Her name was Quiet, a name she gave herself because, like a quiet mouse in tall grass, she often went unnoticed. She didn't mind. She was well loved at home and had plenty of attention; she simply liked being able to get away with things. Most people called her Lil, sometimes Girly, or Hey You. She was pleasant and well liked at school, did her homework and sometimes raised her hand in class; no one would suspect her for anything.

She stood at the center of the school playground leaning against the fat wooden support of the tire swing. The tail of one neat chestnut braid was caught between her thumb and first two fingers like a paint brush, and it slid softly across her lips. The other braid hung forgotten over her shoulder. Her wide brown eyes practiced seeing everything at once, the way she was taught, but it was hard to keep her eyes from zeroing in on the details.

John had put fuzzy Skittles candies and a new wiggly-eyed pencil in his pocket. Steven graveled the skin off his knee because he wore shorts instead of pants on baseball day. Lil liked that he didn't seem to care one bit about his knee, only his victory. Julie, the shortest girl in fourth grade, balanced on the tip most part of her toes so she could reach the swing that was wound around the top of the swing set. Her pocket dumped its contents with a piff-i-ty sound onto the wood chips. Lil's ears twitched deep inside, but Julie noticed the accident and picked everything up before Lil thought to go and help.

Lil stood too long in one place, causing her to feel every bump through the thin soles of her shoes. She felt something else there, under the left one; a quarter. She picked it up and added it to her pocket. "Thin shoes are not best for running and playing," Mrs. Ready said, but Lil liked them because they were quiet.

She looked up and noticed how fifth grader Daniel ran toward her like a crazy ape, the way boys do when they want to chase a girl, but she stood her ground. She had felt smarter since Tuesday when she joined the other girls in the running-game; it hadn't been any fun at all. Daniel pressed his face close to hers, squawking. She wrinkled her nose against his school-pizza breath and strawberry scented shampoo. She would not run. She knew if she ignored him long enough, nice and quiet, the ape boy would lose interest and go away; at least that's what the discovery channel had said.

The outdoor intercom called hawk-eyed Mrs. Ready to the office; Lil made her move. Shouldering her way past the ape, she followed the edge of the blacktop, marked with yellow paint, all the way to Miss Sandra Miller. Miss Miller was the young volunteer, known for letting the kids do what they liked.

"Miss Miller," she said, "May I go to the restroom?"

"Of course you may, Lil. But try to get back before Mrs. Ready returns."

Miss Miller winked at her. That is exactly what she loved about Miss Miller; she always knew what you were thinking. Lil walked to the double doors, pulled the one that didn't squeak as loud as Mrs. Wong's megaphone, and waited for it to close before she turned right. The restroom was on the left. Down the blue hall, five steps, and a left turn into Mrs. Ready's over-stuffed classroom.

As if she owned the room and everything in it, she passed between the second and third rows of desks and stopped midway beside one that read "Amy" in delicate rainbow script. Earlier that morning, Amy put a pack of gum in the desk; it was open, and she hid it inside the pencil box. Lil lifted the desk top, and then the pencil box lid and carefully pulled out the pack of Grape Delicious. She unfolded the outer wrapper to reveal the next piece in the pack. It was down deep and she didn't want to tear the packaging too much, so she shook it upside down until it flopped out into her hand. She dropped it into her pocket and was about to return the gum to the pencil box when a new thought occurred to her.

She back stepped three places to the desk of Daniel the ape boy, tore off a piece of the wrapper, placed in on the ground, and then tossed the pack of gum inside. The clock on the desk seemed to tick louder; it was time to go. She curled her fingers protectively over her prize and went back to the double doors to look out the window. Mrs. Ready had not returned yet but four boys rushed toward the door and yanked it open; she slipped outside before the door had time to close. Miss Miller gave her another wink as she returned to her place on the playground.

The wink reminded her of the weekend spent at the Country House. It was a meeting of thieves. Some were young like her; a few teens, but mostly adults who she couldn't give any age to. And there was Miss Miller; a tall graceful lady with curls bright as gold. She had arranged that some girls from Lil's school, who also lived at the Country House, invited Lil to a sleep over.

They were in one of the old houses on Alvadore Rd. where wide fields of grass grew between them and tractors drove halfway off the road so that faster vehicles could go by. Lil thought it was the sunniest place she'd ever been to, and not only because of the sunflowers that grew in the back garden. There was a tire swing, hay bales to sit on, a breathing statue of a dog who sat forever on the left side of the porch stairs; its tail would move some if you called "hey pup." And under a thick tree limb there were long sheets of fabric that had been hung like a big tent; each corner held down with a boulder painted like lady bugs. As this was a meeting of thieves Lil wondered how many things she saw were stolen property. It was her first meeting and there were many pats on the back of "welcome" and "hey you" and "howdy girl."

Once Lil returned home her parents commented on her rosy cheeks, and Lil beamed at them. She was "happier than a well fed piglet," like the sun browned elder of thieves had said. The next morning the bus could not go fast enough to school where she'd get to practice her skills. She thought about the weekend and some of the thief's rules she learned. One, "Never take from home, they had said, two, "always do it alone, if you can help it, three, don't be obvious, and four, watch your surroundings."

Lil's daydream of fun weekends and rules was shaken from her by several sharp pokes all around her shoulder. She blinked and looked at a hand and followed it up a long thin arm that disappeared in the glare of the sun. She side stepped out of the light and Mrs. Ready's frown appeared. Lil's belly burned as a rush of fear swirled then settled back down. Fear was a warning signal to her, but always contained and controlled with no outward reaction.

"Lil, I'll have a word with please. Follow me."

They walked past Miss Miller who carefully watched without turning toward them. Lil lifted her head and relaxed her body to show Miss Miller that it would be fine. The squeaky door was opened; they walked through, down the blue hall; five steps, and a left turn. Mrs. Miller stepped on the gum wrapper paper without notice and continued to her desk. Lil followed.

"Lil, your father will be here to pick you up soon. Go and gather your things."

When Lil didn't move Mrs. Ready sighed. It was the first one Lil had ever heard from her. And there was no reason she could think of for her dad to pick her up. Her mom always did that. She stared at Mrs. Ready, looking for clues that might give her an answer, but she didn't find any.

"Why?" she finally said.

"Because, Lil, you don't want to leave your homework here do you?" Lil narrowed her eyes. She had a feeling Mrs. Ready knew what she meant.

"I want to know why I'm being picked up."

"It's not my place to tell you dear, now hurry, your father will be…"

A shuffle of feet was heard in the hall. She didn't have to look to know it was him. His cheeks were red and she couldn't tell what sort of upset he was; sad or angry. He didn't stop walking when he scooped her up in a whoosh and hugged her fiercely. He quickly put her back down and then he patted his pockets like he had forgotten something, and then looked around.

"Where are your things, we need to go…" He walked to her desk and started pulling things out at random while looking for something to put it in.

"Dad, where's mom? Dad…" She watched him slowly put her things back down, a ruler and several pencils fell to the carpet. He looked like he was struggling for the right words and finding none he blurted it out on a quick breath.

"She's been arrested."