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TODAY’S MY BIRTHDAY and I’m twelve. Mama promised me I could climb the hill early if I wanted and I wanted so I did, like in my dream. The most amazing thing just happened.

I’ve got a secret. I want to shout it to the world, but inside I know I shouldn’t tell, not even Mom, ‘specially not Mom. I don’t know why, well, maybe I do. But I got to tell somebody, so I’ll tell you ‘cause you’re my best friend, but you got to keep it a secret, cross your heart, okay? C’mon, cross your heart.

Okay.

Look, from the high place on the hill, I’m running down toward the harbor. It’s May, but it’s a real warm day and not much is going on in the village. The boats went out early and they’re specks near the horizon and most of the village is still sleeping, I think.

I can see Dora’s Pancake House and there’s cars in front. I see a couple of cars at Lou’s tackle shop and a couple of cars out on the street from last night. Mr. Granger’s car is in his driveway next to his house and it has a flat tire going on six days now. My friend Mark is his grandson and he told me his Gramps doesn’t have any money until his check comes.

“It’s money from the government, that’s what Gramps said,” Mark told me, but he shrugged his shoulders.

Everybody hereabouts knows this place, but not many come up here. It’s pretty high and fishermen don’t go high, they go to water. Dad drove me up here in the ‘33 Ford two years back. He said the view goes on forever and it does, so I made this my secret place if I got mad or sad or anything because up here I’m on top of the world.

When we drove back down, Dad said, “Don’t ever go up there by yourself. It’s dangerous!” and he said it sort of loud and rough and he made me promise, but I didn’t want to. I really hate when grownups try to make like they’re so big and can order a kid around. All they have to do is ask nice. Sure we get cranky now and then. Don’t they?

Okay, so Sonny down the street hit me with a snowball last winter, so what? I got him back. No big deal.

Dad went out with the fishing fleet in July last year and a storm blew up and his boat sank and Dad never came back. Mom and me cried and we missed him, but Mom said when you marry a fisherman, you take what comes and you get stronger.

I didn’t want to get stronger. I wanted my Dad. The townsfolk were nice and they did things for us like good neighbors are supposed to, but I stayed sad for a long time.

That’s when I went up the hill to be by myself. Finally Mom found out where I’d been disappearing to, so she sat me down and we had this long talk. She told me that I was the man of the house now and I’d better get it in gear because she couldn’t do it all by herself. I guess that did it because after that I started helping out and doing Man stuff.

Mom tried not to be sad, but every so often I would see her look out the kitchen window and tears came down her face while she stood over the sink with a wet dishrag. By then I could tell her don’t cry and I’d take care of things, but sometimes I think she cried like that ‘cause she wished I didn’t have to grow up so quick.

Oh, the dream I had? Sure. I’m running fast, faster than I ever did before. A girl is chasing me. Ugh, girls! I think I’ll run up to the top of the hill ‘cause if I do she won’t catch me, but I look back and she’s right there. She’s smiling and not even breathing hard. She has blond hair and she’s wearing a blue dress, like for Sunday church or something. I think I used to know her and then I know her name is Elsie.

Yes, Elsie. She’s thirteen. She lives on the other side of the village. I don’t know her, really, but I seen her before, walking on the street. I try to go faster but I can’t go faster because I’m almost flying now.

I get near the top and I finally have to stop ‘cause of the cliff. The narrow road ends and there is a wood fence and a sign that says, “Danger.”

Anyway, this Elsie catches up and stands looking at me for a minute with her real cool blue eyes and that smile and I want to get away but I can’t move, like my feet are stuck in mud. Then she reaches out her hand and touches my face and I get this tingle like ‘lectricity.

“I’m Elsie,” she says.

“I know.”

“I heard about your Dad and I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

She takes my hand and then I can move again, but her hand feels so nice I don’t let it go. I look at her and even though I have no place for long hair and pigtails and girl dresses in my life, I think she is pretty. She has this kind of glow and she makes me feel funny inside, like I never felt before.

My brain gets sort of mushy. That’s what Mom says when I don’t pay attention, but it isn’t like that. It makes me like shy, yeah, shy, and my friends know I’m not shy.

Elsie leads me to the fence and I go with her. Off to the side is a spot of low, new spring grass, a little damp with morning dew. She asks me to sit and I do ‘cause by now I’m twitter-pated, like in Bambi, that new movie Mom took me to see two weeks ago in Gloucester. We face the ocean and I don’t notice my bottom get wet ‘cause I’m in this, like warm place.

Elsie begins to talk to me and her voice sounds so sweet. Then she turns and kisses me lightly on the mouth.

Shooting stars!

 Big parade!

 Ice cream dessert!

Nothing like this in the whole world! I grab her arms and kiss her full on the mouth. It lasts for seconds but it feels like forever. I seen big people do this and I think I understand now. And her mouth craves mine. And she tightens up and I do, too, and it’s like fire.

I feel something growing below my tummy. I know this thing. It’s happened before. We boys talk big in our fort outside of the village, but none of us has ever done “IT.”

One day one of the kids stole a dirty art magazine from where his daddy hid it and we ooed and ahhed at the pictures. We knew we were in trouble if we got caught so we swore to never tell, cross our hearts and hope to die if we did.

Well, in the dream she lays back onto the wet grass and pulls me over on her. I can’t believe it’s happening. She pulls up her skirt and fumbles with my belt. Ohmigod, she wants me! I try to help her but the dream fades and I wake up.

My sheets are soaked from sweat and I have a boner. I can’t believe it.

Now it’s today and I’m running down the hill toward the harbor. This is real. I’m twelve. This is so awesome! Elsie isn’t a dream. She’s just given me the best birthday present anyone could possibly want. I finally got to finish my dream.

But remember, you can’t tell a soul.

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