Warning: This poem contains some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes social anxiety of various types, references to past misfortunes in foster care, social gaffes, references to pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, arguing over how to decorate a nursery, and other challenges. Please consider your tastes and headspace if these are touchy topics for you.
"Ten Minutes You Didn't Have"
"Hey, Turq," said Ansel as they
crossed paths in Briarwood park.
"I'm heading over to Salad Palace
to have lunch with Justin and Celia.
Would you like to come with us?"
"Thanks, but no," Turq said.
"You know I'm not good with
people. Or restaurants. Or
pretty much anything else."
"Well, I've seen you do fine
with some things," Ansel said.
"What worries you about
going out to lunch?"
"You know that I can't
stay inside long, or I freak,"
Turq said, then looked away.
"People don't like it when
someone leaves early."
Ansel paid attention to
Turq's body language and
made an educated guess.
"Is that something that happened
in foster care?" he asked gently.
"You got tired, or didn't feel well,
and the grownups complained?"
"Yeah," Turq said. "They'd take it out
on me after we got home. So I tried
to avoid going out to places like that,
but they'd drag me along and then
blame me if I couldn't cope."
"That doesn't sound good,"
Ansel said. "I'm sorry to hear it."
"Eh, nobody likes the kid who conks out
after ten minutes," Turq said with a shrug.
"Let's test that," Ansel said. "How do you
feel if someone else needs to leave early?
Does it make you think less of them?"
"I might be disappointed if it was
something I really wanted to be doing,
but I wouldn't pester them about it,"
Turq said. "I try not to do things to
other people that I hate when
somebody does it to me."
"That's perfect," Ansel said.
"You want to know why I'm
having a lunch date with
Justin and Celia?"
"Okay, I'll bite,"
Turq said. "Why?"
"Because last week Celia
went to Debbie's party, and
Debbie handed her a sandwich,
which she ate because she was
hungry," Ansel said. "But it had tuna
in it, which Celia can't eat this month,
so she chucked it up and had to leave.
She only made it five minutes."
"Shit," Turq said, shying away.
"Is Debbie even still talking to Celia?"
"Debbie spent the next day groveling
to Celia, and Justin isn't talking to Debbie,"
said Ansel. "Now Celia doesn't want to go
anywhere because she feels bad about
what happened at the last party."
"Nobody blamed Celia?" Turq said.
"She blames herself for not noticing
the tuna in the sandwich," said Ansel.
"Debbie and Justin both think that it was
Debbie's fault because she knew Celia can't
eat tuna right now, but Debbie forgot and
Celia couldn't taste it until too late."
"Okay, they've got a point if Debbie
knew about the tuna," said Turq.
"Celia should be able to go to a party
without getting handed the wrong food
from a friend who should know better."
"That's what I think," said Ansel.
"Celia feels embarrassed, though,
so I set up a lunch date in hopes of
showing her that folks don't mind if
she needs different food or might
have to leave a little early."
"That doesn't explain why you
would want me along," Turq said.
"I didn't plan on it, but when I saw you
strolling in the park, it occurred to me that
Celia might appreciate having someone else
around who might not make it through
a whole social activity," Ansel said.
"Yeah, maybe," Turq said.
"What would make this feel like
a safer bet for you?" Ansel asked.
Turq leaned against a nearby tree,
tapping thoughtfully on the trunk.
"I need to sit near the door," he said.
"Everyone should know not to try
touching my food, even as a joke."
"We can provide that," Ansel said.
"Even if you only last a little while,
that's ten minutes you didn't have
before you agreed to give it a try.
You're not obligated to come,
but it'd get you a free lunch."
Turq was generally attracted
to free food. It was worth a try.
When Ansel saw the boy licking
his lips and leaning forward,
he figured it was working.
"I'll come," Turq said. "Just ...
I might need to step outside or
something. Are you sure that
they won't mind me being weird?"
"I'm sure," Ansel said. "Justin
still feels bad about spooking you
that one time, so he'll be careful,
and Celia's like you -- she won't
do to anyone else what she
doesn't like done to her."
Turq seemed surprised
by the idea that people were
willing to accommodate his needs,
even though he didn't hesitate
to support what Celia needed.
He kept sneaking looks at Ansel
as they walked to Salad Palace,
and even when they met up with
Justin and Celia, Turq hung back.
That was okay, though, because
Celia was hungry enough to push
her way to the front of the group.
"I want a large Prego Salad,
side room prep because I can't
eat fish right now," she said.
One employee promptly peeled off
to use the room for preparing orders
by people with special dietary needs,
to avoid cross-contamination at the bar.
"Small Bean and Sweet Potato Salad for me,
with a cup of Orange Poppyseed Fruit Salad,"
Justin said. "What about you two? I'm buying."
Ansel had expected to cover himself and Turq,
but he didn't decline. "Large Bulky Buffalo."
He had to nudge Turq, who was stuck on
the seasonal menu taped to the glass.
"Oh, uh, sorry," Turq said. "Can I
get the Tanka Very Much Salad?
I love the Tanka Bites, and I'm ...
fond of the wildcrafted greens."
Turq was used to scrounging
whatever he could find to eat in
the woods, Ansel suspected, but
he didn't mention that out loud.
The seasonal salad currently had
dandelion leaves, watercress, chickweed,
wild onions, cattail shoots, sunchokes,
dried mulberries and blackberries,
black walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
"Throw in a table-size pitcher of
Hibiscus Watermelon Agua Fresca,"
Justin said, pulling out his wallet.
"You'll like that, it's good," Celia said.
"Strawberry-Rose is another favorite.
They're real easy on the stomach,
and don't add too much sugar."
"I like watermelon," Turq whispered.
Ansel kept an eye on him, because
Turq was skittish at the best of times
and indoors was really not the best.
Once the salads came up, though,
Turq quit paying attention to anything else
in favor of inhaling his food as fast as possible.
Ansel enjoyed the contrast between bites
of spicy chicken and plain bison in his salad.
The agua fresca was good, too, fruity and
mild. Salad Palace didn't stock soda.
"So Debbie wants to apologize for
the Infamous Tuna Incident with
a fruit-of-the-month box," Celia said.
"Oh, you should take it," Turq said.
"My parents got one of those with
mangoes and custard apples and
other stuff I'd never had before."
"Debbie's is organic, which I could
really use right now," Celia said.
"That works too," Turq said.
"It depends on what you like."
Justin made a grumbling noise.
"It also depends," Turq said
with a sidelong glance at Justin,
"on whether you believe the person
is really sorry or just pulling your leg."
"I think Debbie means it," Celia said.
"Then take the fruit, tell her she's
forgiven, and go out to dinner
or something," Turq said.
Celia dropped her head
in her hands. "I don't want
to go out," she moaned.
"I'll just get sick again."
"You planning to hide in
your house until the baby
comes?" Turq asked.
"I am seriously considering it,"
Celia said. "I hate making
a spectacle of myself."
"Yeah, everyone does,"
Turq said with a nod.
"It happens, though.
Best thing to do is just
not make a big deal of it."
"I don't know ..." Celia said.
"He's right," Ansel said.
"Remember when someone
didn't wash the breakroom dishes
enough to get the soap off, and we
all got the runs for two days until
we figured out the problem?"
Justin groaned. "Don't remind me.
I felt like I was being tied in knots."
"I know, it was awful, but we learned
from it and now we have a checklist
over the sink to make sure folks know
to follow certain steps when they wash
the common dishes," Ansel said. "We
didn't harangue each other, we just
figured out how to solve the problem."
"Fair enough," Justin admitted.
"Maybe you can help us with
another problem," Celia said.
"We're debating the colors for
the nursery, and can't decide."
"What kinds of colors are you
thinking about?" Ansel asked.
"We agree that we don't want
a pink room or a blue room,"
Justin said. "Trouble is, we
disagree on what else to do."
"It has to be non-gendered
and not ugly," Celia said.
"Basically, I want to go
with a neutral scheme
like gray --" Justin said.
"It'd look like we killed
an elephant," Celia said.
"I want a gender neutral color,
like the lavender I had as a girl."
"Too bright," Justin protested.
"Well, let's see," Turq said.
"What are the neutral colors, and
what are the non-gendered ones?"
"Neutral colors are white, gray,
black, and brown," Ansel said.
"Those are non-gendered too."
"I'm looking at yellow, green,
and lavender," Celia said. "I've
seen some lovely rooms that
combined two or three pastels."
"Explosion in a paint factory,"
Justin said, shaking his head.
Turq laughed. "You have seen
nothing until you've seen how
some Chinese people decorate."
"What does the room look like?"
Ansel said. "If it's tiny or dim, you
need lighter colors to brighten it.
If it's big with sunny windows, then
it needs deeper tones for balance."
"It's kind of in between," Celia said.
"Maybe a pale color and an accent?"
Turq said. "Like if you had walls in
a yellowish cream, and purple curtains?"
"Maybe," Justin said, but he didn't
sound convinced by the idea.
Just then, a bus pulled up and
a whole crowd of people poured
through the door into Salad Palace.
"I need some air," Turq and Celia chorused,
and then looked at each other in surprise.
Justin popped the top on his fruit salad,
licked his spoon and stuck it in his pocket,
then started clearing empties off the table.
Hastily Ansel shoveled the last of his salad
into his mouth and finished his agua fresca.
So as Turq and Celia scrambled toward
the far door from the crowd, Justin and
Ansel were right behind them.
"This way," Turq said as he
tugged on Celia's sleeve.
"Kornberg Pocket Park
isn't far to walk from here."
Ansel had forgotten all about
the place until Turq mentioned it;
you could barely see the park from
the busy streets, just from the sides.
It filled a vacant lot among several
of the fast-food restaurants. After
some failed attempts to finance
building something there, the city
had bought the lot for a park.
Now it held picnic tables
and park benches, a couple of
trash cans, a drinking fountain
with a high bowl for humans and
a low bowl for pets and wildlife,
and a sidewalk around the edge.
Colorful wildflowers bloomed among
the saplings in the wilderness patch,
and a wildlife station flocked with birds.
Chickadees and house finches
fluttered around the feeders, while
mourning doves strutted underneath.
Song sparrows trilled in the trees
where wild grape vines bound
the branches together.
As Ansel watched, a pair
of cardinals flew down and
chased the smaller birds away
from the hopper feeders.
The chickadees moved to
a tube feeder, while the finches
dropped down to the ground.
"This is beautiful," Celia said.
"I don't think I've ever been
back here before, though."
"Yeah, not many people seem
to come here," Turq said. "That's
why I like it, because it's quiet."
"Let's pick a table," Justin said,
angling toward the nearest one.
Ansel watched the birds, and
suddenly had an idea. "You guys
like my cabin, right? The rustic look?"
"Yeah, it's peaceful," Justin said.
Everyone loved coming over to
Ansel's place when they felt stressed.
"I like how you have log furniture,
and all those nature motifs like
leaves and pine cones," Celia said.
"Then why not decorate the nursery
with a nature theme?" Ansel said.
"Choose natural wood furniture with
leaf green and sunshine yellow accents."
"That could work," Celia said. "Justin?"
He was staring at the birds and
the thicket of trees behind them.
"It wouldn't clash, because
nature doesn't clash."
"You could even put birds
or other critters," Turq said.
"Lots of people do that."
"Right, and if you make
the walls plain, then it's easy
to change the decorations
later," Ansel pointed out.
"Or we could do a mural,
and pick out different parts,"
Celia said. "Leaves, rocks,
clouds -- that sort of thing."
"Terrain," Justin said, finally
getting into the spirit of things.
"Mountains, or African savanna."
Celia leaned over to hug Turq,
making him squeak, and then Ansel.
"Thank you so much," she said.
"We were totally stuck on this,
and now we have new ideas."
Turq ducked his chin.
"You're welcome," he said.
"Thanks for lunch. It was good."
Ansel made a mental note to stock
some Tanka Bites, or the bars.
"I'm going to call Debbie and
invite her to go browsing with me,"
Celia decided. "Then we can bring home
some pictures and paint chips for Justin
to consider, so he's not overwhelmed."
"Thank you," Justin said with feeling.
"It's not that I'm not interested in
decorating the nursery, it's just ...
most of the stuff is so loud."
"Plus the stores stink," Turq said.
"They really do!" Justin said.
"Everything reeks of baby powder
or cotton candy or 'spring fresh' soap."
"Try the natural home stores," Ansel said.
"There's a Hippie Home in town,"
Turq said. "It's out on the south edge,
though, so it's easy to miss. Sometimes
I see someone whose bike has extra seats
and I can hitch a ride in exchange for
helping them with a shopping trip."
"River City has a BoHoMe if you
don't mind the drive," Ansel said.
"I may check out Hippie Home,"
Justin said. "Furniture I understand.
Does anyone know if they have cribs?"
Ansel and Celia pulled out their phones
at the same time. Ansel laughed and
let Celia look up the store's website.
"They have cribs and other furniture
for nurseries," she said. "Let's try there,
because everything I see is advertised
as organic or natural or stuff like that."
"It's a plan," Justin said with a smile.
"I'm so glad we worked through this."
"High five," Turq said, offering a hand.
Shyly, Justin slapped hands with him.
Ansel's vidwatch chimed. "Guess what,
folks, it's been a whole hour," he said.
Justin tipped the last of his fruit salad
into his mouth. "We should scoot.
We still have errands to run."
"Catch you later," Ansel said.
Celia hugged Turq again.
"Thanks for coming to lunch,"
she said. "I know going indoors
can be hard for you, but I like
not being the only person
in the group with issues."
"Me too," Turq said. "I may not
always be up for it, but you can ask."
"We will," Justin said, and then
walked Celia out of the park.
"That was a good idea you had,"
Turq said to Ansel. "Sometimes
I need a little help in order to get
the ten minutes I didn't have,
let alone a whole hour."
"That's what friends are for,"
Ansel said, hugging him.
* * *
Briarwood Park in Bluehill is a large park consisting mostly of forest threaded with various paths. Parts of it are quite dense, others more open. It appears as the large forested area toward the top of the map, west of Cambridge Commons. Some paths are dirt. This one runs alongside Indian Creek. Some paths are gravel. This one is wide and smooth enough for bicycles. This path is paved with rocks. In some places, briars and vines form dense thickets. Raspberries, blackberries, and muscadines grow wild there. Plus poison ivy and nettles, just to make life interesting. A few small playgrounds are hidden amongst the trees. This one is designed for calisthenics and parkour. This one for children uses natural logs and ropes.
Kornberg Pocket Park in Bluehill started out as a small vacant lot among several fast-food restaurants including Salad Palace. After several failed attempts to finance building something there, the town bought the lot and renovated it as a pocket park. They put in several picnic tables and benches, a garbage can at each corner, and a wilderness patch with a wildlife feeding center. Now the park teems with birds, squirrels, and butterflies. People come to eat lunch and watch the wildlife. It's rarely crowded, though, because it's in an out-of-the-way spot behind the restaurants. You can't see much of it from the two busier streets, only from the side streets. A sidewalk around the edge gives access to the park. The feeding station includes tube, hopper, fly-through, and cage styles of feeder. They offer mixed seed, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, and suet. One corner of the park has a drinking fountain with a high bowl for humans and a low bowl for pets and wildlife. The narrow white pipe rising above the base supports a mister that can be turned on in Missouri's sweltering summers.
• Roger Kornberg (born 1947), biochemist, Nobel Prize winner
Social anxiety can have various causes. Celia's is moderate and temporary, caused by pregnancy. Turq's is worse and deeper, caused by abuse and other problems. Another big difference is that Celia's is largely illusory (people aren't as upset as she expects) while Turq's is more concrete (people have mistreated him for being shy or superpowered). Know how to deal with it or help someone else through it.
Fast food has become a major part of modern life, but it causes many problems. People have tried various methods to discourage fast food restaurants and their use. T-America dislikes using force because it doesn't work well. Instead, they make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. Prime locations go to restaurants (fast or slow) that sell reasonably healthy food. Places that sell junk get pushed toward the edges of town.
Salad Palace is a healthy fast food chain. They serve a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, and carnivore salads. They also do rolls and sandwiches with things like tuna salad, turkey salad, or egg salad. Desserts are variations on fruit salad. You can order one of their standard salads or make your own from the bar. People with allergies or other special needs can order things made in a separate room to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
The Prego salad is designed for pregnant people. For a base it uses a mix of dark leafy greens, typically kale, baby spinach, rainbow chard, and romaine lettuce. Next, curried lentils provide spice and protein. Then comes a layer of broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes topped with dried cranberries and cheddar cheese. Instead of croutons for crunch, it uses a fortified breakfast cereal such as Panacea. Most people don't want salad dressing on this one because the curried lentils take that role, but it can be served with a light dressing such as vinaigrette or oil-and-vinegar.
Panacea -- a cold cereal whose multigrain flakes are made from brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and flax seed. It is fortified with a superfood powder to contain 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins C and E, all the B-complex vitamins, calcium, folate, iron, potassium, and zinc. Made from whole grains and seeds, it provides high fiber for healthy digestion.
Enjoy a recipe for Bean and Sweet Potato Salad.
Check out this Fruit Salad Recipe with Orange Poppy Seed Syrup.
The Bulky Buffalo Salad is similar to this recipe, except that it uses full-fat ingredients and adds cubed bison steak. It's popular with people who work in physically demanding jobs, such as police, along with anyone who has a high-burn metabolism like some superpowers create.
Tanka Very Much is a native foodways salad, so it varies seasonally. The base consists of wildcrafted greens such as chickweed, dandelion, field sorrel, purslane, shepherd's purse, and water cress. Vegetables include cattail shoots, Jerusalem artichoke, and wild onions. Tanka Bites made from dried bison provide protein. Berries include blackberry, dewberry, gooseberry, juneberry, mulberry, raspberry, and wild strawberry. It is topped with nuts and seeds like black walnuts, hickory nuts, and sunflower seeds.
Agua Fresca comes in various flavors. Enjoy recipes for Hibiscus Watermelon Agua Fresca and Strawberry-Rose Agua Fresca.
Fruit clubs send a box of fruit periodically. Explore an Exotic Fruit Club and an Organic Fruit Club.
In choosing nursery colors, consider the room as well as color psychology. Consider gender-neutral colors and nursery ideas. Nature themes work great. Browse nurseries with African animals, a green and yellow forest, rich green and brown tones, a pink and blue forest, a mountain sunrise, plain green and yellow walls with animal decor, stylized woodland animals, and soft neutrals.
Hippie Home is a Terramagne-American store that sells housewares, supplies, furniture, decor, and other items. Much of it is organic, Earth-friendly, fair trade, and/or locally produced. The style is an eclectic mix of natural and Bohemian.
BoHoMe is a Terramagne-American store that sells clothes, jewelry, furniture, and home decorations. It has a Bohemian and hippie flair, with lots of bright colors and quirky shapes.
Missouri birds often appear in backyards and around feeders. Some are more dominant than others. Wildlife feeding stations can attract all kinds of critters.
T-America has a much bigger bike culture than L-America has. Because more people use cycles there, the market has higher diversity and lower prices. In most towns, you'll see at least a few adult tricycles and other unusual bikes. In a bike-friendly town with high ranking, you'll see trikes, tandems, duets, pedicabs, bike cars, cargo bikes, and other specialty cycles everywhere. Cambridge Commons has Diamond status; the rest of Bluehill varies. From that core, which was built to suit during the major development project, the bike network is expanding outward by renovating other parts of town.