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Taylor Five

Written by Ann HalamAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ann Halam

· Wendy Lamb Books
· eBook · Ages 10 and up
· March 9, 2004 · $4.99 · 978-0-375-89046-8 (0-375-89046-7)

Taylor Five
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Mum and Dad couldn't come to the airport to meet Donny, but that was okay: he would understand. Lucia Fernandez the graduate student came with Tay instead. They were in luck on Airport Road and got through the police checkpoints with no delay, which meant they had ages to wait before the plane from Singapore arrived. Lucia found someone to talk to. Tay walked around, looking at the familiar souvenir shops, sniffing the spicy-food scents from the cafeteria bar--a thin girl with golden-brown hair, wearing a blue cotton dress, a Yankees baseball cap and desert boots. She felt nervous. This was the first time she'd been in a public place since the story broke. No one was supposed to know who she was, but she almost expected a horde of journalists to leap out, waving cameras and microphones. Thankfully, no one paid any attention. Here in the sleepy quiet of a tiny tropical airport, no one knew or cared that Taylor Walker was one of the five teenagers whose existence had just been announced, who were the most astonishing people on the planet.

Donny and Tay had lived in Kandah State, a small independent country on the north coast of the giant island of Borneo, since Donny was five and Tay was seven. Their parents were the wardens of an orangutan refuge, out in the wilds of one of the last great rain forests. Ben and Mary Walker both worked for an international company called Lifeforce, which financed the refuge. To some people it would have seemed a hard and lonely life for the two English children, but they loved it. The forest was such a fantastic place to live. It had been a cruel blow when their parents had decided Donny had to go to school in Singapore, but it was fine now. They just looked forward through each term to having a brilliant time together in the holidays.

Would things be different this summer?

Tay visited the cheap stalls, with the stacks of ugly imitation Dyak carvings that never seemed to get sold; and the instant tailoring shop, where the Chinese tailor women whizzed the cloth through their sewing machines at incredible speed. Donny won't be different, she kept telling herself. He won't care. But she had butterflies in her stomach.

There was a sarong that she would really have liked to buy for Mum, in Mrs. Su's Genuine Dyak Crafts Centre. It was heavy and handwoven, with swirls and thorny curves in gold thread, on shades of dark red silk. Tay's mum hardly ever got a chance to wear anything but jungle kit, but she loved beautiful clothes. Mrs. Su, the Chinese lady who owned the shop, came over as Tay stroked the shimmering folds, with a smile that showed all the gold in her teeth. She took the sarong and deftly unfolded it.

"Ve'y nice? Eh?"

"It's lovely," sighed Tay.

"You old customer, young lady. I make you a special price. Not New York price, not airport price. Nah real price."

Tay knew that even the "real price" of the best handwoven gold-thread work was way beyond her means. "I can't afford it, Mrs. Su. I've only got six hundred dollars left in my bank account, and I owe most of it to my dad."

Six hundred Kandah dollars meant about fifty English pounds. "Ha," said Mrs. Su, and shook her head. "Okay, you tell your daddy, huh? Mrs. Su got the best silk work, special price. You here to meet your brother, home from school, eh?"

Tay grinned. "Yes." Most of the foreigners who lived in Kandah were oilies, oil rig people, or chippies, which meant they worked for the logging companies; and they didn't stay long. The Walkers had been at the refuge for seven years. Mrs. Su knew Donny and Tay well. Whenever they came to the airport they came into her shop, to talk to her: and she gave them strange, hard Chinese candies.

The old lady folded up the sarong. "Why you never go to school, Tay, you so grown up now? Don't want an education?"

"I'm getting an education," said Tay. "I work at home, that's all."

"Huh. A smart girl like you: ought to be in school. Got to learn to compete, make your way, be tough. Some things you can't learn from books."

That will never be me, thought Tay. I will never be like other girls, going to school, hanging out, being normal. I'll always be different, always hoping people don't find out the truth--

"What wrong?" said the old lady, peering at Tay. Mrs. Su didn't miss much. "You don't take offense at old Mrs. Su? You got a pain?"

"No, Mrs. Su," said Tay. "I'm just worried about something."

Mrs. Su sighed and nodded as she put the sarong back on the display shelf.

"Ah, understand. Your mother and father worried, everyone worried, even children now. Hard times for me too. No one buying. Hard times for everyone."

Tay went out of the shop, but not before Mrs. Su had insisted she take a handful of brightly wrapped sweets from the jar by the cash register. The afternoon plane from Singapore had arrived, and the passengers were streaming into the arrivals hall. For a moment Tay felt a weird jolt of fear. Something had gone wrong, because she couldn't see Donny. . . . But no, she was being stupid. There he was, talking to some people he must have met on the plane. He saw her, and his whole face lit up.

"Hey! There's my sister!"

He came bouncing out of the crowd and leapt up to her, grinning from ear to ear, a twelve-year-old boy with blue eyes and black hair and the personality of a crazy puppy. They hugged and backed off so that they could look at each other.

"I'm taller than you!" he crowed. "I knew I'd be taller than you, these holidays."

"Nearly," said Tay, measuring, and finding her nose still about half a centimeter higher. "Nearly as tall, and twice as daft." They gripped hands, did the special Tay and Donny twist of their locked fists, broke the grip and knocked knuckles. It was a ritual they had invented years ago, which always had to be used at important moments.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Taylor Five by Ann Halam Copyright © 2004 by Ann Halam. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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