Abby looked around at the six girls at the table. Kristen, Georgia, Rachel, Casey, Myla, and Bess. They all weighed around ninety. They were all medium girls. They were medium smart, medium good at sports, their families had a medium amount of money. Kristen was the most important, and Abby was the least. She knew to stay quiet most of the time. To keep her opinions to herself. She was doing her best to be the most medium of the medium girls so that no one would notice her.
Abby knew she needed to be careful. If she said the wrong thing now, that would be two strikes. Then she'd probably do something stupid on the bus and Kristen would say, "Strike three!" and give her that dead-fish-eye look that meant Abby was all the way on the outside again. Then she'd have to sit at the very end of the table at lunch while everyone gave her the silent treatment, depending on the occasional sympathetic glance from Bess or Casey to get her through the period. Abby looked down at her sandwich. It was tuna on homemade wheat bread. Her mother put two more teaspoons of honey in her dough than the recipe called for, so the bread was a little extra sweet, but not too sweet. Abby's mother wanted her to be friends with Kristen and Georgia. Abby's mother wanted her to be happy.
This bread makes me happy, Abby thought. Being friends with Kristen doesn't.
"Well?" Kristen said in a voice that suggested she was ready for Abby to show her the proper respect so they all could get on with eating their lunches. "Don't you think throwing up is a way you could lose weight?"
Abby opened her mouth to give the answer that would satisfy Kristen. But different words, unexpected words, came out. "I think it sounds sick. Like something you would have to be mentally ill to do."
Everyone at the table grew very, very quiet. Georgia, who had been crumpling a chip bag, stopped mid-crumple.
Kristen smiled, unconcerned. "Well, I think fat people are mentally ill. In fact, I read an article that said that."
"Or, like, emotionally stunted," Georgia added. "You know, nobody loves them, so they eat all the time."
Abby almost said, Maybe. She almost said, I think I read that article too. She almost said the sort of thing she always said, so no one would be mad at her. But she didn't. Instead she slowly put her sandwich back into her lunch bag. She stood up. Her legs felt shaky. The skin around her eyes and nose was cold, as though she'd just dipped her face in ice.
"What are you doing?" Kristen asked her. "Sit down."
Abby didn't reply. She thought that if she opened her mouth, she might throw up. What's gotten into you? she could hear her mom cry out. Abby wanted to cry back, I don't know!
She started walking toward the cafeteria exit. Something hit her in the back of the legs. When she looked down, she saw Georgia's crumpled chip bag.
Well, she thought, pushing open the door with her shoulder. I guess that's that.
And for the rest of the afternoon, until the last bell rang, little sparks of light flashed from her fingers. No one else could see them, but she could.
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."
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