The Leanonn Portals: The Stream
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Fifteen year old writer Jean has always been the outcast. But when she discovers the mysterious other world of Leanonn, where her written words have been given life, and her entire life turns upside down. Her written characters have been shunned by society, she joins a rebel group bent on protecting West Leanonn from inevitable war, and, most luring of all, she meets Nathan, an earth born boy her age. Will she return to the world she's always known for her family, or stay in Leanonn for the one she loves?
Jean Ramoire sat placidly on the brick wall separating her garden from the dusty road, gazing wistfully out at the field on the other side of the road. Children were running on its smooth green surface, playing football. Jean let out a sigh. Football, a brown and white colored word. She couldn't play with the others. Or, rather, they wouldn't play with her. They rejected her. She was, after all, “rainbow eyes,” or “colors girl.” Rainbow, not as colorful a word as its meaning, but it still had a reddish brown blue charm all the same. For Jean was a synesthete. Meaning she had a neurological condition called synesthesia, in which numbers, letters, and names all were a certain color to her. Her numbers even had personalities. This condition was harmless, and didn't affect her brainpower, personality, etc., and Jean had thought at first that everyone else was like her. However, she was sorely mistaken, as she found out as a ten year old. Oh, if only she had known the vast amount of trouble it would cause for her to speak up.
It had been a Saturday afternoon in autumn. Though the air was crisp, the sun shone brightly through the clouds. There was a certain electricity in the air, as if something important was going to happen. Jean and the other children were enjoying a few running races on the field. A young boy in overalls and a striped shirt came running quick across the field. His short legs pumping, arms swinging, chest heaving, he easily outstripped his older opponent and made good time. Barely catching his breath, he strode up to Jean and boasted, “I can make it to the tree and back in only four seconds. But I can almost get three. I'm really close to getting three.” He smiled conceitedly and stood with the air of someone who thought they were the champion of the world.
“Well I wouldn't mind four at all,” said Jean, surprised at the boy's desires. “Four is such a shy, kind number. Whereas three, well, she's terribly fussy and elderly. Reminds me of my Aunt Agatha. I would just stick with plain old green four then mess with complaining fuchsia three.” The little boy just stared, a slight frown on his face that revealed his confusion. His strawberry blonde hair blew very slightly in the breeze.
“What d'ya mean?” he finally asked. Clouds rolled in, and the wind blew stronger.
“Well,” Jean said, curious as to why this strange boy couldn't understand her very simple explanation. After all, it made perfect sense to her. “Three is fussy, annoying, old. Everyone knows that silly!” Jean was incredulous. “I mean, it's the same reason why A is always red. Red not like an apple red, but like a strawberry. Strawberry red.” Again the boy's creased eyebrows and sudden silence made it seem as if he was missing out on something, but trying to understand. As if he'd heard a joke that everyone else was laughing at but he hadn't worked out the punch line yet. Why was he being deliberately stupid?
“Hey!” the boy called to a friend. A pudgy, buzz cut boy with chocolate stains on the front of his plain blue t-shirt slowly turned his head in their direction. He was much bigger than the little boy. Why the younger boy could fit his whole body into one of the pudgy boy's short holes. He was much slower than the little boy too, and walked with an odd lumbering gait. Judging by his looks, it seemed like a rather stupid thing of the boy to do to ask him for help on understanding something. The other way around, maybe.
“Listen to this,” the little boy said to his pudgy friend. The pudgy boy's expression was blank, but he slowly jerked his head as if to nod. The boy took that as a yes and addressed Jean. “Say what you said to me to him.”
“Okay,” said Jean apprehensively. She wondered what this was all about but repeated herself nonetheless. “I was just saying that letters are colors and numbers have personalities. Like A is red and 4 is shy.” The little boy looked up to his friend and waited for a response. Jean suspected that with a friend like that you have to be pretty patient. All that waiting for his mind to process information. Like a very old computer.
Finally, still with a blank stare, the pudgy boy said in a deep voice, “That's stupid! Letters and numbers are just letters and numbers. They aren't anything!” Jean wasn't surprised he didn't understand. It was obvious he wasn't the brightest penny in the fountain. But why didn't the young boy understand? That was odd, but Jean was sympathetic.
“But…don't you all see???” Jean looked at the gathering crowd for support. They couldn't all be ignorant. “Can't you see the colors?” This time she addressed the others. All she got was some more stares and a couple of smart aleck laughs.
“She's a color girl,” a boy muttered loudly to general agreement.
“Rainbow eyes!” someone shouted from the crowd to resounding laughter.
“Okay,” Jean said defensively. Why didn't they see the colors? They were plain as day. She was scared and embarrassed, but she could recover. “I didn't mean anything. Let's just go play.”
“Why would we want to play with a rainbow headed girl like you?” the little boy asked jeeringly.
“I bet she has mental problems,” a girl with thick rimmed glasses said. “She could be dangerous.”
“Retard!” a blonde haired older girl's voice called. It stung Jean like a red-hot poker. Some kid pushed her with icy steel cold hands. She fell on the dead prickly grass that should have been pristine and green except for the drought.
“But it's not my fault,” Jean whimpered. She felt like a freak. Why did she have to be different? Tears welled up under her eyes, and she was half crying when she said, “It's not my fault, I swear.” She turned tail and ran home, leaving her former friends and her tears behind her.
Now, five years later, Jean was still haunted by the memory of that day. From then on she was alone. Every kid on the road went to her school, and she was teased without mercy at first. Then they all treated her like she had mental problems or some weird disease. Now, however, at high school, everyone had sort of forgotten to be a jerk to her. Still, she was given wide berth in the halls and mostly ignored altogether. Which was what Jean preferred. By now she'd done some research on the subject. She knew that her condition was called synesthesia and all. She'd heard others online that liked to think of it as their gift. Some gift. She tried to present her case to the kids when she figured out scientifically what was up, but they couldn't care less and called her “Color nerd” for a month.
Jean was labeled anti-social by her school counselor, which seemed ridiculous to Jean. She wasn't choosing to have no friends. She wanted to be social, obsessed about it, even. More accurately, her anti-social-ness was forced upon her. She wrote avidly, because it was her escape from reality. Jean thought of herself as very creative, but that uniqueness had been her downfall. She lived in a world where creativity was downtrodden and normality was treasured. In other words, she lived in modern day Colorado.
Just then Jean's pet cat, Derby, jumped up on the wall and slunk over to her. He was orange with ginger stripes. Reminded her of Alice in Wonderland's cat. He had a piece of rope on his collar. Jean's mom didn't like Derby getting too friendly with the female cats in the neighborhood (It didn't exactly make them popular with their kitten laden neighbors) so she tied him up when the other cats were looking for mates. But Derby always escaped. Ironic, really, because Derby himself had been presented happily to Jean as a kitten from the next door's litter. Wouldn't a kitten do some other lonely little girl good? Her worn out neighbors, however, didn't think as such. Maybe kittens were more chaotic than cute after the fifth litter. Jean almost considered renaming him Houdini, but figured that would only confuse him.
Jean picked up Derby before he could get away. His sleek but soft fur rubbed up against Jean's hands. He meowed in objection and stretched out his claws. Being held and petted wasn't really his thing. She lifted him up and looked him right in the face. “You have no problem fitting in with the cats on the street,” said Jean. “Why can't I fit in with the kids?” Derby just yawned and meowed. Jean put him back down on the wall, from which he promptly jumped and ran through the bushes separating their house from the woods behind them.
Jean looked down the dusty road. A moving van backed into the driveway of an old house. Oh no, that was the Abbin house. That house had once been owned by Taylor Abbin, a nice old guy with a lot of cats. Jean had only heard about him through her mom's experiences as a child. He went missing decades before. Everyone said that the house was haunted and that any cat around there was really a ghost of one of Abbin's cats. The house had been abandoned for years, and Jean had liked to explore its expansive backyard and the woods behind. She was disappointed that now she wouldn't be able to visit her summer haunt.
Jean let her gaze wander to the gray brick wall at the far end of the field that separated it from the stream on the other side. As a rule no one crossed that stream. Ever. Legends of monsters, disappearances, and murders circled it. Nothing had happened in years, however. Not since the wall had been built as a divider. Everyone still avoided it, however, out of habit. Once, when Jean was very small, even before she had been an outcast, she had asked her mom why no one crossed the stream.
“Why don't we cross the stream, momma?” asked Jean over the rare treat of an ice cream cone. Strawberry with whip cream and cherries, she remembered. She'd wanted chocolate but her mom had wanted to surprise her with it after school and she didn't know. It was still good anyway.
“Because,” said her good-natured mom simply.
“Why?” Jean asked in her child-like way.
“Because if you cross the stream you'll be sorry, and by then it'll be too late,” her mom snapped unusually sharply. “And don't you ever ask again because you'll get a smack for a reply!” Jean just stared, wide-eyed. Her mother had never been that short-tempered with her before. Jean remembered that the whip cream part of her ice cream had fallen off onto the cement. Her mom's features softened, and she apologized for being so snappish. “I just don't want you to get hurt, honey,” said her mom. “Just promise you'll never go back there ever, okay?”
“Okay mom,” Jean had said. “I promise.” Jean had wondered why her mom had over-reacted so, but had never pressed the subject. Just then Jean was jerked from her thoughts by her mom's voice in real life. A sweet voice, one that reminded you of little cottages and cinnamon cookies.
“Jean,” she called in a singsong voice. “Lunch is ready.”
“Coming mom!” shouted Jean. Jean's voice wasn't like her mom's. It was crackly-like, but in a pleasant way. Jean picked up the sketchbook on her lap and brought both herself and it inside. Jean bounded up the steps into her little white house, her reddish brown hair waving up and down as she made her way. Her house was small, more of a cottage really, when you compared it to the other houses on the street. Jean didn't mind, though, as it was only Jean and her mother that lived there.
The reason being that when Jean's mother was pregnant, her father had enlisted in the army reserve. He'd been killed in a horrible accident, a misfired gun during training. He was a wonderful man, according to Jean's mother. Daniel, his name had been. A nice name, thought Jean. Light brown that covered the whole word with a calming air. She'd inherited her green eyes from him.
As Jean crossed the threshold into her home she called out, “What's for lunch?”
“Tuna again,” her mom said quietly. Jean shuddered inwardly. Tuna, she just didn't care for the fishy stuff. However, tuna was cheap, and it was the only meat the food council would supply at the warehouse down the road.
Jean looked over at her mom. Her back was turned, but Jean could tell that she was silently crying. She often did nowadays, with money being so tight. She felt like she was inadequate as a mother because she couldn't provide Jean with the best all the time. Guilt.
“Sounds good!” Jean cried enthusiastically for her mother's sake. Jean didn't think her mother bought her act, but what else was she to say?
“So what have you been doing outside?” Jean's mother asked over tuna sandwiches. Her eyes were still reddish. Jean looked up at her mom as she tried to eat the food without making a face.
“Nothing much,” Jean said quietly. “Sketched a blue jay I saw in the backyard. Pretty much it.” She turned back to her food, head bent down.
“That's nice, dear,” her mom said, crunching on a pickle. “Do you think that maybe you want to go over and hang out with the teenagers across the way later?” Her mom tried to sound casual, but now Jean was the one that saw right through the act.
Her mom had been trying lately to get Jean to socialize with others. She was trying to be a good mom, and Jean was sure it must be hard for her, mother of the outcast. She was just trying to do what was best for Jean, and she knew that. But the problem was that Jean hadn't chosen to be the anti-social outcast.
At first, Jean had longed for a friend. Anyone. Just someone to hang out with and talk to just so she didn't feel so stupid all the time. Anyone. But the kids were cruel, and her wish was never granted. By now Jean was used to being alone most of the time, and it no longer bothered her. Or at least she never showed it. She wasn't interested in trying to make friends with those kids that had treated her like a freak all those years ago. No she was better off alone, without the chance of being stabbed in the back.
“No thanks,” Jean said.
“Jean,” said her mom seriously. “You can't get too angry at those kids that were mean to you when you were what, eight, nine?”
“Ten,” Jean replied stiffly.
“Well anyway,” her mother pressed on. “There are people everywhere, not just children either, that lash out or are scared of what they don't understand. That way of thinking leads to war, hate, prejudice, all of it. But remember they were all kids then. I'm sure they've matured by now, why not give them a chance?” Jean just stared off into the distance.
She knew that those kids would never grow up. Inborn, cruel as they were. And there was nothing she could do about it. But then Jean stopped thinking that way. Cynical, it was. Negativity was not the answer.
Jean's mom sighed and started eating her sandwich again. Jean felt guilty, but what was she supposed to do? She wasn't going to try to make friends with those jerks that had made her outcast. Why would she?
Just then someone knocked on the door.
Jean's head turned over to the door, as did her mom's. “Who could that be?” Jean's mom asked. They didn't often have visitors. Jean got up from the table and looked through the peephole.
There was a girl out there. She looked about Jean's age. Jean didn't recognize her as one of the neighborhood kids, but she was still foreboding. What girl would want to come to their house after all? She could feel her mom's eyes watching her, and she had no choice but to answer.
“Hello,” Jean said to the girl. Her voice came out harsh. Jean didn't want company at her doorstep. The girl had big brown eyes and long brown hair with freckles. She was pale though. Not an outdoorsy person then.
“Hi,” she said. Her voice was like that of a twelve year old. Innocent and light. “Uh, We just moved in down the street and my dad was wondering if you have a cup of milk. Our fridge was unconnected for too long and the milk went bad.” She looked down at the patio most of the time as if she were getting acquainted with the cement.
“Why of course you can!” Jean's mom said brightly from over her shoulder. “Just a second.” Her mom left them alone. Jean kicked at the ground with her feet and didn't meet the girl's eyes.
“Do you know who lived in the house before we moved in?” the girl asked, making a stab at conversation. Jean hesitated, and then shook her head. She had considered telling her the Abbin story but decided against it. After all, she didn't know that the house was the only place on the street that Jean went besides her own home. Why freak her out? Jean then became angry at herself for being unable to be cruel to this strange girl. It wasn't in her nature. “Oh,” said the girl nervously. “Well whoever it was left behind a bunch of cats.”
Jean's mom showed up just in time to save her from having to make conversation. “Here you go sweetie,” she said, handing the girl the milk. “Jean, why don't you go down there with her?” Jean looked at her mom, pleading with her eyes. She replied with the mom look. The one that says you're in trouble. Jean sighed and followed the girl out the door and down the road.
“So do you hang out with any of the neighborhood kids?” the girl asked, again trying to make conversation. Jean shook her head again. Jean was angry enough that she'd been forced into this, and she was going to get out of it as soon as possible. Jean looked down at her feet. Derby had followed her. Jean tried to send him away, but he wouldn't leave.
“Oh is that your cat?” the girl asked. Jean nodded. “What's his name?” Again, trying to make conversation. Do teenage girls for some reason have an insane desire to talk all the time? Do they really like hearing the sound of their own voice that much? Or are they just scared of the silence? Jean sighed and realized that she was going to be forced to answer.
“Derby,” she said softly.
“Hi Derby!” the girl said brightly. “You are so cute!” She bent down to pet him. Jean tried to tell him with her mind that he wasn't to make friends with the girl.
“We're better off alone,” she tried to tell him. Either she wasn't very good at telethapy or Derby didn't care. He warmed right up to the girl, purring and slinking around his legs. Jean was surprised. She had never seen Derby let anyone but her pet him. The girl laughed. Derby spotted the neighbor's cat, Tinkerbell. He ran off after her.
“I'm Sasha,” the girl said, taking advantage of the moment. Sasha, thought Jean. A yellow and brown word with red speckles.
“Jean,” she replied bluntly. Once again there was silence between the two of them. They were almost at the Abbins' house when Derby came back running across the field. He bolted in front of the two girls.
“Oh no!” Sasha cried as she was knocked off balance. She spilt the cup of milk. Jean looked down at the big wet spot on her shirt that was dripping milk onto the dirt. “I'm so sorry!” cried Sasha. “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay,” Jean replied in a low voice.
“We can dry it off at my house,” said Sasha nervously. “Oh I'm sorry, sorry.” They walked up the steps into the old house. The floor was worn and wooden, the ceiling vaulted. It no longer smelled like the old oak that Jean had become familiarized with, but of the breeze and floor cleaner. Boxes lined the walls.
A tall smiling man came up to Sasha. “Who is this?” he asked.
“Jean from down the block,” Sasha replied. “I accidentally spilled the milk on her.”
“Oh Sasha,” the man said, chuckling as he shook his head. “You'll have to forgive my daughter Jean, she's really klutzy.”
“Dad!” Sasha cried, smiling. Jean followed Sasha up the stairs to the bathroom. Jean was thinking about the man. So that was what it was like to have a dad. Jean had never felt like she'd been missing out on anything, but now…
Jean went into the bathroom with Sasha. It seemed empty, the walls were white, no pictures. Then Jean remembered that they just moved in. “I'm really sorry,” Sasha said, handing Jean a wet paper towel. She tried to soak up the milk. The milk washed away, but now she had a big water spot on her black shirt.
A woman walked in the bathroom. She was shorter, with Bermuda shorts and a blue half sleeve shirt. She had her hair tied back in a ponytail with a baseball cap on. Jean would have labeled her as an older sister, not that she looked young, but she acted it. However, Sasha's dad walked in at that moment, and the two embraced. So she had a mom and a dad. Some people have all the luck.
“Hey Sasha,” the woman said brightly. “Hey that's pretty good, found a friend already. What's your name?” Jean didn't see why just because she happened to be in the same room with Sasha it made them friends. They were barely even acquaintances.
“Her name is Jean,” Sasha said stiffly, avoiding her mom's eyes. “Now if you can excuse us we're done in here.” It was if a cloud had drifted over Sasha's head. The happy, bright-eyed girl she had been when she had talked to her dad was gone. Sasha walked out the door. Jean followed. Sasha's mom seemed crestfallen, and her dad frowned as they walked by. Perhaps they had noticed the change in mood as well.
“Uh, you can come back to my house,” Jean said quietly. “My mom will give you some more milk.” She didn't know why, but she all of a sudden felt like she should try to comfort this girl. Why, she didn't know. After all, she was the one with the big nice house and two parents.
“Oh that's okay,” Sasha sighed. “My dad is just going to have to go to the store. It's no big deal.”
“Does your mom like to bake or something?” Jean asked as they walked into the backyard. Now she was the one to make conversation. Maybe it's an inborn thing, Jean thought. When one person's too quiet the other one's got to talk more to balance it out.
“Step-mom,” said Sasha stiffly. “My mother passed away from cancer a few years ago.” Oh. That explained a lot. Jean thought of what it would be like if she had known her dad and then lost him. She supposed it would have been worse, but she still wondered what her dad was like. She wished he could have stayed with them just a little while.
Sasha and Jean sat down in lawn chairs. It was silent for a few minutes until Sasha blurted out, “I'm sorry Jean. I don't mean to be so negative. It's just that I'm still getting used to have Karen living with us. That's why we moved, so we'd have a house that we could start over again in together. But I miss the house I lived in with my mom. I knew her favorite spots in the house and everything. It was like she was just in the other room when I was living in my house. I hate living in a house that she never saw. It doesn't feel right.” Tears were rolling down her face.
Jean felt uncomfortable now. She was the stranger from next door, why was Sasha telling her all this? Jean realized then that she had probably left a lot of her friends behind when she moved. She needed to vent to someone that would listen. It was just a little weird for Jean, as she hadn't talked with anyone her own age for a while. She didn't really know what she was supposed to do in the situation.
“It'll be okay,” replied Jean, even though she really didn't mean it. “Uh, maybe if you don't think about as much.”
“How?!” Sasha cried incredulously. Jean winced and retracted slightly as Sasha burst out in huge, shuddering sobs once more. Jean panicked, looking for some way to leave without acting rude. She went to get up off the lawn chair when Sasha spoke through her weeping.
“I'm sorry, Jean,” said Sasha. “It's my fault for being so sensitive. If you hate me that's alright, you can go.” Jean stopped in her tracks. Her common sense urged her to move on.
No use getting attached to this girl, her brain told her. She'll find out soon enough that you're color girl and then she'll be gone forever. Just keep walking. But then an odd feeling came over Jean, and she was thrust into an internal battle she had never dreamed she'd be fighting.
But she seems so sad, the better part of Jean argued. It couldn't hurt to just stay a little while.
Why should you pity her? argued sensible Jean even louder. She's the one who actually can make friends here and has the big nice house. She knows her dad and knew her mother. She can manage fine without you.
No, good Jean said firmly. I really think we should stay. This strange argument with herself took about five seconds, and good Jean put her foot down. Strange, she had always been so passive.
And so Jean walked back to Sasha, putting her arm around the crying girl's shoulder. “It will be okay,” Jean said softly. It was a lie, Jean knew. A wound deep enough will never heal over completely. A scar always remains. Nevertheless, she was just here to make Sasha feel better, not throw her into the face of reality.
In the moment of silence when Sasha finally stopped crying, loud yells and whoops carried from the field into the expansive backyard. Sasha lifted up her head, tears still glistening in her eyes. Yet they gave away curiosity, not sadness.
“What is that?” she asked, looking over Jean's shoulder.
“Nothing,” Jean replied shortly. She was lying again. Weird, she would have thought that good Jean would have been a little more honest. For she knew full well what that noise was. It was a stupid game the kids played. Whoever got the closest to jumping the wall was instantly the most popular, which made absolutely no sense to Jean.
“It has to be something, silly,” Sasha said, instantly perky. “C'mon!” She ran out the side gate into the front door. Jean stared, dumbfounded at this snap change in mood. She followed Sasha hesitantly.
“What are they doing over there?” Sasha asked as Jean came into the front yard. She was staring at the gray brick wall where the kids were grouped. Jean remained silent, hoping to put off the inevitable for as long as she could.
One of the kids turned around. It was too far to really know for sure, but they looked like an older boy. He nudged a taller person in back of him. In a few seconds the whole group had turned around. They all seemed to be looking at the moving van, then Sasha, then Jean, putting all three together. Then all at once they began coming towards the two girls.
“Do you have gangs here?” asked Sasha, fear making her voice even higher than it was already. Jean shook her head, but she could see why Sasha would ask that. The mob of people coming towards them was a black shadow against the sunset. Even to Jean they looked menacing.
When they were close enough to see their faces, the tallest boy yelled out, “Hey girl! What are you doing with rainbow eyes?”
Sasha turned to look at Jean. “Rainbow eyes?” she asked in a whisper. “What is that, your nickname?” Jean didn't answer, but stood stock still instead, her eyes locked forward.
“Hey girl, I'm talking to you!” he yelled again. “What you hanging out with the freak for? Don't you know about her?” Sasha took a step back. The teenage boy was scaring her. Jean didn't blame her. He was much bigger than either of them, with huge arms that looked like they could crush you.
Oh please let them go away, Jean pleaded silently. Please, anything. Just make them go away.
“Hey don't you know her dad went crazy?” the boy asked, a horrible grin stretched across his face. Jean went rigid, not from fear, but anger.
“Yeah girl,” the boy continued. “He was thrown into the asylum years ago. A real nutcase. And now the girl's just like him. Color freak.”
“Why's he being so mean?” Sasha asked Jean quietly. “Is it true?” But Jean couldn't hear properly. She was furious, more furious than she had ever been in her life. She had the intense desire to walk straight up and punch that guy in the face.
“She's a loser!” the guy yelled. “Why are you talking to her? She can't understand you. Why don't you just leave freak! Just cross the wall and never come back!”
“What wall?” Sasha asked quietly. But Jean was already crossing the field, her knuckles clenched so tight they were white. “Jean!” Sasha yelled after her. Jean broke into a run, barely hearing the jeers around her. She sprinted faster than she had ever done in her life.
She jumped and heaved herself over the gray brick wall. Jean didn't even glance back. Rage clouded her senses. She couldn't hear or feel anything around her. In one quick movement she leapt across the forbidden stream. So there! I played your stupid game! she yelled inwardly.
Then all of a sudden everything caught up with her. She had done the worst of all wrongs. She had crossed the stream. Immediately she turned on her heel to go back.
Jean didn't even have time to breathe. Mist invaded her sight, fogging her very mind. Then the earth crumbled beneath her and she was falling…falling…falling…
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