Kianna, Age 12, Lakewood, CO

Jillian never thought of herself as crazy or even paranoid, but something was weird here. Almost every home in her neighborhood had at least one aspen tree in its front yard. Some had as many as three.  Jillian’s bright azure eyes scanned every yard. A certain yard caught her attention. She froze in place and just stared. It had four trees.

"What’s up, Jill?  Ya’ lose something?” her big sister Noella asked coming up behind her. “You do this every day when we’re walking home from school. It’s sorta creepy.”

Jillian’s eyes stayed focused on the yard. “Is it just me, or are those trees everywhere?” she mumbled.

Noella tossed her dirty mahogany colored hair over her shoulder. “I don’t know,” she said. “We don’t have one. But I do know that whoever designed this place should take a very long walk on a very short pier.” Airy chuckles escaped both girls as they began the long downhill walk toward home.

Jillian didn’t really know why she bothered hanging around with Noella at all. Her big sister attracted trouble, and Jillian always got dragged into it. Sometimes Jillian thought of Noella as the younger sister instead of the other way around.

“Hey, Jill,” Noella said, stopping on the sidewalk, “isn’t that Mom’s old work buddy? You know, Ruby Adolph. She’s Dustin’s mom.”

“I know who she is,” Jillian snapped. “She’s just...standing in her yard. Let’s go say hi.” The girls crossed the street.

“Hello, girls!” the plump woman said. Both girls waved hesitantly. “How about some nice, fresh lemonade.” Not wanting to be rude, the girls followed Mrs. Adolph into her house. A few minutes later, they all sat around the kitchen table sipping sour lemonade.

“Dustin doesn’t make friends easily,” Mrs. Adolph said. “I’m so glad you guys moved into the neighborhood!”

“Yeah, me too,” Noella said sarcastically.

Mrs. Adolph didn’t seem to notice. “I’ll get Dustin,” she said.  Her curly, chestnut hair bounced up and down as she skipped from the kitchen and shouted up the staircase. “Dustin, we’ve got company!”

The girls moved to the living room while they waited for Dustin. Noella plopped down on the couch. Jillian joined her and adjusted her light orange pigtails. The girls heard a long a groan followed by footsteps pounding down the stairs.

“Dude, can’t you see I was busy? Dustin said snottily.

His mother ignored the comment.  “Honey, the Dunstans dropped by.”

“Sup, Noella?” he said, pushing messy black locks away from his face. “You too, Jilly.”

“Hey yourself, “ Noella said. “Long time no see.” Noella’s voice had changed when she spoke to Dustin.

“Eww! Teen love!” groaned Jillian. Her sister looked away from Dustin and shot daggers at Jillian.

Dustin and Noella excused themselves and took a casual stroll upstairs. “Great,” Jillian mumbled quietly enough that Mrs. Adolph didn’t hear her.

After that, it seemed that Dustin and Noella were constantly together, usually at the neighborhood park. Since meeting Dustin, Noella had been seriously distracted. Her ripped jeans and short-sleeved shirts had been magically replaced with short skirts and fancy tops.  Noella didn’t talk about it. It just happened.

But Jillian had certainly noticed.

Last night Jillian had sneaked out and followed Noella and Dustin to the nearby park.  She had hidden herself behind a bush a few feet away.

“So, we meet here tomorrow for the breakout, right?” Noella said.

“Course,” Dustin said. “Supposed to get real dark, real quick tomorrow.”

“Good. I’m tired of this place,” Noella said.

Jillian’s eyes widened. There’s no way she’s leaving me here alone, she thought.

“And you know what will happen if they catch us?” Dustin said.

“No, and I don’t intend to find out,” Noella said.

“If you get caught,” Dustin said, “they have a meeting and decide whether you can stay or if you get sent away to Azpen Vista.”

“Wait,” Noella said, “isn’t that the fertilizer company?”

“Probably just similar names,” Dustin said scratching at his head.

The next day, Jillian couldn’t help noticing that Noella was glued to the clock. Her mom noticed, too.  “Waiting for something?” their mom asked.

Noella ignored the question, and flew out the door at exactly 5:00 o’clock.

When Noella arrived at the park, Dustin wasn’t there waiting for her. But Mrs. Adolph was. “Where’s Dustin?” Noella demanded.

“Dustin just lost it. He tried to break out, but he didn’t make it,” his mother managed to say. “He asked me to stay here and tell you.”

“Where is he?” Noella said.

“The Neighborhood Watch Committee is deciding what to do right now.”

Noella flinched at the news and took off for home.

“Come on, Jillian,” Noella demanded. “We’re going to the meeting.”

Jillian nodded, still unsure whether to go through with it or not. “Let’s go,” Jillian decided.

At 5:45 pm, Jillian and Noella stood with their faces pressed against the window. They watched, as one-by-one, each member of the Committee dropped either a black ball or a white ball into a bowl. Both girls knew that black couldn’t be good.

“This is like real bad,” Jillian whispered. “The black balls are overpowering.”

Noella didn’t answer. Instead she yelled, “Get down!”

“What?” Jillian asked, backing away from the window.

“Run!” Noella shouted. “They’re coming!”

Jillian didn’t hesitate.  She took off at full speed like an Olympic sprinter.  She didn’t even stop to make sure Noella was behind her.

She wasn’t.

Later that evening, a large truck with the words “Azpen Vista Company” painted on the sides in giant letters drove slowly past her house. Somewhere in the distance Jillian heard a siren screaming.

Noella never came home. Everyone in her family and in the neighborhood avoided the topic.

In fact, Jillian’s home joined the neighborhood trend. A small aspen tree had been delivered and planted in her front yard. The tree grew quickly, its leaves healthy and green.

Jillian now knew the truth. She knew the consequences of breaking the rules. She wasn’t stupid. She would follow those rules.

She had no intention of ever being fertilizer.

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