Mara wasn’t as shallow as four hours of shoes and dresses led me to believe the day I met her.  It wasn’t a great first impression, I admit, but eventually I understood.  She spent three days with my mother in the kitchen, learning how to cook.  She made breakfast for six hours on the first day, and then started on dinner.  She mastered sandwiches and cookies on day two, and spent day three doing things in order.  Everyone in town went through our kitchen, eating all the food.

            I’ll also admit, she ended up popular in town pretty quickly.  The girl sure made friends easily:  free food certainly didn’t hurt.  She then threw herself into learning sewing, and made some clothes for herself.  That took about a week before she was satisfied with her abilities.  Then she helped clean the whole house.  And the stables and the barn.  She learned to feed chickens, pigs and cows, and horses.  A neighbour gave her a puppy, and she taught it how to bring my parents their slippers.

            And she read every book in the house.  And that was just the first month.

            My point is, Mara did everything with joyous gusto, like it was a thrill.  Chores were fun to her.  I realized eventually that there weren’t messes to clean up in Heaven, nor food to cook.  Everything was new to her, and inspired wonder.  I couldn’t imagine what that felt like:  I supposed I always hoped Heaven would feel that amazing, and it was funny that being out of Heaven did the same for her.  Weird.

            So, I was a bit wary when she asked me to teach her to play chess one day.

            “Are we going to play tomorrow?” I asked her.

            “I don’t know, why?”

            “How about the day after?  And the day after that?  I just want to be able to plan my week.”

            Mara laughed.  “Is that sarcasm?  Or irony?  I can’t tell them apart yet.  It helps when you use a different tone.”

            I couldn’t help but laugh.  “Sorry.  But you tend to get pretty fanatical, you have to admit.”

            “What does it matter if I play chess for a week?  It’s not like things have to be done at certain times.  I know when to feed the animals, and when to make meals, so it’s okay to fill the rest of the time any way I want, right?”

            “I guess.   Most people try to balance out their day.”

            “Most people have their whole lives to discover their habits.  I don’t know how long I have, and I want to be good at everything I can.”

            She was hard to resist.  Her enthusiasm was infectious, and she was very stubborn.  No wonder my brother was willing to spend years in the desert for her.

            “Okay, let’s go find Ethan’s chess board.”  I conceded.

            We opened up his closet and I rummaged on the top shelf, finding the old box.  I had been taught to play on my grandfather’s board as a girl, but it had gone missing in the interim.  Ethan’s board was still in its old spot, but I knew that of course:  my mother didn’t let anyone in his room while we were gone.

            I blew dust off the top and opened the box downstairs, on the kitchen table.

            “Where are the rules?” Mara asked.

            “Huh?  I can teach you,” I said.

            “I like to read them myself.  Genevieve missed three rules in Monopoly last week.”

            “Oh. Um, here they are.”  I pulled out the board and gave her the piece of paper under it.  I started setting up the pieces.  “Do you want to be white or red?  Huh, that’s funny.  Most boards are white and black.”

            “Um, Gwen, these aren’t the proper rules.”  Mara handed me the paper.  It was hand-written, in Ethan’s familiar scrawl.

            “Of course they are:  Chess begins with eight pawns, who journey across the playing field to face their adversary on the opposing side…” I started to read, my voice gradually tapering off as I gave it my total concentration.

            “Oh crap.”

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