Mary Snyder, Amber’s mom, called to her from the sliding glass door. “Oh, Amber, you’re doing such a nice job. Why don’t you quit now and wash your hands? You can set the table for dinner in about half an hour.”
As Amber walked through the living room, she saw Kyle and their father, John, watching the ball game. Kyle had changed out of his baseball uniform and was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but her dad was still dressed in the dark-blue pants, light-blue shirt, and dark tie that he wore to work. He had loosened the tie, which was now draped around his neck.
“Hi there, Fred,” her father said as she came in the room.
That was what he always called her ever since she was born, and her mom named her Amber Nicole. Her dad had said, “She looks like my Uncle Fred.” It was true that in her baby pictures she was kind of red and wrinkly and didn’t have much hair, but she didn’t think she looked like Uncle Fred. Anyway, now that she was ten years old, she had thick bronze-colored hair that sparkled red in the sunlight and thoughtful brown eyes. The wrinkles had smoothed out into peaches-and-cream skin. Amber looked more like pictures of her mother when she was young than pictures of Uncle Fred.
The Snyders were having meat loaf and mashed potatoes for dinner along with carrots. Amber liked carrots better than broccoli or cauliflower, but she was really glad they weren’t having spinach. She couldn’t imagine why anyone wanted to eat that slimy, stringy, foul-tasting green stuff.
“Anything interesting happen at school today?” Mary Snyder directed her question to both of her children at the dinner table.
“It was a short day,” Amber said with a sigh. “Nothing interesting ever happens on short days. We just do what we have to do and go home.”
“Well,” Kyle said enthusiastically, “I took a biology test today. I’m pretty sure I aced it.”
“That’s nice,” Mrs. Snyder told him. “What about you, dear?” turning her attention to Mr. Snyder. “How was your day?”
“It was a pretty ordinary day,” he said, “except the antelope got in the garbage again. They spread it all over, and I had to send three people out to clean it up. My employees tried making a lot of noise to get them to leave, but the nosy antelope just came closer to see what was going on.”
Although everyone in town calls them “the antelope,” they are really pronghorns, according to Amber’s teacher, Ms. McGuire. The pronghorns live in the grassy sections in the middle of town. They look beautiful with their elegant necks and stately horns. When they are frightened, they raise the hair on their rumps to present a dazzling white warning that can be seen for miles. Pronghorns are the fastest animals in North America, but they are not very good jumpers. The citizens of Bluesky often see them going under fences, and several times a week, the traffic comes to a stop as they cross a street.
The pronghorns graze alongside the cattle owned by the Fontaine Cattle Company. Before there was a town called Bluesky, the whole area belonged to the Fontaine family. They have raised cattle on this land for more than a hundred years. In the 1970s, the Fontaines decided to develop some of their land. The first homesites were intended for summer cabins built by families from Phoenix who wanted to get away from the heat. The lake and community horse corrals were added to make country living more attractive to the big-city folks. As the nearby towns started to grow, more people bought lots in Bluesky and built homes to live in all year-round because housing was cheaper there. Basically, there were two types of families in Bluesky: families with young children like Amber’s and retired people. Although the two types of households tried to blend in together, sometimes there was friction. The senior citizens weren’t always patient with the noisy kids running around the neighborhood. Some of the kids tried to stay out of their way, but that wasn’t always possible.
Amber was happy about two things that evening. The first was that Friday night was her dad’s turn to do the dishes. The second thing was that it was game night. If it had been her turn to choose the game, she would have chosen the Game of Life that her grandparents had just given her for her birthday on March 22. Unfortunately, it was Kyle’s turn to choose, and as usual, he chose Monopoly. As soon as the table was cleared, he set up the board and started counting out money for each player. Kyle liked to be the banker.
As usual, Kyle bought Boardwalk and Park Place, which he built up with hotels. Amber owned some properties, but not any sets, so she couldn’t buy houses or hotels. Their dad owned one of the railroads, but Kyle owned the other three. Mom had a utility company and some properties with houses on them. Amber kept landing in jail, and Kyle had the “Get out of jail free” card. After hitting Boardwalk or Park Place three times in a row, Amber was bankrupt.
“I’ll loan you some money,” Kyle offered.
“Yeah, with high interest,” Amber shot back.
“Of course,” Kyle said, rubbing his hands together.
“I’m kind of tired,” Amber told her parents. “I think I’ll go to bed early. There are lots of weeds waiting for me in the morning.”
“Okay, sweetie,” Mom said. “Get a good night’s sleep.”
“I guess you don’t need me to rock you to sleep, do you, Fred?” Dad said that almost every night.
Amber kissed her parents and went upstairs to her room.
When Amber closed her eyes to go to sleep, behind her eyelids she saw weeds, weeds, and more weeds. She noticed that her arms were a little sore, and when she stretched out her legs, she felt her muscles tighten, probably from crouching for so long.
Amber’s mom came in to check on her. “You did a nice job in the backyard,” she said. “You accepted responsibility for leaving the trash out, and you didn’t complain about having to pull weeds. I’m very proud of you. So are your dad and brother.”
“Kyle,” Amber questioned, “proud of me?”
“I think he’s even sorry he beat you so badly at Monopoly.”
“No, he’s not,” they both said at the same time. Then they laughed.
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