From a young adult fantasy novel , Raising Indigo
“Indigo!” The faint voice, not quite far away enough to ignore, was an annoying disturbance in an otherwise perfect moment.
Sitting with her hands in her lap, skinny legs dangling down from the highest perch in the neighborhood climbing tree, Indigo groaned at the sound of her mother calling to her from far down the block. Indigo didn’t want to go home; she wanted to stay tucked away in the sanctuary of the magical tree all day, pretending she didn’t hear, instead of going back and getting ready for school.
“Indigo!” There she goes again.
Indigo rolled her eyes, cocked her head and yelled into the air, “Coming!”
But she was not coming. Not just yet, anyway.
Letting her eyes go soft, almost crossed, she concentrated, breathing slowly, deeply. Within moments, the glow around the tree appeared. Deep bands of light, rich dark purple near the inside, shading out to palest azure, outlined every branch and leaf. She looked to the tree top for what she knew would appear, and there it was, a shower of colored light, streams and sparks of blues and oranges, shooting from the tree top like a geyser.
The tree’s light filled her with a warm sensation untying the knot ever present in her stomach and further relaxing the muscles in her legs and arms. She drew the light inside her and threw extra into the ball that she envisioned hung above her head housing her extra good light. It was a feeling of peace and safety, as if the tree had stretched out its branches to give her a giant hug.
Indigo sent the feeling back to the tree and focused her eyes on the branches above her. As she watched, bumps appeared on several of the branches, and shoots burst out of the bumps and grew. Higher and longer they grew as she watched them, reaching outward toward the sky. From the tips of the branches, she saw new leaves sprout, bright green oak leaves surrounded in orange light. Indigo felt the branch under her shiver and quake with growth and she rubbed its rough bark, tenderly back and forth.
Her mother’s voice crashed through the wall of the magical world. Indigo blinked, and, in that moment, she saw again an ordinary oak tree, still beautiful, its leaves green and shiny, but not the magical thing it had been.
“I said I’m coming!” she yelled in the direction of her house.
Standing up and walking along the branch toward the tree’s giant trunk, she paused momentarily to savor one last look back at the most sought-after seat in the tree, reserved for the best climber in the neighborhood, and it was hers.
Indigo had won the right to sit on the Throne in the fall of the previous year, when then occupant of the prized perch, Dayton Smith, had moved out of the neighborhood, thus leaving the special branch up for grabs. Indigo hadn’t understood why Dayton had ever even hung around The Climb with the rest of them anyway. He had been thirteen then. The way Indigo understood it, when you’re a teenager; you always have lots of better things to do with your time. She would only have to wait one more year to find out.
Back in her bedroom, Indigo flopped onto the old mattress and box springs in the middle of the floor. Lying back between the deep blue shade of the carpeting and the pale blue walls, Indigo imagined she was floating in the ocean, looking up at the sky. As she sunk into the dip in the middle of the bed, she thought about how many things besides the bed that they’d gotten free from people at her Mom’s work, or off of the side of the road, like her oak desk and hutch. Indigo knew her mother couldn’t afford a bed frame, not to mention a headboard and footboard, so she just kept quiet about wanting a whole bedroom suite that matched, including a four-post canopy bed.
After she got dressed in soft jeans and a tee shirt—she couldn’t tolerate anything scratchy or tight on her skin—Indigo made it back downstairs just as her mother was setting out breakfast. Indigo stood beside her favorite chair at their drop-leaf kitchen table that sat alone in the middle of the floor like a tiny island. The whole two-story duplex was so large that it seemed to swallow up their few furnishings, but the kitchen looked the most empty because it was so roomy and the ceilings were high. Sliding into her chair, Indigo admired her mother’s tall, thin body and pretty face as she moved around the kitchen. Indigo felt dark and small next to her beautiful mother. Everyone said that Indigo looked like her Baba, but from the one picture she had seen of him, Indigo thought she looked just like her Dad. Though she wanted so badly to know more about him, to have more pictures, to know his family, she rarely brought up that subject with her mother. It made her so sad all over again.
Indigo’s bus was one of the first to arrive at Glen Valley Middle School. The halls were still quiet and she could hear her clogged footsteps echoing as she made her way to her locker. The gray metal door creaked as she opened it. At the same time all her books came tumbling out. She watched them fall in slow motion, covering her ears as they thudded and smacked on the floor. The nearly empty hallway resounded with the noises. A paperback copy of Lord of the Flies spun out into the middle of the hall.
Mr. Mink, her homeroom teacher, poked his head out of his room. Seeing the mess of papers and books, he stepped into the hallway, carrying his yardstick. He pointed it at the paperback novel shaking his head.
“Lightner! You have no respect for literature!” He talked without moving his lips, so that his cheeks filled with the air of each word and he looked and sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles, and was trying to talk without spilling them out onto the floor. Interpreting Mr. Mink had proven to be an interesting pastime for Indigo over the year.
“Someone set my locker again.” She began picking up books, notebooks and pencils from the littered hallway as Mr. Mink turned and walked back into his room. She was almost finished loading them back into the messy locker when Phyllis Stone and Polly Suritch came up behind her. She felt them before she ever turned around. Waiting for their typical jeers, she braced herself. When she heard nothing, she turned around to face them.
Instead of making fun of her clothes—Indigo loved to wear bibbed smock tops her grandmother made her—or calling her names, they just stood there, smiling.
Indigo felt uneasy. She was used to their taunts and cruelty. Why were they just smiling?
“What?” she asked looking at Phyllis, the leader.
Phyllis flicked her long, blonde hair behind her back, first one side, then the other.
“We know a secret about you!” Phyllis said in her princess voice. Pretty Phyllis. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do: cheerleader, honor society member and concert pianist were all in her repertoire. She even had a boyfriend already. And Justin Holland was captain of the Middle School football team. Polly followed Phyllis around like a duckling, doing everything Phyllis said, even dressing like her.
But when Indigo read their energy, she knew that Polly felt lost and scared, just looking for people to like her, for somewhere to belong. Just like the rest of us, Indigo thought. And Phyllis was all filled with sadness. The energy around her was green and brown, the colors of sickness or sadness.
Indigo had guessed the cause of her sadness had something to do with Phyllis’ mother being so hard on her. Maybe Phyllis felt like her mother wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t perfect. One day, Indigo had watched the two of them, as Phyllis’ mother screamed at the girl, grabbing her arm and shaking her because she didn’t score the highest on a cheerleading tryout. When Phyllis cried, her mother said, “Go ahead. Winners don’t cry!” Indigo felt Phyllis’ shame and pain turn to anger.
“What do you want, really?” Indigo asked as she picked up the last of her papers and fished a writing journal from the piled mess in her locker.
She caught Phyllis nudging Polly, who leaned in to Indigo, and whispered, “Joel Holland has a crush on you.” Polly was not looking directly in Indigo’s eyes, so she could not read whether or not the girl was lying, but Polly’s face was serious.
For a split second, she experienced a glimmer of hope and allowed herself to feel the excitement that maybe someone did actually like her. A slight smile broke out on her face. But as much as Indigo wanted Polly’s words to be true, she knew that there could be no way. There were rules in Middle School. Jocks didn’t hang out with freaks. Period. There was no way that Justin Holland’s younger brother would even notice her. Phyllis and Polly were up to their cruel games again. Her face fell into a frown and her stomach burned with disappointment.
“I don’t believe you.” Indigo turned her back on them again. “Go away.”
She crouched down and pretended she was looking for something in the bottom of her locker, secretly pinching the skin on her leg hard. She had learned from many years of being teased that physical pain could stop the pain in her heart and prevent it from running out through her eyes in tears.
Then Phyllis said, “Here! Take this!”
Indigo stood up and took a folded piece of paper from her. It read: Indigo, I think you are really cute. Sit with me at lunch today? Love, Joel.
Crumpling it in a ball, Indigo handed it back to Phyllis, who would not take it. “You two wrote this. You think I’m this stupid?” When Polly would not take it either, Indigo threw the balled up note on the floor in the hallway.
“Hey!” Indigo turned to see Joel Holland running up the seventh grade hall. The sixth and seventh grade wings were in two separate sides of the same long hallway, divided only by a large, open foyer near the front entrance of the school. Joel had to yell from where he was to be heard by the girls. “See you at lunch!” He waved and smiled.
“See!” Polly opened her big eyes wide, pushed her head forward in Indigo’s face and lifted her eyebrows. “You’re lucky we even told you, freak!” and with that, the Bobsey twins turned in unison and walked off.
Indigo was left with a mix of excitement and distrust. Though Indigo knew that somehow, Phyllis and Polly had set up the whole thing, she wanted to believe them. It got really old being the freak at school that never got a boyfriend, who never really had any good friends. During her classes, she rocked gently in her seat, as butterflies in her stomach did dive-bombing contests. She talked to herself. She dreamed up fantasies about her and Joel going to the Middle School dance. Back and forth she went in her head, every period, hearing none of what her teachers said until, finally, it was time for lunch. She’d wished she had a friend at school that she could ask what to do. Her cousin and best friend Samantha was two years younger, still in elementary school.
In the middle of the eighth grade hall, as she was walking to lunch, Indigo knew what she had to do. She just never was good at pretending. They’d tried to set her up plain and simple. She would confront Joel with the truth.
The cafeteria stunk of slimy gravy. A chubby, greasy-haired seventh grade girl walked by and Indigo looked over her tray. Globs of grayish schmeat hung off of the sides of a mound of mash potatoes in the center. Dried up corn curled in a ball to the side. Indigo held her breath until the girl passed by so she didn’t have to smell it.
Electing not to buy lunch, Indigo scanned the lunchroom for Phyllis and Polly. They were nowhere in sight, but Joel was sitting in his usual spot with the other football players at the end of a table near the food line. The boys on the end were eagerly eyeing people’s trays as they went by, saying something to them and pointing to their food. The boys then grabbed the desired item off of the tray and devoured it.
Standing there, Indigo had second thoughts. Maybe she should just let the whole thing go. Another one of their pranks. But no. Phyllis and Polly deserved to be found out for the finks that they really were. Before she knew what had happened, her legs carried her, tingling, to the table where Joel sat, hunkered over his food, shoving large portions into his mouth.
People stopped talking and looked at her as she approached Joel.
One of the boys next to him nudged Joel as Indigo moved to stand behind him.
“I think you have a visitor,” the boy said, covering his grin with his hand.
Joel turned around and looked at Indigo. He was so cute. Black Holland boy hair curling in ringlets around his face. His dark eyes showed no signs of mischief. The instant she looked in them, she knew. He knew nothing. It was a set up. She looked around. By the door, she saw Phyllis and Polly. They were laughing and pointing.
“What do you want, freak?” Joel sneered. His cute face turned ugly.
Indigo felt her feet heavy on the floor. “Your little friends there,” she pointed at Phyllis and Polly, “wrote me a love note this morning from you!” Indigo pulled the crumpled note from her pocket and tried to hand it to him. He didn’t take it. “Thought you should know that they set you up.”
“I don’t care what they say!” Joel said and turned around.
“You don’t care that they lied on you? You are going to let them get away with it?” Indigo asked at the back of Joel’s head.
“Stupid girl stuff doesn’t concern me.” Joel waved his hand to dismiss Indigo.
When she didn’t move, one of the other boys on the other side of the table, facing Indigo, said. “You heard him. Get lost, freak!”
Laughing all around the table. Glowing of red energy around them. Anger and shame welling up inside her, Indigo backed up several steps and bumped into someone. She turned around to see Dayton Smith.
Dayton turned to face the boys at the table. “Leave her alone.”
“Oh, look, Weirdo has a boyfriend,” one of the boys mocked and taunting laughter resounded again around the table.
Dayton straightened his shoulders and moved closer to the table. “Didn’t any of your mothers,” he swept his finger at the bunch of them, “teach you not to pick on girls?”
Indigo stood looking at the boys at the table. Some looked embarrassed, some angry.
“Take your weirdo and get lost, scruff!” One of the biggest boys stood. Crumbs rolled off of his round belly. Chubby fist still clutching two pieces of buttered bread.
Dayton took a step closer to the table. He towered over the other boy. Indigo hadn’t noticed before how tall he was. Leaning into the boy’s face, he smiled. “You’re not worth it, Chandler.”
As the other boy maneuvered his bulky legs out from under the table, Dayton turned to walk away. Indigo headed for the cafeteria door. Dayton briskly walked after her. She kept moving right through a narrow alcove, and out the door to the teachers’ parking lot in the back of the building. Indigo slipped around a corner, pressed her back up against cinder block wall and slid down to sit. It was warm from the sun. Her energy ran out of her like the air from a deflating balloon. Her arms fell limp at her sides and she hung her head, fighting back tears.
“You okay?” Dayton slid down the wall beside her and rested on the balls of his feet.
“I didn’t need you to save me,” Indigo responded without looking up. When Dayton didn’t say anything further, she looked at him. In the flash of a glance through his light blue eyes, Indigo saw the shine of peace and love that she rarely saw in others.
He looked away as if his knew she could read him.
Indigo looked him over. His blue tee shirt was two sizes too big and tattered around the collar. His thick blonde hair, though clean, hung long, past his shirt collar. Everyone in school called him a scruff, because his family was poor and there were so many of them.
Dayton nodded and held up both hands in the air. “Okay! But what were you doing with those guys?”
Indigo leaned her head back against the wall and exhaled. “Phyllis and Polly came to my locker this morning. They told me that Joel liked me. They gave me a note from him.”
Dayton was quiet.
Her stomach started hurting, so she sat forward and pulled her knees up to her chest. She felt like punching both of them, Phyllis first and then Polly.
Indigo heard her inside voice speak for the first time in weeks.
No. The only way to win against hate and fear is to let go and replace with love. Take it from your extra. There is plenty for you, always. You are not to be left with the mark of anger. Not you. No.
But she was so hurt, that she couldn’t stop herself. She was tired of listening to that voice.
Her hands balled into fists and they burned so hot that she shook them open and held them out in front of her. As she and Dayton watched, thin streams of what looked like steam poured out of her fingertips and palms.
“What in the…” Dayton whispered.
Indigo had never seen them do this before, wondering if her hands could heal Grandma’s fever and her mother’s headaches, could she use them to hurt people too? She decided it was worth a try and stood.
Dayton stood beside her. “Where are you going?”
Indigo pointed to the cafeteria. “I’m gonna make them pay!”
He grabbed her hand, spun her around and said, “What are you going to do?”
“I’m gonna burn them with my hands.”
Dayton’s blue eyes narrowed as he leaned in close to her whispering. “Indigo, you don’t want to do that, trust me.”
“Why? I have nothing to lose. No one likes me here.” Indigo threw her arms in the air.
But when she looked at Dayton’s face, it had completely changed. He now looked as if he had a secret. He bit his bottom lip. Indigo looked at his face closely, but she couldn’t read what the secret was, but she felt calmer.
How did he do that? She wondered. Just change my mood like that?
“Because you need to listen to me, that’s why!” Dayton pointed a thin finger in her face and then placed it over his lips.
You can hear what I’m thinking?
“Yes,” Dayton answered.
Indigo’s legs went soft. She needed a place to sit and moved to the wall again. The warm, spring sun beat down. Indigo’s black hair was so thick that it made her sweat. She wiped her forehead and the back of her neck. This was amazing. She had so many questions for him. Did he know about her powers already?
Dayton slid down beside her again, watching her dark hair fall back over her shoulders. He answered without looking over at her. “Yes.”
I’m not the only one, she thought.
Again, he answered her thoughts. “No, there are lots of us.”
Indigo wrestled with feelings of excitement, wonder and fear. “How do you do that?”
Dayton looked at her. His eyes seemed to reflect the sun and Indigo saw specks of green blue and yellow in them. “I just can. That’s all.” He ran his bony fingers through his hair. His eyes moved back and forth across the sky as if he were asking it what to say next. “Who else knows about your powers?” he asked, still searching the sky.
“My grandma, my cousin Sam and my Mom,” Indigo took a deep breath. “Well, most of my family, really, but no one talks about it anymore. I have been really quiet about it for about two years now. Why?
Dayton’s head suddenly turned and he put his finger to his mouth. “Someone’s coming,” he whispered, “Are you going to Catechism tomorrow?”
“Yeah, why?” Indigo furrowed her eyebrows to punctuate her confusion.
Dayton leaned in, “Figure out a way to get out of class around eleven. I’ll find you.”
But he didn’t get a chance to answer. They had been found out. Before either of them got to speak again, around the corner of the building came the music teacher, Mr. Price. He almost stepped on Dayton, shocked that they were there. It was his smoke break.
Both kids stood to face him.
“What is going on here?” Mr. Price stopped in his tracks and lifted his skinny arms in question. His neck and nose were both so long, and his midsection so chubby, he reminded Indigo of an ostrich.
“You two havin' a private study hall?” He bobbed his head forward when he talked. No one answered him, so he peeped out over his nose at Dayton and then Indigo.
“What are you doing outside the building?” When he still didn’t get an answer, he sniffed the air. “Were you smoking, Smith?” he asked Dayton.
“Indigo got sick in the cafeteria,” Dayton lied, his face straight. “She needs to go to the nurse, I think.”
Mr. Price stepped in between Dayton and Indigo and got close to Dayton’s face. “Oh, and you are her hero, Smith, is that it?” He looked over his shoulder at Indigo.
“You picked a winner here,” he said.
And then to Dayton. “Get to the principal, Smith. This is the second time today I’ve caught you in the hallway without a pass.”
And to Indigo he said, “Go to the nurse and get checked out.”
“Go!” Mr. Price pointed past Dayton toward the principal’s office and Dayton turned and began walking, slowly, back inside. Indigo watched him go. Even though his jeans were at least a size too small and his sneakers ripping at the seams, Dayton walked with his head high. How could she have known him all that time and not sensed his powers in him? Unless…Maybe he had hidden them on purpose.