Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.
After all, they weren’t the one about to be married off to a plant.
One pale skinned, green-eyed sun-sucker had been seen around the village of Gap Neck with the local realtor, and next thing, they had brought the whole Forest up with them and settled in the Horse River area.
No one had thought they’d come north, even though they had the proper identification and paperwork. Rumors passed around clusters of old ladies at the beauty parlor and young men racing their tractors up and down the pot-holed back alleys.
The ones with the leaves. Four of them, coming right out of their backs around the shoulder blades. With eyes that flashed forest or spring or lime green.
The pheromones. Special essences Phytaens secreted, that only certain people could taste. Honey. Lilac. Mint.
Ryder had just been on his own family’s land. Up in the brush there were some old, dead trees that would be perfect for firewood. His family needed all the wood they could get. Now, in fall, it was time to harvest.
He didn’t remember the Phytaen girl. But apparently she’d seen him, with his chainsaw and his old work boots and heavy gloves, and thought he was special. Had become sure of it when he muttered something about the taste of rose petals.
Ryder never said it was a good taste.
A few days later, the girl had come into pollen on her leaves, which meant she was compatible with him. When her parents visited a week later, they laid out the facts.
She wanted him. For every season he lived among the Phytaens as the girl’s husband, the sun-suckers would use their pheromones and plant skills to make the farm prosper.
It was up to him, Dad said. He was nineteen now. Mom wondered if any of this family were good Travelers and went to Sanctum regularly. Phytaens were sort of like them, just lived longer, with a few more quirks. His little brothers thought it was gross, and little sisters cooed over how romantic it was.
Ryder just wished he’d gone to a different part of the brush that day.
But his family could use the help. The Phytaens were known to honor their word.
There he waited, on that cool fall morning, his family gathered around him. Waited with that one question on his mind. And he needed the truth.
What on earth was this girl thinking?
It was a question that never got answered, for as soon as the
love-struck Phytaen and her family arrived, Ryder did something that ruined everything.
He sneezed. Sneezed again. And again, more and more until it felt like his head would bust open from the whiplash.
Turned out that some humans were allergic to Phytaen pollen.