Jacob sat in his sandbox pulling the sand closer to him. The sun cast yellow onto his dusty kingdom as he poured water into the sand in an effort to fortify the grand walls. He stood up and peered down at his accomplishment just as his mother called out his name to come in for lunch.
He walked inside to find his mother and her boyfriend sitting at the table snacking on plantain chips and sipping from glasses of water, waiting for him. He took his seat and his mother got up from hers. She grabbed a plate from the counter and placed it into the middle of the table. He took one of the small triangular sandwiches and bit into it, tuna fish and mayonnaise with crunchy bits of green pepper mixed in. His mother’s boyfriend took a bite and grinned at him.
“How do you like it, Jacob?” asked his mother’s boyfriend.
Jacob looked away from him and to his mom as he finished his sandwich.
“Jacob, Mark asked you a question. He made these sandwiches for us to eat. They’re yummy, right?” asked his mother.
He forced a smile to Mark and took another sandwich from the plate.
“They’re tasty. Thank you,” said Jacob, not looking up from his sandwich. He swallowed and took a sip of water.
“Glad you like them, buddy,” replied Mark. “What is it you’re working on back there in the sandbox?” He looked over his shoulder and out into the backyard. The sandbox was too far for him to make out what Jacob was constructing. He pulled a pair of glasses from the pocket of his shirt and put them on. “Making a bunch of sand piles? Is that a mountain range?”
Jacob looked to his mother and frowned.
“Uh,” said his mother, “I think it might be something a bit more complicated than mountains. Is it a kingdom?”
“A kingdom? That’s great! Yeah, I see it now. Sorry about that,” said Mark. He grabbed another sandwich and stuffed his face so he wouldn’t say something else to hurt Jacob’s feelings. He swallowed. “How’s the defense of your kingdom going? A kingdom that size needs at least some traps to keep the bad guys away.”
Mark continued. “I could teach you how to make some traps if you’d like. Or better yet, let’s put together a catapult. That’ll be the best defense for your kingdom. What do you say?”
Jacob looked at Mark and nodded.
“Is it okay if we go play now, Laura?” asked Mark, his lip upturned into his goatee.
Laura laughed and grabbed the plate from the center of the table. “What type of supplies will you need for this catapult of yours?”
“Let’s see what you got,” said Mark, looking to Jacob. “Do you have any craft supplies?”
Jacob grabbed Mark by the hand and pulled him towards the drawers on the other side of the counter. The six-year-old opened the silverware draw and peered in, standing on his tip-toes to get a look inside. Mark looked inside too.
“There,” said Jacob, accumulating a handful of Popsicle sticks as he picked them from the drawer one by one.
“We could use some of these too,” said Mark, grabbing some rubber bands.
“We’ll need something else,” Mark tapped his fingers on the counter as he looked around. “Hmm.” He opened the medicine cabinet and took the cap from atop the cough syrup. “Mind if we use this?” he asked Laura.
She nodded and walked over to another drawer. “Here’s some clay. Use it to stick your contraption together.”
Jacob took the clay.
“But you said before that my clay would get dirty in the sandbox,” said Jacob.
“It’s okay, we can get you some more,” replied his mother. “Go and protect your kingdom.”
The two boys took their supplies out into the backyard. They set them on the side of the sandbox, which was constructed using four wooden walls a foot high built around sand poured over a black tarp.
“This is a nice sandbox you’ve got here. Did you help build it?” asked Mark.
“Yeah,” replied Jacob, “my mom helped me. I,” he walked around to the back of the sandbox, “thought of this so it doesn’t get ruined when I’m not here,” he pulled up a black tarp that was folded up beside the sandbox. “At night I put this on too so no monsters can come in here to play. They’d ruin everything.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Mark. “Once we make this catapult I don’t think any monsters will be tough enough to mess with your sandbox ever again.” He scratched the back of this head, “probably still best to use the tarp in case of rain, even a catapult can’t help with that.”
Jacob laughed and dropped the tarp back to the ground.
They sat together playing with the supplies on the side of the sandbox. Mark began making a base, taking from the dozen Popsicle sticks at their disposal and sticking them together with the clay.
“Now what?” asked Jacob, looking at the completed base.
“We’re almost done,” replied Mark. He stuck two sticks at the front of the base, securing them with rubber bands, then stuck another horizontally at the top using the clay. “Come here, Jacob. I need your help with this.” He watched as Jacob attached another stick to the catapult, this time vertically atop the horizontal one. “Now stick the cup to that one using some clay.”
“Is it done?” asked Jacob.
“Looks done, but we’ve got some sticks left. Let’s make it extra strong at the base.”
“What’re we going to launch at the monsters?”
“Hmm, we’ll need some good ammunition. How about some little rocks? Come on, let’s look for some.”
“I know where we can get some!” shouted Jacob, a burst of excitement in his voice. “Oh, but mom doesn’t like when I take them.”
“What’re you thinking?”
“There’s little rocks in the front yard in mom’s garden. I used to take them and pretend they were magical gems and placed them around my castles, but she got mad at me and made me put them back.”
“I’ll go ask her,” said Mark, pushing his hands into his thighs and grunting as he got back to his feet.
He walked up to the house and disappeared inside. Jacob looked on from the sandbox as he practiced pulling the catapult back and launching puffs of sand into the air.
Mark jogged back towards the sandbox, coming from the side yard.
“She says it’s okay.” He placed a handful of pebbles on the side of the sandbox.
“Wow,” said Jacob, “that’s a lot.” His eyes lit up as he gazed over the pile of medieval missiles.
“Here,” said Mark, creating a small pile of sand with his hands. “Try hitting this.”
Jacob placed a pebble into the catapult and pulled back. He let go and the pebble soared through the air until it crashed down into the soft white pile.
“We did it!” shouted Jacob. He got up and ran to Mark, wrapping his arms around him.
Mark held onto Jacob, releasing him when Jacob reached again for the catapult.
“Now we’ll need a bigger kingdom,” said Jacob, playing with the catapult. “With this for protection the king will be looking to expand.”
Jacob looked around and then grabbed a stick from the ground. “Here is the king.” He stuck the king into place atop the tallest tower of the kingdom.
“What a handsome king.” Mark smirked and began construction on another pile.
Once the sandbox had been filled to the brim with carefully constructed towers Jacob fetched more sticks.
“And who are these guys?” asked Mark, watching Jacob push sticks into the sand.
“These are soldiers. These two,” he said, wrapping rubber bands around the tops of the sticks, “are the two in charge of the catapult.”
“That’s a big responsibility, do you trust them?”
“If the king trusts them then so do I,” replied Jacob, completely serious.
“How about we make a crown for the king?”
“What should we use?”
Jacob tapped his finger on the side of his mouth as he thought, a gesture he’d seen his mother do dozens of times. “We can use this,” he affixed clay to the top of the stick, “and then this,” he pushed a pebble into the clay, “what a handsome king,” he said, mimicking Mark’s previous comment.
“What about a queen? Every king needs a queen.”
“Gross,” said Jacob. He folded his arms and shook his head. “No queens allowed in this kingdom. This is a boy’s only kingdom.”
“Of course it is.” Mark laughed while he gathered more nearby twigs. “Let’s put some more soldiers around the border of the sandbox, for extra protection.”
“You’re a genie.”
“I think you mean genius.”
“Oh,” said Jacob, his cheeks turned red as he situated the soldiers around the border.
“Genies grant wishes. I don’t know if I can quite pull that off.”
“I,” Jacob looked over to Mark, “wished for a…”
He turned around and placed the last soldier.
“What is it?” asked Mark.
“On my birthday my mom tells me I’m allowed to make one wish when I blow out the candles. When I was a little kid last year I wished for a new dad. Now you’re here. Took you long enough.”
“Oh, ha-ha, that’s a great wish. I don’t think I’ll be able to ever replace your father, but I’d like to get to know you better.”
“This won’t do.”
“What do you mean?”
“This kingdom is too big, we’ll need another catapult to protect it.” Jacob stood on the edge of the sandbox observing his hard work.
“Do you remember the supplies we used last time?”
“Uh huh,” replied Jacob, nodding his head. He ran towards the house and disappeared inside.
Mark sat on the side of the sandbox, mulling over what Jacob had just told him. He’d been dating Laura for six months, struggling to connect with Jacob the entire time. He couldn’t help but smile, having finally made a breakthrough.
Jacob came running from the house, with Laura not far behind.
The six-year-old placed the materials on the ground and began putting together a base for the new catapult.
“Looks like you two have been busy,” said Laura. She knelt down beside her son. “Can you show me how to build a catapult?” she asked.
“Mmhm,” he replied. “Mark can you get us some more rocks? Mom, is it okay?”
“Of course,” she replied. Mark took his leave to the front of the house.
“How do you like Mark?” she asked.
“He’s amazing. He showed me how to, wait,” he struggled with connecting the Popsicle sticks to the base with rubber bands, “I can’t do it. We need Mark.”
“Let me try.” She wrapped the rubber bands around the ends up the Popsicle sticks and then secured them to the base. “Now what?”
“Now,” exuding confidence Jacob continued on the construction, “we attach sticks here and here. You can put one at the top, mom.” She pushed a stick into the clay. “Good job, mom.” He attached the small plastic cup to the top of the catapult as Mark returned with more pebbles.
“Looks great, Jacob,” said Mark. “Want to give it a try?”
The six-year-old loaded up the cup and pulled it back.
“Are you ready, mom?” he asked. “This is going to be a good one.” He situated the catapult until it lined up with his target, facing the other catapult and the two soldiers in charge of it. “Bam!” he shouted, letting go. The pebbles rocketed through the air and crashed down into the kingdom, pelting the other catapult and knocking one of the soldiers to the side. “You made a good catapult, mom. Here,” he pushed the catapult to her. “You use this one. Come on, Mark.” He climbed into the sandbox and plucked the other catapult from its perch. “Go on that side, mom,” he said, pointing to the far side of the sandbox. He held the catapult in one hand and pulled Mark along with the other. They situated themselves on the other side of the sandbox.
“Looks like we’ve found ourselves in a battle,” said Mark. He laughed as he looked at Laura. “Are you ready for this?”
“You two are going to get it.” She filled her catapult with a mixture of pebbles and sand.
Jacob and Mark did the same.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
Jacob looked to Mark and smiled.
“Bam!” shouted Jacob, letting go.