"In fact," Leilani continued, "old Sinsemilla that's my mother is a little nuts, period."
"Sinsemilla? That's a . . ."
"Type of marijuana. Maybe she was Cindy Sue or Barbara way back in the Jurassic period, but she's called herself Sinsemilla as long as I've known her." Leilani settled into a hideous orange-and-blue chair as decrepit as Micky's bile-green lounge. "This lawn furniture sucks."
"Someone gave it to Aunt Geneva for nothing."
"She ought to've been paid to take it. Anyway, they put old Sinsemilla in an institution once and shot like fifty or a hundred thousand volts of electricity through her brain, but it didn't help."
"You shouldn't make up stuff like that about your own mother."
Leilani shrugged. "It's the truth. I couldn't make up anything as weird as what is. In fact, they blasted her brain several times. Probably, if they'd done it just once more, old Sinsemilla would've developed a taste for electricity. Now she'd be sticking her finger in a socket about ten times a day. She's an addictive personality, but she means well."
Although the sky was a furnace grate, although Micky was slick with coconut-scented lotion and sweat, she'd grown all but oblivious of the sun. "How old are you, kid?"
"Nine. But I'm precocious. What's your name?"
"That's a name for a boy or a mouse. So it's probably Michelle. Most women your age are named Michelle or Heather or Courtney."
"No offense intended."
Leilani wrinkled her nose. "Too precious."
"No wonder you're suicidal."
Micky cocked her head and frowned skeptically. "I'm not sure I should believe anything you tell me."
"Sometimes names are destiny. Look at you. Two pretty names, and you're as gorgeous as a model except for all the sweat and your face puffy with a hangover."
"Thanks. I guess."
"Me, on the other hand I've got one pretty name followed by a clinker like Klonk. Half of me is sort of pretty "
"You're very pretty," Micky assured her.
This was true. Golden hair. Eyes as blue as gentian petals. The clarity of Leilani's features promised that hers was not the transient beauty of childhood, but an enduring quality.
"Half of me," Leilani conceded, "might turn heads one day, but that's balanced by the fact that I'm a mutant."
"You're not a mutant."
The girl stamped her left foot on the ground, causing the leg brace to rattle softly. She raised her left hand, which proved to be deformed: The little finger and the ring finger were fused into a single misshapen digit that was connected by a thick web of tissue to a gnarled and stubby middle finger.
Until now, Micky hadn't noticed this deformity. "Everyone's got imperfections," she said.
"This isn't like having a big schnoz. I'm either a mutant or a cripple, and I refuse to be a cripple. People pity cripples, but they're afraid of mutants."
"You want people to be afraid of you?"
"Fear implies respect," Leilani said.
"So far, you're not registering high on my terror meter."
"Give me time. You've got a great body."
Disconcerted to hear such a thing from a child, Micky covered her discomfort with self-deprecation: "Yeah, well, by nature I'm a huge pudding. I've got to work hard to stay like this."
"No you don't. You were born perfect, and you've got one of those metabolisms tuned like a space-shuttle gyroscope. You could eat half a cow and drink a keg of beer every day, and your butt would actually tighten up a notch."
Excerpted from One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz Copyright 2001 by Dean Koontz. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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