Little Katie Briggs runs as fast as her 6-year-old legs could carry her, which for a first grader was pretty quick. She can run faster than most of the boys in their class at school. This time, she’s not being playing tag or red rover, she’s trying to put as much distance between herself, that man, and these strange feelings. He had pinned her the corner of the basement again, her brain registering nothing but white noise when he started to touch her. The broken record in her brain started playing,Â All wrong, all wrong, not again, not again, all wrong, all wrongÂ until all at once a moment of clarity pierced the static, I don’t want to. I don’t want to. “No. No, stop!” she gasped out, as if afraid she might miss her chance to say it. Before she could Â look up and register his response, she spun around on her saddle-shoed heel and ran.
Katie finally collapsed at her favorite climbing tree, practically hugging the ground for comfort. She tried to catch her breath, inhaling deeply the smell of grass. I’m in trouble, she thought. When they find out, I’ll get punished. Her eyes start to sting as tears pool in their bright green orbs and spill down her cheeks. Not if you don’t tell anyone, a voice suddenly springs up in her thoughts. No one has to know what you did. Katie pushes herself up and crosses her legs more comfortably, indian-style. She impatiently wipes at the salty tears lingering on her chin, leaving behind a streak of dirt. Lifting her eyes, she spots a green gecko perched on the knotted root closest to her. “Hi, little guy,” she says tentatively at first, afraid her enthusiasm for company will scare him away. “Aren’t you afraid of me?” she asks. As if to answer, the gecko creeps on to the toe of her shoe. He’s so cute and little. He looks like a Petey, Katie thinks, her thoughts now consumed with her new green friend. “Do you want to come home with me?” she asks him. Without waiting for an answer, she scoops him up swiftly and fumbles with the zipper on her Barbie backpack. “Don’t be afraid of the dark, Petey,” she tells him. “But you have to ride back here.” She makes up her mind, straps her new-found friend on to her back, lifts her chin and heads down the dusty gravel road toward home.