The flat, treeless, chunk of land on the cliff outside the town of Granite, Minnesota was the best place around to fly kites. It was the size of a football field and me and Joey were flying ours that summer when we noticed a new kite soaring on the wind. A pink one that made us laugh.
“Ha. Man, look at the thing,” Joey guffawed. “What a sissy piece of crap.”
“No kidding,” I said, just to go along with him. We were eleven years old between sixth and seventh grade, and peer pressure was alive and well in our little town.
My kite was a black winged batman and his was a red and blue Spiderman, both simple kites we picked up at the drug store in town. There were nearly twenty kites in the air that day, a lot of them fancy ones flown by the summer kids. Me and Joey were townies. Our fathers worked in the Steel River iron ore mine fifteen miles inland. Cheap kites were the way to go for us. They worked just fine.
Later in the afternoon everyone else had left and we were by ourselves. We had lost interest in the pink kite and were talking about baseball when we heard a scream. It came from the far side of a rise near the edge of the cliff. We quickly pulled in our kites and ran to see what was going on.
What I saw made my blood boil. About five or six older kids had surrounded a young girl and had her pined up against the side of a huge boulder. They were taunting her, pulling at her clothes and making rude gestures by grabbing their crotches. Their laughter reminded me of hyenas I’d seen some nature program. I looked at Joey. He was frightened. We were both small for our ages, no match for a group of big guys that looked to be in their early teens at least.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.
We’d stopped about fifty feet behind them. They had their backs to us, but the young girl could see us plain as day. I could see in an instant that even though she had to be scared, she was defiant, trying to hold her own. She even had a stick in her hand she jabbed out whenever someone tried to attack her. It was only a matter of time before they descended on her like a pack of those hyenas I’d seen on the television.
I looked around for a weapon. The ground was bare, just smooth granite and lichen, but I did find a fist sized rock. It’d have to do.
“Come on,” I said to Joey, “Let’s help her.”
Joey…Man, too this day I still think of that moment. He could have run and saved himself, but he didn’t. He picked up a rock even smaller than mine and said, “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Screaming at the top of our lungs, we ran at them. I’m not sure what we were yelling but we startled the hell out of them. I remember them turning toward us, looking perplexed. Then they looked bemused. Then they looked angry.
But by then it was too late. The girl had taken their distraction as her chance and she bolted toward us. We turned and ran with her and didn’t stop until we got to the safety of the wide open space on the top of the cliff.
We stood panting, nervously looking over our shoulders to see if we were being followed. We weren’t’. They must have decided we weren’t worth the effort. We were safe.
She was the first one to speak. “Boy, you guys were amazing,” she said. She was maybe a year older than us, and taller by a head. She had short cropped dark hair and green eyes and skin so smooth I had to stop myself from reaching out and touching her to see if it was real. In that instant I felt myself tumbling down a slippery slope I’d only heard about.
She hugged us both. “I owe you guys my life.” Her smile was so sweet I thought I’d die. Instead, I swooned. She smelled like vanilla.
She looked at each of us for a moment and I felt like she was looking into my soul, a soul I never knew I had until that very moment. Then she grinned, turned, waved her fingers and said, “Well, thanks. See you around.”
I watched as she sauntered away toward the road. I could see her bicycle parked there and I panicked, not wanting her to leave. I yelled, “Say, was that you flying that pink kite?”
She stopped and turned. “Yeah, that was mine.” She pointed, “Those bastards wrecked it. I’m going to have to get a new one.”
Joey and I looked at each other. He mumbled, “Go ahead, ask her.”
“Do you want us to go with you?”
She took a stick of gum out of her pocket, slowly pealed the wrapper off and started chewing. My heart rate went through the roof. All I could think of was being close to her.
“Sure,” she shrugged her shoulders, “Why not?”
That was good enough for me.
We joined her and went to the drug store in town and helped her pick out her kite. Superwoman. By then it was dinnertime and Joey had to go home but I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her. She told me her name was Angie. We went back and flew kites until sundown.
And we flew them every day afterwards for the rest of the summer, some days joined by Joey. Those were great times. Just before Labor Day her parents put her on their sailing yacht and left for their home somewhere on the Saint Lawrence River. We never saw her again
Joey and I stayed in Granite where we eventually finished high school and went to work in the mines like our fathers. We still live there, raising our families and making lives for ourselves. This summer we’ve been teaching our kids to fly kites outside of town on that same spot we met Angie.
We were there a few days ago when Joey turned to me and asked, “I wonder whatever happened to her, you know, Angie.” He was helping his four year old son launch his blue and red Superman kite.
“I have no idea,” I told him, tugging at the string, helping my five year daughter save her Wonder Woman from crashing to the ground.”I liked her a lot. I just hope she’s happy.”
“Me, too.” Joey said, thoughtfully, before adding. “That was a great summer, though, wasn’t it?”
“It really was,” I told him smiling. “One of the best.”
And we were quiet then, lost in our own thoughts, standing in the sun, the wind blowing clean off of Lake Superior, enjoying the day and having fun with our kids, our minds drifting back to that long ago summer, a time that with every passing year faded a little more from our memories.
Just then the wind died and the kites started to fall. We hurried to help the kids, each of us grabbing a string and running backwards, the kids racing alongside laughing at our antics, us laughing with them. Finally the breeze returned and the kites lifted into the air. We handed the strings back to our kids and grinned at each other, completely in the moment, this summer rapidly becoming more and more memorable.
Joey gave me a high five. “Nothing better than flying kites.”
“No kidding,” I said, watching Superman and Wonder Woman dip and dance on the wind, feeling like this was one of the best days I’d had with my young daughter in a long time. I knew Joey felt the same way about his son. I turned to him, “Say, I’ve got an idea. How about if the wind is right, let’s grab the kids and come back here tomorrow?”
Joey smiled and nodded, “Absolutely. I was just about to suggest the same thing.”
I laughed. “Great minds…”
He laughed, too.
And the next day, we did.