“Don’t doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”
Another boring day in front of my screen. I seriously think my history teacher runs searches for “most boring details from early American history” before making her lessons. Wow! Crazy boys rode horses at breakneck speed to deliver mail to California. Who cares what happened five hundred years ago before there were aircars or globalnet?
I sighed and started drawing on my notekeeper. Ever since I took that virtual tour of the LA Arboretum, my doodles took the form of various flowers I had seen. Not seen in person of course since there were no flowers outside of state-run sanctuaries. I loved drawing all their varied shapes and colors. My favorite was the calla lily with its graceful sweeping hood and bold yellow stamen.
“Ms. Stamly.” I heard my voice and jerked my attention back to the class display on the screen wall. Oh no, she was calling on me.
“Yes, Ms. Hill,” I said as I frantically paged back on my notes trying to discover what we were talking about in class.
“I thought maybe your audio went out,” she droned. “My question was whether you thought the railroads were unfair in their domination of early California transportation?”
So that’s what happened after the Pony Express. All I had were sketches of flowers.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Hill, I think I missed that part. Globalnet problem,” I offered.
My teacher’s face scrunched up like she’d just tasted something sour. She straightened and wrote something on her notekeeper. “Well, you’d better get the newest update.” Then she called on someone else, and my mind drifted away.
I hoped she wouldn’t message my parents. They had big plans for me after secondary school, and getting a bad grade in American History was not part of them. If I did badly in school, they’d take away my screen time, my only escape from our apartment’s sterile white walls. I would go crazy in less than a week, and then they’d put me on those pills that most of my friends took.
It’s not my fault my mom and dad were doctors at the university hospital and my destiny would be to join them one day. The thought of sealing up a bloody wound with a Sealit wand made me want to swoon like a lady wearing a corset in those ancient texts.
Locked up in our sanitized apartment tower, I longed to feel dirt on my hands. Hear the drone of bees and cheerful gurgle of a rushing stream. Like the rest of the ill-fated children of my time, we were quarantined to our homes until our secondary graduations. Viruses and bad influences they said. When she was home, Mom would tell me stories about how teens used to drive cars and meet for bonfires at the beach. Going anywhere seemed a fairy tale. Fires? I couldn’t imagine the government allowing anyone to set one for personal use.
I needed to get out of here. Maybe I could get Amy to go with me. I texted her on my watch.
“Log out of school, and meet me in the rec room.”
She wrote back right away, “Are you crazy?”
“Just the right kind.”
A few minutes later, a tall girl with spiky yellow hair met me by our apartment’s pool. Without a word, I waved her over to the changing room, the only place without cameras. I unpacked the duffel I had brought, dumping out adult clothes, wigs, and makeup.
“What is that for?” she asked, her voice wavering.
“We’re going to smell flowers,” I said.
A short time later, we were riding in an Uber aircar on our way to the LA Arboretum. Mom and Dad would probably blame Amy and never let me speak to her again if they found out what we were doing. They refused to believe I would resist any of their plans for me. My heart was racing, but it would all be worth it.
The car dropped us off without a word. I was so glad self-driving aircars were the norm, as the AI wouldn’t see that we were teens under our disguises. However, we would still have to get past the front gate.
I exhaled in relief when I discovered the entry kiosk was only a machine. I waved Mom’s spare cash card that she left for emergencies and the gate opened with a click.
“Come on,” I said as I pulled Amy with me into the Arboretum.
Wild pungent aromas overwhelmed us. Competing layers of sweet smells combined with a musty undertone, scents that I had never experienced. Some reminded me of candy or cakes, while others were dark and mysterious. The plants were so green they hurt my eyes. Not only green, but so many shades of green I lost count.
And flowers! In every shape and size, shades of red, purple, yellow, orange, and a white so brilliant it must have been copied from a cloud.
“Penny, are you alright?” Amy shook me by the shoulders.
“I’m more than alright. I’m perfect.” I had stopped in front of a long stemmed white flower, its curving bell shape holding me in awe.
“I’m not going to medical school,” I said almost like a prayer.
“Penny, these flowers are making you dizzy. Every child has to take their parent’s place. What if all doctors’ kids decided to choose a different career? We wouldn’t have medical care.”
“But that’s not who I am,” I insisted. I waved my arms toward the paradise surrounding us. “I belong here. Caring for plants and flowers. Adults can make laws and control what kids do, but we’re born with our own talents.”
“We’d better get back,” Amy said, looking around to see if anyone was close enough to hear us.
I nodded, and called up the ride service on my watch. “I’ll be back,” I whispered on the breeze.
The calla lily bobbed its head in reply.