I am watching Middlest negotiate a river crossing I've never had to cross. She who does not like to cry cannot speak about Eldest leaving for college without her throat filling with tears. She dashes the water from her eyes with a quick impatient hand, shakes her head, makes herself laugh.
She hates even the name of the university her sister is aiming for. Has already planned what she will do that first week - eight months from now - packing the days full with friends who have promised to stay overnight the first night, the second night, a series of different hill runs she will work her way through that week.
That first week she plans to gut their old bedroom, repaint it, rearrange everything. But not until then. For now, nothing must change. For now, they are always sitting together, running errands together, their heads bent together over the computer screen, whispering together in the other room.
Unless she's angry with her sister, which is also happening more frequently than ever in their deeply intertwined lives. Then it's - "I'll be glad when she leaves!" And when, later, I suggest it may be time to mend fences, "Why? It will never be the same anyway. She'll go and she'll never really ever come back again."
My own sisters are much younger than me. I came to know them, as themselves, when we were grown. They tell me that I was an Auntie Mame - kind and exciting but never intimate, swooping in, swooping out, a sudden focus of our parents' energy and attention, the surprise of packages sent from faraway places, letters full of glimpses that seemed glamorous at that distance.
We both laughed when we realized we were letting our steps drag as we left the checkout, pausing at the automatic doors not just because of a reluctance to go out in the cold.
"My legs feel heavy," Middlest laughed. "I'm thinking I just want to turn around and take it back and then she'd have to stay forever."