Rebecca Anne Lemmon flung a pair of brown corduroy pants onto her bed, already littered with western pants. New for the coming school year, the corduroys almost matched Rebecca's chestnut hair.
Blue, her big mixed-breed dog, raised her head and yawned.
"You're right, girl; this is bor-ring."
Blue stood up and stretched her front legs, then gazed up at Becca, as everyone called her. Becca rubbed her dog's head.
As far as Becca could tell, Blue was part Australian shepherd, part chow, part golden retriever, and maybe some hound, judging by Blue's joy of howling.
"Too bad Tommy didn't invite dogs. You and I could have fun at the park. I've got to find some pants." Becca pulled on a pair of bright red ones with pearl snaps on the pockets. Tommy's favorite color. The size was way off--they fit fine around her waist, but the legs stopped three full inches above her ankles.
Not yet twelve, Becca stood almost as tall as the bookshelves in her room--they measured six feet. She hadn't gotten any wider since fifth grade, but she kept growing up, mostly in her legs. Any boy in her class would love being this tall. Becca wished she'd had short parents, not tall gangly ones. She wished she looked more like Chris McKay, her best girl friend at school--short, blonde, cute.
Shaking her head, Becca picked up her black pants. Wouldn't work, they were now shorts. The denim ones had black patches on the knees. Becca had sewn the patches, each stitch tied in a knot like a suture. Every chance she had, Becca practiced being a veterinarian; someday she'd work on animals. Someday she'd be Dr. Lemmon and have her own clinic.
For now, she might as well forget the party. She would, too, except Tommy Kashido was her best friend in the Valley, maybe her best friend anywhere. But now he was turning twelve, and she at least needed to be at his party.
Tommy had the best birthday time of everyone--summer. Becca started laughing. The only thing wrong with Tommy's parties was the food. Tommy's dad was a dentist and his mother planned meals for hospitals. They never served sweets. Never chocolate.
"Stay!" Becca ordered Blue, then she ran downstairs in her underwear to find some M&M's.
Standing beside the sink, Becca looked out the kitchen window across the back yard. Ivy grew up the huge granite wall that surrounded the Valley where she lived. Becca liked the wall. She always felt safe there--after all, guards watched the entire Valley, and no one came or left without the guards knowing. Becca and her friends in the compound could play outdoors late at night.
Down the street from the Lemmons' house, another wall loomed. Everyone called that one the Walls, and it enclosed Inside where the inmates at Centerville State Prison lived, locked in cells most of the time. That wall stood twice as tall as the one behind the Lemmons' house. Twice as tall with guard towers. The towers made the wall look like a castle to Becca, but she knew better. Becca didn't like the idea of being locked in a cell and wished no one had to live like that.
The afternoon siren blew, 3:30. Becca liked the sirens, too. The longest one blew at noon, but there were the morning and afternoon ones when prison trusties came out to work in the Valley or went back Inside. Trusties, according to her daddy, were not likely to kill someone or try to escape, so they didn't have to stay in their cells so much of the time. The siren made a schedule, like a public alarm clock. If it ever blew off schedule, that meant trouble Inside. Becca had never heard the siren blow for an emergency, not in all her eleven years.
Becca held back the yellow M&M's--her favorite color--and crunched the other ones. She'd already gotten Tommy a present, and Mrs. Kashido had offered to drive Becca to the party, so she couldn't back out now. She looked down at her lean legs. Who would ever want a girlfriend as tall as a high school basketball player?
Popping all the yellow candy into her mouth at once, Becca smushed the softened chocolate with her tongue.
"Find pants," she murmured as she ran up the stairs, two at a time, to her room.
From underneath her laundry pile, Becca retrieved some pants, yellow ones, slightly grass stained at the cuffs. After she zipped them, she backed up and looked at herself in the closet door mirror. At least her ankles were covered. She pushed at the wrinkles.
"These will have to do. Wanna play ball?"
Blue wiggled her tail and panted at Becca.