Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 5
Monday, June 2
Zera fought to wake up. Sobs forced themselves through her constricted throat.
A honeyed voice whispered, “It’s okay. Go back to sleep.”
Zera’s eyes opened and her rigid body slowly relaxed. Her breathing returned to normal. She turned on her nightstand light. The room was empty, her thin cotton blanket knotted around her legs. She untangled it, smoothed it down, turned off the light. Closing her eyes, she imagined she saw two stars twinkling in the distance. Her mother and father. Gone forever. She thought about the river accident, a tragedy she did not witness but always experienced so vividly in her nightmares.
This time, for the first time, she didn’t cry when she woke. Her heart didn’t continue to pound with horror. Turning again to her nightstand, she gazed into the darkness. She saw the outlines of her plants. Sunny, in the terrarium, and five others now surrounding her. Zera’s fingers brushed the gray-green surface of one of them. She plucked a few soft, elongated leaves, held them to her nose. Lavender. Smells so good. It helps. Soothed, she drifted back into sleep, the leaves cradled in her palm, her nightmare receding.
“Wake up, Zera. Up and at ’em.” The Toad knocked on her bedroom door, croaking, “Time to get ready for school.” When Zera didn’t respond, he opened it. Zera opened an eye; the room was dark, the windows still electronically tinted dark for night.
She squinted in the direction of his voice. From the hall light she could see the shadow of his head, spikes of bed-head going out in all directions.
“Ughhh,” she groaned, pulling the covers over her face.
The Toad flipped the wall switch. “Rise and shine. You missed the alarm. It’s late.”
The room lit up in harsh forty-watt-times-seven light from the chandelier. With the activation of the light switch, the darkness on the tinted windows faded, revealing sunny skies between the ruffled curtains. Zera groaned again.
When the door clicked shut, she threw off the blanket. She rubbed her eyes, sat up, and stuck her tongue out at the door. She got up, went to the window. The Village Glen lawns were all the exact shade of green, with about a third just slightly different. She could spot the fakes easily, they had a sheen that stood out to her like neon. The latest and greatest fad in home improvement: plastic lawns. People had been ripping out their grass all spring because of climate change; in Colorado’s case, drought. All the better to look pretty, have zero maintenance, and save water. Who cares that they are fake and will never have that fresh grass smell? Or give off oxygen? She saw a few garage doors open and the cars leave. To work. To school. Everything so much the same. Yet, it was a shiny, early June day, and Zera’s spirits began to lift, like the trilling of bird song in the tree near her window. She noticed a few nice touches. Just across the street a real rose bush bloomed, and on two small porches, pots of petunias. Real ones! Directly across from the condos, a vibrant pot of purple flowers on a porch caught her eye. The blooms were moving, jiggling, almost as if trying to get her attention. That’s weird. What is doing that? A cat, maybe a bird? She squinted. The pot seemed to glow brighter in hue, and the movement stopped. No animal came out, no bird flew away. Zera shook her head and turned away from the window.
It would be a nice day if it wasn’t the last week of ninth grade. I can’t take another summer here. A lot had changed since her birthday. She and Abby had fun that spring break week celebrating her birthday — they had a sleepover, hung out, surfed the Internet, listened to music and skateboarded. But after break, Abby got a boyfriend, a 17-year-old named Thor. He was even more extreme than Abby, two years older, with two piercings (tongue and eyebrow), dyed black hair, and all-black clothes like Abby. Almost instantly they were inseparable. Within a few weeks Abby had abandoned Zera almost completely. Now summer was coming. One week with Nonny at some point, the rest awful. Zera wondered what agonizing camp experience Tiffany had lined up for her. Last year was the worst, six weeks of hell at Make-Over Camp, whose motto, “Grooming, hairstyling, diet and fashion — our modern young woman focus!” said it all. Zera groaned, flopped back down on the bed. Maybe Abby would break up with Thor. Or maybe a miracle would happen and a boy would be interested in her. She’d been trying to talk her uncle into letting her try to find some kind of work, volunteerism, anything so the summer wouldn’t stretch before her like a prison sentence.
Rolling on her side she looked at Sunny in the antique terrarium, surrounded by five other plants in small terra-cotta pots. The gloom lifted somewhat. “I forgot to say good morning. How can I stay bummed with you guys around?”
Zera had started collecting plants since her birthday, but Tiffany stopped her when she found out. “We’re not letting things get out of hand,” she said. “You’re not turning this bedroom, that I spent a lot of time and money decorating, into a jungle.”
Zera’s hand flew over to the terrarium. She lifted the lid so the condensation inside could clear. In doing so, she accidentally brushed the lavender plant sitting next to it. A cool, fresh smell escaped from the leaves, filling her nostrils. For a moment everything seemed bright again. She remembered the nightmare and a particular soothing voice.
That voice seemed so real.
* * * * *
Zera came to breakfast wearing one of her usual ensembles: cut-off jeans, red high-top sneakers, and a black T-shirt featuring the name and flaming guitar logo of her favorite oldie rock group, Pyro.
Oh great, she’s here again.
Tiffany sat at the glass and chrome table. As usual, she looked Zera over. Predictably, her pouty lips twisted into a disapproving curve as she took in Zera’s T-shirt. But today the expression lasted only a second before something unusual happened. It was replaced by a smile.
“Good morning,” she practically sang.
Zera was surprised at what Tiffany wore. The top of a ruffled apron was visible over her shirt.
“Uh . . . Good morning.” Zera was caught off-guard.
She couldn’t believe the delicious smell in the air. Tiffany had prepared a real breakfast — eggs, bacon, pancakes were on the table, on her plate! Tiffany never cooked, much less prepared a sit-down meal for the three of them. Have I entered another dimension? The Toad sat semi-slouched over his notepad across from Tiffany, reading.
Tiffany sipped a diet drink, Skinny 2000 Death By Chocolate. The Toad was partaking in the feast, only having smaller portions than he would have had some months ago. Lately for breakfast he’d been having a StrongMan protein drink or power bar.
“Isn’t it a gorgeous day?” Tiffany smoothed down the collar of her seashell-pink blouse.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Zera sat down.
“I made you breakfast.” Tiffany giggled.
Tiffany looked positively pleasant as she sipped from her pink straw. She giggled, how weird! Zera remembered how The Toad was nice to her the night before, asking her if she wanted anything special for take-out because he was taking Tiffany out to dinner. Something big is up. Zera’s eyes went to Tiffany’s left hand. No ring, thank God.
As Zera peered down at the scrambled eggs, the memory of Make-Over Camp sprang up in her mind. With it came a shiver of dread that she fought to smother. Maybe Tiffany has found something even more disgusting for this summer. Maybe that’s why she’s acting like this. She picked up her fork.
“This looks great,” she said. She was afraid to ask the reason for the special meal.
Tiffany just continued to look like Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat. Super weird.
“Good morning, Zera.” The Toad looked up from his notepad over the top of his black-rimmed glasses. Zera groaned inwardly. He wore his pseudo-dad expression — serious, yet friendly.
It was harder to even think of him as “The Toad” lately. He had changed a lot since the opening at All-American Burger Depot. As they’d talked about during the ride home that night, The Toad and Tiffany began to focus on making big changes in Theodore’s life. Zera noted that while he kept his vintage spectacles and watches, almost everything else about his appearance had changed. His fanatical working out had paid off. In just two months he’d dropped over thirty pounds and seemed determined, almost self-assured. Although his dorkiness hasn’t disappeared, and he still slouches over his notepad, he’s different; a buffer, better dressed, more formidable Toad.
“Good morning, Toa . . . Uncle Theodore.”
“Got to get to the office early today.” Her uncle pushed up his glasses with one finger before tapping it on the old silver timepiece around his wrist. “I’m on a tight schedule.” He put the notepad into his briefcase.
Tiffany’s brow furrowed as she looked him over. “I know just the shirt you should wear.”
“This one’s not okay?”
“Well, we do want to make the best impression possible, don’t we?” Tiffany exuded cat-like confidence. “Trust me, I know what will be perfect. And you should wear the gray jacket, not that blue one.”
The Toad adjusted the glasses again. “If you think so.”
“Are you meeting someone important?” Zera asked.
“Actually, we both are,” Tiffany said. “But it’s not a subject you should be concerned with. What I mean is, you should concentrate on enjoying your breakfast.”
So that’s why she’s acting so nice. The Toad has something going on. Maybe he’s finally getting that promotion. She breathed a sigh of relief that Makeover Camp wasn’t in the cards, at least not today, but didn’t like how they were keeping awkward secrets.
To purchase your own copy of Zera and the Green Man, visit the official website now. Paperback and Kindle versions are now available.
Zera and the Green Man is a novel by Sandra Knauf, a local author and sustainability advocate living in Colorado Springs.
Published via US Represented by consent of the publisher:
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
First published in the United States of America
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)
Cover drawing by Paul Spielman.
Cover photography by CanStockPhoto 11569383
Cover and interior design by Zora Knauf.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.