Julia Hughes stood at the mailbox, tapping the non-writing end of her pink Elvis Presley pen against her chin and scrunching up her face in thought.

"Hmmmmmmm. What spot should I choose?" she asked her father, Dave, who was standing nearby. "I mean, I can't do the same one as before."

For the 11-year-old, this was serious business: Everyone knows that a key strategy to winning tic-tac-toe is choosing the first move appropriately. So she drew her X in the top middle square on the piece of paper she had pulled from a scratch pad and taped to the inside of the mailbox's door. Then she closed the door.

"There! Now it's their turn," she said with a giggle.

Your move, Britton Farms Neighborhood Mail Carrier in Hilliard. Your move.

This is one way that the Britton Elementary School fifth-grader has escaped the boredom while staying at home during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (She also learned to fry churros and made cards and signs for all the neighbors)

"So I saw this thing on YouTube about people leaving treats for the Amazon and FedEx people," Julia explained – adding in an old-soul stage whisper and with a dismissive flick of her hand, "Don't worry, they had Clorox wipes and everything."

She continued: "Me and my friends had been playing tic-tac-toe on Zoom, so I decided to play with the mail lady. She's nice for delivering our mail each day, and I thought it would be fun."

Julia put her first board in the mailbox April 30 – with a key at the bottom that read "O=You, X=me" – and left the Elvis pen inside. And then she waited.

That afternoon, LaTeasha Wright drove up in her U.S. Postal Service truck.

"When I opened the mailbox, I said to myself, 'Oh, how cute! But I don't know if that's for me,'" she recalled with a laugh. "I saw the pen in the mailbox, and I smiled, but I just put the mail in the box and drove off."

Julia ran down several times that day to check to see if the carrier had played along. When she heard the truck go by, she ran down again.

"The first day, the lady didn't do it," she said with a shrug.

Undeterred, she left the board to try again.

The next day when Wright pulled up, the family was in the driveway waving and asking her how her day was going.

"They told me it was for me to play," said Wright, who, after more than two decades in the medical field, has been a mail carrier since February. So she marked her first O, laughing the whole time, she said.

That stop at the Hughes house now brightens each day of her route.

"It makes me smile. It's a nice thing to know she cares," Wright said. "Every day after I make my O, I give a little wave and a smile in case they're peeking out the window."

Julia won Round 1. She taped the "board" to the side of the mailbox to show off her victory, and the next day she started a new board.

"Now," she said to her dad, "I need to make a tiny little scoreboard."

hzachariah@dispatch.com

@hollyzachariah