Not Quite Neverland
By Simply Shelby

There were no Lost Boys. We both knew mermaids weren't real and that faeries were only creatures that we had read about in stories. We knew that pirates had faded and Indians weren't considered savages anymore. We knew that we would both grow up eventually. We knew that it was make-believe. We knew it wasn't real.

We pretended it was Neverland.

To get there, we had to slip through the loose boards of the fence and into the small jungle beyond. We had to follow a little path and expertly tumble over some branches to reach the small clearing which seemed a world away from the road and houses beyond the fence. Branches above interweaved to form a sort of roof from the sunlight that streamed gently into the clearing and fallen brown nettles sprinkled the ground as a carpet, tangled with ivy and ferns.

It was the middle of spring; a time when the sun was at war with the clouds, and everything seemed so much greener than before, and you could hardly wait for school to let out so you could go and play. I was climbing through the tangle of undergrowth on my way to the clearing to meet up with her. She was already there when I emerged, sitting on the stump in the center of the clearing; still in her school uniform. Her jumper was stained with different shades of dirt and grass that would have looked disastrous on any other girl, but on her were oddly fitting and somewhat expected.

"Joy," I called, not wanting to startle her by sneaking up on her.

She looked up from her book and smiled. "Joey," she returned the greeting.

"You got here quick. Isn't Jesse supposed to be with you?"

Smiling, she told me, "He's feeding your dog peanut butter."

I raised my eyebrows, "And you're letting him?"

She slammed her book closed. "That thing attacked Sassie yesterday!" She pointed a finger at me. "And you let it. Think of this as revenge."

I rolled my eyes. I hated her kitten. "You can't climb in those shoes." I pointed to her scuffed Mary Jane's. We were almost finished linking two trees together with a mess of boards, rope, and nails and I figured we could continue today.

She held up a leather pouch. "I know. I figured we could explore today."

"Indian territory?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I could use a scuffle with a pirate."

She rolled her eyes. "Let's go, Running Deer."

When we explored Indian Territory, we had Indian names. Mine was Running Deer. I was an Indian warrior who could outrun the fastest cheetah. Hers was Whispering Wren. She was the Indian Princess that I was supposed to protect.

We had explored the path that we had deemed the Indian Territory, looking for anything new or exciting, for the longest time. Wren would pick up curious things, such as an empty bird's egg or an oddly shaped rock. I found a long stick that could serve as a sword and put it through my belt loop. Almost to the end of the path, we found a new footprint. A foreign and quite large footprint.

Wren looked down at the too large footprint and then back up at me. "Running Deer, who—" she started to ask, but her olive eyes widened, and she was cut off as she was jerked back. I stood up to defend her, but noticed who was holding her. My oldest brother, Steven, had one arm wrapped around her waist, effectively pinning her arms to her sides, and one hand covering her mouth. If it had been any other boy besides Steve, Joy wouldn't have hesitated to defend herself with a kick to the boy's shin, but Steven was a teenager and teenagers didn't normally take part in our adventures.

"Steve?" I asked, confused. He just nodded. Two more people stepped onto the path: Ty and Jesse. And Tyler seemed to be quite pleased with himself.

"Alas!" Ty cried, waving his arm, "I have captured your Wendy!" It was a running joke in our group that I was Peter Pan and Joy was my Wendy. I, however, did not find the humor in the joke.

He was a pirate. The feared Captain Dagger. I turned to Jesse, "You traitorous fiend!" I accused.

The boy shrugged, "Ty said he'd give me a Snickers Bar if I told him where you were."

Ty smacked the back of his head. "That's Captain Dagger to you, seaman!" Joy giggled from behind Steven's hand and even I had a hard time curbing a smirk. Ty turned to me. "What will you give in exchange for your Indian Princess, Oh Pitiful One?"

I brandished my sword. "Can't I just fight you for her?"

He pulled out his sword and dagger. "To the death, then?"

I nodded and he attacked. We went on for several minutes, slashing our swords back and forth. Ty was bigger than me and older, but when it came to a swordfight, agility favored me. He would attack and I would dodge, parry, and strike.

For a moment, I tossed a glance at Steve and Joy. His hand wasn't covering her mouth anymore, but he still held her arms. My gaze met with hers and instead of the usual sparkle of playfulness I expected to see, her jade eyes were swirling with a feeling I couldn't name.

It was in that moment that everything changed.

It was as though everything had shifted. The comfort of reality was no longer there. Our make-believe world, this Neverland of ours, was no longer pretend. It was real. A heavy feeling of urgency settled in the pit of my stomach as I realized that if I lost this fight, she would no longer be Whispering Wren, my Indian Princess. She would be captured and taken away to the ship, to spend her days as Pirate Kay the Captured. I would never see her again.

I fought harder. I slashed my sword against the Captain's, warring for my Indian Princess's freedom. His sword flew as mine struck it. I held my sword to his neck and forced him to his knees. "Admit defeat." I demanded.

He sighed dramatically and waved him hand dismissively. "Take your precious Wendy and be gone."

I slid my sword back through the belt loop of my jeans. "Leave our territory, pirate." I grabbed Joy's hand and raced back toward the clearing. I sprawled down on the stump, still holding her hand in mine. She sat down beside me, frowning. "Joey?" she asked, uncertainty marring her voice.

I shook my head, "Running Deer," I insisted, silently chiding her for trying to break the imaginary world which before had seemed so real, but was now fading away.

"Running Deer," she amended quietly, "Are you alright?"

"No," I admitted, just as softly.

She turned her head away. "Oh." After a moment of silence, she asked, "Do you… do you ever… sometimes… wish this was really Neverland; that it was real?"

"It is real."

Her head hung lower. Wrong answer.

A thought tugged on my ear and I remembered the feather in my pocket. I dug it out and held it up. "Whispering Wren?" I couldn't see her face through the veil of hair covering it.

She didn't look up. "What?"

Annoyed, I reached forward and tucked the irritating tresses behind her ear. "Your hair's too long."

She smiled then. "It's so I can hit stupid boys like you with it."

I smiled, too, remembering the countless times she'd whacked me in the face with it. "Whispering Wren," I murmured gently, tying the feather to a lock of her hair, "You'll always be my Wendy," her eyes looked down at the feather as I laced my fingers through hers in a silent affirmation of my promise, "Even if there's no such thing as Neverland."