Jim set his glass down on the other side of his neighbor's newly purchased garage. He seemed oblivious of the bits of grass that clung to his crisp white pants and the girl sitting on the ground seemed oblivious to his presence. With her left hand bent around the notebook her pen skipped across the page.
"It'd be nice if you'd come back to the party little Miss Lana."
Lana lifted her small white face up to his. The first thing Jim noticed was her soft green eyes. "I saw you take a tumble into that deck chair and I saw you run off. My son didn’t say anything to scare you off did he?"
She shook her head and pressed the base of her palms into her eyes.
"I think he likes you." Jim said thoughtfully. Lana's heart twisted at his words. There was no way. Grown-ups always did things like this to try and get other people to do what they wanted.
"What are you writing?" Sixy seconds passed before Lana turned her notebook to the side. She wrote something in large capital letters and flashed her homemade sign at him.
Jim's bright blue eyes were serious as he nodded at her. "You should come back to the party Lana. I have some brothers who'd like to meet a little girl with long curly red hair."
He waited for her to answer but the girl on the ground kept writing. "Did we do something to offend you?" Lana looked up but not at the man sitting next to her. She twisted her pen cap around still thinking about the way she had embarrassed herself in front of Brad and his brother. "No one told us they were twins."
"No one told us either. I got to the hospital and I said sons like it was a brand new word I'd never heard before. Is that what the problem is?"
Her words were low and mumbled but the man sitting next to her caught them. "We're so stupid. We only have a card and money for one of them and they're not even going to know which one it's for."
"I'm sure we can figure something out. Brad and Brent have shared things before. They're going to have to share my mother's car for instance. They're so excited about the idea of a car they don't even care that it's red. Why don't you come back to the party for a little bit?"
Lana shook her head again. Didn't he get it?
"We’re going to be neighbors Lana. You can’t avoid us forever." But if she went back to the party Brad and Brent were going to think her family couldn't figure out how to give two people with the same birthday a gift they didn't have to share. She shook her head again. But secretly she hoped for another chance to watch Brad. Looking at her skinny ankles Jim found himself wishing he was a part of her world. There was something very peaceful about her. "Would it would help if I found a card for whoever didn’t get one? We could put some money in there too."
Wary green eyes met his bright blue ones. "I have some money in my room. I could go get that."
"You save your money. I'll take care of it."
"But you're already paying for the party and parties are expensive. And it's not really from us then."
What a darling little girl. Worried about a card and a little bit of money. "You can write the card out. You can tell Brad and Brent not to trespass in your yard."
She looked at the fragile petals of a nearby petunia before giving him a quick shy look. "Do you think it would be okay if we got them both cards? I don’t have very much money but I have some."
"I think they’d be very happy with that. Do you want me to lend you some money for the cards?"
It was the perfect solution but Lana knew what her parents would say. The words came automatically. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
"True, but we didn't get them much since they're getting my mother's car. Come back to the party with me."
"I can’t go back to the party. I'll put the cards in the mailbox."
"Why can’t you come back?"
This man was very strange but Lana felt as if she could trust him. "I don't fit in."
"None of us fit in Lana. We're all anxious and uptight and thinking about…" Jim made a split second decision not to tell her about his mother who was sitting in a nursing home with a broken hip. "Most of us are thinking about the day Brad and Brent were born. Today is my mother's birthday, she's a twin and she was tickled pink that Brad and Brent were born on the same day she and her sister were. Looking at them now you'd never guess it but those boys started out weighing less than six pounds put together. We threw a huge party for their first birthday just to celebrate the fact that no one was in the hospital. I don't think either of the boys really care about their birthday but it's important to their mother so they go along with it. I have pictures from their first birthday party if you want to see what Brad and Brent looked like when they still had blonde hair."
Lana's eyes flashed back up to his. "Their hair wasn’t always red?"
"It was when they were born. Their hair was just about the color yours is when they were born. When I was a kid my hair was fire engine red and to look at her now you'd never know it but my daughter Natalie started out as a blondie."
"My sister Gretchen has blonde hair. I wish my hair was blonde."
"My daddy had blonde hair. But my mother's hair was red, she had six boys and all of us have red hair. We used to pretend we were our own secret club. You want to go see that picture and see if we can hunt up a card? I know Rita's got a stack in her desk."
"They'll know it's from her then."
"How will they know? As far as I know there's no law against the store selling the same card to two different people." The sun was so bright Lana had to squeeze her eyes against it. "It's so humiliating. How come your wife never told us they were twins?"
"She's so nervous about meeting the English professor's wife who's a pretty sharp cookie in her own right that it went clean out of her mind. No one in our family is very good at English."
"Are people in your family good at math?" When Jim smiled Lana could see where Brad had gotten his smile from. It was just like his father's. "I used to dream of going to a school where there was nothing but math class all day long. Then I could sit back and look at all the pretty girls I went to school with. Not too many of them were as pretty as you are and some of the ones that were were real bitches to Rita and my mother."
Oh my God. Her new neighbor had just said the word bitches in front of her. Lana started writing again.
"What are you writing?"
"I'm not writing. I'm swimming."
"You're swimming huh? Looks like writing to me. You could go next door where they have a real pool. I'd let you swim in our pool whenever you wanted provided one of us was around. That's the rule for everyone. Rita doesn't like the idea of people swimming by themselves."
"I swim on paper because I can't swim in real life. That way a dashing young man with a heart of gold can save me from drowning."
Her busy mind was already casting a tall sixteen year old with turquoise eyes as the hero. Jim nodded thoughtfully wondering if he could get her to go over and talk to Brad again. It sure seemed like there was some sort of connection there. Ruefully he shook his head. He was getting old. Getting old and seeing things. Seeing things he'd like to see. "Rita made all three of our kids take the lifeguard classes so they know what to do if someone gets in over their head. I'd be willing to bet at least one of my children would teach you to swim. Brent is part fish and Natalie's right behind him." He looked down at her notebook wondering what she had written. "You can really swim on paper?"
"It's so much easier to swim on paper than it is in real life."
"Can I read it?" Immediately the notebook slammed against the wall of her chest. Jim decided to try a different tact with his new neighbor. "Do you want to go to the store with me? We can pick up a card for the boys and maybe we can find something for someone who's good at swimming on paper too. I've never met anyone who could swim on paper before."
It was so hot outside Lana felt like she was going to melt. A new fantasy of sitting in an air conditioned car swam around her mind. "I can’t leave without my parent’s permission."
"How about this? We'll go into your house. You'll be there so I'm not trespassing. I'll call Rita to explain the situation and I'm sure your mother will be relieved to find out you have the birthday card problem all figured out. I don't have any money on me so we'll have to use some of yours but I'll pay you back, with interest. Is that fair?"
Hesitantly Lana looked at the man sitting next to her. "I can't go back. They'll all be staring at me."
"Everyone stares at beautiful women Lana. They just run from the ugly ones. Maybe I can even convince your mother to let me drive her car so we don't have to traipse past the pool or go back inside my place. How 'bout it?"
His tone was so casual that Lana started relaxing. She pulled her notebook down and started writing agin. "I'm not a beautiful woman."
She wasn't beautiful. She wasn't even very pretty but Jim knew that she would be. All she needed was time to grow into that face of hers. "No, but you're going to be. Someday you will be a very lovely young woman and I can say I knew you when you were a little girl writing No Trespassing signs in your notebook. Did you know I’m left-handed too?"
A shiver went through her as sweat dripped down her back. Her neck was ungodly hot beneath her hair. She flipped it back still listening to her neighbor. "Every single one of us except my brother Matt is left-handed. Brad is too and Brent can write with both hands."
Dolefully Lana stared at her own left hand. "No one in my family is left-handed. Can I be part of the secret club too or is it only for boys?"
"You can be part of any club I'm a part of. What do you say we go inside and get out of the sun before both of us are nice and crispy? Is it a deal?"
The red tile roof on his house seemed like a refreshing oasis in the middle of a deadly hot desert. "My sister Gretchen was wondering what you and your wife did to make so much money. My parents weren’t sure either."
"What do you think we do?"
Her luminous green eyes sparkled when she spoke. "I think you guard an enormous treasure from the imperial dragon who tries to reclaim his ill gotten gains. His green eyes are fiery and he terrorizes the villagers who leave gold and silver and precious gems as a tribute to him."
"I think I'd rather do that than what I really do because I'm really a surgeon. If you ever want a job in health care you can come talk to me. I'll make sure you have enough money for whatever type of schooling you're interested in." Sitting next to Lana Jim wondered if she had she heard anything he had said. She had the strangest way of seeming so far off.
"I'm going to be a sorceress when I grow up. A rich and powerful sorceress who lives on an enchanted island. Shipwrecked sailors tremble on the sacred sands. If they agree to my terms they're free to come and go as they please but I always own a piece of them once they've violated my sanctuary."
"We have some sailors in the family. I’ll have to warn them about you."
"Your family alone will be spared because of your many kindnesses. The sea will spare them as long as they are true and noble."
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Sorceresses do not make good girlfriends. My dad won't let me date until I'm sixteen and besides, I'm never going to go out with anyone."
"What makes you you say that?"
"No one feels sorry enough for a skinny red-headed girl with a very bad temper and too much imagination to ask her out."
"Someday you're going to have a line of men beating down a path to your door. You won't know what to do with all the men that want to be next to a very beautiful very rich and powerful sorceress. If you were my age I’d ask you out."
"The imperial dragon would slay you. And I don’t think your wife would be too happy about that."
"Maybe some good looking guy with decent taste in clothes that comes home at a reasonable hour will come along and sweep her off her feet. If a boy asked you out what would you say?"
"I'd say he was suffering from a terrible illness and in his delirium he came to seek help from me. Then I'd tell him to wake up and I'd tell you to get real."
"Do you have your ears pierced?"
"So my stupid parents can buy me pink jewelry? I don't think so. My heart is made of obsidian and it’s so dark and black that jewels melt next to my skin.'
Her ivory skin went perfectly with her gemstone green eyes and fabulous glowing hair. "My mother has a ring that would look good on you. It has eight rubies, two emeralds and a good sized diamond right in the middle."
"People with red hair do not wear rubies."
"My mother's hair used to be red and as far as I know the only time she takes that ring off is once a year at the jewelers to have it cleaned and to make sure none of the stones are loose. Two of the rubies in there are for Brad and Brent and one of them is for me."
"I'll say a special prayer that the gods look with special favor on the keeper of the magical ruby ring. I think someone is looking for you."
Voices on the other side of the fence were calling for him. "No one’s screaming in pain so they don’t need real medical help. They probably want me to grill burgers or something like that. There's enough other people around to help. I'm paying for this damn party. I shouldn’t have to work at it too."
That was one way of looking at it but Lana had another. "On the other hand I"m sure people are getting hungry. And the dragon would probably be appeased by the idea of a burnt offering."
Stubbornly Jim remained where he was. "I’m not leaving without you."
"And I’m not leaving with you."
"Please Lana? For Jimbo?"
"We haven’t been formally introduced. It would be improper for me to call you by your given name. You should call me Miss Schwartz and I should call you Doctor Summerville. I like the name Summerville. It's like a special place where the cold harsh winds of winter never bite at your ankles and chill your nose."
"I could just pick you up and carry you over."
Her soft green eyes were startled. "You would never do that. You're much too chivalrous. I shall call you Sir Lancelot and since I am The Lady of Shalott I shall look down on many towered Camelot. I bid you adieu."
"I guess I'll have to starve to death and my guests will too. You don't have to go by the pool and people will leave you alone. You can go up and sit in Natalie's room if you want to." Her green eyes gave his house a lingering look. Watching her watch his house gave Jim an unsettled feeling. He had never met anyone else like Lana before.
"Does Natalie have any good books?"
"I'll sneak you into Brad's room. You can check out some of the things he's got in there. He has two bookcases and they'd be jammed full of books if he was the type of person to jam things instead of putting them neatly in order."
"I'm sure he has quite a collection of very tragic and moving love stories that I would love to get my hands on."
"You just never know with someone like him. He reads a lot of murder mysteries."
"Does he like Agatha Christie?"
"I know he's got some Hardy Boys books because they’re still around from when my brothers and I used to read them. You should check out his room. He has a model airplane he put together hanging up over his desk and there's not a single speck of dust anywhere in it. It might very well be enchanted because it's the one room in the house that never gets dirty." The yelling on the other side of the fence grew louder. "What do you say little Miss Lana? You wanna go back to the party and get something to eat?"
"As a one time concession I agree. But only because I'm a sorceress in training and not a full and true one. When that time comes there are no more freebies. Maybe later we can go to the bookstore and get Brad a new book."
She was the enchanting one. This little girl with the brilliant hair and eyes. "You let me know when you're free and I'll see what we can do in terms of a chariot. Do sorceresses ride around in chariots?"
"Of course not. But when they're visiting their mortal friends they make allowances."
Jim stood up, brushed his pants off and held his hand out to the little girl seated next to the garage. Impulsively he walked down her yard to enter his house from the front. It didn't seem right that someone as regal as Lana was should be seen entering through the lowly side entrance.