"Hey, there's a kid in here!"
"What? Let me see." A second face pressed against the window. She had black hair and olive skin like Celia. "Open the window, kid. What's your name?"
But Matt was so terrified, he couldn't squeeze out a single word.
"Maybe he's an idiot," the girl said matter-of-factly. "Hey, are you an idiot?"
Matt shook his head. The girl laughed.
"I know who lives here," the boy said suddenly. "I recognize that picture on the table."
Matt remembered the portrait Celia had given him on his last birthday.
"It's the fat old cook -- what's her name?" the boy said. "Anyhow, she doesn't stay with the rest of the servants. This must be her hangout. I didn't know she had a kid."
"Or a husband," the girl remarked.
"Oh, yeah. That explains a lot. I wonder if Father knows. I'll have to ask him."
"You will not!" the girl cried. "You'll get her into trouble."
"Hey, this is my family's ranch, and my father told me to keep an eye on things. You're only visiting."
"It doesn't matter. My dada says servants have a right to privacy, and he's a United States senator, so his opinion is worth more."
"Your dada changes his opinions more often than his socks," the boy said.
What the girl replied to this, Matt couldn't hear. The children were moving away from the house, and he could make out only the indignant tone of her voice. He was shivering all over, as though he'd just met one of the monsters Celia told him haunted the world outside, the chupacabras maybe. The chupacabras sucked your blood and left you to dry like an old cantaloupe skin. Things were happening too fast.
But he had liked the girl.
The rest of that day Matt was swept by both fear and joy. He had been warned by Celia never, never to show himself at the window. If someone came, he was to hide himself. But the children had been such a wonderful surprise, he couldn't help running to see them. They were older than he. How much older Matt couldn't tell. They were definitely not adults, though, and they didn't seem dangerous. Still, Celia would be furious if she found out. Matt decided not to tell her.
That night she brought him a coloring book the children had thrown away in the Big House. Only half of it had been used, so Matt spent a pleasant half hour before dinner using the stubby crayons Celia had brought on other occasions. The smell of fried cheese and onions drifted out of the kitchen, and Matt knew she was cooking Aztláno food. This was a special treat. Celia was usually so tired when she returned home, she only heated up leftovers.
He colored in an entire meadow with green. His crayon was almost gone, and he had to hold it carefully to use it at all. The green made him feel happy. If only he could look out on such a meadow instead of the blinding white poppies. He was certain grass would be as soft as a bed and smell like rain.
"Very nice, chico," said Celia, looking over his shoulder.
The last fragment of crayon fell apart in Matt's fingers.
"¡Qué lástima! I'll see if I can find more in the Big House. Those kids're so rich, they wouldn't notice if I took the whole darn box." Celia sighed. "I'll only take a few, though. The mouse is safest when she doesn't leave footprints on the butter."
They had quesadillas and enchiladas for dinner. The food sat heavily in Matt's stomach.
"Mamá," he said without thinking, "tell me again about the kids in the Big House."
"Don't call me 'Mamá,'" snapped Celia.
"Sorry," said Matt. The word had slipped out. Celia had told him long ago that she wasn't his real mother. The children on TV had mamás, though, and Matt had fallen into the habit of thinking of Celia that way.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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