"My cousin said the girl was hit by a truck when she was in her stroller. Were you ever hit by a truck?" she asked, I presumed me, since we were the last two riders on the bus.
"Why, do I look like it?" I said, looking out the window at the river. Our bus followed the same meandering path as the Wallkill River. At points the river ribboned close to the road and was visible. I liked to see the river slipping by, as quiet as the trees standing on its muddy banks; quieter still than the secrets I imagined were carried with it.
"No, you don't look like you've been hit by a truck. I just didn't know you could be hit by a truck and live. But this girl's in the same grade as you. I thought you would know her."
"So who is it?" I asked, finally.
"I shouldn't tell." She lifted up her chin. "It wouldn't be nice. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
There. That was one of those things. Girls are supposed to say nice things. They compliment each other on their outfits and their haircuts. They offer to do things without being asked, like bring homemade cookies to a party or clear the dishes after supper. Even when they're mean, girls are nice about it.
"Well, telling me someone's name would be a very nice thing to say," I said, not thinking it would really work, not caring in the first place.
"Lynette," the kid blurted out.
I guess she hadn't had enough "girl" stuff absorbed into her yet.
She had meant Lynette Waters, who was right at the moment desperately trying to talk to me.
"She's coming and she'll cry," Lynette said for the fourth time.
"All right already, who's coming?" I turned to face Lynette.
"A new girl in sixth grade. I heard it in the office," Lynette told me.
Lynette and I had had the same homeroom assignment for the last two years. Waters and Weiss. And weren't we lucky, because the last name of the most popular girl in sixth grade was Whitman. Amber Whitman. Somehow, we all ended up in last-period math class together, too.
"The new girl is going to be in our homeroom," Lynette said a little too loudly.
"A new girl?" Amber turned around in her seat. Her hair moved with her like a blond waterfall. "What's her name?"
Lynette thought a moment, as if trying to remember. "I don't know her name," Lynette said, worried.
Our math teacher was explaining how to change decimals into fractions when she suddenly stopped and looked up from her book.
"Not likely," Amber whispered, and she immediately flipped back around in her chair.
"She's coming and she'll cry," Lynette said quietly to me when the teacher was turned and again writing on the board. "And I am thinking who she is."
I was thinking, too. I could use a new friend. Amber Whitman had her popular friends--the ones who ate lunch every day at the same table headed by none other than Amber herself. They performed gymnastic moves on the playground each day and held secret meetings in the bathroom to rate the other kids in school.
Even Lynette had her two best friends, both of them kind of weird, too, but they constituted a group.
No one liked Rhonda Littleman, the smartest girl in the whole sixth grade, but she happily made up her own group of one, sometimes two if you included boys, because Alex Bassik was so smart that no one else talked to him.
Then there was the group of tough girls who had homemade tattoos and who smoked cigarettes behind the bleachers before school. Patty Parker had her boyfriend's name poked into her wrist with india ink and a needle. Carl. But it came out looking like Larl because, she said, she messed up on the C.
But I was miserably free. (I had never had a real, real best friend. And I couldn't count Mimi Russo just because she was in after-school day care with me every day from kindergarten till fourth grade. Anyway, her dad got relocated and she moved two years ago.) I moved around from group to group, friend to friend. So even though I prided myself with not being stuck on any one peg, I wondered--Who will the new girl be?
Copyright Nora Raleigh Baskin 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Little Brown & Co. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission 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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