My tummy does a somersault.
"Your hair would look better loose," he says. He smells of cigarette smoke and Aramis aftershave. A little parenthesis appears on one side of his mouth when he smiles. Must remember every detail for Moira.
"I always wear my hair like this," I reply. We're nearly at the top of the hill and I know he lives in the fourth brick house on the right, the one with the little iron gate. As I'm swinging my long braid to the left, to the right, because he might think it's cute, my beret flies off, and he swoops to pick it up and reads the name tag inside. His ears stick out a bit. Short fingernails. Tight purple shirt. A peep of chest hair.
"Kate Cadogan, LV2."
"Lower fifth, class two."
"You're only fourteen, then."
I won't be fourteen till October the seventh, actually, but he doesn't have to know that.
"I was seventeen last week," he tells me.
Wow! A whole seventeen! Birth sign, Virgo.
"See you on Monday," he says, opening his gate.
See you on Monday. I do a who-cares shrug, take my beret back, flatten it onto my head, and turn away without a second look. I try to saunter off, but I can't because the girdle has slipped way down now, so I end up walking like a goose instead. I hope to hell he's not watching.
I turn the key in the latch of number 33 Cherry Blossom Road. No sign of Biddy, but I do hear a rattle of cutlery in the kitchen, so she is home.
The TV is on in the living room, and the Rolling Stones are on Top of the Pops, singing about telephones.
Ha! And our phone rings. I join in with Mick Jagger and sing down the receiver, because it just has to be Moira.
Breathe slowly, Kate. It's Barry. Don't pass out now.
"I found your number in the directory, Kate Cadogan."
"So you did, Barry Finch."
"How do you know my name?" he asks.
The whole of LV2 knows his name.
"Sheila Colby told me. You're friends with her brother, aren't you?" And Sheila Colby fancies him like nothing else, but he phoned me! And he's seventeen.
Hearing the soft pad of footsteps on the carpet, I swing around to see Biddy walking toward me. Her arms are folded.
"Got to go," I tell Barry. I put the receiver down, praying he won't think I hung up on him, praying Biddy won't ask who I was talking to.
Biddy says there'll be plenty of time for boys when I go to college, when I'm eighteen. Girls grow up too soon these days, she says, wearing short skirts and showing their knickers. No wonder they end up in trouble.
My mother taps her foot. "Who were you speaking to, Kate?"
"Moira," I say, fidgeting with a strand of hair.
I see Biddy has new shoes, burgundy, with sharp stiletto heels. They look kind of funny with her green hospital dress and starched apron. She must have been trying them on. That's another pair to add to the hundred and twenty-five she already has.
"Make sure you get your homework done tonight. Don't leave it till last minute on Sunday," she says. "You were talking to a boy, weren't you?"
Reprinted from Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak, pages 1-13, with permission from Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 20054 by Carrie Kabak. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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