By Kat Franklin and Lynn Flaugh-Reynolds
Sun shone through the wide windows on either side of the break room. Paloá flopped against the couch and sighed. It had been harder than usual, getting the Seedlings down for their naps. They were far too excited to sleep, due to the festivities set for the next evening. The seeds boasted and bragged that they would get to meet the Dirigeant before anyone else. Eventually, their rowdiness got so out of control that she gave up and called down Miss Fuar. Before Miss Fuar had even opened her mouth, they had scrambled into their bed and pulled the covers up to their chins.
Paloá sat up as she heard the click-clack of Miss Fuar’s boots coming down the hall. The woman’s almond eyes shone, and her black hair swept back and forth across her shoulders. Her mentor offered her a rare smile upon arrival; Paloá knew something must be wrong.
“Miss Fuar?” Paloá asked, cringing for the reprimand she expected. She was supposed to be able to handle the children, the Seedlings, on her own. “A problem?”
“Of course not,” Miss Fuar shook her head in contempt. “As soon as those little weeds saw me coming, they stopped their vile rough housing.”
“They aren’t weeds solely for behavioral problems,” Paloá gently reminded her. “They’re only weeds if they don’t pass the development test. Some are just . . . challenging.”
“Quite so,” Miss Fuar agreed. “But the two in question, one of them being your Lakota, were marginally underweight.” Her gaze softened. “Paloá, dear, it’s a fact you have to face. If Lakota doesn’t grow soon, he might not make it.”
Paloá stiffened, shock showing on her face for only a moment before anger set in.
“Miss Fuar,” Paloá kept her voice level low, but her very being was vibrating with anger. “Lakota is going to be just fine. He’s a good kid. The Dirigeant would not let a good kid die.”
“Paloá , I’m sure I’ve told you this before.” Miss Fuar sighed. “But some children aren’t meant for the outside world. If we didn’t give them a humane passing, their small size would make them miserable for a few short years, before they would die an ultimately painful death. Every gardener has to lose one or two seedlings. The first is always the hardest.”
In a rare moment of tenderness, Miss Fuar reached a wrinkled hand for Paloá’s face. Paloá jerked back, staring at the wrinkled hand with a sneer, unconcerned that she had just angered the temperamental Fuar.
“Partridge.” The Fuar’s face darkened, shades of red finding their way into her normal pale complexion. “If you cannot keep yourself composed, then the Arboretum is no place for you to be. I demand you leave until you can calm down and think like a reasonable person. The passing of weeds is a necessary part of life. While it may be unfortunate, there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. Now, I suggest you walk through those doors before I call someone to make you.”
Seething, Paloá forced her legs across the worn red carpet, past the almost imperceptible carpet stains, and through the glass doors that had always made her feel at home. For the first time, she doubted her decision to be a gardener: a caretaker for children until they turned five. It was too late; the decision had been made for her. As the sun hit her eyes, Paloa resolved not to let Lakota become a weed.
It was unfair, in Paloá’s mind, that the world could continue on with its cycle, unconcerned with the things that lived on its surface and under its soil. The landscape seemed to blur and spin together into a mess of colors- blues and greens, with an undertone of red.
“Good Evening,” Paloá tore her gaze away from the unchanging landscape, and turned to the left. A boy crouched in a bush of red flowers, dressed in squeaky yellow rubber boots, garish brown gloves, and a tacky orange dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to show his coffee-colored skin. His hair was pulled into a messy blonde bun at the nape of his neck. His wide brown eyes seemed to stare right through her and at her in a strange paradox. His face was pinched into a peculiar expression of amusement and worry; his mouth couldn’t seem to decide on which emotion it should act on.
In less than a second, his features snapped into full on amusement. His eyes twinkled, and the corners of his mouth tugged into a smile.
“You know you’re standing in cow dung?”
* * *
After washing her shoes, Paloá sat down, but not before checking the soil for animal excrement. She hugged her arms around her knees, looking out at the setting sun. The bush boy was still snipping away at the dahlia flowers, only occasionally pausing to take a drink of water. He looked over at her, sighed, and set down his clippers.
“You look like something’s bothering you,” the boy said cautiously while rocking on his heels and looking away from her towards the setting sun. There was silence from Paloá- a wary moment in which she had to decide whether to talk to this tackily dressed boy, or ignore him until he went away. The Dahlia bush swayed, petals ripping and tearing, in the harsh wind. The sun dipped down underneath the horizon, turning the sky a bright reddish-orange.
“It’s strange, don’t you think?” The boy observed, ”How the sun sets only to rise again the next day.” For a moment Paloá felt a rush of anger and annoyance for this boy intruding in her life. Then just as suddenly it had arrived it deflated from her like a balloon. The boy finally tore his gaze away from the sky, and out of the corner of her eye Paloá could see him looking right at her.
“How is it strange?” Paloá asked, even if only for the sake of distracting herself. “It rises every morning, and falls every night. There’s nothing special about it.”
The boy took a deep breath and leaned down. His head turned to the side so he could look her in the eyes. His mouth quirked into a mischievous sort of half-smile.
“What if one day it didn’t?”
Paloá looked at him, “That won’t happen.”
“Sure, the sun’s here today, but you have to be ready for the possibility that it won’t be here tomorrow. What would you do then?” He paused and waited expectantly.
“I’d wait for the Dirigeant to decide on a course of action,” Paloá stated. ”It’s not like I could do anything.” Although, Paloá didn’t much care for the Dirigeant or the Authorité at the moment. Lakota wasn’t a weed and he never would be. He just needed a bit more time to develop than the other children. It wasn’t his fault he was a late bloomer. The boy finally sat down and gave her an unimpressed look.
“How do you know if you don’t try?” He asked.
Paloá’s eyes widened, Lakota wasn’t gone yet. The test wasn’t today. he had time to grow before it was too late. That meant she had the time to help him. Paloá smiled,”What’s your name?”
The boy stood up, and tipped an imaginary hat. “Leslie Nathair Rutlet, but I prefer Nathair.”
Rutlet, a name for a boy who talked too much, it suited him. “Thank you, Rutlet.”
Rutlet’s expression instantly turned into a frown. He huffed,” Well, you are?” he asked sarcastically.
“Paloá Partridge,” She answered.
“Well, you're welcome, Miss Paloá Partridge.” Then he stood up, dusted his pants off, and turned to walk away.
Paloá watched as he walked away, then turned back toward the night sky, thinking of Lakota’s upcoming test and the chill of the evening wind.
Behind the eyes of Leslie Nathair Rutlet, revolution brewed …
To Be Continued