The tree behind the gate is still leafless despite the frilly green dresses of its sisters. It stands naked, frail and shamed, as it has every year since she was born.
Seeing it bare out there every year, day after day, tears Mindy's heart to little bits. Sometimes she breaks into the yard next door, shimmying over the locked iron gate and climbs up the bare tree's crumbling trunk and hugs its craggy necks.
Her parents always change the subject when she brings up the strange tree. Science is her worst subject, but she knows that Spring means flowering and budding of life, and that tree has never done either. It just stands there, dead.
"Get away from the window, Mindy. Shoo. Go play with your sister in your room." Her mother was always telling her to get out of the window, always telling her to go play with her sister.
The younger sibling is all big rosy cheeks and shiny hair and a laugh like a bubbling fountain. Mindy finds her in their shared bedroom melting crayons onto poster board with a hairdryer.
"Does the weirdo tree not want to play with weirdo Mindy right now?" her sister said never looking up from the puddle of hot colored wax she is creating with full-blast high setting.
Mindy drops to her knees and watches her sister make her liquidy Crayola art that will dry into something their father will praise endlessly and perhaps even frame and hang in his dingy office at the insurance company. She watched the purple wax spray and land in fat dots on the warping cardboard and planned how she'd go out later after everyone was asleep and pick the lock on the iron gate to the yard next door and go give the tree a gentle stroking, a few reassuring pats, then sleep beneath it for a bit until she could sense the sun coming up through closed eyelids.