At the Playground - Astrid

Title: At the Playground
Author: Astrid
Feedback: Send it to jaded_river_hussie@yahoo.com
Rating: PG
Summary: Another place, another time, young Natalie makes a new friend.

This used to be my playground
This used to be my childhood dream
This used to be the place I ran to
whenever I was in need
of a friend...

- This Used To Be My Playground by Madonna

Ten year old Natalie Balsom sat on the swing, looking at the ground and tracing circles in the dirt with her shoes.
"I wanna swing," she heard a girl whine.
She looked at the blonde blue-eyed girl and shrugged, "Then swing."
"I want the swing you're on."
"There are three other swings."
"I don't care. You're not swinging."
"So?"
"Well, then, that means that you should get off and let someone who wants to swing swing."
Natalie looked at the girl, motioning to the three unoccupied swings, "Nobody's swinging on those."
"I told you, I want to swing on the one you're on!"
"Why?"
"Because I said so! Now move," the girl shouted, stepping forward and pushing Natalie.

Natalie held on tight as the swing flew back, up into the air and then came back down, flying forward, knocking the little blonde blue-eyed girl down onto her rear end. Natalie dug her heels into the ground, bringing the swing to a stop. "Are you okay?" she asked as she got off the swing.

"I'm telling my mommy and daddy! You hurt me! You did it on purpose," the girl cried, still sitting in the dirt. She saw the dust cloud settling, "You ruined my pretty new dress!"
"I didn't do it. You pushed me. It's your own fault," Natalie argued.
"Did not. It's your fault. And I'm telling my big brother on you!" The little blonde blue-eyed girl pushed herself up off the ground and blew raspberries at Natalie before running off.
Natalie sighed sadly and sat back down on the swing. She began to move her legs back and forth slightly, making the swing move.
"Hi," she heard a bright cheerful voice say.
She looked up to see another blonde girl standing before her but this one had brown eyes. And she was smiling. Natalie gave her a small smile, "Hi."
"Is anyone else using the swings?"
Natalie shook her head no.
"Can I swing with you?"
"I guess. If you want to."
The girl smiled and sat on the swing next to her. She turned to look at Natalie, "My name's Jessica. What's yours?"
"Natalie," she answered, looking at the ground.
Jessica began to swing. "Would you like to be my friend?"
Natalie looked at her and shurgged, "Okay."

The whiny blonde blue-eyed girl walked back over to the swings, confidently, her older brother behind her. They stopped in front of Natalie and Jessica. The motion of the swings slowed and came to a halt.

"Which girl hurt you, Jenny?" he asked.
"That one, with the red hair," Jenny Rappaport said, pointing at Natalie. "She was saying mean things to me and then she kicked me and I fell in the dirt when I asked her if I could swing with her and she didn't say she was sorry or anything and she laughed at me."
"No I didn't. She pushed me and wanted me to get off because she wanted this swing. There was no one else on the other swings and I asked her if she was okay," Natalie protested.
"She's lying, Will," Jenny said. "I don't like dirty things, why would I get my pretty new dress dirty?"
Will glared at Natalie, "You leave my little sister alone or you're gonna be in big trouble. Come on, Jenny, let's go play somewhere else."
"In a minute," Jenny said, lagging behind as Will walked away.
Jessica slid off the swing and looked at Natalie, "It's not nice to hurt people. I'm gonna go find my friends and play with them."
Natalie frowned as she watched her newly acquired and newly lost friend walk away.
"Hmph. I always get my way," Jenny said before skipping away.

In the distance, Natalie could see her look over her shoulder at her and stick her tongue out. She should've been paying attention because she smacked into a little boy, fell to the ground and started to cry again.

Natalie giggled. She got off the swing and walked over to the unoccupied merry-go-round. She sat down, indian-style, watching the other kids play. She sighed again, lonely, wishing that she had a friend. She was lost in her thougts when she felt someone yank one of her pigtails.

"Ouch! That hurt," she said, turning to see who had did it.
Standing behind her was a boy with brown hair and brown eyes, smiling triumphantly.
"That wasn't very nice."
"You hurt that girl and that wasn't nice."
"I did not! At least not on purpose."
"You're mean," he said.
"No I'm not. You're mean. You pulled my hair."
"You made that pretty girl cry. And you hurt her feelings."
"No I didn't!"
"Liar, Liar, pants on fire," he said before grabbing hold of one of the rails of the merry-go-round and running around, making it spin.
"Stop it right now," Natalie said.
"No," he said, running faster.
"Please!"
He ran as fast as he could.
"Stop it! STOP," Natalie cried.
"Leave her alone, Al," she heard the girl named Jessica, who had offered her friendship and then taken it away without giving her the benefit of the doubt, say.

He let go of the railing, the merry-go-round conintued to spin, "What? I was just playing with her."

"Be nice."
He sighed and then ran over to Jessica, tapping her on the shoulder, "Tag, you're it," and then he ran off.
"That wasn't fair," Jessica shrieked playfully, forgetting about Natalie crying on the merry-go-round, and running after Al.
The merry-go-round slowed as did her tears. She wiped them away, sniffling a bit and hopped off the still merry-go-round. She walked past the boundries of the playground, opting to sit on a park bench and wait for her mother to come and pick her up. Away from the happy children, playing with their friends, and the ones who decided they didn't like her.

She sat, swinging her legs back and forth, listening to the sounds of the playground. She looked around and spotted a boy sitting under a tree several feet away with a sketch pad and a pencil. He looked peaceful... content. Just sitting there, with the pad and the pencil, sketching away. She felt better, watching him, the sunlight reflecting off the different shades of brown and black in his hair.

The boy must have sensed her watching him because he tensed up momentarily before looking around. She quickly turned her head before he could confirm that she was watching him. When she looked at him, he was busily sketching away again. She looked down at her hands, playing with a string hanging from the hem of her shorts. Suddenly, she got the feeling she was being watched. She looked over at the boy under the tree just in time to see him look back down at his sketch pad. She smiled a little, her eyes cast down, and then glanced at him again and found him looking at her. He smiled at her and she smiled back.

Natalie looked up at the clouds.
"See anything interesting?"
She shielded her eyes from the sun and saw the boy who had been sitting under the tree standing in front of her, sketch pad tucked under his arm. "Um, a bottle," she said, pointing up at the particular cloud she'd been looking at when he walked over.
His eyes traveled up and he stared at the cloud for a moment before looking back down and her and saying playfully, "I think you're wrong. It looks like a flashlight to me."
"To you. To me, it looks like a bottle."
"That's because you're looking at it wrong."
She wrinkled her nose, "Huh?"
"You're sitting on the bench, looking up. You should be lying down in the grass," he said, sitting in the grass behind the bench. "Looking up. Besides, you get a better view," he added, reclining back.
"Oh. Okay." She regarded him with mild suspicion for a moment before standing up and settling on a patch of grass close to him. She took a breath and laid back, looking up at the mostly sunny sky.
"There's a paint brush," the boy said, pointing up.
"Or it could be a spoon."
"Nah, it's a paint brush."
"If you say so," she said, glancing over at him.
"I do," he said, looking at her, their eyes locking.
Feeling the butterflies going crazy in her stomach, she tore her eyes away from his and looked back up at the sky.
The sounds from the playground filled the silence as they lay in the grass, gazing at the clouds, letting their imaginations take over.
"Mickey Mouse," she said.
"Where?"
"Right there. You see it? There's the big round part, his face, and then two smaller parts on top of the bigger one, his ears."
"Yeah, I see."
Natalie sighed. "Why weren't you playing?"
"Why weren't you playing?"
"I asked you first."
"I prefer to draw. You?"
"Nobody wants to play with me. They don't like me."
"What about your friends?"
"I don't have any friends."
"I'll be your friend."
She turned her head and looked at him, "Really?"
"Sure. I think you're nice. You should have at least one friend."
"You're nice too."
"I try," he said, looking back up at the sky.
"What's your name?"
"Cristian. Yours?"
"Nata--"
"Natalie Balsom, you get your butt up outta that grass and away from that boy right now!"
Natalie shot up when she heard her mother, Roxy Balsom's annoyed voice. She looked at Cristian, "I gotta go. It was nice meeting you. Bye."
"Bye," he said, watching her as she walked hurriedly over to her mother.
Roxy grabbed Natalie's arm and pulled her along, "What have I told you about playing with boys, huh? Do you ever listen to anything I ever say?"
"We weren't doing anything, just looking at the clouds."
Roxy stopped walking and dropped Natalie's arm. "Like I'm s'posed to believe that. What for?"
"Trying to spot different shapes and stuff."
Roxy shook her head, "You're a piece of work kid. Why you wastin' your time looking at clouds? You coulda been doin' somethin' production with your time. Like looking for a job so you can start pulling your weight around the house."
"I'm only ten."
"Walk dogs or mow people's lawns or somethin'. I'm not asking you to flip burgers. Well, not yet. Or with the way you run your trap, you could be one of those people who call other people and annoy the hell out them, trying to sell 'em stuff. You and that smart mouth of yours, it's gonna get you in trouble one of these days." Roxy checked her watch, "I swear, all that damn yappin' you do--if we miss the Greyhound.... This is the last time I take you anywhere. And the meter's runnin' on the taxi. Come on, hurry up," she said, taking hold of Natalie's arm and pulling her away again.

Natalie tried to keep up as her mother drug her along. Sadly, she looked back to see Cristian standing by the bench, watching her leave. He gave her a smile and she smiled back. She felt Roxy jerk her arm.

"Don't look at that boy."
Natalie obeyed and faced foward, still smiling. She knew she'd probably never see 'that boy' again but it didn't matter. She'd found a friend in him and that was all that mattered to her.
































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