ONE
"If money grew on trees, do you think scientists would make hybrids?"
I rolled my eyes at Khyntanye. He was staring at the oranges in the trees
above us, looking dead serious.
"Do you think they'd mix dollar bills? So that there would be trees that
grew Lincoln's head on one dollar bills? Or quarters with that one lady
who's normally on the gold dollars?"
"I don't know, Khyn. Money doesn't grow on trees, so that would never
work."
"You are so narrow-minded!"
"You imagine things that are way too impractical. That's never going to
get you anywhere in life. Why are we laying here now? The sun's in my
eyes and the grass is itchy."
"No, no, Tyl. You have to ignore the grass and look at the gorgeous
sunset. Did you even notice the pink clouds that look like they're made
from tissue paper? Or the blend of oranges, reds, and violets that look
like an artist spilled his paints across the sky? Did you see how the sun
doesn't look like it does in the day, but more like an overripe blood
tangelo?"
"Huh?" Khyn's flowery descriptions tended to confuse me. How were the
clouds tissue paper? They were made of water vapor that was being colored
by the sun's angle with the Earth.
"My dear, this is beauty. There are few things in nature that are
beautiful this way."
"My mother?"
"No."
"Then what?"
"You'll see someday. You want an orange?" He sat up and plucked a large
ripe orange off the weighted tree.
"That's stealing," I warned automatically, holding out my hands for him to
give me one.
"Sort of. Mr. McGregor will never know."
"The sunset's almost gone. Can we go home? And his name isn't Mr.
McGregor. It's Gregory Macintosh. You shouldn't make fun of him, he's
only a poor blind old man who loves his orchards."
"You said it yourself, he's a blind old man. He won't miss two oranges."
I nodded, not wanting to admit that I'd lost the argument, "Are we going
home now?"
"Is this really so boring to you?"
"It's getting dark. My mom doesn't want me out too late after dark."
"We'll be fine. Just tell her you were enjoying the natural beauty of a
June sunset and you'll be fine."
He stood up and pulled me to my feet. I flew upwards, ending up standing
inches from him. I could feel his breath on my forehead.
"Dammit, Khyn, you're too tall."
We used to be skinny, grubby, little kids who'd cause honest-to-goodness, I-
didn't-mean-to mischief. I was always taller than him in those days. One
summer ago though, when we were both about fourteen, he got taller and
muscular while I stayed shorter but filled out a figure. He was almost a
head taller than me these days.
"I'm telling you, it isn't my fault. I didn't mean to grow."
I stepped away from him, "You're still taller."
"Yeah, yeah. Come on, let's get you home before your mom freaks."
We hopped the fence out of Mr. Macintosh's yard, scampered across Annie
L.'s yard, made a wide arc around J.J. Arsenic's property, fled across
Freak's lawn, and safely landed in my backyard. This town really isn't
that bad, but crossing yards at dusk really is a bad idea.
My mom was on the front porch of our big blue ranch-style house, talking
worriedly on the phone. As soon as she saw me, she hung up the phone.
"Natyla Jerie Warkinson! Where in Heaven's name have you been?"
Khyn stepped forward, "I'm sorry, Mrs. W. It really was my fault. We
stopped in Mr. Macintosh's orchard because the view there is spectacular
and the sun was just setting. I insisted we stop and watch. I meant no
harm and I'm truly sorry."
"It's okay, Khyn. Really, it is. I was just worried, wasn't I, Mandi-
Anh?"
My sister floated out onto the porch, nodding like a perfect daughter. She
wore baby blue, silk pajama bottoms and a cotton t-shirt reading 'Angel'.
How appropriate. If only I were wearing my pajama: chili red cotton
bottoms and a mid-riff baring camisole with flames around the words
'Devil'.
She noticed Khyn and blushed, "Hey, Khyn."
He nodded and did some sort of man-grunt hello. She fingered her golden
hair-spray curls and giggled. Giggled!
Khyn turned to me and lowered his voice so she couldn't hear, "I beg your
pardon, but the sight of your sister is making me ill. I'll be leaving
now."
I laughed, almost snorting. I never giggle. "You do that now, sir. I'll
be retreating to my room because I too cannot stand her."
"I'll see you tomorrow." He turned to go, then stopped, "Do you think she
would go crazy if I kissed you goodnight in front of her?"
"I would. Besides, she knows we're just friends. Always have, always will
be."
"Is there anything that would get her extremely irritated?"
"Not that I know of. She doesn't do public displays of negative emotion.
You could steal her foot massaging kit, complete with toe softener, but not
even my mom will go near any of that stuff."
"Anything that's touched your sister like that is repulsive."
My mom had gone inside the house, but my sister was now sitting on the
porch swing, staring intently at us.
"That's freaky. I swear, she looks like a blue frog who's just been hit
over the head with a plastic TV remote and now has the intelligence of a
dying cow."
"Wow. You're so poetic!" I was still way back on the blue frog. Frogs
don't naturally come Mandi-Anh's size, plus they normally aren't baby blue.
So, if it were to be blue, then it would have had to be dyed that color,
or given drugs which gave it some sort of allergic reaction. As for dying
cows...
Khyn tapped me on the head, "I know you're in there. Thinking, I suppose.
I'm leaving. Tell your sister that she shouldn't eat so many flies."
While I was still calculating the average IQ of a dying cow, he flipped no-
handed over the wrought iron fence and disappeared into the warm night. I
think his poeticness is rubbing off on me. This could be dangerous.
I bounced up the steps, warned Mandi-Anh about the flies, and went inside
the house.