Zera and the Green Man: Chapter 7

During fourth period, Biology, Zera concentrated on doodling. She’d already filled up half her electronic biology book’s memory with sketches of plants, and now, with her writing pen, she created a leafy, swirling vine that climbed up one side of the screen before twining around the word “Green.” Flowers of all sizes sprung from the vine: sunflowers, carnations, lilies, and snapdragons. Zera penned in expressive faces — sweet, scowling, serious, funny — from cooing, smooth-faced baby flower buds to large, blowsy, wrinkled granny blossoms with drooping heads and withering petals. She tapped a button, and then touched her pen to flower after flower, coloring one pink, another lemon yellow, and another burnt orange.

Plants, she thought, as the teacher droned on, reviewing what would be on their final exam, they supply almost everything. Zera glanced at Ms. Casey, who drew a sprouting bean on the hologram board. Split in two, the bean had a hair-like root snaking downward in soil and a tiny stem and oval leaf reaching upward into the air. Zera looked around; most of the kids were as bored as she was. Biggie was repeatedly poking the tip of his pen into the bottom of one of his shoes, and Becky McGowan, sitting in the next aisle, just stared glassy-eyed at the teacher, her mouth half open. Abby was texting under her desk, probably Thor; she hadn’t even looked at Zera since they got to class.

Zera thought about how Ms. Casey’s lecture could be a lot more exciting; it was, after all, the birth of a plant, something of a miracle. Since the arrival of Sunny on her birthday, Zera had become obsessed with plants. They’d been a regular part of her life before coming to live with The Toad, but she had never really “seen” them or tried to understand them until she had her own. In the weeks since her birthday, Zera had absorbed dozens of books on houseplants, cacti, trees, bulbs, shrubs, herbs, wildflowers, grasses, and garden flowers. It seemed natural to her to seek out books, instead of reading them on the computer, and it took her a while to discover why she had that preference. She finally figured out it — it was because the books themselves were made out of plants; from the paper, to the ink, to the varnish on the covers.

Most of her free time was spent reading, learning about plants’ uses, their art, and their history. She’d read fascinating accounts of plant explorers searching exotic countries, horrifying tales of women herbal healers in medieval Europe burned as witches, and modern discoveries in the field of plant intelligence. An old book she’d recently read, entitled The Secret Life of Plants, showed that plants had been found to react physically to the emotions and thoughts of people. She also read that Luther Burbank, the most famous plant breeder in the history of the United States, had talked about the effect of human thought on plants over a hundred years ago, a half-century before the book came out. The topic thrilled and intrigued Zera. She planned on looking for more books that summer.

Coloring the flowers on her electronic book’s notepad, her thoughts turned to Nonny. Nonny would like this drawing. She’d probably think I was following in Mom’s footsteps as an artist. Though Nonny had sold the 150-year-old Green Seed Company when Zera was just a baby, and had never spoken much about it, Zera was now curious. I’d like to ask her why she sold it. I never cared before, but now that I know something about plants . . . A familiar longing filled her. Zera bore down harder on her pen, working on the leaves, filling them with color. Three-and-a-half years since I’ve gotten to spend any real time with her. Why do Theodore and Tiffany have to be such jerks?

“Ms. Casey,” the intercom blared. “Please send Zera Green down to the office.”

Zera looked up at her teacher and hurriedly capped her pens. She didn’t see that all the flowers she’d drawn were now animated, engaged in soundless conversation, mouths working, eyes blinking, buds and petals nodding.

Ms. Casey checked the clock. “Since it’s only a few minutes until lunch, you’ll want to take your things with you.”

Zera’s heart thudded. Without looking at the notebook she turned it off. Nothing unusual had happened to her since March with the zinnia incident, which, as she expected, was soon forgotten. Even the kids forgot to call her Plant Chick after the break. Did I do something wrong? Should I ask why? No, it might be embarrassing, or, worse, I might sound like a whiner. She tried to look calm, as if it were no big deal, as she gathered her supplies. Her classmates stared, a few grinned. Biggie said, “Uh-oh” under his breath. Ms. Casey didn’t hear it, but a couple of kids chuckled.

The trip down the long, brightly-lit hallways seemed to take forever. Zera saw no one, but could feel the mechanical stares of the digital surveillance cameras at each corner, red indicator lights glowing. Her sneakers made an empty slap-slap echo on the polished surface of the linoleum and the lemony smell of floor wax filled her nostrils. Her stomach felt queasy, partly from nerves, partly from the smell, as she shuffled past posters advertising the contents of the vending machines that stood like sentinels near the cafeteria. She glanced at a poster reading CAFE-COLA KEEPS YOU ALERT. It showed a bug-eyed boy sitting in the library with a history book, a geology book, a math book, and a can of Cafe-Cola, all opened in front of him. The HI-PROTEIN SQUIGGLES ARE A GREAT AFTER-SCHOOL SNACK poster showed a group of teenagers on the school steps. They laughed, heads thrown back, as if sharing a terrific joke, their hands plunged into bags of the bright-colored, chemically-flavored and vitamin-fortified, gummy-worm treats.

Eyeing another camera, Zera was gripped by self-consciousness. She shifted the notebook around and wiped her damp palms on the hips of her jeans, thinking of Tiffany’s warning that her rock and roll T-shirts were “inappropriate for school.” A comment which was inevitably followed with a smug, “I’m surprised they let you wear them.” Without thinking, Zera brought her notebook to her chest, covering the flaming guitar logo on her Pyro T-shirt. When she realized what she had done her arms came down and her jaw clenched. No. I love my T-shirts. She had a whole trunk-full that belonged to her musician father; really old ones, featuring a variety of rock bands from The Beatles to the White Stripes. They can’t be calling me in to change my shirt. Kids wear stuff like this all the time. The only other thing she could think of was that something had happened to The Toad, or to Nonny. That last possibility, too horrible to consider, made her catch her breath.

Zera found the receptionist’s desk empty and no one else in the office but Jake, the boy she’d embarrassed in the cafeteria during spring break. He was sitting in a chair next to the door, obviously waiting for his turn in the principal’s office. He looked up at her, ran his fingers through his blond bangs. “Hi.”

He doesn’t hate me? The guilt over what she’d said to him in March had stuck with her. She blurted, “I’m sorry about that comment. About drugs.”

To her surprise, he smiled. “It’s cool. I shouldn’t have said that to you. I say stupid stuff sometimes, that’s why I’m here now.” He locked eyes with her. “I just thought, well, those shirts you wear are pretty awesome.”

“They belonged to my dad,” Zera said, cringing inside as soon as the words left her mouth. That’s not awkward.

“Yeah, I heard about that. Sorry.” He hadn’t looked away.

Zera couldn’t help but notice how blue his eyes were. “Um, Tinsel told me to tell you to come on in when you showed up,” he said. “She’s going to ‘deal with me’ later.” The grin broke out again. “Good luck.”

“Uh, okay. Thanks.”

Zera went to the principal’s office door. Yep, I am smooth. She swallowed, and knocked.

“Come in,” a welcoming voice called.

Zera cautiously opened the door to the sight of Principal Tinsel, sitting behind her desk, bestowing upon her the best Miss America smile ever. She waved Zera in. The too-big smile and friendly wave caused Zera to purposely bring up her notebook again to hide her shirt’s logo.

She entered on rubbery legs, trying to have an expression more pleasant than worried.

“It’s so good to see you again, Zera,” Mrs. Tinsel said.

Zera was startled to see The Toad and Tiffany sitting in chairs across from Mrs. Tinsel’s desk. Theodore nodded hello and Tiffany looked like she had that morning, only happier, if that were possible — the Cheshire Cat who had now swallowed the canary. Zera slowly let out the breath she’d held since entering the room, hoping no one noticed. Okaaaay, she thought. The not-so-dynamic duo is here. No one looks upset. Whatever it is, it can’t be too bad.

“Hello,” Zera took a couple of steps toward Mrs. Tinsel’s desk. “Hi,” she said to her uncle and Tiffany.

“Your uncle is here to take you out of school a few days early,” the administrator announced. “I hear you’re going to your grandmother’s this summer.”

What? Zera’s heart thumped with joy, and her stomach now felt like it was filled with fluttering butterflies. Thrilled butterflies, free butterflies. All she could do was stare at Mrs. Tinsel. “Nonny’s?” She turned to The Toad and Tiffany. “Really?”

They nodded.

“We’ve made all the arrangements.” Tiffany said. She rose gracefully from her seat. The Toad attempted to follow suit, but caught his jacket pocket on the arm of the wooden chair, pulling the entire chair forward with a screech. Everyone pretended not to notice as he un-snagged himself. “You just need to collect your things from your locker and turn in your books,” said Tiffany, taking over for Mrs. Tinsel. “I even packed your suitcase for you.”

The principal stood. “You had only one more final, tomorrow in Biology. Your work in that class has been the best we’ve seen here at Manning, so we don’t really feel we’re stretching the rules by letting you leave with an ‘A.’ Good luck with your new job, Mr. Green.”

Zera looked at them both questioningly. Tiffany seemed in competition to try to outshine Mrs. Tinsel’s smile wattage while The Toad stood there, looking, if anything, a little uncomfortable.

“Thanks,” he said, shaking Mrs. Tinsel’s hand.

Fine. No explanation for the kid. Now I see what was going on this morning. The two of them were making big plans.

Jake nodded and smiled at her when she left. A few minutes later, just as the bell rang for lunch, Zera shuffled out of Manning High School behind The Toad and Tiffany.

“So, this job, it’s a really good one?” she asked The Toad on the way to the parking lot.

“Yes, it is. But it’s not finalized yet.”

“When will you know?”


“Is it in Colorado?”


“Los Angeles? Wow. So we’d be moving there? Or . . .” She didn’t want to say it, ask if there was a possibility she might stay in Colorado with her grandmother.

Tiffany cut in. “Let’s not talk about it right now. We’re in a hurry.”

Ignoring Tiffany, Zera asked, “And Nonny knows I’m coming? How long am I staying?”

“Your Uncle Theodore called her last night. We don’t know exactly how long you may be with your grandmother this summer, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know.”

As soon as “we” know. Tiffany was always talking like they were married.

Heading toward Tiffany’s car, Zera thought, I don’t know what’s going on, but I couldn’t care less right now. Getting back home is good and I’m going to see Nonny!

Tiffany, sashaying directly in front of her, wore the pink shirt she had on at breakfast, accompanied with a tight black skirt, black leather flats, and a faux leopard-skin purse. A pink silk scarf covered most of her hair, and, to complete the weird 1950s-era movie star look, she put on a pair of cat-eyed sunglasses.

“Did you bring my plants?” Zera asked The Toad as they neared the convertible.

“Of course he did.” Tiffany turned around to face Zera. “It would have been very inconvenient for us to find someone to take care of them as we’ll both be out of town. We’ve had to do a lot this morning, Zera. I had to make at least a dozen calls just to get my work responsibilities in order!” She turned to The Toad. “I just thought of something else we’ll have to figure out. Moving your things.” She laughed. “Though you’ll certainly be able to afford to replace most everything.”

“Can I see them?” asked Zera.

Tiffany tossed her keys to The Toad. He caught them for a moment in one large warty hand, before fumbling and dropping them.

“It’s the round one, right?” he asked, picking them up.

“Yes, Teddy.”

He unlocked the trunk. It was filled with suitcases; two black ones that belonged to her uncle, her red plaid suitcase, and several large leopard-print ones, Tiffany’s. Stuck in a corner was a cardboard box filled with plants. Sunny sat secure in her terrarium, in the middle of them all, cushioned by a thick towel.

Zera peeked into the terrarium and saw that one of Sunny’s beautiful traps was brown. It looked burnt. She gritted her teeth at the sight. “What happened to her?”

Theodore leaned over to look, his expression puzzled. “Goodness. How did that . . .? Oh no.” He turned to her, looking a bit pale. “It was me, Zera. After packing, but before loading the car, we were having lunch and I put very tiny piece of burg-fry in one of the traps. It must have been too much protein, and it burned it. I’m sorry.”

Zera felt her face go hot with anger. It was bad enough that Tiffany had no doubt rummaged through her drawers, throwing her things into a suitcase, and probably making faces of disgust as she went through her clothes. Now this. The Toad poisoned Sunny. She glared at her uncle but almost instantly regretted it. He looked almost sick himself. The anger subsided. She’ll recover.

The realization that she was going to see Nonny surfaced again. I need to focus on how happy I am to be getting out of here. The Toad must have been the one who had carefully packed the plants, and he’d done a good job of that. They were all cushioned, secure. She let her anger go and it sailed away like a dandelion seed on a breeze.

“Accidents happen, I guess,” she said. “Could I have them in the back with me?”

“There’s no way you’re setting that cardboard box on my upholstery.” Tiffany strolled over to the trunk and, with a bit more force than necessary, slammed it shut.

With Tiffany in the driver’s seat, the trio headed west.



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.

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