BY LAUREN NICOLLE TAYLOR
CLEAN TEEN PUBLISHING, INC.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by: Lauren Nicolle Taylor
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For my friend Chloe,
without whom The Woodlands would never have
made it out of the desk drawer.
And for my husband Michael,
you are my Joseph.
When I was eight years old, I got the distinct and unsettling impression I was unsuited to life in Pau Brazil. That my life would go off like the single firework on Signing Day. A brilliant burst of shimmering color and noise that exploded in the sky momentarily, then disappeared into the black night air.
A slip of yellow paper shot under the door in the evening, spinning across the floor like a flat top and colliding with my father’s foot. It was an official notice informing everyone that Superior Grant was visiting in three days’ time. He had a special announcement to make.
Citizens scrambled to make their lawns more perfect than they were before. Uniforms were pressed and cleaned. All the children were expected to line up around the edges of the center Ring and await the great man himself.
I was excited, but my excitement had an edge of terror to it—this was a Superior. My father warned me to not get my hopes up.
“He’s just a man, like the rest of us,” my father said as he knelt down to adjust my oversized uniform and tighten my ribbon.
My mother tsked and fussed around in the kitchen. “Pelo, don’t say things like that to her. I don’t want you filling her head with your ridiculous ideas.”
His eyes darted to her for a second but then he locked on me. “Ideas are never ridiculous. Ideas are just that, ideas. Putting them into practice… now that’s when things get ridiculous,” he smirked.
I drew my eyebrows together, confused. He patted my head and took my hand. “C’mon, let’s get this farcical procession over with.”
“Pelo!” My mother’s angry foot stomp clacked on the tiles.
He put his hands up in the air in surrender. “All right, all right. I’ll behave,” he said, and then he winked at me. I beamed up at him. He was a shiny hurricane and I was happy to be swept away.
They were going to choose a child to come forward and ask Grant a question. Our nervous teachers had given each student a card with an innocuous question on it. I looked down at the printed piece of yellow cardboard. Mine said, ‘Superior Grant, how does it feel to be the descendant of the brilliant founder of the Woodlands?’ I frowned. I knew that Grant was descended from President Grant of the United States of Something or Other. We learned that at school. We were also taught that Grant was the initiator of the treaty; he orchestrated the signing in the last days of the Race War and negotiated peace. But this question was boring and I was sure no one would care about the answer. I would much rather have asked him what kind of food Superiors got to eat. Were they stuck with the hundred-year-old canned foods we were? The globs of vegetable that came out in one solid, gelatinous lump, identifiable only by their difference in color, as most of the labels had peeled off years ago. Green could be, but was not reserved exclusively, for peas. Orange for carrots, or maybe pumpkin. It goes on—an exciting Woodlands guessing game for ages four and up.
In my mind the Superiors must have been super-people. Beautiful, tall, and powerful.
I could barely contain my disappointment when Superior Grant stepped out of the helicopter. He was regular sized and a little overweight. He was handsome, but not like my father. It was the kind of handsomeness that required maintenance. Grey, slicked-back hair, manicured beard. He had the black military uniform on. Gold tassels swung festively in the wind created by the slowing chopper blades.
Despite this, I still wanted him to pick me. I leaned into the circle, standing on my tiptoes. My parents were a few rows behind me, heads bowed solemnly.
I kept my eyes down when Grant came close, trying my hardest not to bounce up and down like some of the other kids who were reeling with nervous energy. When the boots stopped in front of me, I stopped breathing, still staring at my feet.
A policeman tapped me on the shoulder sharply with a baton and said, “You. Ask your question.” I couldn’t believe it. And very suddenly didn’t want to.
I rubbed my shoulder and looked up into Superior Grant’s face, taking in his tight forehead and even tighter jaw. I tipped my head to the side, wondering what made him so special. When I realized I shouldn’t be staring, I cast my eyes towards my shaking cardboard question, barely able to see the typed words that seemed to want to jump off the page. I opened my mouth to speak but the way he was eyeing me made me freeze, the question sitting on my lips like an un-blown bubble. It was like I had suddenly grown extra limbs or had spots all over my face because his nose scrunched up and his eyes watered like he thought I was diseased.
He took a step closer and peered into my face. I leaned away, the musty, vinegary smell of his breath overpowering. “What’s wrong with her eyes?” he said in a strange drawn out twang, like ‘whaat’s wrawng with her eyeees?’