School is a strange place. Samantha spends a lot of her time there in the room called the learning center (she isn’t sure why it’s called that, because the whole school is supposed to be for learning) working with Sandra, who’s her tutor. Sandra is supposed to help her get up to speed, which means that they work on all of the things Samantha would have learned already, if she’d ever been to school before. She’s in the third grade, and when you’re in the third grade you’re supposed to know how to read and write and do math, and Samantha can’t do all that yet. There are a lot of things they learned about in the second grade, like the digestive system and life as a pioneer, that she doesn’t know about either.
She likes learning to read the best, because it means that she can read books any time now: she can read at night, if she wants to, after Mom and Fox are asleep. She could only read books with easy words at first, but now she’s been in school for four months, and she’s getting better at reading. Sandra showed her how to sound out words, and she does that whenever she gets a new book, figuring out the ones that are hard. Once Sandra gave her The Secret Garden, and she liked it so much that she read it in one day. When she brought it back in the next morning Sandra didn’t believe her at first. “Did you really finish it?” she asked.
“Yes,” Samantha said. “I read it all night.”
“You shouldn’t do that, Samantha,” Sandra said. “I know books are exciting, but it’s important for you to get your sleep.” It was too hard to explain to Sandra that she didn’t need to sleep that much. When Mom came to pick her up that day, Sandra told her what she’d said, and Mom told her, in the car on the way home, that she really should try to sleep more.
“I try,” Samantha said. “I wake up.”
Mom sighed and looked back at her in the mirror. “I know, Samantha. Let’s just…let’s keep that between us, okay? You don’t need to tell Sandra if you’re up at night.”
“Okay,” Samantha said. “Why?”
“She might not understand,” Mom said, and Samantha guessed that was true.
But even though Sandra doesn’t understand some things, she’s a good tutor, Samantha thinks; Samantha’s already learned a lot, working with her. Mom and Fox went in to meet with her, before December vacation, and she told them that Samantha’s learning really fast. That she’s never seen anyone learning so fast. That she thinks Samantha can start to spend more time with her regular class, in the spring.
Samantha’s not sure how she feels about that. Her regular class is called 3C, because it’s third grade and the teacher is Mrs. Clark. There are twenty-one other kids in it. On the first day, she had to introduce herself: she said that her name was Samantha, and that she loved books, but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. Nothing else that she thought she’d be able to say, anyway. She’d only been here, with Fox and Mom, for a couple of months then, and talking was still hard for her.
Right now, she only spends a couple of hours a week with her regular class, when they have art and music and gym. She likes art, because she already knows how to draw pictures, and clay is fun too. She doesn’t like music as much, because singing is harder than talking, and because when they have to play the xylophones nobody can keep the rhythm. Gym is the one she’s best at, because she’s a very fast runner and she doesn’t get tired, but she doesn’t know what kickball is for.
Even though there are a lot of other kids, in her regular class, it’s very different from being back at the farm. There, they would all work together, concentrating on completing their tasks. Here, everyone seems to do different things. Sometimes they do their work, but sometimes they do strange things, like stick clay on their eyebrows, or yell at someone who can’t kick the ball. And they don’t all work together—they spend time in different groups. Some of them are friends. Some of them are best friends.
Samantha isn’t sure if she has friends yet, in her class. On the first day, a girl called Mina showed her around and played with her at recess, and now she usually sits with Mina and some other girls at lunch. They asked her why she isn’t in the regular class, most of the time, and she said it’s because she’s working with Sandra in the learning center. One of the other girls, whose name is Anna, said that she has a tutor to work on her English, because she moved here from Russia two years ago; she asked if Samantha came from a different country too. Samantha said yes, Canada, but she goes to the learning center so she can be up to speed and learn to read and write and do math and understand the digestive system and life as a pioneer.
“Wait,” Mina asked, “you don’t know how to read?” They all looked at her like she was supposed to know.
“I know some now,” she said. “But I didn’t when I came here. That’s why I go with Sandra. To learn.”
“But why didn’t you know how to read?” Mina asked, and she tried to explain the whole story, but they all looked at her funny again. And Anna said that she didn’t have to make things up. She said that she wasn’t making things up, but she doesn’t know if they believed her.
She wants to tell them that even if she doesn’t know everything they’ve learned in school, yet, she knows how to do other things: how to cook and how to grow things and how to take care of bees. And school’s supposed to be for learning. And she’s learning. But she’s worried they wouldn’t listen to that, wouldn’t believe her.
When Mom asks her how school was, she usually says it was good, because she does like most of the things about it: learning things with Sandra and going to art class and all the books in the library. But sometimes, when she’s in her class, she feels lonely. And she never felt lonely before, on the farm—she never thought about it.
They have a project for school: to make a poster about their family and tell everyone about it. The piece of posterboard Samantha got is very big, and at first it looks empty, even when she writes MOM and FOX and ME (SAMANTHA) in big letters. She looks at the assignment sheet again. It says they should put pictures. She doesn’t have any, though, so she goes to look for Mom, who’s reading the newspaper in the living room. “I need pictures,” she says.
Mom puts the newspaper down. “Pictures of what, honey?” she asks.
“You and me and Fox,” Samantha says. “I have to make a poster about my family. For school.”
“Well, let’s see what we have,” Mom says.
They find a couple of sleeves of pictures from the fall and winter: there are a couple of the three of them together, that Dana took, which she can use, but a lot of them are of just Samantha. “Do we have any more?” she asks. “It says we could use—” She looks at the sheet again. “Pictures of your family. Pictures of you with your family. Pictures from when your parents were growing up. Pictures from the holidays. Pictures of your extended family. What’s extended family?”
“It’s people besides your parents and your brothers and sisters,” Mom says. “Like your grandparents or your uncles and aunts.”
“Oh,” Samantha says. “Do I have any?”
“Not really, honey,” Mom says. “My parents—they died before you came here. And I don’t have brothers or sisters.”
“Okay,” Samantha says. “I’m sorry.” She looks back at the assignment. “Pictures from when you were younger. We don’t have those,” she says.
“No,” Mom says, and she looks sad, like she sometimes does, when they talk about things that make her think of the other Samantha.
“But do we have any other pictures?” Samantha asks. “Do we have pictures of you or Fox? Or when you were growing up?”
Mom’s quiet for a minute—maybe she’s still thinking about the other Samantha—and then she says—“We’ll look.”
There are some boxes in one of the rooms on the second floor, one that’s not anyone’s bedroom. Mom opens one of them. “I think there are some photo albums in here,” she says. “With old pictures.”
Samantha doesn’t recognize any of the people in the pictures. “Who are they?” she asks.
“Well, that’s me,” Mom says, pointing at one lady. Samantha stares at her. She doesn’t look very much like Mom; she’s much younger. And her clothes are funny.
“Why are you dressed like that?” Samantha asks.
Mom smiles. “That was how we dressed, back then,” she said. “It was the sixties.”
“What is the sixties?”
“It’s…it’s the years when the picture was taken,” Mom says. “Like it’s the nineties now.” She turns a page in the album. “And there’s Fox.” Samantha looks at him too. He’s much, much younger. He looks even younger than she is.
“I could put these on the poster,” she says. “To show in class.” She turns the page herself. The next picture is Fox with a baby. “Who’s that?”
Mom puts a hand on her shoulder, gently. “That’s Samantha, honey.” And Samantha stares at that picture for a long time. She thought she was supposed to be like the other Samantha, but she can’t tell from this picture if she is or not. This Samantha is just a baby and she’s little and bald.
“Maybe we shouldn’t look at these,” Mom is saying. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” And Samantha’s not sure if she does want to, but she can’t stop, either. She keeps turning over the pages, one by one, looking at all the pictures. There’s the other Samantha again, and at first she’s still a baby, but she keeps getting older and older: she’s got hair in some of the pictures, and then she’s standing up. Samantha turns the pages until the other Samantha is as old as she is, suddenly, and she’s with Fox again, and he’s got his arm around her shoulders, and they’re both smiling. Then she closes the album as fast as she can.
“That picture. You,” she says. “Can I take?” Her throat feels tight and her voice isn’t coming.
“Honey,” Mom is saying. “Honey,” and she looks like she’s going to cry. “Samantha, I’m sorry. I should have thought…I shouldn’t have shown you...”
“Work on my poster,” she says, and she goes back into her room. But she doesn’t like working on the poster. She doesn’t have enough pictures and it still looks bad, even when she tries to decorate it with her markers. She’s scared that Mrs. Clark will ask her why she doesn’t have more pictures and she won’t know what to say. And she keeps thinking about those pictures, with Fox and the other Samantha. He wasn’t that much older than she was. And the other Samantha looked like her but she wasn’t her. She bites her lip. She wishes she didn’t have to do the poster.
She hears tapping at her door, after a little bit. It’s Mom, again. “Samantha, honey?”
“Can we come in?” It’s Fox, too.
She tries to talk, feels like she’s choking. “Okay,” she says, finally, and they open the door and come in and sit down on her bed. Fox looks at her poster.
“I needed pictures,” she says to him.
“I know,” he says. “Mom told me.” He ruffles her hair like he sometimes does. “It must have been strange, huh?”
“I’m so sorry,” Mom says again. “Samantha, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’d never mean that.”
“You weren’t old,” she says to Fox.
He laughs a little. “I wouldn’t exactly say I’m old now, Sam,” he says. “But you’re right. I was younger then.”
She thinks about the other kids in her class who have brothers and sisters: they’re all around the same age, or at least closer to it than she and Fox are. Much more like Fox and the other Samantha. She can’t say why it bothers her—it never did before—but it does now. She fiddles with one of her braids. “She looked like me,” she says. That bothers her too, even though it shouldn’t, because all the other girls looked like her too, back on the farm. But she knows that most girls don’t look the same, here. “Was she…was she like me?” She doesn’t know much about the other Samantha, really. She knows some details, like books that she read and clothes that she wore. She knows that she’s gone.
“She was a smart, sweet girl,” Mom says. “That’s like you.”
“She was in some ways,” Fox says. “But you’re different in some ways too.”
She doesn’t know which she wants—to be different or the same. “Oh,” she says.
“We know you’re your own person, though,” Fox says. “We don’t expect you to be alike. You’re you.”
She knows he means it in a nice way, but right now she’s thinking about the ways she can never be like the other Samantha. On the farm they really were alike, and no one was more important than anyone else, but here the other Samantha came first. And from the pictures, it looks like she and Fox played together, but they can’t really do that now, because he is old. And when Mom remembers the other Samantha she gets sad.
“Did you like her better?” she asks. “Better than me?” And now Mom really is crying, and Fox looks sad too.
“No,” Mom says. “Samantha, no.”
“No,” Fox says. “We love you just as much. Why would you think that?”
“Because…because she was the first one,” Samantha says. “And I’m a different person.” And she starts to cry herself, and she wipes her hand across her eyes.
Mom reaches out to hug her, and she goes; they both cry, and Fox pats her back. “We love you for you,” he tells her. “You don’t love me and Mom in the exact same way, right?”
“I don’t know,” she says. She’s never thought about it.
“Well, we’re different people,” he says. “So there are different things you like about each of us, right? And it’s the same with you and…and her. We love you because of who you are.”
“Don’t ever think I don’t love you,” Mom says, and she’s still crying. “I never want you to think that, Samantha. Because I do love you. We just want you to be happy.”
Samantha knows Mom wants her to believe her, and she does believe her, so she doesn’t know why she still feels sad. “If she was still here,” she says, “would I be here too?”
Fox is quiet for a minute, and then he says, “We can’t know that, Sam.” She doesn’t like that, having big things they can’t know. “But,” he says, “we know that we’re glad you’re here. And we’d always want you here. No matter what happened. You’re…you’re not any more or less special to us than she was. We loved her, and we love you.”
“We do,” Mom says, and she hugs Samantha so tight.
And Samantha wipes her eyes, after a little bit. “I still have to finish my poster,” she says.
They work on it together, that afternoon, all three of them. They help her think of ideas for how she could decorate it: she draws a picture of herself going to the zoo with Mom and a picture of her and Fox, reading a book together. There still aren’t a lot of photos. But it doesn’t look so bad.
Mom gives her a book, on her birthday, about bodies, and she says Samantha should read it and ask her if she has any questions. It’s an interesting book, and Samantha has a lot of questions; she wants to know who decided that you should shave only your lower legs, and if you have to change your bra every day like socks, and what kind of infection you’d get if you popped a pimple, and how the hormones know to start working. And a lot of other things. She goes to Mom with her questions, and Mom answers some of them, but a lot of the time she just says, “I don’t know, Samantha.” When Samantha asks her about the hormones, she says, “Samantha…I’m not a scientist.”
“I know,” Samantha says. “But you said you would answer my questions. Does that mean you can’t answer?”
“I can’t answer because I don’t know,” Mom says. “I can only answer more…practical questions.”
“I’m sorry if I have the wrong kind of questions,” Samantha says, and she really is sorry, because Mom doesn’t seem to like talking about this very much at all, even the questions she can answer. It makes her wonder why Mom gave her the book in the first place. “Is there a way I can find out, though?” she asks, because even though she’s sorry, she does want to know too.
“I’ll try and see,” Mom says, and Samantha says okay. She decides she won’t ask Mom about it again, since she thinks it bothers her, and she’ll just wait and see if Mom decides to tell her anything else. If she doesn’t, maybe she can look some of these things up in the library.
She’s reading in her room, later that week, when someone knocks on her door. “Come in,” she says, and the door opens, and it’s Dana. “Hi, Dana,” she says. “Did you and Emily come for dinner?”
“We did,” Dana says. Samantha starts thinking about what they can make. She likes to try cooking a lot of new things, but maybe she shouldn’t tonight, because Emily is not very adventurous. “But I just came up here to talk to you first. Your mom said she gave you a book, and you had some science questions I might be able to answer?”
“Yes,” Samantha says. “Yes, I did.” And she asks her questions, and Dana has good answers for her—she knows a lot more about science than Samantha does, but she explains everything very clearly. And she doesn’t seem to mind talking about this, either.
“Good questions, Samantha,” Dana says, when Samantha’s done asking everything. “Have you ever thought about being a doctor? When you get older, I mean.”
“No, I haven’t thought about it,” Samantha says. “I don’t really know what I’ll be.” She guesses she will get older, but she hasn’t thought much about that either. “Maybe I’ll work in a library,” she says, because the library is one of her favorite places.
“That’s good too,” Dana says, smiling.
“And thank you for answering all my questions,” Samantha says. “I don’t think Mom liked talking about it. Why do you think she got me the book, if she doesn’t want to talk about it?”
Dana looks a little surprised. “Well, Samantha,” she says, “I think she probably got it for you because she wants you to know about how bodies change, because that might start happening for you soon. Within the next couple of years, anyway.”
“Oh,” Samantha says. “All right.” That makes sense, she guesses, because of what the book said. But she wasn’t really thinking about herself when she was reading it.
“And if you think of more questions, you can ask me again,” Dana says. “Should we go downstairs?” Samantha nods, and they go, and she and Emily draw pictures together, and then they make dinner, and she doesn’t think any more about the book right then.
She doesn’t think about it for a while, because what Dana said doesn’t seem to be true. She doesn’t think Dana was lying; maybe she just made a mistake. Nothing that the book talked about starts happening for Samantha. Nothing at all.
She doesn’t notice it herself, not until one day when she’s at the store with Mom buying school clothes. Mom frowns at her, when she’s trying on pants. “What size are those, honey?” she asks, and when Samantha shows her, she says, “You’ve been wearing that same size for a while now, haven’t you?” Samantha thinks about it. She guesses she has, so she nods. And Mom doesn’t seem to like that very much. “I wonder if you’re eating enough,” she says.
“I think so,” Samantha says. She doesn’t know exactly what enough is, but she’s always full after her meals. Mom still doesn’t look happy, but she doesn’t say anything else about it, and they choose the clothes and go home.
But she hears them talking, at night. Mom and Fox. “I’m worried about her,” Mom is saying, and when she says, “She’s not growing at all. She’s the same size as she ever was,” Samantha knows that they’re talking about her. “How could we not have noticed before?”
“I don’t know,” Fox says, and he sounds upset too. “I guess I just didn’t think...she looked like I remembered.” His voice is soft, but Samantha can still hear it from the top of the stairs. “I should have…”
“What did—do you think they did something to her?” Mom asks. “Will she—I can’t lose her again, Fox. I can’t let that happen.”
“Woah,” Fox says. “I think we’re—that’s not going to happen, Mom. Like you said, we won’t let it.” But he sounds scared.
“Well, we have to do something,” Mom says. “I can’t—I wanted her back. But I didn’t mean for her to be a little girl forever.”
“She won’t be,” Fox says. “We will—we will do something. But Mom,” and his voice is very serious now, “to do that, we have to know as much as possible. You have to tell me what you know.”
They’re quiet, then, for a little while, and when Mom starts talking again Samantha doesn’t understand, and she’s not sure she wants to. She goes back to her room and pulls the covers up tight. She didn’t think it was bad before, that she wasn’t growing. She didn’t even notice that she wasn’t growing. It’s like with plants—you don’t see whether they’re changing day by day, but one day you look and they’re taller. Only she isn’t. She’s shorter than anyone in her class and she can wear the same clothes from two years ago. And she never thought about it.
She stands up on her toes, in front of the mirror in the morning. Up and down and up and down, and then up again, with her arms over her head, for a long time. Maybe she will stretch.
Samantha doesn’t say anything about it to Mom and Fox, because they don’t know she heard them talking, and they don’t say anything to her either, until one day when Fox takes her into work with him. She likes going there; she went earlier this year, on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. She didn’t know if it would be right for her to go, since she’s Fox’s sister, not his daughter, but he said it would be okay, it was a day for girls to get to see what work was like and that was the main thing. But she didn’t eat any of the cookies there, just in case it wasn’t allowed, and also because they had raisins in them.
Today, they go to one of the labs, and Dana is there waiting when they get there. “Hi, Samantha,” she says. “How are you doing?”
“All right,” Samantha says.
Fox looks down at her and squeezes her hand. “Samantha,” he says, “Mom and I were talking.”
“About me,” she says. “I heard some of it.”
He shakes his head at her, but he’s smiling. “You hear everything,” he says, “you know that? Well, we don’t want you to be worried. Everyone grows differently. But we wanted… Scully’s going to take a look at you, okay? Just in case.”
“In case what?” she asks. She doesn’t like that, in case.
“In case…in case there’s anything we should do,” he says, “to help you catch up on your growing.” And that does make her feel a little better, because when she first got here she had to catch up on her talking and her reading and her writing, and she did all that really well. So if she has to catch up on growing, she can probably do that too.
Dana looks at her like they do at the doctor’s, and she measures her too, to see how tall she is now. “I think we should take some blood,” she says, “for tests. Is that okay, Samantha? It will hurt a little, but not too much.”
“Okay,” Samantha says. If Dana thinks they should do it, she doesn’t mind. And it’s like Dana said: it hurts a little, but not too much, and it’s over soon.
“You were brave,” Dana says, and she squeezes Samantha’s hand. She looks into Samantha’s face, very seriously. “Samantha, I want you to know…I’m going to figure this out. Whatever’s going on, we’ll find a way to help you. You don’t have to worry, because you’re going to be okay.”
“Thank you,” Samantha says. She knows, by now, that people don’t always mean everything they say, and it’s not always because they’re trying to lie to you. Sometimes they’re exaggerating, and sometimes they’re trying not to say something that makes them upset, and sometimes it’s you that they don’t want to upset and they think whatever they’re saying instead of what’s true will make you feel better. She doesn’t like that, though: she always feels better when she knows what’s true, because then it’s easier to figure out what you should do and what’s going to happen next. And right now, she thinks that Dana is telling her what’s true, or at least what she means. That she really is going to find a way to help her. And that makes her feel better, even if she doesn’t know what that way will be. She hugs Dana, quickly, and Dana hugs her too, and then she puts her sweater back on and goes back to where Fox is waiting outside.
“You all set, Sam?” he asks her.
“Yes,” she says. “All set.” She looks back at Dana, who’s come out the door of the lab behind her. “Will you tell me? If you find anything out?”
“Of course,” Dana says, and then they all go back to Fox and Dana’s office, and she works on her homework while they go over cases until it’s time to go home.
They don’t talk about it again, for another little while, until Fox brings it up one day when he gets home from work. “Sam,” he says, and she looks up right away when he says her name, because she can tell from his voice that it’s important. “Scully thinks she figured out something we can do. To help you catch up on growing.”
Mom’s there too—she and Samantha are making cookies together—and she turns around fast, when Fox says that. “What is it?”
“Essentially—and Scully can explain this better than I can—” Fox says, “there’s a modification in your DNA that is stopping your growing. It’s probably…well, we don’t know why, exactly. Did any of you grow? On the farm?” Samantha shakes her head. It’s strange, she thinks; they don’t talk about the farm much, now. “But Scully knows a way to fix that. You’ll have to have some injections, but the modification…it should be reversible. And then you’ll be fine,” he says, smiling at her.
“Do we know it’s safe?” Mom asks.
Fox looks down at her, then back at Mom. He knows Samantha doesn’t like people to say what’s not true. “There’s some uncharted territory in this,” he says. “But it’s as safe as something like this can be. You know I’d never do anything that would risk you, Sam.”
“I know,” she says.
“And we’ll only do this,” he says, “if you want to try it.”
“I do,” she says, and she nods. But then she asks, “Will it hurt?” because she’ll do it even if it does, but she doesn’t want it to.
“A little bit,” he says. “Not a lot. And we’ll be there with you.” And that doesn’t sound so bad, she thinks.
It’s clean and cool in the lab, when she goes in again with Fox. And Dana’s there, and she smiles. And Fox stays this time, with his hand on her shoulder, and it doesn’t hurt much, and he takes her for ice cream after, because this might be one of the last times, he says, before it gets too cold.
There are more injections. It doesn’t happen right away. She doesn’t know when it does happen, exactly, because it still isn’t something you notice yourself, day by day. It’s in the small things: her jeans too short, a shirt she really likes too tight, which is a sad thing, but worth it, she thinks. She’s still one of the smallest people in her class, but not the very smallest. She starts to look a little more like some of the illustrations in the book Mom gave her.
She still stands on her toes, sometimes. But now it’s to reach things on higher shelves, because she can.
Fox and Dana are going to get married, next month, and Samantha’s excited about that. She knows they’re both really happy. And when they’re married, Dana and Emily will live with the rest of them, and she likes that too, because she’ll get to see them every day. Also, she’ll be Emily’s aunt. She’s never been an aunt before, and it’s funny to think that she’ll just turn into one, one day. But it might be an interesting thing to be.
Emily’s excited about it too. “You’ll be my aunt,” she says to Samantha, one day. The two of them are lying on the living room floor and drawing pictures, while Fox and Dana are in the kitchen, talking about the wedding. They said they didn’t want to do anything big and fancy, even though Mom thought they should, and so did Dana’s mom, Emily’s grandma. So it’s just going to be very simple, just family and a few friends. Samantha and Emily have new dresses, though; they match, because Emily wanted to match, and Samantha likes that too. It’s been a long time since she really matched anyone. In Girl Scouts they all wear their vests, but they wear different things under them.
“Yes,” Samantha says. “And you’ll be my niece.”
Emily nods, her eyes shining. “And Mommy will be my mom,” she says, “and Mulder will be my dad. He told me I can call him that, too. Dad.”
“Oh,” Samantha says. She works on her picture and doesn’t say anything else.
Well, she knew Fox would be Emily’s dad, of course, because that’s how it works. And it makes sense, if he’s going to be her dad, for her to call him Dad. And of course he’s not Samantha’s dad—he’s her brother. Sometimes people think he is, but that’s only because he’s so much older, and she always tells them that he’s really her brother. And sometimes he does stuff for her that dads usually do, she thinks, like taking her in to work with him and coming to her class events, because she doesn’t have a dad. But even though he does that stuff, she likes him being her brother. Some of the other kids in her class hate their brothers, she thinks, because they’re always fighting or teasing each other or invading each other’s privacy. It’s not like that at all with them. He was the first person she loved. And now he’s going to be Emily’s dad, and she’s going to get to call him that.
She looks over at Emily’s picture. “Cats are not purple,” she says.
“I know,” Emily says. “But I think it’s pretty.”
“It’s silly,” Samantha says. “Why don’t you make them a regular cat color?”
“I just don’t want to,” Emily says. She keeps coloring her cats in purple. Samantha wishes she would get upset, and she doesn’t know why, because it’s not very fun, having people be upset.
“Well, it makes your picture look really stupid,” she says, and Emily looks surprised, but she doesn’t say anything. So Samantha drops her colored pencils and gets up. “And I don’t want to draw anymore,” she says. “You can draw by yourself.”
She goes out the back door. She starts out walking, when she goes down the steps and starts into the yard, but then she’s running, before long. Running as fast as she can, towards the end of the property. Her body doesn’t get tired, but her thoughts are hurting.
She thinks she’s been running for a while when she hears Fox calling her. For a minute, she isn’t sure if she wants to go back, but then she does. “Wow, you’re fast,” he says, when she comes up to him. “I wasn’t sure where you went. Emily said...something about cats? And you told her her picture was stupid?”
“I just didn’t want to draw with Emily anymore,” she says.
“Well, you don’t have to,” he says, “but you know, Sam, you shouldn’t have said that about her picture. That wasn’t nice of you.”
She knows it wasn’t, but she’s upset that Fox is telling her, anyway. Telling her she has to be nice to Emily. Emily who’s going to be his daughter. “It was stupid, though,” she says.
He looks surprised now too. “Even if you thought that,” he says, “it’s not something you need to say to her. Remember we’ve talked about that? Why there are times when it’s okay not to say what you think?”
They talked about that years ago. When she first came here. “I know that,” she says. “I’m not stupid.”
“Hey, what’s going on?” he says. “This isn’t…this isn’t like you, Sam.” She doesn’t say anything. “Is this about sharing your room with Emily, when they move in? Because you don’t have to do that. The two of you said you wanted to, but if you’ve changed your mind, we can make space.”
She thinks about it, but she does want to share her room with Emily, really. “No,” she says. “I didn’t change my mind.”
“Then what’s up?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she says, because she really doesn’t. At least not in a way she can say.
“You sure?” he asks, and even though he told her she wasn’t nice to Emily he doesn’t look really mad at her.
So she tries to think of how to say it. “Emily said you were going to be her dad,” she says. “And she was going to call you that. Because you told her she could.” Because that part’s definitely true, anyway, even if she can’t figure the rest of it out.
“Oh,” Fox says, and his voice is gentle. “Yes, that’s true, Sam. But…but that won’t make a difference to us. You and me.”
“How can it not make a difference?” she asks. She thinks that’s silly, what he said. Emily and Dana will be living with them, and Fox and Dana will be married, and Samantha will be an aunt, and Fox will be Emily’s dad. Of course it will be different.
“Well, not a bad difference,” he says. “And we’ll still have time for the two of us, if you’re worried about that. And I can still come to your class with the parents, if you want me to.”
She knows he’s telling the truth, but she doesn’t really feel any better, which makes her think that she still needs to figure out what she was worried about in the first place. She plays with one of her braids as he looks at her. “Emily gets to have a dad now,” she says, finally, “and I don’t get anything.”
“That’s not true,” Fox says. “Dana will be your sister-in-law, and Emily will be your niece.”
“Those aren’t like a dad,” she says. She doesn’t think so, anyway. She’s never had any of those things, but she knows it must be true, from the way people talk about them. There’s no book like A Wrinkle in Time where children go through the whole universe to find their sister-in-law. No book about children who don’t have a niece so they’re lonely and sad.
“And you’ll have me and Mom,” Fox says.
“I already have you,” she says.
“True,” he says. “But Samantha…I’m not exactly sure why that’s a problem, having us already. Is this…do you wish you had a dad, specifically?”
She thinks about that, about what she knows about dads, what she’s heard about them from other kids in her class or read in books. She doesn’t know if she needs one so much. She doesn’t think that there are things dads can do that Mom and Fox can’t. “No,” she says. “I don’t think so. But…” She thinks again. “I don’t have a dad now,” she says, “and Emily doesn’t either. But when you and Dana get married…she will and I won’t.” She thinks about their dresses for the wedding, matching. Right now it feels like the dresses are the only thing that will match. “That’s not fair. We won’t be the same.” She feels a tear running down her cheek and bites her lip.
“Sam,” he says, and he hugs her tight. “It makes you sad, huh?”
“Yes,” she says.
“That’s okay, being sad,” he says, “but Samantha, everything’s going to be all right.” He stoops down then, so he can look her in the eyes: she’s taller than she used to be, but he’s still a lot taller than that. “We’ll all be a family,” he tells her softly, smoothing her hair. “It doesn’t matter so much what the names are.”
“Yes, it does,” she says. “Most people have a dad. Now I’m going to be the only one who doesn’t.”
“You’re not the only one,” Fox says. “I don’t have a dad either, right?”
“That’s different,” she says, “because you’re older. In my class everyone has a dad.”
He looks at her. “Does anyone bother you about it?” And his voice makes her feel a little better, because it sounds like if someone did bother her, he would do something to stop them.
“No,” she says. “But when they talk about their dads, or about Father’s Day, or anything like that, I don’t have anything to say. And Emily used to be the same as me. But now she won’t.”
He hugs her again. “I know how you must feel,” he says, “but Sam, I really think…when we’re all living together, it won’t make so much of a difference. We’ll all still be…well, a little unusual, as a family. The five of us.” He smiles at her. “And there will be some nice things about that. I had some aunts, growing up, who I only saw once or twice a year about the holidays, but you and Emily will see each other all the time. And I think you’ll like that.”
“Yes,” she says. “I will.” She is upset, but that doesn’t mean that she’s really mad at Emily, or that she’s not still glad they’re going to live in the same house.
“So it’ll be a little bit like sisters,” he says. “And even though I’m your brother, I can do stuff like go to your class. Because we are unusual, in some ways, and that’s a good thing.” She wipes her eyes. “I bet,” he adds, “that some of the other kids in your class have unusual families too, Sam. And that doesn’t mean those families can’t be happy. No matter what Tolstoy said.”
“Tolstoy?” she asks.
“He was a Russian novelist,” Fox says. “He wrote that all happy families are alike, but what did he know? Don’t believe everything you read.”
Samantha smiles, a little. “Okay.”
“Do you feel any better?” he asks her.
“I think so,” she says.
“I know it’s hard sometimes, Sam,” he tells her, and his voice is serious. “But you can talk to any of us.”
“I know,” she says.
“And I’ll always be your brother,” he says. They’re walking back towards the house now. “Whatever else I am, I’ll always be that.” She squeezes his hand.
Emily’s still drawing when they get back inside, so Samantha goes and sits down next to her. “I’m sorry I said your picture looked stupid,” she says. “It looks nice, actually.”
“That’s okay,” Emily says.
“We could draw another picture together before dinner,” Samantha says. “If you want.”
Emily nods. “Let’s draw us,” she says. “In our dresses.” And Samantha nods too, and they take the colored pencils and draw the two of them. Matching.
Samantha’s at a slumber party with some girls from her class. She doesn’t go to a lot of slumber parties, but she’s pretty good at them, since you have to be able to stay up late.
“I really like Alex S.,” Caitlin says. She’s sitting up on her sleeping bag, and she says it like it’s very important.
“He seems nice,” Samantha says; from the way Caitlin said it she thinks it would be polite to respond.
“He’s not that cute,” says Amanda. “You know who I like? James.” Some of the other girls say ooooh, but Samantha doesn’t say anything, because she doesn’t like James at all. He’s so loud. But she doesn’t think she should tell Amanda that. And the other girls go on, all saying people they like, and eventually Amanda asks her, “Who do you like, Samantha?”
She thinks about it. “A lot of people.”
Some of the girls giggle when she says that. “Yeah, but who do you like the most?” Amanda asks.
She doesn’t want to pick a most, because she likes different people in different ways. “I guess my family,” she says, and everybody starts giggling then. Some of them are more than giggling—they’re laughing really hard, and she doesn’t understand why. This kind of thing always seems to happen when she goes to slumber parties. Maybe she’s not so good at them after all, she thinks.
“That’s not what she meant, Samantha,” Caitlin says. “We want to know who you like like.” Samantha would answer, if she could, but she’s just confused now. “What boy,” Caitlin says.
“Who you loooooooove,” Amanda says.
“Who you’re in love with,” Caitlin says.
At least she can answer now—at least she knows what they mean. She isn’t in love with anyone, so she says, “No one.”
Some of them laugh again, and Amanda says, “Bo-ring,” and Samantha still doesn’t understand why. Do they want her to lie to them? Is she supposed to be in love? She wonders if all of them are in love and she’s the only one who’s not, and she thinks about that all night, even after everyone else has finally fallen asleep.
She asks Dana about it, the next day, when she gets home from the slumber party. “Did you have a good time?” Dana asks.
“Not especially,” Samantha says. “Dana, should I be in love?”
Dana looks at her a little funny. “I don’t think so,” she says. “You’re only thirteen. Why do you ask?”
“They asked me who I loved, last night,” Samantha says, “and they laughed when I said no one. And everyone else had a boy they loved.”
“I really doubt they’re all in love,” Dana says, and she laughs too, but it’s in a nice way. “They probably just think certain boys in your class are cute, Samantha.”
Samantha doesn’t really understand that either. “Boys aren’t cute,” she says. “Not when they’re my age, anyway. Babies are cute.” William’s sitting in his playpen, next to them, and he waves when she says that, like he knows she’s talking about babies, even though he can’t know it, really. She waves back.
“It’s a different kind of cute,” Dana says. “It’s more like…like handsome.”
“Well, there are people I think are handsome,” Samantha says, “but I wouldn’t talk about them like they were doing last night.”
“And that’s fine,” Dana says. “No reason you should have to.”
But Samantha’s not so sure about that, when it seems like all that everyone was talking about. “Is it nice?” she asks. “Being in love?”
“Yes, it is nice,” Dana says. “But it’s something that takes time. Even when there’s someone you know well and you care about, it can take a while.”
“They all sounded really sure,” Samantha says.
“Well, like I said,” Dana says, “I highly doubt every girl in your class is actually in love, Samantha. Not that I presume to have some privileged insight into their minds. But it’s easy to dramatize what you feel for someone. Especially when you’re young and just starting to feel these things.”
She thinks Dana wants to make her feel better, but it doesn’t. “If it’s easy,” she says, “why am I the only one who can’t do it? Am I bad at loving people?”
“Oh, no, sweetie,” Dana says. “That’s not what I meant at all, when I said it was easy. It’s not like…like doing math. Or a race. It’s a totally different kind of thing. It’s something you have to work out for yourself, when it feels right to you. And that part…it’s not always easy for any of us.” She squeezes Samantha’s hands, gently. “And of course you’re not bad at loving people. You love all of us, right?”
“That’s what I said to them yesterday,” Samantha says. “And they laughed and Caitlin said it wasn’t the same thing.”
“Well, it’s not exactly the same,” Dana says, “but it’s not so different either. It still means caring about someone a lot. And I know you’re very, very caring.” It makes her happy, hearing Dana say that. She does try to be caring. “It sounds like that slumber party wasn’t the most fun for you, huh? I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time.”
“I never really have a good time, at slumber parties,” Samantha says. “But I always want to be invited. I know that doesn’t make sense.”
Dana smiles. “Maybe not,” she says, “but it’s a very human impulse.” Samantha thinks about that. “Maybe we could have one here, sometime,” Dana says, adding quickly, “Not with your class. Me and you and your mom and Emily. Wear our pajamas and stay up watching movies. Do you think you’d like that better?”
“Yes,” Samantha says. That’s one question she doesn’t have to think about.
“How are you feeling?” Samantha asks.
“Not so good,” Jeanette says. She looks pale, still; her color’s no better than it was earlier.
“Can you give me a number for your pain?” Samantha asks. “One to ten.”
“Five,” Jeanette says, which is also the same as earlier. Samantha remembers, but she checks the chart just to be sure.
“Okay, Jeanette,” she says. “The medication should be helping with that by now, so I’m going to page the doctor. We might need to adjust your dosage. Because we all want you to start feeling better.” She pages Dr. Thomas and then walks over to Jeanette’s bedside. “You should have more water,” she says, pouring some. “That’ll help too.”
Jeanette takes the cup and drinks. “You’ll stay?” she asks.
“Of course,” Samantha says. “That’s my job.” It’s close to the end of her shift, but she’s not tired, and she wants to see this through. So she stays. Talks to Dr. Thomas, when she gets there. Talks to Jeanette. Makes sure Jeanette takes her new medication and drinks more water. She helps her to the bathroom and then back into bed. “Any better yet?” she asks.
“A little, I think,” Jeanette says. “Thanks.”
“You let me know if your pain doesn’t go down,” Samantha says. “Because it’s not good if that happens, and we’ll need to do something about it.”
Jeanette almost smiles at that. “I like you,” she says, “because you don’t try to bullshit me.”
“That’s right,” Samantha says. “I don’t.” She doesn’t know why Jeanette would expect her to, since that wouldn’t be very effective nursing. “Now try and sleep.”
It’s past the end of her shift when Jeanette falls asleep and Samantha goes back to her locker. There’s a text on her phone, from Emily. She’s here!!!! We’re all downstairs. Room 304. She texts back—I just finished working. I’ll come down now—and gets her things together quickly.
“You look like you’re in a hurry,” Eileen says. She’s one of the senior nurses; Samantha really likes working with her, because they have a lot in common, she thinks. They both work very hard and put in a lot of time: neither of them minds long days or late nights. And they both care about making sure things are just right, so that their patients are always looked after, always as comfortable as they can be. “Where are you off to?”
“My brother and sister-in-law just had a baby,” Samantha says. “They’re downstairs in maternity. I’m going down there now.”
“Oh, that’s so nice!” Eileen exclaims. “Congratulations, Samantha! Is this their first?”
“No, their third,” Samantha says. “My brother’s a lot older than I am. My niece said everyone’s there now.”
“Well, that’s great!” Eileen says. “Tell them congratulations from me, Samantha. And you have a great night.”
“You too,” Samantha says, and she walks to the elevator. As she’s riding down, she thinks that maybe she should have flowers, but she decides that it doesn’t matter. She did make them all those casseroles to freeze; they could eat for two months on those, she thinks, and they’re a lot more useful than flowers. Fox said she didn’t have to do it, and she guesses she didn’t have to, but she really wanted to. She still remembers when she first came here, not knowing anything, and he always, always took care of her. Just because she was his sister. How could she not do the same for him?
She stops at the door of the room: they’re all in there. Dana in the bed, holding the baby, and Fox sitting there next to her, one hand on her shoulder, one touching the baby’s head: they both look so happy. Mom and Emily and William, all gathered around, bending over to look. She smiles herself. “Hi,” she says.
Fox looks up. “Hi, Sam,” he says. “Come over and meet her.” He’s already looking at the baby again, talking to her, by the time Samantha crosses the room. “This is your Aunt Samantha.”
“Hi,” Samantha says softly to the baby. She has wispy brown hair. “We’re so glad you’re here now.” She’s brand new here, her niece, and she doesn’t know anything about it yet, but she’s going to be fine, Samantha knows. She has all of them here, their pieced-together family, loving her already, ready to welcome her. And Samantha knows how that feels.