Butas I feared, and not without reasonTom's cigarette was only the tip of the iceberg. I'd been in trouble at school for a while. It had all started, or begun to snowball rather, when my father had run off and left my mother and me some months before; we'd never liked him much, and my mother and I were generally much happier without him, but other people seemed shocked and distressed at the abrupt way he'd abandoned us (without money, child support, or forwarding address), and the teachers at my school on the Upper West Side had been so sorry for me, so eager to extend their understanding and support, that they'd given mea scholarship studentall sorts of special allowances and delayed deadlines and second and third chances: feeding out the rope, over a matter of months, until I'd managed to lower myself into a very deep hole.
So the two of usmy mother and Ihad been called in for a conference at school. The meeting wasn't until eleven-thirty but since my mother had been forced to take the morning off, we were heading to the West Side earlyfor breakfast (and, I expected, a serious talk) and so she could buy a birthday present for someone she worked with. She'd been up until two-thirty the night before, her face tense in the glow of the computer, writing emails and trying to clear the decks for her morning out of the office.
"I don't know about you," Goldie was saying to my mother, rather fiercely, "but I say enough with all this spring and damp already. Rain, rain" He shivered, pulled his collar closer in pantomime and glanced at the sky.
"I think it's supposed to clear up this afternoon."
"Yeah, I know, but I'm ready for summer." Rubbing his hands. "People leave town, they hate it, complain about the heat, but meI'm a tropical bird. Hotter the better. Bring it on!" Clapping, backing on his heels down the street. "Andtell you what I love the best, is how it quietens out here, come July? building all empty and sleepy, everyone away, you know?" Snapping his fingers, cab speeding by. "That's my vacation."
"But don't you burn up out here?" My standoffish dad had hated this about herher tendency to engage in conversation with waitresses, doormen, the wheezy old guys at the dry cleaner's. "I mean, in winter, at least you can put on an extra coat"
"Listen, you're working the door in winter? I'm telling you it gets cold. I don't care how many coats and hats you put on. You're standing out here, in January, February, and the wind is blowing in off the river? Brrr."
Agitated, gnawing at my thumbnail, I stared at the cabs flying past Goldie's upraised arm. I knew that it was going to be an excruciating wait until the conference at eleven-thirty; and it was all I could do to stand still and not blurt out incriminating questions. I had no idea what they might spring on my mother and me once they had us in the office; the very word "conference" suggested a convocation of authorities, accusations and face-downs, a possible expulsion. If I lost my scholarship it would be catastrophic; we were broke since my dad had left; we barely had money for rent. Above all else: I was worried sick that Mr. Beeman had found out, somehow, that Tom Cable and I had been breaking into empty vacation houses when I went to stay with him out in the Hamptons. I say "breaking" though we hadn't forced a lock or done any damage (Tom's mother was a real estate agent; we let ourselves in with spare keys lifted from the rack in her office). Mainly we'd snooped through closets and poked around in dresser drawers, but we'd also taken some things: beer from the fridge, some Xbox games and a DVD (Jet Li, Unleashed) and money, about ninety-two dollars total: crumpled fives and tens from a kitchen jar, piles of pocket change in the laundry rooms.
Excerpted from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Copyright © 2013 by Donna Tartt. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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