There were fourteen llamas in total at Larry's, and I won't bore you with all of their names, but my favorite mating pair, mating pairs to occasionally replenish the stock of llamas (average age fourteen) and to sell to other such petting zoos, was by far Mulder and Scully. Now, I never watched The X-Files, but I liked Mulder and Scully because they hated people.
"Scully took part of a kid's finger last year. That's when they got put in deep quarantine."
"Deep quarantine" was an exact replica of all the other enclosures except behind the gift shop, and inaccessible to guests. We had to step over some ancient, rusty barbed wire and walk through a swampy field to get to their enclosure.
Mulder came right over and Evelyn pulled a handful of baby carrots from her bra and held her palm out. I watched as the strange lips parted and sucked the carrots away one by one while she patted the old llama on her head. Mulder was mottled brown, but had graying patches around her eyes like an elder basset hound.
"I thought they hated people."
"They do," she said. "But I don't count because I'm the only one who visits them. You see, new guy Steve, these llamas are the perfect embodiment of human stubbornness."
"Yeah I don't follow. And I'm not being weird or quiet because you're a girl. If you still get to claim that mantle after pulling carrots from your bra."
"Firstly, I do. Secondly, alright then I'll explain it. See, Mulder and Scully fell into the classic introvert's dilemma. They were forced into an extroverted career by overzealous parents, and rebelled against it."
"By biting the tip of a small child's thumb off."
"Correct. But when they got their wish to be left alone...they found out they were only partially right about themselves. They didn't know their own hearts as well as they thought they did. They started to lose weight and become listless. That's when Tad put me in charge of their care and they started turning around. You wanna know what I did?"
"I just came to visit them every day. Spent some time with them. They missed the socialization. And now I come see them every day. Tad's promised to keep it up when I got back to school. And that, new guy Steve, is how these Llamas are the perfect embodiment of human stubbornness. We don't know what we really want. We never do."
I was thinking in that moment that I knew pretty well what I wanted, but my word was my word and I pushed the feeling down and instead said"
"That's really cool. Honestly."
"I know it is, Steve. I know it is."
Her tone was joking but she looked away across the pen at Scully nibbling on some grass and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her giraffe shirt before turning back to me.
"It's almost time for the most important part of the tour. The forbidden areas."
The forbidden areas of Larry's included Tad's office, Larry's house and yard which were on the property beyond Mulder and Scully's enclosure and separated by a stand of trees. A walking path wound around the misbehaving Llamas' enclosure, through the woods, and to Larry's basement door.
"Which I'm allowed to show you right now as part of the tour."
"Thrilling stuff, Evelyn. Thrilling stuff."
I willed her name out of my mouth, because saying a cute girl's name to her face is so much harder than it seems, but I would never hesitate to say a friend's name.
"I know. And it's about to get even better. I've saved the most crucial and mysterious forbidden area for last. And for that, we need to make it back to the park so come on."
She bound off down the walking path, leaving me to hoof it in her wake through the smell of her fruity perfume intermingling with the pine pollen of Georgia summer. One of the two made me sneeze mid-run, which resulted in snot plastering to my glasses.
"What took you so long?"
I hesitated to tell her, because it was embarrassing, but eventually I did, and I should have listened to my initial intuition.
"Snot Rocket Steve," she said once her laughter abated.
"Can't I at least be Snot Rocket Stephen?"
"We will consider it for subcommittee when next we assemble."
"I eagerly await your decision. "
She was jogging away already. Evelyn running away, looking back at me over her shoulder, that's the image of the summer that sticks with me the most, probably because I saw it so frequently. She was always on the move, never staying still, even in the midst of a semi-serious conversation she would dart away and shout back wondering why I wasn't keeping up. I was never keeping up with her, always a step behind but working hard to catch up. When I did catch up, I hunched over my knees and panted wildly.
"Why did we just run in a circle?" I asked.
We had run all the way around the main enclosures and were back behind the gift shop.
"I thought it would be funny."
She was barely even breathing hard. I thought she must have spent a lot of her time running. We were, as I said, back behind the gift shop, staring at...something? It looked like a large teepee but made of modern materials. I didn't have the right words for it, but Evelyn did.
"It's a yurt," she said. "And no one's allowed inside it except for Larry. Even Tad's never been inside. I've asked him."
"Why a yurt?"
She slapped her things.
"Exactly! You understand, Steve. That is the great mystery of the yurt. Not only are the contents of the yurt a mystery, the very choice of a yurt as a vessel is even more mysterious. It is truly the greatest mystery ever encountered on a llama petting farm anywhere in the world."
That struck me as a low bar, but in spite of my instinct to be cynical, I couldn't help but agree with her somewhat hyperbolic conclusions. It was weird and I promised myself right there that before I left for college I was going to know what was in that yurt.