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But this is the most interesting part: wisteria vines, like other legumes, often thrive in poor soil, the book said. Their secret is something called rhizobia. These are microscopic bugs that live underground in little knots on the roots. They suck nitrogen gas right out of the soil and turn it into fertilizer for the plant.

The rhizobia are not actually part of the plant, they are separate creatures, but they always live with legumes: a kind of underground railroad moving secretly up and down the roots.

"It's like this," I told Turtle. "There's a whole invisible system for helping out the plant that you'd never guess was there." I loved this idea. "It's just the same as with people. The way Edna has Virgie, and Virgie has Edna, and Sandi has Kid Central Station, and everybody has Mattie. And on and on."

The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by, is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.

At four o'clock we went to the Oklahoma County Courthouse to pick up the adoption papers. On Mr. Armistead's directions we found a big bright office where about twenty women sat typing out forms. All together they made quite a racket. The one who came to the front counter had round-muscled shoulders bulging under her pink cotton blazer and a half grown-out permanent in her straight Cherokee hair-a body trying to return to its natural state. She took our names and told us to have a seat, that it would be awhile. The waiting made me nervous, even though no one here looked important enough to stop what had already been set in motion. It was only a roomful of women with typewriters and African violets and pictures of their kids on their desks, doing as they were told. Still, I was afraid of sitting around looking anxious, as if one of them might catch sight of me fidgeting and cry out, "That's no adoptive mother, that's an impostor!" I could imagine them all then, scooting back their chairs and scurrying after me in their high-heeled pumps and tight skirts.

I needed to find something to do with myself. I asked if there was a telephone I could use for long distance. The muscular woman directed me to a pay phone out in the hall.

I dialed Lou Ann. It seemed to take an eternity for all the right wires to connect, and when she finally did take the call she sounded even more nervous than I was, which was no help.

"It's okay, Lou Ann, everything's fine, I just called collect because I'm about out of quarters. But we'll have to keep it short or we'll run up the phone bill."

"Oh, hell's bells, Taylor, I don't even care." Lou Ann relaxed immediately once she knew we hadn't been mangled in a car crash. "I don't know how many times this week I've said I'd give a million dollars to talk to Taylor, so here's my chance. It just seems like everything in the world has happened. Where in the tarnation are you, anyway?"

"Oklahoma City. Headed home." I hesitated. "So what all's happened? You've decided to take Angel back? Or go up there and live in his yurdle, or whatever?"

"Angel? Heck no, not if you paid me. Listen, do you know what his mother told me? She said Angel just wants what he can't have. That I'd no sooner get up to Montana before he'd decide he'd had enough of me again. She said I was worth five or six of Angel."

"His own mother said that?"

"Can you believe it? Of course it was all in Spanish, I had to get it secondhand, but that was the general gist. And it makes sense, don't you think? Isn't there some saying about not throwing good loving after bad?"

"I think it's money they say that about. Good money after bad."

"Well, the same goes, is what I say. Oh shoot, can you hang on a second? Dwayne Ray's got something about ready to put in his mouth." I waited while she saved Dwayne Ray from his probably nineteen-thousandth brush with death. I loved Lou Ann.

Turtle was playing the game where you see how far you can get without touching the floor, walking only on the furniture. She was doing pretty well. There was a long row of old-fashioned wooden benches with spindle backs and armrests, lined up side by side down one wall of the hallway. For some reason it made me think of a chain gang-a hundred guys could sit on those benches, all handcuffed together. Or a huge family, I suppose, waiting for some important news. They could all hold hands.

"Okay, I'm back. So there's one more thing I have to tell you. Remember about the meteors? I called up Ramona Quiroz in San Diego, long distance. There wasn't any meteor shower. Not at all! Can you believe it? That was just the absolute last straw."

"Well, thank heavens," I said. It occurred to me that nobody else on earth could have understood what Lou Ann had just said.