"Milo! C'mon! Let's play that we're young explorers! Except for Gracie. She's not young." Ava totes the leash of The Lion [Sarge] a little in front of Milo who is whining about prickle bushes. The Bear [Kipper] trots a little ahead of all of us, because bears aren't very good at waiting up.
Of course Gracie isn't young. She's the one that goes barefoot over the blackberries even though the thorns prickle seven-year-old feet. She's the one that can merely walk while four-year-olds have to tromp. She's the one who is next to them, taking part in the magical world of their imaginations, giving that world an extra dose of intrigue with her outlandish suggestions for their games... yet at the same time, she's the one that they're scared isn't really quite all with them. They're scared that they can't capture her completely, that her mind is wondering somewhere else out-of-reach when she starts looking somewhere else.
Before, the verdict was up in the air, but now, there's no doubt about it. Gracie is not a kid, but she is playing with the kids. She's a Big Girl, half lost to another realm.
She's tall, taller than Momma. She goes on trips and wears pretty dresses and can talk to other people about nothing at all for just about forever.
She could really get married any second here, they're sure of it. Just like Sleeping Beauty, who was alone in the woods, just the same! Except Sleeping Beauty was sixteen, which is younger and more eligible.
She knows how to catch the most water-skippers and whittle wooden forks and, out of a single maple leaf, make a bowl that can actually hold water. She can carry the heaviest logs and make a fort out of them.
And when I am walking my very slowest, they call, "Gracie! Wait up! Gracie! Don't leave me behind!" with a note of desperation in their voices, because it is the worst thing in the world to be unable to keep up when you are seven or four.
And when a chicken hops out of the low-creeping blackberries and the two of them start shrieking, I tackle The Bear [because, while most dogs would obey the words "leave it!", bears aren't very good at restraining themselves] and my voice gets all harsh as I yell at them to scare the half-brained chicken away. And for a second, because I'm yelling and harsh, the kids look scared.
When The Lion and I eat salmon berries [he's an omnivorous lion], the kids join in and pick berries too. Their faces wrinkle up when they pop the berries into their mouths and Milo starts to say that they're sour, but Ava hushes him. They exchange a secret sibling glance, then hurriedly assure me that they love the way the berries taste, just like Gracie.
Ava gets sick of holding The Lion's leash and so it is thrust into my hands. Sarge, willful lion, has actually calmed down. Who would have thought we'd see the day when Sarge calmed down?
He's in heaven now, with all the kids. Ava's the same age I was when he was a puppy. Don't read him wrong, though. He hasn't gone soft. He's as disobedient than ever; he will only listen to Grace and Sophe, and even then, only under limited circumstances.
Sarge, since when are we the big kids? With the adults, I'm a young thing. With my little brother and sister, I am grown up. I'm just messing around, feeling my strength, feeling full of life. I ask myself, --isn't it weird, the veneration in their eyes?