I jump so hard I nearly fall out of my pillow nest when I hear a car door slam. It sounds like it’s right out front. Excited, muffled voices fade as I run toward the big window. Just as I open it to look down the street, the stairwell below me booms with thunderous footsteps. I run and duck into my biggest book fort, my heart racing as I peek through the gaps in the bricks toward the library entrance. The voices become louder and louder, fading suddenly when they sound like they’re right outside the room. After a minute of total silence, I start to stick my head out to look, but stop when I hear tiny whispers in the doorway.

“Where is she? Do you see her?”

“Look at all these paintings!”

“SHHH! Belle!”

I hold my breath when I hear careful little footsteps tiptoeing between the shelves.


“Belle! Be quiet!”

I turn around to look through the back of my fort toward the voice, but I can’t see anything through the spaces. I’m trying to move one of the books out of the way without compromising the integrity of the wall when I hear someone right behind me.


I turn and see a tiny, familiar golden-brown face sticking into my fort, a black thread hanging from its tattered little nose. I laugh so hard I fall backwards, toppling the walls of my house to the ground and revealing my beautiful boy, crouched down with his teddy in one hand and a huge bouquet of balloons in the other. He tackles me in the rubble of the book castle, his cheeks wet with tears, and hugs me tighter than he ever has in his life.

“Happy birthday, Mom”, he whispers in my ear.

I squeeze him tight and see the others walk in, dropping their suitcases and bags in the doorway. The two littlest girls are giggling as they dive into my pillow nest. The whole room is full of the most joyful noises and chatter, but everything pauses quietly in this pile of books. I whisper in his ear.

“Did you have fun at camp? I missed you more than I even knew I could, you know that?”

He nods, raising his head up to wipe his tears, and looks at me, his eyes sparkling in the sunlight like a kaleidoscope.

“Did you have fun retreating?”

I nod, wiping away tears of my own.

“I’m sorry your book fort broke. I can’t wait to show you what we made at Grandmother’s farm. We found a new place in the woods with magic fish!”

He leans over and hugs me again. I close my eyes and breathe in the sweet smell of my favorite human in my favorite room in the whole, wide world, and time stands still. When I open them, Belle is standing a few feet away from me, her messy brown hair sticking out from behind my open journal, loose papers falling out of its pages and onto the floor.

“Are you writing a book, Sarah?”

“Belle! Don’t read people’s private things!”

“It’s ok, she probably can’t read my messy writing anyway”, I tell Veda.

“I can too! I was reading good at camp, wasn’t I Kala?”

The little head still buried in my neck nods silently. To prove her statement, Belle points a chubby finger at the page in front of her.

“They’re...calling it....burnout.”