Mom said Sophia is being dropped off for the play date at two. I hope they’re not late. I’ve already set up my farm next to the Barbie house. The sheep and one of the pieces of the fence are missing, but I’ve done my best to make it look like the horse can’t run away. The hen and rooster are up in the top of the barn. The dog is chasing the cow because I think it’s funny. I threw the farm people behind the barn. I don’t need them because I have other plans for the tractor.
My uncle brought me five superheroes for my birthday last week, one for each year of my life he said. I put the superheroes in a pile next to the farm, except for Wonder Woman. She’s sitting on the couch in the Barbie house. I like her more than Barbie because she’s strong. I like her because she reminds me of Sophia too. Sophia wants to be a warrior or princess some day. Sophia is smart. She can even finish one side of a Rubix cube.
My sister runs in with her hands full of Barbies. One is dressed as a doctor, one is wearing a long pink dress, one is in a blue bathing suit, and the last one is wearing a bike racing uniform. It doesn’t look like they should all be together. She looks around.
“I need my Barbie house,” she says, her eyes wide open like she’s seen a ghost. “You can’t put Wonder Woman in there. That’s stupid!”
I grit my teeth. Mom follows her into the room to see what we’re doing. “Mom, Emily said the S word!”
Mom wraps her arm around Emily. “You know we don’t say that word. We’re kind to each other. Come on out of here. It’s time for Joey to have his play date so you can play with your Barbies in the other room.” She takes Emily out, and I smile.
I grab the Green Lantern and sit him on the tractor before I rush to the chair by the window. Sophia should get here any minute. I watch the mail truck stop at each house along the block. A few cars drive by but they’re not Sophia’s. I’m sure 87 years passed before I finally see her blue car pull into our driveway. I jump up to meet them at the door.
“Joey, I’ve made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for you so you can have a snack with Sophia in a little while. I’ll cut some apples too.” Mom puts her hands on my shoulders. “Make sure you behave.”
“I know, Mom.” I roll my eyes. “Sophia is my best friend. I never get in trouble when I’m with her.”
The doorbell rings and Mom opens the door wide. First I see Sophia with her hair split into two braids. She’s carrying a doll with denim overalls and a pink hat. Beside her, a boy a little taller than Sophia is wearing a black jacket with 45 pockets and jeans with rips at the knees.
“I hope you don’t mind I brought Sophia’s cousin too. He’s visiting from out of town,” Sophia’s mom says.
“No trouble at all.”
I hear the words come out of my mom’s mouth but they’re not true. Having another person at our play date is all the trouble.
Sophia steps in and stands beside me. She nods. I’ve always known I can trust Sophia.
“What games do you have?” this boy asks.
“You should introduce yourself first, Andy,” Sophia’s mom says. She points to me and does the introductions for him. We stand in silence for 23 minutes before my mom ushers us into the room with the farm and the Barbie house.
For a while we play without talking. I drive the tractor around with the Green Lantern while Sophia moves Wonder Woman around the house rearranging furniture. Andy plays with the farmer and his friends behind the barn until he suddenly looks up at Sophia.
“Wonder Woman doesn’t belong in that house,” Andy says. He stands the farmer in front of the barn and puts the cow next to him. He grabs the horse out from behind the fence and puts her next to the cow like he’s claiming both of them. I don’t say anything.
“This house is perfect for her,” Sophia says. “I pretend to be Wonder Woman, and I don’t live in a jungle.” She holds Wonder Woman up tall, smoothing her hair.
“I’ll bomb the house with fire and fury!” Andy says, although not loud enough for my mom to come check on the noise. He lifts the farmer up high. “Pow pow pow!” He flies the farmer over the house and whistles as if he’s dropping bombs.
“Andy, be nice,” Sophia says. She scoots over so her back is to her cousin.
I grip the Green Lantern and roll the tractor around in a circle. Andy tips the barn on its side so the chickens fall out. He throws them into the Barbie house knocking Wonder Woman out of Sophia’s hand.
“She needs to go back to the shithole country she came from,” Andy says. His eyes squint and I can hear him sucking air through his teeth.
I can’t believe it. The only time I heard that S word before was when my dad yelled at the TV. My mouth drops open and I hold my breath for 58 seconds before I realize Andy is staring at me. I chuckle. I reach into the Barbie house and grab Wonder Woman.
“Yes, go back to the shithole country!” I yell. Sophia turns around and shrinks away from me. Her eyes droop and I see tears drip down her cheeks. I hear footsteps, and I know how my mom will look before she gets to the door. I look up to see her standing with her hands on her hips, eyes burning into me.
“Joseph Daniel!” I’m in big trouble. “Pick up your toys. The play date is over.”
“He said it first!” I say, pointing to the trouble maker with my farmer still in his hand.
“That language is not allowed in this house,” Mom says.
“I heard the President say it!” Andy says, changing his face to look innocent. I can see the evil underneath though.
“I don’t care who said it. It will not be tolerated here,” Mom says. I don’t know why she’s arguing with this boy who won’t let go of my farmer.
“If he can say it, I can say it!” Andy declares and stomps his foot.
“Not here you won’t. Sophia, I’m sorry we have to end the play date early. I’ll call your mom to come pick you both up,” Mom says. She grips Sophia’s hand and squeezes. Her eyes turn to me. “We need to talk. Go upstairs and you can pick up your toys later.”
I put the Green Lantern down beside the other superheroes but keep Wonder Woman in my hand. I turn to Sophia before I get up and whisper, “I’m sorry. I don’t even know what that means.” I stand up and make the lonely walk to my room, passing my sister who pretends to feed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the doctor Barbie. The rest of the sandwiches sit on the counter with the apples next to them. The smell of the peanut butter makes me hungry.
I sit on my bed for 62 hours waiting for my mom to come upstairs. When she finally comes I struggle to look at her.
“I know you might be hearing a lot of bad things lately when your dad and I watch the news.” Her forehead is creased which usually means she has a headache. She tells me that sometimes.
“I never … heard it before. I don’t … I don’t know what it means. Please don’t be … mad at me,” I say. I can barely get the words out between my sobs.
“I’m not mad at you. I want you to know that language is not allowed, and I know as much as I try to protect you, other people like Andy can come in and fill your head with these terrible ideas. I don’t want you to believe him, or those foul ideas.”
“I don’t, Mom. You know me … and Sophia is my best … my best friend. I don’t want to hurt her.”
“I know, honey. Why don’t you rest a little now, and I’ll call Sophia’s mom. We’ll all work it out.” She kissed me on the head and left.
I fall back on my pillow and hold Wonder Woman in front of me. She’s smart. She’s strong. I grab a small doll blanket I took from my sister and wrap it around her. I pull a cotton ball I found in my mom’s bathroom out of the drawer and put it down as a pillow. I place Wonder Woman on the side table and tuck her in.