"Yes, but Sloan got it down," Emma interrupted excitedly, pointing a chubby little forefinger toward the top of the tree.
"She climbed right up to the top," Kenny inserted, "and she wasn't scared, cause she's brave."
Sloan felt -- as a mother-to-be someday -- that she needed to correct that impression for the children. "Being brave doesn't mean you're never afraid. Being brave means that, even though you're scared, you still do what you should do. For example," she said, directing a smile to the little group, "you're being brave when you tell the truth even though you're afraid you might get into trouble. That's being really, really brave."
The arrival on the scene of Clarence the Clown with a fistful of giant balloons caused all of the children to turn in unison, and several of them scampered off at once, leaving only Kenny, Emma, and Butch behind. "Thanks for getting my kite down," Kenny said with another of his endearing, gap-toothed smiles.
"You're welcome," Sloan said, fighting down an impossible impulse to snatch him into her arms and hug him close -- stained shirt, sticky face, and all. The youthful trio turned and headed away, arguing loudly over the actual degree of Sloan's courage.
"Miss McMullin was right. Sloan is a real-life, honest-to-goodness hero," Emma declared.
"She's really, truly brave," Kenny announced.
Butch Ingersoll felt compelled to qualify and limit the compliment. "She's brave for a girl," he declared dismissively, reminding an amused Sloan even more forcibly of Chief Ingersoll.
Oddly, it was shy little Emma who sensed the insult. "Girls are just as brave as boys."
"They are not! She shouldn't even be a policeman. That's a man's job. That's why they call it policeman."
Emma took fierce umbrage at this final insult to her heroine. "My mommy," she announced shrilly, "says Sloan Reynolds should be chief of police!"
"Oh, yeah?" countered Butch Ingersoll. "Well, my grandpa is chief of police, and he says she's a pain in the ass! My grandpa says she should get married and make babies. That's what girls are for!"
Emma opened her mouth to protest but couldn't think how. "I hate you, Butch Ingersoll," she cried instead, and raced off, clutching her doll -- a fledgling feminist with tears in her eyes.
"You shouldn't have said that," Kenny warned. "You made her cry."
"Who cares?" Butch said -- a fledgling bigot with an attitude, like his grandfather.
"If you're real nice to her tomorrow, she'll prob'ly forget what you said," Kenny decided -- a fledgling politician, like his father.
Excerpted from Night Whispers , by Judith McNaught. © 1997 by Judith McNaught, used by permission of the publisher.
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