When I saw them walk through the door, I was sure they must be lost. But the guy went straight over to the books and started looking through them like he was intent on learning the HMI principles that very minute. The girl looked right at me and her green eyes were like a wild animal's, observant and unafraid. I'd met a lot ranchers before, and while these two were faintly reminiscent of the leathery country people who come from all over the Southwest, they were also different. For some reason I expected them to speak a different language—a language I wouldn't know.
“I'm Molly Flynn,” I said when they finally reached my table to sign in.
“Hi Molly, I'm Will, and this is my sister Ramona,” he replied in genuine New Mexico English. Then he smiled at me.
His jaw was square and strongly set beneath high cheek bones and dark brows. He was dark-skinned like a Native American, but his eyes were pale gray-blue and his brown hair curled around his ears, flattened and damp where a dusty hat had been sitting, probably for most of his life. The smile that spread across his sunburned face was genuine as he met my glance briefly, and then turned toward his sister.
I was almost mad at him for smiling so unexpectedly like that. The slightest thing makes me blush, and with my white skin, it's as obvious as sunrise when I turn red. I knew he'd think I was flustered or something, so I turned around to file some paperwork until I felt my skin cooling off again.
So she was his sister, that wild-looking girl with heavy black hair. Why were they here? Who were they?
It turned out that the guy actually had land of his own, and he didn't look much older than me. I would have assumed he was lying, but I could tell by their clothing that they were used to hard work somewhere. There was hay on his shirt, and his hands were so calloused I felt like I was shaking hands with a work glove. They didn't seem to care what I thought, and people that lie are always trying to impress.
Then, to my surprise they invited me to join them for a bonfire and barbecue that evening at their campground.
“I can't get off until 8PM. Would it be okay if I'm a little late?” I asked.
“Sure. Whatever,” Will answered. I asked if I could bring anything and he did it again; that darn smile.
“Just yourself,” he said. Then they rushed out the door like the building was on fire.
I've never camped out before and was curious to see how it's done. They put up tents to sleep in and were cooking steaks over a fire when I arrived.
Will had brought furniture that he'd made, and it was positively magical. I swear, it looked like it came right out of an enchanted forest. If I was rich, I would have bought it all. There was a table and matching stools that were alike, and yet each one was unique.
There was a guy there that had spent a summer at Will's farm a few years ago. He still talks about it like it was the most amazing experience he'd ever had. He said the way they live is really hard. I guess that must mean they're poor. Or maybe it's just a lot of work. Or maybe it's dangerous.
Will told a story about his orange mule killing a mountain lion. I think it really happened. That guy, Daniel, seemed to believe him, anyway.
Will doesn't have a girlfriend. He's too busy working his land and building his own farm. He said he's doing college courses on the internet when he has time, but that he's not too impressed with higher education. I think he must not be able to afford it. I'm lucky I got so many scholarships, or I wouldn't be able to afford it either.
I have to admit, I'm pretty curious about the way they live. That guy Daniel seemed smart and capable and it sounds like he has a pretty promising future with INTEL, but he acted like it's second rate compared to what the Morgans have. What can that mean?
When I left the KOA I decided to go to my parents house for the night instead of my dorm room, just because it was closer and I was tired. The neighborhood they live in is near Old Town and their house is very old and rundown. Dad always says how much the real estate in that area is worth and how he's going to sell out and make a million someday.
I parked my car in the driveway and hoped-to-God that my parents were asleep. The house was dark and silent, so I decided to come in through the kitchen door, which was nearest my room.
“MOLLY FLYNN!” Dad shouted as I quietly closed the door behind me. The kitchen light blinded me for a moment and I blinked rapidly, trying to locate him. His quick, heavy breathing was loud in my ears and I cringed away from him, feeling his adrenaline rush, even if I couldn't see him.
“Hi Dad. Sorry, I should have called to tell you I was coming,” I said. As my eyes focused, I spotted my dad standing behind the door in nothing but his boxers, hiding something behind his back.
“I almost brained you!” Dad exclaimed, dropping a baseball bat on the kitchen floor. It was tiled with a yellow and brown pattern reminiscent of the 80's, and uneven in places where the floor beneath had sunk lower than the rest.
“Billy! Don't tell me you hit our Molly?” Mom came through the door wearing her polyester nightgown and carrying a pot of coffee in one hand and a mug in the other. Her graying brown hair was in sponge curlers all over her head, and her eyes were wide with alarm.
“No! I didn't hit her!” Dad shouted again. I was used to it. Dad has been stuck on maximum volume for as long as I can remember. “What are you doing here so late, lass? Something wrong at school?”
“No,” I answered, putting my backpack down by the door. “I'm late because I was supposed to register the students, remember?”
“Come in, Molly, come in!” Mom interrupted. “Have you had anything to eat?” She put down the coffee pot and opened the refrigerator.
“Yes, Mum. I ate with some of the students after registration,” I answered, edging past my Dad, who still appeared agitated. I knew he was disappointed I hadn't been breaking and entering. Dad would love to beat the living-daylights out of an intruder. He isn't a violent man—just an Irishman.
“I told you to let that land-lover crap go, Molly. It won't get you anything but enemies.” He opened the door of the cheap overhead cabinets and pushed around two rows of canned goods to find a whisky bottle Mom had hidden from him.
“Billy!” she protested, closing the refrigerator to pick up the coffee pot and mug again. “Have some coffee instead—it's fresh and hot.”
“So are you, Love,” Dad replied, winking at her as he unscrewed the lid and tilted the bottle. “But right now, it's whisky I want. . . to calm my nerves.”
I grimaced and headed toward my bedroom, but Dad had not forgotten his question.
“Well, Molly—what have you to say for yourself?”
“I'm not doing any harm, Dad. I'm just helping out. Besides, it's the truth. You don't want me to ignore the truth do you?”
“There's many a ‘truth', Mol.” Dad shook his head, and gestured with the bottle, obviously relaxing under it's influence. “Some truths make good punk music, but they'll turn you into an outcast. Take my word for it; in the long run, it's better to find a truth the world is comfortable with and add a wee bit of the hard stuff when no one is looking.”
With that he took another swig of the whisky before screwing the lid back on. Then he shoved it back into the cabinet. I shook my head and sighed as I watched him arrange the two rows of canned goods back in front of the whisky as though he were hiding it from himself.
The truth is not a vice that you hide, I thought to myself, it's the message you shout in the streets before calamity strikes.
Aloud I said, “I'm going to bed, Dad. I'm tired.”
He didn't stop me. Sometimes I think Dad is afraid to push me too far. He knows that I'm just like him, stubborn and full of fight. But there's a difference between us; I fight for the truth, and my Dad fights for respect. He likes to think he's won his battle, but this is America where only one thing is respected. That one thing is money, and we'll never have enough. Not that I was winning any battles either.
I closed the bedroom door behind me, and stood for a minute looking at my old bedroom. It was full of the cheap, fluffy decor my parents associate with the American dream, but it was also home. I went to bed with a grateful sigh.
The spongey, sinking feeling of the mattress I was laying on brought back a memory of the chair in the administration building at the university I attended. Two years earlier, when I was about to complete my Masters degree, I was asked to “stop by for a chat” with Professor Clyde.
Ronald Clyde was actually one of my favorite professors. He was always kind to everyone and would actually read my papers and comment on them. That day, I expected him to talk to me about a job offer or a part time teaching position, but as I sank into the ridiculously low and squishy chair opposite his desk, I realized something was bothering Professor Clyde.
“Molly,” he sighed my name from behind a sturdy industrial desk where he relaxed in a red leather chair. The chair seemed too nice and out of place behind the rather high desk. My seat was black faux leather and so low to the ground that it made me feel small. I sat on the very edge, keeping my back straight and stiff. Funding for office furniture must not have reached as far as Professor Clyde's corner of the building.
“Are you here to learn or to teach, Molly?” Ronald Clyde asked without really asking. His usually placid expression seemed uncharacteristically strained.
“Both,” I answered, unwilling to be shoved into a box. “I believe it is everyone's duty to both learn and speak the truth anytime they have the chance.”
Professor Clyde sighed again and I began to scrape at the leather folds on the end of the armrest with my fingernails.
I understood that the rather fragile looking man in front of me must be under some pressure himself. I knew him well enough to guess his “problem” with me didn't stem from his own opinions. Someone else was behind his words that day. My expression must have softened, because Professor Clyde sat forward and tried again.
“How old are you, Miss Flynn?” he asked, trying another question to which he already knew the answer.
“Twenty-one,” I answered, smiling at him to ease his discomfort.
“Twenty-one,” he repeated, with a return smile that twitched at the corners. “And you are going to teach agriculturalists and bioengineers that have been in the field for fifty years. . . something they've never heard before?”
This must be about the pamphlets I handed out last week, I thought to myself. Other students have meetings and hand out info about stuff they are passionate about. Why not info on GMO's?
“Maybe. Do they know everything there is to know?” I answered, feeling cheeky even though I was doing my best to just be honest.
“Of course not. But—”
“Or have they stopped learning?” I added.
“Are they still interested in the truth?”
“Molly. You're not going to make yourself very popular around here,” Professor Clyde snapped with an unexpected show of spirit.
“I don't care about that!” I exclaimed and the impetus of my words pushed me to my feet. “I want to save the grasslands so there will be enough food for everyone in the world. I want to keep our soil clean so that the next generation won't starve! I want to breathe clean air, and eat good food, and make sure everyone else has the same access to those basic things! If making a difference means being unpopular then so be it!”
I didn't realize I was practically shouting until Professor Clyde answered me in his regular voice.
“Please, sit down, Molly,” he said, blinking rapidly as though the air had become clouded and he could not see clearly. I returned to the edge of my chair, feeling some remorse for unleashing myself on poor Ronald Clyde. My flaming Irish temperament had nearly reduced him to a small pile of ash.
“That's wonderful, Molly,” he said after clearing his throat twice. “That's what I want too. That's what all of your professors want.”
A year before I would have believed those words. But that day I was beginning to doubt it. If they wanted those things too, why did they keep teaching principles that fail? Why did they refuse to listen to new ideas? I set my jaw to keep myself from saying the things I was thinking. Ronald Clyde was not my enemy.
“Molly, if you want to finish your degree, I suggest you study the material your teachers give you, and make sure you understand what they know. When you know everything they know—then they will listen to you.”
Now that was the most useful advice I ever got from Professor Clyde. I could do that. I had entered college at barely-seventeen years of age. Because I was pretty smart and capable, I had taken a heavier credit load than most of my peers. In a few more years I would graduate with a PhD. Then they would listen to me. I would become a teacher myself and teach what I knew to be the truth.
“Okay, Professor Clyde,” I answered, standing to my feet with new vision and direction. “That's good advice. I'll do that.”
And I did. I aced every exam I took. But when the situation called for it, I wrote on the back in very legible handwriting, As taught in class; I don't believe this to be true.
Two years later, I was finally approaching my goal. The finish line was in sight and I was already gaining respect in scientific press as a researcher and writer. Soon I would be Dr. Molly Flynn. Armed with that title, my peers in bioscience and engineering would listen to what I had to say.
Then I met Will Morgan. Suddenly, an almost too-perfect way of life came into view. I was sure it couldn't be as great as it seemed. Will was probably just a not-too-bright, romantic icon out of cowboy culture. But it wouldn't hurt to prove myself right one more time.