Andrea loved being in the band; last year she'd been the only freshman chosen for the flute section. But if she'd left Joan's house early and gone to the hideout to meet Rob, and Daddy found out, that would mean she'd have to give it up. Mommy always said that Andrea could twist Daddy around her little finger, but she didn't say that last month when one of the state troopers told Daddy he'd stopped Rob Westerfield to give him a ticket for speeding and that Andrea was with him at the time.
Daddy hadn't said anything about it until after dinner. Then he asked Andrea how long she'd been at the library.
She didn't answer him.
Then he said, "I see you're smart enough to realize that the trooper who gave Westerfield the ticket would tell me you were with him. Andrea, that guy is not only rich and spoiled, he's a bad apple through and through. When he kills himself speeding, you're not going to be in the car. You are absolutely forbidden to have anything to do with him."
The hideout was in the garage behind the great big house that old Mrs. Westerfield, Rob's grandmother, lived in all summer. It was always unlocked, and sometimes Andrea and her friends sneaked in there and smoked cigarettes. Andrea had taken Ellie there a couple of times when she was babysitting her.
Her friends had been really mad at Andrea for bringing her along, but she had said, "Ellie is a good kid. She's not a snitch." Hearing that had made Ellie feel great, but Andrea hadn't let Ellie have even one puff of the cigarette.
Ellie was sure that last night Andrea had left Joan's house early because she was planning to meet Rob Westerfield. Ellie had heard her when she talked to him on the phone yesterday, and when she was finished, she was practically crying. "I told Rob I was going to the mixer with Paulie," she said, "and now he's really mad at me."
Ellie thought about the conversation as she finished the cornflakes and juice. Daddy was standing at the stove. He was holding a cup of coffee. Mommy was crying again but making almost no sound.
Then, for the first time, Daddy seemed to notice her: "Ellie, I think you'd be better off in school. At lunchtime I'll take you over."
"Is it all right if I go outside now?"
"Yes. But stay around the house."
Ellie ran for her jacket and was quickly out the door. It was the fifteenth of November, and the leaves were damp and felt sloshy underfoot. The sky was heavy with clouds, and she could tell it was going to rain again. Ellie wished they were back in Irvington where they used to live. It was lonesome here. Mrs. Hilmer's house was the only other one on this road.
Daddy had liked living in Irvington, but they'd moved here, five towns away, because Mommy wanted a bigger house and more property. They found they could afford that if they moved farther up in Westchester, to a town that hadn't yet become a suburb of New York City.
When Daddy said he missed Irvington, where he'd grown up and where they'd lived until two years ago, Mommy would tell him how great the new house was. Then he'd say that in Irvington we had a million-dollar view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge, and he didn't have to drive five miles for a newspaper or a loaf of bread.
There were woods all around their property. The big Westerfield house was directly behind theirs, but on the other side of the woods. Glancing back at the kitchen window to make sure no one had seen her, Ellie began to dart through the trees.
Five minutes later she reached the clearing and ran across the field to where the Westerfield property began. Feeling more and more alone, she raced up the long driveway and darted around the mansion, a small figure lost in the lengthening shadows of the approaching storm.
Copyright © 2002 by Mary Higgins Clark
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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