Meg Saxton had been Gilly's first best friend. Even as she'd grown up, she hadn't lost her baby fat, and her brown hair flew away from her face in a riot of curls.
"I didn't watch any soaps. I took a nap."
"A nap? I thought you were faking."
Gillian shrugged. "I'm not faking; I'm method-acting."
"Well, FYI, the trig test sucked," Whitney said. The only child of one of the town selectmen, Whitney O'Neill was nothing short of a knockout. She'd opened the bag of jellybeans to help herself. "Why can't we write a spell to get A's?"
Chelsea looked nervously at the large, lovely bedroom, then at Gillian. "Are you sure we can do magick here, with your father right downstairs?"
Of course they could -- and would -- do magick. They had been students of the Craft for nearly a year now; it was why they had gathered this afternoon. "I wouldn't have invited you if I didn't think it was okay," Gillian said, withdrawing a black-and-white composition notebook from between the mattress and box spring. Written in bubble letters, with smiley-face O's, was its title: Book of Shadows. She got out of bed and padded into the large adjoining bathroom. The others could hear her turning on the faucet, and then she returned with an eight-ounce glass of water. "Here," she said, handing it to Whitney. "Drink."
Whitney took a sip, then spat on the floor. "This is disgusting! It's salt water!"
"So?" Gillian said. As she spoke, she walked around her friends, sprinkling more salt onto the carpet. "Would you rather waste time taking a bath? Or maybe you've got a better way to purify yourself?"
Grimacing, Whitney drank again, and then passed it to the others. "Let's do something quick today," Meg suggested. "My mom will kill me if I'm not home by four-thirty." She scooted into position, across from Gillian on the floor, as Whitney and Chelsea made up the other corners of their square. Gillian reached for Whitney's hand, and a cold draft snaked in through a crack in the window. As Whitney's palm skimmed over Meg's, the lamp on the nightstand dimmed. The pages of the notebook fluttered as Meg reached for Chelsea. And when Chelsea clasped Gillian's hand, the air grew too thick to breathe.
"What color is your circle?" Gillian asked Chelsea.
Meg's eyes drifted shut. "Pink."
"Mine's silver," Whitney murmured.
"Pure gold," Gillian said. All of their eyes were closed now, but they had learned over the course of the past year that you did not need them open to see. The girls sat, their minds winnowed to this point of power; as one snake of color after another surrounded them, plaited into a thick ring, and sealed them inside.
"Not again," Delilah said with a sigh, as Addie hauled Roy Peabody into the kitchen.
"I don't need this from you now." Addie gritted her teeth as her father stumbled heavily on the arch of her foot.
"Is that Delilah?" Roy crowed, craning his neck. "Prettiest cook in New Hampshire."
Addie managed to push her father into a narrow stairwell that led upstairs to his apartment. "Did Chloe give you any trouble?" she called back over her shoulder.
"No, honey," Delilah sighed. "No trouble whatsoever."
Through sheer will, Addie and Roy made it upstairs. "Why don't you sit down, Daddy?" she said softly, guiding him to the frayed armchair that had stood in that spot all of Addie's life.
She could smell the stew that Delilah had prepared for the lunch rush rising through the floor and the weave of the carpet -- carrots, beef base, thyme. As a child, she had believed that breathing in the diner had rooted it in her system, making it as much as part of her as her blood or her bones. Her father had been like that, too, once. But it had been seven years since he'd voluntarily set foot behind the stove. She wondered if it caused him the same phantom pain that came from losing a vital limb -- if he drank to dull the ache of it.
Copyright © 2001 by Jodi Picoult. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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