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As the sun sets on our final Thursday in Norris Lake, I knock on James's bedroom door

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As the sun sets on our final Thursday in Norris Lake, I knock on James's bedroom door. It surprises me when he calls me in. All summer he has kept it guarded, and it feels intimate to cross the threshold into his space. It's a riot of mess, clothes littering the floor and half-drunk coffee cups on every surface. No wonder I hadn't found a mug this morning.

Sunlight spills through the gauzy curtains and pools on James, whose head is deep in a book. Now that the holidays are ending, I curse myself for wasting the first few weeks sulking. Knowing England is out of my reach makes it easier to appreciate the brilliant blue of the sky and the all-enveloping heat. I can't help feeling like I've wasted weeks with James, too. Away from Presley, he's a different person. A person I need.

'Your timekeeping is getting worse,' I say.

He laughs but doesn't raise his eyes from the page he's reading. 'Blame Ms Morrison, not me.'

I don't bother interrupting. If our mornings reading on the deck have taught me anything, it's that the world could end around a reading James and he wouldn't notice. Instead, I move around the room, taking in as many details as I can about the boy I know.

A silver-framed picture on his desk catches the light. Five faces smile out from the faded photograph. With a pang of sadness, I recognise the man's broad smile as James's. The woman holds one curly-haired girl on her lap, another sits on the shoulders of the handsome, tanned man who can only be James' father, Alden. James, no more than nine in the photograph, has his hand in the man's and a wide, carefree smile. I know enough to understand that this is probably the last picture he has of them.

A sudden feeling of intrusion falls over me and I look away, focusing my attention on the messy desk.

'What's this?' I ask, unhooking a pin from the noticeboard and rolling it around in my hand. It's a small circular badge, no bigger than my thumbnail. A delicate silver tree ornaments a forest-green background with the letters J.X.W. looped under the tree's roots.

'Hey, be careful with that,' James exclaims, leaping from the bed and rescuing it from my curious hands. 'It's my Junior High Football Pin.'

'I didn't know you play football!'

'Played.' There's something in his tone that I can't identify. With great care, he places the pin back.

I hesitate. 'Played? As in, you don't want to talk about it?'

James turns and smiles. 'Something like that.' I know when to back down.

'Well, you still seem to care about that pin.'

'One thing you should learn about Hopton Hills, Betty,' he says, 'is that we take pins seriously. Especially football pins. This is Tennessee, after all.'


He catches my eye and gives me a knowing look. 'Go on. Add it to your list.'

'What list?' It's too quick to be believable.

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