The Tree House

Jereck Forrester parked his pickup truck in the driveway of his childhood home. It was weird seeing the "Sale Pending" sticker on the Roger T. Nolan and Associates Real Estate sign planted on the front lawn. Agent Linwood Spencer did a great job moving the house quickly (especially during a pandemic) and Jereck successfully cleared the house of its belongings.

"Geez Jereck, how many times you going to say goodbye!?"

Jereck turned to see Michaela Shapiro walking across the street wearing a blue COVID-19 mask. Going through a lengthy, contested, ugly drawn out divorce, Michaela was temporarily back in her childhood home living with her mother. She helped Jereck and his sister Katie empty out the home. All three had been great friends through the years.

"We forgot about the tree house," Jereck remarked as he dug out his homemade mask from his pocket and put it on his face.

"I thought you said that was the best selling point," Michaela replied.

"I mean we forgot to clean it out," Jereck clarified. "It's still full of crap."

"How'd the hell did you forget that?" Michaela laughed.

"I was focused on everything else," he said with a shrug.

"You should call the new owners and see if they want what's up there," Michaela suggested.

"It's all junk," Jereck replied. "Twenty five year old bug invested crap. Why make them clean it out?"

"Can I see it one more time?" Michaela asked.

"No girls allowed," Jereck joked.

"Come on," Michaela pleaded. "For old time sake?"

"You can help throw everything over the side," Jereck decided. "John will be by later to help load the truck."

Jereck and Michaela walked to the backyard. Michaela was taller than her friend by a good three inches. Jereck made the mistake of calling her an Amazon Woman just once – she punched him so hard in the stomach that he keeled over (that was when he was thirteen).

Michaela was self-conscious about her appearance during those awkward years because of her unusual height but Jereck considered her to be pretty in a girl-next-door (in this case the girl across the street) sort of way. He had always been secretly in love with her.

They called The Tree House The Wizard Of Oz House because it looked like a tornado dropped it into the three trees in the backyard.

Jereck's dad built the structure when Jereck was young. He and his sister Katie argued about who the tree house was built for – their father would never answer the question, but their mom insisted it was for both of them.

Mr. Forrester built a rectangular frame over a triangular base ten feet off the ground using the three trees as support. The interior walls were six feet high with a pitched sheeted roof, two front windows and door and one long back window. The tree house had a rustic cottage look to it including a front porch illusion with rails on the edge of the platform.

"The envy of the neighborhood," Jereck remarked as he and Michaela stood in the wet grass from a recent rain admiring Mr. Forrester's creation.

"Yep," Michaela agreed as she stepped underneath the tree house and unhooked the rope ladder from its holding place against one of the tree trunks.

Jereck was standing between the three trees underneath the platform looking up to examine the bottom of the structure for any noticeable wear or plant growth (moss sometimes grew on the wood) so he wasn't paying attention to Michaela who was attempting to begin her assent up the rope ladder.

Unfortunately, Michaela hadn't realized that the wooden rungs of the ladder had become fatigued and rotted from age, weather and non-use and the bottom rung snapped from her weight sending her unsuspectingly to the ground on her ass with a wham.

"Damn it," she swore.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jereck asked, rushing to her rescue.

"The stupid ladder broke," Michaela grumbled as Jereck helped her to her feet.

Jereck examined the ladder rungs while Michaela attempted to brush her wet ass from the rain soaked grass.

"I think it's just that bottom one," Jereck reported as he put his weight on the second rung and began to climb the ladder. "I'll have to fix that bottom one before we close."

The rope ladder swayed as Jereck reached the platform and Michaela cautiously followed, not quite trusting the rope.

Jereck boosted himself onto the platform and then helped Michaela when she reached the top.

"Wow, it's been a long time since I've been up here," Michaela said as she glanced around, admiring the familiar view of the various yards of the neighborhood from the platform. The green door that Mr. Forrester salvaged from an abandoned barn squeaked from its rusted hinges when Jereck opened it. The windows afforded the interior plenty of light in the daylight. Mr. Forrester had strung electricity so there was an overhead light but the power source had been turned off from the house for safety reasons in recent years.

The tree house included three couches, a small table, some shelving built into the walls, and an old television set with a vintage VCR player underneath. There used to be a mini-frig but that was absconded for college use years ago.

Most of the VCR cassettes and books had also been removed from the premises years ago but there were still some old magazines lying around and a few abandoned books. Old posters of football heroes, rock personalities, and television characters were mummified to the walls.

"I supposed all the posters have to go," Jereck said. "Ancient news now."

"Yep," Michaela agreed, again brushing her ass and the resulting wet spot. "Oh, the hell with it," she grumbled, kicking off her sneakers and peeling her jeans off.

"What are you doing?" a surprised Jereck asked.

"My wet jeans are driving me crazy," she said.

Her blouse was long enough to cover her (also wet) panties.

"How's your Dad doing?" Michaela asked as she placed her jeans on the back of one of the couches to let it dry in the warm sun coming through the window.

"The same," Jereck replied, glancing around the tree house trying to figure out where to start with the clean out process.

Mr. Forrester was in the Blue County Nursing Home from a stroke that led to cognitive struggles making his return to the house unlikely which is why Katie and Jereck decided to sell it (their Dad had put the property in their name following an earlier heart attack after his wife's death).

"The fact that the COVID-19 didn't kill him in there yet is a good sign, I suppose," Michela remarked.

"How's your Dad doing?" Jereck asked.

"I don't see much of him these days," Michela replied as she flopped on the couch. "He's kind of mysterious about his life since leaving my mother. It's rather ironic that we both divorced around the same time."

"Sorry," Jereck replied as he started to tear some of the petrified posters from the walls.

"When was the last time you were up here?" Michaela wondered.

"I don't know," Jereck shrugged. "College maybe?"

"So, like fifteen years?"

"At least," Jereck decided.

"Any second thought regrets about selling the house?" Michaela asked.

"I have that nice condo in Greenville," Jereck replied with satisfaction. "Katie and John love their modern house in South County. We'd have to buy each other out if one of us decided we wanted it." He gave her an amused look with his eyes since his mouth was covered by the mask. "Why didn't you buy it?" He teased.

"Right, live right across the street from my mother," Michaela said, rolling her eyes. "That would be the dream."

"How long you staying with her?"

"Until me and Mohamed figure out the settlement and he decides what he wants to do with the house," Michaela replied. "But please don't remind me about that. It's been the year from hell even before the pandemic."

"You'll be okay," Jereck predicted.

"I guess I should count my blessings," Michaela stated.

"That's the spirit."

"So, you finally got me right where you wanted me, even if it twenty years too late," Michaela smirked beneath her mask.

"Huh?" Jereck asked, throwing her a look. Most of the posters were off the walls now.

"Come on, pal, I know you always wanted to get me up here one-on-one back in our perverted teenage days."

Jereck blushed.

"You know it's true," Michaela remarked.

Jereck cleared his throat. "I already got your pants off," he dared to joke.

"I did that." Michaela grinned underneath the mask as she stood from the couch and stepped toward him, her ponytail bouncing behind her. "How long the fantasy?" She wanted to know.

"Since I was fifteen," he freely admitted.

"Fascinating," she said.

"I always liked you best."

"I knew that," Michaela said, reaching out and taking hold of his hand.

"When's the last time you washed and antiseptic'ed your hands?" He joked.

"How many other girls did you bring up here?"

"Not many," he said with some embarrassment.

"Julie Ann?" Michaela asked. "I heard you popped her cherry up here." She tightened her grip on his hand.

"Neighborhood scuttlebutt gossip," Jereck insisted.

"But is it true?"

He glanced away and that gave her the answer she already knew.

"You were all hot to trot for Brandon anyway," Jereck reminded her.

"You're still jealous?" She teased, pulling him closer.

"Yes," Jereck admitted, leaning in and kissing her through her mask.

"Our first kiss ever!" Michaela giggled.