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In an easier light

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SHE was only nine -- a little black-eyed beauty who stepped off the train with a suitcase in her hand and more aplomb than I might hope to muster. Only nine, yet ready to plop herself into my world, a stranger's house, for two weeks of fresh air. Even now, in my 30s, I don't think I could do that. But there she was, waiting for me to make the first move. I thought she might look a bit bedraggled. Thought I could take her shopping for some nice, new clothes. But her little suitcase was filled with summer outfits, newly purchased and pressed.

I had hoped she might be a slight bit ``slighter'' -- so I could fill her with delicious home-baked treats. Instead, we stopped first at a grocery store, where she led me around selecting all her favorite items right down to her particular brand of butter.

We were both shy at first. She, needing to know my reasons for having her. I, needing to make her understand all at once. After six years of teaching young children, I had stopped to have a child of my own. And though my baby boy took up every spare moment, I missed my students terribly.

Especially the little girls who buzzed about so brazenly in our private world, the classroom. I missed those gawky, giggling girls who taught me the latest dances and raced to finish their work so they could brush my hair. And I, who seemed to have so much -- a healthy baby, a happy home -- wanted to do something good for someone else.

I had fixed up the spare bedroom for her, complete with flowers, books, and stuffed animals. She chose a yellow bear to sleep with the first night; a bear with a mother's heartbeat to sooth a crying child. We sat on the edge of the bed together planning our next day. She didn't ask, but I kissed her goodnight and left a light on in the hall.

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