abby was trying to feel brave, but feeling brave was not something she was good at. In fact, she was chicken. A coward. A natural-born conflict avoider. And she was doomed. Whatever happened next, it would not be good, and her day, which had been completely rotten so far, would only get worse.
There was no way around it, though. She knew Kristen would hear about what happened in language arts. Myla was in Abby's class; so was Casey. They were part of Kristen and Georgia's group, and they'd tell faster than milk spilling from a knocked-over glass.
She wondered if Kristen would use it against her right away ("Hey, Tubbyoh, I'm just teasing! Take a joke!") or if she would bring it out later for maximum hurtage. Ever since Claudia had moved and Abby had taken refuge on the fringes of Kristen's group, she had learned how Kristen worked. Sometimes Abby was in with Kristen, sometimes she was out.
Mostly Abby was out, although she kept trying to find ways to be in. Sixth grade was no time to go off on your own, pretending like having friends didn't matter. So she offered Kristen her desserts, and some mornings she did Kristen's math homework on the bus. It didn't seem to make much of a difference, though.
Walking into the cafeteria, Abby wondered how much Myla and Casey would tell. Would they give Kristen the whole story or just the most embarrassing part? Oh, why hadn't Abby picked another word for her acrostic poem? Why not "rainbow" or "horse" or "volleyball"? Why, oh why, had she chosen "bathtub"?
"Bathtub? Hmm, sounds interesting," Mr. Lee had said that morning, and he wrote the word "bathtub" on the board. "I've always liked the way the word 'tub' sounds, that 'ub' sound."
Marco Perry had been the one who started the chant. He'd slapped his hands on his desktop and called out, "Tubby! Chubby! Abby! Tubby! Chubby! Abby!"
Almost all the boys had joined in, except for Weber Logan, genius, who couldn't be bothered, and Anoop Chatterjee, a very serious and quiet boy who never joined in anything the other boys did.
"Quiet! Everyone!" Mr. Lee had called out, but it was no good. He was too new and too young. He didn't have control.
Abby had tried very hard not to cry. She did all the tricks. She stared straight ahead, breathed in deep through her nose, thought about her starfish collection.
But she'd made the same mistake she always made: She thought about her mom, and how upset she would be if she knew what was happening. Abby imagined her mom sitting at the kitchen table with her cup of coffee, reading one of the giant history books she loved so much. She was happy because her children were safely at school, and Abby's dad was in his office over the garage, and she had the house to herself and could read about Abigail Adams or George Washington or Thomas Jefferson and take notes for the class she taught on colonial America at the local college. At least thirty books were stacked around her reading chair in wobbly piles, and Abby's mom was always yelling, "Watch out for the books!" whenever anyone got too close.
If she knew boys in Abby's class were calling her names, her face would crumple up, and she would have to put away her books and her coffee, turn off the radio that played classical music all day in the kitchen.
Abby's mom couldn't stand very much unhappiness.
When Abby thought of her mother unhappy in her kitchen, the tears started to fall. Which only made things worse. Which only made the chanting boys chant more gleefully.
Abby resigned herself to crying. That was the only way to make it stop. The only way out is through, her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Reisman, had liked to say. Sometimes you just had to cry until you were done crying. Finally a moment would come when you felt your eyes dry, and then you let out a little sigh. If you were sitting with a friend, you might smile to let her know the worst was over.
Excerpted from The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O'Roark Dowell. Copyright © 2012 by Frances O'Roark Dowell. Excerpted by permission of Atheneum Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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