Rosie was livid. She stomped red-faced to her family's property, leaving the snickering girls behind her. How dare they? Did they even know what they were saying?
No, the eight-year-old thought furiously. They don't know anything.
She rounded the corner of the path, the Overland house finally in sight, and she nearly took off into a sprint when she saw it. Her father was outside chopping wood, but she only gave him the smallest wave before rushing by, heading towards the pond a ways behind the house. Rosie was only looking for one person in particular, and that was likely where he would be.
Sure enough, when the pond came into view, so did Jack. He was leaned up against a tree, napping in the warm spring sun with his shepherd's staff lying on the ground next to him. Rosie noticed how peaceful he looked as he slept and almost backed out of bothering him, but the words of the older girls echoed through her mind and drove any doubt away. She stepped forward and prodded her brother in the side. "Jack," she said softly, "I need you."
He stirred and his brown eyes cracked open with a small, humored smile. "You sure spend a lot of time waking me up, little lady."
"I know, I'm sorry," Rosie apologized, plopping down on the ground next to him. Jack pushed himself into a comfortable sitting position and frowned, noticing for the first time the upset expression on his sister's face.
"What's the matter?" he asked, "Did something happen?"
Rosie sighed heavily and dropped her head onto his shoulder. "Elizabeth Burgess said some things that made me mad."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Ro, Elizabeth Burgess is my age. Why are you letting her bother you? I thought her sister was your friend, anyway."
"Anne is my friend, I think, but Elizabeth..." Rosie groaned. "She said mean things. I don't know why she felt the need to bother me today but she was with her friends when I was walking around with Ruth and Mary Katherine, and she just sort of called over..."
She sighed again and Jack wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Come on, what is it? You don't usually get this angry when people say tactless things."
Rosie was silent for a moment, then took a deep breath and blurted, "She said that since we're poor and you play around all the time you're never going to amount to anything and we're lucky that her father hasn't kicked us out of Burgess yet for all the trouble you've caused. She also said that the both of us were going to die alone and crazy in house full of goats."
Jack burst into laughter and Rosie stared at him incredulously. "What's so funny?!"
"J-Just..." he gasped, "the very fact that this bothers you so much!" Jack calmed down and wiped his eyes. "Rosie, Elizabeth may be the granddaughter of the town founder but she doesn't have the power to kick us out just because I threw a few snowballs at her group that one time. And a house full of goats? We're shepherds, not goatherds." He reclined back against the tree and grinned. "And I don't know for certain if I'll amount to anything. Nobody knows that for certain. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we?"
Rosie nodded hesitantly and fiddled with the hem of her dress. "...The worst part was that Anne was standing right there. Her older sister was saying all these things and she didn't cut in and speak for me at all. I was really mad so I just left Ruth and Mary Kate and came here." Her breath rushed out. "Can we go throw things at them?"
"There's no snow around though."
"No, but there is lots of mud."
"...You are a strangely vindictive and vengeful child. I have trained you well." Jack laughed again and ruffled his sister's hair. "But seriously, I think you should just let it go. Elizabeth only ever says things like that to get more attention than she already has, and she has Anne pinned under her thumb. That kid couldn't say anything against her sister if she wanted to. It's not her fault."
"I guess," Rosie mumbled.
"Good." Jack stretched and lurched to his feet, holding out a hand for Rosie. She took it and he pulled her up, grabbing her into a one-armed hug.
"I'm not going to die alone in a house full of goats," Jack grinned. "Believe in me on that. I like to think that I will make something of myself, actually."
"Me too," Rosie agreed. "I'll believe in you."
"Hey, you know, when winter rolls around again maybe I could teach you to ice skate. Would you like that? You could teach your friends then, too."
Rosie bounced on her heels. "Yes! I'd love that!"
Jack took her hand and held it as they walked back to the village. "And if Elizabeth and her friends say anything to us we'll just throw things at her, like you so brilliantly suggested. Sound good?"
The little girl looked up at her brother, eyes swimming in adoration. "Sounds good."
She felt bad for Anne Burgess. That girl couldn't have an older sibling as wonderful as Rosie's.
Well, Rosie thought, latching onto Jack's arm. That's just too bad for her.