He had not wanted to walk, refused to move towards her outstretched hands. He would stand and smile at her before throwing himself back on the floor. He wanted to be carried, held firmly against her chest like a favorite necklace. When they went outside, she would spread out blankets for him to lay on and roll across. They would watch his older brother run and dig, and he would crawl to the grass, pick up handfuls of the blades, and stuff them into his mouth whenever she turned her head. She had looked forward to the day that he would balance on his wobbly knees and move on his own. When he finally decided it was time, it had left her dazed. She could no longer smell his head as they moved together in tandem, placing kisses on the tops of his ears. His newfound independence thrilled him and left her aching for something that she thought she would never miss.
Now, she watched as he climbed into the tree bed at her parent's house, kneeling in the dirt as he swung his legs over the brick. When he stood, his knees bore the impression of mulch, pieces of it stolen away in the creases under the joints like small passengers. He brushed his hand against the bark of the old tree, stuck his fingers in the grooves for balance as he wove through bushes and stalks as tall as he was, looking for the soccer ball that he had thrown in there. This was the same tree that she had ran around when she was a kid. She could remember the scratch of the bark against her cheek, the smell of wet dirt as she crouched behind it during games of hide and seek. She could still taste the sweat in the air as all the neighborhood kids ran from yard to yard, hunted by whoever was "it," every muscle taught with electricity.
Her youngest yelped as he found his ball, holding it high above his head in victory. He threw it back out into the yard, watched it roll across the lawn and frighten the dog who was lying in a small patch of sun by the front door. The dog leapt up, shook its big head before grumbling in her son's direction, chastising him for disturbing its sleep. They both watched it lumber off in search of a more serene place for a nap, its tail swatting at the mosquitoes that trailed behind it like a cloud. When they had first brought it home, it would run from one end of the yard to the other, its claws digging into the grass, sending clods of dirt flying up behind it. It would watch her and her sister scour the flowerbeds for lizards, catching the biggest ones to keep as pets. They would buy bags of crickets from the pet store and let them loose inside the terrarium, watching the lizards gulp them down, wings and legs poking out of their mouths before they swallowed, the dog sniffing the edges of the glass in amusement.
Her son went in search of the dog, waddling as fast as he could, the ball tucked into his side. He loved to crawl on top of it as it slept, pulling at its ears until it shook him off like water after a bath. He would laugh and press his face into its fur, grabbing its hair in his fists. He would tuck food into his pockets, sneak it to the dog when he thought no one was looking. She followed him up the driveway. She could still see the faded spot where she and her sister had placed their hands in the wet cement, the date scratched below, forever marking this place as their own.