“No! I’m not going!”

“Now, Marcelina. Don’t be that way. You have been talking of nothing but this party for weeks.”

“A month,” Herbert said. “At least.”

“That is enough, Herbert. You are not helping. Now, Marcelina, go put on your costume.”

“Mama! I will not wear that costume. I will not be a princess! Natalia made my costume! I am going to be The Claw! She’s from our favorite show.”

“Marcelina, no. That is no costume for a girl. The character, he is a villain.”

“I know, Mama!” Marcelina rolled her eyes at her mother. As if she didn’t know The Claw was the villain on her favorite show. She watched it at Jory’s house every week since her own mama said no. “Jory is going to be Ranger One and we’re going to fight and everyone is super excited to watch!”

Herbert snickered. Natalia shook her head. They were in high school and she adored them. Unlike Siemowit who was still in elementary school like her and was an idiot. Her mother continued to hold the box with the princess costume. It was not hers. It was Zuza’s.

“If you do not go as a princess you cannot go. Do you want to disappoint your friends?”

Marcelina screamed.

Every word her dziadzio had ever whispered to her came out of her mouth with a roar. Oh, he would be in trouble, but mama was his daughter so how much trouble could it be? Her mama would have none of it and she marched to Marcelina and slapped her on the face.

“You are a rude daughter. Go to your room. You will go nowhere. No party and no trick or treating.”

“I hate you!” Marcelina screamed. “I hate you so much! I won’t ever be a stupid princess and I won’t ever be Zuza!”

Her mama dropped the costume to the clean carpet and clapped her hands over her mouth. Marcelina knew she’d gone too far. She’d never even said Zuza’s name. No one said her name when Marcelina was in the room. As she watched, her mama fled the living room to her bedroom. Marcelina stared, nose running and cheeks wet. All of her rage drained out and left her feet leaden. As if all of her childlike regret rooted her in place.

“Herbert?” she whispered.

He shook his head and stood to follow their mother. Natalia pulled her phone from her pocket and pretended to be busy. With nowhere else to go, she ran from the house. Natalia called after her, but she kept running because Natalia was not even family.


It was cold outside and Marcelina had no coat or shoes. At least, she thought as she shivered in Jory’s backyard, there was no snow. All the lights were on so she detoured towards the tree at the back of the yard. She would go to the clubhouse. They had candy and a couple of Jory’s tata’s old Army blankets.

Grabbing the rope ladder was difficult as her fingers didn’t want to bend. She blew on them and shoved them under her armpits. Babcia said it was not ladylike, but it worked. Once her fingers would grasp the rope she climbed up.

The clubhouse was cold and the first thing she did was find the blankets and wrap them tight around her body. Marcelina sat by the treasure box and dug out the last of the cookies from last week. They would still be good and she was hungry. She’d deliberately not eaten much at dinner to save room for goodies at the party. Now she wished she’d eaten more of the stew her mama had made.


Jory whispered from under the tree. She didn’t respond, but tossed the last of her cookie down to the ground. Red hair and a worried grin popped up through the hole. He climbed up into the clubhouse and she opened the blankets for him to join her.

“I brought cider. I can’t stay long.”

He was warm and Marcelina clutched the thermos which was warmer. She could almost feel her toes and everything. From his pockets he pulled out a couple of crumbled brownies.

“Thank you. I’m sorry I can’t come.”

“Your mom called. She was mad.”

“She wanted me to be Zuza for Halloween.”

Jory was the only one she’d ever talked to about her dead sister. Her family refused. Well, her dziadzio would, but he always sounded so sad she did not. He had lost too many people. She knew because when he’d been drinking he would tell her tales. When he did that she would sit in his lap and hold his hand and promise she would grow up and be strong and protect everyone.

Dziadzio would laugh and say she was too little. Marcelina would promise to get bigger. The promise grew with every repetition. Now, she knew, she had to grow up and protect everyone. The words wrapped around her entire self. It was what she would be and no one would stop her.

“I have to go back. Your mom told my mom to tell you to get home now. But you don’t have to go. Stay here and I’ll bring you food again.”

They hugged before Jory scurried away. He would be back. He was her best friend and she knew he would help her someday. They would protect the world. And she would have a costume! Even better than The Claw’s!