Zu shows up ten seconds after I climb the beech tree. I’ve torn the skirt right off my new recital dress. The scrapes on my knees are bleeding. I’m snot-nosed.
“Zu,” I say. “Go home.”
She blinks, all lamb-faced as usual. Really, I wish she didn’t exist right now, but you can’t be mean to Zu, even though she does have everything you don’t.
She pulls her red coat tight around her chest and looks up at me. Where she came from, I’ve got no idea, but she’s back in her usual dress, her legs bare like mine and almost knee-deep in the snow. Last Friday, she wore jeans to school, but they didn’t help. She tucked her t-shirt into them—she even used a belt—but nothing could hold all the coins that sprang from her ribs. She got to leave algebra early again, a trail of rare pennies chiming down behind her. We swept them into piles, near the dodo feathers, and the crystal marbles, and the gold-leaf confetti. Next week, they’ll go on display in the trophy case—Zu's treasures. They tumble right out of her. She never knows when.
Zu pulls her coat a little tighter. “But they fly,” she says.
That’s the other thing Zu does, says stuff that makes no sense, stuff you only figure out later.
I don’t look down, so she’ll leave. I’d love to climb higher, but it's too fucking terrifying—fucking, because Mom hates that word, and terrifying, because what could be worse than falling from a beech tree to your death? Oh, that's right—forgetting your solo eight bars in and running out, through the audience, up the center aisle, like your feet are aflame. Heading straight to the woods and treeing yourself like a dog. Yeah, that’s what.
Zu blinks at me again. I cover my face.
What I thought when I froze at the recital—when I was little, I picked some yellow flowers for my mom. “They’re weeds,” she said. “Dandelions.”
What I thought when I ran from the hall—I’m a yellow flower. A fucking weed. That’s what I have inside.
Mom threw them out.
Crunch, crunch, crunch. Zu’s taking steps through the snow. She tugs on my half-frozen foot. I uncover my face. I pretend I’m not crying.
“But they fly,” she says again. “They fly.”
She’s probably got my solo inside of her, too. I bet it’s perfect. I bet it’s just the way Mom plays it.
“Zu! Go home!”
Zu drops her head and walks away, but then she turns and opens her coat.
No way—she’s naked. Now what?
Dandelions. Between her ribs they bloom, bright yellow. A second later, they go to seed and twirl into the air, a hundred little halos, floating. Flying. They make a crown around my head. For a minute, I’m a dandelion, too. That’s it. That’s all.
“That’s everything,” Zu says.