They moved to Pennsylvania after Daddy changed jobs again. It was hard leaving Indiana. In the three years they lived there, Sookie made friends. There were girls who came to her house and houses she visited in return. There were girls she liked and girls she didn’t like so much. There were girls who played with her after school and who called out her name as she walked by. She was chosen for teams and Sookie had friends who passed her notes and included her in jokes.
The places where they lived before, Massachusetts and California and Wisconsin, Sookie hadn’t made real friends. She had one, maybe two girls she played with, but it was different. Sometimes that girl already had a best friend, or sometimes she spent most of her time with her cousins. When Sookie was included it was because she was convenient, not because she was anyone’s special friend.
When her parents called her and her brother, Jason, together after dinner, they knew right away what was coming, so Sookie ran into her bedroom and locked her door.
It always started the same way. Daddy would come home looking worried. He and Mama would talk in quiet voices, stopping whenever Jason or Sookie came close. Daddy would spend hours staring out the window, night after night, his face drawn, almost as though he was looking for someone. Then, one day, Daddy wouldn’t go to work at all. When he started to leave on Sundays and not return home for days, or sometimes weeks, they knew he was looking for a new job, which would mean a ‘new life’ for them. Sometimes he would spend months only coming home for days at a time, but sometimes he didn’t take so long to find them a new place. Sookie’s Mother explained that she and Sookie’s Daddy had a deal. Daddy agreed that whenever it was possible, he would let them stay where they were to finish their school year, even if it meant he couldn’t stay with them. Sookie hated having to move, but she hated missing Daddy most. Mama would become sadder and sadder, and then, around April, the packing would start. Sookie learned to hate summers.
“Sookie?” her Daddy called from the hallway. “Sookie, open the door and let me in.”
“Why?” Sookie could feel her heart breaking. They would move far away and she would never see her friends again. Her mother would tell her she would make new friends as if replacing people was as easy as changing your shoes. She would leave this place where she had made happy memories. She would leave the church she had come to love, and the teachers she trusted. She would never again see the swans in the park along the river, or the swings where she and her friends played and told secrets.
“You’ll see,” her Daddy called through the door, “Pennsylvania is a wonderful place! I’ve found us a beautiful house in a neighborhood full of kids. Our backyard goes right into the schoolyard. You’ll never have to look around for friends. There they’ll all be!”
Sookie opened her door and Daddy came in, sitting on the edge of her bed. Even though he was her Father, Sookie knew her Daddy was handsome. His features were chiseled and his gold hair was thick and curly. When he smiled, people stared, and Sookie’s Mama hung on Daddy’s every word. “It won’t be bad, Peanut,” Daddy said sympathetically. “Besides, we’ll be together, and that’s what counts.”
When Sookie didn’t look convinced, Daddy drew a deep breath through his nose, held his hand out flat, and blew out through his mouth. The Will ‘o the Wisp that formed in his palm was nearly perfect. It drew the light and colors from all the things in Sookie’s room. As it started to twirl and then bend from side to side, Sookie couldn’t stop her giggle. She held out her own hand and, with just a little effort, formed her own miniature funnel of light and color. It wasn’t as well-shaped as Daddy’s, but Sookie had learned to make hers dance, too, and the two of them played this game that was just theirs, sending their creations to dance on the dresser and then to twirl on the shelf near Sookie’s horse statues. Jason couldn’t make Will ‘o the Wisps, and neither could Mama. Daddy told her it was their shared gift, and Sookie started to feel better. It was inevitable. Just sitting near Daddy felt wonderful, and when they played like this, it made the glowing feeling Sookie had inside grow.
Even though she knew she shouldn’t, Sookie glanced in the mirror. The first time she saw Daddy’s reflection with his sharp features and pointed ears, she’d been startled, but now it was comforting, because if she looked hard, Sookie knew her own eyes tilted and her ears matched his. It wasn’t something she could see all the time, and when she mentioned it, her Mother scolded her for being silly. “It’s our secret,” her Daddy told her later, and Sookie agreed to keep it between them.
“Why Pennsylvania?” Sookie asked after a bit.
“Because it’s a beautiful place,” her Daddy replied, “and we’ll be safe there.”
“We’re not safe here?” Sookie asked, and her brows drew together. It hadn’t occurred to her that there was more about this moving than Daddy’s restlessness.
“I don’t know why I said that,” her Daddy laughed. “It’s a great place and you’ll fit in right away.”
Sookie smiled, but something deep within her knew she wouldn’t fit right in and she was right. Sookie was starting sixth grade, so she didn’t get to attend the elementary school located right behind their house. Instead, she was enrolled in the middle school that was across town and a long bus ride away.
Her parents decided Sookie wouldn’t attend Catholic school this time either. “You’ll be in public school this year!” her mother announced as if that was a wonderful thing. “You’ll be able to wear whatever you want. No more uniforms!”
At first, Sookie was excited. She thought no uniforms was a wonderful thing, too, but after the first day at school, she knew she was wrong. The clothes she’d bought at Sears seemed fashionable, but they weren’t. Girls here wore different colors and knee socks, not ankle socks. Their hair was long and they turned toward her with speculative, hard eyes. “It will just take a little while for them to warm up to you,” her Mother assured her, but that had proved to be a lie, too. If anything, the feeling of being an unwelcome outsider solidified. No one would sit with Sookie on the bus and the teacher moved her chair to the back row, so the others would stop kicking her.
While Sookie told her troubles to her Mother, it didn’t help. Unlike the other moves, Daddy disappeared almost as soon as they settled into the house, and his absences were like a great hole in their lives. When he did come home, it was unexpected, and he joked it was like living Christmas all the time. “I am traveling for work,” he told Jason and Sookie. “My work takes me all kinds of interesting places,” but when Jason pushed for details, Daddy, who had a story and joke for every occasion, seemed at a loss for words.
To fill the silent hours between homework and sleep, Sookie discovered the woods that surrounded the school in the back of her house. Every free minute when she wasn’t helping her mother or studying to make her parents proud, Sookie was running under the canopy of trees. For the first time, Sookie’s mother didn’t warn her about strangers. Instead, Mama encouraged Sookie to spend time outside and Sookie found that in the dappled light of trees and the miracle of glens filled with violets she felt less lonely. Sitting under the filtered light on the forest floor, Sookie made her Will ‘o the Wisps, sending them flying from tree to flower. One time, when she brought her little toy back to her hand, a small bird followed, and from that day forward, the bird would perch near her, singing in its happy way. There were other things that just came to her as well, how to make flowers sing and how to make the tree trunks glow, showing the golden sap that flowed through them.
As the days became colder and night fell sooner, Sookie rediscovered the magic of books. Curled in a chair in the formal living room, Sookie buried herself in stories of romance and adventure. Mama was so distracted these days, Sookie was even able to bring books about love and sex into the house. In Indiana, Mama told Sookie these books were too old for her, but now, Mama didn’t seem to care enough to notice.
It was early in October and a strange, warm wind had moved in during the night. Sookie rose early, just as the birds were starting to sing. The light outside her window was muted and the sky was mauve instead of blue. Sookie threw on the sundress that lay on the floor beside her bed and toed into her sneakers. She crept quietly down the stairs and eased her way out the back door. The back yard was a steep, sloping hill that made cutting grass almost dangerous. Sookie ran up the incline and then stopped. Her backyard ended in a steep hill that fell ten yards down into the flat space of the school playing fields, but today Sookie couldn’t see the fenced baseball backstop or the low profile of the school beyond. The entire field was covered in thick fog. It was low to the ground, and Sookie found herself looking over the top of it. The fog rose in fingers, a living thing, and Sookie hesitated only a minute before scrambling down the hill and running into it.
She saw the moment the world disappeared behind her and Sookie experimented a few times, stepping in and then out of the wall of fog. With a quick smile, Sookie turned and walked into it, believing all the way to the soles of her feet that she was entering a magical place, all the more special because it was fragile.
For long minutes, Sookie played in the fog bank. When she looked around her, it was as if she was in a room made just for her. She could see the sun, pale and round, sailing above her. It didn’t hurt to look at it through the fog, but she didn’t stare long anyway, just in case. As she moved, the feeling of being in a special space in the fog moved with her and on a whim, Sookie piled up a few stones in a small cairn and walked away from them until them disappeared in the soft grey. When she tried to backtrack, she couldn’t find them again. It should have made her uncomfortable, but, for Sookie, it only proved that she was in a wonderful place where anything was possible.
She could hear the birds, louder now. There were blue jays who nested in the trees that surrounded the fields and they battled the crows. Their calls sounded far away, and then Sookie heard something else. It sounded like music.
Turning, Sookie tried to follow the sound, but it was tricky. Sometimes it seemed to be in front of her, and sometimes it came from behind. It wasn’t a tune she recognized, in fact, she would have had a hard time humming it at all. What she heard was more bits and pieces as if in a dream. Standing still, she closed her eyes and concentrated as hard as she could, turning her head. When she was sure she was pointed in the right direction, Sookie walked carefully forward, trusting her feet and the safety of flat ground of to keep her from falling until the sound was almost before her. And then the music stopped.
Sookie opened her eyes, and for a moment she thought she was looking at a tall man, but as quickly as she blinked, she was looking at a blond boy her own height. “Who are you?” Sookie asked.
“Why are you here?” he asked in return.
“I was following the music,” she told him.
“Oh,” and he grinned, “That would explain it!” He was handsome and as he laughed, Sookie just knew he thought she was handsome, too. When Sookie took a step toward him, though, he stepped back. “You should head home now,” he told her. “Your Father has come home and he’ll be worrying about you.”
“Will I see you in school tomorrow?” Sookie asked.
“I’m only visiting this time,” the boy told her, “but don’t worry. We’ll see each other again.” Before Sookie had a chance to ask anything else, the boy winked at her and, turning, disappeared into the fog bank so quickly Sookie barely had time to be startled.
When Sookie returned home, she found her mother singing in the kitchen. ‘Where were you?” her Mother asked, then without waiting for an answer, called, “Corbett? She’s here. She’s fine!”
Daddy walked in and hugged Sookie. He hugged her hard and Sookie marveled at how good she felt just to be close to him, but then he pulled back and his face wasn’t happy. “What’s wrong?” Sookie asked.
“Nothing,” Daddy assured her. He shook his head and pulled his easy smile into place again, “Nothing at all. I’m just being silly,” and then he let her go and walked over to stand next to Mama, looking out the window toward the school and the fog. “Where were you?” he asked.
“There was fog on the playing fields,” Sookie explained. “I was playing in it.”
“I always liked playing in the fog when I was a girl,” her mother replied, and she launched into a story about growing up on the farm in Minnesota. As Sookie stared out the window, she found she only listened with half an ear to her Mother. Instead, she thought about the strange boy she’d met in the fog. It seemed so unlikely, and as her Mother offered her breakfast, Sookie decided not to mention the boy at all. Daddy liked to tell Sookie that she was a dreamer, and now Sookie wondered if she had dreamed so hard that her imagination finally found a way to create something that she wanted.
In the stories Sookie read on cold evenings and rainy days, the heroine would find a way to reach other worlds. She would be able to meet the creatures who lived just beyond other people’s range of vision, but if the heroine told others about what she saw, the spell was broken and she never saw those creatures again.
Sookie thought about the boy and the music. She wondered if what she’d seen was magic like the Will ‘o the Wisps and the bird and the trees that glowed. Sookie glanced at her Mother and then Jason who wandered into the kitchen, yawning and hungry. Biting her lip, Sookie decided she’d wait until later to tell her Daddy about it. He would know what to say, and together they sat down to breakfast.
As the dishes were finished, Daddy announced he had an errand to run, but he’d be back in an hour. “Good,” Sookie smiled at him. “I’ve missed you and I have so much to tell you!”
“I can’t wait to hear all about it, Peanut,” Daddy said. He squeezed Jason’s shoulder, and Jason shrugged him off, like the teenager he was, and Daddy kissed Mama. Sookie remembered each moment, each gesture, a combination of memory and yearning, because in just a few hours, Daddy would be dead and their lives would never be the same again.