It was our turn.
They counted on the porch, eyes closed, squinting, their voices louder than they needed to be.
I grabbed Alex, hefted him under one arm, and sprinted as quietly as I could across the nearly grassless expanse of lawn toward the tree line. The sky was pale gray above us, the air cool but not cold, promising rain. His belly was squishy against my hand.
We hurdled the fallen tree that I had partly cut up during an experimental round with my new chain saw. I hoped that the volume of their counting would mask the scruffle of our feet through the peanut-butter colored drifts and dunes of dried leaves, cascading down the hill. There was a big tree, easily three feet in diameter, its rough bark showing rivers of contrast along a smooth trunk unbroken by the jut of branches. We dove behind it, finding cover, nestled down into the underbrush, our backs pressed against its solemn bulk. We laughed quietly and shushed each other, his tiny finger making a line across his wide, smiling mouth. I reminded him again and again to be still and not to move. Oscar, the dog, seemed likely to give us away, but he panted off when he heard the others come running. I was thankful that they didn’t yet know that to look where he was standing was a big clue on where to find their pray.
Seconds passed quickly, and then, out of nowhere, Ivan rounded on us, announcing his victory and waving his arms above his head. Next, Sophie came, and we all sat and laughed in the leaves and breathed in their dry-straw smell, and looked through the thinning branches at the glimmer of the river beyond. This was our hill now, our tree, our game to play as often as we wanted.
And for the first time in a very long time I felt as though I were a child again, filled with wonder, my eyes alight with the magical possibilities of a November forest.