell she was getting ready to cry.

"Hey, you're going to be fine, really, and so will I. I just don't know why we didn't get this upset last year."

"I think it's because you weren't going, or at least you didn't have the chance." I nodded.

"Flight 935 to Paris is now boarding at gate forty-two! Flight 935 to Paris is now boarding at gate forty-two."

"That's me," Chelsea said, her voice choking. She hugged Diane and her dad, and saved me for last. I hung back and watched her dad give her last minute instructions. I started to cry when she hugged me. We drew back and wiped or eyes. She picked up her carry-on bag and turned to leave. She was just about to gointo the gate when she turned. She looked directly at me.

"Marco." A tear rolled down my cheek, but I smiled.

"Polo." She smiled, turned, and gave a final wave. We watched the plane as it took off. Then we all made our way to the exit of the airport. The ride was again silent. As I climbed out of the car I gave a final wave as Chelsea did.

"Goodbye Kate. I'll have Chelsea call you, and then you can come to pick her up from the airport with us, okay?" I nodded.

"Bye Diane, bye Mr. Tupper." I walked in to find a note from my parents saying they had gone out shopping. I decided to watch TV while I waited for them to return. I was in the middle of a commercial when a news flash came up. I switched it to a cable channel so that the news crews couldn't bother me. Before I knew it I had fallen asleep.

When I woke up, I was on my bed and my mother was sitting at the end of it. She looked very troubled, but when she saw me awake she tried to cover it up with a smile.

"What? What's wrong?" I asked rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I checked the clock, it was almost four. Her eyes had a tinge of sorrow in them.

"It's been all over the news, and we weren't sure, but then the call from Diane, I just don't know how to say it..."

"Mom, what?" I sat up. Her eyes were filled with sympathetic tears.

"Chelsea... her plane... something went wrong with the engine, they crashed. She, she's... dead." Somewhere deep inside my brain, I heard my mother's words, but the only thing that I could hear clearly was the ear shattering sirens going off in my head. I covered my ears, but they just wailed louder as if to say, "she's dead, she's dead, she's dead." I saw the magnets from the mall crash over and over and over again. I couldn't cry. All I could do was sit there and wait for me to wake up, to wake up from this awful nightmare that I have been calling life. If Chelsea wasn'talive, I wasn't, what would I do without her? I was bored when she went shopping for one day and devastated when she went out of town for two weeks.Now I would never see her again. Her mom, her dad, Diane, and I, we would never see her again. I could see Diane's perpetual smile shrink from her face, and her dad's set expression turn into tears of fury. They all knew she wouldn't grow up and get married, go to college, or do anything. It waslike someone was throwing a huge party and she wasn't invited. That was when it hit me, the sorrow that had been coating my heart and brain for the past few minutes. I began to sob. My mother stroked my hair like she always did when I was upset. But I couldn't feel it, it was as if, for the moment, I was dead too.

It was a beautiful funeral. I didn't actually know, I just remember people coming up, who I remember from another time, to tell me what a beautiful funeral it was. Luckily, it was a closed casket, if I would've had to sit through a funeral watching people look at my dead friend's lifeless remains, I don't know what I'd do. After the funeral Diane held a little reception at her house. I got to meet Chelsea's mom, but it didn't matter. I wasn't going to Paris the following year anyway. Something did go wrong: Chelsea died. It pained me to see so many people laughing, not crying, in the room. I stood up and walked out of the room. But, even in the kitchen, there were people laughing. So I ran out of the house. I didn't know where I was going, but in spite of it all, I found myself back at the pool. I sat at the edge, staring at the still, crystal blue water. Diane walked up behind me.

"You know, it's okay to remember the good things about her life. She would have wanted it that way." She wrapped her arms around me. It felt good to cry. I knew that when I got home, I would have to apologize to my parents. I was still alive because they had kept me from going on that trip. This small town life had for once, saved me.

"Do you have a journal or a diary or something?" I shook my head. "Maybe it would help to write everything down." I shook my head again.

"I don't think so, no one wants to hear how terrible life can be."

"A ship in its bay is safe, but that's not what ships are built for," she quoted. I smiled and nodded. I knew it would help me not to follow the footsteps of a broken heart, and to help me remember the good times that we had together. She walked away, and I went back to staring at the water. I thought about all the fun things that Chelsea and I did together and how I could document it all. A feeling of peace filled me. I could feel, for the moment, that Chelsea was there with me, beside me.

I saw that life is one big game of Marco Polo and instead of finding what you want or expect to find, you find yourself. I didn't find the independence I was searching for that summer, and maybe its a good thing I didn't. I found something better. Me.

"Marco," I called softly into the water. I stood up, and walked away.