There have been many questions as to when the next Distant Cousin book will be out. Answer: early next year.
Here's a sample. Ana's twins, Julio and Clio Méndez, are enjoying challenging summer programs away from home.
* * * * *
Julio Méndez had arranged to meet his sister outside the College of Pharmacy building at the University of New Mexico Medical Center, but he hadn't anticipated how extensive the medical area was. He had to study two "You Are Here" pedestrian maps before he located it—a modern, severe, white, slab-sided building in the block ahead. It was a pleasant walk, though. His home town, Las Cruces, didn't feature the invigorating odor of fir trees like Albuquerque did. Both cities lay against mountain ranges, but Albuquerque's mountains actually had forests.
Only a few people were out in the morning heat, but they represented a wide age range. Some wore lab coats while others tended toward ragged jeans or shorts, and t-shirts. Most carried books. Although he was only 15, he didn't feel out of place. He was as tall as a man—a short man—and he was better dressed than many he saw, in a sharp blue polo shirt and new jeans, the unrealized influence of his mother.
He didn't see his sister until he rounded the corner of the building. She was sitting cross-legged with a book in her lap, in a grassy area at the end of a row of trees, facing away from him. He recognized her khaki book bag between her back and the tree.
He stepped off the sidewalk onto the grass so he could walk silently, with the row of trees hiding his approach. Zeroing in on the exposed edge of her book bag, he took a bold step around the tree to find only the bag and the book on the ground. She had skunked him. In a resigned voice, he said, "Tister."
From behind him, a voice answered, "J-Man."
"How did you know it was me?"
"Don't know. Just felt it."
He turned. She was wearing her favorite denim cargo shorts, a loose green t-shirt that set off her chestnut hair, and white tennies. There was a gleam of amusement in her eyes.
"You're weird, Tister."
"Well, we're twins. How come you can't do that?"
"I'm the normal twin."
"So how you doin'?"
"Not bad. How are you?"
"OK. You hungry? How about some lunch?"
"Sure. What do you feel like?"
"Is there a sandwich shop nearby?"
"Yeah. There's a bunch of places two blocks from here."
"Great. Let's go."
She picked up the book she'd been reading and started to slide it into her bag.
"That book." He peered at the spine. "'Pharmacognosy?' What is that?"
"Oh," she replied. "Pharmacognosy is the study of medicines from natural sources."
"I never heard of that."
"Dr. Peebles said it used to be common when he was in pharmacy school a long time ago, but it isn't any more. Now, the big companies make the medicines. He said pharmacists today mostly just sell manufactured medicines. They don't make their own like they used to. He gave me this book when he saw I was interested in it. It's really cool. I'm learning about all the properties of drugs: biochemical, physical, biological, stuff like that."
They stayed to the shade as much as they could. Two bicyclists passed them and a jogger trotted diagonally across the sidewalk ahead, wires dangling from her ears.
"I thought you were studying with that guy you hated, Dr. Philpot."
"I was. He's a pretty good doctor, really. I didn't like the way he treated Abuelita after her operation, but he was trying the best he could. He found Dr. Peebles for me when he realized I was more interested in drugs than in being a doctor."
"So how about you? How are you doing at Mountain Physics or whatever it is?"
"'Rocky Mountain Tech Labs.' Pretty good. They mostly let me go wherever I want. I mean, I'm an 'intern,' but I'm allowed in most of the labs. Some of them are real interesting and fun."
"Dr. Dave got you in, right? Do you ever see him?"
"He comes up every week or so. I've seen him twice."
"Here's a good sandwich shop."
They entered, supervised the construction of their sandwiches, and found a quiet corner in which to devour them. Julio had eaten a quarter of his before Clio had squeezed lemon into her ice tea and sliced the jalapeño to add to her sandwich (which made Julio frown). She stirred her tea and pulled the toothpick out of her sandwich.
"So why did you want to come today, anyway?"
"To see you before you left, that's why."
"But I'm not leaving for two days."
"Well, there's a guy coming to give a series of lectures. He's some great physicist who's supposed to have good ideas about the unified field theory. I don't wanna miss those."
"The unified what?"
"Never mind. It's complicated. It's just some physicists trying to find one explanation for the four basic forces in the universe. One of them is gravity. It's the gnarliest one. That's why I'm going."
"You would. OK, forget I asked."
"About your vacation—I still can't believe Mom went for that."
"I can't either. I got Dad to OK it first. He helped with Mom. They both signed the permission form."
"I mean, going off to Mexico with doctor Philpot and his family? People we don't even know?"
"Dad has met him, at the hospital and when they set up this summer thing for me. I think he met his wife, too."
"Did he meet his son and daughter? I hope not."
"No, he didn't. Mom hasn't either. Fortunately."
"I still don't understand why you're going on a vacation with people you can barely stand."
Clio set down her sandwich and wiped a dot of mustard off the corner of her mouth. Glancing at the nearby tables, she leaned toward her brother.
"This is just between you and me, OK? Twin stuff…."
"You've fallen in love with his frat boy son?"
"No, doofus! You know where we're going?"
"To Mata Ortiz, in northern Chihuahua. It's famous for its fancy pottery. Mrs. Philpot will probably spend $5000 on ceramics, and maybe sit in with the potters in their workshops. Dr. Philpot will go a bar and drink, unless they have a golf course. I don't know what their kids will do."
"Yeah? So what will you do?"
"Do you remember Doña Dolores?" she asked in a low voice.
"Sure—the curandera you studied with back home. What about her?"
"She says there's a famous hierbero, a Tarahumara Indian, who lives not far from there. He knows everything about medicinal plants. He knows stuff no one else does. She met him once and learned a ton of things. I'm gonna find him. I'm gonna get him to teach me!"
"You're WHAT?" He looked at the nearby tables. No one paid them any attention. He shook his head. Clio leaned forward again.
"This is twin stuff, J-Man. Just you and me, OK?"
"That's nuts, Tister! I mean, there are bandits and smugglers all over northern Mexico, and coyotes smuggling illegals over the border, and…."
"He's somewhere in the Barranca del Cobre, Copper Canyon. High mountains, lots of valleys, few roads. Hardly any strangers go in there. I'll have my satellite phone. I'll be fine."
"OK, forget the bandits. Worry about Mom. Do you know how mad she'll be if she finds out you sneaked off on your own, in Mexico?"
"She won't find out. She and Dad'll be busy with that launch at Cape Kennedy. And anyway, if she calls, she still won't know where I am. You'll be my main contact. You'll cover for me."
"That's crazy, Tister! A phone won't protect you. You have no idea what might happen! It's too risky! Don't do it, please!"
"I have to go, J-Man. I have to! I've wanted to for years. This may be my only chance!"
"You can't just take off by yourself, in another country. It's dangerous over there. Mom would freak out, big time!"
"She's done plenty things like that herself—jumping into that river to get away, sneaking into a country to blow things up…she can do stuff like that, but she gave me grief over Harry Saenz, and he wasn't even a boy friend. Mom doesn't own me."
"Oh, man." He looked at the crumbs on the crumpled paper that had wrapped his sandwich. He shook his head again.
"But…you don't really know anything about this guy. How are you going to even find him?"
"I haven't figured that out yet. I'll do that once I'm down there."
They stared at each other. It was one of the rare times their twin meta-communication didn't work. Clio was as stubborn as her mother. Julio felt his sandwich ball up in his stomach like a wad of clay.
(Also at Barnes and Noble)