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There was an instant, between the backdoor’s swing and its blunted strike, where my mother called out to me, “Danielle, hol’ your sister’s han’!” Her voice swam, arresting as a lullaby as it mingled with the rustle of firm maple leaves and notes of honeysuckle in the thick August air. She said this and I didn’t bound down the steps, remembering that Lacy was behind me. She said this so often that I couldn’t be certain if my mother had truly spoken or if my mind had summoned her voice all on its own. So I did, and whenever I held Lacy’s hand I was reminded of how tiny her fingers were. And how slowly her little feet moved down the wooden stairway in that careful one-two-pause rhythm only small feet and unfamiliar stairs are acquainted with. And then it was hard for me to be mad with her for tagging along, even later when I caught her picking her nose.

 

Our favorite place in our new home in Virginia was the pond in the backyard adjacent to ours. Lacy had found it chasing a lavender butterfly on the day our father was deployed; it was the greatest thing she’d ever done. Overgrown bushes sewn along the hem created a hidden spot so we knew our neighbors wouldn’t mind us there. We sat on stones, wriggling our toes in the muddy ebb, and watched mosquito larvae dance in heated rays beneath the surface. Sometimes a frog would poke its head through into our realm to speak to us. That always gave Lacy a good laugh. Only at the pond would I talk about Texas, North Carolina, and California, none of which Lacy could firmly recollect, except to add sentiments of being fond of certain playgrounds and enamored when Daddy would come home and swing her around in his chair at the office.

The pond was where we first met Owen. He stumbled out of the woods with a book pressed under his arm the day I was explaining to Lacy about the particular loveliness of California ladybugs. Blue faded to white in the legs of his jeans, boring holes in the knees. He had amassed more dirt underneath his fingernails than I had ever dreamed of preserving. The way Lacy looked at him when she asked him to play couldn’t hide the fact that she thought he was beautiful.

When I learned he was a rising third grader, just one grade above me, I decided it couldn’t hurt if we were friends, and once I got to know him, he really wasn’t that bad at all. He was quiet, mostly, except for when he indulged us in elaborate tales about our new neighborhood in Fort Belvoir in which he had no trouble moving his lips over words like astonishing and marvelous. He shared what few toys he did have with us and even lent me his storybooks when I asked for them, though I suspect he knew I’d never be able to understand them as he could.

My mother liked him too. She called Owen a little gentleman because he always called her ma’am whenever he stopped by the house to see if we could come out to play. My mother liked that he wore me and Lacy out. She said whenever we were outside with him she knew she wouldn’t have to fight nobody about no bedtime. More importantly, I liked Owen because he almost always took my side in arguments with Lacy.