From childhood, Zoey Henderson lived for invention. When she was six years old, for instance, she spent much of the summer in her back yard making a gigantic American flag out of gum wrappers. Mrs. Evans, the crotchety woman next door, would come outside and water her own back yard just so she could scowl at Zoey and mutter harsh words like, “Arrogant little brat, disrespecting Old Glory that way.” As Mrs. Evans saw it, Zoey was a perfect example of how kids had become undisciplined dreamers who would ruin the country if they didn’t get their heads out of the clouds and start making better use of their time.
As it turned out, Mrs. Evans was pretty much alone in her judgment. Zoey’s parents and everyone in her school loved the flag so much that Mr. Braxton, the principal of Greendale Elementary, had it placed on a wall near the front door of the school so people could see it as they walked in. This cemented Zoey’s reputation early on as a gifted visionary. Zoey didn’t really think of herself in those terms, but she liked the attention, and she learned from this experience that she could make a difference in people’s lives through her art, which pleased her to no end.
By the time Zoey was eighteen, she had made a name for herself throughout the community as a versatile, dependable artist, someone who could create anything given the right moment in time. The Greendale City Council commissioned her to make a buffalo sculpture that would be placed directly in front of City Hall. They suggested a single bronze buffalo standing stock still and looking straight ahead in a noble pose. Zoey told the council, “Sorry, but that’s not a noble pose. We might as well display a bronze cow. Let’s try something else.” Instead, she created six muscular, angry buffaloes straining forward as if exploding across the plains in a violent stampede of power and grace. Initially, a few council members were put off by Zoey’s attitude, but their upset faded as the display soon became the most photographed sculpture in the city and garnered national attention. Moreover, it had come in under budget.
Then, when Mrs. Gloria Lamoureaux passed away, everyone, including Zoey, wondered what would happen to the property on the side of the mountain overlooking the city that the Lamoureaux family had owned for decades. Gloria had been one of the wealthiest old-money patrons in the state, and her word was practically law when it came to any policy decisions that might affect the region. Developers had stayed in contact with Gloria and her business associates for years about buying the property for commercial and residential development, but the area remained unmolested because a majority of the community didn’t want to see stores and a housing development mar such a beautiful overlook. The Lamoureaux family argued vehemently over the issue, and although Gloria withheld her own opinion on the subject, everyone knew her final word would determine the fate of the property, no questions asked.
When the executor read Gloria’s will, the general public learned that a giant treehouse was to be built on the property through funding from the Lamoureaux Foundation. The will also stipulated that Zoey Henderson was to be given complete authority to oversee every aspect of the project. What few people knew at the time was that Gloria had secretly admired Zoey’s work from the moment she walked her granddaughter into school many years ago and saw the American flag Zoey had made with gum wrappers. She had followed Zoey’s career closely ever since, and a few days before she passed away, she told her executor, “Be sure that young lady gets what she wants. She gives when she takes.”
Once Zoey got this news, she needed just a few weeks to present her vision of the treehouse to the city planners. The Lamoureaux family made sure that Zoey could launch the project immediately. In a coordinated effort, the community leaders threw their weight behind the project, knowing that something unique was about to transform Greendale for some time to come. Within two months, Zoey and a hand-picked construction team built a multi-level complex lodged in twelve large trees growing prominently in the middle of the acreage most visible from the heart of the city below.
Zoey had come to believe that there was nothing more serious than a child at play. With this in mind, she decided that the treehouse would belong to children through a declared informal law. This meant that anyone twelve years old or younger was welcome to visit the treehouse as a part owner, so long as they brought along a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians could visit as guests of the children. The sign at the entryway of the facility read, “Adults allowed only when chaperoned by kids.”
The entire complex was simply called the Treehouse. At its center, twenty feet up, a large oval greeting and operations room named the Mothership rested in a massive oak tree. Guests could climb a spiral staircase or take a special elevator to enter the Mothership, which had three thick branches growing through it and evenly placed windows all the way around, allowing for a clear view of the surrounding forest and city below. Large portals lined the colorfully painted walls of the room at intervals for quick and easy access to the other rooms.
For instance, one portal opened to a shallow slide that careened down to an open-air glass room filled with water called the Splash Pit. Another portal led upward to a circular room called Apogee, which housed one telescope trained in the direction of the city and another one pointing upward for evening astronomy classes. Yet another portal led to a room called the Rainbow, where children could paint or draw on the walls and create various other forms of art to their hearts’ content. This space was always well stocked with any art supplies the children might need. One of the most popular rooms was the Nest, which could be reached from the Mothership via a gradually descending ramp. This room featured a diverse collection of current and classic children’s literature, some tables with writing utensils and computers, a fish tank, beautiful pictures on the walls, and a few comfortable chairs.
The children of the city were so pleased with Zoey’s work that they made her an honorary member of the Treehouse. This meant that on warm summer nights, she could visit Apogee on her own terms and study the constellations. Sometimes, she would stay until the sun began to brighten the morning sky.