For Piroko Hatake, who unwittingly jumpstarted the creative molasses. =)

Also! Same POV as the last chapter. I'd written myself into a corner. XD

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I loved her so much. No, she wasn't my mother, or my grandmother, or my aunt. She was the girl living down the street, and I can't remember a time when I didn't know her. My mother would take me to her house to play when we were little. She was a pretty girl, the complete opposite of me. She had dark skin, light hair with strains the color of the sunset on a summer day, and wide, dark eyes.

Her father had given her a box to play with, and together we painted it and stuck a stick with a sheet attached in the middle and called it a ship. Her name was the Marina. And we were pirates. We had newspaper hats and her father's pair of binoculars. Out loot was candy we 'stole' from her mother. Both our mothers laughed merrily at our behavior. I always thought that was what a normal childhood was like.

But we aged, and things changed. But we still met in that garden. If I needed her, I would throw pebbles from the pile she kept for me at her window until she woke. She would always come outside. I never went inside her home those nights. If I had gone in, I would have never come back out, and that would have only brought trouble to her family. She would listen if I had to speak, or just hold my hand if I didn't. In return, I would listen to her complaints, although she always told me that she felt guilty for complaining when I had it worse. Some nights I wouldn't wake her. Just sitting in her garden was good enough. It felt like freedom.

"What happened?" she asked me one night. Her nightgown shimmered in the moonlight, stark against her skin.

"What do you mean?" I played dumb, my fingers curling slightly around the edge of the bench on which I sat. The soil was cool under my bare feet. I couldn't hear her footsteps as she walked through it, but I saw her sit beside me.

"You're here more often. Did something happen with your brother?"

I looked up at her. "How can you read me as easily as a book?"

"It's a girl thing," she said, smiling cryptically. I just nodded. A girl must be a strange creature indeed.

"He's drawing away from me."

"By his own will?"

"So he thinks."

"I see," It was as simple as that. She knew everything. A sharp wind blew through the garden, ad she shivered. "Do you want to come inside?"

I shook my head. "He's awake, he'll know I'm gone soon."

"Come, we don't want you to get caught. I'll walk you home." She stood and I followed her lead. I politely offered her my arm out of habit and she took it. We strolled out of that garden as smooth and faintly as ghosts.

"My birthday is coming up," she said as we left her property.

"I remember,"

"Will you be able to come to the party?"

"I'll ask. Or sneak out, whichever works better."

She laughed. "I'll tell you the time when I know." We walked in silence past the dark homes on the road, as still and beautiful as dollhouses. They were all large, two or three stories, and lavishly decorated with all sorts of trimmings and colors on the outside. The insides would be even more exquisite. Some had gates in the front, but other didn't. You could see the elaborate gardens of those houses that didn't have gates and walls, gardens kept by servants instead of the actual inhabitants.

She called my name softly to gain my attention, and I turned to look at her. She was staring down at the ground. Almost as if she was nervous.

"What is it?"

"Um... My grandfather lives on the Islands, remember?"

"Yes,"

"And he writes to us, yes?"

"Yes," I answered, unsure as to where she was going with this.

"Well, he's been saying lately that he would be able to get my father a job on the Islands. I know he wants us over there, but now I think it's getting a little more serious."

"So," I started, grasping for her meaning. "You might be leaving?"

"Maybe,"

I swear my heart stopped for a moment at her words.

"It's not decided yet! And it might not even happen at all, you know. I don't want to leave, either. I thought I would let you know, though."

I nodded as I tried to dislodge the words stuck in my throat.

"It probably won't happen at all," she assured me. "And even if it does, it'll be a few years from now. And you'll be old enough to legally leave your family. You could come with us!"

I smiled, soothed at the thought.

She peered at my face thoughtfully. "Your complexion would not do well on the Islands, though."

I laughed outright. I would look like a lobster after one day. She voiced my thought aloud. "My, you would look awful with sunburn."

We laughed at the image, at least until we realized that we stood in front of the gate that blocked the road leading up to the house in which I lived. She pulled me away from the gate to lean on the wall next to it. It seemed to block off the property, but everyone knew it disintegrated once it stretched into the obscurity of the surrounding forests.

"Will you go around?" she asked.

"No, I can go in through the gate. He's working, he won't see."

"Can you get back inside the house?"

"My window is open."

She smiled, assured of my safety. "Okay. Goodnight,"

'Night," I leaned in, kissing her on the cheek. "I'll see you soon."

She waved as I slipped through the bars on the iron gate. It was slightly complicated because of the design, but I knew the tricks to slipping my thin frame between the iron rods. I ran across the lawn and around the house, scaling the wall up to my window. It wasn't fully opened, just cracked, but it was enough for me to pry it open and get through.

My escapade went unnoticed, which gave me the space to think about her idea and how wonderful it would be to go somewhere else. I began dreaming about the Islands.