The cousins play volleyball and badminton to get things started. Around sunset, they hike the Easter trail up the hill to watch the fireworks explode over the Bay. Bella is holding the hand of the four-year-old girl, Mikaela, and helps her find her way to the top.
Melody has been taking care of Mikaela for a few days. Mikaela’s mother is apparently a party-girl who decided to take a summer class—in Italy. She dropped her kid off at her parents’ house and has been gone since May. The grandparents decided they wanted to take a vacation, without their granddaughter, and they dropped her off at Melody’s. Supposedly the girl’s mother came home yesterday, but she has yet to make an appearance to pick up her kid. Obviously the baby-daddy is not in the picture. Not surprisingly, Mikaela has a tendency to attach herself emotionally to strangers. She’s winsome.
She’s also a really pretty child. Dirty blond hair, big blue eyes. Bella is taking some pictures of Melody with her son, Hunter – Bella is photographing the whole party – and she takes a few of Mikaela, too. Mikaela’s taking ballet. She says “Let me show you my arabesque.” So cute. “Just one more picture,” she says several times.
Melody tells her cousin that Mikaela can be a handful—apparently, she’s quite articulate and willful. Melody says she had a bed-wetting accident the other day. That is one of the signs of sexual abuse in children, and Bella remembers this. So she asks Melody if the grandparents are good people or not. Melody says she doesn’t know. Bella suggests Melody keep an eye on Mikaela to see if she shows any other signs of abuse. Melody then says that Mikaela had been cared for solely by the grandfather for the past week. So who knows? But Mikaela is certainly an at-risk child.
When Mikaela and Bella are climbing the hill to go watch the fireworks with everyone else from the party, Mikaela looks out toward the water and says, “Beautiful! I can see for a mile.” Sometimes Bella carries her because she is slipping in her little flip-flops. She’s very light-weight, a wispy angel-girl. At one point, Mikaela says, “What if there are lions or tigers or bears?” Bella tells her there aren’t any – just deer. At another point, she glances back and sees a tall man behind them, and she pulls her little blue dress down to cover her knees, and says, “I’m scared.” Bella says, “Don’t be scared. I’m with you.” At the top of the hill, when night has fallen and all the lights of the Bay cities are illuminated in front of them, Mikaela lets out a sigh of wonder.
“Look!” she said, pointing across the Carquinez Straits. “Italy.”
Jane Beal, PhD is a poet and professional writer. She is the creator of more than a dozen poetry collections, including Sanctuary (Finishing Line Press, 2008) and The Roots of Apples (Lulu Press, 2012), as well as three recording projects: Songs from the Secret Life, Love-Song, and with her brother, saxophonist and composer Andrew Beal, The Jazz Bird. She also writes fiction, creative non-fiction, and works of literary scholarship. To learn more, please visit http://sanctuarypoet.net.