"Don't turn around, Mum, she's right behind us!"
Sapphire's blue eyes are stricken and stressed. I reach out for her hand as we walk to the post office with the letters we need to send off.
"She's talking about me; that's why she's walking slowly so that she doesn't catch up with us."
Sapphire's head now droops from her neck so that her gaze is firmly on the ground.
I stop. "Mum," she hisses, terrified. "What are you doing?"
I smile. "I'm turning around and I'm looking at her."
Sapphire tugs at my hand desperately. "But Mum, now she knows that I know she's talking about me and----"
"That's right, love, she does know. And if you keep walking along like someone's just punched you in the back and you're ashamed of it, she's won. She'll then see that you're upset and what she's doing is working, so the key is to show that you don't care and you're not upset, okay?"
Her face is blank and she tugs at me again. We continue walking. "Mum I don't get it."
Fair enough. "Well, what we need to do is have a really animated conversation, like this----" I stand there, making elaborate hand gestures and laugh in what I hope is a hilarious and not creepy way. My hand touches Sapphire's shoulder and I lean in, pretending to listen intently and let out another guffaw.
A small smile appears. She gets it. "But Mum, what are we supposed to say?"
"Rhubarb. Whenever you're on stage in a background crowd scene, or when you watch 'Friends' and see people in the coffee house pretending to talk, they're usually saying 'Rhubarb Rhubarb' over and over to look like they're having a wonderful conversation."
I nod exaggeratedly. "Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb!"
She laughs and it is a joy to see the flash of her white teeth and the hair fall back from her face. "Oh yes Mum, Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb. And don't forget that we need to Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb..."
The girl behind us is forgotten as we both get into our vegetable-based conversation. Our laughs are genuine, the fun we have is true as we add expressions, physical responses to each other's sentences and react outrageously.
Soon enough the letters are posted and the girl has turned off at another street.
"I forgot about her Mum. Do you mind if I tell my other friends about this?"
"Go for your life."
We walk back up the hill towards home. She's gone through a recent growth spurt and there are signs of womanly curves and new length in her legs but to see her skipping unconcernedly a few metres ahead of me makes my chest actually hurt.
I'll never tell her that rhubarb is my least favourite food.