I crane my neck around the interior of the car, searching for Mia as I exit. The day is bright and unreasonably warm for February; sunlight blinds me with shafts of white. I squint against it and raise my arm, laying a strip of shadow over my eyes.
But Mia is not here.
Lauren has bounded up the front steps already, Landon is in my arms, the wind is blowing, and I am impatient.
Turning back to make sure Lauren isn't dashing away towards the steeper steps, I think of course she won't; she's a bit afraid of those steps. I think what a sweet little thing she is growing to be. So tender and helpful. So willful and smart. So lovely, there, as the sun rests on the curve of her impossibly soft cheek.
Inside the car, I check the front seats: sometimes Mia hides. But she is not there. I call her name and wait...
And Landon gurgles at me, smiling like I've just told the most entertaining joke. I look down, nuzzle his neck and marvel: this is the most darling baby in the world. I could stare at him for hours and not become bored with the beauty there.
But where is Mia? Is she ducking under the back seat? I shift my body to one side, and the white sunlight at my back is cut off behind my movement. The light no longer glares, and there, in the warmth left over, sits Mia. Right where she always was.
"Oh! You've been there the whole time?!"
"Could you really not see me, mama?"
"I couldn't! The light was too bright, and you got lost in it. Your bright spot hid you for a minute!"
She laughs and jumps out of the car, long legs at sharp angles with long arms, long hair, long years.
I cannot breath, suddenly. Time is constricting around me -- around us -- like roots around succulent earth: taking everything, changing it, and leaving nothing untouched.
She is a bright spot, hiding in plain sight.