The swamp and its river cut through the neighborhood like a mother, nurturing but firm. Houses surrounded both sides of the river, expensive one- and two-story ranch style dwellings. The streets were lined with majestic oaks and Florida palms. Children (and neighbors) were trusted enough to roam those streets, turning days of summer into days of tranquil existence. The murky water of the river was clear enough if one got close, but, then again, none recommended swimming in it. Rumors of alligators circulated the neighborhood from time to time, but were never justified. A not so sturdy white wooden bridge closed the gap of river that separated the front of the neighborhood from the back. Every time a car would cross the structure, it would shake until it resembled skyscrapers caught in an earthquake. But the bridge was never repaired, never replaced. Posts not very wide in diameter held up the bridge. The local daredevils could loop their arms around the posts and still have plenty of breathing room. Still, it wasn't very safe for them to do that, for the poles were covered with razor-sharp oysters. Low tide was the best time to be at the bridge. With the moon, the water receded, revealing cement slabs that had once been a unit, creating a fishing platform. What remained were "boulders", some large enough to lay on, others the size of a shoe. The fragmented platform is where we begin our story. It is a story of childish infatuation, a story of the age of innocence. It is a story of a final childhood summer for two childhood friends. ~ * ~ They were, and always had been, best friends. If you asked either of them, they would have told you that they would be friends forever. They were so naive, but then again, they were still children. They weren't very young. They were eight or nine or ten, old enough to start looking at boys. That summer it was Jason Linger. Jason was a year older than the two friends, and he was growing into his body. His voice had deepened; his muscles had begun to fill out. So, it was only natural that the two friends invited him over whenever they could. "Mara, did you have your grandmother ask him?" Leia's voice was calm and casual, but Mara knew very well of the excitement that lay underneath. "Yes, and he's coming." Mara's grandmother, Mimi, was Jason's godmother. What a perfect convenience! Mara had known Jason all her life. They saw each other pretty often, but Mara had never thought of him as more than a family friend. That was until she saw him at The Bridge. It was a hot day in the middle of the summer. The air was thick and heavy. The sun pounded down, so bright that if it had been just a few degrees brighter, the tar would have been gleaming. It was a typical but perfect Florida summer afternoon. Mara called Leia, and they agreed to meet at the bridge in half an hour. Mara had nothing to do, so she walked down to The Bridge to pass the time there. On her way down, a boy pedaled past her on a bicycle. He rode a short bike, which, for some reason, was popular with boys in that day. His blonde hair was cut surfer-style, which was also popular. "He thinks he's so cool." Mara thought, giving him a passing glance. Bitterly laughing to herself, she thought also that she didn't like boys who tried so desperately to be cool. Mara arrived at the bridge, frowning for a moment at the high tide. She and Leia would have to find something else to do. No playing on the rocks today. She crouched down, her fingers finding the powdery rocks to throw into the river. She had been practicing skipping rocks lately, but had no luck. Mara breathed in the smells of the swamp-the strangely fresh air marred by scents of decomposition, fish, and mud. They were the scents of life, though Mara didn't think about it then. Leia joined her friend some minutes later. Though they didn't know why, they stayed at The Bridge, talking about everything from grades to family to, (surprise!), boys. They were so involved in their conversation that they didn't notice the boy on the bicycle pedal up to them. "Mara, hey," he said. Mara turned, seeing the same boy she had passed earlier. " ." "Could you tell me where Nana's house is?" Mara finally recognized him. It was Jason! " ," Mara said, blinking. She dwelled for a moment on his use of the name "Nana." She never had liked it. She preferred "Mimi" because it sounded way cooler. "Right up there by the stop sign," she said, pointing. "Thanks," he said. He gave a little salute, and was off. "Who was that?" Leia asked. "Jason. He goes to our school. He's in the fourth grade," Mara said, her eyes following the retreating bike. "He's cute." "Yeah." Mara said slowly. Leia was right. He was very cute. The seeds of a young crush started taking root in the hearts of Mara and Leia. "Mara, did you have your grandmother ask him?" Leia's voice was calm and casual, but Mara knew very well the excitement that lay underneath. "Yes, and he's coming." Mara's grandmother, Mimi, was Jason's godmother. What a perfect convenience! Jason did come to Mara's house to swim that day (to the utter delight of the girls), and he continued to throughout the summer. When the humid breezes started to dry, and summer drew to a close, the girls admitted that they didn't like Jason as much as they had at the beginning of the summer. It had been fun writing "I Jason" and "Jason -n- Leia 4-eva" in chalk rock on The Bridge, but the girls had simply grown out of it. They had matured. Later, both girls would admit that that had been the best summer of their lives. A few years later, the girls went to middle school, and ended up in separate schools. Soon after that, Mara moved out of the neighborhood and the "eternal friends" fell out of touch. The girls grew older, wondering every once in awhile what the other was doing. Both looked back on The Bridge with fond remembrance. Their final childhood summer had taken place there, after all. They would never forget the bridge, they would never forget Jason, and most importantly, they would never forget each other.