Whisper 2.34

Dear me,

I wish I had my mom’s wisdom! Or I wish that Riley had somehow had a chance to meet my mom. She could really use some of my mom’s special words of kindness right now.

Her heart’s broken, and I don’t know how to make it better.

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Argus called her up for a date. They hadn’t been seeing each other much, and I’d been receiving these weird sort of come-on letters from Argus, so I assumed they’d broken up. But after he called, Riley said, no, they were still together.

She left for the date before I had a chance to tell her about Argus’s weird letters.

I could tell she was upset when she got home.

“How was the date?” I asked.

“We live in such a beautiful valley,” she replied. “The sunset was mystical.”

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But when I saw the shadow behind her eyes, I figured she wasn’t telling me the whole story.

“And the date? Was it mystical, too?”

“If betrayal is mystical, then yes,” she replied.

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“Oh, Riley! What happened?” I asked.

“Argus happened,” she replied.

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I surmised that wasn’t a good thing.

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“He’s a… he’s not for me,” Riley said. “He was with someone else when I got there. On our date. That he arranged. Did he want me to see him flirting with that woman?”

I wanted to give Riley a hug, but she was maintaining this boundary around her. I let her keep her space. In the quiet moment, she told me she’d been suspecting he was interested in other women. Now she knew.

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I had to tell her about the letters he’d been sending me. I told her I figured they were random, signifying nothing. I told her I figured they weren’t serious about each other. I told her I threw them all away and didn’t make anything of it.

She said she didn’t want to talk about it. If she did, she’d say something she’d regret.

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She’s been so quiet. She’s thinking, I can tell. All I can do is give her space for her thoughts and feelings. I tell her I’m here, if she ever wants to talk. She doesn’t even look at me. She just rocks and thinks. She’s not crying, but I can see she’s hurt.

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She completely lost it with Bo. He was just being his usual goofy, mischievous, obnoxious self, and he was teasing her about having a broken heart, and she snapped. She accused him of being evil and of getting joy out of her sadness.

He tried apologizing, but she just yelled, “Get out of my face! I don’t want you anywhere near me!”

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I felt torn. I don’t want anyone talking to my brother like that. And at the same time, I can’t stand that Riley feels so sad. I can’t blame her, and I can’t blame Bo, either. I want to blame Argus, but he and Riley had never agreed to be exclusive or anything. I ended up blaming myself. If I hadn’t gone to college and left Riley to take care of Bo and Patches… If I’d mentioned Argus’s letters sooner… If I’d been a better friend to Riley…

In the middle of my blame-fest, I heard a whisper:

Sometimes, life just gets messy, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s simply part of life.

I let the words settle into the quietness that spread through the house.

“Let’s hire a maid,” I suggested to Riley.

“What?” she said.

“You like a clean house. Let’s hire someone else to help us clean it.”

“But I clean it,” Riley said.

“And you could still clean it. But now you’d have someone else who could help out. It might be fun.”

“Would she clean the kitty litter?”

“If you wanted. You could be in charge, and you could be the one who delegated the tasks to her.”

“I wouldn’t want her to do anything she didn’t want to do,” Riley said.

“Of course not,” I said.

So we hired this really cute maid. Riley seems to like her a lot, and I notice that she perks up around ten o’clock each morning, which is when the maid is scheduled to arrive.

Usually, she cleans the house before the maid gets there. I put on a fresh pot of coffee, and Riley and our maid sit at the table and chat. When I hear them laughing, I realize that Riley will be OK.

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Bo’s been on his best behavior, and he’s convinced Patches to go along with him.

I told him I was proud of him. He’s earned an A in school, and with his help, Patches has, too.

“You’re a good little brother,” I told him.

“Really?” he asked.

“Truly.” He’s my brother. He’s weird. He’s got a strange understanding of social behavior. But in spite of everything, he’s got a good heart.

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Keep remembering that.

Love,

Me

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Whisper 2.32

Dear Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written you, hasn’t it? Do you feel when I think of you every day? Sometimes, I feel that warmth of home you always brought me, and then I know you’re still around in spirit.

Tonight was Patches and Bo’s first prom.

Do you remember how excited I was for my first prom? I felt like I was splitting in two from grinning so hard! Man, it feels like a lifetime ago. I suppose it was, for it was back when Bo was a baby, and now he’s a teen, going to his own prom.

Patches didn’t look excited. She said she was nervous. There’s this girl she likes in her class, and she was hoping she might be there.

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Bo looked a little scared, actually, when he raced out to the limo.

“Your shoes!” I called to him.

“Naw!” He called back. “I wanna dance in my bare leaf!”

“You mean barefeet?”

“Ugh!”

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I poked my head in through the limo window to wish them well.

“Have a great time, Patches,” I said. “You look lovely. Remember, if you like someone, it’s perfectly OK to tell them so!”

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Bo climbed into the furthest back seat.

“You ready, Bo?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I think Ethan will be there. I hope so. What if he doesn’t notice me?”

“Bo. You’re the handsomest, coolest guy there. He’ll notice you.”

“I’m not so sure,” he said.

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Both of the kids were sitting there, lost in their own worries and thoughts. I tried to think of something you’d say, Mom, to boost their confidence and spirits. I mean, this was their prom!

All I could think of was “Have fun!”

Neither looked like “fun” was on the horizon.

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When I came back in, I found Riley sitting at the table, looking pensive and wistful, like she often does. Once again, I regretted that she never got a chance to meet you, Mom. I’ve got a feeling that, with your own quiet, gentle heart, you’d be able to understand her.

I have a hard time understanding her depths. She’s always thinking, and she seems to notice so much.

“What’s up, Ri?” I asked as I came back inside.

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“I’m just thinking about families,” she said.

“What about them?”

“Their shapes,” she said. “The shape of ours is really quite traditional, in terms of dynamics. You and me, we’re like the parents. Bo and Patches are the kids. Even their fights are the kinds of fights that siblings would have.”

I asked her if she liked it like this, like a regular family.

She said she did. She’s a home-body and tuned in to family by nature, and she said that this way, she could do what she does best and still be useful.

“That’s all I really want,” she added, “to be useful to others.”

Do you think a life can be made out of that, Mom? Out of service?

I like taking care of everyone myself, but I also feel I need to do things for me, too, like going back to school when I wanted that second degree.

“Isn’t there anything you want for you?” I asked her.

“Honestly?” she replied. “I want to feel good inside. And being useful to you and the kids is the best way I know to do that.”

I told her she should try petting Hatbox because, since this cat came to live with us, I get all sorts of happiness from that cat.

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Riley and I talked until the kids finally came home.

“How was it?” I asked Bo.

He growled.

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Then he started cackling.

“I was coronated,” he said.

“A flower crown?”

“No,” he replied. “Cardboard. But I’m the King! His Royal Highness the Prom King!”

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Mom, I guess you know. Bo is weird.

Patches came in looking a little scattered.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Oh,” she replied, “it was great, I guess. I got named Prom Queen, and Bo King. And I got into two fights, and Bo got into one. And I sort of got together with that girl I like, and Bo watched Ethan dance all night. I don’t know. Did we have fun, Bo?”

He just cackled.

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I guess some things never change. My own first prom was a lot like that, remember, Mom?

I remember how you told me that my prom night was just like me: beautiful, wild, crazy, lovely, and magical.

What would you tell Bo and Patches about their prom night? Is it just like them?

I think you would tell them it’s just like life: full of friendship and enmity, triumph and conflict, excitement and boredom.

Maybe you’d tell Bo not to get too full of himself and to take his success in stride. That high times and low times are both part of life, and if he’s up now, to remember tonight the next time he’s down. And that now, it might not hurt to remember the times when he hasn’t been the winner. A little moderation! Wouldn’t it be something if we could teach that to Bo? Especially since moderation has never been my strong suit!

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And what would you tell me, Mom, if you were somehow around and able to talk to me?

I hope you’d tell me that me and Riley are doing a good job with these two kids. I know we’re not perfect on everything, but we’re trying hard. We’re trying to think about them and what they need to be able to grow up strong, resilient, and kind. I’ve got a feeling that’s the kind of people you’d want them to be, and so Riley and I are doing our best to raise them to be kids you’d be proud of.

I hope we make you happy.

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Miss you,

Marigold

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Whisper 2.31

Dear me,

The garden was such a mess! Wilting vines, overgrown garden beds! I don’t think anyone had stepped foot in it all summer!

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But a little water, a little weeding, a little pruning and harvesting seemed to do the trick!

While I was tending the garden, I kept remembering a wish that Patches had way back from before I left for college.

I decided it was time we do something about it.

When I came inside from the garden, I found Patches in the kitchen.

“How about if I call the shelter,” I asked her, “and see if they have any cats to adopt?”

She clapped her hands and squealed with glee.

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I could hear shouts of joy all over!

Even the gnomes were happy!

“Whiskers!” They shouted from the garden.

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“Little padded paws!” They laughed from the front steps.

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Two of the gnomes plopped down right on the front porch so they’d be the first to greet our newest family member, Hatbox Tea.

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Hatbox–that’s the name she came with–is a lovely little calico Manx with green eyes and a mischievous personality. Needless to say, she fits right in.

I’ve never seen Patches more happy! She smiled brighter than ever and she wouldn’t stop clapping and cheering!

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Hatbox’s ears twitched as she walked into the house. I think she didn’t expect such a loud welcome.

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Patches, who seems to speak Cat, realized she was being a bit loud. She toned it down and sat on the love seat to watch Hatbox become acquainted with her new home and new siblings.

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Zoey wasn’t sure what to make of her at first. Why is she hissing? Will she scratch?

“Now, kitty, it’s your new home,” Patches said in her softest voice. “Relax. Take it easy.”

“Mew?” said Hatbox, and next thing we knew Hatbox and Zoey were playing like they’d been litter mates!

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We laughed to see how cute they were together, and when I saw how happy Zoey was, I felt my chest relax. I guess I’d been holding my breath to see if they’d get along. I knew a cat would be right for Patches, but I wondered how Zoey would take it, since he was used to be doted on as the littlest family member.

But he’s happier than ever to have a four-legged friend. Watching them together, I feel that there’s something about having somebody around who’s a little more like you that can give a happy feeling of belonging. Riley has Patches. I’ve got Bo. And now Zoey has Hatbox.

Sometimes, it takes being part of a pair to help you find where you fit in a big rambling family.

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#BetterWithTwo,

Me

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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 2.07

Dear Mom,

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Things are going great! The kids are both A students, both smart, and both staying out of trouble, for the most part.

They’re in high school now. Patches is going through a bit of an awkward phase–at least I think it’s a phase! She keeps dropping dishes, bumping into things, and tripping on the treadmill. I tell her it’s probably from growing so quickly.

Bo has become a daredevil–no surprise there. He’s so gruff on the outside, but inside, he’s sweet as ever, and our family, plus Zoey and Roxy, are the most important things to him.

With the kids growing up and everything going so well, I’m starting to think that we’re ready to head to college, Riley and me.  Bo and Patches say they’ll be able to hold down the fort while we’re gone, and Mara says she’ll look in on them.

I’ve started preparing. I’ve been fixing everything. It’s still a little early, but I’ve waited so long for this that just doing something related to leaving for college–like making sure the house is in good condition–feels productive and helps me not feel so antsy to just go!

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Patches had her sweet sixteen party in the snow. Oh, Mom! She’s so adorable!

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You’d be so proud of Bo, too. He’s a handsome leaf, and so smart.

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Of course, he’s still crazy as ever. We were talking at Patches’ party, and he started saying something about missiles.

“How much do you think they can carry?” he asked.

“What?”

“Never mind,” he said. “I’ll look it up in the science lab.”

I don’t know who his science teacher is this semester, but I hope we have teacher conferences before Riley and I leave for college.

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“Do you think Bo means well?” Patches asked me the other day.

“What? Patches, you’re his IF. If anybody would know, you’d know!”

“Yes,” she said, “but you’re his sister. I’m just looking for a reality check.”

I told her not to worry. He’s got crazy ideas, but deep down, he’s still the same little Bo we’ve always loved. Just bigger and more handsome.

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“Do televisions emit radiation?” Patches asked me when I was fixing the TV.

I had no idea. “It’s turned off while I’m fixing it,” I told her. “I think I’ll be OK.”

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Bo will still sometimes hum his weird song and then destroy Patches’ snowmen or snow angels or kick over the flamingo.

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But then the next minute, there he is, having a Snow Tea party, with the sweetest grin on his face.

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“He’s just Bo,” I tell Patches. “We’ve all got all these sides to us. Bo’s sides just happen to be a little extreme.”

Mom, Riley’s been a little bit mysterious lately. The other afternoon, when I came into the kitchen, she hastily put her phone away.

“I was thinking of going out. Is that OK? Do we need anything from the store?”

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“Go! Have fun! I just went shopping, so the fridge is stocked. Where you going?”

“Just out!” she said.

She had the biggest grin when she got on her bike and rode off in the snow.

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She was gone for a few hours, and she came back home with an even bigger grin.

“Did you have fun?” I asked her.

“Mmmm hmmm,” she replied, still smiling.

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“Where’d you go?”

“Oh, just out to the parking lot by the theater.”

“Did you see a movie?”

“Um, no.”

“Were you alone?”

“Not exactly,” she replied. “Argus was there. You know, Argus Brown.”

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“Oh,” I replied. “What did you do?”

“We just talked,” she said.

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I poured us some tea. I wanted to know everything, but I also didn’t want pry, and I felt like I’d already asked so many questions.

As Riley sipped her tea, I got the idea that she really wanted to tell me about it, but she wasn’t sure how.

“Is it OK if I keep asking you questions?” I asked her.

She broke out into a huge grin. “Please do!” she said. And she blushed.

It turns out that Argus was in his werewolf form, and she really liked it! She said she thought about getting into her doll form, but then she remembered how sometimes dogs would grab ragdolls in their mouths and shake them, so she thought maybe she wouldn’t.

When I asked her what they talked about, she told me that Argus confessed a fear of having his heart broken.

“Well,” I said, “if there’s one thing you’re not, that’s a heart-breaker. You’re loyal as a snowfall.”

“Is a snowfall loyal?” she asked.

“Do we need to ask that when it’s snowed every day for three months? Just like it does every winter? Point is, you’re loyal.”

“That’s what I told him!” she said.

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She said it was the best date ever, very romantic.

They built snowmen.

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Lots and lots of snowmen.

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They made two igloos.

“Did you use them?” I asked.

“Oh, no!” Riley said. “We just built them, for something to work on together.”

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“But you had a good time? And Argus was nice?”

“Argus was a dream,” Riley said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Can you believe it? I’m always happy. But this. This felt like heaven.”

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Mom, it looks like Riley is in love.

I wonder how the romance will fare as a long-distance relationship. Won’t be long before we’re heading off to college.

Don’t worry–I’ll still write! And of course, you’ll still be here to haunt the place. (Just kidding!)

Love,

Marigold

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Whisper 2.06

Dear Mom,

Remember those gift exchange parties you used to throw when everyone would jostle each other trying to grab a spot on the loveseat?

Ours was just like that, only worse! We invited everybody: Chet, Joe McDuff, Argus Brown, Mara, Pip, Faith and Felicity, Waylon and Gator. And, just like always, everybody crowded into the room. To make it worse, Riley was there in the midst of the crowd. I don’t know if you knew this about her, but she hates being around lots of people, especially if she doesn’t know them well yet.

But guess what? All the guys fell for her! “Oh, I love a woman who cares about developing her talents!” “Oh, we have so much in common!” “Hey, what’s your sign?”

I was glad it was her, not me! Seriously!

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And I’m also not surprised. She’s sweet, inside and out. You know what she does all day? She cleans house! She walks around, putting away Zoey’s toys, shelving books, washing dishes, making beds, doing laundry!

I tell her to have some fun, and she says, “This is fun!”

After the party, she finally felt relaxed enough to eat. I asked her if she enjoyed herself during the party, trying to gauge how she felt about getting so much attention from the guys.

“I had fun watching you having fun,” she said. I did have a great time. After we opened all the presents, we all danced, even the kids, and it was a blast.

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After Riley and the kids went to sleep, I came in to get a glass of water. I found Zoey and Roxy watching TV with Dante. I asked him how you were, and he said everything was good, for him and you and all your friends. Is it good, Mom? Are you doing fine? Bo says you’re happy, too, but I wonder. I miss you, and I wonder if you miss us, too, even though you come around. Do you know we always think of you?

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I really could’ve used your calmness the other day. You always seemed to know what to do, and the other day, I was so worried and helpless feeling. You see, the kids didn’t come home after school and, like always, it was snowing. I got really worried as it started getting dark, and they were sill gone.

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Riley said not to worry, that they were probably just playing in the snow in the school yard.

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But Patches hadn’t slept well the night before, and she’d been sleepy when the school bus came. I was planning to suggest that she take a nap before supper even, and then have us work on her homework together after we ate.

I couldn’t bear thinking of her out there in the cold, feeling sleepy.

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Bo came home first, racing his bike up the street like he always does, humming his song.

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“Are you OK, Sprout? I’ve been worried sick!” I asked him.

“Yeah, sure, Sis. Didn’t Patches tell you I was coming?”

He was surprised to hear that Patches hadn’t made it home yet.

“We better go find her,” he said.

He was cold, wet, and tired, so I sent him inside to get some supper, then I headed out on my bike, retracing their route.

As I was crossing the bridge, I looked out over the meadow and saw the lights from the Red Velvet Lounge. It looked warm in there.

I heard that whisper, the one you used to talk about.

Follow your hunch.

So I followed my hunch and went to the Red Velvet, and there, sleeping on one of the sofas, was Patches. I’ve never been more relieved in my life. I let her sleep for a bit, and then I gently woke her up, and we rode back home.

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Mom, I thought that caring for kids would be as easy as caring for Zoey. You know, play with them, feed them, help them brush their hair or give them a bath. That’s all! But it’s so much harder! I don’t know how you did it! And you were all by yourself. I’ve got Riley, and it still feels like the hardest thing in the world.

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You know what, though? It makes me appreciate you all the more!

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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Whisper 2.01

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Dear Mom,

You know how you always said to listen to that quiet voice inside whenever I was feeling sad, confused, or troubled, and it would never lead me wrong but always provide the guidance I needed? I never knew what you meant, for I never heard the voice, until today.

Today, I heard it.

I was going for a run down to Lower Beach, and I heard the whisper speak.

Write to her. You will feel better.

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So here I am, writing to you. I know you’ll never get this letter, but that’s not the point. The point is to write it anyway.

Mom, it hurts so much.

Riley and I waited for you and Zoey to come back in, and when you didn’t I went out to find you. And you were gone.

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Then the kids came home from school. One of the Wolff girls came with them.

I could tell they knew something had happened.

Oh, Mom. I’m so glad you couldn’t see Bo’s face.

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The kids did their homework right away, all three of them. You would’ve been proud.

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When Bo finished, he asked me where you were.

Mom, I had to tell him. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I hope there’ll never be anything harder.

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But the worst of it, Mom. The worst is how Riley is taking it.

She says that now you’ll never get to know her. She could see you, Mom, all along, even though you couldn’t see her. And she says that she thought of you as a mom, kind and nurturing and loving, like a mom. And she was looking forward to you getting to know and love her, the way that she knew and loved you. And now it won’t happen.

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She tries to be strong. When she thinks no one is watching, that’s when she breaks down.

But when she’s with me, Bo, or Patches, then, you have to look closely to see the sadness in her eyes.

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She says that she doesn’t want Patches to feel alone, because she knows how deeply a rag doll can love, so she spends extra time with her.

I heard her telling jokes about your eye sketch the other day.

“It’s all in the eyes!” she said. “Every emotion you could see!” And she went through each eye you’d drawn, naming the emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, wonder, until she ran out of emotions and had to get silly. “When you’ve eaten a hot pepper! Looking for your lost keys. Your cat steals your last ball of yarn!” Patches was laughing so hard. For that moment, I felt hope that we might get through this, after all.

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Mom, you’d love Riley. She’s the kindest, most sensitive, sweetest person I’ve known–well, next to you, of course. If you could see her eyes and how tender they are. We’re so lucky, Mom. We didn’t get to thank you for making that dichromate cocktail, so I’ll write it now: Thank you. Of all the things you could do on your last morning, that was a good choice.

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(I shouldn’t write things like that. It just makes me too sad.)

I was most worried about Bo, but he’s doing OK. Mom, you’d be proud.

Remember when Stray Dog disappeared and I spent days looking for him from the club house? That’s what Bo’s doing–he’s looking for you. He says he knows you’re still around. He can feel you. And so he’s keeping a look-out. I don’t have the heart to tell him you really are gone.

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Even Dante knows you’re gone. I saw his ghost in the garden, right by your memorial, and Mom, for the first time ever, Dante wasn’t smiling.

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It’s when we wake up in the morning that it’s hardest. We’ve been sleeping so soundly. We forget when we sleep. And then we wake, thinking we smell pancakes. But it’s a trick of our memory, a conditioned response. And when we realize that the house is empty–empty of you–that’s when we break down.

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Patches asked if we could get a cat. I decided why not. I remember how I happy I felt when we got Zoey, and how I stopped missing Stray Dog then. Maybe a kitten would help all of us by providing a diversion, something we could love in that sad, empty spot we all now carry inside.

So, now we have Roxy. Oh, Mom. You’d love her. She’s all spotty and she’s got the cutest little bob tail.

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The only thing is, Patches says it doesn’t make her feel any better. I hope with time it will.

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I watched you grieve lots–for Chauncey, for Frank, for Shea, for your other friends from college. And just when I thought you’d always have that shadow of sadness around you, you surprised me. I’d tell a joke, and you’d laugh.

So, I know. We’ll get there. It will just take time.

Love,

Marigold

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Whisper 1.42

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Marigold takes over the bedtime story routine.

“I love it, Mom!” she says. “It’s so fun to read these stories that I loved so much as a kid.”

“It’s not boring to you?” I ask.

“If it is, I just make up a new story.”

I hear her with Patches.

“They always tell you to dream. To live! They say ‘magic is in your heart!’ I’m here to tell you that magic is all around us, and dreams are OK, but what’s more important are the feelings they evoke. Rather than ‘follow your dreams,’ I say, ‘follow your feelings.’ Love, inspiration, peace, enthusiasm–let these be your guides! Then your life will be rich.”

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It’s her valedictorian speech. I’ve heard it a hundred times already, as she walks through the house practicing.

“Do you like the message?” she asks me.

“Very much,” I say, reflecting that it took me a lifetime to learn that lesson. I imagine the students sitting in the auditorium. Will they listen to her? Or will they each be so wrapped in the membrane of their own dreams that their ears close while their eyes follow the chimera of all they hope to make real?

The night before graduation, we celebrate Marigold’s birthday. Though frost lies on the ground, she wants to have the party outside.

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We’re all there to celebrate: Annie and Mara Nix, Pip, Bobobo, Patches, Gator Wolff, and more friends.

“Let me go change,” Marigold says. She runs inside and when she returns, she’s dressed like a go-go Greek goddess. “All set!” she says.

And we cheer.

I have lived to see this bunny become a young woman. I exhale the breath that I’ve been holding these past five years. Wish granted.

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That night, I read Patches her story. I don’t know how many more chances I’ll have for bedtime stories.

“Is it true that feelings are more important than dreams?” she asks me.

“They’re both important,” I say. “Feelings lie at the deeper level, at the core. And the dreams, they’re just one of many pointers to the feelings. You can follow the dreams or follow the feelings, Little Patches, whichever feels right to you. Just don’t mistake the pointers for the real thing, OK?”

“Like the moon story?” she asks. I look at her quizzically. “The finger isn’t the moon.”

“Exactly,” I say.

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I live to see my daughter walk out of our house wearing her cap and gown. This is the valedictorian, top of her class. She’s been rehearsing her speech all morning.

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I feel tears of gratitude, pride, and relief as I head out to the cab. This is what I’ve prayed for, that I would live to see Marigold graduate. I’ve accomplished what I set out to all those years ago when she was brought to me, a funny little bunny in a basket, and now, she is a young woman, ready to inspire and lead others. What a miracle.

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I tell Marigold that I’m proud of her, and then we fall into the silence of our thoughts as we wait for Patches and Bobobo to join us in the cab.

I realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the whispering voice.

Maybe you have integrated it into yourself, so there’s no longer a need to hear it as if from without.

Maybe so.

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Patches and I follow the trail of daisies that Bobobo leads into the auditorium.

“Think I’ll graduate one day?” Patches asks me.

“Absolutely,” I say.

“Will you be proud of me?” she asks.

“I’m proud of you already, Patches,” I say, “and nothing will ever change that.”

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Marigold’s speech is received with cheers and a standing ovation. Her classmates vote her “Most likely to take over the world.” Bobobo looks at me and says, “How’d she get that job? That’s supposed to me mine!”

When we get home, Marigold and Patches play chess, and I look out the window, watching Bobobo as he rides his rocking horse, deep in concentration. I will not see him graduate and become a young man, this I know. But I’ve seen him grow into a young sprout, and with his sister, I can trust that he’ll receive the guidance that he needs. She’s got more strength and wisdom than I could ever muster. He’ll be in good hands.

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Whisper 1.41

I’ve been spending the days while the kids are at school fooling around with this old chemistry set we’ve got. It’s fascinating!

One day, Bobobo asks me if I’d make him a solution that glowed orange.

“Like Tang,” he says, “but not really tang. You know. Chemicals.”

I add dichromate to a saline solution, and it’s a beautiful sunrise color.

“Perfect!” Bobobo says as he grabs it from me.

He goes into the kitchen, gets something from the fridge, and stirs it in. I hear him humming his Toxic Ray-de-ay-shon song.

“Here, Patches,” he says. “It’ll burn going down. But don’t worry. That’s the price of reality.”

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Suddenly, purple explosions and bubbles burst out.

“Bobobo! Look out!” I call.

“‘S’okay, Mom,” he says. “Got it all under control.”

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The purple smoke clears, and there, amidst the bubbles, is a little girl.

“Bobobo?” I ask.

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“I feel funny,” says the girl.

“Oh, crum,” says Bobobo. “I think I mixed in too much.”

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She shakes her head, jumps around a little bit, and then starts to giggle.

“I feel great!”

“But who ARE you?” I ask.

“MOM!” says Bobobo. “It’s Patches. Duh.”

I spend the evening getting to know this little blue-haired girl. She has amazing, long, convoluted stories to tell about the price of admission, but admission to where, I could never figure out.

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I’m not able to enroll her in school for the next day, since we’re missing some of the needed paperwork–I figure I’ll call a friend in City Hall and see what kind of special dispensation we can get–so, after the other kids go to school, we spend the next day alone, just the two of us and Zoey.

She is a lovely companion and a fierce opponent over the chess board.

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That evening, shortly after the other kids get home, while Patches is still at the chess board, I get that ominous feeling again, and it’s the paparazzi this time. This is the third visit by the Reaper in as many days. It doesn’t get easier.

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When it’s over, He turns to me and says, “Mind if I come inside? It’s a bit drizzly out.”

I dare not refuse, though I feel the pit of my stomach grow hollow.

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He settles into the rocking chair and waits, while we have supper, while I help the kids with their homework, while I tuck them in. He’s still sitting there when I return.

“I’ve been wanting to talk with you,” He says.

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I find this disconcerting.

“You’ve seen a lot of me,” He says. “That means, of course, I’ve seen a lot of you. Yes, we’ve been seeing a lot of each other!

And His laugh is terrifying.

“Do you know that Timing is everything?” He asks. “And Timing is not up to me.”

I listen.

“I can sometimes influence Timing, however,” He says. “Especially when I sense Purity of Intention. Is your Intention Pure?”

I don’t know how to answer.

He waves a bony hand my way.  “No need to speak a word. We understand each other. We have an understanding.

And he laughs again.

He stops rocking and looks at me. “I know what you want,” He says. “I know your deepest wish. You need to know that not All is in my Control. But what I can Influence, I will. All right? Comprende? We are simpatico? Don’t fear.”

And with that, He is gone in a cyclone of sulfur and smoke.

When the smoke clears, I discover that gone, too, is my own fear and dread. I don’t know, exactly, what He has offered me, but somehow, my worry seems to have cleared with the moonlight.

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