Bobby scrubbed at his cheek.
"Come on, you liked it," she said, laughing.
"Did not," said Bobby, although he had.
"What'd you get for your birthday?"
"A library card," Bobby said, and showed her. "An adult library card."
"Cool!" Was that sympathy he saw in her eyes? Probably not. And so what if it was? "Here. For you." She gave him a Hallmark envelope with his name printed on the front. She had also stuck on some hearts and teddy bears.
Bobby opened the envelope with mild trepidation, reminding himself that he could tuck the card deep into the back pocket of his chinos if it was gushy.
It wasn't, though. Maybe a little bit on the baby side (a kid in a Stetson on a horse, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUCKAROO in letters that were supposed to look like wood on the inside), but not gushy. Love, Carol was a little gushy, but of course she was a girl, what could you do?
"It's sort of a baby card, I know, but the others were even worse," Carol said matter-of-factly. A little farther up the hill Sully-John was waiting for them, working his Bo-lo Bouncer for all it was worth, going under his right arm, going under his left arm, going behind his back. He didn't try going between his legs anymore; he'd tried it once in the schoolyard and rapped himself a good one in the nuts. Sully had screamed. Bobby and a couple of other kids had laughed until they cried. Carol and three of her girlfriends had rushed over to ask what was wrong, and the boys all said nothing -- Sully-John said the same, although he'd been pale and almost crying. Boys are boogers, Carol had said on that occasion, but Bobby didn't believe she really thought so. She wouldn't have jumped out and given him that kiss if she did, and it had been a good kiss, a smackeroo. Better than the one his mother had given him, actually.
"It's not a baby card," he said.
"No, but it almost is," she said. "I thought about getting you a grownup card, but man, they are gushy."
"I know," Bobby said.
"Are you going to be a gushy adult, Bobby?"
"I hope not," he said. "Are you?"
"No. I'm going to be like my mom's friend Rionda."
"Rionda's pretty fat," Bobby said doubtfully.
"Yeah, but she's cool. I'm going to go for the cool without the fat."
"There's a new guy moving into our building. The room on the third floor. My mom says it's really hot up there."
"Yeah? What's he like?" She giggled. "Is he ushy-gushy?"
"He's old," Bobby said, then paused to think. "But he had an interesting face. My mom didn't like him on sight because he had some of his stuff in shopping bags."
Sully-John joined them. "Happy birthday, you bastard," he said, and clapped Bobby on the back. Bastard was Sully-John's current favorite word; Carol's was cool; Bobby was currently between favorite words, although he thought ripshit had a certain ring to it.
"If you swear, I won't walk with you," Carol said.
"Okay," Sully-John said companionably. Carol was a fluffy blonde who looked like a Bobbsey Twin after some growing up; John Sullivan was tall, black-haired, and green-eyed. A Joe Hardy kind of boy. Bobby Garfield walked between them, his momentary depression forgotten. It was his birthday and he was with his friends and life was good. He tucked Carol's birthday card into his back pocket and his new library card down deep in his front pocket, where it could not fall out or be stolen. Carol started to skip. Sully-John told her to stop.
"Why?" Carol asked. "I like to skip."
"I like to say bastard, but I don't if you ask me," Sully-John replied reasonably.
Carol looked at Bobby.
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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