No one ever came up into the attic. Except when they brought boxes up here and hurried to leave. Thick dust covered everything, but Marcelina didn’t mind. The fact no one came up here was what mattered. No longer short enough to walk, she’d crouched down to make it to the far corner.
Once there she’d checked the fort for signs of tampering. If Siemowit knew they came up here he’d tattle. Everything looked ok under the stacked boxes and old sheets strung across them. The sheets helped protect the sleeping bags and snacks from dust. They also made the little space stuffier in the summer, but it was winter now and the extra protection from the drafty window would be nice.
“You know, I was in our attic once,” Jory said after they were inside the fort.
Marcelina shoved a pillow under her butt before she sat on the sleeping bag. Jory dug out the box of snacks, most donated by him, and joined her. When they were kids they could share the pillow. They could still share the scratchy blanket they wrapped around their shoulders.
“There was nothing in there.”
Marcelina listened to the quiet crinkle of a candy wrapper as he opened it. Having never been in his attic she would take his word. After he tore the candy in half and she had her own sweet, sticky piece, she spoke.
“What do you do when someone dies?”
“I don’t know.”
“We box them up and pretend like we don’t miss them.”
He kissed her. It was hard to feel the weight of sadness when they kissed. They had definitely gotten better since their first. Although, sometimes it was still awkward and they’d end up giggling. Like the first time they’d used their tongues. They’d not kissed again for weeks after that time.
“Do you ever open them?”
“Do you want to open some?”
He’d never asked before. They’d been sneaking up here for years, but this had never come up. Maybe he wondered what stuff of hers they’d store after she was dead. She would miss him when she died in a few years. Not enough time.
“I- I don’t know.”
“If you want, we can.” Chocolate, sticky fingers entwined. “Or we could kiss some more.”
“You never want to decide, Marcelina.”
“I want to do everything.” Because she only had a few years.
They wiped their fingers off on a ratty towel and crawled from the fort. Herbert’s stuff was up close to the trapdoor. At first, she thought of going there, but the pain was still so fresh. Instead, she squeezed through carefully labeled boxes to reach dziadzio’s stuff. His name was on the box and she traced the faded, markered letters with her thumb.
After she settled onto her butt she pulled the top box into her lap. Jory sat beside her and before she opened it she kissed his cheek. He grinned at her and her heart stopped. Once, she’d mentioned him to her mother and something must have given her away because she had a three-hour lecture on how she was too young for anything and better not be doing anything. Marcelina had told Jory the next day between fumbling, innocent kisses and he’d laughed and grinned at her that way.
“What are these?”
Jory leafed through one before setting it down with a caution he used for her sake.
“It’s in Polish.”
“Well, duh, dumbee. He was Polish.”
“So are you, but you write in English.”
“Yea, but I read Polish too.”
“So, what’d he say?”
“I’m not telling.”
Marcelina lifted the book up and read the first page. Jory’s fingers thrummed with impatience on the dusty floor. Behind the journal she hid a smile.
“Jory!” His name was a squeal as he tackled her and began to tickle her as he held her on the floor.
“No,” she laughed. Her fingers loosened on the book and it fell to the floor. Before she could grab it he kissed her again. This was different than earlier because she felt him, warm and familiar, atop her. If he tried anything… He wouldn’t. But if he did.
“Read it, Marcelina,” he said when his face hovered over hers.
Normally, she would watch him talk. His lips smiled when talking about almost anything and she loved the freckles that danced across his cheeks. This time, in the dust and dim light, she watched the way their hair looked when it touched. She loved his red hair and had less affection for her own heavy, black locks.
“Now?” she asked. “Read it now?”
“No. Read it later and then you can tell me what you want to share.”
“Then what will we do now?”
Marcelina laughed and shoved him off her. It was that or kiss him again and she knew, somehow, that it would be dangerous to kiss him now. Her mother wasn’t entirely wrong when she said they were too young. For now. Marcelina had promised herself she would not be like Natalia and wait until it was too late.
“And when you lose?” she asked as they dusted each other off and replaced the box. The journal she carried back to the fort.
“Ha! I won’t lose.”
“When you lose,” Marcelina repeated with a smirk, “You have to come to the reservoir with me tomorrow.”
Jory laughed and threw himself onto his stomach in their fort as he reached for his stack of comics. He would lose. He always lost. Sometimes she worried he’d let her win, but the one time she’d asked, years ago, he’d punched her. Losing to a girl, he’d said, was better than cheating.