Kevin pushed his short ten-year-old leg muscles as hard as he could, feeling the burn in them as they grew exhausted and began constricting. His quadriceps muscles started to cramp and he felt a pang in his ribs but he couldn’t break stride. He had to keep running as fast as he could through the six inches of fresh snow that kicked up from under his feet as he went. Only a little bit further to go and he’d be okay. Just a little bit further.
He slapped the green metal pole with his hand and let out a shriek. “I did it! I win!”
Kevin’s best friend Jack scampered in behind him, obviously exhausted, panting and gasping for air. Jack stumbled a few more feet and twisted like a top, falling into the snow and looking up at the gray dusk sky.
Kevin had his hands on his knees, catching his breath, and feeling the blood return to his overused legs. He was sure if he’d kept running any farther, he’d have pulled a muscle. He felt the irony taste of blood in his throat as he sucked in the frigid air in short breaths. He didn’t particularly like running but he liked winning, especially when it was a good competition. Still inhaling deeply, he lumbered over to Jack and fell next to him, both looking up at the darkening sky.
“Why do you always make me do that?” asked Jack in short bursts of breath.
“You always tell me to race you and then we end up going so far I feel like I’m going to die,” said Jack.
“I don’t know, I like racing,” said Kevin.
“Me too,” said Jack. “Only I like racing on bikes or something, I don’t like running. Especially in the snow. It’s like running in sand. Ow, my calf is cramping.” Jack held his leg up in the air and grabbed the toe of his boot, stretching the muscle until it relaxed.
“Well, we can’t race on bikes in the snow, Jack,” said Kevin as he hopped to his feet after catching his wind, reaching his hand out for Jack.
“I’m just saying is all,” said Jack, holding up one finger to Kevin, pleading for another minute of rest. Kevin’s eyes scanned across the park that consisted of four baseball diamonds that faced each other, all connecting in their respective outfields. In the fall, the middle section was used as a football and soccer field. They’d run from foul pole to foul pole across the football field section through the snow. Kevin’s lungs felt a good burn as he ran. Jack’s didn’t. Kevin reached down and grabbed Jack’s hand and lifted him to his feet. They took turns brushing the snow off each other’s backs. Once they were washed off, Jack pushed Kevin sideways back into the snow.
The two ten-year-olds walked the length of the park towards the main intersection, Addison Avenue and Forest Preserve Drive. The two boys had lived ninety percent of their lives around this park and this intersection. Riding bikes, playing baseball and football, skateboarding, and many times just grouped together around the park benches with friends. Every day they didn’t have school was spent with friends around the park. So much so, it became their second home. They knew the park like the backs of their hands, having memories at each baseball diamond, near the fieldhouse, and many at the wood-chip covered playground. It was their sanctuary away from parents, school, teachers, even siblings.
The two boys trudged through the snow towards the park bench that sat next to the tee-ball diamond. They each climbed up and sat on the seatback, their feet on the bench, and overlooked the diamond, playground, and surrounding street.
Kevin eyed all the snow-covered cars that lined the street and saw a few parking spaces that someone had shoveled out and claimed their stake with lawn chairs, something outsiders thought was a joke but Chicagoans knew the practice to be a very serious territorial claim.
“I don’t want you to move,” said Jack, staring down at his boots.
Kevin didn’t know how to respond. Since his parents had told him the family would be moving from the city, Kevin was vehemently against it. He liked his school, he liked the sports teams he was on, and most importantly his best friend Jack was here and they did everything together. It had been a few months since his parents informed him of the plan but the deadline was approaching. Kevin wouldn’t return to school with Jack after winter break. Kevin would be starting at a new school in the suburbs. He’d have to find new teams to play on for sports in the summer and fall. He wouldn’t be able to hang out with Jack every day after school.
“I don’t want to move either,” said Kevin as he continued to gaze out over the park.
“What’s a ‘promotion’ anyway? I thought it was supposed to be a good thing. This sucks,” said Jack.
“My parents say it’s a good thing, but I don’t believe them. If it was so good, why couldn’t my mom get promoted around here? There’s got to be plenty of them around here, I bet.”
“Apparently not,” said Jack letting out a long sigh.
“My mom said we could still hang out on the weekends. She said she or my dad would drive me back here to your house and that on some weekends you could come by me. I’ll only be an hour away,” said Kevin, trying real hard to be optimistic.
“An hour away?! My grandma lives an hour away and it’s like an eternity! I fall asleep every time we go there and I wake up on the other side of the world,” cried Jack, throwing a chunk of ice into the powdery snow.
He had a point, thought Kevin. His grandma and grandpa lived an hour away and he felt like it took the entire day to get there. He liked going to his grandparents’ house but that was only once in a while, not every weekend. He couldn’t imagine having to make that drive every weekend to hang out with Jack.
“I feel- I feel like I’m losing my best friend,” said Jack, wiping his face. “And no, I’m not crying. My eye just hurts.”
“I’ll still be your best friend, Jack, and you’ll still be mine. We can play Xbox and stuff together still and I’ll make sure to come back on the weekends, maybe even the whole summer if I can. That way it’s like I never moved.”
Jack sighed and hung his head. “I hope so.”
“You don’t have to hope ‘cause that’s how it’s gonna be.”
“Yeah, until you find a new best friend over there. Then you won’t be around as much,” said Jack.
Kevin’s stomach sank. He couldn’t think of having any other best friend besides Jack. No one out in the suburbs could possibly be as fun as Jack. They’d been best friends since they could remember and had been inseparable. Playing on the same sports teams, playing the same video games, and having the same classes together in school, they’d always been together. “No,” said Kevin. “You’re always going to be my best friend,” he said to Jack, placing his arm over Jack’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry about that. We’ll always be best friends. I’m sure of it.”
Jack looked up at Kevin, his eyes were red and watery. “You sure?”
Kevin smiled, “Absolutely.”
Jack returned the smile and his eyes dried up. He looked beyond Kevin at the street.
“Crap. The street lights just went on. We gotta get home!” cried Jack.
“Race you to the end of our block?” asked Kevin.
Jack took off like a bullet. “You’re on!” he screamed.
Kevin followed after him, feeling his legs grow sore again as he trudged through the powdery snow after his best friend.