“Outside,” he’d say, in the bellowing voice that my father always used when being jokingly authoritative. The screen door would screech open and my sister and I would charge out, beaming with excitement and nervousness at the challenge ahead. “Top step,” he’d say, as he flicked the thumbwheel on his plastic Bic and took a seat on a patio chair. “Alright now.” He’d take one long drag out of his Marlboro Light and lay out the mission at hand.

When he spoke even the birds didn’t chirp; we knew there was only one chance to memorize each step. All too soon he’d say the word, and the instructions would play on repeat in my head as I raced my sister around our yard. Backwards to the laundry pole. Tag the swingset. Skip around the pool. Cartwheel next to the oak tree. Twice around the house. First to sit back on the top step wins.

My arms would pump, my heart would pound, my mind would remember every move; but the five-second headstart was never enough. Still, I’d go back to the top step and beg for more, losing race after race until Dad gave me a knowing look and I’d glance down to find my sister’s shoes untied. Then of course there’d be a rematch, and the cycle would go on and on until the sun went down, just me and my sister laughing and running, relishing in every second of my father’s attention.

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