Frida blamed Sandy for planting in her mind the notion that a family was a good idea. Not only that it could happen, but that it should. On one of their long foraging walks, Sandy had asked, "Who else will look after you in your old age?" as if it were assumed that Frida and Cal would live long enough to have that problem. Sandy believed strongly that the world wasn't going anywhere. The country was wrecked, yes, but something else, something better, something beautiful, was bound to replace it. Many times she had swept an arm through the air in front of her and said, "Look at what my children will inherit!" It wasn't hard to be seduced by Sandy Miller.
Frida had first met her down by the creek, which was only about a fifteen-minute hike from the shed. The walk was almost always pleasant; in the spring, Cal had pointed out the baby blue eyes and, in the summer, the clarkias. When she was alone, Frida would keep her eyes out for snakes, listen closely for other animals that might be hidden by the trees. That first summer, a porcupine had walked into her path, quills up, and Frida sucked in her breath and turned around, ran back to the shed crying like a kid. She imagined coming upon a bigger, more dangerous animal, being eaten alive. Cal said she shouldn't worry, but he didn't call her crazy, either. They were in the wild, after all, and anything could happento think they could control their surroundings was foolish.
It had taken two weeks for Frida to find the bravery to venture into the forest by herself again. When she did, she was vigilant as a hunter and proud of herself for not turning back at every unknown rustle in the foliage. It only took two solo treks for her to get comfortable again. The green world filled her head and cleared it.
But on the day she met Sandy, their first summer out here was quickly turning into fall, and Frida's initial panic about their isolation had been replaced with a low hum of hopelessness. She barely saw the world around her. Not even five months into the afterlife, and she had turned to chores as a way to cope.
That day she was headed to the creek to wash some clothes. She pushed through the cattails to get to the edge of the water, the canvas bag of laundry bouncing over her shoulder. She should feel like a buffalo, she thought, heading to the water to drink. Instead, she was channeling a cartoon bandit or Santa Claus. As she stepped onto the muddy patch where she would do her soaking and wringing, something moved in the brush a few feet away. She froze. Between the grasses, a flash of corn silk. Barbie hair, Frida thought.
A very small boy popped up from the ground, and she let out a cry. She knew he was real because of the details she couldn't have made up: hair so blond it was almost white. The small scratches and bug bites on his arms and legs. Freckles all over his face, except his eyelids, which were as white as his hair. The man's T-shirt he wore like a dress, which read official pussy inspector. That made her laugh, and she glanced at his feet, which were bare, calloused into hooves.
"Don't be alarmed!" a female voice called out.
Frida looked up, and across the creek stood a woman, almost as blond as the boy. She was tall and thin and wore overalls. It didn't look like she had on a shirt, but it couldn't have matteredshe looked as flat chested as a ballet dancer. A girl, older than the boy, with long brown hair, hid behind her mother's legs. She was wearing what looked like a burlap sack, sewn into a jumper.
"I come in peace," Frida yelled. What was this, some terrible alien flick? She started again. "Who are you?" All at once, she felt electric. They weren't alone!
Frida turned to the boy again and smiled. He widened his eyes, as if he, too, couldn't believe there was someone else to talk to. Later, Frida would learn that this was the way Garrett showed his pleasure.
Excerpted from California by Edan Lepucki. Copyright © 2014 by Edan Lepucki. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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