"If I was going to kill the Prophet," I say, not even keeping my voice low, "I'd do it in Africa."
I look into Mariah's light green eyes.
She stares back at me and smiles, like she knows what I mean and agrees. Like she's saying, "Go on, Kyra. Tell me more."
I kick the toe of my sneaker into the desert sand. Even this late in the evening, with the sun sinking over my shoulder, the ground is leftover hot from the day. I can feel the heat through the soles of my shoes. Feel the heat coming up from the ground, through my tights, right under the skirt of my past-the-knees dress. There isn't even a bit of a breeze.
"I'm not sure how I'd kill him. Yet." I pause so Mariah can see I am dead serious. Then I take in a big breath of air and plow ahead. "But once he's gone, I'd drag his body right next to a termite nest. Not a thing would be left of him in three hours. There're termites in Africa that can do that. No one would ever know what happened."
Again I pause. I look off toward the setting sun that has changed the desert from orange to deep red. Not quite the color of blood, but close enough. Overhead, stars start to fill the eastern sky. Just bits of light. I shrug.
"All of him would be gone. Every speck. No evidence left."
Mariah smiles at me again and lets out a bit of baby laughter. I shift her from one hip to the other, then lean close, smelling powder and, from the desert around me, sage. I touch my lips to her face so soft and smooth. Eight months old, this baby, my youngest sister, is as sweet as new butter. And just as fat. I love her.
Oh. I love her.
"I'd kill him first for me," I say into her cheek, my lips still resting there, my eyes closed. "And then I'd kill him for you. Then I'd kill him for the rest of our sisters. And our mothers. And the other women here . . ."
Mother Claire's voice carries out over the sand and rock and brush that make up this part of our land surrounding the Compound. The sound is so clear and sharp and near, I worry maybe she's heard me.
"Kyra," Mother Claire calls again. She stands on the porch to her trailer, the light of her place spilling out around her. Her hands are on her hips. "I see you out there. Come inside. You know we have company coming in a few minutes. Get in here now."
"Coming," I say, but not loud at all.
Mother Claire is the mean one. She's Mariah's mother, my father's first wife. My true mother, Mother Sarah, is sick in bed with pregnancy. She would stand up to this wife, at least for me. She has before. But she can't right now because she's not well.
Mariah lets out a gurgle. In the lingering light I can see that she's sleepy. Sleepy from my swaying and the heat and my voice, maybe. She puts her head on my shoulder and lets out a big yawn.
"Lucky girl," I say. "You might sleep through this to night."
AFTER I HELP Mother Sarah get the younger girls ready for our visitors, I check on her. She's stretched out on the sofa, her face white, her belly six- months big.
"Mother," I say. I pet her long blond hair. "Can I go outside? Just a few minutes? Everything's done."
What I'd like to do is play the piano, bring Mozart to life for the time we have until Prophet Childs shows. But the Fellowship Hall is closed now.
Mother looks at me with eyes blue as the evening sky. "What are you going to do, Kyra?" she says.
I shrug. "Just spend a minute alone."
Mother Sarah moves up on her elbow, cocks her head like she's listening. In their room I can hear my youngest two sisters playing with their baby dolls. Laura, who is just a year younger than me, writes at the dining- room table. She's filling her journal.
"We have nearly an hour before the Prophet comes by," Laura says. "Not that I was listening to your private conversation." Laura grins at me. Our trailer is so small we can hear one another's thoughts.
"I'll be back when you call," I say, and my mother nods, then sinks onto the sofa and closes her eyes.
I MAKE MY WAY out to the Russian Olive trees that line the back of the Compound.
We're lucky. Our trailer is closest to these trees and I love them. I love the way they smell sweet in the spring, and I love the silverish- green color of their leaves. I love that, in summer, the leaves are thick and can hide me. I love that I can be alone here. I've cut off the pokey thorns from all the lower branches on one tree.
When I did that, Mother said, "Kyra Leigh Carlson! Why in the world did you use my best Cutco knives to trim a tree? You're old enough to know better than that."
"Healthier than getting stabbed," I had said. And she clucked her tongue like a hen in the chicken coop.
What I couldn't say was, "I needed a place to breathe by myself, that's why I did it." I couldn't say, "Mother, I am almost fourteen and I haven't had one minute alone except when I'm sitting on the toilet and even then Carolina tries to get in with me and I have to hold the door shut with my foot 'cause the lock's been broken I don't know how long." I couldn't say, "Some days I need to be alone." Instead, I just shrugged.
I climb up into the leaves now and settle onto my highest branch. My dress tugs at my knees till I loosen it some.
"Thank you, Jesus," I say. And I mean those words, I do.
This visit from the Prophet has excited the family. Everyone is thrilled he's coming.
"No one's mixed up," I say. "No one but me."
There's not a mother or child in my family that doesn't honor the Prophet.
"I do, too," I say. "Sometimes."
But life is changing for me. I'm learning new things. I'm "getting out," I say into the eve ning air. I'm sure I'm the only Chosen One who has wished the Prophet dead and his body picked away by termites.
I look past the crisscrossy branches of the Rus sian Olive toward our settlement. I can see most everything here, if I part the leaves. The lawns of the Prophet and Apostles, the store, the Temple and the Fellowship Hall where we meet for school and Wednesday eve ning activities. I see it all. And nobody can see me.
"Mmm," I say, breathing deep and closing my eyes. It smells so good to be by myself here.
After a moment of resting, I open my eyes and look toward my own home, seeing some of it in my head 'cause it's too dark to make out all the details: the sparse grass and red desert dirt; the shadows of my two youngest sisters in their bedroom window. From where I sit I can see the three of Father's trailers where all my mothers live. Some nights when I sit here I can pick Father out just from his shape in front of a curtain and I know who he's staying with for that week.
This spot in this tree is mine alone. I've very nearly rubbed a bottom- shaped mark on this limb I've been up here so many times. And I've not shared my hiding place with anyone. Not even with Laura, my closest sister. This is where I can think without a baby to pat or a sick person to tend or a worry to bother. It's where I can plan and dream and hope.
"I love being here," I say. "I love being able to see it all and having no one see me."
A breeze rushes over the desert, rustling the leaves. It's like the tree wants me here, even though I did attack it with the Cutco.
The Temple shines like a beacon. At the Prophet's house (that place takes up more space than a whole line of trailers), lights glow at the windows. I can see some people moving there. The moon slips from behind the mountains, drowning out some of the stars.
I sit for a while, doing nothing but wondering at being alone like this, wondering at the Prophet's visit, until Mother Sarah calls my name out in a weary cry, "Kyra Leigh, come on in. We're going over to Mother Claire's place now."
"I'll be back," I tell the tree, and the leaves rustle again with the wind.
I HEAR THEIR VOICES as I get closer. I can hear the kids as they hurry to meet at Mother Claire's trailer. They laugh, someone whines, a young child cries out. Maybe one of the twins? I hurry to meet them.
Here are my brothers and sisters.
Here are my father's children.
Me, almost 14.
Marie and Ruth, 4.
Mariah, 8 months.
And two more babies on the way.
All of us together. Father, all the Mothers, all of the children. We girls are dressed in our Sunday best. My brothers are dressed in church clothes, too. Their ties on, some of them crooked. My hair's braided so tight I feel a headache coming on.
"Isn't this exciting?" Mother Victoria says. "The Prophet and his Apostles coming here."
Father smiles. He pulls Trevor and Foster onto his lap and smiles.
"Maybe," Mother says, her words spilling out with hope, "maybe you have been Chosen."
Her voice is low, but it's like all twenty- four of us have heard her. Even Mariah grows quiet. We look at Mother Sarah and then at Father. Now he smiles so big it looks like his face might crack wide- open.
"Hyrum says my name's been mentioned," Father says. His cheeks have turned pink. We stare at him. "They've talked of us all in meetings."
The timer on the stove goes off and Mother Claire hurries to the oven, the heels of her shoes tapping on the linoleum. From where I sit, I can see her; the kitchen, dining room, and living room are all one place in this trailer. She pulls cookies from the oven.
Mother Victoria clasps her hands under her chin. "They've been talking of us? Are you serious, Richard?"
"That's what Hyrum says." Father squeezes a hug around the boys in his lap and one laughs. "He talked to me yesterday. Told me we'd get the visit."
"And he was right," Mother Claire says from the kitchen. She almost smiles.
All the sudden, I'm excited, too. Anyone can see that the Prophet and Apostles are blessed. They have real homes. They have nice cars. Maybe . . . my heart thuds with the thought... maybe things are changing for us. Maybe I was harsh to wish the Prophet dead.
"I've been faithful," Father says. He looks around the room at his family. He smiles still. "I've been a faithful disciple."
I am warmed to the teeth at my father's smile.
My good father.
I rememer sitting on my father's lap. So small, so cute (I've seen the pictures that prove it). My hair was that whitish blondish color. The color that Carolina's is now.
I wore a dress of pale blue with pink trim. And fed Father strawberries one at a time. I snuggled my head into his neck. And he laughed and kissed my face and told me how much he loved me, his Kyra.
"Kyra, Kyra Leigh, Leigh, Leigh," he sang.
"Kyra, Kyra Leigh, Leigh, Leigh," I sang back. "Kyra Kyra me, me, me."
And Father sang, "Kyra Kyra you, you, you
I LOOK OUT the window that faces east, out over the desert. The sky's almost black now.
Mother Sarah sits near Father, leaning against him. He pats her hand, pats my brothers in his lap. Mother Victoria keeps all the smallest children quiet by telling a story of Jesus. Mother Claire wipes down an already- clean kitchen.
Adam, my oldest brother, looks over at me like he wants to say something. Emily, who is not right in her mind and who would be the oldest sister if she were sound, wanders around the room. She touches each of us, squished in tight together, on the head. "Duck, duck, duck," but no "goose" because there is no running or playing. We're waiting for the Prophet.
We are waiting for God's Anointed.
While I watch my mothers, while I gaze at my father pink- cheeked with hope, while I listen to my siblings all around me, I am struck to the center with worry. I squeeze my eyes shut. Can Adam read my mind? Is that why he looked at me that way?
I've doomed the family. I know it right that second. It feels like someone has dumped ice all over me. It feels I am right- at- that- moment covered with snow.
My father is pure. My mothers. My brothers and sisters. Emily for sure.
I've planned to kill someone. No! not someone! I've planned the death of the Prophet. God's Anointed. God's Chosen.
And there's more. So much more.
Without thinking, I stand. I've got to get out of here. I've got to run. Get to my secret place so I can be alone. Get away. Maybe make them safe from my unclean thoughts. From the things I've done.
"Duck, duck, duck," Emily says. She reaches for my head.
"Sit, Kyra," Mother Claire says. She's by the sink, ringing out the washcloth. "We're waiting for God's Chosen."
"I have to go," I say. Now Nathaniel and Laura stare at me. "I forgot something."
"Kyra," Father says, "what ever it is can wait."
"No, Father," I say. I can feel my face turning red. My sins on my cheeks. There for everyone to see. "I need to leave for now. You can tell me what happens. Prophet Childs won't notice I'm not here."
"Kyra," Mother says. "Sit. Please."
And Mother Victoria, all full of gasps, says, "He notices everything. He sees everything. He'd know if you weren't with us."
"Kyra Leigh," Mother says again and her voice is soft in this room full of my family. "Be obedient to your father."
"Yes, ma'am," I say, and flop back onto the sofa. Then, under my breath, where not even the closest sibling can hear me, I whisper, "God in Heaven, forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me." It becomes my chant.
I cannot curse this family.
Okay. It's not just the planning to kill Prophet Childs. There's more. There's lots more.
Squished between my sisters I try not to think of my sins but they are all in me. I know they are there.
First, there are the books.
Finding the library was an accident.
Prophet Childs would never let one of us check out books from a public library.
"We have our beliefs," he's said. "We have our God- given freedoms. And no one is going to take that away by brainwashing us with Satan's teachings."
Past the edge of the Compound. Past the fences. Past the river. Off our land, headed away. That's where I was, looking off to the north and Florentin. I remember the day clear.
August 13. A late Wednesday afternoon. Hotter than fire.
So hot the spit dried up in my mouth. So hot that when I stared at the empty road my eyes felt like they dried up, too. My work at home with my mother and with the other mothers was done-at least for a while-the quilting and helping with the laundry and working on dinner and even piano time.
So I stood there, just stood there, and then I heard something coming down the road behind me, the road that eventually runs in front of our Compound.
And here comes the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels, rolling along, headed toward Florentin. Kicking up red dust behind it.
Why, as it got closer, a shiver went right down my arms even though it had to be a million degrees standing out there in the desert sun. The library on wheels went clunking past, coming from the south, and the man driving, clean- shaven face, ball cap pulled down low on his forehead, he nodded at me.
My heart just about leapt through the bones of my chest.
I gave the driver a look, squint- eyed because of the sun and his nod. Who did he think he was, nodding at me like that? I stared him right in the eye, even though the Prophet would have said it was a sin to look a Gentile in the face.
But seeing that van-that nodding driver-did something to me. I don't know what. Or why.
The next day, same time, I went there again. Rushing through chores and piano practice and helping the mothers. Past the Compound. Past the fences. Past the river. Off our land. A good long ways away. I waited and waited. No truck.
So the next day and the next and the next, until a week had passed, and here comes the truck, rolling along again. Wednesday afternoon. Same man driving. He nodded. Again.
My heart thumped. I squinted. Looked him dead in the eye.
Third week he stopped.
Dust billowed up around us. I could taste the dirt. Crunched sand.
He rolled down the window. "You want a library card," he said, adjusting the ball cap he wore. It wasn't even a question.
And I nodded, like he'd done to me these past weeks.
"You can take four books out at a time," he said when I inched my way into the truck, cooled by fans and air conditioning.
I'd never seen so many books. Never. The sight made my eyes water. I mean, tear right up.
"Four?" I said. There was that sand on my tongue, gritting between my back teeth.
I eyed the man. Eyed the books. Stood still, my heart thumping.
"Maybe just one," I said.
"You could start with this," he said and handed me something from a basket near his feet. "A girl just your age turned it in on my last stop. She said she loved it. I loved it myself."
His last stop? Another girl? He'd read this book? I took the novel from him and glanced at the cover. Bridge to Terabithia. I was there just a minute and I only took the one. One, I knew, would be easier to hide.
But oh, how my life changed with his stopping. My life changed when I started reading. I was different with these sinful words.
Who was this Katherine Paterson? Who was this Jesse and Leslie? People the writer knew? I could hardly read this book fast enough.
And when I did when I got to the end when I got to the end and Leslie died and Jesse was left alone without his best friend I cried so hard that coming in from my hiding place, my
tree, the book stashed in the branches, high in the prickles, Mother Victoria said, "Where have you been, Kyra? I needed help making bread." Then she looked at my face and said, her voice all worried, "Honey, what happened?"
I couldn't tell her a thing. Not about Leslie or May Belle or Jesse all alone. I couldn't tell Mother Victoria a thing about drowning or running or painting.
Instead, I threw my arms around her waist and said, my head on her shoulder, crying my eyeballs out, "I love you so much, Mother Victoria."
Then I set out delivering bread to my other mothers and to Sister Allred, who just had a baby, half- crying the whole way.
A plan. Books. And a boy.
There's a boy.
Oh, I am carrying the weight of what I have done. But no one seems to notice.
Mariah reaches for me. I look the other way. I'm too nervous to hold Mariah, baby Mariah.
I grip Laura's hand and try not to think of what I've done. Keep my prayer chant going.
Everyone whispers together, all dressed up on a Tuesday evening, hair smoothed with water or in braids.
Mariah, quiet, holds her hands to me still.
I get to my feet again.
"Kyra?" Father says.
Mother Sarah looks at me. "Are you feeling okay, honey?"
"I want to . . ." I stop mid- sentence. I want to what? Leave? Stay? Run? Hide? "I was thinking about playing the piano," I say. A big, fat lie. One more sin added to all that I carry.
Laura tugs on my hand and I sit down beside her again.
There are just a few places in the whole Compound with pianos.
Prophet Childs has a concert grand in his front room. I've seen it myself. Right through the plate- glass window. Pure white and shiny, that piano is. It has to be a concert grand. I bet a body could see her face in the shine of that thing. He lives in a brick house, so big it casts a long shadow on the lawn when the sun starts to set. The Apostles have houses and pianos, too. Not only does being an Apostle mean blessings from God, but blessings from the land, too. That's what they've told us, and it seems that's true.
There're three pianos in the Temple, though I've only played the one in congregation room when Sister Georgia is ill. The final two pianos sit in the Fellowship Hall. One is an old Kawai. It's my favorite.
It was there, on a Sunday morning after meetings that I wandered up to that piano and started playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Just like that. Like I was born with the song stuck in my head. I was almost four.
"Listen to her," Mother Sarah said. She ran right up to me, swooped me close, and said, "Did you hear her playing that song?"
Sister Georgia, who taught music lessons outside the Compound a long time ago, before she felt she was called to be a part of The Chosen, teaches anyone who wants to learn. My mother didn't even hesitate when I plunked out that first song ten years ago. She marched me right up to Sister Georgia and said, "My Kyra is musical. She needs teaching."
And I said, "I do."
Music carries me away. Has since I was little. I can feel notes under my skin. Feel music in my muscles. Sometimes I even dream in Mozart or Beethoven scores. In the dreams, people speak out black musical notes, not words. And I understand every bit of it, exactly what they're saying, when I dream.
"NO PIANO NOW, Kyra," Father says. And right when he says that there's a tap at the door.
"They're here," Margaret says and Mother Sarah says, "Coming to see us," and sits up straighter. She is pale and in the light of the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling I can see her face is damp with sweat. She must feel awful.
Father sets Trevor and Foster on the floor and goes to the door. Quick, I pray one more time. "Please, dear Jesus. Please."
Everyone is silent.
The only sound is Father's church shoes on the floor as he walks over to open the front door. The room has grown hot with our being together.
"Ow," Laura says.
"Sorry," I say, realizing that I'm squeezing her hand too hard. I let go.
Please, please, Jesus. I'll believe. I'll be good if you choose my father. I'll never think of killing anyone again. I swear it. I can't quite say anything about the reading and there's no time to think anything more than Joshua's name.
Father opens the door.
"Prophet Childs," he says. "Brother Fields. Brother Stephens. Welcome. Oh!" Father's voice sounds full of smiles. "Hyrum, I didn't see you back there. Come on in."
The four men move into the room. We offer our Prophet the comfortable chair and he takes it. Mother Victoria moves to the floor and sits near his feet. The other brethren, including my uncle, settle into the kitchen chairs.
"Brother Carlson," Prophet Childs says. He is thin as a tree, tall with eyes so dark they look black. His brown hair is slicked back from his forehead, the comb lines visible. He smiles at us all. Lifts his hands to us. "Look at this family. Look at your heritage to the Lord, Brother Carlson."
My father nods, beaming.
"Beautiful family," the Prophet says. "Your older boys are honorable young men." He nods. "The older girls are . . ." He stops. He's looking at Emily. Our wonderful Emily. Right then I see her the way our Prophet must. I see her wide face, her slanted eyes, her smile that's almost glowing. She looks at him with so much love I cannot understand how he cannot love her back. But I know he doesn't. I've heard him say he doesn't. I've heard him condemn her.
And I know what they do to those who are not whole.
"Sinners are sick. Sinners are not complete. Sinners do not please God and are cursed," he has said in meetings.
Some of the congregation cheers. Some sing, "Amen." Some are quiet. Our family is quiet.
"The unwhole won't meet God," he says. "Those who are lacking here," tapping his head, "or here," tapping his eyes, "or here," tapping his heart, "do not qualify for the kingdom."
I know it happens. It's all part of the New Cleansing and mothers don't talk of it much. The New Cleansing is part of what's quiet around here.
Sister Janie Abbott had two baby boys. Tiny things. Not more than a pound or two. One died after an hour. But the one like Emily, he lived awhile.
Prophet Childs went to their trailer. Sister Janie wasn't but thirteen. A first wife to her husband just six years older. She cried for a long time when they said the unwhole shouldn't live. She cried, hanging on to that baby as long as she could. But at last Prophet Childs had her talked out of that tiny thing.
They did away with him.
Not sure how, but I know they did. I listened in on Mother Victoria telling Mother Sarah and Mother Claire. She whispered the whole story to my mothers while I stood in the dark of the living room, quiet in the night so they might not notice me.
"They killed that unfit baby," Mother Victoria said. Her voice was full of something. Sorrow? I waited in the dark, not moving, my skin cold prickles from her words. "Thank God, thank God, the revelation came after Emily was born. This prophet's father was nothing like he is."
"That's right," Mother Sarah said.
And Mother Claire said, her voice low, too, "This is a new Prophet. A new leader. A new time. He's not a thing like his father. Things were hard before. They're harder now." There was silence and then, "God is mysterious."
Prophet Childs became prophet when his father died seven years back. The mantle was handed down to him. The line of authority going through the blood. That's what Father says. There was a big funeral when Prophet Childs's father passed.
But not even a tiny burial gathering for those two babies of Sister Janie's.
I've seen her since, great big with child again, out in the cemetery, kneeling over those two small graves that Brother Abbott dug while she stood by, alone, and watched.
Now prophet child looks around the room at us. Mother Victoria wraps her arms about Emily, who says, "The Prophet. The Prophet. See him?" and lets out a laugh full of joy.
"Quiet the girl, Sister Victoria," Uncle Hyrum says. His eyebrows meet right over his nose with his unhappiness.
"Hush now, Emily," Mother Victoria says. She looks nervous, the way she glances at Uncle Hyrum and then at Brother Fields and Brother Stephens and last of all at the Prophet.
"Duck, duck, duck," Emily says.
"Shhh, shhh," Mother Victoria whispers. "Shhh for now, my sweet girl."
Emily goes quiet. But she looks me right in the eyes and grins full on. She gives me a thumbs- up sign, and if I weren't so worried about everything, I would laugh. "Brother Carlson," Prophet Childs says to Father, at last. Father nods, hands clasped. His face is still pink, but there's worry near his mouth. "I have joyous news." Laura, sitting so still beside me, takes in a breath of air.
Now she grabs my hand and squeezes.
"I've been in the belly of the Temple for some time. Thinking, praying"-he points his finger toward the lightbulb- "and talking with God. It has been revealed to me that your oldest daughter, Sister Kyra, is to wed Apostle Hyrum Carlson. She will be his seventh wife in the Lord."
The room goes dead quiet. Not one sound. I think, Father hasn't been called after all. And then Prophet Childs's words sink in, sink in, sink in.
Me? What? Me to be married? I think I have no blood. I think I have lost the ability to breathe.
"Is this not a joyous occasion?" Prophet Childs says, and Brother Stephen lets out a "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
Uncle Hyrum looks right at me.
I feel my face burn.
"The ceremony is in four Sundays, after services," the
Prophet says. It's at that moment I find my tongue. Before my mothers, before my father. Laura's hand is squeezing me tight and I smell body odor. I think it's me.
"What?" I say.
"In a light bright as the sun the revelation came," Prophet Childs says. He stares over our heads like he's seeing things all over again. "The two of you at the stone altar, wearing the ceremonial dress, Brother Hyrum standing, you kneeling at his feet. I saw it all. I saw it all. You have been saved for him."
Uncle Hyrum nods. "I will treat you well, Sister Kyra," he says. "We will raise children unto the Lord."
"I can't do that," I say, sick just- like- that to my stomach. I stand, Laura holding my hand so tight my fingers have gone purple. When I look into her face, I see her eyes have filled with tears. I glance at Mother Sarah. She sits up straight in her chair.
Father says, "Prophet Childs, I think there must be a misunderstanding. This man is my brother."
I shake free of Laura. Step over my brothers and sisters whose faces are pale and seem like floating balloons.
"Duck, duck, duck," Emily says.
Mariah lets out a bit of a cry. Does she feel what I feel? I turn and she reaches for me. But it's like I look at a photograph, one that changes. I see her face collapse when I back away. See her little mouth open wide. Hear her start to cry.
Brother Fields reaches for me as I try to run, grabs the sleeve of my dress, but I slap his hand away and run out into the darkness. Mariah's voice follows me.
"Wait," someone calls. Mother Claire? Then, "Hush, baby. You hush now."
How can this be? Is it for my sins? I have punished us all for my thoughts? For the books? And Joshua?
Just like that I'll be marrying my father's brother.
Just like that I'll be marrying my own uncle.
MOTHER CLAIRE MARRIED FATHER when she was fourteen and he was seventeen.
Mother Victoria married Father when she was thirteen and he was nineteen.
Mother Sarah married Father when she was thirteen and he was twenty- one.
And now me. Me. Marrying my uncle who must be sixty, at least.
Saved for him?
Outside the sky has gone all dark except for the half-moon. All is quiet except Mariah's wailing-a piercing cry that causes my heart to skip a beat. I almost turn back. The air is crisp, cool, though heat still rises from the desert. My uncle! I run from my family. At first, I start toward my tree. Then I think better of it.
"I don't need a tree," I say into the dark. "I don't."
So I turn around. I head back, past my trailer, past where my family meets with the Prophet and his Apostles and the old man I'm supposed to marry. My own uncle.
I trip on a line of bricks that Mother Victoria set up to surround a small flower garden and fall right into her petunias with an "Oof." The sweet smell makes me sick and I think I might puke. My hands and knees hurt from the fall, and my shinbone feels like a gouge of meat has been scooped out against a brick. For a moment I hesitate. I want to cry. To howl like Mariah, who is really worked up now. But I can hear the rumble of voices from the trailer one over. Can hear one of the men say, "She'll learn her place," and another say, "God's will."
I push to my feet, and hurry away, right to the biggest sin of my life. I go to Joshua's place.
The first time I really noticed Joshua Johnson was seven months ago at school (Did the books make me notice? Did my disobedience make me see him?) when I was coming out of quilting bee and headed for home.
"Hey, Kyra," he said as we passed in the hall and he nodded at me like maybe he knew something I didn't.
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! My heart thumped. His eyes were so blue. Blue like the daytime sky. And he was using his eyes to look at me. Me!
Of course he's using his eyes, I thought and looked at the floor then back at Joshua. "Hey to you, too," I said.
He grinned and I felt my face redden. I hurried out the door and toward home.
Joshua. Joshua Johnson. Blue- eyed Joshua Johnson.
"Oh my gosh," I said just as Laura came running up next to me.
"Where are you off to so fast?" she asked. "And 'oh my gosh' what?"
I swallowed at my jittery feelings, then leaned close to my sister. Her strawberry blond hair was pulled back into long braids. Her eyes, squinty whether she's in bright light or not, looked hard at me.
"You're embarrassed," she said.
Touching my face, I nodded.
"Because," I said, "Joshua Johnson said hello to me."
Laura stopped on the sidewalk that leads from the Fellowship Hall to where we all live. I could see the freckles sprinkled across her nose. "So?"
"So," I said, then I let the words rush out of my mouth. "He is so cute. So cute."
Laura stared at me a moment, then started toward home again. "You know you shouldn't even let that thought in your mind."
I said nothing at first, bothered by my sister. She was right. I knew that. But still. "I can look, can't I?"
Laura didn't even glance my way. Just marched toward home. "No," she said. "No, you can't look and you know it."
Again I was quiet, then I said, "You're right, Laura."
She grinned at me, her squinty eyes growing sparkly. "Good then," she said.
But I thought about him anyway. All the way home.
The lights are on still at the Johnson trailer and so I wait. I wait until all the lights have switched off. I hide near their chicken coop, the smells so thick I could have hurled them at someone.
I hear when the Prophet and Uncle Hyrum walk past.
Hear someone slam a door shut and a coyote cry out and get an answer from someone's dog.
I hear Mother Sarah, and then Father, call me in.
But I don't move. I wait in the dark, the soft cluck of chickens near, to make sure everyone at the Johnson home is sleeping. Then, in the light of that moon that has turned the color of cream, I tap on his bedroom window.
ONE AFTERNOON, when the sun sat in the sky like a crown on the mountains, I asked Mother if I could go play the piano.
"Just at the Fellowship Hall," I said.
"Of course," she said.
I tucked a fat book of Beethoven under my arm and started away. If I hurried, there would be plenty of time to play. I breathed deep the desert air, happy for the golden light that ended the day. Happy for a moment to fall into my music. I hummed the beginning of a concerto. In my head I could see the notes of a cadenza that was giving me fits. A few minutes of that to start, I decided. Then a jump to the end, maybe fifteen minutes' practice there. That would get my piece . "Hey, Kyra."
I started at the voice. "Aaah!" Then, "What?" And finally, "Sheesh almighty." Joshua Johnson walked up beside me. "Oh!" I said, and touched the front of my dress. "Oh," he said.
My face colored.
"That's rude to mimic me like that," I said. I marched forward over the sidewalk, embarrassed. The smell of the desert kicked up from a slight breeze that blew in from the west.
Joshua laughed. "I'm sorry, Kyra," he said, hurrying beside me.
I refused to look at him. Instead, I kept my eyes forward and headed across the parking lot around the Temple, feeling a little angry but more horrified and even more pleased that Joshua had surprised me.
"Where you going?" he asked.
With my head, I gestured at the Fellowship Hall.
"Why? There's no Youth Meeting to night."
I stopped, planted one hand on my hip the way Mother Claire does when she's especially unhappy, and said, flapping the book at him, "To practice piano, if you must know." Oh, you are so so so cute, I thought. So cute! Ahhh!
Joshua nodded, then shaded his eyes against the setting sun. "Can I come along and listen?"
My heart thumped. He was so pretty to look at, with his brown hair all golden in the setting sun, I didn't know what to do. The only boys I'd been around were my own brothers. And now here was Joshua Johnson.
"What do I care?" I said. But I did care. I did. There was Joshua with those warm- looking eyes of his and that cute face and Look how tall he is, I thought, way taller than me ,and he looks so good in that plaid shirt and those blue jeans.
Don't look at those blue jeans.
You looked at his blue jeans.
I reached for the Fellowship Hall door, but Joshua caught it first and opened it for me. He motioned for me to go ahead.
I did with a flounce, but my foot caught on nothing and I stumbled forward.
Just get to the piano without falling and breaking a bone, I thought. Just make it to the piano.
I could hear some boys playing basketball in the gym, could hear the squeak of their tennis shoes on the floor and the echoey pounding of the ball.
"You look pretty today, Kyra," Joshua said. He opened another door for me and we stood in the near darkness of the Assembly Room.
I looked toward the piano. Just make it there, I thought. He is so cute. So cute.
"Want me to catch the lights?" he said.
"If you'd like," I said. I sat down at the piano, my legs shaking so I wasn't sure I could work the pedals.
The fluorescent lights overhead flickered on and a low buzz filled the room.
Joshua pulled a seat up near the piano bench.
I flipped open Beethoven. Why, I was so nervous my eyes couldn't make out even one note at first. My fingers trembled and for a moment I wasn't sure if I could even feel them. It was like I was numb. I ran through scales once.
"That was good, Kyra," Joshua said. And then he grinned.
A little laugh slipped from me. "I'm just warming up."
"Play something," he said.
At first my fingers wouldn't work. Then, as I played Beethoven, I almost forgot Joshua was sitting right there.
Oh, all right. I snuck quick peeks at him the whole time we were together.
And every time, he was looking right back at me.
"You're good," he said when I'd finished my practice. He nodded toward the piano.
"I know it," I said. I wasn't being stuck up. That's a sin, to think you're better at something than another person. But the fact is, I know I'm better than any of The Chosen Ones so I wasn't being a braggart.
Joshua raised his eyebrows. "And modest," he said.
I shrugged and my brain all on its own thought, I cannot believe someone like you is talking with me. You smell so good.
"It takes a lot of work to succeed at this," I said. "A lot of practice. And I want to be good." I waved my hand over the piano, then turned back to the score. Leaning in close to the music, I made marks on the page. Here, here, and here I needed more intensity. Here, I needed less dynamics.
"I want to learn." Joshua stood and moved right next to me. He hit the low E note. The sound thumped in the room.
"Sister Georgia teaches," I said, not even glancing at him, my heart thumping like that low note. "Talk to her. Tell your mother. I'm sure she has time for you."
"My mother?" Joshua asked.
"Of course your mother," I said. I was grinning now. "And Sister Georgia."
"But I want to learn from you," Joshua said. He stood behind me now. I could feel his knees in my back. Bony and warm.
Sun broke through the stained- glass window, coloring the air. I could smell the wood oil used to polish the piano. Could hear the boys playing basketball a room over, calling to one another.
His hand rested on my shoulder and my body was flooded with unexpected happiness.
"What?" I should run, run, get away from this sin. Get away. But the bigger part of me wanted to relax into Joshua.
"You're good. You said so yourself. Think you could teach me?"
His hand. His knees. My confused state. I wanted to turn around and hug him. Where were these thoughts coming from?
"Maybe. Maybe, I can." I'm not sure how I got the words out. "I gotta go." I pushed the bench back and struggled to make my legs work. Joshua and I walked across the room. His hands were shoved in his pockets.
"Now, Kyra," he said. We were at the door getting ready to walk into what seemed to me the real world. "What will you charge for lessons?" His face was just a few inches from mine.
I couldn't find my voice. Then I said, "I'm not sure. What do you think is fair?"
Our faces were so close I could feel his breath on my lips.
"I'll figure it out," he said at last.
Excerpted from The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams.
Copyright © 2009 by Carol Lynch Williams.
Published in May 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.