So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.
She tells me in four sentences. No, five.
I cant let me hear this, but its too late. The facts sneak in and stab me. When she gets to the worst part
body found in a motel room, alone
my walls go up and my doors lock. I nod like Im listening, like were communicating, and she never knows the difference.
Its not nice when girls die.
We didnt want you hearing it at school or on the news. Jennifer crams the last hunk of muffin into her mouth. Are you sure youre okay?
I open the dishwasher and lean into the cloud of steam that floats out of it. I wish I could crawl in and curl up between a bowl and a plate. My stepmother Jennifer could lock the door, twist the dial to scald, and press on.
The steam freezes when it touches my face. Im fine, I lie.
She reaches for the box of oatmeal raisin cookies on the table. This must feel awful. She rips off the cardboard ribbon. Worse than awful. Can you get me a clean container?
I take a clear plastic box and lid out of the cupboard and hand it across the island to her. Wheres Dad?
He had a tenure meeting.
Who told you about Cassie?
She crumbles the edges of the cookies before she puts them in the box, to make it look like she baked instead of bought. Your mother called late last night with the news. She wants you to see Dr. Parker right away instead of waiting for your next appointment.
What do you think? I ask.
Its a good idea, she says. Ill see if she can fit you in this afternoon.
Dont bother. I pull out the top rack of the dishwasher. The glasses vibrate with little screams when I touch them. If I pick them up, theyll shatter. Theres no point.
She pauses in mid-crumble. Cassie was your best friend.
Not anymore. Ill see Dr. Parker next week like Im supposed to.
I guess its your decision. Will you promise me youll call your mom and talk to her about it?
Jennifer looks at the clock on the microwave and shouts, Emmafour minutes!
My stepsister Emma doesnt answer. Shes in the family room, hypnotized by the television and a bowl of blue cereal.
Jennifer nibbles a cookie. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Im glad you didnt hang out with her anymore.
I push the top rack back in and pull out the bottom. Why?
Cassie was a mess. She could have taken you down with her.
I reach for the steak knife hiding in the nest of spoons. The black handle is warm. As I pull it free, the blade slices the air, dividing the kitchen into slivers. There is Jennifer, packing store-bought cookies in a plastic tub for her daughters class. There is Dads empty chair, pretending he has no choice about these early meetings. There is the shadow of my mother, who prefers the phone because face-to-face takes too much time and usually ends in screaming.
Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it.
Excerpted from WINTERGIRLS © Copyright 2009 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Reprinted with permission by Viking Juvenile. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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