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For most people, their lives start the minute theyre born. Mine started when I was seven.

In a sandbox. Right down the street from my house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, was a small playground named Mikeys Place. Every Tuesday and Thursday, my dad would come home early from work and bring my younger sister, Clara, and I there after school. Thats where I met Nick. Even at age seven, he was quite the charmer. He sat down right next to me while I was building my own fortress. I was digging the moat when he decided to be bold and put his arm around me. I punched him in the stomach. It wasnt unnatural of me to do this; before I started baking, I was a violent little girl. It was unnatural, however, that he didnt react whatsoever. He didnt even move his arm. I frowned and punched him again, just in case he didnt feel it the first time. This time, he punched me back. I felt the air leave my lungs as his fist collided with the soft flesh of my stomach. My gut burned deep inside and I coughed violently, shaking in fear. Who was this boy? I looked up at him and he had the same look I had, as if he couldnt believe hed just done that. He didnt apologize; now that Im thinking about this, maybe its better he didnt. Maybe things wouldnt have happened the way they did. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes, but I swallowed and blinked them back. I turned my back on him instead, ignoring him while I continued building my sandcastle. He sidled up next to me and plopped down. I merely pushed a lock of dark hair out of my face and behind my ear and began to dig the moat.

He perked up and started helping me and I froze and looked up at him, frustrated. Please, just go away, I whispered politely, turning back to my sandcastle. For a moment, he was quiet, and I actually thought he was going to leave. He got up and ran off, leaving me alone with my half-dug moat and two shovels. I blinked, confused as to why I was feeling a sense of regret. Regret for what, I didnt know; I was only seven the time. But I know now what it was: I hadnt wanted him to leave. I was prideful and didnt like that he hadnt reacted when I, Elainia Natale Tiberio, the toughest girl in first grade, punched him in the stomach. It hurt my ego, so I distanced myself from him. I should have known, though, that he wouldnt be gone for long. Nicks not like that. Sure enough, he was back within two minutes of leaving and, I admit, I perked up when I saw him rushing back to me, sloshing water all over the place. When he reached me, he gently set down the bucket of water next to the sandcastle. Then, he spoke for the first time. I brought water for the moat. I dont remember exactly what happened next, but I know we eventually finished the castle and filled the moat with the water. My mother took a picture of our masterpiece with me and the new boy smiling happily; Ill have to go through all the boxes later to see if she still has it. Id like to take it with me.

Thinking of my mother brings on some memories. Like the way she used to bake us cookies when we were having a bad day. Her cookies always cheered me and Clara up. Also, how passionately she spoke of the ballet. Clara wasnt named after the leading lady in The Nutcracker for no reason; it was my mothers favorite ballet in the world. I remember one year, my father surprised her with a box from a dance shoe store and my mother thought she was getting shoes. But, when she opened the box, she found two tickets to the ballet; two tickets to see The Nutcracker. She hummed the music for three weeks after the show until she heard something else (it happened to be Swan Lake). I rummage through the box sitting on my bed in front of me and smile as I find what Im looking for: a small keepsake box with an ornament made for a Christmas tree. Christmas was the best holiday to celebrate in my house; my parents loved it so much. We were a religious family, but we didnt do all the church things that most religious families do for Christmas. We went to Christmas mass, but everything else we did was far from tradition. Instead of making gingerbread houses, we would construct mini tents for the elves to sleep in outside my house. In the box is an ornamental pair of ceramic ballet slippers hung off a strand of silver string that twinkles in the lights hung on the Christmas tree. I gently pick it up, careful not to drop it. I smile softly at the way it glistens in the early morning sunlight. I set it softly back in the box and carefully place the box back into the moving box and seal it. I pick it up and head outside.

Lia, what are you doing up this early? Nick asks, taking the box from me. Careful, Nick! Thats all my parents things! I warn him, shadowing him as he walks to the U-Haul currently parked outside my childhood home. He tosses the box and bends his knees to catch it gingerly, smirking. I roll my eyes and shove him aside as I hurry back inside to get another box. Alba walks out of her room, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. I chuckle and ruffle her hair. Why are you awake? I ask her as she blinks up at me. Do you know how loud you are when you move things in the morning? she asks, clearly annoyed. I shake my head sheepishly. Very loud, she replies, stifling a yawn. She turns around and walks back into her room. Keep it down, Lia, she says closing her bedroom door behind her. Sorry! I whisper-yell from the hallway. I know she can hear me; the walls in our house are so thin. When I used to practice guitar every night after wed first moved in after Alba was born, Clara would complain endlessly. Ever since I could remember, Clara and I had always shared a room. Since she was old enough to not live in my parents bedroom anymore, shed been sleeping in mine. Then, Alba was born, and we moved to a bigger house, a four-bedroom house where each of us would get our own room. For the first year or

so, Albas room became the play room, so Clara and I were still always together. But, when Alba turned one, her room was returned to its original state and Clara and I grew apart. When I was twelve, it got worse, because I started taking guitar lessons at school every other day, and I had to practice. And, like I said, our walls are thin. Now that I think about it, I think that was the sole reason Clara insisted on practicing her choir pieces in her room instead of in the sound booth my dad had in the basement. And I think I practiced guitar in my room not only because I felt cool, sitting on my bed, jamming on my little red guitar, but also because I knew the sound bugged my little sister. Thankfully, I got better, and so did she, and my parents kept quiet about it. Then, Alba started getting ideas with noise. This wasnt as tolerable since her room was next to my parents. And again, we had very thin walls. So, Clara and I were forced together once again, every day, from three to six, when we practiced our music in the sound booth downstairs. She would listen to my guitar pieces politely and comment on my dynamics and I would learn the chords to her songs and play the accompaniment to her practice pieces. We each practiced for ninety minutes, then went upstairs to do homework. Lia, why on Earth are you awake? a voice rasped from behind me. I spin around to find Clara, also rubbing her eyes and yawning, standing in the doorway of her room. Seriously, the sun isnt even fully up yet. I fold my arms across my chest and frown.

Clara, the sun doesnt fully wake up until noon. Clara nods. Yeah, I know. Why are you up? she asks. Your big sisters leaving today, Nick says from behind me. I smile and nod at my sister. Remember? he asks as he walks into my room and emerges minutes later with three boxes all stacked on each other. I pale a the sight of the wobbly boxes and follow him out to the truck. Be careful, please, Nick! I call after him and I think I hear Clara chuckle before heading back into her bedroom and catching the last few hours of sleep she claims she so desperately needs. Relax, Princess. I got this. He bounces the three boxes for good measure and one slips off and begins to fall. I leap for it and catch it before it slides completely off. I cock an eyebrow at Nick who grins sheepishly. Well, I would have gotten it. If only the Universe were on my side. I smirk and place the box back on top. Just, please, handle with care. This is all very important to me. Nick gently sets the boxes down in the truck and looks at me, eyebrow raised. Really? The personal belongings youve had since we met are important to you? I had no idea! he exclaimed, feigning surprise. And I couldnt have guessed from the way you packed

everything, even papers, in bubble wrap and pasted FRAGILE stickers all over every box. I opened my mouth, prepared to retaliate, but he simply lifted a random box. It was covered in FRAGILE stickers and sounded like it was just stuffed full of bubble wrap instead of artwork from when I was in first grade, which is what it was full of. I closed my mouth as Nick smirked and set the box back down. I rest my case. I settled for sticking my tongue out at him when his back was turned to me and hurrying back inside to get the last few boxes.

Nick, stop it! I called, rushing into my room and slamming into a hard, thick, canvas covering everything in my room. Nick followed close behind, threatening me with a paintbrush. Cut it out, guys, my mother said, smirking. You two go play outside. Were painting Lias room today. Okay, Nick and I replied, rushing back outside. What color are they painting it? I yelled from the ground. Nick sat up in the tree with my favorite pair of binoculars, looking through my window. It looks purple! he called back down. I stifled a squeal of excitement; purple was my favorite color. He quickly climbed down and smiled at me, handing me the binoculars.

I looked down at the binoculars in my hands, then smiled up at my former bedroom. The walls were painted purple, a nice lilac with violet polka dots in various places. The shelves were painted a bright white and I had lavender curtains framing my green windows. I blink and its all gone. The curtains were stripped from the window and piled up in the corner. The shelves, once filled to the brim with books, now lay bare, coated by a thin layer of dust. Feeling nostalgic, are we? I spin around to find Nick standing in the doorway. Sorry, I whisper, turning away and following him back out to the truck. So, think youre gonna miss it? Nick asks, slamming the door of the truck. I smirk at him. I might. I think when I get to campus, though, itll all go away. I laugh as I twist my hair up into a ponytail. Well, Ill start the long trek to campus then. Youll come meet me there tomorrow morning, right? Nick asks, getting in the truck. Yeah, Ill bring the girls. Well have a mini tour before you guys leave me to figure out my future. Nick chuckles and starts the truck. You so want him. I turn to find Clara, smirking up at me.

Excuse me? Nick. Youve known each other since you were, like, seven. She picked a flower out of the ground and brushed it across my nose. Dont you think its meant to be? Shut up! I said, playfully shoving the flower away. Lets get back inside before Alba has a heart attack.

Nick and I sat huddled in the corner of my new purple room, coloring. So, where is she? Nick asked. I dont know, I replied, shrugging. Mommy says shes not here yet. I returned to carefully shading the princesses in my book. Your mommys gotten pretty big he said. Lia, he gasped, looking up at me. I turned away from my picture to find his eyes as round as saucers. What if she ate her? Thats crazy, Nick! I chuckled, turning back to my picture. No! He grabs my arm and I look at him. What if she did? Her stomach is huge! And your sisters supposed to be pretty tiny. I cant believe were doing this. I grumbled.

Shush! Shes coming. Nick whispered as we crouched in the bushes, waiting for my mother. She emerged from the house, staggering due to the large stomach she was sporting these days. You could definitely fit a small child in there Honestly, Nick? Why would Mommy eat her own baby? I asked. Nick? Your mothers here to pick you up! my father called. Ill come back tomorrow. See if you can get her to confess, Lia, okay? Maybe we can still get the baby out. I nodded uneasily. Nick left and I returned to my back yard to sit on the swings until my mother got home.
Hey, Clara, I ask, stopping on the front porch. She turns around. Do you remember anything about Mom and Dad? Wow, lay on the nostalgia really thick, sis! Just, trying to figure things out. After tomorrow, its just you and Alba. And Grandma. I sigh. And Grandma. So, do you remember anything? Well, I remember every night Mom would tuck me in,

shed tell me this story about how her and Dad met. She looks at me. Actually, they met when they were young, on a playground. She waggles her eyebrows. Shut up, Clara! Its its Nick! I mean, Nick isnt Dad or whatever, just go check on Alba. I sink down into the porch swing. Clara walks over to me. I remember Mom making pancakes after every band competition. She sits down next to me. Really? I ask, turning to her. She nods. Especially that last one, States. Her eyes widen as she remembers. Yeah, last place. I remember I came home to chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast every morning until we got second at Nationals. Its pretty interesting how one turn of events can change your whole life. One minute, Im sitting in the sandbox, playing, and this kid comes over and puts his arm around me. And now, here I stand, looking at that same boy ten years later. And I realize that if we hadnt met, my life wouldnt have been half as fun as it was. And even through all the problems and endless fighting and issues in our teenage years, Im glad he punched me in the sandbox ten years ago. Im glad that, ever since I met him when we were seven, he never left me alone.