“Liam!” I call out. “You--”
A girl with brown ringlets framing her round cheeks runs toward the doll before I catch Liam’s attention. She looks both ways to be sure no one sees her, then snatches it up and into her arms. The doll fits perfectly in the crook of her arm and a smile brightens her face.
“Hey! Little girl!” I say.
She freezes and clutches the doll tightly to her body. Her fearful blue eyes dart to me and back to the doll as I step toward her.
“Hey!” I repeat, coming closer. From a few yards away I can see the tremble in her shoulders. The little girl drops the doll and runs from me.
I stoop down and pick the doll up from where she’s landed in a heap. There’s a smudge of dirt on its plastic cheek and I wipe it away with my thumb. Liam’s over talking with the nuns, and he glances my way.
“That girl--who is she?” I ask when I reach them. I don’t wait for introductions. One of the nuns, the younger one with round spectacles and a pointy chin, looks like she really wants to give me a quick lesson in manners.
“I’m sorry, dear?” The older nun says, wrinkling her forehead beneath her habit.
“There was a girl, maybe four years old. Curly brown hair, blue eyes--or at least, I think they were blue.” I scan the yard as I describe the little one.
The older woman smiles, bouncing the child on her hip. “Ah. You must mean Daphne.”
Do I mean Daphne? I have no idea.
“She ran from me. Do you know where she might have gone?”
The thin, bookish nun nods towards a strand of trees near the rear of the property. The trees are short and sparse, obviously very young, and don’t offer much shelter. A little form huddles at the base of the one in the middle, facing away from us.
I peel back the corner of the foil around the cookies and grab a couple, then hand the tray to the young nun. When I reach Daphne’s hiding spot, I find her with her knees tucked into her chest. Tears streak her face, which she presses to her knees.
“Can I join you?” I ask. I don’t expect an answer, and she doesn’t disappoint. I sink to the grass, leaving several feet between us. “My name is Claire. They told me your name is Daphne.”
She remains quiet except for a soft shudder.
“Daphne’s such a pretty name,” I continue. “A pretty name for a pretty girl.”
The little girl raises her head to glare at me. Blossoms of crimson burn at her cheeks. “Go away.” She hides her face again.
I place the doll next to her gently, so gently I’m not sure she knows I’ve done it. “That’s a nice doll you have there.”
Daphne brings her head up again and starts to say something angry. Our eyes connect and I glance down at the doll laying next to her. She looks down, too, and then back at me.
“It’s okay, pick her up.” I say. “I brought her for you. I knew you would take very good care of her.”
The girl scoops the doll into her arms again and snuggles her little cheek against its plastic face. Her eyes squeeze shut in joy. When she opens them again, I smile. “Would you like a cookie?”
She nods and tentatively takes the cookie from my outstretched hand. Daphne reminds me a lot of Taran--flighty, suspicious, and upset. Like Taran, I don’t push her. I eat my cookie as she eats hers. When it's gone I stand up and slip away. She doesn’t follow behind me like the horse does, but that’s okay.