Chapter 10 – Boys Will Be Boys Rough Draft

(This is my favorite scene in the book. Enjoy the rough draft!)

The next day after Ian returned from school (a day of limited bullying, fortunately), he told me something I had suspected for a while: Aaron and Chris were both dying to see me again. Somehow, they had resisted telling Ian’s aunt and uncle why they wanted to visit Ian so badly. At least, Ian was fairly certain they had kept their mouths shut. It had been Catherine that had told them to hold off coming over so as not to frighten and exhaust me. When I learned this, I told Catherine at dinner that although it did make me a bit nervous, I wouldn’t mind having them say hello.

I don’t know what I expected.

The very next morning, I sat quietly reading something on Ian’s phone early in the morning when I heard a horrifying stampede. Before I could even wonder who or what had entered the front door of the house, the guest room door burst open and gave me a heart attack.

“Hi little boy!”

Then, before I could even think about retreating, a blond-haired monster with bright blue eyes barreled into the room. He didn’t even stop beside me. The blue-tan-ivory boulder crashed upon the mattress, sending me into the air. I came back down with a thud, and while not painful, the shock of the giant yatvi flattened my confidence. He sat cross-legged in front of me, immediately placing his head in his hands and excitedly eyeing me. He’d probably removed his shoes at the front door, and the nausea of bare human boy crashed upon me like a wave.

“Chris!” shouted Ian’s voice as he entered the room. “What are you doing! I told you not to hurt Lenn!”

“I didn’t!”

Ian came and knelt in front of the bed at my side, and another familiar face met mine: Aaron, the red-haired and freckled cousin.

“Hi Lenn,” he said brightly with a quick wave.

Vah sulm, Lenn?” Ian asked.

I have to admit, I was more than a little shaky. I stared at all three ka yatvi staring back at me, and cleared my throat.

“Uh, s-sia, sulmtol…” I whimpered. “Hello Aaron, hi Chris.”

“What are you talking?” Chris asked. “What’s shumptol?”

“It’s Lenn’s language,” Ian said. “He’s been teaching it to me. He said ‘really good’. I don’t think he means it, though.”

“Sure I do,” I replied quietly, rubbing an arm.

“You can talk,” Aaron said, resting his arms on the bed. “Chris and me were really worried you would die. But I knew Uncle James would fix you right up.”

Codahke, Aaron,” I said. “I can’t imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t found me. How did you find me? Why were you playing near the river that day anyway?”

“It’s a shortcut to the park,” he said. “It’s not far from our house, and we go that way a lot. We don’t tell Mom about it, though, she’d yell at us. She doesn’t want us to drown, I guess.”

“Say that shumptol word again,” Chris said. “I wanna learn it too.”

“Shulm… tol,” Ian said slowly.

“Shoom… tool?”

“Shoo-el-mm tol.”

“Shool-hmm tole?” Chris rolled the sounds around in his mouth. “That’s hard to say.”

“Not really,” Aaron said. “Shulm-toll.”

“It is for me. Shoolm-tool.”

I laughed.

“I’ve taught a lot of kids how to speak English. But I’ve never taught yatvi how to speak Yatnasi.

I got blank stares from the young cousins.

Yatvi means human,” Ian explained. “And Yatnasi is his language.”

“So what’s he called?” Aaron asked, pointing at me. “He’s not a human, right? He’s way too small.”

“What’s the word?” Ian asked again, snapping his fingers. “Yat…? Sorry Lenn, I can never remember.”

Yatili.

“Right, yatili.

Chris leaned towards me, tilting his head like a puppy dog.

“You say English words funny,” he said with a laugh.

“Hey, that’s not nice,” Aaron said, shoving his younger brother’s shoulder playfully. “That’s just his accent. I think it’s cool.”

“Can I pick you up?” Chris asked, thrusting his hands forwards. My eyes nearly bulged out of my head. Fortunately, Aaron and Ian quickly shoved Chris’s hands back down.

“No no no…” Ian stammered.

“Stop, stop!” Aaron agreed out loud. “He’s not an animal. He’s a person. You can’t just grab him.”

“But I asked him first! And I wasn’t just gonna grab him! How come Ian can pick him up and not me?”

“Because you’re not responsible like him.”

“Nuh-uh! I am ‘sponsible!”

I shook myself out of my fear.

“Ian? Can you help me up?”

“Oh, uh-huh.”

Holding out his hand, I leaned against it and grunted myself to my feet. My bad knee immediately bent backwards, and I winced at the discomfort. I snapped it back into a straight position.

“Whoa…” Aaron exclaimed.

“Ah!” Chris shouted. “Did you break your leg?”

“No, guys! It’s just-”

“Ian, Ian,” I said, patting his finger. “Let them ask questions, it’s okay. I was very sick as a child and it made my leg this way. Ian and James call it ‘polio’.”

“Oh. I’ve heard of that,” Aaron said. “Does it hurt? Your leg, I mean? Can you walk on it?”

“It only hurts if I bend it too far back. It’s a bit difficult to walk on, but I’ll soon be okay enough to use crutches to get around.”

“What’s a polio?” Chris asked.

“It’s a virus that can paralyze and kill people,” Ian said. “Especially kids. It’s really scary, but humans don’t get it anymore because of vaccines you get as a baby. Lenn’s people still get it, I guess.”

“Did I get a vaccine so I won’t get it?”

“I’m sure you did.”

“That’s good. I like my legs straight.”

“I’ll bet you run really fast on them,” I said. “Faster than me!”

“Yup!” he said proudly.

“Well,” I coughed, carefully stepping out of my blanket nest towards the boy sitting before me. “Might as well get this over with.”

“What?”

I stopped a half-foot from Chris’s folded legs. This young boy may have been the smallest yatvi I’d ever seen, but he still sat over me like a thick tree trunk.

“Chris, I’m going to trust you. Lift me up.”

“Lenn, are you sure?” Ian asked.

“I’m sure. So long as Chris promises to be careful.”

“I will, really,” Chris responded.

Despite the promise, Chris’s hands descended and monstrously closed in around me.

“Wait, wait…” I said, grabbing his hands as they approached, pulling the delicate fingers downwards. “Hold on, don’t take me all at once, you don’t want to make my wound worse. Hold me down here instead.”

I placed my hands on my hips, and Chris obeyed. His hands were cool and clammy to the touch, not to mention considerably smaller than Ian’s. They took my waist a bit tightly, and I soon felt my feet part from the bed, rising up to his eye level.

For a moment, he examined me. And when I say he examined me, I mean he brought me very close to his face and stared. His eyes darted across my features like a pair of bright-blue plates, and his long eyelashes blinked up and down like waving sails. He even went so far as to slightly rotate me side-to-side as if testing the gravity of my limbs, which swung heavy and loose.

“Wow,” he finally said, his breath smelling like a mixture of sugary cereal and toothpaste. “You’re so cool.”

I laughed, reaching a hand outwards. He leaned forwards as if knowing what to do, and I patted him on the forehead.

“I’m not that interesting, really. I don’t think I’ve ever been called ‘cool’. Except maybe by Ian. Serdi.

He tilted his head.

“What’s ‘shur-dee’ mean?”

“It means ‘thank you’.”

“Oh. What’s ‘you’re welcome’?”

Serdia.

“Hmm.” He made a goofy face. “Shur-dee-ah!”

“Very good. Sulmtol!

I felt a finger tap my shoulder.

“Where do you come from, Lenn?” Aaron asked. He chortled. “You’re not an alien from another planet, are you?”

“Oh, come on,” Ian moaned.

“Turn me around, would you Chris?”

“Oh, yeah.”

The fingers rotated me to face the two older boys with interesting dexterity. I placed my hands on the edges of Chris’s own.

“No, I’m not… what did you say? An ay-lin? What is that?”

“Alien. It’s a scary person thing that comes from outer space.”

“Scary?” I shrugged. “I’m not scary, am I? What’s outer space?”

“Up past the atmosphere.”

“Like, above the clouds?”

“Yup, way above the clouds,” Aaron said, showing the distance with his hands. “Up in the stars.”

“Like the star war? I sure don’t come from there.”

Ian shoved Aaron sideways.

“Besides, aliens are green, with huge heads and great big eyes.” He widened his eyelids with his fingers. “Does he look green to you?”

“Whatever, you don’t know what an alien looks like, nobody does! If he is an alien, maybe he’s got a hidden spaceship somewhere. We should go search for it!” Aaron then grinned wildly. “What if he goes up during the middle of the night and abducts cows? Or shrinks them with a laser beam? That would be awesome!”

I burst out into laughter, as did the cousins.

“What, cows? What would I do with a cow? You kañi are so strange!”

“Kahn-yee?” asked a young voice behind me.

“It means ‘little boys’.”

“I’m not a ‘little boy’. I am great-big to you,” Chris said with a giggle, and I felt a pair of great thumbs press me forwards and massage the middle of my back.

“Hey! I am too, you know,” Aaron said.

I locked eyes with Ian and saw a grin on his face.

“We already talked about this, Lenn. Remember?”

I wobbled my head.

“Okay, fine. But I’m still older than all of you. How old are the two of you?”

“I’m nine and a half,” Aaron said.

Swift as a bird, Chris placed me onto the surface of the bed. My stomach leaped into my throat as I landed.

“I’m almost six,” he announced, revealing why he’d let me down: he held up five fingers in one hand, and a bent index finger on the other that showed just how close his birthday was. Then, as quickly as he’d placed me down, he picked me right back up again, his hands grasping me too far up my chest.

“Chris, you can’t just put him up and down like that. Be careful, please,” Ian said.

“Down on my hips, remember?” I said, grunting. “You’re getting a little too close to my bandages.”

“Sorry,” he whispered, leaning me back and laying out my prone body horizontal trying to follow my instructions. My legs hung limp, and my arms did the same between his thumbs.

“That’s not a good way to do it,” Ian said, and I heard the bed heave under pressure as he reached for me.

“No, I can do it, I can,” Chris said.

Chris then flipped me back vertically, and wrapped his hands back onto my hips… trapping my arms at my sides.

“Guh,” I heaved as the young boy’s hands rotated me forwards, the edges of his bony skin shoving my stomach inwards.

“Chris, stop,” Aaron said behind me.

“Come on, give him to me, Chris,” demanded Ian.

“No! No, I can do it! Let me hold him!”

In trying to keep me away, Chris yanked me backwards against his chest, and my face rammed into him. Two months ago, I would have been screaming in fear. Instead, the soft collision and this kañi fumbling with my entire body made a mindless laugh burst from my lungs. I had truly gone insane, and I think my laugh shocked them all.

“Ian, Aaron,” I choked. “Wait! I’m fine, I’m fine. Chris, it’s okay. Don’t squeeze too hard, I need to pull my arms out.”

“Oh.”

The tightness faded immediately, and I plucked my arms out from between myself and his moist hands. I then felt myself slip forwards, and I reached out to grab the front of the boy’s shirt.

“Ah, careful Chris! Don’t drop me, please!”

His grip reformed around me properly, and again, Chris lifted me up to his eyes. Instead of excitement, I saw a face of concern and regret.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

“Phew,” I said cheerfully. “No problem.”

“Chris isn’t allowed to pick up the kittens at home,” Aaron laughed. “He plays with them too hard.”

“Nuh-uh! I’m getting better!”

I laughed with a moan.

“That, uh… that would have been good information to have a minute ago.” I patted Chris’s thumbs with both hands and looked up at his round face. “But you did very good, Chris. Sort of.”

He lit up like a candle.

“Yay!” he said with great big nods.

* * * * * *

The rest of that day, I became a merry little captive to the three kañi. From video games and watching funny movies on Ian’s phone to spending time in the backyard (keeping to the shadows of the porch as well as I could), I attempted to remain independent. But, of course, without crutches and practically limping by the late morning, I was carried and traded between all three boys like a pillbug. Catherine watched over all of us (or specifically me) to the point that she joined the boys whenever I was brought out of Ian’s room.

I could tell Ian was doing his best to keep me and Chris separated. Chris carried me around like a doll when it was “his turn” (which Ian begrudgingly allowed), and when he couldn’t, he poked and prodded me with every chance he could get. Aaron, on the other hand, was much more respectful. He was very calm and quiet for his age, mostly keeping his hands to himself. He followed directions much like Ian, but allowed me a bit more “freedom” than Ian preferred; whenever it was his turn to watch me, he let me walk instead of lifting me, and didn’t seem to know when or how to offer help when I stumbled. I didn’t mind all three of them, all things considered. But they certainly critiqued each other about the way I should be treated.

As the clock at Ian’s bedside table read 3 P.M., we spent the time watching an entertaining show on Ian’s television. Or, at least, the television was on; whether anyone was watching was debatable. Aaron sat in the chair, Ian laid on his bed, and Chris laid belly-first on the floor with his head in his hands. Naturally, as I sat on the floor resting my legs from playtime outside, Chris was right before me, and he was more interested in me than the cartoon. Aaron had begun to drift off, and Ian was engrossed on his phone, so I had no one to ‘protect’ me from the youthful and entertaining ka.

“You know,” I said to him as he bobbed his bare feet back and forth behind him. “I teach kids your age how to read and write. Do you have a teacher that does that for you?”

Chris nodded, his fingers dancing under his chin. He sniffed every few seconds as if allergic to something.

“Miss Rodriguez is my teacher. She’s really nice. But I’m not good at reading.”

He said every other word with an ever-so-slight pause, as if wanting to get everything out of his mouth correctly. I always found that endearing with kids his age, even if it annoyed some of the less-patient parents I negotiated with at the village.

“That’s okay,” I said. “It just takes practice. Have you learned how to spell your name?”

“Uh-huh.”

Sulm! That’s a great start.”

“Shul-hmm? What’s that mean?”

“It means ‘good’. Like ‘sulmtol’, remember?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, nodding as if completely understanding.

“What do you like to do at school? What’s your favorite subject?”

“Hmm,” He tapped his finger on his nose. Then he snapped up. “Drawing.”

“Oh, that’s mine too. What do you draw?”

“With crayons,” he answered awkwardly. “I draw dinosaurs and houses and trucks, and all sorts of stuff.”

Sulm,” I said again. Then I frowned. “I’ve read the word ‘dinosaur’ before. What’s it mean? What’s a dinosaur?”

“You don’t know what a dinosaur is?” Chris asked, leaning closer to me.

“Nope, I don’t.”

He spread his arms out as wide as they could go, leaving him breathless against the floor. His fingers nearly hit me on the way up.

“They’re great-big monsters that lived a million-billion years ago. Some of them ate plants, and some of them with big sharp teeth chased other dinosaurs and ate them.”

“A million-billion years ago?” I asked. “How do you know something lived that long ago?”

“Um… people find their bones and dig them up. And then put them in museums. I saw some when I went with Mom.”

“Their bones, huh?”

“They’re called fossils,” Ian added from his bed.

“Yeah, foss-sills,” Chris nodded.

“Interesting. You know, if my people found old bones, we knew it was important to stay away because that meant monsters like wolves and foxes and birds hunted there. If they found us, they would hurt our families and friends, and… and we’d all get very sad.”

Ys yul, those were bad memories. Images of a torn-off arm and blood-stained snow filled my mind, but those were hardly appropriate to share with a five-year old boy. Chris pouted.

“That makes me sad, too. I don’t want monsters to eat my family.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that too much. You’re great-big, remember? Monsters would be afraid of you instead and run away.”

“But I’m not great-big,” Chris admitted, folding his arms on the floor and resting his head on them. “I’m small. I get scared that something will eat me.”

“Like dogs, huh Chris?” Ian said. “Are you still afraid of dogs?”

“Nuh-uh,” he said quickly. “Well… not small dogs. Big dogs are scary.”

“Every dog is big to me, so I’m certainly afraid of them. Cats, too. They’d all rather chew on me.”

Chris nodded.

“But you’re not afraid of big people like me?”

Chris’s fingers floated towards me and took hold of one of my feet. He pulled me towards him, causing me to slide through the thick carpet on my bottom. I don’t know if he correlated his question with his actions, but I certainly made the connection.

“I am… sometimes,” I whispered, pulling back. “Especially if they try to hurt me. I was very afraid of you when you and Ian and Aaron found me.”

“Me?” Chris stopped tugging, satisfied to tap his index finger and thumb around my ankle. “But I’m not scary.”

“You can be. If you picked me up and put me in a cage, I couldn’t get out. If you didn’t help me find food or water, I’d get very hungry and thirsty and sick. If you weren’t careful, you could drop me or step on me. You know?”

These novel ideas floated through Chris’s mind as well as across his pensive expression. His tongue came out of his mouth, licking his upper lip as he thought.

“That wouldn’t be very nice,” he said finally. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“What if you did it on accident?”

He thought again, his hand covering his lips.

“I’d be really careful… and say sorry.”

“That’s a good answer,” I asked. “I’m glad.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, you’re being very nice to me right now. So thank you, Chris. Serdi. You boys have all been very kind to me.”

Chris’s hand approached me (naturally the one he used to cover his tongue-soaked lip) and gently patted me on the head. Unsure of what he planned to do next, I laughed and tried to gently push him away. Instead, he took hold of my arm and bent it up and down like a stick on a hinge. He didn’t even have anything to say about his actions; he simply hummed to himself.

“Hey,” I said, patting his thumb with my other hand. “You’re silly.”

Shoolm, shoolm,” he whispered. “You’re very… um, flex-ee-bull.”

“Well, careful,” I replied. “My shoulder hurts if it moves too much.”

“Oh.”

He let go, but gently squeezed my foot again. Ian must have been watching, or at least listening.

“Chris,” he growled. “Don’t touch Lenn without asking first. You’re gonna hurt him.”

“But I won’t.”

“Hey, Chris,” I called to him, recapturing his attention. “Can you help me up?”

“Uh-huh!”

He rose from his belly and sat upon the floor with his feet tucked beneath him, and reached out his hands to grab me and lift me again.

“Not like that,” I said. “Just give me your hand so I can stand up.”

“Oh. M‘kay.”

He did so, and with some effort, I clambered to my feet. Unable to stop a yawn, I paused for a moment, leaning against the young boy’s open hand.

Serdi, Chris.”

“Um… shoolm?

“Not quite. It’s serdia, remember? ‘You’re welcome’.”

“Yeah, sher-dee-ah.”

“Hey Ian,” I called. Ian’s face quickly appeared over the side of his bed. “Is it okay if I go back to the guest room to sleep?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I heard his phone click off, and he sat up. He bent down to take me in his hands himself, but Chris intercepted him. Powerful kañi hands hauled me into the air and presented me to my not-so-little brother. My head spun, but I said nothing about it.

“Here you go!” Chris said cheerfully.

Ian’s face flashed with annoyance, but he didn’t say anything as he took me by my waist and cradled me against his chest.

Serdi again, Chris,” I said.

“Um… oh yeah, serdia!

“Can you stay here while I take Lenn to bed?” Ian asked.

“Uh-huh,” Chris replied, immediately turning himself and flattening against the carpet to watch the television. Ian rose and stepped over the youngest ka, muttering under his breath something akin to “thank you very much, you little dork”. I laughed, patting Ian’s chest, and he let out an airy guff.

Chapter 23 Rough Draft – Treasures From Trash

After about an hour, the little yatili and the large yatvi came back into the guest room. Aaron and Chris told me that they needed to head home, so they said goodbye and departed. Juni had lost his energy since going to Ian’s room, and soon fell asleep underneath the blanket as Charsi and I researched the map on Ian’s phone for another while.

There wasn’t much detail I could see on the map, even in the simplistic map, that would give us any indication about which direction Elder Ordi might have chosen to lead everyone. Gatherers could travel as much distance as they could carry food and water. But the greater question was if they could escort sixty inexperienced yatili through the wilderness at night with the same resources. So instead of relying solely on the map, I decided to look up some of the different food sources we had relied on up in the hills.

To my absolute pleasure, humans had already done all of the work for me: all I had to do was read and identify. They named them differently than we did. Thornberries to us became thistleberries, the wickedly-sour poisonberry became the pin cherry, and disease roots became black morels. Some of the plants and fruits were poison (as I and the gatherers knew very well), some bloomed only in specific times of the year, and I saw others I had never even seen before. Charsi pointed out the ones she knew, and she tried to explain to me the taste of the fruits and roots she recognized. Unfortunately, she compared them to yatvi foods Eliza had fed her and Juni.

Sorry,” I told her, more often than I wanted. “I haven’t eaten that.

She got frustrated at first. But she laughed when I pointed out one in particular. The page showed a black fruit called a currant. I recognized it immediately. I was taught to call them ‘iketsal yodsi’: ‘long night of stomach pain’. She completely agreed with the name.

A little after meeting Eliza, she fed one to Juni and I. We both had stomach aches all night long. She thought she had poisoned us, that she was going to kill us. She cried the whole time.

What did Xande say?

He wasn’t there… at first. Then he came home. Eliza showed him everything we ate, and he actually laughed at her. He told her we weren’t going to die, but she still stayed home all week to take care of us and make sure.”

I rolled my eyes at Xande, although I admit I probably would have done the same thing.

From then on,” Charsi said. “She always always asked Xande what she should feed us. She asked him so much that it’s a joke now. He doesn’t think it’s funny, but we do.

So she does feed you more than chicken nugglets.

Charsi snorted, covering her nose with her hands in embarrassment. I cracked up immediately.

“Hah!” I leaned to rest on my back. “That got you.

I don’t usually do that,” she said with a sheepish smile, wiping her nose. “Don’t tell Juni. He’ll be obnoxious about it for days.

No promises,” I grinned, making her whine. “Hey, if it’s not too much to ask… How did you and Juni meet? Eliza told us how she met you both, but not much of what happened before that. You weren’t from the same village, were you?

Charsi folded her arms.

No, I’ve never lived in a village. The first time I saw Juni, he… well, he actually saved me from being hit by a tire.”

A tire? What, a car tire?”

I don’t think so. It was a lot bigger than that. A truck tire, or a yatvi machine tire.”

Was it… attached to a yatvi machine?”

Oh,” Charsi said with a chuckle. “No, it was a garbage tire, by itself. Juni and I had been living in a yatvi garbage dump for a long time. We had never seen each other before, though. Big yatvi trucks would drive through and dump off new things, and the pile would have food sometimes. But I got greedy. I didn’t check to see if the truck would come back. By the time it did, I had dug down too deep, and got myself stuck. Juni appeared out of nowhere and pulled me out just as the tire smashed down.”

I shook my head.

Unbelievable. How old were you two?

Maybe… seven,” she said with a shrug. “Juni was probably nine. We lived at the garbage dump for a long time before we ever saw another yatili.

It must have smelled horrible. You didn’t actually live in the dump, did you?

No, outside it. In a gopher den.

I raised an eyebrow at her.

You’re not that small.

Well, Juni dug it out first, just to make sure nothing was home. Technically, it was his home before we shared it.

And where did you live before that?”

Inside a broken metal container. I didn’t live there long, it was the place I had hid when… after my father died.”

Oh,” I said quietly. “I’m sorry.”

It’s okay,” she said, smiling at me. “I miss him, but I think he would be happy to see how big my family is now.”

Literally.”

She nodded with a grin, pulling her hair behind her ear.

My mom died last,” said a voice behind Charsi. I looked over, and there was Juni, staring at the ceiling with his hands resting behind his head. “She told me to be strong, left to find food for us both. She never came back.”

Juni looked our way.

When I found Charsi, she cried every day for a long time. I think you were even afraid of me.

I was,” she admitted. “I was afraid of everything.”

Well,” Juni said with a shrug. “We had plenty of food and water. Some of it was actually pretty good. It was hard to get, though. It was all out in the open, yeah, but there were so many rats and birds I had to fight them off to get anything. Instead, I usually just went for the sealed stuff that didn’t weigh much. Eliza calls it ‘expired food’.”

“Expired?” I asked. “Like, dead?”

Is that what that means?” Juni shrugged again. “Yeah, I guess yatvi call it dead when they don’t think it’s good anymore. I don’t know why they think that. If it’s in a closed bag, it’s good to me.”

Me too,” Charsi said. “Even if it’s warm when it shouldn’t be. Of course, Eliza always tells us ‘expired food’ will make us sick. It never did, though.”

So you two spent, what, a year near a garbage dump, and you never saw another yatili in all that time?

They both shook their heads.

I always thought someone would find us,” Charsi said. “But we never saw anyone. Except Xande, of course.”

I always wished we found someone who could make us both some decent clothes,” Juni said, tugging at his shirt. “It’s not like we were naked or anything. But sometimes all I had was an itchy robe with pieces of plastic…

He pointed to his cuffs, his chest, and his head.

…tied to me as armor. I looked so stupid. It was always really cold and uncomfortable when it rained. Winter was vyshtal ese-”

Juni!” Charsi exclaimed. “No swearing!”

Vaya,” I said quickly, pressing my finger to my lips.

We all looked at Ian’s face for a silent second. His light snoring didn’t change.

Sorry,” they both whispered.

Anyway,” I said, looking directly at Juni. “Continue. And with cleaner words.”

I expected shame from him, but there was none. He chuckled instead.

Right. So we’re crammed inside a gopher hole, right? I’m out searching for food again. It’s in the evening, when there are fewer birds. I was whistling to myself instead of being quiet, which was pretty stupid. I’m digging through a cardboard box when something touches my shoulder. I think to myself, it has to be a bird beak, or a cat tongue, or something else terrible…”

Juni gestured dramatically.

I freak out and dive into the garbage, screaming. I feel something grab my shirt, and it pulls me out. It’s Xande. It was hard for him to cover my mouth and stop me from running out the box with one arm, but I’m glad he did, because right outside the box was two garbage men.”

Why was Xande at the dump?” I asked him. “He wasn’t looking for food, was he?”

Nah,” Juni said. “He was looking for lights. Electric lights. His had gone bad.”

Hmm.”

I told him he could take our lights, since we didn’t need so many. He wanted to leave right away, but I begged him to see Charsi first. He finally listened to me and followed me, and after we shared some food with him, he told us to follow him and that he would find us a home.”

What do you mean, just like that? A yatili home? Or a yatvi home?”

I think he meant yatili at first,” Charsi said. “But when we didn’t find anyone for a long time, I think he changed his mind. It was too dangerous to keep moving. We needed somewhere to live safe, and Xande said he couldn’t keep us that way by himself.”

I scratched my forehead.

That doesn’t sound like him at all. Why Eliza? She told us she was the one who found you.”

She did,” Charsi said with a smile. “Xande’s plan was for us to sit on the kitchen counter for her to find us. But she came home too soon, and we were still on the floor. Xande hid. Juni screamed his head off and ran. I was the only one who stayed put.”

I think you mean I saved you,” Juni insisted. “If I hadn’t tired Eliza out by running away, she might have grabbed you first.”

Sure,” Charsi said with sarcasm.

You didn’t answer my question, though,” I said. “Why Eliza?”

She didn’t own a dog,” Juni said. “Or a cat.”

No, it was more than that. Xande said she was special.”

Special how?”

He found us a place to hide, and he spent a few days studying yatvi in their homes,” Charsi explained. “He didn’t want a home that had kids. Or animals. He said he didn’t mind if the yatvi were married, but he preferred only one yatvi learned about us. And he had to know that the yatvi was a kind person. I don’t know why he thought Eliza was kind. I’ve never really asked him.”

Huh. Well, he was right after all.”

Yes, he was.”

So what was it like meeting her for the first time?”

Do you have to ask?” Juni moaned.

The most frightening thing I’ve ever done,” Charsi said. “Xande had only taught me a little bit of English, and Juni had no idea what she was saying.”

I did too,” Juni responded. “I just didn’t know how to say anything back.” He turned to me, pointing at Charsi. “I don’t get how she learned English so fast. And Xande won’t tell me where he learned English. You know, though. Don’t you? Was it in your village? Who taught him? Was it you?”

I pursed my lips.

No, it was definitely not me. I would like to avoid being punched when I see Xande again, so I don’t think I’ll tell you.”

Juni clucked.

No fun.”

There’s a lot Xande won’t tell us, actually,” Charsi said. “Like about where he goes all the time. He’s a really quiet person. He acts tough in front of Eliza, but… well, I’ve seen him cry when his shoulder hurt. He cried when he talked about Aria too.”

Really…”

I couldn’t imagine him like that. I’d never really seen him in private, though, so I couldn’t have known.

Don’t tell Xande you’re telling Lenn stuff like that, Sisi,” Juni said. “He’ll stop talking to you.”

Charsi waved her hands.

He’s stopped talking to me before. When I ask too much. So I don’t, because I care about him. He lets me help him when he’s not mad at me, so I do my best.”

I frowned.

He wasn’t keeping me a secret,” I said. “He certainly doesn’t care about me enough. And if he told you about Aria and the village, it isn’t that.”

Well, I’m not about to ask him again,” Juni said. “Last time I tried, he wrapped his arm around my neck and laughed at me. Like we were wrestling, like I hadn’t even said anything.”

Charsi and Juni both shifted their eyes towards me.

Don’t look at me,” I told them. “He already wants to kill me. I probably couldn’t even ask the question before he’d tear my leg off and club me with it.”

Juni laughed at me, and Charsi’s nose got all scrunched up.

I never thought there would be someone Xande would actually hurt. And Eliza. He had never pulled out his knife to hurt her before.”

He’s hit me before, but even for him, pulling a knife seemed a little… extreme.”

Do you think,” Charsi asked. “When Aria comes, do you think you could become friends?”

We would be related,” I said, dreading the thought. “But that’s probably it.”

Hmm… Not even talk?”

Ian would have to hold you,” Juni said. “And Eliza would have to hold Xande.”

He held up two fists and made noises as if they were squawking.

And then you could shout and scream until you liked each other!”

I wish it worked that way.”

It’s not how it worked with you and Ian, is it,” Charsi asked. “I can’t imagine being found by all three of those boys at once. I would have died.”

I was too busy actually dying to be scared,” I told her, smiling. “I lost so much blood, it took me at least two weeks to be scared of Ian. And I didn’t even see Chris and Aaron a week after that.”

I pointed at Juni.

How long did it take you to stop being nervous around Eliza?”

Hah,” he said to the ceiling. “Who says I stopped?”

I wasn’t lying when I told Ian that Eliza still scares me,” Charsi said. “Especially if I don’t expect to see her. She can be really quiet when she wants to.”

She doesn’t do it on purpose, does she?”

Just to me,” Juni said quickly. “She’ll wait until she knows it’s just me, and she’ll stomp her feet and shout ‘boo’! I hate it when she does that.”

Ian cares too much about what I think of him,” I said. “When he teases me or scares me on accident, it’s like he regrets it. That I’ll just stop liking him.” I snapped my fingers. “Just like that.”

That’s so weird.” Juni said. “He scared me, but I still like him.”

I shrugged.

That’s what I told him. I must be his brother now because I don’t think he believed me. You’ll have to tell him yourself.” I poked Charsi’s shoulder gently. “Ian really worried about you when Aaron held you. I’m glad he was holding onto me at the same time, or he might have stopped you from trying.”

Charsi watched Ian for a moment.

I never thought in a hundred years I’d ever get to meet human boys. And all three have promised to protect us.”

Still think they’re monsters?” I asked her.

Just a little.”

Meeting human boys, huh?” Juni teased. “You gonna fall in love with one?”

Charsi and I both leered at him.

Eww, what!” Charsi swatted the words away in disgust. “No way, are you crazy?! We’re not even-! No!”

I’ll bet you’re in love with Ian!” he sung. “I’m gonna tell him you said so!”

Charsi scooted herself towards Juni, and in a flash of frustration, smacked her brother’s shoulder. All it made him do was laugh, and he retaliated by poking Charsi in the ribs. Both of them struggled, growled, and laughed. Loudly.

Hey, you two! Keep it down! If you wake Ian up, I’m going to-”

The movement of the hairy head that laid prone upon the pillow next to ours didn’t make a sound. Neither did the bed, not that I remember. I was looking at the two bickering children when I saw Juni’s face go cold. Then Charsi’s turned white as she gasped. I then turned, and not more than four inches away from me floated a scowling blue-green eye. It turned my stomach for a quick second before I recognized the dimple beneath it.

“Ah,” I said, pointing. “Before you say anything, I’ll remind you that you wanted to sleep in here.”

“I was sleeping,” growled the human. “But I guess I’m not anymore.”

My pleasant smile quickly passed on to him, and we both laughed. The great happy eye then passed from me to Eliza’s two troublemakers.

“Hi Charsi, hi Juni,” he whispered. “What’s up?”

Juni recovered faster.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Charsi wants to tell you something!”

Charsi turned and slugged her brother’s arm. It shouldn’t have surprised me that she could, but it surprised me more when Juni took it in stride.

“H-Hi Ian,” she said as she timidly turned. “How are… um, how are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” he replied. “I kept hearing my name. Were you talking about me?”

“Yes!”

Charsi slammed Juni’s mouth shut.

“No, no! Well, I mean, only a little, about, uh… how you’re our friend, and that we’re family now, and not-”

Juni tore her hand off.

“Ian, Charsi said that she lo-”

Charsi slammed both hands over his mouth.

“Hush!” she hissed.

Ian looked at me looking slightly confused but very amused. I just smiled back at him.

“Juni wants Charsi to say that she loves you,” I said, covering my mouth with my hand. “Isn’t that strange?”

Lenn!

I looked back, and saw Charsi’s face turn red. Juni, now freed of his sister’s hands, filled the room with cackling laughter.

“Lenn is on my side!” Juni shouted.

“There aren’t supposed to be sides!” Charsi shouted back, forcing her brother’s head away. She swiveled to face me, slapping the pillow. “Lenn, you’re mean! You can’t just tell Ian things like that!”

“But…” Ian said, immediately playing along. His expression turned to one of feigned sadness. “You don’t love me at all?”

Charsi sat, very visibly stunned.

“No!” she exclaimed. She skipped a beat. “Well, uh, I didn’t… I didn’t mean… Love, like a… like a cousin, and not like…”

Juni cackled all the harder. Ian’s face appeared injured by Charsi’s stammered words.

“You!” She pointed at Ian, then at me. “I… I know what you’re doing! You can’t do what I did! That’s not fair!”

Ian’s dimple returned and he smiled. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s all fair,” I replied. “We’re all family now, so we’re supposed to tease each other!”

“But I don’t like being teased!”

Ian’s hand appeared from beneath his blanket and approached Charsi carefully. She attempted to stop the fingers before they reached her, but they instead took her gently by the hand.

“I know what you mean, Charsi,” he said, sounding tired. “And I’m sorry I scared you when I fought with Lenn. I only wanted to protect you from Aaron. I guess I didn’t do the right thing.”

Her wounded expression turned thoughtful.

“Oh, I…” she whispered back. “I know… and I’m, um, sorry for making you worry. You shouldn’t have to when you’re so hurt.”

Ian smiled as best he could.

“And I love all my cousins. Even Juni.”

Juni’s face scrunched like he’d eaten a whole lemon.

“Ack,” he spit, sticking his tongue out. “Ñeh serdi.

Ian’s fingers released Charsi’s hand and flew straight to Juni. Enveloping all sides of his head, Ian gathered the boy’s long, white-blond hair and lifted it upwards. Juni yelped and shooed Ian’s hand away, smooshing his hair back into place. It got the point across without much effort.

Ñeh! No! Now Ian’s mean!”

“Okay, kañi and kalñi, we get it. We’re all mean,” I sighed with a chuckle. I turned back. “How are you really feeling, Ian?”

“Everything hurts.”

“Bad enough for me to get Catherine?”

“…maybe not yet.” He pulled back to rest upon his own pillow. He then pointed at his phone before bundling his blanket up beneath his chin. “Teach me something. I’ll try not to fall asleep.”

“You sure?”

“Can I tell Ian about how Juni and I met?” Charsi asked.

“Of course,” I replied. “Go right ahead.”

She nearly began, but she caught herself mid-breath.

“Ah, um… how do you say ‘sarefi reasar’ in English again?”

“Garbage dump.”

“Oh yeah. Dump. Right.”

“Dump,” Juni said in English, testing the word. “That sounds funny.”

“What about a garbage dump?” Ian asked.

“Let Charsi tell you,” I said.

Ian nodded, and Charsi began.


“That’s why I was so afraid of you,” Charsi said, now herself laying beneath the edge of the blanket. The room had grown chilly, and even I slid down and sat close to Charsi to warm up beneath it. “Every yatvi I ever saw would have killed me. Or that’s what I thought. I only knew Eliza, and I didn’t want to be scared again like Eliza scared me.”

“I’m sorry, Charsi,” Ian mumbled, laying his head upon the flat bed instead of the pillow. “I didn’t know.”

“And I want to think I’m like Xande,” Juni said. “That I’m big and strong. But… I’m not. Not really.”

I patted Charsi’s back.

“You two are much braver than you think. I never went through anything like that growing up.”

Ian’s eye closed.

“Me neither. I feel like such a loser. I can’t even do simple things like go to school without ending up like… this.”

He placed his hand directly upon his broken cheek, just light enough to feel the pain.

“But you have a mom and dad that love you,” Juni said.

“And you’re a hero,” I added. “All you have to do is look at my scar. You knew just what you had to do to save my life.”

“I’m not a hero.” His eye looked back at me. “If I was, other people would like me.”

“Well, we like you.”

Juni and Charsi agreed.

“You know what I mean, though,” Ian said. “I don’t have any friends. Not even at church. I want to stay home for the rest of my life where people actually care.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” I chuckled. “But you know you can’t do that. You showed me that there’s so much out in the world to learn. What if you go out there, come back, and teach me everything you learn? Then I can teach it to Aria and my child, and Charsi and Juni? Who knows, we might even find other yatili who want to learn too.”

“Yeah!” Juni said. “You could be a teacher like Lenn and teach a whole room of yatili!

Ian gently smiled.

“You think there’s enough of you out there?”

“To fill a room?” I looked at Charsi, and she shrugged. “There has to be.”

“Are we going to learn from you and Ian?” Charsi asked. “Before all that, I mean.”

“You’ll have to ask Eliza,” I said. “I’m not sure what she has in mind. Do you really want to learn from a cripple and a goofy kañi?”

Charsi laughed along with her brother.

“I live with Goofy every day,” she said plainly, throwing her finger towards Juni. “I don’t mind.”

“And I live with kalvalin idi,” Juni replied, pointing back at her. “I’m used to it.”

“Hey!”

“What does that mean?” Ian asked. “’Girl’ something.”

“Smart weird girl,” I said.

“Oh.”

“I’m smart, not weird,” Charsi insisted. “You’re the one who can’t do math.”

Juni slapped the blanket.

“I can too!” He paused just long enough to make everyone doubt. “Well, Eliza just makes it confusing with big numbers!”

“I’m bad at math too,” Ian said. “I hope Lenn knows.”

“Uh,” I said. “I don’t do numbers. Maybe Eliza will be a guest teacher.”