“Grandpa, look at the book I checked out from the library,” Jim said. He held up a book with a picture of the solar system on the front.
Grandpa took the book as he sat down on the couch next to Jim. “The planets?” He opened the book and flipped through the pages.
Jim leaned over and turned the pages to show a picture of the earth with a wedge removed. “See, the earth has layers, like a jawbreaker. Inside the center, there’s liquid and solid metal. Neat, huh?”
“Of course there is,” Grandpa said. “That’s what baby space phoenixes look like.”
“Huh?” Jim looked at the diagram again. “Space phoenixes?”
Neil, who had been adding a mustache to a picture of a panda in Carrie’s coloring book, dropped his pen and grinned. “Is this a grandpa story? We should get Lynn. She’ll want to hear it.”
Lynn walked into the room. “What will I want to hear?”
“A grandpa story,” Neil said. “About planets.”
Lynn sat in the armchair. “I do like astronomy.” She looked at Neil. “Does Carrie know you’re drawing in her coloring book?”
Jim looked over from the couch. “On the panda page, too. Carrie loves pandas. You are going to be in so much trouble.”
Neil scowled. “I’m not scared of Carrie.”
“I am,” Jim and Lynn said together.
Neil shoved the coloring book under the couch. “Well, if she doesn’t see it, she won’t know.”
“Carrie will know,” Jim said. Lynn nodded.
Neil looked nervous. “Well, let’s just not talk about it. Grandpa was going to tell us a story.”
Grandpa smiled. “Ah yes. Where was I?”
“Space phoenixes,” Jim said.
“Space phoenixes. That’s right.” Grandpa tapped a finger on his cheek. “Hmmm. So, you know, of course, that the sun is a mother space phoenix, curled up in space, turning her eggs around to keep them warm until they hatch.”
“The sun is a star.” Lynn leaned forward in her chair. “It’s made of hydrogen and helium gasses.”
Grandpa nodded. “And we’re carbon-based lifeforms.”
“Wait. The planets are eggs?” Neil asked. “How does that work? Wouldn’t they have hatched already?”
“No, they take much longer to hatch than chicken eggs or dinosaur eggs.” Grandpa slapped his knee. “Why I remember when this brontosaurus laid eggs in my backyard. They were the size of cannonballs and they took weeks to hatch. And then I had baby brontosauruses eating all my lettuce. It was a bad year for salads.”
“You aren’t that old,” Lynn said. “No one is.”
Grandpa smiled. “You always say the nicest things. Now, let’s see. Eggs. Ah, yes. So, the space phoenix lays her eggs in space, and uses her personal gravity to keep them close and turn them. They’ll develop different characteristics depending on their position in the nest, of course.”
“Like what?” Neil asked.
“Oh, the ones closest in will be hot-tempered and emotional. Further out, they’re more cool and logical. Earth is a good mix of both. It’s why it’s a good place for people to live. It’s just right.”
Grandpa handed Jim back his book. Jim traced the picture of the solar system with his finger. “So what happens when they all hatch?”
“They all fly out into space and live happily ever after.” Grandpa smiled. “Unless they run into space dragons, of course. Space phoenixes and space dragons don’t get along. Luckily they live in different parts of the universe.”
Lynn snorted. “That’s ridiculous. There is no such thing as space dragons.”
“But what about the people?” Neil looked worried. “What happens to the people when the earth hatches?”
Grandpa leaned forward and tousled Neil’s hair. “Don’t you worry. By then, all the people will have moved out and taken the animals with them. They’ll be living in space stations far away. We have lots of time left.”
Jim flipped the pages of the book, looking at the pictures of the planets. “Why isn’t any of this in the book?”
Lynn rolled her eyes. “Because it isn’t true. It’s just a story.”
Grandpa smiled. “Of course it’s a story. But does that mean it isn’t true?”
There was a loud cry from elsewhere in the house. Everyone looked at the spot where the coloring book was hidden under the couch. “I think it might be a nice time to go outside,” Grandpa said. “Who’s with me?” All three children jumped up and followed him out the back door.
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