There was no electricity in the old hospital, yet sunlight, streaming through broken window panes, cast a pale glow over the empty rooms. The building had been condemned, and bold signs ineffectively warned trespassers away. College kids arrived at night, leaving beer bottles and cigarettes in their wake. Daytime brought younger teens who played hide-and-seek through the crumbling interior.
Cheryl was on the fourth floor, when she found a dusty walk-in closet lined with cluttered shelves. She didn’t like hide-and-seek or the old hospital. The sound of footsteps in the main hallway made her quickly step in and shut the door.
As her eyes adjusted, Cheryl jumped to see Ben grinning at her from a narrow gap in the shelves on the left. He quickly pulled her beside him, where they stood close, their bodies gently brushing against each other. If they were found, there was no place to run. But Cheryl had forgotten about the game.
Ben was a year older and would be starting high school in the fall. Though they’d grown up together, he had seemed different this year. Older and distant. His friends had started the summer of hide-and-seek. Ben was the reason Cheryl played.
The footsteps grew louder, closer, and Cheryl began to tremble. Ben pulled her into his chest and lowered his head into her hair. Cheryl held her breath, flinching when the door was wrenched open. Ben tightened his arm around her back.
The door was quickly slammed shut and the footsteps moved on, but it felt as if everything had changed. They stayed locked together, unsure, and Cheryl’s heart raced in anticipation.
After a few moments, Ben eased his arm away, whispering, “I think the coast is clear.”
Cheryl looked up at him and their faces were inches apart. Neither knew whether to move forward or reach back to the simpler days of tag and sidewalk chalk.
With a sudden rush, Ben pulled away from the wall and stepped into the main closet space. Cheryl hung back, her body cold without his touch.
As Ben opened the closet door, light from the hall filtered over them both. He turned back to Cheryl and held out his hand.
“Let’s make a run for it,” he said, with a smile that chased away her disappointment.
Grasping hands, they steadied themselves and ran back into the world together.