Whisper 2.17

Hey, Shan.

Thanks for writing. OK. I get it. You don’t feel like traveling, and you’re not coming to visit. I’ll stop asking.

Just as well, I guess. Our house is crowded.

I don’t just mean with two adults, two teens, a dog, and a cat–but with spirits. Some nights, our home is so full there’s hardly room to sit!

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It’s a weird feeling. You ever been around ghosts? Sometimes, it feels like an air current or change in air temperature, hot or cold. Sometimes, it makes me feel queasy. It always interrupts what I’m doing or getting ready to do.

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I guess it’s not the worst thing. Keeps me feeling close to Mom, Dante, and Uncle Frank. It makes me feel like there’s some kind of continuity and that all that’s come before isn’t lost. We’ve got ways of remembering, like taking a picture, but a picture that we store in our spirits. Eh, didn’t mean to go all metaphysical on you.

Speaking of forgetting what one’s doing… you won’t believe what Riley did. Or rather, forgot she was doing.

She was grilling hotdogs, when Zoey came out to play, and she started playing with him.

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And the next thing you know, we had a fire on our hands. Zoey tore outta there as if the Reaper were on his tail!

Riley started screaming and waving her hands.

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I came out with the fire extinguisher. I’ve done this before. Lucky thing, too, for I was able to put it out and everybody was OK.

I had all this adrenaline built up, though, so I went for a long jog all through town. So much for spending the afternoon working on my novel, which is what I’d planned to do!

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I was glad, though. Running home, in the soft rain, with the mist kissing the mountains, I realized again how much I love it here. It’s beautiful like nowhere else.

Do you feel that way about your town?

I think we develop a sense of home-aesthetics; at least, I do. Wherever I go, I measure it by home. Has it got mountains? If not, it might be beautiful, but it’s not capital-B beauty.  Is it raining or snowing? Do clouds soften the light of the sun? If not, maybe it’s bright, yeah,  but it’s not Beauty. Are the trees covered with green leaves, and does frost make the meadow sparkle? If not, it’s not got the beauty of home.

This day was home-quality perfect beauty all the way.

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It was really pouring by the time I reached home.

There, standing in the rain, looking at our house, was a stray cat.

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Seeing the cat there brought back so many memories. Did I ever tell you about Stray Dog? That was my first true love. Stray Dog was this cute old gray fellow with a curly borzoi tail. He showed up at our place on a rainy spring day.

We always wanted to adopt him. In fact, my mom spent hours every day while I was at school out playing with him until he’d let her pet him, and then brush him. And then they became friends. And then best friends. And then, he wandered off once more, and we never saw him again.

I looked for him for weeks. We even cut our vacation to the desert short because I wanted to get home, in case he was waiting for us.

I learned a lot about love then. I thought, at first, that because we loved him so much, he’d have to live with us. Doesn’t love require that it be returned in kind? When he left, I felt so forlorn. I was convinced he didn’t love us, after all. And so, then what was I to do with all the affection I felt? Was I wrong to love him, if he didn’t love us back? My mom said that love is never wrong, and that love comes in all sorts of ways. Just because he wandered didn’t mean he didn’t love us. Just because he wanted to live as a free dog, who belonged to no one, didn’t mean that he didn’t also love us. It just meant that he had to live free.

I remembered all of this while I played with the stray cat. But I can’t help that I also felt growing in me this strong desire that it turn out differently with Stray Cat.

I’m sure once she gets to know me, Riley, Bo, Patches, Zoey, and Roxey, she’ll want to live with us. After all, we’ve got organic gourmet beef kitty chow!

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You know what else we’ve got? Organic veggie burgers! Sure you don’t want to come visit?

Be well, Shannon. I love you. I miss you.

Wish me luck adopting Stray Cat!

–Marigold

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Whisper 2.15

Heya, Shan. Thanks for the postcard you sent. I love the painting of lava you did on the cover, and the one word you wrote on the back made my day.

“Radical” has always been one of my favorite words.

We had big drama at home this week. You like drama? Naw, me neither. But with a rebel teenage brother and a law-abiding IF helping me raise said little brother, drama is bound to happen.

I was out for a long nighttime run. I love running at night. There’s hardly any traffic, and I can feel the frost creep up as the temperature drops, and the stars! Well, the stars look like ice crystals, but I know they’re suns for other worlds. So there I was, running under the suns of other worlds, when the whole three act drama plays out at home.

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See, Bo went over to the Wolffs’ house after school. It’s sort of a tradition, since I always went home with Waylon after school, and now Bo goes home with Gator. Our family kinda likes hanging out with the werewolves.

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Bo said he had a great time over there.  He did his homework–before playing video games, I might add! Then he listened to Dwayne playing the guitar.

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And then, before he knew it, it was late. He got a courtesy ride home–from the cops. He persuaded the cop to let him off down the street so he could walk home as if nothing had happened.

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But he wasn’t counting on Riley waiting up for him. She’s got a thing about following the rules.

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“Um. So. I’m home?” Bo said.

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Riley let into him. Of course, knowing Riley, I’m sure she was sweet about it and never even raised her voice. Let’s just say that she read him the riot act in sotto voce.

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She told me that he actually applauded her speech.

“That was awesome!” he said. “You used about twenty of the best why-follow-rules cliches ever! Even the classic: ‘rules are for following!’ Duh! I bet the rule-makers paid you big bucks for using that one!”

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He was mad. She was hurt.

“So, how much do I have to pay you to keep you from grounding me or telling on me to Marigold?”

She said that was the final straw, and she grounded him for a week.

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When I got home, there was such a fuss waiting. Bo was upstairs, rocking as fast as he could in the rocking chair, and Riley was downstairs, rocking as slowly as she could in the rocking chair, and the upstairs floor was creaking lickety-split, while the downstairs floor was groaning and moaning!

I had to pry the story out of Riley, for she really didn’t want to tell on Bo. We talked a bit. I told her the story about when I was out after curfew and got a ride home in the cop car. That was also at the Wolffs’ house! And I got grounded, too.

“But then Mom ungrounded me,” I told Riley. “It’s a stupid rule, anyway, and we were never meant to follow stupid rules! Besides, having to ride home in a cop car is punishment enough.”

“Bo thought it was cool,” she said. But she agreed that we could let Bo off the hook. She was too mad and too hurt to speak to him. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” she said. “If he apologizes.”

So I went upstairs to tell Bo he wasn’t grounded, after all, but that, all the same, it’s probably a good idea to be home by ten.

Oh! But I left out the best part!

On my run, I swung by the festival grounds.

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And guess what I saw? Puppies!

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There were two of the most adorable, bouncy puppies!

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Are you sure you don’t want to move to Moonlight Falls with me? We could get our own house and adopt puppies! They’ve got two! One for me and one for you!

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Think about it?

I miss you.

Love,

Marigold

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Whisper 2.14

Hey, Shannon.

Well, I made it home. And, guess what? It was still snowy when I arrived! My worries that I’d miss the snow melt were for nothing!

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Remember how you said it was important for me to get back home because people here needed me?

You were right.

When I arrived, Bo and Patches were both standing in their room, not speaking to each other. Patches looked mad, and Bo, he just looked forlorn.

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I’ve never seen my little brother look that way.

They both broke out in smiles when they saw me, and, for the moment, their troubles seemed forgotten.

The next morning, though, I made sure to spend a little time with each of them. I’ve been gone for a while, and a lot can change in a family in the time it takes to get a degree.

Bo and I worked out together. It gave us a chance to catch up while doing something–kind of took the pressure off of talking about difficult things.

Eventually, Bo came out with it. “She hates me,” he said. “I deserve it. I’m rotten to the core. But it still sucks. I thought she’d have my back to the end.”

It was Patches he was talking about. I thought about it while we continued working out. My IF Riley and I are so close–even though we’re different, I feel like she can read my mind.

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I bet Patches can read Bo’s mind, too.

Shannon, have you ever been so close to someone that you could read their mind? If that person has friendly thoughts, it can be nice. It can bring the two of you closer. But what would happen if that person didn’t always have the most generous of thoughts? What if some of those thoughts were even destructive or mean?

I found Patches playing chess on the computer.

She and I aren’t that close, so I wasn’t really sure how to approach this.

“You ever get inside your opponent’s mind when you’re playing chess?” I asked her, cringing at how obvious I thought I was being.

But Patches was interested in the question. “I can’t really read their minds,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s as if I can, because I can figure out the lines of possibles moves, and then based on my analysis of their play, I can predict which one they’ll choose, so it’s as if I can. But in truth, there’s only one person whose mind I can read, and that’s Bo.”

Uh-huh.

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I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. What would you have done, Shannon? Would you have even gotten involved?

Part of me felt like not intruding, but when I saw how sad Bo looked, I couldn’t just ignore it. I feel like if I notice something, it’s for a reason. So if I notice that there are problems between my brother and his IF, then it seems like it’s up to me to say something. I mean, what if I didn’t say anything and they just went on being miserable? At least if I say something, the worse thing that can happen is that they get mad at me for interfering. And that’s not so bad!

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Bo and I headed out to join Riley at the tea table. I figured it might help to have Riley’s perspective.

“So how did you all get along while I was gone?” I asked. Yeah, you know me, Shannon–I’m not really subtle.

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“Beautifully,” Bo said.

“Well,” Riley confessed, “Sometimes we got along beautifully.”

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She poured a little more tea and looked at Bo.

“And sometimes not,” she said. “It’s natural for teenagers to be moody, and I guess sometimes bad moods can be taken out on other people.”

“I keep it to myself,” Bo said, “when I feel that way. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

I remembered how angry I’d felt sometimes when I was a teen. There were days when I wanted to stop being friends with my mom, when I wanted to skip school, and when the whole world just sucked. I tried to keep it to myself and not act on any of it, but my mom was pretty good at figuring it out, anyway.

“Riley,” I said, “You know how you always say that you can read my thoughts?”

“Oh, sure,” she replied. “It’s that way with all IFs and their person. I mean, after all, it was your thoughts, initially, that brought us to life.”

“Uh-huh. I guess it was pretty lucky that you spent most of my teen years in my mom’s closet. What do you think it would’ve been like for you if you’d been around when I was having rotten thoughts and feelings?”

“I wouldn’t have minded,” Riley said. “I would have understood. Unless they were mean thoughts about me.”

“They might have been,” I said, “unless I learned to reel it in a bit when I was feeling hormonal.”

“Can you control your thoughts?” Bo asked.

“You can be aware of them, at least,” I said. “And then if you end up having a thought that’s ungenerous, you can not fuel it with emotions by just watching it pass.”

Shannon, do you think that was an OK approach for me to take? I thought about being more direct and letting Bo know that when he thinks mean thoughts about Patches she picks up on them, and that’s what causes the distance between them. But I also thought that he might be more responsive if I came at it from an angle. I don’t know. I’m not very good at helping my brother with complicated interpersonal relationships. What would you have done?

It might have been OK that I took that approach, for you know what he said next?

“That sounds like an art. An art of the mind. I’m not sure I can only have beautiful thoughts. In fact, I’m pretty sure, no, I can’t. I don’t even know what comes first, the thought or the feeling.”

I told him that not knowing was a start and he could watch to see what did come first.

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I don’t know, Shannon. I’m not sure anything I said made a difference or helped at all. But I did notice that afternoon that he and Patches were talking, then they were joking, and then they were sitting together to play a game of chess.

That afternoon, I found Riley standing at the upstairs window looking out over the back meadow.

“Your feelings were right,” she said, just as if she’d read my mind. “Letting Bo discover on his own how his thoughts and feelings are intertwined and how they affect those he lives with, that’s the right approach.”

I joined Riley, and together, we watched the snow melt.

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Shannon, what’s a family? We share all these tangles of emotions and habits in this shared space, and we have all this history and tradition. We get defined by the thoughts we hold of each other. I think part of what drew me to you was a sense of freedom I felt from you–you define yourself. But didn’t you say to me, shortly before I left, that you found something of yourself when you were with me, something you had never known existed?

Riley leaned against me and smiled while we watched the grass showing itself for first spring. “Everything’s right,” she said. “Now, when it all feels good, and even before, when it felt messed up. The whole of everything is right.”

Life’s not really simple, is it, Shannon?

I’ve just been home a few days, and I miss you already. What do you say to coming to Moonlight Falls for a visit? I’m sure this valley would love to see you! And the valley is not alone in that wish…

Love,

Marigold

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Whisper 2.13

Hey, Riley!

How’s it all at home?

Man, these last few weeks of the term have flown by!

At a party the other night, I ran into Jaclyn, one of the first people I met here, and we were realizing that in just a few days, we’ll graduate.

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I haven’t really been doing much besides studying, painting, and hanging out with Shannon.

Oh, the other day, I did train one of my dorm mates. She’s a werewolf.

“Hey, you like dogs, right?” she asked me.

When I nodded, she said, “Then train me! I want to be able to run faster!”

“What kind of techniques do you want me to use?” I asked her.

“You know. Like you’d use with a dog. Or a wolf. Really hard-core stuff. I’ve gotta get in shape!”

“How about I train you like a person who wants to get in shape?” I asked.

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At the end of the session, I think she was wishing I had trained her like a dog. There’s no way I’d be that hard on a pup! But a person? I can make a person sweat!

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Of course I’m painting whenever I get a chance. I love it so much! I’m still not really that great. My prof says I’ve got a “primitive sense of color and composition,” but then he follows it up with, “and I’m not usually so lavish in my praise.” Ha! So, I guess, maybe I’m developing a style, even if I don’t think it’s that good.

It is ridiculously fun, though. I can see why Mom painted all the time.

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My dorm mates are pretty cool. They tend to be quiet and keep to themselves, but every now and then, a few of us will meet in the dining room while we’re grabbing a quick snack before the next class.

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Mom always told me about all the good friends she made in University. But, though I’ve met a lot of people, I’ve really only made one friend, Shannon.

That’s OK, though. I know I’ve got a gajillion friends waiting for me at home, and I really didn’t come to college to make friends. I came to learn, as naive as that sounds.

And I have learned so much!

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about how pieces fit together. It started when I was jogging home from class, really, and I felt how my joints fit together, then the muscles around the bones. Then I thought about that whole network of blood vessels and nerves and how they traverse and connect all these disparate parts of the body.

Everything fits.

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It’s like that in communities, too–like here at the University, we’ve got all these people, students and profs and hangers-on, and they all fit to make up this place.

And it’s like that with pieces of knowledge, how little archaic bits of data and information fit together to create something awesome.

And it’s like that with families, too.

Dang! I’m late. I’ve got to head off to my finals! I’ll finish this letter later!

–M

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Hey! I’m back!

So… we got our final results this morning…

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What do you think? You wanna make a bet that I failed?

Wrong!

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I aced those babies! I got an A in every class! Which means… I’ve graduated, Riley!

Yes, indeedy! You’re now reading the writing of a college graduate, with college honors and a fine arts degree! Woot!

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I just got out of the graduation ceremony. In fact, it’s taken me so long to finish up this letter that I’ll have to drop it off in the mailbox on the way to the airport, which means you’ll probably see me home before you get his letter!

I know. I could bring it home with me. But isn’t it more fun when I check the mail at home, and then I get to call out to you, “Hey, Riley! You got a letter!” Ha!

I know I’m all giddy now, but I felt pretty awe-struck and serious at graduation.

I was there alone, which actually made it more significant for me.

Shannon says she doesn’t do good-byes. And you know that I don’t like them, either. So when I left her still sleeping in my bed, I just left. It’s like it’s not over if there’s no goodbye. It just carries on, only I happen to be back in Moonlight Falls and she happens to be here at the university.

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When the ceremony finished, I wanted to leave a mark there on the sidewalk outside the auditorium. I spray-painted a mural. I think Mom would approve.

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I saw Jaclyn outside the auditorium.

“How’s this for symmetry?” I asked her. “You were the first person I met, and it looks like you’ll be the last one I talk with before I leave!”

“Oh, you’ll be back, though, right? I can always tell. Some students aren’t happy with just one degree.”

You know, Riley, I think maybe she’s right. And I hope that when I come back for my next degree that you’re here with me, too. And maybe Patches and Bo! We can get Mara to look after Zoey and Roxy, and we can rent a little house here on campus. I’m ready! What do you say?

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When I got back to the dorm to pick up my luggage, all my dorm mates came out to say good-bye. I kept looking around for Shannon, but she was long gone.

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And now, I’m guessing that this letter is feeling jealous of me, for I’ll be seeing you before this letter does! I hate to seal it up and stick it in the mailbox, for then it’s got its long, lonely trip in the mailbag, but I can see my plane taxiing in to the gate, and soon they’ll be calling us to board.

Oh, Riley! I did it. I got my degree–well, my first one at any rate–and I had my college experience, complete with a Big Love and all!

I won’t even say goodbye as I finish up this letter, for I’ll be seeing you so soon… and when I wrap you in a big hug, I’ll say…

Hello!

–Marigold

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Whisper 2.12

Dear Mom,

Do you remember Shannon Arkers? She says that you knew each other when you were at University.

She’s become someone to me.

The other night, we were sitting around, and I told her about you and Dante.

“It must have been something to have been a child in a home with such an epic love,” she said.

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I responded that it was just normal to me. We laughed, because everything that was “normal” to me–a werewolf best friend, a plant baby brother, an imaginary friend (plus her little sister) turned real, a vampire ghost for my mom’s boyfriend, moonlight tea parties with zombies, 325 days of precipitation a year–all that I took for granted as part of a “normal” childhood is, actually, now that I think about, it, really quite wonderful and strange!

But I don’t know any other way.

“So it’s no wonder that you would fall for a crazy old rebel crone like me,” Shannon said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Gotta find my normalcy somewhere.”

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But it feels epic, Mom, what Shannon and I share. It’s become the focal point of my college experience.

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I watch her, and I feel like I understand what I want out of life, who I want to be. I mean, I don’t want to be Shannon, of course. I want to keep being me. But the thing is, Shannon shows me how to be through the whole course of my life. I don’t have to give up who I am when I “grow up.” In fact, Shannon says that she never says “grow up” or “grow old.” Always, just simply, grow.

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Do you know that Shannon’s never had a lover before? I was looking forward to hearing her stories of epic love, but she told me this was it.

She’s an aro-ace, Mom, but I bet they didn’t use that term back when you were in college. It just means that she’s aromantic and asexual, which means that she’s not into romantic gestures and she’s not sexually attracted to others, male, female, or trans.

I asked her, “Then what’s this you share with me? And why now?”

She said it’s love. Plus, she wanted to try everything in her life, and if she were going to fit in this type of relationship, she’d better do it now or never!

I think it’s pretty amazing that we are each other’s firsts.

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She’s so non-flirty it’s funny. Like the other evening, we went out to eat, and I was feeling romantic, so I was giving her lines. I mean, they were true, and they were how I felt, but they were also romantic lines, like what you might read in a Valentine’s card.

And she started laughing. “You can’t believe that people fall for the moonlight crap, can you?” she said. We both cracked up so hard. I mean it spoiled the mood, but it also created its own mood, which was pretty fun in its own way.

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Then the next night, she surprised me with red roses.

“Is this how it’s done?” she asked.

It meant more to me, coming from her when I know she’s not naturally thinking about roses unless they’re growing in a garden for snails and slugs to munch on.

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We have the most fun when we’re just hanging out together. She says the wildest things and she’s got the best stories.

She told me about a time when she occupied the quad for three weeks in protest of a rule banning women from trying out for the rugby team. She won, and everyone thought she’d try out. It was years before any women did try out, and more years before any of them made it. I asked her why she did it. “Stupid rules,” she said. “I can’t bear to belong to any organization that has stupid rules.”

She said you were the same way, and she told me about a time when you’d led a successful protest against harsh grading, all so that Shea, who didn’t have the cultural concept of possession, wouldn’t fail his papers for not using possessive apostrophes.

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Seeing you and Dante, Mom, I always knew I wanted to have a Big Love. I never used to dream about what it would look like, and whether I’d have a prince or princess in shining armor. I just focused on the feeling. You know what I mean: the feeling of home.

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I wish you’d been around to see me off to college, Mom. Wish you were still around to actually get these letters I write to you, instead of me tying them up with string and sticking them in the shoebox I keep under my bed.

I think–at least, I hope–it’d bring a smile to you to know that your daughter had been paying attention to your lessons in love.

Miss you, always. Love you, forever.

Marigold

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Whisper 2.11

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Dear Patches and Bo,

How’s it going? What’s up with you guys?

Riley’s been keeping me clued in, but she only shares the good news. I want the whole scoop! Have you been pranking the school, Bo? You skipping homework in favor of playing chess online, Patches? Tell me the real deal!

Which is kinda why I’m writing. I’ve got some real deal news to share with you.

College is great–it’s a ton of work, and it seems like I’m always in class, in the library, or behind the easel.

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But I have managed to do a little socializing, and that’s what I want to tell you guys about. See, I figure you’ll probably be reading about me and my latest adventures in the tabloids pretty soon, or your friends will, so I’d rather you heard the news from me.

I’m seeing someone. She’s a friend of Mom’s actually. They went to college together. Yes, she’s that old.

But the point is, from my perspective, that she is so awesome! You guys would love her.

She has the most amazing stories to tell. Do you know that the reason this is an organic biodynamic campus is because of her advocacy? She also is the one who made recycling mandatory, who got them to only do construction on the campus between October and February, so they won’t disturb nesting birds, and who has single-handedly spear-headed the mass milkweed-planting effort that’s going on all over the campus for the monarch butterflies.

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She is a one-woman eco-revolution. And I love her.

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That’s where the tabloids come in.

I guess the gossip columnists made something more out of me and Chet than was really there, because you both know there never was any me and Chet. But apparently, in the celebrity stories, there was. We’re like number one celeb couple in the 18-22 age bracket!

What a joke!

I haven’t mentioned it to Riley, but the paparazzi are everywhere at campus, following me every time I step out. And they’re not sweet, friendly, heroic life-savers, either, like we’ve got at home. These paparazzi are ruthless rumor-mongers!

Anyway, I met Shannon for a burger. One of the photographers who’s been dogging me was there, taking notes and snapping photos. I just ignored him, like always.

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But he came up to me in the diner and asked, “So, do you expect Chet to stand by you, now that you’ve got a naughty reputation? And what are you doing, dating a woman old enough to be your grandmother? Couldn’t you step out of the closet with some nice co-ed your own age?”

Shannon swore at him and told him to bugger off. He left, and I didn’t think much of it. I mean, it doesn’t bother me. I know how I feel, and I’ve always known that love’s about the person–not the age, the gender-identity, or even the sexual attraction. It’s about seeing who someone is on the inside–their spirit, like Mom would say–and loving that.

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It bothered Shannon, though. We had a bit of fight out there in public, with the photographer snapping shots. Shannon accused me of selling out, that this was just some publicity stunt, so I’d get a bad reputation to make people more interested in me.

I told her she didn’t know the first thing about who I was really, if she thought that. I left her to figure it out and work through it.

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Right then, somebody asked me for a photo. I flashed the peace sign. I mean, I’m not gonna let them see me sweat.

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Anyway, I know this is all TMI. I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up so that you knew the truth of it when the story comes out: Yes, I’m dating an older woman. Yes, we had a public fight. Yes, she’s the most awesome person I’ve met–well, next to you two and Riley, that is. And yes, I’ve got a “naughty” reputation.

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You know what, though? Come to think of it, there’s a good chance there won’t be any story. Don’t they always need photos when they break the scoop?

Well, there won’t be any photos. Know why?

Later that night, I got over being mad and I guess Shannon did, too, because she came over when I invited her to hang out.

We were watching the chipmunks playing under the sycamore tree, when suddenly, I could literally see the hair standing up on the back of Shannon’s neck.

She let out a yell and launched a full-blown kamikaze attack on the paparazzo, grabbing his camera and destroying the film!

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So, maybe you won’t read about us, after all.

I really think you guys will love her, though–that badass protectress of all that’s good in life!

Oh, and guess what, Bo? You remember Uncle Shea talking about that little squirrel that was friends with him and Mom? Eeesheewa-wa, or whatever his name was?

Well, Shannon and I met his way-down-the-line descendent, little Eeesheewa-wa the eighth! Cute as a button. You’d love him.

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OK, Peanuts in the Peanut Gallery, I gotta hit the books so I’m not a complete waste of space in class tomorrow.

You two study hard–your own college days are just around the corner.

Love you both. Don’t believe everything you read–especially when it concerns me!

Marigold

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Whisper 2.10

Riley!!!!

Thanks for writing so quickly! We must have been writing at the exact same time… think of it: our letters crossing each other in mail planes flying opposite directions! They could’ve waved at each other. “Hi, Riley’s letter!” “Why hello, letter to Marigold!” And zip! They’re gone!

I’m glad to hear that Zoey and Roxy are both eating well, and I’m sorry to hear that Zoey misses me. I miss him, too. Will you give him extra play time? You know how he loves tug-of-war.

Tell Patches that I’m glad she’s spending so much time playing chess, but do homework, too! And tell Bo that yes, flower-kisses are awesome, but strangers might not think so! Ha! Sounds like the kids are keeping you busy.

And how are you? How’s Argus? Your letter was so full of everyone else that I hardly even got a sense of what’s new with you. But then, that’s like you, always thinking of everyone else first, so I’m guessing that you’re happy and well, doing what you love best, which is caring for everybody.

OK, so you remember in my last letter that I ended it really quickly so I could make it to a party thrown by one of Mom’s old friends?

Well, I went to the party.

It was one of those time-warpy things. Like if it were a movie, the soundtrack would do something weird, either stop or go slo-mo, or switch to some kind of electronic ostinato. Time-warpy.

Shannon Arkers stood in the entryway lit up from behind by this glowing light from an antique lamp. Her head was shaved, and she was wearing this old-timey dress, like from the 1920’s, that she must have picked up at a second-hand store. And the short sleeves revealed the tats on her arms. She’s like angel and devil and old-fashioned and neo all in one.

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I’ve never met anyone like her.

I was tongue-tied.

But then she rescued me.

“You’re Cathy Tea’s daughter! We went to university together!”

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“It’s so amazing to meet somebody who knew my mom,” I told her.

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Then she said that she wasn’t the only one who knew her, and she pointed to that Mahmoud guy who’d invited me to the party I declined on my first night here.

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I didn’t get a chance to meet him because a cop came shortly after to arrest him for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure.

Shannon just laughed it off. “It’s a matter of course, these days. Back in the day, no one thought twice about this type of thing. But now, times are tame and slightest divergence from convention and everyone’s in an uproar.”

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I did meet some other students my age. One of them was really cute with big brown eyes and floppy hair.

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I stayed pretty late. When I got back to the dorm, I went straight to bed. It must have been talking to someone who knew Mom, but my dreams were full of home.

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Wednesday rushed by, full of classes! Like I said before, on Monday and Wednesday, I barely have time to think–it’s just one class and then the next. Then with studying and painting, I seem to only have time to work, eat, and sleep.

But Thursday offers a bit of a breather.  We sketched plein air during our art lab time. I’m still finding drawing challenging. I can see the subject with my eyes. And when I close my eyes, I can see it in my mind. But when I open my eyes and try to draw what I see, everything gets a little skewed, especially perspective.

But I find that all that concentration helps my thoughts and feelings come into sync.

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When I finished art lab, I thought of Shannon. Not because of what she could tell me about Mom, though it would be interesting to hear stories of her college days from someone who knew her when, but because she’s so fascinating in herself.

Do you know that she’s some kind of geo-political-ecological radical?

She told me that she used to blow up the gardening sheds where they stored pesticides, especially snail pellets.

“What did the snails ever do to deserve poison? They need to eat, too!” she said.

“So you were like some sort of eco-terrorist?” I asked her.

“Not so much terrorist,” she said. “More like an eco-warrior.”

Anyway, when I finished sketching, my mind went immediately to Shannon.

I called her up.

“Um. Wanna get together?” I asked her.

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She said sure, so I’m heading over there just as soon as I wrap up this letter!

Riley, I haven’t felt this excited to see somebody in… ever! The stories she tells! Plus, her eyes. I really think you’d like them.

Anyway, I’ve really got to go. All the usual: love everybody, care for everybody, and, especially, take good care of yourself, Riley. I miss you, and I still wish you were here with me. Sorry. Forget I wrote that.

Lots of love! Write soon! OK, bye.

Marigold

p.s. You’ll never guess what Shannon has tattooed on the back of her neck!

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Whisper 2.09

Hi, Riley!

I’m here! I’m at college! And guess what? I’m staying in Mom’s old dorm!

And guess what else? All her old art is still on the walls and the walkway. I guess she’s like some famous celebrity-artist alumni, so they’re leaving up her art for posterity. I think it’s so awesome.

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So college is really cool.

At orientation, I met some of the other students.

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Man, you wouldn’t believe how cool some of them are.

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I met this one girl from Bridgeport. She has the greatest style. She was wearing cargo pants, layered tanks, and–get this–sandals. And a big classy hot-looking belt with a huge buckle. Wow.

It takes somebody really confident to pull of that look. And that’s Jaclyn. Confident and… well, you fill in the blanks!

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Riding home from orientation, it hit me: I’m here!

College is all about discovering yourself, right? Or at least, that’s how I feel. You’ve already discovered yourself!

But me? I’m just figuring out who I am, what I’m all about. That’s the college experience.

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I guess my dorm mates are OK. OK, they’re weird! But heck. Who’s not weird?

This one guy was dressed like some sifu, and he sat next to me at supper. Didn’t say a word. Just sat there, with a concentrated look on his face. I asked him if he was meditating, and he mumbled something, and then dove into his tofu dog. Oh, boy. People are strange.

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After supper, I got a phone call and it was some guy inviting me to a party! I hadn’t even met the guy! But get this! He knew Mom!

His name was Mahmoud something, and he’d actually gone to school with Mom. He never left town, even after graduating. Still lives in the same frat he lived in back when he was a student. I was so tempted to go, just to meet someone who had that connection with Mom.

But I was so tired. And I had classes early the next day. So, I declined.

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Oh! Guess what? I’m even staying in Mom’s old room! I’m using her easel and sleeping in her bed! It’s sort of weird, but also…. Well. I guess you could say that it comforts me. I mean, I don’t feel so alone, and I don’t miss you and everybody so much when I feel Mom all around me like that.

Do you think it’s funny that connections are so important to me?

I mean, I’m always acting so independent and everything. But Riley, I’m not really independent. It’s just that I’ve got you and everybody at home supporting me, and that makes me feel like I can conquer the world.

But actually, sometimes, when it’s late at night, and no one’s looking, and I’m all alone, I feel sort of… not really lost, but sort of alone. I guess that’s why I wanted you to come with me, so I could keep pretending to be brave.

Don’t worry! I’m not guilt-tripping you! I’m glad for you that you did what you want.

It’s just that I’m also really, really grateful that I get to sleep in Mom’s old room because it makes me feel a little less like a bunny in a basket dropped on somebody’s doorstep twenty years ago…

Anyway. Enough of that.

So I woke up super early on my first day of classes. I was so excited. It was pouring down rain, which made me so happy since it felt like home, only warmer, and then I raced to my class.

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Class was cool. The prof is from Champs Les Sims, and he talks with a really strong accent. I felt like raising my hand and asking, “Ou est la fromage, c’est vous plais?” LOL! But I didn’t. I refrained. Because, you know. Manners.

I’m trying really hard to make a good impression on all my professors. Plus, it’s interesting. Did you know that Cézanne strove not to copy nature, but to recreate it, trying to produce “a harmony parallel to nature?” I think that’s awesome. It answers something I always wondered about, which is, now that we have photography, what’s the purpose of painting? And this gave me insight into the answer.

I’ve got a little bit of time in between classes, so I thought more about that while I was waiting for the next class to start.

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I’m taking such a full load that Mondays and Wednesdays are packed. I just go from class to class with, like I said, a little break in between to digest the material from one lecture before cramming in the stuff from the next.

Tuesday, I’ve just got a single class in the lecture hall, but the first Tuesday, I was so tired that I slept right up until class.

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At least I didn’t sleep through the lecture like some people!

I was so focused on taking notes. I want to remember everything!

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After the lecture, though, guess what? I got another phone call from another person who’d gone to school with Mom! She invited me to a party, too. Can you believe it? I was so surprised.

And you know what? This party, I’m going to. I want to meet this person who says she knew Mom back when they were both crazy rebels and anarchists. Did you know Mom was an anarchist? I didn’t either! I wonder if it’s true…

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Well, I’d better stop writing if I’m gonna make it to that party. Man, I miss you so much!

Did you make the special beef food for Zoey and Roxy? Give them lots of pets and snuggles from me. Tell Patches and Bo that I miss them and that I hope they’re not giving you a hard time.

And when you write, be sure to fill me in on everything that’s going on with you! I can’t stand not being there to hear everything right from your own lips as soon as it happens. Of course, it’s not like you ever did share all your secrets with me, you rascal!

Anyway, love you lots. Miss you and the fam.

Be good. Have fun.

Dang, I really better go or I’ll be late for that party.

OK.

Bye.

Love you lots,

Mari

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Whisper 2.08

Dear Mom,

I took my college entrance exams, and guess what? I got accepted! Guess what else? I qualified for full scholarship in three subjects: phys ed, communications, and fine arts. Guess what else? I earned 18 Advanced Placement credits in each! I’m so excited! I’m going to college.

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I was still trying to decide what major to pick when I asked Riley how she did.

“I didn’t take the exam,” Riley said.

“Well, you’d better hurry. We’re leaving soon.”

“I’m not going to take it,” she said. “I’m not going.”

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“Not going? You have to go!” I said. “That was the plan! That’s the dream!”

“It’s your dream,” Riley said. “It always has been. I’ve never wanted to go to college. I want to stay home.”

“But Riley!”

“It’s true,” she said. “Remember when I was voted ‘Most likely to never leave home?’ That might seem like a joke to some, but to me, that’s my dream.”

“But Riley!”

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“Not everyone wants what you want,” she told me. “You go, because it would give you joy. But what’s more important? Just doing something because it’s expected, or because it’s someone else’s dream? Or doing what you want, even if it lets down someone else’s expectations, because it’s your dream?”

“Is this because of Argus?” I asked her.

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“No,” she replied. “I talked with Argus about it. He was all ready to support me in going away to university. But I’d already made up my mind, even before Argus and I went out. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I wish you were so afraid of me that you’d go anyway!” I said. “Just because it was what I wanted. I imagined you, after all.”

“Marigold!”

“I’m sorry. It’s just. I was so looking forward to rooming with you in the dorm, and going to parties with you, and studying all night! Now! Oh! It’s like my dream’s been torn in two.”

“I’m sorry. I hate disappointing you. But a dorm? With strangers? Who don’t wash their dishes and leave dirty towels laying around and forget to bathe? And parties? I hate parties! And studying all night? I’d hate to have to study. I hate all those things.”

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Oh, Mom. It was so hard to listen to Riley. I felt so sure that college was the best thing for her. Half of me still feels that way. But I had to listen when she told me what she loves: taking care of our home, caring for Zoey and Roxy, being here for Patches and Bo. And, yes, she admitted that she was looking forward to spending more time with Argus.

“Women worked hard and fought for equal rights so we’d have a choice,” she told me, “not so that we’d all have to march to the same drummer. I’ve looked in my heart, Mari. This is what I want.”

She’s right. Even I can see that. It breaks my heart to leave alone, Mom, but I guess I’ve got to do it.

On my departure day, the shuttle arrived in the early morning to take me to the airport. Riley had gotten up with me so we could have breakfast together.

“Write me, ” she said.

“Of course!” I replied.

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The kids were still asleep, and I was hoping to have lucked out and avoided having to say goodbye to them. I worried it would break my heart.

When I got into the shuttle, I looked back at the house. There was Patches, coming out to wave goodbye.

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And then Bo came racing out, waving his arms and making crazy faces! I was laughing so hard I couldn’t cry! Oh, Mom! I am going to miss this nutty family.

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Good thing I got advanced placement–it means I’ll only be away from home for two terms.

And when I come back, I’ll have a degree!

Oh! I forgot to tell you what program I chose! I’m going for fine arts. I figured that phys ed came naturally, and communications fits with my career–so both of those, I’ll be working on anyway. So I decided to challenge myself and major in fine arts. Just like you did! I want to be well-rounded. That’s why I chose what would be most difficult.

Oh, Mom! I’m going to your alma mater, and I’m majoring in your degree! Maybe I’ll even live in your dorm!

I’m going to miss you so much, too. I wonder if I’ll feel your spirit there on campus…

Love,

Marigold

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Whisper 2.04

Dear Mom,

This is the winter of the Snow Day! But of course, you already know that, for you are here with us often, especially with Bo, who always seems to sense when you’ll be around.

Is it OK if I still write to you? You see, that voice was right. It does help. All my questions, all my worries fade when I write to you, and life makes sense. How did you get that gift, Mom, the gift of understanding all of life’s quirks? I hope I get that some day.

When Snow Day is called, we race outside and build snowmen and catch snowflakes on our tongues.

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Riley loves to throw impromptu Snow Tea parties. The kids are too busy playing to join her.

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I’ve been making a point of spending special time with Bo. Patches and Riley make a natural duo, so while they play chess or work together on craft projects, I’ll often head out with Bo to do something fun.

The other day, we were at the park after supper. It was dark and the snow was falling.

“This is what it will be like someday,” Bo said, “eternally dark. Only imagine that it’s ashes, not snowflakes.”

“What are you talking about, Bo?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said, and he started humming. Sometimes, he’s really weird.

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But then, the next minute he’s like a regular kid.

“Race you home,” he called, and he hopped on his bike and stared pedaling.

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He’s fast for a little sprout, and I had to race to catch up with him.

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When we got home, Riley was in the rocker.

“What’s up, Ri?” I asked. She just sat and rocked. She can be a little odd sometimes, too, but I never worry about that, for odd or normal, she’s always sweet.

“You aren’t sad, are you, Ri?”

She was a little sad, she said. Mom, she said she’d been thinking about destiny–can you believe it?  And how destiny can change your life. I had to laugh. Because isn’t destiny what determines your life course?

But she said not always. Sometimes, she said, your life can have a course that seems predetermined, but then destiny steps in and shifts it to a new course. What do you think, Mom? It’s beyond me. I think we simply live, one day after the next, and where we find ourselves, that’s where we are.

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In fact, that’s the theme of my first novel. I’m really finding it gratifying to write. It’s like with writing to you: all the loose ends inside of me fall into place when I write, and when I step away from the keyboard, I feel something that feels a lot like peace.

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When I’m not using the computer, guess who’s on it? Patches! She is a chess fanatic. She’ll play me or Riley, if we’re available for a game, but she prefers to play chess online.

“I can find better matches,” she told me, “with real opponents who make me think.”

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Finally, they cleared the roads out to our house, and we had an actual school day!

I made your famous pancakes for Patches and Bo’s breakfast. I’ve got to admit, I was really looking forward to a day with them at school. I’m at this point in my novel where the main character first takes a trip to Al Simhara, and as I write it, I can feel the sun pouring down, just like we felt on our trip there. So the more time to myself and the quieter the house, the better.

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“Don’t miss me,” Bo said as he headed off to catch the bus. I swear, sometimes he seems like he’s practicing to be a heart breaker! Especially when he’s dressed up in his dapper overcoat.

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“I don’t think I’ll remember anything,” Patches said. It had been a long time since her last day at school!

“Don’t worry!” I told her. “I’ll give you special help when you get home.”

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She was starving when she got home. I dished her up a giant slice of cake, and she ate while Bo worked on his homework.

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Then, we got down to the tutoring. She’s really smart, she just hasn’t yet figured out how to apply her smarts to her school work.

“Think of it like a puzzle,” I told her. “Rather than trying to memorize all the rules, see if you can figure them out.”

And a little while later, division started making a lot more sense to her.

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Mom, I wish you’d had more of a chance to get to know her. I’m sure you’d love everything about her.

It’s kind of funny that she used to be Bo’s imaginary friend. They actually don’t get along that well anymore, not since Bo started knocking down her snowmen.

“Do you think we’ll ever be friends again?” she asked me.

I told her, sure, that Bo’s the reason she’s here! And you never forget your IF!

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Bo talks about you all the time, Mom. At night, when he heads out, he tells me he’s going to hang out with you.

“Tell her ‘Hi’ from me!” I always say.

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When he comes back in again, he’s always got something to say that he could only have learned from you.

“Grim is nothing to be afraid of, that’s what she says,” Bo said the other night. “She says he just takes you across from one side to the next.”

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“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I replied.

“It is,” Bo said. “It’s awful. And I don’t buy a word of it. Next time I see Grim, you know what I’m going to do to him?”

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I shook my head.

“Ka-BLOO-ey!” Bo shouted. “Awesome Destruct-o.”

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Mom, Bo’s got his own way about him, that’s for sure.

I keep reminding myself, as long as we love him–as long as he loves us back–it’ll all turn out OK, right? Isn’t that what you’d have me believe?

Hope we see you soon. I miss you.

Love,

Marigold

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