Tag Archives: Young Adult Gothic

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 13.

We’ve reached Part One. 13. of Soul Cages. When we last left off, Marian had hidden in her bedroom to try to forget her troubles, and had fallen asleep. (The novel is PG-13.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

13

My cell phone woke me. I glanced at it while under the covers. 8:43 p.m. The number was Ben’s.

“Hi. How’s it going?” Ben’s voice sounded so kind I wanted to curl up around my cell phone.

“Uh—not too bad. Henry insists I take him back to the park tomorrow.”

“When? Maybe we can join you.”

I smiled until I remembered tomorrow was Sunday. “I don’t know. Maybe in the afternoon—though it’ll be hot—it’s the only time I can take him. In the morning will be church service, and in the evening is a mandatory Youth Group meeting … I don’t want to go.” As soon I said the words I wished I could take them back. Ben wouldn’t want to listen to me whine about my parents’ church.

Ben cleared his throat. “First Beginnings got a bad reputation in the Jewish community last winter.”

“Why?”

“They started off in November approaching Jewish people in public places. Then they went around knocking on any door where there were Hanukkah decorations. A couple of rabbis tried to reason with the church’s pastor, but had no success. Complaints were filed with the police.”

“They didn’t hurt anyone, did they?”

“No. Just words.”

“I’m sorry.” I took a breath. “I don’t want to be part of First Beginnings. You don’t have to worry about me bothering you … and I know John won’t.”

“Thanks.” An awkward pause, then Ben talked about the two physics books I ought to get.

I crawled out of bed to find the pen in my purse and heard the bathroom sink turn on full blast. Henry getting ready for bed.

Ben said, “Are you okay?”

“Sorry, Ben. I was listening for my folks. I need to go. Henry expects us all at his goodnight ritual at nine-fifteen. Let’s plan on meeting at the park at one-thirty.”

“Sounds good.”

I hit the OFF button just as someone reached my door.

“Marian?” My mom’s voice.

“Yeah, just a moment, I’m getting ready to change.” I switched the phone to vibrate and shoved it under my pillow, and unlocked my door.

Mom gave me the expected news that it was time to get ready for bed since church would be early.

Almost as soon as I got the door closed again, the cell phone buzzed, making the pillow shift. Next time I’d turn it completely off.

I recognized the number. Pastor Andervender’s home.

Oh, wait, John was going to call me.

“Marian.” It was John, sounding exhausted.

“You okay?” I slid open my closet, flicked on the light, and stepped in, sliding the door shut behind me. It would help muffle my voice if Mom or Dad walked by.

“I have to keep this short.” His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been talking for hours. Or arguing. He said he’d try to explain Henry to his dad. I doubt Andervender took it well. John said, “I’ve convinced Dad to back off from Henry for a little while, a few weeks.”

“Thank you. But Henry hates to be touched. I don’t think that’s going to change in a few weeks time.”

“I know. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. At least for now he doesn’t have to deal with a healing prayer session every day.”

I shuddered. Having Andervender chase my brother around on a daily basis would be more than Henry could stand.

“I’d better go,” John said. “Maybe you and Henry can go for a hike later in the week?”

“Sure.”

He hung up.

I did the goodnight ritual with Henry, took a shower, and got ready for bed. Then I punched in Nicole’s number and braced myself for getting chewed out.

“Marian, what has gotten into you! You’re never late in calling me. And those pictures of the house were so depressing. How are you?” Louis Armstrong music played in the background, which meant Nicole was having insomnia problems again. I’d seen Nicole on occasion, since her mother’s cancer diagnosis, stuck awake until three in the morning.

I said, “How is your mother doing?”

“It’s rough. But the tumors are shrinking. Grandpa and I are going to the farmer’s market tomorrow. We’re thinking maybe a vegetable soup will tempt Mom to eat. And Mom still insists I go to the family reunion with Dad. But you haven’t answered my question.”

“I’m—dammit, no, I’m not okay.” I sat on the closet floor, and pulled my body in tight. “It’s so messed up out here, I don’t even know where to start.”

Nicole said, soothing, “Start from my call Thursday night, and go from there.”

So I did, though I left out that it was John who had told me about Sydney’s suicide.

“This is serious,” Nicole said. “They could hurt Henry by accident, just like that quack healer almost did. And First Beginnings sounds wacko. You’re going to have to call your aunt.”

I grimaced at the memory of Aunt Letty and Dad screaming at each other about the quack treatment I’d let Letty know about. “She doesn’t get back from Germany until August. I’m on my own until then. Both Mom and Dad gave permission to Pastor Andervender to do the laying on of hands. Until I can get them to change their minds, perhaps John can keep coaxing his dad to postpone the healing attempts.”

Nicole said, “Good luck. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.”

“I know.”

“Oh, by the way, Trent was asking about you.” Nicole snickered. “He broke up with Sage, and was miffed to find out you were gone.”

“That sleazebag can get lost.”

“Don’t tell me you’re still beating yourself about him.”

“I can’t help it. Every time I remember being at the doctor, I want to punch him in the mouth.” I’d been lucky. I hadn’t caught anything from him the few lousy times I’d slept with him—I’d insisted on him using protection despite his complaints—and then I’d found out about him sneaking around with Sage behind my back, and dumped him. Humiliating in the extreme.

I’d learned the hard way that love could be a one-way street to getting used.

Nicole said, “I think you should have a T-shirt made with ‘World’s Worst Lover’ printed on it, and mail it to him. He acts like you’re going to crawl back to him someday. Too bad Matthew is another jerk.”

“Yeah. And John is too tied up with that awful church, and I wouldn’t dare bring Ben near my parents right now with the way First Beginnings is about Jews. Dating can wait. I’ll find someone at Juan Tabo.”

“You know,” Nicole said, “if things get, um, difficult, I could ask my Mom if you could rent the basement room.”

My mind leaped at the thought—finishing up at my old school, no more First Beginnings. But what would happen to Henry? “I don’t know,” I said. “Let me see if I can talk sense into my folks.”

I turned the conversation to what Nicole was up to, tired of talking about my own mess.

************** End of Part One. 13. *****************

See you in October! L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 12.

Now on to this week’s Soul Cages excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 12. of Soul Cages. Marian is about to have a confrontation with her parents. (This novel is PG-13.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

12

The expected fight with my parents came after a late dinner of leftovers.

I’d helped clear the dining room table, then drifted amongst the boxes to the living room to stare at the street. A neighbor in jogging shorts passed by, her German Shepherd running next to her.

I need to start running again.

Then I heard Henry being shooed off to his bedroom to watch an Animal Planet DVD on his player. With headphones.

Mom came into the living room and pulled the thick curtains shut.

Dad said, “We need to have a talk.” He motioned for me to sit on the white couch.

“Okay,” I said. I made no move toward the couch (which made the room seem an even dingier brown).

“Have a seat,” Dad said.

“No thanks, I’d rather stand,” I said.

“I’m going to sit,” Mom said. “My feet are killing me.”

Dad said, “You owe Mom an apology for your behavior today.”

I stood mute.

Dad added, “You almost broke Pastor Andervender’s pinky. And then you didn’t even bother to apologize during prayer circle.”

“I had to stop him, he was—”

No excuses. You hurt everyone’s feelings with what you said about the church school.”

I sighed. “I’m sorry if anyone took offense by my wanting to go to Juan Tabo.”

“What is this?” Dad threw up his hands. “You like the thought of going to a school filled with gangs and druggies?”

Mom bobbed her head in agreement.

They were exaggerating, I was sure of it. “I’m going to Juan Tabo!” My own voice spooked me; I’d used the same tone Grannie had when Dad unsuccessfully tried to talk Grannie out of going to New York City for the poetry slam.

Mom and Dad looked at each other as if unsure what to do next.

I said, “We’re all exhausted. Let’s drop this.”

“This isn’t over,” Mom said, “but we’ll stop for tonight. You will be going to First Beginnings for school.”

Let her take the parting shot, I told myself. Otherwise I’ll have to stand here all night arguing. I want to rest.

I made my way down the darkening bedroom halls. When I flipped on the ceiling light in my bedroom, I felt like I was staring at a jail dorm room. The bars. The stark walls. My bare mattress.

I shut my door and locked it.

Then I searched the labels until I found a box with sheets, pillows, and bedspreads, and ripped it open to make my bed.

I crawled underneath the covers to pull them over my head. They smelled of my old bedroom. I could almost pretend I was back in Alexandria, but the underlying swamp stink gave it away.

I ought to get back up and start unpacking, or at least call Nicole, but it felt good to lie quietly.

I want it all to go away. God, if you’re out there, just make it all go away.

************** End of Part One. 12. *****************

See you on the last day of September, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 11.

Now on to this week’s story excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 11. of Soul Cages. Marian has gone out into the back yard to escape the pressures of the house party. (This novel is PG-13.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

11

I found the backyard strangely empty. Perhaps everyone had been told to stay out of it, or else few people wanted to go through the house of a dead girl to get to it.

I was almost across the cracked patio, when Mom followed me out.

Mom called out, “Come back here. We’re not done talking.”

I pointed at Henry, who sat under the shade of the house with his notepad, counting birds.

Mom shook her head, the I-don’t-care-if-he-hears shake.

I waited for Mom to start the fight.

“You’re going to the church school,” Mom said. “That’s final.”

“How about if we talk about this later?”

“There’s nothing to talk about. You’re going to the same school Henry is.” Mom folded her arms. “If you make things difficult, we’ll ground you until you see reason.” Mom’s eyes flicked toward the cell phone on my belt.

So, they’ve started thinking about taking away my phone. I resisted the urge to protectively cover it with my hand.

Mom continued. “I don’t want to hear any more talk about Juan Tabo. It’s rude, like their school isn’t good enough for you. You’ll do fine getting into college.”

My throat constricted. “You’re the one who said I’d be going to that stupid church school, not me.” I walked away toward the apple tree.

Henry had his hands over his ears.

I jumped when Mom’s hand grabbed my shoulder, and spun me around.

There were tears on Mom’s lashes. “Why can’t you get along? Why do you always have to make things difficult? This is important to me, and to your dad. We’re trying to help Henry.”

I thought of Andervender’s seizure of Henry while Mom and Dad watched. Rage welled inside me.

Well?” Mom cried out. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

I turned away.

Mom said, “You didn’t even give them a chance to show you the school. Gena said you’re acting spoiled and unfair.”

I whirled around. “Screw fair! You let those creeps touch Henry!” My whole body shook so badly I couldn’t walk.

Mom fled back into the house.

I saw Henry sitting with his fingers stuck in his ears, eyes down, rocking. Once my shakes slowed, I went over to him and gently tugged his fingers out of his ears. I said, “Let’s go count the birds in the apple tree.”

The trickling sound of the swamp cooler gave the illusion of coolness. We’d stay under the apple tree until the crowds thinned.

I sat down next to Henry and crossed my ankles. In the quiet I could plan my next steps in going to Juan Tabo. From looking at Ben’s map, the high school was too far to walk to—I’d have to take the bus, or get a bike.

A bike. That’s a great idea. There are lots of bike trails around here. And I’ve got enough in my savings account to get a used one.

And it would open up more possibilities for part-time work.

I’d also see about getting registered for classes and having a copy of my high school transcript sent over. My mind drifted off into memories of high school in Alexandria.

The back door squeaked open, startling me out of a doze. Footsteps paused, then came toward us.

To my relief it was John who came around the side of the house with unopened water bottles in his hands.

Henry said, “So far I’ve counted three chickadees, six doves, four pigeons, and one robin.”

While handing me the water bottles, John said to Henry, “If you put up a sugar feeder, you’ll attract hummingbirds this summer.”

Henry wrote it down in his notebook.

John said to me, “Almost everyone is gone since the vans are unloaded.” He frowned. “Do you mind if I call you on your cell phone? I’ve got a bad feeling about,” he jerked a thumb at the house, “this.”

“Sure.”

John pulled out a pencil stub and a napkin, and wrote my number down, folding the napkin up tight to hide in his pocket.

I flipped open my phone. “Is there a number I can reach you at?”

“Sort of.” John rubbed his forehead, thinking. “I don’t have a cell phone. Your best bet is calling the home number. Otherwise I’m out in the truck somewhere.” After telling me the home number, he said, “If you or Henry need me, call. Also, I talked my dad into staying away from Henry for the rest of today. Henry won’t have to join the prayer circle when we leave, but you will.” John made to leave.

I said, “Wait. The teenager in the kitchen—was that Laura?”

He reddened.

“And the ultra-thin woman next to Laura was her mom?”

“Yes. Barbara.”

“Okay.”

John gave me a puzzled look when I didn’t say anything more. But as far as I was concerned, his breakup with Laura was none of my business.

************** End of Part One. 11. *****************

See you next time, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 10.

Now on to this week’s story excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 10. of Soul Cages. Marian, John, and Henry are returning back to the house moving party. (PG-13.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

10

The closer I got to the house, the slower my feet moved. Both Henry and John slowed as well. Guest vehicles were parked up and down our street. In the distance two moving vans could be seen in the driveway.

Henry twitched at the distant squalls of a baby. God, no, not crying babies. He hates that noise so much. There were also the excited shouts of kids.

Between the mixed reek of perfume, hairspray, and aftershave, and the children screaming, Henry would be miserable. I was not looking forward to this, not at all.

John slipped forward, so that he led the way as we reached the clusters of people in our front yard.

The moving van engines were off. Some people were standing around eating, others calling at the kids to stop running. The children chased each other over the lawn, kicking up clouds of dust, shrieking as they ducked and weaved in a game of tag amongst the grown-ups.

Men unloaded boxes and furniture, and carried them through the open garage door or propped-open front door.

A guy with the longest sideburns I’d ever seen hailed John.

John waved, but instead of introducing Henry and me, called out, “They need water and rest.” As he maneuvered us quickly through the crowd, he said in an undertone to me, “That was Glenn. Laura’s dad.”

He’s shielding us. I felt uncomfortable from all the curious stares. None of the teenagers I could see carried cell phones or other electronic devices. But they all had a plain silver ring like the ones Matthew and John wore. Oh, no. Everyone’s wearing purity rings. How long before I get hassled to put one on? There was no way I was confessing to Pastor Andervender anything about my messed-up relationship with Trent.

Our house was rather empty of people despite the heat (though crammed with boxes). Henry made gagging noises due to the stink of perfumes mixed with swamp. Echoes of grunts and bangs and thuds could be heard from all over the house. The swamp coolers were on full blast, but the air was warm and sticky.

I peered down the hall to the bedrooms when we reached the kitchen archway. The lack of windows and skylights made all the halls dim even on the brightest day. Likely Sydney had found it even darker in the winter.

The kitchen smelled of boiled corn and fried chicken. We went in to a chorus of greetings from the women gathered there. I noticed Gena stood at the group’s center. Everyone wore dresses styled like Gena’s, except for Mom.

“Hello, kids,” Gena said. “How was the walk?”

“Longer than expected,” John said. Then he tensed as he caught sight of someone.

I followed his gaze to a lone teenage girl. Considering how hostile John looks, it must be Laura. Laura had glossy blond hair and pale skin, and a sweet expression that reminded me of a doll.

Mom said, “Get yourselves some lunch. There’s still lots.”

Henry grabbed a paper plate. The counters and tables were covered with food—macaroni salad, three bean salad, chili, platters of chicken and corn, a quivering green fruit gelatin, five kinds of potato salad, and other good things.

John and I lingered under the kitchen archway. I’d temporarily lost my appetite, all too aware of being sweaty and dusty.

Henry finished filling his plate. John had to pass by Laura to open the back door for Henry, and ignored her.

How did someone so passive manage to get John so pissed?

Laura poked nervously at the salad on her plate. She glanced over at Gena—while a thin woman standing next to Laura (her mother?) gave her a hug of reassurance—then back down.

“John,” Gena said. “Could you please double-check that the movers had a chance to eat. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out.”

“Sure,” John said. He said to me, “Thanks for explaining Asperger’s to me,” and grabbed a dinner roll before leaving.

Mom fidgeted. Gena gave Mom a pat of encouragement on her arm, which made my stomach sink. Here it comes, whatever it is. Mom said, “The teachers of the church school are here. It’s a very good program, better than the public high schools.”

I thought about Ben’s phone number programmed into my cell phone. With his guidance I’d be able to navigate Juan Tabo. “Sorry, but I’m going to Juan Tabo High School for my senior year.”

The women stirred. They must have expected me to take the bait to argue about the quality of their school.

I watched Mom give Gena a panicked look, and try again. “The First Beginnings school is excellent. You’ll be going there in the fall.”

You shouldn’t have done that, Mom, I’m not going to pretend to agree so you don’t lose face. I said as gently as I could, “I’m going to Juan Tabo.”

Gena stepped in with a smile showing too much teeth. “We’ll talk about your going to the church school later, and—”

“The church school isn’t a good fit for everyone,” John said from the archway. Gena motioned for him to shut up, but he went on. “Sydney was miserable there.”

John!” Gena said.

He’d given me an opportunity to get things out into the open. I said to Gena, “Who’s Sydney?”

Laura dropped her fork onto her plate and covered her mouth. Everyone else stopped eating as well.

Finally, Gena managed, “She was a girl at our church who is gone.”

John stormed off.

I tried to act clueless. “Henry and I noticed his bedroom closet smells of rose perfume.” This made all but Mom and Gena quietly put their plates in the garbage, and leave the kitchen with excuses about needing to help with the kids.

Once we were alone, just the three of us, I said, “Did Sydney live here? Why does everyone look so upset?”

Mom said, “Sydney did live here, but she had a terrible accident in January and died. Everyone is still very upset about it.”

I bet that’s what they all call it now—”the accident.”

Mom added, “And you must not tell what you know to Henry. I don’t want him asking continual questions of everyone. You know how he gets—he’ll just keep asking and asking.”

I decided I’d push one step further. “What kind of accident? Is the house safe?”

Mom made a face, and I knew she wanted to yell in frustration. But instead Mom got out, “Don’t be morbid, Marian. Believe me, the house is safe.”

The kitchen felt too small. All I could think about was Sydney, so full of despair that she killed herself, and Mom and Gena calling it an “accident.” I said, “I think I’ll go out back to rest. The heat took away my appetite.”

************** End of Part One. 10. *****************

Until next week, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 8 & 9.

Now on to this week’s story excerpt. We’ve reached Part One. 8 & 9. of Soul Cages. Before today’s entries, Marian, John, and Henry had fled to a park to escape the stress at home. (This novel is PG-13.)

Soul Cages

Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

8

On the bike trail, Henry stopped to study a cactus that reminded me of Ping-Pong paddles stuck together. He was more out of breath than usual on an uphill walk, and I had to admit I was too.

John said, “I forgot you two aren’t used to this altitude. Tell me if you feel dizzy. We’ll rest and drink some water—we’re halfway to the park.”

Henry pointed at the cactus.

“That’s a prickly pear cactus,” John said. “During the summer it will bloom, then produce purplish fruits. You can pick the fruit to make jelly.”

So far John seemed to enjoy sharing his extensive knowledge of the outdoors with Henry. He’d put up with a barrage of questions about pigeons, doves, turtles, frogs, and coyotes that would have driven my parents and Trent crazy.

A memory of Trent completely losing it rose in my mind, his voice ringing in my ears as he yelled at Henry, “Shut up! Just shut up!”

I should have dumped him right then and there.

I handed water bottles from my backpack to Henry and John and got one out for myself. The water was warm, but I drank large swallows as I realized how thirsty I was.

Henry gulped down his water, then stuck the half-empty bottle in his backpack. He pulled out his field guide, happily humming to himself, to flip through the pages.

“Do you need a break from carrying that backpack?” John asked as he handed back his water bottle.

“No,” I said. “It’s light.” I felt as if a tightness was loosening in my chest. John could be a friend.

John called Henry over. We climbed onward—with Henry slightly ahead as he zigzagged on the trail to hunt for lizards.

9

I reached the top of the bike trail’s latest incline and stopped to catch my breath. When I looked back, I discovered I had an unimpeded view across Albuquerque to the Rio Grande. Beyond the huddled trees next to the river was a western mesa covered with wart-like bumps.

“Are those volcanoes?” I asked.

“Volcanoes!” Henry echoed.

“Yes,” John said. Unlike us, he wasn’t out of breath. “They’re extinct. When it cools down in the fall, Henry might enjoy a hike on the trails there.” He pointed in the opposite direction of the volcanoes. “We’ve reached Piñon Park.”

Our trail crossed a small street, and on the other side was the park. The greenness of the grass looked surreal to me after so much concrete and desert.

Henry opened his mouth.

“Irrigation makes it possible to grow the grass,” John said.

He must have guessed right, for Henry closed his mouth again.

There were various pine trees, oaks, and a couple of odd trees with broad leaves, mottled bark, and golf ball-like seeds. Henry looked up the latter tree in his field guide, and told me it was an Arizona sycamore.

As we got close to the grassy field the air became noticeably cooler and moister. I held up a palm toward the field, and said to Henry, “Can you feel the difference?”

Henry copied my gesture. “Feels like swamp coolers.”

We left the trail to wander across the grass. The homesickness for Alexandria hit me like a mental slap. Think of running in the desert, I told myself. Or hiking in the Sandia Mountains.

Henry led us toward the swings on the far edge of the field. The swing sets were empty except for a lone girl and a teenager who pushed her.

As we got closer, I realized the girl (probably nine) had Down’s Syndrome. The teenager, a guy, was wearing a Jewish skullcap. Nearby, a dog tied to an oak tree ran back and forth as the girl’s swing moved.

Henry stared at the dog. I could understand his fascination, for the dog was a weird mixture of a beagle’s body with a bulldog’s head.

The dog stuck out his tongue in a panting smile.

The teen caught sight of us, and said to the girl, “Soon we need to go.”

Bennn,” the girl said in complaint.

Henry ran to an open swing—close to the girl, but not too close—calling to me, “Push me.”

John said, “I’ll wait under those oak trees.” His animated expression was gone; numb was now the word to describe him.

I wanted to find out why, but Henry shouted for me. I watched John wander over to an oak tree near the dog—who went to the end of his leash to sniff at him. John held his hand out for the dog to inspect.

I gave Henry a strong push that made him whoop in joy. Ben’s white skullcap had a pattern of blue woven lines around the rim. He wore a T-shirt that had E=mc2 and a sketch of Einstein on the front. Why did people feel the need to put that equation on their stuff?

Henry said to the girl, “Swinging higher than you.”

The girl pumped her legs. She reminded me of a buttercup with her yellow shirt and shorts.

Henry said, “Higher!”

I gave another timed shove, and Henry flew up.

“Whoop,” Henry said. “Higher than you.”

“Ben,” the girl cried out, “higher!”

Ben took a deep breath. He shoved her high enough to send her into shrieks of laughter.

Henry called out to John, “Push me!”

I watched John struggle with whatever held him back. Then he shrugged, as if to say Enough, I give in, and came over.

I stepped away from Henry, and John took over with no break in the rhythm. He gave Henry a hard push that had my brother whooping in excitement.

Ben gave John a cautious look.

I said to Ben, “Hi, I’m Marian. This is my brother Henry, and our friend John. My brother and I just moved to Albuquerque.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought John got a hint of a smile when I said friend.

“Hi, hi, hi,” the girl called out. “Sarah.” Sarah tilted her legs up so that she could lean backward in the swing. Ben stepped back (since it was difficult to push someone by their head).

Henry copied Sarah’s leaning backward, and John was able to step back as well.

“I’m Ben,” he said to us, and shook my hand, then John’s. Ben said to me, “So, how do you like Albuquerque?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We just got here yesterday.” The homesickness gnawed at me. What I wanted to say was, It’s too dry and there are few trees. And I don’t like Gena and her husband and their church.

My tone must have given my homesickness away, for both Ben and John did the “I’m feeling uncomfortable” guy-thing of sticking their hands in their pockets and looking at the ground.

Ben said, “What school are you going to?”

“I want to go the public high school,” I said, “but I don’t know which one it is. My parents insist I go to the church school at First Beginnings.”

Perturbed, Ben studied John and me. Whatever he saw seemed to reassure him. He pulled out his cell phone. “I can look up which public school it is.”

While we were busy, John wandered off to sit down and scratch the dog’s ears. It took a bit of searching, but we finally figured it out.

“Juan Tabo High School,” Ben read off. “It’s a good place. I just graduated from there.”

“Congratulations,” I said. I was surprised, for Ben looked to be only sixteen or so.

Giggles from the swings made me look up from Ben’s phone. Sarah and Henry were twisting their swings up tight, so that they could lay on their stomachs on the seats and spin.

I grinned as Henry spun like a top. “He’s feeling better.”

“Has he been unwell?” Ben asked.

I winced at the recollection of Pastor Andervender’s fingers gripping Henry’s head. “My brother has Asperger’s. Some days are … hard for him.” Some DAYS? How about THIS day? What an understatement.

“Really?” Ben studied Henry. “I’ve never met anyone with Asperger’s. As you can tell, my sister has Down’s Syndrome.” I felt a sense of kinship with Ben—he knew what it was like to have a sibling with a disability.

The sun was hot on my back. I headed toward the shade of the two oak trees where John and the dog sat. The dog jumped up and wagged his tail at me.

“That’s Fermat,” Ben said. “He’s a Beabull.” Fermat ran over and put his paws on my sneakers. The dog looked up at me expectantly.

I scratched Fermat’s head, which made him lean against my legs with a deep sigh.

“Be careful,” Ben said, “or he’ll tip you over and use you as a pillow.”

Henry and Sarah came over to pet the dog. Ben gave Henry a dog biscuit, saying, “You can give this to him.”

Fermat sat up. Henry dropped the biscuit to the ground and the dog lunged for it. We watched Fermat gobble the biscuit down.

After Sarah had a turn giving Fermat a biscuit, Henry went back to the swings. Sarah followed.

Fermat waddled over to John, flopped down, and rolled onto his back, demanding that his belly be scratched. John complied.

I said to Ben, “Will you be going to college?”

Ben fingered the equation on his T-shirt. “Stanford. I’m probably going to major in mathematics. Seniors?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want to do after you graduate?”

“Study occupational therapy. I’ve learned a lot about it from those who’ve helped my brother.” I felt self-conscious. My grades were mostly Bs and Cs, and OT didn’t have the prestige being pre-med did. Some people, after finding out I wanted to do OT, tried to talk me into doing medical school for the money.

“I’ve watched OTs work with my sister. They really seem to love their work.” Ben turned to John. “And what will you do?”

“Study theology.” John didn’t look at Ben, instead watched Fermat as he scratched the dog’s tummy.

I couldn’t figure out why John was being so curt. We’d all gone silent for too long. I floundered for something to say. “So, what does E=mc2 stand for anyway?”

Ben laughed. “They ought to provide an explanation on the back of the shirts.” He pointed a finger at each letter as he explained, “The equation has to do with energy (that’s E) being equal to mass (that’s m) and the speed of light squared (that’s c squared).” His enthusiasm drew both John and me in as he pointed at the sun. “Think about it—the energy from our sun and the stars—all related to this equation.” Then Ben’s cell phone beeped.

Ben flipped it open, read what was there, and called out to Sarah, “We’ve got to go. Mom’s waiting.” He said, “Sorry to rush off. If you want, you could give me a call. I can tell you about Juan Tabo—like which teachers to avoid.”

“I’d really appreciate that,” I said. “I have to take physics this year, and I need to get a good grade.”

Ben paused in thought. “I didn’t like the physics textbook we had to use. I can think of two books you might want to look at that do a better job of explaining stuff.”

We swapped phone numbers.

Then Ben untied Fermat’s leash while John stopped scratching Fermat’s tummy. The dog whined at John. “Fermat’d make you scratch him all day if he could,” Ben said to John.

John and I made our farewells to Ben, Sarah, and Fermat while Henry stayed on his swing. After Ben had driven off in a white compact car, John said to me, “I need to talk to you for a moment.” Agitated, he led me back to the two oaks and checked to make sure Henry was too far away to hear. “No one in First Beginnings can know Ben and Sarah are Jews.”

Surely I misheard him. My hands went up in a gesture of denial. This can’t be right.

John’s mouth flattened. “Dad demands we immediately testify for Christ to any Jew we meet. I didn’t feel like ruining Henry’s swing with a fight. Uninvited testifying gets tense … and ugly.”

“Why harass strangers?”

“Dad believes Jews are damned. As far as he’s concerned, the ends justify the means.”

I felt as if I’d been flipped upside-down. What sort of awful group are Mom and Dad dragging us into? I swallowed several times. “I won’t let anyone know. It’s unlikely Henry will say anything—all he’ll want to talk about are the swings and Fermat.”

“Good,” John said. He sat under the nearest oak and leaned back against it. I wondered if he’d get bark stains on his white shirt, and if Gena would have a fit about it.

I sat cross-legged on the grass under the oak’s shade. John peppered me with questions about Asperger’s as we tossed tiny pieces of bark at the sidewalk.

Henry swung as if he’d never stop.

Somehow we got to talking about my involvement in track. To my surprise I found myself chatting about Coach Lucas, and how he insisted I practice the discus throw and shot put, even though I didn’t want to compete in those events.

Then John blurted out, “Mom has been talking about you a lot to Matt.”

Ick. I didn’t think John was going to plug his brother as a possible date, but I braced myself just the same. Keep your mouth shut, and see what comes out.

John had turned a bit red, and his words were a little stumbled. “Dad thinks it would be good for Matt to have a girlfriend.”

“I doubt I’m Matt’s type. He’s not mine.”

John glanced at me, and then stared at the grass. “Huh.”

Henry got hot and joined us under the tree, lying on his belly to watch the ants and other insects, calling out their names.

After a while, John reluctantly lifted his arm to look at his watch. “It’s time to go.”

Henry moaned.

John said, “They’re expecting us back.”

“Don’t want to go.” Henry flopped over onto his back with his legs and arms sprawled out.

I suspected Henry wanted to avoid all the strangers at the house. “We’ll grab lunch plates and hide in the backyard under the apple tree.” I stood up.

Henry grumbled, but he got up instead of having a tantrum.

************** End of Part One. 8 & 9. *****************

See you next week, L.M.