Jess was eleven when we moved in. She was and is the nicest kid you could ever meet. Erin and I have watched her play with Jane many times and have smiled at her creativity, patience, and sense of play.
But eleven becomes twelve, and twelve becomes thirteen.
Hide-and-go-seek is a little less frequent than it was. Games of tag almost never happen anymore. Jess has friends over, and she goes to a lot of sleepovers. She and her friends occasionally invite Jane over so they can paint her nails and fawn over her golden curls. Jane relishes these moments. But they are rare.
New Year's Day, Jess comes home from a slumber party. She looks worn. Jane nearly jumps on her in the driveway.
Jane: Jess! Want to come over to play?
Jess: I'd love to, buddy, but I have to clean my room.
Jane does a twirl. They both love to dance.
Jane: Well, you can come over after that.
Jess hefts her bag on her shoulder. She looks around. Bits of remnant makeup from the night before circle her eyes. She looks too old and too young.
Jess: Well. I'm pretty tired. I think I'm going to take a nap.
Jane: (frowning) What about after that?
Jess: I think we're going to visit some friends after that.
Jane walks back to the house. Her head is slung low, but not in the dramatic mock pout she has recently refined.
She growls at Alice, who runs crying to the kitchen. Tears beget tears, and suddenly Jane is crying, too. I give her a hug.
Jane: Why won't Jess play with me?
Me: She wants to, Jane. She's just...
I don't finish my sentence. "She's just growing up without you."
We hug some more, then play a few rounds of hide-and-go-seek. She has fun, but the remnant red from crying circles her eyes. She looks too old and too young.