Authors: Christa J. Kinde
Tags: #Retail, #Ages 11 & Up
Can you believe it? Thank you for encouraging
me to try, Simone.
shining column erupted from the ring of stones set into the floor of a circular room, carrying with it the figure of a young man wreathed by shifting tendrils of blue light. “You called?” he cheerfully inquired.
“I did,” rumbled a deep voice as a tall, dark man stepped forward. “We may have a problem.”
Ash blond brows lifted in surprise. “I’m not the one you usually turn to in an emergency, Harken. Surely one of the others …?”
An upraised hand halted his protest. “This situation calls for more … delicacy.”
“A direct intervention, then?”
has already been accomplished.”
“Shimron’s new apprentice.”
“That shouldn’t even be possible.”
Harken offered an eloquent shrug. “Nothing is impossible.”
“You have to admit, it’s highly irregular.”
“And well he knows it. The boy is frightened.”
“I’ll hurry,” he promised. “Is there a message?”
Prissie stepped along a narrow rut leading through her grandpa’s orchard, placing her sandaled feet with care so as not to raise any dust. The overgrown lane wasn’t a proper road since it was only used during harvesttime, but it was one of her favorite places to escape from the constant noise of home. “Margery’s birthday party’s in two more weeks. April’s email said she was actually thinking about inviting
this year. Thank goodness she changed her mind. It would have ruined everything!”
At fourteen, there were many things that frustrated Prissie, but the thing she hated most was that she didn’t have anyone to talk to about them. Margery and the other girls from school all lived in town, but she was stranded in the middle of nowhere with too many brothers for company.
“They’re supposed to post class assignments pretty soon, and I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll all have the same homeroom.” She flipped a long, honey-colored braid over her shoulder, then added, “I don’t know what would be worse — being separated from my friends, or having
in my class again. He’s so annoying!”
Prissie paused and peered up and down the path. “Doesn’t it feel like someone’s watching?” she asked hesitantly.
Crouching down, she softly called to Tansy; the striped tabby happily butted her head against Prissie’s hand and began to purr. “Zeke better not be up to his tricks. I don’t want any stalker brothers ruining things; this is my first chance to talk to Milo since Sunday.”
The cat meowed, and Prissie tickled her under the chin before standing and glancing around, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. She turned in a full circle, eyes alert for a telltale head of tousled blond hair. Finally, she shrugged and continued toward the main road, the matriarch of their hay loft trailing in her wake. “It’s
that getting the mail is the most exciting part of my day,” she sighed.
Prissie wasn’t exactly
Their farm was a lively place, what with school being out for the summer and the house jam-packed. There was gardening to be done, the orchard to mow, chickens to tend, and kittens to tame. But all of that stuff was the normal kind of busy … not the
kind. “Grandpa likes to say the Pomeroys have deep roots, but all that really means is that we never go anywhere. Not like Aunt Ida,” she informed the cat.
Her dad’s younger sister had left West Edinton as soon as she’d married and rarely made it back for visits. Uncle Loren worked for a mission board, and they traveled the world, visiting faraway places like China, India, and Africa. Prissie keenly missed the vivacious woman who’d been her “bestest” friend until she was nine, but Aunt Ida found ways to stay connected. A steady trickle of postcards and packages made it into the twin mailboxes on Orchard Lane, which was
of the reasons Prissie liked to get the mail personally.
The other reason was Milo Leggett.
Put simply, Milo was their mailman. Though young, he
was an upstanding member of their community, a Sunday school teacher at Prissie’s church, and an all-around nice guy. There probably wasn’t a soul in West Edinton who didn’t know Milo, and since he handled all their mail, he knew everyone back.
Whenever he was around, Milo acted as though the Pomeroy clan was his own family, and Prissie liked to think they
special … and not only because they were the last stop on his daily route. As far as she was concerned, it was the one good thing about living so far from town, because about once a week — usually when there was a package to deliver — he’d stop in and stay a while.
He had an easy smile, a pleasant laugh, and it was Prissie’s studied opinion that Milo’s eyes were an uncommonly wonderful shade of blue. She fussed with the skirt of her pink sundress and said, “At least
doesn’t treat me like one of the boys.” People always seemed to think that a country girl with five brothers would turn out to be a tomboy, but Prissie did her best to set them straight by being very,
“If you don’t hurry along, we’ll miss him,” she primly informed Tansy.
Most of the apple trees in this part of the orchard were the dwarf variety, their gnarled branches weighed down by unripe fruit. However, a long row of standard apple trees lined the lane. The full-sized trees took up too much space to be practical, but Grandpa Pete harbored a smidgen of nostalgia under his gruff exterior. They had been his mother’s favorite apples, and since he couldn’t bring himself to tear them out, they stayed.
Prissie gasped, stopping dead in her tracks. To her amazement, someone was sitting in one of Great-grandma’s trees,
and he was definitely watching her. Bright, black eyes peered at her with lively interest. She stared right back in utter confusion. Theirs was a small town, and she knew everyone who lived nearby. Outside of harvesttime, it was unusual to see a stranger out their way, and this boy was definitely strange. Cautiously, she stepped closer.
He wore odd clothing — a long tunic over loose pants. The beige fabric’s unusual sheen shimmered in the sunlight, and the decorative patterns that edged the deep vee of the collar and the wide cuffs of each sleeve shone as if they’d been stitched with silver threads. His features were delicately exotic; pale golden skin and almond-shaped eyes were set off by glossy black, shoulder-length hair.
The boy looked comfortable enough as he leaned against the tree trunk, one foot braced on the rough bark of the low branch on which he sat, the other swinging casually. He was barefoot, and Prissie cast about for any sign of shoes, a pack, or even a bicycle in the vicinity. Nothing. Since it was too early in the season for apple thieves, she decided to err on the side of hospitality. “Hello!” she called.
The boy’s eyes widened in surprise, and he looked around uncertainly. Finally, in a soft, lyrical voice, he asked, “Are you speaking to
Prissie tilted her head to one side and, in a fair imitation of her grandmother’s brisk tones, replied, “And who
would I be talking to?”
He only blinked at her, seemingly at a loss.
She smiled to lessen the sting of her retort. “Hi, I’m Prissie … Prissie Pomeroy.” Pointing at the roofline of their barn, which was easily visible over the tops of the trees, she added, “I live right over there.”
The boy’s eyes never left her face, and he was frowning in concentration.
“Do you live around here?” she asked, and when he didn’t reply, she tried again. “I haven’t seen you around. Are you new to the area?”
“I am,” he admitted slowly.
explains why we haven’t met,” she announced, glad to have hit upon a reasonable explanation. “So what’s your name?”
The oddly dressed boy swung a leg over the branch, lightly dropped to the ground, then straightened. He was shorter than her by a few inches. As he walked slowly toward her, he answered, “I am called Koji.”
She thought his response a bit strange, but she politely extended her hand. “Nice to meet you, Koji.”
The boy stepped right up to her, ignoring her hand and searching her face with keen interest. “You can see me?” he asked quietly.
“I thought so,” he mused aloud, his expression troubled.
It was Prissie’s turn to frown. His words made little sense.
“Then may I ask you a question?” Koji asked earnestly.
“Why were you praying to your cat?”
Black eyes strayed from Prissie to Tansy, then back again. “I heard you, and I was wondering …”
?” she gasped, trying to remember exactly what he might have overheard.
Koji nodded slowly, and Prissie huffed and propped her hands on her hips. “Well, I might have been talking out loud,
but I wasn’t praying … and
not to a cat. That’s just
“I thought so, too,” the boy replied seriously.
Shaking her head, Prissie said, “Come on,” and resumed walking.
“Where are we going?” he inquired, taking up a position in the lane’s neighboring rut.
“Just to get the mail,” she replied. “It should be here any minute.”
“That is good,” Koji said, sounding rather relieved.
As they walked side by side, Tansy wandered off, stalking something that moved through the long grass beneath the trees. Prissie didn’t mind since cats didn’t make very good conversationalists. “So, you said you’re new here?” she prompted.
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “That is why I am not sure how this is supposed to work.”
“Are you an exchange student or something?”
“You must be staying
nearby if you’re barefoot,” she pointed out.
“It is not far,” Koji replied carefully.
They reached the end of the lane, and Prissie deftly opened the green metal gate in the white-painted board fence that surrounded their property, holding it wide and waving the boy through. “Watch out for the ditch,” she instructed as she swung the gate back into place and re-twisted the wire that kept it secure.
Orchard Lane was the northernmost street in West Edinton as well as the last turn off of Centennial Highway before leaving Milton County. A handful of other families
lived on the narrow gravel road, but after a few miles, it dead-ended in a wide turn-about in front of Pomeroy Orchard.
Matching white mailboxes surrounded by a profusion of purple coneflowers stood at the end of a long driveway, and Prissie made a beeline for them. An oval-shaped wooden sign hanging beneath them bore their farm’s logo — an overflowing bushel basket of apples. The neat block letters on the side of the first mailbox said,
Peter & Nellie Pomeroy
, and the second one read,
Jayce & Naomi Pomeroy.
Prissie perched on the top rail of the fence behind them, then patted the space next to her. “This is where I wait,” she announced.
Koji obediently climbed up beside her, murmuring, “Thank you.”
Prissie wasn’t sure
to think of the peculiar newcomer. Although he was a boy, he spoke quietly and politely, a refreshing change from her boisterous family. She wanted to make sure Koji was okay before turning him over to her brothers, who were always glad for a new playmate, but something about the shy way Koji watched her made her want to take him under her wing. Her brothers knew better than to pick on someone just because they were different, but she had a feeling that this guy would end up being teased at school.
“I’ve never seen clothes like those before,” she commented.
Koji glanced down at himself and touched the softly draping cloth. “Are they uncommon?”
“People around here definitely don’t dress like that,” Prissie replied. After a moment’s thought, she diplomatically added, “They look comfortable, though.”
“I did not expect to be seen,” he admitted. “Are they inappropriate?”
“Oh, no … just different. Don’t worry about it,” she replied reassuringly. “So, how old are you?”
Koji opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally, he answered, “I am … uncertain.”
Prissie shook her head in disbelief. “How can you not know how old you are?”
“How old do I look?”
“Let’s see … you’re definitely older than Zeke, who’s eight, but I doubt you’re as old as Beau. He’s thirteen. What grade are you in?”
“Grade?” he asked blankly.
“Yes, what grade are you going into this fall?” she repeated. When he didn’t answer, she prompted, “You
go to school, don’t you?”
“I am an apprentice.”
Just then, the sound of an engine carried down the road, and they both looked toward the car that rattled toward them, kicking up a small cloud of dust. The faded green four-door rolled to a stop in front of the mailboxes, and Milo leaned out the window. “Hey there, Miss Priscilla!”
Milo was the only person besides her mother who called her by her full name, and Prissie loved it. Pink blossomed on her cheeks as she replied, “Hello, Milo.”
To her surprise, he didn’t acknowledge her companion but said, “Zeke was down here yesterday, and he said you were helping your grandma.”
“We were packing pickle jars,” Prissie explained, but her lips turned down. It wasn’t like Milo to ignore someone. She cleared her throat and arched her brows at him. “This is Koji, a new friend.” The boy beside her squirmed, and Prissie
elbowed him gently. “Don’t worry; Milo’s okay. We’ve known him for ages.”
“I apologize,” the mailman smoothly interjected. “I didn’t intend to be rude. I simply wasn’t sure … well, never mind that, now. Hey, Koji … I see you’ve met Miss Pomeroy.”
“How is it that the two of you became acquainted?” Milo gently asked.
Black eyes pleaded for understanding. “I don’t really understand, Milo. Did I do something wrong … maybe?” The fidgeting boy nervously pushed his hair back, tucking it behind one ear, and Prissie’s eyes immediately bugged out. The tip of Koji’s revealed ear came to a pronounced point.