She is six years old. Her blond hair is wild and matted from grandma's hand-knitted tuque, her almost-grown-out-bangs pinned to her head with purple princess barrettes. She is smarter than she should be, has at least as much fashion sense as most twenty-year-olds and has created art out of manipulation. Without her two front teeth she looks like some cherubim vampire, like Anne Rice's Claudia (without the perfect ringlets) or Shirley Temple with fangs. She loves lip gloss and tights and Hannah Montana and being the center of attention.
She has pulled me by the hand into one of the back bedrooms, choking on her secret - desperate to unload. Her blue eyes are bright with concern, threatening tears and brimming with disappointment.
"Aunt Alanna," she begins, barely more than a whisper - like she's nervous.
She smoothes the front of her shirt and tries to slick down a fly-away lock. She is deathly serious, furrowed brow marring her smooth, baby-skin. She takes a big breath, preparing herself. "Hannah Montana is on drugs."
I was expecting a covert tattle-tale on Liam, away from the hyper sensitive ears of my sister, her no-tattle-taling mother. I was not expecting this.
She accepts my silence as shock. "There's pictures on the internet and everything."
I find my tongue. "That's terrible, Grace." Lame. "Does this mean you don't like her anymore?"
She ponders this, furrow growing deeper, fidgeting and breathing with her shoulders. "No," she finally says, voice going higher like she's apologizing. "I still really like her...I just wish she wouldn't do drugs!"