Cant I talk about how handsome my boy is? Nana said over her shoulder. Is that some kind of unlawful act?
She walked out of sight. I looked outside a second time and saw the teal minivan drifting past the dome again. This time it slowed down and idled for a moment in the street. The glass on the windshield was tinted, so I couldnt view any of the passengers inside. It lurched forward and docked in our semicircular drive.
I stood up and tucked in my shirt. I forced myself to start thinking about a sale in the gift shop. Nana was right; it would probably have to be a photo. But maybe a Bucky Ball would do. The Bucky Balls were glow-in-the-dark plastic dome balls that you could kick or throw or hang from a ceiling. They retailed at $29.95. But the framed photographs were fifty dollars even, and they featured our dome, lit up from the inside against a scene of night woods. Nana took this photo herself, and if you looked closely at it, you could see my tube-socked foot coming out of a bedroom closet. I had been hiding in there to stay out of the way, but my sock had lurked out at the exact moment of the fl ash. No customers ever saw it, though, unless I pointed it out.
I was not allowed to point it out.
I was not allowed to say much of anything to the visitors, really. Aside from the fragments of conversation I employed for my sales tactics, I was supposed to remain a silent operative. Most of the time this was painless enough; the people from town were often loud and very intent on telling me jokes I didnt understand. But every once in while, I could hardly contain my impulse to speak up to a boy or girl my age. Someone like me who was also so very much not like me. Those were the moments I could feel my credo slipping to the back of my mind, and something else taking over.
Outside, the drivers-side door of the van opened and a short middle-aged woman stepped out in high-heeled shoes and brown kneesocks. She had fl ushed cheeks and large eyes, and she wore a long tan wool coat with a cyan scarf wrapped around her neck at least three times. Her black hair was tied in a braid. She peered up at the dome, a hand at her forehead like a scouts. Then, turning on a dime, she walked over to the back door of the van and slid it open.
She leaned in and a pale hand took hers. Then she gave a quick tug and a ghostly teenager emerged from the van dressed completely in black.
He wore a leather jacket with straps, buckles, and snapped epaulets. And under the jacket there was a T-shirt made to resemble the front of a tuxedo. He had skinny black jeans and frayed canvas sneakers. He was even thinner than I was and wore squarish glasses. A thick lock of uncombed dark hair hung over the top of the frames like a dirty wave. Tiny headphones were buried in his ears.
He kneeled for a moment on the concrete of the driveway, retying a broken shoelace, a deep scowl on his face, then sprang up and followed the woman, who was already plodding toward our door. I walked outside to my station at the gift stand. The woman clacked up the drive and smiled at me through the little open window in my stand. She paused a moment, then stuck a pink hand right inside.
Janice Whitcomb, she said.
I shook the hand.
Sebastian, I said. Welcome to the future.
Janice smiled politely. Thats my son, Jared, she said. The boy stood behind her, adjusting the volume control on a music player of some kind. He looked even smaller and frailer up close. His jacket hung on him like a leather poncho.
Dont bother speaking to him, she said quickly. Hes mad at me, so hes playing his music. He stays inside too much since he got out of the hospital, so I thought Id get him outside in the elements today. I dont think hes pleased.
Excerpted from House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Bognanni. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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