Allie stares at me, so intently for someone so young, as if she’s been staring at things a hundred years or more but has aged very little. Can’t be more than twelve, though I’ve never asked. As we sit there, her big brown eyes drop to her dangling periwinkle shoes, swaying above the sand as she twirls softly on her favourite swing. And when she looks back, her gaze is just as intense, just as full as before and leaves me as breathless as the cool night around us.

Allowing a sigh to escape her pointed little mouth, I know she’s giving me the chance to say something, to ask,

“Have I done something wrong?” I’ve done so many things wrong, but I cannot stop. Does she know that? Will she ever forgive me?

Her gaze returns to the tangle of her young legs, each delicately disappearing into her high stockings, as she sighs again, letting my question resonate, making me nervous and excited in the way that she does, but eventually replying with a concerned glare,

“I’ve got something to say.”

“So say it.” Perhaps I am too abrupt, for her eyes are again guarded by that part of her I’ve never been able to penetrate.

“It’s something I don’t think you’ll like very much.”

Smiling, she raises herself up on the swing, straightening her spine to give her more height, though she is still so much smaller than me, and delicate.

Not yet ready to spill her secret, she slides her small fingers up and down the metal chains on either side of her, and some part of me rises, the part of me that grew the first day I saw her.

Readjusting in the swing I return to find different eyes, eyes that have not left me alone for a moment since her admission. Without warning, she kicks the sand at our feet, pushing backward for momentum, as a simple whisper – the kind that can break a man, the kind that did – escapes into the night, followed by the soft, scathing notes of her tinkling laughter:

“You’re not my first. You won’t be my last.”