She shook her head and leaned into me. That felt good. She trusted me, and I liked that. “You can’t. No one can,” she sobbed.

This had to be really bad. If her nonna couldn’t fix it, then what was it? Was her nonna sick? Was she fired and no one had told me?

“I can try,” I said gently.

She turned her face into my chest and cried harder. “No . . . you can’t. My momma is coming to get me,” she said between sobs. “I haveto move away.”

I was a boy and boys weren’t supposed to cry, but hearing those words, I felt like crying too. Willa couldn’t leave me. She was my best friend. We did everything together. She was the first person I thought of when I woke up every day.

“You can’t leave,” I said with more force than intended.

She pulled back and wiped at her wet face. “I have to. Nonna said my momma wants me and it’s time we were a family.”

No. No. Nonononono. I shook my head. “You’ve got a family here. With your nonna and me.”

She nodded her head in agreement and continued wiping at her face. “I know. I told her that, and Nonna hugged me and told me she loved me but that my momma needed me now and Chance needs me.”

Chance was her little brother she never got to see. I felt guilty for not wanting her to get to live with him. I had my brother in my house, and it was great. She missed Chance, and when she talked with him on the phone, she always cried when they hung up. I would spend hours telling her jokes to make her smile again.

“Chance can move here,” I said, thinking that sounded like a good plan.

Willa sniffled, but her sobs were slowly calming down. “He can’t. His dad and my mom got married. They want to bring me there to be part of their family.”

“In Arkansas?”

She nodded.

“That’s so far away,” I said, letting my own sorrow start to take over.

She began sobbing again, and I realized I was making it worse, not better. I didn’t want to lose Willa, but if there was no choice and she had to go, I didn’t want her to be sad, either. I could cry alone in my room after she was gone. But I wanted to know she was smiling and happy.

“You’ll still get to visit your nonna and me. It won’t be forever. And when you’re older, you can come stay the whole summer here. I bet they’d let you do that if you just ask them.”

Willa stopped sobbing and looked at me with hopeful eyes. “Do you think so?” she asked.

I nodded. “Sure! Your nonna will be missing you, and you’ll get to come whenever you want. It’s not forever.”

She gave a smile then. It was still a sad one, but it was better than tears.

“We’ll always be here for each other. You can come back and watch me play football at the high school on the big field under the lights.” That was my dream, and Willa knew it. To play under the lights at the big stadium with Brady, West, Asa, Ryker, and Nash. We would win State, and Willa would be there cheering me on. We had snuck off a few times and walked to the high school just to stand there under the lights. All of us. We made our plans and built our dreams. In all those dreams, Willa was there.

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be back. I won’t even be gone long before I visit. We will be fine.”

I wasn’t sure my heart agreed. It was hurting while I was smiling. Willa was my favorite part about life. She made things better by just smiling. Her laugh could completely fix my bad mood. When no one else was around to understand, Willa did. The day I caught her playing in my tree house had been the luckiest day of my life. What would I do without her?


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