Evening was spreading a blue shadow over the yard when Jackie’s mother called again from the kitchen. "Didn't you hear what I said?"
Jackie stuck a finger in her book.
"Joanne's the one who left it there," Jackie said.
Her father's car crunched over the gravel driveway. Jackie listened for the slam of the door. Her father would set things straight, make Joanne get her stupid ball, tousle Jackie's hair. The garage door opened and closed. Her father sat heavily on the stairs to take off his shoes, while her mother raised the tone of her voice.
"Jackie, go get the ball from the yard. Don't make me say it again!"
"I didn't leave it out there," she said evenly.
"Jackie!" her father's voice boomed. "Get over here right now!"
Not daring to disobey, Jackie moved to stand by her father at the front door. "It's not my ball," she said, "I didn’t leave it there."
"I didn't ask who did what. Get out there and bring it in."
Her father pulled her across the threshold and smacked her bottom, sent her stumbling across the porch into the murky twilight. The door clicked shut behind her. She tasted the metal onset of tears, blinked them back as the softball went in and out of focus across the gray expanse of lawn.
She inched down the brick path leading to the driveway and the world beyond but stopped next to the umbrella tree, one she had never climbed before. Her sister couldn’t climb trees. Jackie gave a small jump and grabbed a branch, swung her legs up. She eased into the crook where the thick branches spread out, trussed in heavy, oval leaves. She tucked her feet up under her and was hidden absolutely, sheltered and unafraid.
Her father would appear soon. He would drag Joanne out to pick up the softball, send her to bed early, then come back outside and stand under the tree. "I’m sorry," he would say before holding his arms out for Jackie to climb into, pretending not to hug her as he set her on the ground.
A light came on in the bedroom and Jackie thought of her book. The light went out again. Across the street the McCarthy’s spaniel barked. Cars swished by, brake lights blinking red through her leafy blind. Jackie let a line of tears dry on her face, swiped the back of her hand against her nose. Her stomach grumbled. It was so unfair. She dangled her legs against the rough bark, swung herself out of the tree and landed softly, dropping to her knees. She ripped at blades of grass and held them to her nose, breathed the crisp green smell. She stood to brush herself off, then walked to where the softball lay against the dark lawn and picked it up. She tossed it into the air and caught it before turning towards the front door that shone orange under the porch light.
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