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Cast Of Thousands, Chapter 4

Jessie stroked the petals of a yellow daisy, smoothing them along the grain.

Each petal, upon closer inspection, boasted a sleek coat of tiny transparent hairs that made it shine. She smelled them, and admired them, and tasted one, thoughtfully. It tasted slightly of rubber, and mostly of juicy fields and sun. The flavor of it made her want to leap to her feet and gallop around the yard pretending to be a horse, but the newfound self-consciousness of junior high school held her back.

She began to make a list. The heroine of her current favorite novels, Anastasia Krupnik, always made lists.

1. I have the best moms ever.

2. All my regular friends like them.

3. Some of them wish they could have 2 moms too.

4. Marcy is dumb.

She chewed on a blade of grass and mentally changed "dumb" to "ignorant." Grownups were always telling her that people were only mean out of ignorance.

5. Marcy likes me when I'm at school so it can't be me that made her run away. I think. Maybe I could go to her house instead. But maybe she thinks I'm tainted now or something. Maybe she thinks I'm a lesbian just cause my moms are lesbians! That's what people always think in movies and books so they say lesbians shouldn't adopt or whatever...

Miles of neat blue denim intruded on her vision. Jessica refocused outward and saw jeans: Marcy's jeans.

Jess looked up. Marcy was standing in front of her, balanced on one leg, egretly. "Um, hi," she said, rubbing the toe of her tennis shoe against her calf abstractedly. "Um, my mom says she doesn't really have anything for me to do so I can come back here."

"Really?" Jess said. She meant it to be conversational, but it came out blunt.

Marcy blushed. "No, she made me come back. She said I was freaking out over nothing and I had to either be here or go to my dad's house cause she was painting the living room and I'd just be in the way."

"You'd rather be here than be with your dad?" Jess was amazed.

"Well... he has a new girlfriend and stuff." Marcy lowered her foot and planted it in the grass. "So... you wanna go for a bike ride?"

Jess leapt up, scattering leaves and blades of grass everywhere. "Sure! Just let me go tell my moms."

She burst into the kitchen where Joyce and Kelly were still bickering. "Momomms, I'm going for a bike ride with Marcy I'll wear my helmet I'll be back by dinner we won't cross any busy streets I won't take candy from strangers can I go?"

"Sure," Kelly said amiably, raising her eyebrows at Joy. "Just wear y-- oh. Yeah, have fun." She shot her wife a look that said, "Kids!"

Marcy turned in the direction of the bird sanctuary, the same way Jess had wanted to go. She followed happily, and pulled to a stop at the base of the deck. Marcy pulled her helmet off and walked her bike, watching the ducks paddle. "Have you ever been here before?"

"Yeah, Mom and Moms used to bring me here all the time when I was little."

Jess winced, afraid she had scared Marcy off again with that, but Marcy only said, "I really like it here. I used to come down here all the time before my brother died."

"I didn't know... you had a brother." She carefully stared at the ducks instead of looking at her friend.

"Yeah." Marcy glanced at her and then looked off in the same direction. "It's not a big deal. It was a long time ago. I mean, I still miss him, just... now it feels okay to miss him here."

They watched an egret pick its stately way through the water.

"I'm sorry I kind of freaked out before," Marcy added, not taking her eyes off the bird. "I don't know what my problem was."

Jess reached over and squeezed her hand. "It's okay."

A small crowd of shiny emerald-blue dragonflies hovered over the water, relishing the several inches it had risen since summer. The girls watched in companionable silence.

"Think we should head back?" Marcy ventured.

"Yeah. Hey, you can come up to my room and see the zine I made!"

"Wow, really? By yourself? Do you sell it places? What's it about?"

Jess giggled. "All will be revealed in due time," she said fancily, and wheeled her bike back around to the path.

They rode quickly, for clouds had slowly risen to cover the sky, darkening the already-low sun.

"It will be nice when we're in high school," Marcy sighed as they biked past Davis Senior High.

Jess laughed. "We just started at Emerson!"

"Yeah," Marcy mused, "but the high school kids get all the cool stuff. I mean, they have a big drama club that goes on field trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and all these music groups like Jazz Choir and Jazz Band and the Madrigals and the Orchestra, and Acme Theater Company, AND all of Ms. Bruch's millions of regular school plays...." She sighed happily.

"Wow. Do you, like, play an instrument or something?"

"Yeah, I played the clarinet when I was in third and fourth grade, but I really wanna dance and be in plays and stuff."

"Well, we have that stuff too!" Jess turned up into her driveway. "Are you going to try out for Guys and Dolls?"

"Yeah! Of course. But I'm kind of scared of Ms. Neu. Like, she does the music part. Maybe I can find a part that's just acting."

"It'll be okay," Jess said encouragingly. "Maybe we could even try out together if you wanted some support."

"Yeah, that might be fun," Marcy said, suddenly shy.

They locked their bicycles up in the garage and went in through the small plant-lined kitchen. Dorian looked up from a stereo she was trying to fix. "Hey, kids, back so soon?" she chirped.

"Yeah, it's only been four or five hours," Jess snorted.

"My, how time flies," Dorian shot back without missing a beat. "So where did you two go?"

Jess glanced at Marcy, who hung back, embarrassed. "Oh, here and there. The taqueria, the park, the bird sanctuary."

Missy strolled in and sniffed industriously at Jess and Marcy's legs. Marcy bent and held out a hand for her approval, which Missy nuzzled industriously.

"You can pick her up if you want," Jess said generously. "She's really friendly."

Marcy bent and picked Missy up. The cat propped two paws on her shoulder and looked around. "Aww, she's nice," Marcy said softly, burying her face in the cat's fur. "She smells like a big grassy field or something."

At that moment, Missy let out a loud, long fart. Marcy dropped her in horror. Missy walked away unconcernedly and sat down a few steps away to wash herself, while Jess and Dorian shrieked with laughter.

"I bet - I bet she smells like a big old grassy field full of COWPATS now!" Jessie gasped, clutching her stomach.

Marcy finally started laughing too. "I can't believe that came out of your CAT!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, she does it all the time. We should have warned you - she's known as Count Fartula around these parts," Dorian explained airily. She wiped off the table and slung the dishtowel over one shoulder, pretending to be a barista. "So what'll it be, girls - half-caf mochaccino? Triple shot latte with extra foam? Organic soy cappuccino with nutmeg and a squirt of syrup?"

"Don't you serve any decaf beverages in this joint?" Jessie giggled. Dorian pretended to look. "Well, we might have a little old mop water left in the bucket. I'll have to see."

"I'll take that," Jessie said promptly.

"I'll take a four-shot latte with fair trade dark roast beans and two shakes of cinnamon, and make it snappy because my SUV is double-parked," Marcy said daringly.

Dorian looked at her with respect. "One glass of mop water and one dark-four-cap coming right up." She set two glasses of hot chocolate down in front of them.

Marcy sipped hers and pronounced it yummy. Jessie remarked, "Mine could use a little more floor wax. And are there any little marshmallows?"

Her Moms dropped a bag in front of her. "I like the massive ones myself, but to each their own. So Marcy, what do your parents do?"

"My mom is a real estate agent and my dad is sort of an actor. He has some different real jobs but mostly he does things with the Woodland Opera House and places."

"I didn't know that," Jess said with interest. "Is that why you're so interested in plays and things?"

"Yeah, kind of. Except mostly I just like doing plays. I did Acme's summer plays, you know, the Awkward Stage ones for kids, this year. It was really cool." She dumped a handful of mini marshmallows in her cup. "Except that I didn't get the part I wanted, cause I told them I wanted it and I think they were trying to teach me a lesson or something. And then I was complaining about how boring my part was to someone and I found out that she wrote the whole play."

"Oh my god!" Jess almost inhaled a marshmallow. "You're kidding!"

"Nope. I guess the people in the high school who direct the plays also write them a lot of the time. They just seem so OLD and there are so many of them and it's confusing!"

"Still, it's a good place to start out," Dorian said comfortingly. "So, does the acting shtick pay around here, or is your mom the big breadwinner of the family?"

"Well, my parents are divorced," Marcy explained. "So it doesn't really work that way."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I know that can be really hard on kids. Are you the only one?"

Jessica burned with embarrassment, but Marcy just said, "No, that's kind of why my parents broke up. My older brother died of leukemia when I was like seven. My parents couldn't really keep it together after that." She poked a marshmallow with her finger and watched it bob back up.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Dorian said again, more sadly.

Marcy shrugged. "They both blamed themselves but they had all these huge fights where they blamed each other. It's the oldest story in the book," she added, sounding ridiculously like someone's grandmother. "Besides cheating. At least, that's what my therapist says." She poked a few more marshmallows.

They drank cocoa for a few more minutes until Jess finally couldn't stand the silence anymore and bounced up. "Do you want to look at my zines now?"

"Sure," Marcy said with relief, downing the last of her chocolate and setting the cup in the sink. "Thanks for the hot chocolate, Jessie's mom, I mean, uh...." She blushed in agony. "I mean, not that you are Jessie's only mom or like you don't have your own name or anything, I mean, I didn't mean to say...."

"You can call me Dorian," she said cheerfully. "And her other mom is Joyce. And we would love to have you stay for dinner if it's okay with your mom-" it was her turn to blush- "or whoever you live with."

"My mom. I'll call her and ask," and she ran up the stairs after Jessie.

Next: Davis Bookstore Reviews. Previously: O.K. Corral.

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