It was whimsical little structure, seemingly right out of a fairy tale. Straight lines were non-existent, almost like a child had built it. There was an arched door that widened at the top, a railing that slanted toward the slide, a porthole that opened outward, and even a chimney that was more cartoonish than functional; leaning as if to puff out smoke like that of a dancing tugboat.
Bella stood in front of her playhouse, twisting a hammer in her hands. It seemed like just yesterday that her father had built it, and her mother had painted and decorated it. Now, the lilac paint was chipping, the wooden platform had taken on a gray hue, and there were percale curtains of faded blue that fluttered in the window as if the shack had smiled at her.
When Bella stepped inside for the first time as a young child, she could feel the magic of this place envelope her like a warm hug. She would smell a combination of soft baked brownies, sugared candies, and golden honey. A colorful flower would greet her as it appeared in a small vase on the table in the middle of the room. There were niches where Bella would store her treasurers only to discover that they had multiplied considerably since her last visit. Whenever her mother would bring a plate of cookies and milk, she would place the milk in the wooden fridge and the cookies on the plastic stove so that she could play outside. Hours later, when she returned, her milk was ice cold and her cookies were warm with gooey; dripping chocolate chips.
Recently, her playhouse had become a little finicky. Bella had just entered middle school, and she found herself hanging out with her friends after school or in her own bedroom more often than inside the playhouse. When she did have a moment to visit, she would turn up her nose at the stench of sour milk and burnt cookies. She would throw out a dead flower that would turn up in her empty vase each day. Her treasures seemed to dwindle, and even some of her old notes she had tucked away in a niche above the door were torn to shreds and scattered about the floor.
Bella had seen her playhouse act moodily once before. Her little sister had thrown a tantrum. Rhonda screamed at Bella for not letting her play inside the little building. That was when the door slammed on Rhonda’s face sending her running back to their house where their mother mended Rhonda’s broken ego. Bella smirked when she realized that the playhouse was on her side, and she was glad to have it as her protector.
It was also becoming temperamental with Bella’s friends. Dylan and Bella had been friends since kindergarten, and playtime was much more adventurous with the boy than any of her girlfriends. The girls were more into playing house, dolls and makeovers, while the boys came up with crazy adventures of sea-faring pirates and sword-wielding musketeers. Even though Dylan and Bella tried to find that third musketeer, they discovered that the best play was just with the two of them.
Things had changed for Dylan and Bella this year. His voice had deepened over the summer, and she was feeling things that she had never felt before. The time they spent together was becoming less play and more talk. The playhouse somehow knew things were changing and was beginning to act weird. At one time, it locked Dylan inside and shook like a giggling child taunting another. Dylan was unaware of this magic, but it infuriated Bella. She pounded on the door until Dylan let her in, and he was confused by her outburst.
The day Dylan had kissed Bella was the final straw for her playhouse. It was one of their most awkward of days. Neither one had spoken much, they spent most of their time averting eyes and offering up crooked smiles. Finally, Bella couldn’t take the uncomfortable situation any longer. She came up with some lousy excuse about doing chores and walked him to the door. As Dylan stepped across the threshold, he turned abruptly and kissed her on the lips. She was so shocked that she held her breath and couldn’t move. Dylan stepped back and shoved his hands into his jean pockets, kicking at the floorboard.
“Well, I think I should go,” Dylan said, his cheeks burning red.
His flannel shirt had snagged on an outstretched nail from the trim of the playhouse, but Bella could clearly see that the nail had inched its way toward his arm. She reached out to Dylan when the door pushed her to the floor and slammed shut on him. Bella rushed to her feet and tugged at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. She glanced out the window and saw that Dylan had stepped away from the building and was walking toward his home with his head hung low.
“I swear! If you do not let me out of here, I will cut you up into a million pieces and feed you to the burn pile,” Bella seethed through her teeth.
Dylan was her friend, and now he had given her something that she had never imagined would ever happen. Bella was growing up, and it was her time to discover where these newfound feelings would lead her. It wasn’t up to her playhouse, anymore, to decide who her friends were. It was Bella’s decision as to who she wanted in her life. With all of her fury, Bella grabbed the knob and swung the door open so fast and hard that it crashed against the wall; rattling the small structure. She ran to Dylan’s side and did not once look back at the dwelling that had kept her childhood memories.
“Are you ready?” Bella’s father asked as his heavy hand settled on her shoulder.
Bella shifted the hammer from one hand to another as the sun settled over the leafless trees. She swallowed hard. She had never thought a day like this would ever come. So many memories flooded her eyes as a tear threatened to burst the dam. Bella would miss her playhouse with all of its magical wonder and charm, but it was time to move on from the chronicles of her youth and into a world that was scary, but promising. She gave a nod to her father and took a step toward the faded shack.
“Are you sure?” Her father’s voice rumbled.
“Yeah,” Bella said as she dug her hammer into the wood and pried up the first of many nails.
She could feel the playhouse quiver as Bella focused her attention on the task at hand. It was what was best for her and the small building. Bella and her father continued to yank nails from the base of structure so that it could slide off its platform and onto a trailer. For in another neighborhood waited another young girl to receive her very own magical playhouse for years of imagination to come.
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