I found the slip of recycled paper, with its pale pink and blue lines, lines that are intended to help keep the letters in alignment. We’d practiced at the dining room table, where she taught me that “dirt letters” are the ones that dip below the lines and that to get the spacing right “ya just put a finger in there.” That paper always gets me, undeniably marking a passage I did not witness.
She can write letters I didn’t teach her, spells words I didn’t know she knew. Her reading went from tentative to scholarly, more than once I swallowed a, “Do you want me to help?” as she ran her finger beneath a word she hadn’t known the day before.
“The dog scampered around the gully and retrieved the ball.” I waited for a “See, mom, I got it,” but it never came. She took one of her hands and tossed her hair behind her shoulder, the line of her jaw more chiseled than I remembered. She continued reading and I laid a hand on the small of her back, wanting to keep up, hold on, but fearing that if I pressed too hard she might just brush at me like she did her hair.

I looked at her writing on the thin, slip of paper. She had used one of those pens that has buttons for blue, red, green and black ink at the top. She had written on several different lines, different approaches to the same message. I saw the familiar angles of her way of writing “love” and smiled. My breath caught as I saw that it wasn’t meant for me or for Sean. It wasn’t a letter to grandma and it wasn’t about princesses. It was a love letter, a genuine I-love-somoeone-other-than-my-mom-and-dad letter.

She wears my shoes in the house, covets a certain necklace and preens whenever I relent and dust her cheeks with blush and apply mascara to her lashes. I perched on the edge of her bed last night and ran my fingers through her hair. I traced my finger along her lips and kissed her brow. She didn’t stir, and I waited, hoping for something. I whispered, “I love you sweet Briar” and she slipped a hand over mine. I pressed my cheek against it and made a silent promise to take what I can gently and to celebrate what she begins to give what had once been reserved for me to other people.

My sweet Briar, has fashioned a little sail boat and while it’s still tethered to home, I believe that the call of the open sea and new adventures is growing evermore enthralling.