For the most part, she didn't enter Peter's room unless he was in it. Maybe that was why, at first, she felt there was something wrong about the space, as if an integral part were missing. At first she assumed that it was Peter's absence that made the room seem a little empty, then she realized that the computer -- a steady hum, an ever-ready green screen -- had been turned off.
She tugged the sheets up and tucked in the edges; she drew the quilt over them and fluffed the pillows. At the threshold of Peter's bedroom she paused and smiled: the room looked perfect.
Zoe Patterson was wondering what it was like to kiss a guy who had braces. Not that it was a remote possibility for her anytime in the near future, but she figured it was something she ought to consider before the moment actually caught her off guard. In fact, she wondered what it would be like to kiss a guy, period -- even one who wasn't orthodontically challenged, like her. And honestly, was there any place better than a stupid math class to let your mind wander?
Mr. McCabe, who thought he was the Chris Rock of algebra, was doing his daily stand-up routine. "So, two kids are in the lunch line, when the first kid turns to his friend and says, 'I have no money! What should I do?' And his buddy says, '2x + 5!'"
Zoe looked up at the clock. She counted along with the second hand until it was 9:50 on the dot and then popped out of her seat to hand Mr. McCabe a pass. "Ah, orthodontia," he read out loud. "Well, make sure he doesn't wire your mouth shut, Ms. Patterson. So, the buddy says, '2x + 5.' A binomial. Get it? Buy-no-meal?!"
Zoe hefted her backpack onto her shoulders and walked out of the classroom. She had to meet her mom in front of the school at ten o'clock -- parking was killer, so it would be a drive-by pickup. Mid-class, the halls were hollow and resonant; it felt like trudging through the belly of a whale. Zoe detoured into the main office to sign out on the secretary's clipboard, and then nearly mowed down a kid in her hurry to get outside.
It was warm enough to unzip her jacket and think of summer and soccer camp and what it would be like when her palate expander was finally removed. If you kissed a guy who didn't have braces, and you pressed too hard, could you cut his gums? Something told Zoe that if you made a guy bleed, you probably wouldn't be hooking up with him again. What if he had braces, too, like that blond kid from Chicago who'd just transferred and sat in front of her in English (not that she liked him or anything, although he had turned around to hand her back her homework paper and held on to it just a smidgen too long...)? Would they get stuck together like jammed gears and have to be taken to the emergency room at the hospital, and how totally humiliating would that be?
Zoe ran her tongue along the ragged metal fence posts in her mouth. Maybe she could temporarily join a convent.
She sighed and peered down the block to see whether she could make out her mom's green Explorer from the conga line of passing cars. And just about then, something exploded.
Patrick sat at a red light in his unmarked police car, waiting to turn onto the highway. Beside him, on the passenger seat, was a paper bag with a vial of cocaine inside it. The dealer they'd busted at the high school had admitted it was cocaine, and yet Patrick had to waste half his day taking it to the state lab so that someone in a white coat could tell him what he already knew. He fiddled with the volume button of the dispatch radio just in time to hear the fire department being sent to the high school for an explosion. Probably the boiler; the school was old enough for its internal structure to be falling apart. He tried to remember where the boiler was located in Sterling High, and wondered if they'd be lucky enough to come out of that kind of situation without anyone being hurt.
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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