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Family Reunion

The cabin Rebecca's family owned was right on the banks of a shimmering lake surrounded by tall, tall trees and ground that crunched with fresh pine needles and dewy oak leaves. Rebecca hated it.

Every time they went, there were aunts and uncles and cousins everywhere and a person couldn't get a moment's peace without walking deep into the woods. Or that's what Uncle Greg said anyway.

But Rebecca wasn't allowed to go deep into the woods by herself. She'd asked. Many times. The answer was always no.

"You'll get lost, Rebecca," her mother said, while also flipping the millionth pancake for breakfast. "You might forget your way home."

"This isn't home," Rebecca sighed. "This is a forced social experiment."

Rebecca's mom rolled her eyes and pointed the spatula at Kevin. "Can you stop reciting your philosophy classes to my kid?" Rebecca's mom said. "You're going to give her an identity crisis before she reaches eight."

Kevin turned the page of his book, which was very big with very small letters. "At least she'll get it over with early."

Again at lunchtime, Rebecca asked if she could go out into the woods.

"No," her mother said. She and Aunt Helen were playing dominoes, but Rebecca wasn't sure who was winning. "Go play with your cousins. You won't get to see most of them again until Christmas."

Rebecca didn't like playing with her cousins. They'd make her be seeker of hide-and-seek and then run away from her. She used to get upset by it and call out for them to wait up, wait up. It used to make her sad, but she was used to it now. She'd chase them only for a little bit, just in case, and then she'd go play by herself.

In the evening, just as the sun was beginning to turn orange and the shadows got long and shifty, Rebecca asked again.

"No," her mom said, "and that is final. I don't want to hear you ask me again." Her mother was pouring a grown-up drink into a big round glass.

"But the other cousins get to go into the woods," Rebecca said.

"Well, you're not the other cousins," her mother said. "You're your own self."

Rebecca crossed her arms. "I would be if anyone would let me here."

Her mother raised her eyebrows. "What was that?"

Rebecca backed away quickly. "Nothing."

She ran over to the younger cousins, who were playing kings-and-castles. But they already had all the characters taken care of. They didn't need anyone else. Some of the other kids were playing board games, but they'd already used up all the player pieces and didn't have room for anyone else. And when she went upstairs, where the other cousins were playing video games, she found there weren't any controllers left over.

When the adults shooed all the children off to bed, Rebecca lay awake for what seemed like hours, listening to the distant murmur of conversation and rumble of laughter drift up from the rooms below. But even after the rumbling stopped and the soft glow under the doorframe from downstairs lights went dark, Rebecca still lay awake, listening to the cicadas sawing outside.

She furled back the covers and leapt out of bed. Cousin Marley stirred beside her, but stayed sleeping.

Rebecca padded in her pink unicorn slippers down the stairs, across the living and down the front steps of the cabin. Surrounded by warm night air, she walked down to the lake. Water bugs skimmed over the still water. A frog croaked somewhere on the other side of the lake. Rebecca ran her fingers through a knot in her hair while she looked at the night.

Above her hung a full moon so creamy, Rebecca wanted to dip a piece of toast in it. She ran back into the house and came back with an English muffin, untoasted because she couldn't reach the toaster way up on the counter without making a lot of noise.

She ripped a chunk from the top half of the English muffin and reached way up on her tippy toes to dip it into the moon. The bread dripped with the thick cream and when she bit into it, it dribbled down her chin and plopped on the pine needles underneath her feet. She'd never tasted anything so sweet and rich in her life.

When she finished her English muffin, Rebecca walked out onto the lake and danced next to the water skimmers. She wasn't as light at them and her feet kept sinking beneath the surface, but the bugs didn't mind. She skipped all the way across the lake until she found the belching frog. He sat on top of a tree stump and ribbitted, his big chest filling up like a balloon. Rebecca reached as wide as she could and croaked back at the frog. His eyes got big and he responded with an even bigger belch. Rebecca grinned. She reached her arms and leaned her head back, grinning wide and croaked with all of her strength. The grass on the side of the lake trembled and the frog took a hop backwards. For a second, the frog just stared. Then he opened his wide frog mouth and laughed and Rebecca laughed back and they laughed so hard that in the morning, she was still smiling and her sides ached.


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