By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Edward watched Tull hover. "God, Tull, cut her food, why don't you."
"When you work for Disney, you don't act-- I mean, not really. You're sort of . . . animated. You need to look cute."
"Which you always do," said Lucy.
"When oh when, pleasecan someone let me do an indie?"
"Do you go to school?" asked Amaryllis.
"Oh my God, I'm being interviewed! Mostly on the set. I have a teacher."
"But when she doesn't," said Lucy, "she deigns to attend Four Winds with the pleh-bee-enz."
"It's a school," said Tull. "In Santa Monica."
"We all go there."
Amaryllis turned to Edward and asked, "What happened to you?"
The cousin chortled. "Oh, I likethat! Let's put that on a T-shirt! What happened to you? We'd sell millions! I love it!"
"He's got Apert's," said Lucy.
"Big Head Disease," said Boulder. "That's all you need to know."
"He's the smartest boy on Earth," said Tull.
"He's a saint," said Lucy.
"They streamlined the process," blurted Amaryllis with enthusiasm, immediately wishing she hadn't. She was rusty. She hadn't spoken with other children for so long -- with anyone really, except for the babies -- and these were like no children she'd ever met . . . but now, she had better go on or they'd think her crazy. "They streamlined the process for becoming a saint. John Paul made it easier. Everyone's on a fast track."
Lucy and Boulder exchanged secret looks, and Tull winced, wishing to protect the girl from the half-assed cruelties of the world. He was having major feelings, all of which his braided tormentor noticed with customary alacrity.
"Amaryllis is such a pretty name," offered Lucy again, somewhat poisonously.
Tull detected the hint of an English accent and hoped nothing lurid was coming.
"I hate it when you start doing Anna Paquin," said Boulder.
"Does it mean anything?" posed the unflappable inquisitrix. "I mean, the name?"
"It's a flower," said Amaryllis. "From South Africa."
"Is that where you're from?" asked Lucy, brightening. "I mean -- Africa?"
Tull bridled and Amaryllis meekly shook her head.
Edward stood from his chair. "Amaryllis, do you like orchids?"
"What are they?" she asked. Boulder rolled her eyes at Lucy again.
"This," said Tull, plucking a flower from a slim celadon vase, "is an orchid." She held the stem in her hand and stared.
"A hybrid," said the cousin.
A large white petal stood up like a bishop's miter; beneath it, a pouch in the shape of the chin of a cartoon Mountie -- or the chin of the boy called Edward. Bisecting both was a leafy mustache, speckled with polka dots.
The invalid proffered a discrete flower, with movie-star-red lips. "This one is from South Africa -- like your name," he said. "It grows on waterfalls."
"You know," said Lucy, "you should really come to Four Winds and visit." She turned to the others. "Don't you think?"
"It'd be great!" said Boulder, rather affectlessly.
"We're doing a homeless project," said Lucy while Tull glared. "We're building sidewalk shelters -- I mean, that's not why you should visit. It's just that if you've ever had that experience or know someone who has . . . We're using really strong, light materials -- space-age. And laptops to design them."
"We were homeless once," said Boulder.
"The earthquake doesn't count."
"It killed our beach house."
"You had twobeach houses."
"It killed them both."
"She stayed in a hotel for three months."
"A hotel is not a home."
"You stayed at Shutters."
"That's a beach hotel," said Tull for Amaryllis' edification -- then hated himself some more. He hated everyone.
"That's where I live," chimed the orphan, then frowned. Again, she wished she hadn't spoken. "A motel. The St. George -- with my mother and brother and sister."
"A motel! The St. George?" queried Lucy. "I haven't heard of it. Now, is that near the Bonaventure or the Biltmore?"
Before the torture could continue, there was a sharp rap at the door, and Amaryllis nearly jumped from her skin. The arrival of Mr. Hookstratten -- Four Winds teacher of the year, private tutor to moguls and occasional on-set educator -- was not unexpected, but the children (all but Edward, of course) scurried about as if they'd been up to great mischief. The balding scholar beamed from the driver's side, hand of a raised arm gripping the Mauck wing, blinking in through bulgy, light-sensitive eyes. Boulder and Lucy rushed forward, trying to distract from the sight of Tull, who shadowed the orphan girl as best he could while she seized her backpack and made her way to the passenger-side portal whence she had come -- clinging all along to the walls like a tiny cat burglar.
"And who's this?" Mr. Hookstratten cheerily inquired. Boulder said she was the daughter of a grip; Lucy said she was part of "the research project"; Tull said she had helped bring the food trays -- all in unison, while Amaryllis quit the luxuriant specialty vehicle, vanishing into the brightness of day.
WHEN SHE GOT TO THE ST. GEORGE, THERE were patrol cars and sedans with revolving red lights stuck on khaki-colored roofs. The babies were already in one of the back seats, with a policewoman fussing over them; the froggy front-office Korean pointed at Amaryllis, and the men set after her. She had never run like that before, and prayed to Edith Stein no one would catch her.
Excerpted fromI'll Let You Go by Bruce Wagner, to be published in January by Villard. Copyright © 2002 by the author.
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