I found her sitting on the edge of the little bridge near our house when I was seven. I wasn’t supposed to go down by the bridge alone—it was small, but the stream it ran over was deep enough, and fast moving—but I went anyhow, usually on my way home from school. The bus dropped me off far up a private road, and I walked up the road all by myself, very adult-like, so why couldn’t I go walk by a bridge if I wanted to?
The girl’s name was Lilly, and she always wore a white dress. Crisp and clean cotton, with starched lace on the collar. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen—but then I was seven. She was so happy to see me! She’d ask me about my day at school and listen to absolutely anything I had to say, even something as silly as how Tommy Walker had stuck his gum in Myra Boning’s hair, and she’d come back to school with all of it chopped off. Mom didn’t like listening to those kinds of things, but Lilly would laugh and laugh, and ask for more stories. She was desperate for stories, she’d tell me.
Lilly was eleven, and she didn’t like to tell stories. When I asked about her family, she told me crossly that it wasn’t polite to ask personal questions, and when I reminded her that she knew all about my life, it seemed like she was going to maybe tell me, but instead she went down by the shore and started splashing in the water. She called for me to come down with her. I really wasn’t supposed to go down to the shore by myself, but Lilly called again, and when I still didn’t go, she asked if I was a baby, so I went. I wasn’t a baby.
Our days and days went back and forth. Some days we played in the stream, some days we explored the woods surrounding us, and some days we just sat and talked and talked. No matter what she did, her dress always stayed perfectly white. I was jealous because my clothes always managed to get dirty and wet, and I got in trouble for it. Lilly never did.
Mom knew I’d been down to the river, and sometimes she’d ground me for it, asking me why I would do something like that when everyone knew it was so dangerous? Lilly didn’t like it when I was grounded—she’d get mad, but she also wouldn’t stop getting me into trouble.