Jan 27


Everything changed when Lily brought the dog home. The police were there when she marched in the front door, a proud look on her face, stopping in the kitchen doorway to face my mom, worry and days of no sleep creased across her face, and my dad, whose eyes were filled with an ocean of tears, and my brother, James, who sat with his yogurt spoon still in his mouth, eyes wide open. To the side, three officers stood in crisp uniforms, looking ridiculous and out of place in our old wooden kitchen, with dishes stacked high beside the sink, and fruit flies swarming around the rotten peaches. They stood awkwardly, not knowing whether to leave or to stay. I was peeking in the window. I  had seen Lily coming up the drive, and hid up in the tall maple in the front yard.

    She had been gone five days. For five days, our parents hadn’t slept, had barely eaten, and had worried more than anyone should. But I had kept my lips shut, and so had James. The officers had asked us if we knew Lily was planning on running away, and we had been honest: we didn’t think she was running away. What we didn’t tell them, was that we knew exactly where she had run to, and why.

    Lily and James and I met our neighbor two summers ago, at the fiddler’s contest on the town green. Root beer and sticky buns in hand, we had climbed up to our favorite spot: the roof of the school. We could see the stage from here, as well all of the booths, tents, and games, arranged in a giant half-circle. As we crawled out onto the roof, we were startled. Someone was there. A ratty coat, and a dog sat on the flat room, looking out at our view. The man didn’t turn and look at us. He heard us giggling well enough, and then the sounds of our hushed whispers. As we, too, went up to sit on the edge of the roof, he turned to us and introduced himself with a simple “John.”

    From that day forward, we learned everything from John. He taught us about the trees, and how to understand what the wind what trying to tell you. He showed us the secret parts of town, that no one knew about. By the time James and I were 11, John was as important to us as our own parents. And then he told us he was sick.

    We didn’t understand the word “terminal,” but the way John said it, and the way his dog, Lucy, rested her head on my lap, we didn’t need to understand the meaning of that word. John said he had about until the next summer to live, and he was right. John gave us each a present the last time we went to visit him. James got John’s favorite cap, and Lilly got his colored pencil set, and I got his book on trees, with the pages worn and scratched with pencil.

    Our final gift from John was top secret. No one was allowed to know, not even our parents. Lily made her grand escape to go retrieve the gift five days ago, and was just now returning. With her marched a proud looking Lucy, with her signature red bandana tied around her neck.