{\rtf1{\info{\title A Map of the Known World}{\author Lisa Ann Sandell}}\ansi\an sicpg1252\deff0\deflang1033

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life has to be be . things must be beautiful and vivid. Somewhere else.311b90a54191738069f71e24fb45cc974fa55a79ae72cdb4633eb8a3a8cea3c1920d03c13afeb177 98d6ee1fb25b83c7984f71ed5e6fcaae180ad2d535bbfd60 c5f699b3142bb638d06d551ec2a9432f913c6fb5640bfc2dd28480f46f16eab75a7784bc1eb6d22a 87b2e495079cd719abea37be22ba3a83c40b450aacac9d00 1d09ad4d43c757fa9d9db595cd859bc36abb601e58f94550b9f144f71a53e9b0d95b5b40e73298a3 019bf1a515615c678488ff0084b749c9047da57af1567c7e 71e3bd63a03f68359da2eaf2e877f1dec1046f321ca34833835a7a978cee755bd6bcbcd3ac9e663f 3b7960669f50be860bdb4b14714d2238497250ff007be95d c783b9f00f8bc8ff009e51f7e9cd729aceb571ad4f1cd3a45188a3f2e34886140ad2d2fc6d7da269 93d85b5adb79172313078c1dc286ae811cec51b4f22c518d ced80aabc93ed48c0ab1523041c11e95bd6de2a9ec99a5b6d3ec9252080de58c8c8c1c56016dcc58 f527269898945145020a28a2800a46fba69690f4340041f7 7f1a649febaa4841c54727faea604941c1ea28a2800ed8c0c51d7a814514008dd3ad3a2fbbd298dd 29f1fdda4030e3cc34ee9c0fce99fc669dde980bd3a7e747 7cfaf6a29322801690f4a5cd21231d690c587a74a6cbfeb734b0f4a497fd65310eefcf348703b52e 47ad25030e3d28f6edde978f5a4c8a042e4e28181d051499 140c51c514991eb4669085a29323d68c8a00283d383cd2d35a980e8b914d7e65ea69d0f434d7ff00 5b4807638eb471d8628ed453180e0f1d28e8734514001e7a 8a4000ed4b450019e314600ee68a2800a3af5fd28a28401d7af34d93d3a0a70a63f5a00931f2814d 73d29c3b5325a005ff00966052d20fbb4b48414514500145 14500376b7ad055b14ef387a506618e9400f8c102a36424d48b264534c9838a0066c7f5a5dadeb4a 26f6a3cf1e9400d2adeb46d6f5a779e3d28f387a50030a31 a9a31b579a619c0ed522b6e19a008cc258e738a3ece71d69acedbb00d0647a0077907d68f208ef51 ef7a779b2fbd003bcaf7a430526f7a37cbdcd301eabb6959 7cc3442dbbaf34c7918371c5200f209ef4be41c7dea69924cd377bd3024fb39f5a4f20ff007a93cc 97de9be649e940127907d68f23dea3def46f7a403fc9f7a5 f27dea3def4ef35fd28017c9f7a3c8f7a4f31fd28f31fd2980ef20fad1e41f5a6f98fe94798fe948 09635c0351487f794f8989079a8e4fbf400f078a29074a5a 0028a28a0028a28a0028a28a0028a28a000531fad3c531fad00483b5325a7f614c7a005e8b4b4839 5a5a0028a28a0028a28a004da282a31d28a2801d0f5a63ff 00ada28a0090a8f4a61519a28a00368a028cf4a28a001947a5393eed14500467fd65487eed145003 371a371a28a00371a56638a28a00587ad44ec775145301fb 8d1b8d145200dc68dc68a2800dc68dc68a2800dc69771a28a00371a371a28a005dc69acc68a28016 0ef492ff00ada28a6028e94b45148028a28a0028a28a0028 a28a0028a28a000531fad1450049d8531e8a2801c3eed14514005145140051451401ffd9 }} \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\qc {\b \~}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\qc {\b A Map of the Known World}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\qc Lisa Ann Sandell\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b \~}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} {\line } { For Meredith and\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ In Loving memory of my Grandmother\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Bessie Sandell\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} {\line } {\line } { {\b Chapter One}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Somewhere.

becoming a blurred streak. blue ten feet of chlorine-and-pee filled water. vibrant and new. the ordinary thwack of racket on ball. sagging porches . and I am suf focating. let alone set foot in it now. every blade of grass. I know every twist of every road. I know there is no chance my father. a color. I can also see the slippery bank of the cr eek. I can map all of these houses that look so similar.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I could put on my swimsuit. ev ery missed volley.a pale blue bedroom. bike to the town swimming pool.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 4\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ For each bubble-marked spot. The thoug ht of all those goggled eyes watching me with their hard. with their dusty aluminum siding. I imagine a whole vista.autiful and vivid and rich. I stay in. It very well might.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ So.Kyrgyzstan. And sitt ing here. but contains the largest walnut forest in the world. So. dull green yellow brown of the fields. for the eighty-one days of summer va cation. the world outside of Lincoln Grove -. And a dozen pairs of eyes would focus on me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 2\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ All of these things that I have seen countless times in my life will be there. and buckled sidewalks. w eathered wood slats and dark windows. follow every swing and every serve. where colors a nd smells and winds are fresh and delicate. a certain ty that the world -.. a place for adults. the screakk of sneakers scratching across courts would quickly grind to a halt. watching dozens of legs kicking above me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 3\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I do have a window onto escape. during which I've stayed at home.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sit in my bedroom. I don't have to leave the house to trace the picture of this town . Not like this muted palette -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I could step out."Do you know how much it will cost to fix that wall!" he would have barked -. washed out sunny sky. in the triangle patch of weak sunlight falling through the window onto my rug. paralyzing me. I know it all by heart. If a s igh had a shape. catch my fancy. who once would h ave had a small coronary at the sight of all these pins stuck in the wall -. but I don't. and sigh. No t hanks.well. plastic stares makes m y head swim. Union Street with its bank and bakery and video store. as if my life depends on it. what all of this map studying amounts to is a belief. on the pale blue-and-white braided carpet. with all its consonants. I could leave the house. like Ulaanbaatar. is summery enough for me.will ever even open the door to my bedroom. I pore over this map a nd push little green bubble-topped pins into the country and city names that cat ch my eye. my legs feel leaden.is an exotic an d alluring place. it would be a salty yellow triangle.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ A free map of the world arrived in an envelope of junk mail at the start of summ er. And it beckons to me. the water lower than usual. I do not want that. no. skimming the surface of the stream. pr actically identical to my own. letting the sounds of the . is smaller than South D akota. Because I know that if I g o. Here. tennis racket in my hand. A ll of it known and certain. Onto that somewhere else. the wide gray rocks populated by turtles and si nging frogs. Silence.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Basically. go to the tennis cam p at the middle school around the block. though.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I like places with lots of vowels in their names. submerging myself . and I rescued it from the trash and pinned it up on the wall over my desk. And the "stan" countries are fascinating -. her branches yellow and soft. and my fingers too tired to open the door. and carefully spread out my towel on the poolside grass. the straight-as-an-arrow line of the highway headin g straight out of town. I might ready myself to dive off the board into the cool. the curves and lines of town and county roads curling b etween homes and farmsteads. I look at that map every day. The Isle of Man sounds like an important place. but I don't.. every face in this town. I'm safe. A walnut forest must be a very romantic kind of forest. Pitying me. a taste. stayed indoors. And I'm sitting here in the air-conditioning. the gnarled old weeping willow tree. Stares would hold me captive.

She calls out to me. He enters the house. I'd nod vigor ously. brushing the lead over the brown paper. And as I join her in the kitchen. slowly emerge. cityscapes and mountainscapes and roiling s eas.names and the topographies suggest a scene. I can hear the freezer door swing op en. "I'm home! Cora? Where are you?" her voice crac king with concern. peering at her taut face.to play softly in the background. and the door flies open. I can practicall y smell the bread baking. while the heat and all that is known festers outside. following the silhouett e of borders and natural boundaries. ancient temples with curvi ng horns perched on the steepest ledges. "Ah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. and the Himalayas intersect wit h the northern portion of the country. my parents come with it. I would help my father choose\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 6\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ a record -.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 5\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But time is fleeting. Nash & Young's Deja Vu merited a nose wrinkle. It's amazing how even the most remo te countries have their own Web sites. pulling them out and holding them up for me to judge. A cobblestone alle yway slick with rain. lined by sidewalk cafes and shops. my dad's the last man on earth to listen to records -. the rich scent of coffee. "Dad!" I would squeal with a giggle. She flings her jacket and worn leather purse on the same chair as my dad . dinnertime in our home was warm. the fl utter of a red scarf on a beautiful lady. her hazel eyes catching the firelight and reflecting a radiance and gladness that s uffused the room. youth.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now enter my pad and pencils. a flower seller. I just look on as my mom prepares a frozen meal. the tires of his Volkswagen squealing in the garage. he retreats into the den. Every singl e time. clink of three ice cubes dropping into a glass.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Once. the sq uirt of gas from the tonic water bottle. ordinary. I draw pretty well. proceeds immediately to the refrigerator. "Blackbird" was one of our favorite songs to sing together. she inquires about what I've done today. depositing his rumpled jacket and tie on the nearest living room chair. Rabbit. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Day after day. our whole family would sit ar ound the big oak dining table and take turns recounting the events of our day. how about this one?" Then. First my dad arrives. "That' s so lame! No way!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He'd give an exaggeratedly aggrieved sigh. as if she's scared I won't be here to answer her. Crosby. I make my escape into the unknown as I draw my maps of the world. I try to think qui ckly of an answer to the question of what I've done today that won't make her cr .\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ Music chosen. too. though. threatening to choke me. chicken tikka masala -I think she had the soul of an explorer. Stills. once. Duck confit. and. I took those dinners for granted. and a come on eye roll.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then my mother gets home. and the clink. I want to be there so badly. the Beatles' White Album. head shake. But thanks to the World Wide Web. important.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ When dusk comes. I like to go online and look at the Web sites for different countries or cities. Earth Wind & Fire's Greatest Hits. She would light candles. and a bustling newsstand caught up in the unfurling snail's shell shape of the city -. School begins in just four days. within and without the lines of each map.this is Paris. I learn ed that Bhutan means Land of the Thunder Dragon. I think.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He would run his thumb across the spines of every album in his massive collectio n. as my father mixes his first gin and to nic. Time is fleeing.yes. from which I can hear the low hum of te levision babble. What has it all come to? Okay. Silently. and without a call of greeting . Perhaps a sleeping dragon lies in the m ost remote of craggy caves. Next . clink. and from this I can imagine a picture of a cold snowy land of fierce mountains and dusty rock. slamming loudly into the wall behind it. My mom used to take pleasure in cooking and trying new dishes. dishes steaming on ivy-leaf trivets. As I take careful Cro sshatch strokes. micro waved for fi ve and a half minutes on high.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But those words banged around and echoed in my head as the screen door banged sh ut. or whoever it was. so I was running late. called. My big brot her got killed when he stormed out of the house that night. but he seal ed his seat in infamy by sneaking into the teachers' lounge and spray painting t he walls with the postulates and theorems of geometry. It's a big one. while my father's face has become fuzz y in outline. just momentarily. I try and try not to think about him. My own skin.y. floating.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It happened six months and twenty-three days ago. the walls of this house. and kept them. The series of eight continued as I forgot my Spanis h homework and flubbed a math quiz. his hair gray and thinning. drove his black Honda Civic in the dark without the headlights on. I got into a screaming match with my older brother. loser! " to which I very maturely responded. juice dribble d down the side. I missed the bus as a direct result o f the orange juice incident. but as the start of school looms near. too. my favorite pen broke and leaked all over th e bottom of my backpack. Sometimes I tell her that I played tennis or I went swim ming -. He was the Juvie D of LG. If there is o ne thing besides the certainty of all the houses and trees and creeks and street s that lie right outside the front door. if they shed their brokenness outside the house. getting arrested for stealing and trashing and tagging and generall y being where he shouldn't. Nat e. He pried the placard off the principal's off ice door and rehung it on one of the stalls in the second-floor boys' restroom. Yup.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And the last words Nate said to me were. the night of Februar y 8. My mother's face is sewn too tight. floating. Then. When the hospital or police. with all of these little particles loosely holding o n. There it is. teacher.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ In four days' time. spilling all over the counter\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 8\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and floor and the front of my jeans. he keeps trespassing into my head. like a cloud. those words thrashed around and rang in my head some more. they haven't stopped knocking an d pounding in my head these last six months and twenty-three days. I slept straig ht through my alarm. while my father takes his on a tray into the den. In fact. I've taken to lying. They both l ook as though they have been broken into a thousand pieces and never properly me nded.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When my dad comes back into the kitchen to fix himself a second drink. "Up yours. careless words. again. where my brothe r should have been entering his senior\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 9\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ year. . jerk!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I had the last word. I am certain of the fact that I cannot forget those angry. and deadened eyes. But when he pours himself a tall glass of gin. are all a p rison. when I couldn't open the orang e juice carton and punched a misshapen hole through the container. the clink of ice cubes. I'm supposed to start at Lincoln Grove High. Nate never did anything really terrible. pinched foreheads. and wrapped this Honda Civic around a tr ee.never mind the fact that I never have a bathing suit hanging to dry over my bathtub or sweaty smelly shorts and T-shirts in the laundry. I must look broken. "See ya. She doesn't not ice those missing details. First.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wonder how my parents look at work. Eight things went wrong on tha t eighth of February. hers limp and greasy. and then he died. He picked up all of the f allen street signs along a two-mile length of the county road that were knocked over during a storm. wouldn't want to be ya. I scrutin ize my parents' faces. He always trespassed. skidded around an icy curve in the county road. getting detentions. Always getting in trouble.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We sit down at the kitchen counter to eat our micro waved\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 7\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ peas and chicken. taking in their matching gray pallor. Number eight. those piec es come back together.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Everything fell apart because of Nate. Eight things that started out small. the only sou nd the clinking of ice cubes. Next. Nate Bradley made sure that every student. and administrator at L GH knew who he was.

I want this year to be perfect! It's high school It's o ur chance!" I imagine every sentence out of Rachel's mouth as punctuated by excl amation points with little bubble-heart dots. trapped in the house with their overpowering sadness. But." I snarl." Rachel retorts. Very grating. Cora. Her intonation seems to ha ve acquired a twang.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "I have no idea what you're talking about.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. I never really figured out where the older brother whom I used to follo w dutifully on bike trips across town to the Wyatt cornfields where we would pla y spies. where Nate's friends and teachers and ex-girlfriend s will all be.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Our chance to be popular. forgot homework. I didn't mean to." Rachel sighs. Do they talk like valley girls in northern Michigan? Wherever it comes from. Rachel spent the summer with her family in Michigan. wait. I\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 10\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ might have had a fighting chance at being able to distance myself from him. From then on. he was a stranger to me.He talked back to teachers. accusingly.it's new . I want to go out on a date. v iolated his probation. Cora?" Bolts of hurt shoot through her voice.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I had grown used to the constant fighting between Nate and our parents. tell me what I should wear!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 12\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The skirt.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Nothing. every single minut e of every single day." Rachel snaps defensively. sweeping up minnows and toads in his mesh butterfly ne t. a glint of ordinary life. since The Accident. I should go. I want to b e kissed. flunked quizzes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why do you have this stupid accent all of a sudden?" I demand. I am beginning to find it grating. I want high school to be fun. trying to placate her and regretting my st upid temper -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You don't have to bite my head off.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ So I must start high school. Look.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "I'm just saying in with everyone. has Rachel ever seemed so comp letely possessed by frivolity.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm sorry."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? Because I was thinking the sundress. or whom I would trail to the creek. to all of us."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's your problem. me too! I mean. It's bad enough being the daughter of parents whose son died. I just can't get excited. Yet... to be in --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "In with the Nasties?" I ask disbelievingly. and then started all over again. Everyone says it's the best years of our .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Our chance for what?" I have a bad feeling I know where this is heading. and I have no idea where it's come from. I think.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why are you talking like that?" I interrupt. watching in awe as Nate hopped from stepping-stone to stone." I say. If he had still been alive. South.I will be known as Nathaniel Bradley's little sister. But I co uldn't get used to the terrible anger that seemed to have taken hold of him afte r his fourteenth birthday. Rachel and I have been best friends sin ce first grade and never." I say lamely." I shake my head. but now there is no escape -. "I'm just nervous about starting school. Now I'll be the girl whose brother died. something about the very inanity of the conv ersation is also comforting. Rach. in the last nine years. as she alw ays does.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 11\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Two}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Should I wear my pink sundress or the lavender miniskirt with the white ruffly t uxedo shirt?" Rachel's voice pours through the phone."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. went. sped in his car. a sort of valley girl twang to it.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "So wear the sundress. okay. "Whatever.

It'll be great." I sneer. wreathed in black as we three remain ing Bradleys were. She has taken to babbling. I know. Drea d begins to churn in my stomach.which is basically our whole lives -. Then. No. but even to my ears. and clean up the mess after the funeral.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Since The Accident. as Rachel launches into a detaile d analysis of my wardrobe. the nerds. We called them "pathetic" and we even pinkie-swore t o despise the Nasties for life.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. the Nasties solidified their clique an d labeled the rest. and I welcome it with relief. She helped trolley o ut the platters of fruit salad and cold cuts. gather the dozens of flower\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ 14\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ arrangements. We used to mock the girls wh o lived to find boyfriends. and eighth grades. vampire pale skin. Now Rachel wants to be "in" wit h them?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Great. and big muddy brown eyes that are so dull.but we never really fit in anywhere. seventh. The conversation finally co mes to a close. but I realize I don't know how to feel normal. In the sixth. the jocks. and by fifth grade. freckles on my nose." I say. I'm sorry.although they weren't kind to us -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 13\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm sorry. It isn't difficult . Rachel and I ha ve always sort of floated outside of clique boundaries. What do you think?" I'm despe rate for normalcy to return. but it takes a few minutes before I can bring myself to sit up.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "So. while I only half-listen.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ In fourth grade. Most people don't. But. they were fixing their lip gloss in the mirror of the girls' ro om and deciding who was cool. not sure. School is going to be just great. as if nothing has happened. randomly.lives. We were never subjected to the worst of the terrible Nasties torment -. and she hugged me. restless with anxiety.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "I don't think it's the best years for everyone. as I plant un . though. My eyes are open. I would fall asleep if I had to look into th em. The valley girl drawl and th e pronouncement that she wants a boyfriend are new. and not. I'm sensing a deeper change in Rachel. Pretending. my voice sounds hollow.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The bleating of the alarm clock pulls me abruptly from sleep." I try to sound cheerful.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stop pacing in front of my dresser mirror and take a look. I suspect that Rachel might be back ing out of our pact. Nate had the same hair. I appreciate that having a best friend w ith a dead brother might be awkward for her and that she probably doesn't know w hat to say. though.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Urn. b ecause for as long as we have been in school together -. either. It is cruel. Now. what are you going to wear?" Rachel asks after a brief pause." Rachel immediately apologizes. and hugged my mother.this trio has lorded their popularity over the rest of the class. Made Jax. and Pearl O'Riley the Nasties. Now. "I know what you mean. meting out kindness and cruelty among the other kids unevenly.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "No. they dictated who was so not. I haven't really thought about it.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 15\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Long frizzy waves of brown hair. I just can't help it. afraid. but his eyes glinted with a fer ocity that never looked boring. Or maybe she's growing out of it?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel and I had named Kellie Gibbon. these days I don't sleep so well. Rach. Don't you --" She doesn't get to finish as I cut in. Cor. Sh e was there. the same brown eyes. is this what the entire year will be like?\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We stay on the phone for another five minutes. contrite as a puppy. She was quiet. aren't best friends supposed to know how to find the words?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel did stand by my side at the funeral. the goths. I get the sense that Rachel doesn't know how to talk to me a nymore. the losers.

stalking through the garage. dropping my backpack on a chair. and dull. Have some orange juice. Mom.a map of Edinburgh. She flits arou nd here and there as she waits for me. Quickly. I had gotten up in th e middle of the night to draw -. I'll come straight home and I'll be careful. I think. guilt getting the better of me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Suddenly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 16\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sweetie. and there are pans and plates strewn across the counter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Not for long." my mother says breathlessly. finer strokes of gray for the castle and moody fall sky. The smell of cooking oil lingers."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But it's the first day of high school! You're all grown up. The kitchen is filled with early morning sunlight. Mom. I can't believe it's yo ur first day. My hands are covered in grease. Take a vit amin!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Wow. I try to push it down. lovingly squeeze the tires. Dark lines molding the shap e of a city." I answer. I can't believe it. my legs pumping hard to re gain familiarity with the pedals. then throw the rest in the trash.. I scoop a couple of forkfuls of runny eggs into my mouth and take a hurried bite of toast. onto my tongue. turn and tell her agai n. and as I cruise down the street. practically doing a jig as she dances from one side of the kitchen to the other."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I love you. but I at least manage to avoid getting it on my clothes. Startled.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. right. but I need to get out of the house. I caress the frame. Very rebellious. scrambled eggs. "High school! I can't believe my baby is starting high school. My mind is as blissfully blank as the wind."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When will she get off my back? And when will I stop worrying that an angry word to her will. you're ready. Ugh. Now. "And you'll watch o ut for traffic?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I understand.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My ten-speed bicycle is a smoky. They are both soft. make her fall apart?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother just raises her hand and gets into her car.. " my mother repeats. and it's beautiful. Promise.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I pull up to the high school. I made you breakfast. Mom. I've already been through eight of them before this. A false front. I love you. Mom. toast. Okay."\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "All right. And then I am on my way. "You'll come home imm ediately after school. Here. My father is alre ady gone. then." She is talking a mile a mi nute. and get ready to dash out of the house without drinking any orange juice o r taking my vitamin pill. I grab the pump.steady feet. She pauses and her forehead tightens. silvery blue. "You'l l come home straight after --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes.. toss my dish es in the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 17\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ sink. . did you sleep well? You look a bit tired. Mom. "I love you. I can just about forget to feel anxious. without a farewell. The s cenery is a blur and I hardly remember to notice it. the yellow gingham curtains and seat covers adding to the cheery effec t. the floor crackles and slides away. It's just the first day of school. I can feel the tension practically smot hering all of the air from the room with my mom's nervous pacing. with its tan brick facade." my mother warns. Mom!" A flash of ire rises into my throat. look.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. Be careful. I can feel the irritation inching into my voice. "I promise!" I pull my backpack onto my shoulder and move past her. of course." I reply." I wave good-bye as my mother gathers her belongings and moves into the garage. Cora?" she asks. the churning in my stomach ret .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't want you hanging around anywhere. to resent it. I look down and smile . too. A pile of pencil sketches is scattered across the floor.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ Quickly. I am so stupid for not checking the air pressure last night. my mother pops her head back in through the door to the garage. you can stop hovering. and have a good day. good.. darkened w indows that peer back at me like listless aliens. It tastes bitte r. I wash and dress and make my way down to the kitchen.

no one ever will.urns. Everyone is pushing to get in here. I find the sea of the hallway almost reassuring. beating the air as if to say . it was familiar and safe. means. I'm really here. The walls are painted must ard yellow. I wheel my bike over to the crowded bike rack and chain it up. trying to get my bearings. By the time I'd st arted the eighth grade at LGMS. Maybe if I see the others as th is muddled. tough. I'm still flat and straight an d hopelessly single. The tide of faces shows worry and excitement. searching.. I still look like a little kid. and walk toward the front doors.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Most of the kids look old. moving endlessly toward some promise of. like a river will wash around a tall rock or log. with encouraging posters and artwork welcoming the students.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ I shuffle along. I had better snap out of it. I came in here o nce during the summer for freshman orientation and a pair of bored-looking senio rs showed me. Very strong. But I'm in high school now. It's cold and scary. Now I know just what that metaphor. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Anyway. but in a strange way. of what? Light? Life? Cheese?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . swiftly dodging and moving past in circling eddies.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ Yet. and bouncy. I can't remember where any of the classrooms are. As I look all around.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stop in the middle of the hallway. and a group of other kids whose last names started with the letter s A-F. I glance ar ound again and feel my stomach clench. It's a flat slope all the way.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The corridors of the school are narrow and dimly lit. huddled mass. The park ing lot is filled mostly with dusty older cars that look like hand-me-downs. The doors s wing shut after each body that passes through them. This is it. People will really think I'm weird. actual chests. And probably. The girls have chests. to feel like y ou've been punched or kicked or any other manner of battering in the gut. where these hal lways go. I so don't want to be here. mov ie-star hair.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 18\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Quickly. So different from the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 19\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ cheery hallways of my middle school. If not the most fun place to be. I can't shake this awful sense that the next four years will be another kin d of prison. coming to school felt like being enveloped in a warm. around. eagerness and despondency. no m ore grown up.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Well. Upperclassmen find their friends and younger kids wander alone. I don't feel any different.or tummy aches as my mom calls them -. gathering at my ankles. and I'll bet no one even act ually wants to be here. I'd gotten stomachach es -. like salmon swi mming upstream. The last part of that thought is accompanied by a twitch in my gut. and the linoleum floor tiles are a grayish white like dirty dishwate r. I never felt like I had a gut before The Accident. and I have the sense that I am lik e a rat caught in a maze of tunnels. Shouldn't I feel older? Shouldn't I ha ve good hair and curves and a boyfriend? Instead. pooling over the tops of my sneakers. is just foreboding.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My gut. maybe no one will notice me at all. Lincoln Grove High School. Four years and then I'll be free. and I can feel my blue jeans hanging loose at my waist. Kids stream by me. But this.but my gut hadn't ever been a part of my anatomy I was aware of. pro bably from parents to kids or from older siblings to younger ones. No one\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 20\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ wants to date the dead guy's sister. There's no coming back out Dozens of kids are pouring past me. fleecy blanket.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel myself floating adrift in the whirlpool of bodies. Oh my gosh. Even the classrooms in Lincoln Grove Middle School had been painted in bright. letting the current pull me. the urge to turn and run is strong . I just have to get through this. I can't just hang around here staring at th e cars all day. I look down.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I steel myself. happy colors: sky blue and buttercup yellow.. take a deep breath.

and for a s econd.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My Mom's Rules:\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No drugs (fine. I don't even want to go."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel shoots me a wide smile. "Ignore them."\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean? How could you possibly mean that?" Rachel squeals.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'd think no one ever saw a girl with a dead brother before.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 21\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I finally find my locker in the next hallway and put a combination lock on it. And I can't go without you. h igh school I'd better get used to seeing people from Nate's life. I'm not allowed out after dark. I will. . and she has actually sai d the words "everyone who's anyone. just a sk her. I'm just not. I am thankful for my mother's crazy." Rachel still has the funny valley girl twang. makes sense)\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No alcohol (also reasonable)\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No riding in cars unless a parent is driving (a little bit overprotective)\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 22\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No going out without a parent at night -. "You have to come with me! I can't go alone. my mom won't let me.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know. I edge into the surge of students. I think I might be sick."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. She is talking to some\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ scruffy-looking guy with saggy jeans. I have geometry. "Uh-uh. More specifically. Nate 's ex-girlfriend. That blonde hair. Well. Besides. "Hey. remember: 1 I might turn into a pumpkin or something. It's Julie. my mom will never let me go." My voice trails off as the teacher begins to cal l roll. the teacher. The girlfriend whose ex-ness triggered Nate's nighttime automotive antics. and I can't help but return it." What?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shake my head as vigorously as I can without totally messing up my already mes sy ponytail. E veryone. just a second. very crazy)\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" Rachel whines. the buzz of chatter an d gossip resumes.. As I enter into the classroom. I feel dizzy. If you don't. I'll ask! Jeez. right?)\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ Permission to go out without said parent on daytime outings will be given on rar e occasions only (seemingly very.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Just ask your mom." she whispers. I was not prepared to see Julie. the girlfriend who dumped him the night he died. a gradual hush d escends." I say softly. I bow my head. afraid to look up and meet her hard green gla re again. and twenty-nine heads swivel toward the door. T hen she looks away. no way. her heavily lined green eyes meet my own and widen slightly. When I arrive in the classroom. guess what's happening this weekend?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The LGH Bonfire! We have to go.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. when suddenly I see something that mak es me stop abruptly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Julie glances up. lady.. good luck with that. you cannot miss this. I guess this is how it is . Everyone who's anyone will be there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine. I know it. Have to.. pushing and fighting t hrough the halls.The thought tiptoes idly through my mind." Rachel threatens.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Puh-leeeese!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm telling you. and as I gratefully make my way to sit down beside her.. But Rachel is there." I smirk. waving to me . bodies pressing tightly together. Please. seriously.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ After homeroom. "Anyway. Not in a million years. Rachel and I split up and head to our first classes. okay?" Rachel wheedles. Julie Castor.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel puts her hand on my arm and squeezes." For once.ever (kind of crazy. overbearing rul es. every da y. here. T hen I move along to my homeroom.

Important fact: He h as never participated in the Nasties' merciless shredding of other classmates. what do you have after lunch? History?" I ask. for that matter. "Bradley? Any relation to . Ballans.grief. and his ears stick out like half moon s on either side of his head. looking for signs of -. Like I have leprosy or something.. I figure the fact that he's never joined in the Nasty chora l renditions of calling Rachel "McFattie" -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. Rachel and I sit together as we have done since the first day of first grade. To be expected from a school-issue lunch. Belson. and he is allowed to sit at their lunch table. but he's definitely more interested in soccer than in gir ls. H e's never stuck up for any of their victims.relative to the humiliatin g debacle of geometry class. either." she mutters. one of the boys in our grade. Bra dley --" He looks up. They hardly e ver let freshmen into the advanced classes. announces that everyone will be sitting in alphabetical order." Rachel mumbles distractedly.her last name is McFadden -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 23\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Lane.that's how it is with most of the kids in our class. and the nausea has returned. We've known Josh for as long as I can remem ber -. I had begun to raise my hand. His hair is shaved close to the scalp.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ . While we sit at our end of the lunch table. Thank goodness..) Still. meaning his friends are friends with the Nasties. Rachel keeps darting looks across the cafeteria at Josh Mills. (Well. si milarity to Nate.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Uh. I mean. Your brother was quite a character -. he is p robably decent enough. clearly not interested even a little bit in what I'm saying . trying.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ The rest of the morning passes relatively smoothly -. but I can tell they want to run away from me as fast and far as pos sible.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "They put me in Advanced Art.I don't know -. I just nod my head and feel my ears catch f ire. Still there. The green beans are cold and rubbery. Miss Bradley.Mr. uh." I remark. have said\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 24\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ hello to me. I just have art left this afternoon. so that it slaps the wooden desk with a resounding clap." I tell her. Who knows? But I can sense that they're treating me carefully. and the rice pudding is stringy and also gray. sorry. but stopped himself when he remembered . with mostly upperclassmen. Really trying. I can tell that he had been about to say something smart-alecky about my brother.is a p lus. I pat my nose. craziness. next to a wide window. neither have I. for your loss. Andrews.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Cool.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 25\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. I bought the hot lunch and I cast around the tray for something edible. like Callie Rountree and Carolyn Wright.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Mmm. My classes will be challenging." He doesn't fi nish. No crumblin g body parts. A few girls I used to be friendly with B. we've been together since we were babies -. and I drop it too quickly. "Allan. So are the other kids.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He is laterally friendly with the Nasties.a .\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ His voice drones on as he calls the names. fine young fellow.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ At lunch. The chicken is simultaneously stringy and rubbery and strangely gray."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can't even begin to find my voice.A. (Before The Accident). I stare at the ground. But I can't shake the feeling that my teachers are examining me.T. and the silence stretches on.but we've never counted him as a friend. and there is sure t o be a serious load of homework for each one. Seriously? A fine young fellow? I cannot believe this is happening. you know. looks around. Really? Di d this really just happen?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The class shifts uncomfortably. My face is hot.

I'm inclined to believe it. Maybe he'll feel so bad." Rachel agrees." I murmur. okay?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 26\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh-huh." I snicker. I enter the classroom and peer ar ound. Damian walked away. cutouts from magazines and books. super cute?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Super cute? Really?" I repeat stupidly. staring at the floor. not waiting to hear my opinion. black trench coat.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah! Don't you think?" Rachel carries on. I stare out the window at the cars in the parking lot and the broken glass glittering on the sidewalk like diamonds. flipping through a magazine. I am dumbfounded. Students are perched on rickety stoo ls stained with paint and dotted with spots of glue. then sit and huddle behind my eas el. Her brown hair is messy -. his influenc e that made Nate do such a terrible and foolish thing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I just can't. I bend down and pick up my stool. "I m ean. "I think I have the big gest crush on him!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Josh?" I ask. Calico looks up. I ple ad silently. not noticing my tone. Then I hang my smock. I hope he feels worse than I do. paintings and drawings and photographs of sculpt ures. and see him still standing in place. He'll definitely be there. one of my dad's old work shirts. I think -.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ There are fifteen other students in the class. where the art studio is tucked away in a light-filled corner hallway.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . he must have grown like three inches. It's funny how a blown-out windshield can look beautifu l. Work. a shadow fills the doorway."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hmm. I think. Ms. looks young. She is wearing khaki bell-bottoms and a flowery blouse wit h a long silver chain and a thick wooden pendant hanging down by her belly. "Just in time.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian was in the car with Nate that night. I glance up. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's a strange sensation. "Like.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nervously.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ How can I be in a class with Damian? I can't sit here in the same room as him. near the windows. The teacher.short\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 27\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and tucked behind her ears. She is standing by her desk at the front of the room ." she says. feet. there are eleven girls and only four guys. Nate died. draped with canvases and drawing tablets. Easels people the room .\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ Damian Archer. feeling all the color drain away from my face. The night of February 8. My mom said it was Damian's fault. many more that I do not." I answer without really paying attention to the question. "You have to call me as soon as you ask your mom. some of which I recognize. The blo od runs away slowly. all kinds of images. Ms.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh my gosh. I stand up quickly. then smiles."Don't you think Josh got cute over the summer?" Rachel finally asks in a hushed voice. I can't see past the big ears and the Nasties. on a hook at the back of the room. knocking my stool over. mostly a mix of sophomores and ju niors. Good. he'll leave. reminding me of some neglected cathedral. The walls are covered with a messy flood of color. yes! Are you not seeing?" Rachel continues. Including me. leaving a sickening shiver in its wake.like mine.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Do you think he'll be at the bonfire?" Rachel asks.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "You're right. I make my way to the back of the high school.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Suddenly. And looking at Damian in his black combat boots.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I look up to see who's come in with the bell. And I feel my stomach plummet into my feet. I'm frozen and I look away from the dark gray eyes that are now staring at me curiously. you said everyone who's anyone will be there. Calico. black jeans. Walked away. which are filthy and tall. a queasy grimace on his face.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I settle down in the far corner of the room.

He must hate my whole family. Cambodia. Thank goo dness.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Welcome to Advanced Art. a countess. How am I going to share art class with Damian? It was the one class I was ex cited to take.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This map is a little -. inhabited by a solitary woman in a sable fur cap and coat.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ So. the world. just keeps shifting. Ms. and I glimpse Damia n taking a stool at the front of the room. Borneo. The second pi ece of business is that I have information for a couple of summer art programs a t my desk. I move to turn on my computer. Still. keeps on movin g. been broken apart and put back together differently since this piece of paper wa s printed. I do what I always do when the fear of being trapped\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 30\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ here in Lincoln Grove for the rest of my life wells up in my throat and threaten s to choke me. marching by herself to a looming.or a lot -. I have a couple of announcements to start with. so much more . I want to do things -. that will matter. The applications are due in mid-November for most of them. and rather than think about the first day of high school at all. I let the soft graphite follow the lines of China and Mong olia.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I take out a tablet of drawing paper and cradle it in my lap. not to me. everyone!" Ms. I look north again an d study the vastness of Siberia. I am terrified I won't have that chance. there will be a school-wide art show at the beginning o f February. If you are interested in more information. barren and cheerless.I want to walk the rain-soaked streets of London. I escape to my refuge. The shapes and borders of many of the nations have changed . I don't have the nerve to ask about the art show or the summer programs. Oh my gosh. Sumatra (I told you the map was outdated). Even if they're only a year or two older.. Calico's voice cuts through my nausea.at various points in the country's history to Siberia. but I stop to consider the map of the world. Anyway. just as my mother had commanded me to do. I have at least th ree hours before my parents get back.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 29\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I go straight home. I imag ine an empty ice field. And above all."\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ Summer art programs. Malaya. An art show. just waiting for me. as far from me as possible.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Idly. life.\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ I glance up and catch my breath when I catch Damian peeking at me around his eas el. and drink mint tea in Casablanca.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . There is so much. All of it. Calico was probably talking to the upperclassmen. tracing this scene inside the boundaries o f Siberian tundra..\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh.. to touch and taste and explore. I want to wander the wastelands of the Gobi deser t and see a yak. please see me at the end of class. so much to see. and while it's not mandatory that my students participate. I know the Russians used to exile criminals -revolutionaries -. I go s traight to my bedroom. More than anything el se. though . Russia. I want to do things. Now. I let my fingers run over continents and mountain ranges and oceans. I think my life's ambition is to see a yak. waiting.out-of-date. There is no land that remains to be discovered. things that will mean something.. Lines meet and capture the bent shape of a cold and lonely wom an as my pencil flies over the paper. Laos.. entire pieces of the world have switched hands. then move south. I highly encourage all of you to think about submitting pieces to the show. they just seem more confident than I feel. frozen do om. the whole world is out there. so rather than starting on the homework I seriously cannot believe the teachers had the gall to assign on the first day of school. Does he hate me as much as I hate him? I wonder. How dreadful.28\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. Thailand. capable. I look around and all of the other kids in the class look so much older than I am." Ms. There is just so mu ch. "First. As I stare up at t he continent of Asia.. and Vietnam. to Burma. no continent left u nexplored. C alico continues. home.

pausing at Sumatra. saying. the refrigerator opens and closes. and then we'll each have to find an independent project to focus on.it gives the drawing an old map quality. pull my textbooks and notebooks fr om my backpack and.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "My classes were fine.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I leave the pencils and paper and map behind. and eyes of varying colors peering out from among the trees. and close.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ The door slams. My dad is home. begin to do my homework.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine. Rabbit.T. like The Odyssey. and si lence. " Shave and a haircut. I feel my whole bo dy tense up as I wait for him to enter the kitchen. I love watch ing the supple gray line chase the point of the pencil. r ich black soil. American history might not be too bad. the paper wrinkling finely. so many times for all thirteen years of my life. with its postulates and proofs. And then there is art class.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The sudden grumbling of the garage door opening pulls me\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 31\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ back.and he'd knock. It was like a dance that we'd performed over and over. Wuthering\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 32\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Heights.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine? Just fine? How were your classes? Are you in many with Rachel?" she peppe rs me with questions.. then painting the m. Or my gut. how's the homework coming? I know I'm old. sliding onto the bed.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "How was school. and as I wait for the inevitable clink of ice cubes. My pencils scratch across the page.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 33\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . but biology will surely be. Even if I have to face Damian Archer. clink. Calico allow us? Just thinking about it starts a tingle of excitement in my stomach. which I think is a part of I ndonesia now. I only have homeroom with Rachel. My fingernails have been digging into my palms." Mom says. I picture lush green jungles. Ms.A. my dad would come home. but need any help?" he would ask. back to Lincoln Grove and my bedroom and the sound of tire wheels squeakin g on the smooth concrete of the garage floor. but honestly. a glass slams ont o the countertop. jungle life. For English class. Till now. I'm going to have to read a ton. there is a glimmer of promise yet. as I wait for the greeting I know won't come. I'm home! Cora. sighing. C alico explained that we will start with sketching still lifes. Strokes and strokes givi ng shape to a great. clink."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I see. eyeing me keenly and ignoring the fact th at my dad still has not answered her call. footsteps." I say. but it looks like it wi ll be unavoidable. I'm kind of looking forwa rd to reading some of the books. I'm not in the mood to be grilled. theorems and corollaries. race up the stairs -. monkeys and frogs peeping from between l eaves. I wonder if I could make something of my map drawings. b ending to assist her in hauling in and putting away the bags of groceries that n ow cover every inch of floor space between the stove and dishwasher.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ I run down the stairs and meet her in the kitchen. Then I hear the cupboard bang shut. Romeo and Juliet. wild. will be hard ..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I was in middle school." to which I'd answer with a shouted "Two bits!"\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. let me help. Cor?" my mother asks. and we had lunch togeth er today.the thudding of his footsteps like a happy waltz -." I reply.I move back down the map again. Cora.. pause. " Daniel. the freezer door swings ope n . How much freedom to explore will Ms. and Invisible Man. Then footsteps into the den. "Here. clink. looking tired and downcast. I don't mind when t he paper looks crumpled -. and my mother's voice rings out. dense with shiny leaves and vines. are you here?" she calls shrilly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The door to the garage suddenly crashes shut. B.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ Geometry.

it only starts at eight. no later." my mom replies absently.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Can I help?" I offer. the sky turns as orange as the bonfire itself. I promise.I don't know. her gaze far away.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "LGH! LGH! LGH!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel and I arrived early. Voices rise in a crescendo. I can't drive. and pick you up at nine thirty. I mean it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Mom?" I try.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As the sun slowly sinks. bring her back to the pres ent. maybe she 'll feel better. I -. feeling sorry for her. light-brown hair and once-bright ha zel eyes. If I seem normal. Mom? You can't -. looking on as a teacher.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Art class seems cool.younger than most of the other kids' mothers .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine!" I snarl.I rem ember --" Her voice breaks. But the dark. Mom. It's an official school thing.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 35\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Three}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The air is thick with falling ash.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Meat loaf. It'll be safe.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ten o'clock.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.I -. contrition and guilt and concern to the wind. Cora. trying to stir her. flicked mat ." She drifts away again. her voice."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Um. Cross.My mom used to look pretty young -. the LGH Bonfire. But she clears her throat and presses on. and I know how these things are -." she warns. Teachers will be there." I add. Mr.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's nice. I'll co me and get you. remember? Can't I go if you drive me? Or Rachel's mom?" I c an see that she is considering this."\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "Mom. at any rate -. coming back to me. Just bringing it up feels like an act of contrition. Can't you pick me up at ten thirty?" I plead. There's no way I' m telling her about Damian."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Mom." she murmurs. If you're not in my car by ten.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "There's this thing. and it'd be really\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 34\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ safe. but as I speak. And I don't want you out on the roads at night. black-and-gray snow. "There wil l be drinking there. Now she looks old and tired beyond her years. we hovered several feet away from the pyramid of sticks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Please. They have it every year.It's a school thing. Could I go? Mom? I'd go with Rachel. but I don't know how else to ask this. But I'll drive you there. then she sort of shakes herself and sets a bout making the preparations. If only there was somethin g I could say that would make her feel better. puffy circles beneath them cast a shadow over her face. All arou nd. No later.for her age with her short.. could I ask you something?" I begin. and until more people came. like a pep rally. Go do your homework. For both our sake s. less worried about me falling int o an abyss. "You can go.. it's okay. and tons of kids. kids." I know I am talking way too fast. I stomp upstairs to call Rachel and wait for the awkward dinner that is bound to follow. I realize this is a battle I have to win.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure. their faces\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ painted red and black with the school initials. what's for dinner?" I ask." I think about how I don't even want to go. chanting. only it's at night. "Mom!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "All right. which would pull her back from her own black hole." She snaps back to life.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But you'll be roaming around at night. Where does she go when she grows distant like this? Is she thinking of Nate? Of how our family used to be? Is she traveling through time? Or does she get caught in some quicksand pit of despair?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. whoop and dance around the fire. what is it?" she answers.

"I just want thi s year to be great. feeling lame. I simply cannot carry it off. "You should go tal k to him. I'm here on the fringe.. dres sed perfectly. each and every group in turn. drama k ids find drama kids. singing. Don't you think? " Rachel says doubtfully. classifying is so easy. She seems so vulnerable. you know?" she says softly. why not?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I cannot figure out for the life of me how to put together an outfit like these girls do.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel squeezes my arm tightly.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Just fine?" Rachel asks. Cliques seem to gather their members. baggy pa nts and dreadlocks their own kind of uniform.. shouting is echoed by the rattle of waving grasses an d chirruping crickets.sort of surprised by my own surprise -. knowing exactly who I am. but the suntan she cultivated over the s ummer and the blond streaks in her hair give her a pretty glow. a nd I realize -. th e girls dabbing at their sparkling lip gloss. while hangers-on orbit around them like they are caught in a grav itational pull. t he way a magnet will draw filings of iron.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "You look fine. C learly I have an attitude problem. how do these kids find o ne another? How does someone decide.. and wonder. her fingernails like a hawk's talons. "There he is! He's here! How do I look?" she squeaks." Rachel looks down. you're cute! I bet he'll be happy if you go over to him!" I am trying to sound cheerfully confident. I can never seem to find that adorable top or the perfect pair of jean s. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Soon the field is crowded with students from all four classes. The stoners stand off to one side. and the bits of gras s and paper lit. really see her. I know. shaking my head.ch after match..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 38\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. a definition? Would being a part o f the group chase the loneliness away? Or does everyone feel as scared as I do?\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A part of me aches to be in one of those cliques. "All right. each grou p is pretty much\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 36\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ distinguishable on sight. He probably won't want to talk to me. fluffing their manes of hair. An d I see her." I say. "Do I look fat?" She reall y looks scared now.that she looks good. I'm going to be a stoner or a goth or a pri ncess or a jock? Why haven't I found a place." Rachel pauses. Rachel says it's about attitude. I smile and nudge Rachel's shoulder. These kids glow.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. and the flames grew and billowed.. The football players shuffle their feet and stand in a crooked line."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? You really think so?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Rach. Just go on!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What if.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I study them. Rac hel has always been a little bit plump. Yet.. knowing exact ly where I'm supposed to be. Categorizing. a watcher. I follow Rachel's gaze to see Josh w ith his baggy jeans and unlaced sneakers shuffling up to the fire.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You look great. Soccer guys find soccer guys. We watched as students trickl ed onto the field. on the outside.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ 37\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and the chanting." I tell her. and even though I don't know all of these people.. Will you be okay here by yourself?"\par\par . probably for the first time since school started. so frightened. And even if I do have the "right" clothes. forget about wearing them the way these girls do. bringing with it the chirping song of crickets and the blinking flickers of fireflies. The cool kids are easy to spot. Finally the match caught. He's so cute. and dusk fell. her eyes filled with panic. He kneaded his brow with soot-stained fingers and wiped away the sweat. trying to start the fire. uniform in their black leather team jackets with the red sleeves and the fighting badger on the back. so certain. laughing easily.

my stomach still roiling.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.. I look ar ound. let's go." I grunt.. We're all fine. I figure most of them know. You know. As she disappears. It feels wrong to share something -. a tingle creeps down my spine. right?" I ask. He lifts his ch in slowly in greeting and begins to move toward me. His eyes fill with a look of hurt that pricks me down to my soul. "I'm sorry. Datnian. I can't help but stare down at the ground awkwardly. I think so.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. I plead with myself. I wish I were melting. It's me.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "How are you? How's --" He stops and clears his throat."\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "'Kay.d\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm fine. my voice pitched in that hard. Suddenly. uh.. "So. Cora." I reply. I step back in surprise. how about you?" I ask." I say. recoiling as if I've slapped him. and somehow I can't muster my rage just now. Feeling different. if only it weren't for m y stupid. I wonder if I 'm weird for not liking any of the boys in our class. His strange gray eyes look almost silver in the twilight. across the field. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel like I'm melting.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What about me?" Damian replies.well. I can just make out who it is. and they relax a bit now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Huh..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian takes a step back.anything -. his eyes go all squinty. In the graying light.which I very much want to do. okay. stubborn. If Nate hadn't died.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It seems like it'll be okay.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 40\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "How are you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ His shoulders had been hunched.with Damian . his death changed everything?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I keep to the edge of the crowd." I mutter darkly. Nate hardly even talked to me anymore.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Like you care.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's good.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ I watch Rachel blend into the thickening crowd.. too. Why does Damian do this to me?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { When he reaches me. My knees quiver and my stomach takes a turn.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 39\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Feet. "It's ju st. as if help was going to arrive (which it's not)." Damian gives a small laugh." I whisper. deliberately weaving through the throngs of students. Why has his a bsence." He shifts his weight and looks up at me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" he asks. A nd as the realization sets in. There's so much hurt to go around. uncertain. Acting diffe rent. tensed as though a fraid I might run away -. anywa y? It's like the other kids can sense it -. Even something as harmless and unavoidable as art class. "How's your family?"\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Everyone is fine. But it's not just that they treat me strangely." I reply. but I can't stir from my spot. wish me luck!" Rachel sings out and starts off toward her target. my eyes meet anothe r pair. But his face is open. mutinous feet. "Anyway." I shake my head and focus on the ground." he replies. would I be as carefree as Rachel and all the rest of them? Would I be able to jump in to the fray and dance and laugh and be happy? Why does this thing mark me. my voice barely a whisper. listening to the jocks singing fight songs and the murmur of conversations and the crackling of the flames. gazing at me closely. an yway. When he smiles. "Just flash him your gorgeous smile.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. how do you like art class so f ar?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My stomach lurches. they are firmly ro oted to the grassy field. When I glance up to meet his eyes. I find him studying me carefully. "Oh. They won't move. and I look up. . Like I've been shocked." he says softly. And when he s miles the straight angles and high planes of his cheekbones and jaw seem softer. shaky tone I get when I lie. though.

Without waiting for a response. turning leering faces with twisted grimaces on me.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ Somehow. "Look. I say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I remember when Macie first moved to town.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ The Nasties are busily ignoring Rachel. leaning on each other's shoulders and gi ggling and talking to Josh and three other boys.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I can se nse her sadness and I feel sad for her. Get a hold of yourself I take a deep breath a nd sweep my eyes over the crowd. And he looks older. I walk away. vainl y looking for Rachel. with his crooked nose. Quarter to ten. and Evan Miller compose the rest of the Nast y solar system. I'm dizzy and all the kids I pass seem to be laughin g at me. "Uh. And clearly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ I hate watching the Nasties treat Rachel like this now. he practically i gnored me? And when. the barometer by which every measure of cool was measured. I see him standing in front of me. and she holds her hands clasped in front of her. as always. I know they are perfectly aware of Rachel standing beside them. a sun for the others to revolve around." She avoids my gaze. I have to squint to make out the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 41\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ numbers in the dying light. Are you coming:*"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? Is it already ten?" Rachel looks annoyed and glances around at Josh and t he Nasties. seeing her watching Josh flirt and be flirted with. like distant planets. while my mind turns circles trying to understand what Damian is doing here. I think I'll hang around here. is at the center. and as I p ush through the crowd. and short curly hair. Matt James. Why? I add silently. however. I should go.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ There she is. too. My mom is probab ly waiting for me. I can feel their Nasty intentions spreading out like rotten roots curling beneath the ground. the boys are eatin g up the attention like starving cubs. but I can tell that it is pasted on. silently chastising myself. humid air. As she spins around. standing off to the side of a narrow circle of bodies near the fir e. I remember Pearl and Kellie scorning her outrageous outfit and ridiculous hair. I wonder if he knows what I'm thinking. Why did he cross the field to speak to me when in all the years he was Nate's best friend.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I suppose I should find Rachel. I can't help but ha te him just for being able to stand here." I tell Damian. now. One week later.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ Stupid stomach doing gymnastics. Josh. But the number of students has grown. Why do this to you . while\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 42\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Pearl and Kellie. And the Nastiest trio was cemented. as if the earth is til ted and I'm in a fun house. if a little unusual-looking. I never really notice d that before. Macie had turned the tables on the oth er two and installed herself as Queen Bee. smooth coffee-and-milk complexion. Then I stop. Her hair has flattened i n the warm. broad cheeks . " Hey. This odd -looking girl with a big puff of hair and mismatched socks and electric pink sne akers stood hunched at the front of our classroom as the teacher introduced her as the new girl. though." I stare into his face. talking to me. I have to go. kicking at the straw on the ground. Macie. Is that okay? I can get a ride f rom someone else.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I walk over to Rachel and tap her on the shoulder. but lost a little bit. we were in the fourth grade. She is smiling. everything starts to feel crooked. thinking of him as a monster has now become just a little bit h arder. I spin around. It makes me so mad. we'll see. Older. I peer down at my wa tch. being purposefully ignored. I can feel their cruelty curdling the soil.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He is handsome. Rachel is on the outside. I hate seeing her just s tanding there. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We are both silent. Rachel and Elizabeth Tillson hover at the out skirts of the circle.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Are you sure?" I ask almost pleadingly. What am I doing talking to him? He's bad news.

battering. Sure enough. subdued. Josh! Whom she's never spoken to . How could she ditch me at the bonfire. Then comes the instant when I lose my bre ath and feel the freezing water tumbling.. cold ocean. Somehow. thinking about\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 45\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nate. He looked so serious. leaving m e by myself to talk to Damian? How could she make me walk out of that field alon e? I'm mad at her for her stupid valley girl voice and her tight miniskirt and h er green eye shadow and her dumb crush on Josh. So furious and hateful. my voice wavering. Or dying. hot." I reply. Yet in thes e moments of silence and loneliness. so different from the laughing. how was it. I remember my mother had walked up to Damian a fter the service and asked him to leave. And I get caught. Dead.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Hey. in a dark gray suit.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine. as I remembe r over and over. He's gone. turned upside down in a riptide as my mind skip s over to him all of its own volition. staring across the room at the ma p pinned to the wall. Stunned. that I won't ever see him again. Mad at Rachel for being different from how she's always been and for being obsessed with "ever yone who's anyone" and for wanting to be accepted by the Nasties when they won't even open their circle to her. this is something different. covering me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Except everything isn't fine. But not dead like Nate's. he seemed t houghtful. the delinquent bad boy who had been my brother's partner in crime. Fat. It's constant.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ She looks so tired. before he t urned and left the cemetery.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "She's staying. and it leaves me feeling dead myself.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Funeral. I sob like this until I can't catch my breath and can only gasp. like the never-ending waves of the ocean. Ever since the funeral. in detention and suspension.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wish I could stop thinking about this. It's so easy to think that Damian should have made Nate stop. my mother is there. "I hate her!" And I burst into tears. at the bonfire. angry tears that course down my cheeks in a very sat isfying way. turn on the headlights.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Where's Rachel?" she asks. honey?" my mother asks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I cry like this a lot. I am mad.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "Auggghhh!" I cry and pound my fists against the comforter. while snot leaks from my nose. His eyes were dark.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. actually. I'd bet all of my best drawing pencils that I look the same." I turn on my heel and snake my way out of there and head for the parking lot. As I near the car." Rachel hisses.for Nate getting so angry over Ju lie breaking up with him that he jumped in his car. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It was fine. he'd blinke d and stared back at her. it's as though I've stuck my toe in the col d. And Damian had looked as though he'd been struck. I can see tha t she is anxiously tapping her fingers on the steering wheel..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian was at the funeral. easygo ing guy I remember. his mouth opening and closing like a fish. Nothing is fine at all. Mom.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But Damian . She had sounded so cold.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . picked up Damian.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's so easy to blame Damian for that night -. I sit on my bed. hand over the k eys. who probably has never read a book in his whole stupid life. quickly putting the car in drive. dull as lead . and it's the m ost painful tug of my heart." I say casually as I climb into the passenger seat.rself?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 43\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yesss. an aching hollowness that never stops. It's like someone has hooked up my tear ducts to the coun ty water line." I tell her. then flew off into the darkness without his headlights like a demon. who probably doesn't remember\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 44\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ her name. waiting.

too. Susan. trying to snatch a breath. In the light. the hesitant. "Oh my gos h.A. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I-It was dark when I got dressed. I bend down and look at her feet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Seriously! Tell me!" I can feel my chest getting tight with the giggles.to gain control. Carolyn Wright.and failing miserably -. Callie Rountree. Carolyn. a second ahead of the l ate bell. my arm around her shoulder. He is nothing but trouble. "I can't walk around like this all day! I'll never live it do wn!" She lets out a loud guffaw. and Susan Meredith are si tting at their desks. and laughing softly. and I find I don't have to double-check the schedule I taped to the in side of my locker anymore. So I race over to her and throw my bag down on th e ground.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ 46\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now that the first couple of weeks of school have passed. I think I can even almost forget about the funny look s from other kids in the hallways and classrooms. which are tucked up on her c hair. and they are two different colors.well. tell me! What happened?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh --" Rachel gasps.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Callie. "What am I going to do?" she howls. "I think I have an extra pair of flip-flops in my locker. awkward intonati ons of my teacher's voices when they address me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 47\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it?" I begin to smile in that I don't know what's going on but you all look pretty freaking funny and I'll laugh because you are way. " What!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel just shakes her head and points to her feet. in all his earnestness -. her shoulders shaking and her knees d rawn up to her chest. "So?" I ask. and I've finally stopped gasping and croaking like an asth matic bullfrog. haunted gray eyes. She is shaking helplessly. now. so I reach over and turn off the night table light. Intense. mut ing everything.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I can't believe you own the same pair of shoes in two colors!" Callie says. and a glare at these girls who used to be my friends. Really cute. B. confused. the days begin to feel routine. Ah. I try to wil l myself to sleep before any more absurd notions can creep into my brain. She is wea ring dainty ballet flats with bows on the tops of her toes. I see Rachel bent over her desk." Rachel says with a gulp of air. glancing at her.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's wrong? Rach. "What would I do without you?" She squee . tonight. covering their mouth s as though they don't want her to see they are laughing at her.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The tears have dried. I tell her. and hugs her knees tighter." Rachel manages to explain. when I imagine they see Nate's face instead of my own. he looked kind of cute.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The linoleum and cinder-block gloom of the place is the perfect backdrop to the callous shouts and raucous laughter that seem to perpetually fill the halls. and that is all there is to it. She is wearing d ainty ballet flats with bows on the toes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This is ridiculous. though. I get a shiver as I recall his face and those haunting.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Look!" Rachel pushes her chair back and holds her legs straight out. She just keeps giggling.More than that. The other g irls are laughing out loud.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel looks up and then I can see that she has been laughing. Rachel. She has on a navy shoe on the left foot and a black one on the right. I don't know if Rachel is laughing or crying.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I jog into homeroom one sunny late September morning.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 48\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel shakes her head helplessly. you're such a dork! How did you do that?" I ask."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora. Rachel is trying -.T. It suits my mood very well. too. the difference is plain to see. actually. and I launch into fresh gales of laughter. are you okay?" I ask. Small drops of mo isture leak from the corners of her eyes. Come with me after the bell.

How it should be." I say.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ . I've been carefully ignoring him in art class. "Hey. As I am exchanging the notebooks and textbooks in my bag for the ones I need to take home."\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You do?" Rachel asks. mostly Damian buries himself behind his easel.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "He was just saying hi. I'll see you in class.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Whoa." Damian says.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The three of us stand there awkwardly in front of my locker. long loping strides carrying him down the hall.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. My mouth muscles hurt but they're enjoying the exercise. breaking the silence. uncomfortable. scowling. A long black trench coat waving around him. in his long trench coat that flutters about him. it's not a big deal or anything." I reply. I sound like such a dolt. Damian. but Damian just stares at me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "How are your classes:1" Damian finally asks. No. with my history book in hand. h is forehead crinkled. hi. where she quickly switches shoes and continues t o chortle. "He's a total waster. just be careful. what was that?" Rachel asks." he says uncertainly." he repeats. It's not too hard. a shadow falls across us. gliding down the hall like some large black bird. interminable. I wonder what Damian's deal is and why he won't leave me alone.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel follows me to my locker. see you. I watch her affectionately.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ During geometry. He just said hi. "Why didn't you tell me?"\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Well. On different planets. "We have art class together.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He straightens and grins." I say weakly. He has stopped in front of me. Lane drones on and on about planes and postulates. then she kisses my cheek. well. I sta rt to think about the strange incident in the hall."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wait for him to say more.zes my arm and I smile broadly at her. Had Damian been looking for me? He's never\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 50\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ once passed my locker since school began. it has to have just been a coincid ence."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's a huge deal!" Rachel exclaims. Rachel shoots up at the sound of a boy's voice. The moment stret ches out. Look. I'm stone-still. It feels like the first real smile I've s miled in ages. you know. giving no indication t hat he is going to speak again.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Hmmm . brushing the t ops of heavy black combat boots. I quickly head to my locker. "Hey . Right?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When the bell finally rings. This is how it used to be between us.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ Again I wonder if he's been looking for me. to Rachel this time.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Suddenly.. it's nothing. and we might a s well be in different rooms. "Thank s for the flip-flops! I'll bring them back tomorrow. as Mr." And she bounces down the h allway. And your mom will fre ak!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. wriggl ing her foot into one of my flip-flops. Damian's hands shov ed inside his pockets. turning to face me as Damian takes off. as he comes up alongside my locker." Rachel says.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am frozen. and suddenly a major case of nerves descends on me. He looks over at me and nods his head solemnly. is all. That was weird.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. not at all sure what to say next. I suddenly feel a bit unsteady.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. I shift my bag from one shoulder to the o ther and shuffle my feet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 49\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. his voice cool as ice.. I spot Dami an. Rachel is still bent over.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Urn. her eyes huge. um. I look up." I stammer." Rachel warns.

Dolt." Damian glances awa y." Damian smirks. "Urn. Didn't mean to bother you. if I'm going to slip up and cut class or pull a prank or talk back. Strange and fierce and hard. it's okay. I am having a ha rd enough time keeping up with my classes. of course." I pause. I will figure out a way to understand how the lines an d angles relate\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 53\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ to one another? When I look at a triangle." Damian mumbles. his black coat flappi ng like feathers around him. if I'll shatter. except for math. calc. What is going on? Does he really think I'm going to get in a car with him? Is he nuts?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He is so odd. What? "Oh. Dolt. Nobody says anything outright. if whatever p eculiarity I seem to embody will come exploding out of me in a terrific show of fireworks and freak dom. the usual. Then. How did someone figure out. Why are you following me?" I am taken aback by my own directness. crowning the fields and woods with red golden leaves. Damian is going to stay a mystery for another d ay.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sorry. that a2 + b2 = c2? Who has a brain that works like that? Who looks at a triangle and thinks." He looks at me. I see the shape of a cheek or the spa ce below a jawbone. want a ride?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My breath catches. and his harsh smile softens. There is so much memorization.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 52\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Four}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ autumn has come. and the w ind carries with it a sharpness. I must admit. I think of Damian as a raven. Kind of sweet." I try to explain lamely. Well. none of it makes any sense to me. It's just that. AP ph ysics is kicking my butt --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 51\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "AP physics?" I ask. waiting to see if I am going to turn out like Nate. it's just this subtle te .."My classes?" I repeat. Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. a tingling of anticipation in the air. Don't worry about it.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ I do not get involved. The sad yellow walls are festooned with paper cutouts of jack-o'-lanter ns and black cats alongside posters calling on kids to come out and vote in the student elections and to sign up for various committees. I see the silhouette of the Arabian Peninsula. I still feel the tea chers holding their breath. yeah . There is a buzzing. they're fine." he responds. "Look. f or instance." he starts casually. "They're fine. "I should get home. Girls chatter back and forth in the hallways about the costumes they are going to wear for Ha lloween. I gather my belongings and head outside to get on my bike. silence. Then he is gone. the crisp hint of apple cider and wood-burning stoves. "Art.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ I fall back against my locker. nevertheless." He looks up at me. no matter how many times I read and reread the same chapter. and for some reason.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What are you taking?" I ask. Geometry kind of sucks but. the mundanity of this conversation is brea thtaking.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ As I coast down the streets. no.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't sound so surprised. I feel the o ther kids waiting to see if I'm going to lose it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ We'll see what this is about. I guess.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { I have avoided getting involved in any after-school activities.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "I know. I just didn't know. Maybe I was too harsh? A pinprick of guilt jabs at me. English. cringing at the note of astonishment in my voice. I have my bike. "How about yours?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "They're okay. I still feel like the girl whose brother died.. He pulls a silver cell phone out of his coat pocket and checks the time. Dolt. especially geometry. But it isn't just because I have too much homework.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know.

listening to an angry rain p elt the glass with a thrumming tattoo.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ In art class. guiding each of us. she evokes the shapes of the fruit and jars. Benny-boy. "I don't know. dancing an d\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 56\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ putting your hands together for this rhymin' fiend. Damian is tucked away behind his easel and a huge drawing tablet at the front of the room. And the rain forests of the Amazon are ablaze with a lush green vibr ance. The lines grow heavy and thick. but that's really amazing. I feel myself blushing. I stare at the basket of jelly jars and fruit posed at the front of the room . Calico has introduced us to charcoal and pastels. my fingertips smudged blac k or all different colors. but I've grown to love the chall enge of keeping my lines in line. I want you out in the halls. everybody. There. Sometimes she lectures or demonstrates a new technique. We just star .\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ Whatever Helena was about to answer in response is drowned out by a very loud bu zzing sound. "Here's a little senior surprise for the semester. who has blonde curly hair t hat she always keeps clipped in a messy twist. the sage green of o live trees. I have seen prints of some of P icasso's paintings in the Cubist style. They can be unruly. h er plastic bangle bracelets banging and clacking boisterously. I look away. call it what you will. Quickly. everyone is frozen. With green and black. and while Helena's piece looks like some distant cousin of that. I might be a weirdo. What drives this tiny girl into such a fury of motion?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena looks up and catches me studying her. "Maybe you should." I tell Helena. is different. I've never seen anything like it. Ms. Calico's voice as she moves from easel to easel. Some might call it a prank.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ 55\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" I ask."\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena grins and replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I glance around the classroom. but she sho ots me a wide smile and nods her head. I love to watch Helena's dainty hands gripping the pastel and dragging it so furiously. her flock.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I have brought all of this color home with me and I've introduced it into my map drawings. "Maybe I should try it. "It's therapeutic. or in an emergenc y. a sophomore named Helena. It sounds like someone is fiddling with the school's PA system.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. Maybe it's a little too angry?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why's that a bad thing?" I ask as Helena returns to her stool. so she never knew Nate. And just for that I feel freer in her class. Suddenly. rap!"\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ For a second.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You think so?" Helena takes a step back from her easel and scrutinizes her draw ing. I wear those colors proudly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Art class. Calico is new. When I leave class. the French\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 54\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ countryside is blanketed with yellow and violet wildflowers." a voice filters through.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "I'm sorry to keep spying on you. I am spellbound.nsion that sits beneath the surface. There is never much talking in this cavernous studio but for the hushed murmur of Ms. There I feel unburdened." Then she returns her attention to her easel. then turn to wat ch as my nearest neighbor. but I present t o you my bud. whi ch is only supposed to come on in the morning during homeroom. I sit on my stool next to the window. my cheeks streaked with green and blue and yellow. runs broad strokes across her pap er with a scarlet pastel stick. especially the oil pastels. When Helena nods vigorously. though." she says. livid. Ms. Nobody laughs or speaks or moves. it's a method and a look all its own. Now. DJ Ben Maxwell! Everybody. I add. as I nibble on the tip of a charcoal penc il. I feel like I'm really learning. but I am a weirdo who can make s tuff. but mostly the c lass remains swathed in silence.

Now. and meanwhile my heart might jus t swell so big it'll pop out of my chest. The program is i n London. She peels off her smock and beckons for me to follow her out into the hall. all expenses wou ld be covered.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. Calico says. I will go somewhere. and let's see? All right?" M s. They are fascinating. She thinks my work is impressive?\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" I ask. Calico's face. Then. A brief word never seems like a good thing. someone touches my arm. I'd like to recommend you for one of them. that I have talent. so you'll have to cover the airfare. "And remember.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 57\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Your work in this class is quite impressive. That would be incredib le!" My mind is whirring so fast. I can't believe what is going on -. A beat starts to pul se through the PA speakers. afte r he had gotten into one kind of trouble or another. too badly. Calico and she wav es me back into the art room.e at one another. it's too dangerous. who am I to stop you? You heard what the man said. the teachers standing silently. then all eyes come to rest on Ms. For a moment. the doors to all of the classrooms up and down the c orridor are flung open. Sudden ly. Calico.it's a dance party. well. "Good. "I can see so much potential in your line. Then.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. This is something I want so badly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Um. Cora. I feel like I'm taking off. I know I'm wa lking a tightrope. I will bring the application forms to you tomorrow.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ I walk out into the tangle of swaying bodies. Calico's gaze is piercing. how about you just fill out the application." Ms." I reply. it's wha t cops and principals always had to ask my parents for when Nate was alive. "Yeah."\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "Wow. my mouth hanging open as I take in the mass of wriggling dancers. Can this be real? I study Ms. And I've seen your maps when you've turned in your sketch pad... Calico prods.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can only nod my head mutely." She looks at me closely as she continues."\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Words are fumbling through my mind. and I can only crash and fall flat on my disappointed face. reality thumps me o ver the head." I say softly. a bra ve few begin to dance. Cora." I whisper. toes scuffing the linoleum tiles. Potential. I wonder if I might have a brief word wit h you?" she asks. "You remember I spoke about some summer art programs at the b eginning of the semester?" I nod.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. Impressive. Finally."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "London?" I repeat in amazement. " You really think I'm good?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I wouldn't stand here and say it if I didn't mean it. lightly steering me bac k through the door. sure. The nearby cla ssrooms are emptying into the hallway and most of the kids are standing around a wkwardly. but beyond that. leapi ng into glorious flight.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. who just shrugs in return and slides off her stool. My mother is never going to allow me to go to London for a summer. "Oh." Ms. as if she is searc hing me for some kind of answer or information. London. I could let go and allow myself to believe in this fantasy th at my art has potential. and that I could go to London to ex plore it. Calico steps back and opens the studio door. Uh-oh. Never. It's Ms. before you jump into the crush. the application is due November fifteenth. smilingly in the . And this particular progr am has a cartography class that I think you'd really enjoy. in your forms. hands shoved in pockets. But. I would definitely be interested. my gut buzzing like it's filled with a bee's n est and the inmates have just escaped. I start and spin around. Calico states as more p eople brush past us to get out of the classroom and into the hall. Would you like that?" Ms." Ms.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I look at Helena. I -. as it always seems\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 58\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ to do. and more students are writhing and twisting to the rhyth m of the PA beat.I don't know.. go party with the rest of them.

. I'm not ready for this. how I am more in sync with Mr. because Damian grins.. smiling. waltz through my mind. Funny.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nope. but I really can't re call any details. threading t hrough the still-dancing students.. do you want a ride home?" Damian asks. big football game.. "Sorry about that. "You know. I could tell. the assistant principal. where he waits for me to grab m y coat and books. to my locker.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Hey. .\par\pard\plain\hyphp . "It's the second weekend in November. Sound famil iar?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. "Oh.. He is standing in front of me. Hold on a minute.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "Urn. hi." I suppose my face looks blank. startling me from my train wreck of thought. Halpern. Not to mention the game .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Suddenly. Not to mention the fact that he's ." he says. He shrugs. the whole affair makes a pretty absurd picture -." Was he waiting for me again?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. opening the passenger-side door for me. carefully painted 1971 cobalt blue El Camino with a silver racing stripe down the middle. Images of girl s in poofy Pepto-Bismol pink dresses and high heels. Hal pern than anyone else at this moment. Hom ecoming? When is it?" I ask. I walk into something.." I look up. a date. "Wait. right. rubbing his arm. not to mention the one person in the world she hates most and trust s least.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's a tradition. I am so not clued into an ything going on at school. I am pre tty sure Rachel has mentioned it at some point or another. fancy dance? Homecoming?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Oh. Wait a second. smiling.. boys with their hair slicke d back. I continue moving through the crowd. the senior class stages a prank sometime during the semester before Homecoming. A dance? What do I do? Do I go? Would my mother even let me go? I don't have a dress.. my mind starting to reel.a dance party in th e high school hallway at two o'clock in the afternoon. I cock an eyebrow." Damian says.ir classroom doorways. But\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ 59\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel lonely and removed from it all. "Hey.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "My lady.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ouch.they feel t oo long and stiff. feeli ng gangly and wooden. is wading through t he sea of students. what? "Um . Hard. Nate. Does he ever do homework? But I continue after him toward the parking lot." I murmur. "What's going on? You're not partaki ng in the senior prank?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Senior prank?" I echo. laughing. and say s. and I'll be t my face looks as twisted with confusion and discomfort as his does. I haven't even thought about the dance once."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian. from ." I answer. anxiously tugging at his greas y hair and wiping at his brow." he says. I was distracted. Oh my gosh. My mom would have a con niption if she knew that I was riding in a car with anyone under the age of fort y (Rule #3). .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 60\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Seriously? You must be the only girl in school who doesn't know when the dance is." Damian replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You don't need to go to your locker?" I ask... as he tries heedlessly to shepherd everyone back to class. Mr. okay. I heard about it." he answers. Damian Archer!\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ Little beads of sweat break out on my forehead. He makes an absurd and lonely picture in the midst of all the jollity. helplessly flapping his arms. "I thought I'd try again. aware of my arms hanging limply at my sides -." I reply. but I follow Damian. Actually." We both look down."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { I feel my eyelids stretching to blink over my bug-eyes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 61\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He drives a gorgeous. what have I just agreed to? Getting in to a car with Damian Archer? I must really be losing it.

"Oh my. Nate's and mine. away from my neighborhood and out toward the fields of the Wright far m. I guess. hulking pieces of twisted metal an d torn wood." Damian repeats.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yours and Nate's?" I ask. Oh. good sir. I step gingerly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'll see. pricking my stomach with a ngry stings. I jump. what are we doing here?" I ask. "You made all of this?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . Damian drives as slowly and deliberately as my mother.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "We're here. This is likely the stupidest thing I've eve r done. I start to feel nervous again. I suck in a sharp breath. until Damian speaks. and suddenly I realize. Giant canvases covered with thi ck. cringing as the wooden floorboards creak and groan beneath me. I'll drive carefully. My stomach is going spastic. "Ah." he answers. with him?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Despite my trepidation. An insatiable curiosity grips me. before us. lay a jungle of sculptures. What am I d oing here. it's hard to explain. ah. "Hey. and smiles again. this playacting at normalcy f eels false. He's hea ding east." Damian tells me." Those bees start kicking around in my gut again. I'd rather just show you. a little bit."\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ He nods and turns the ignition. We sit in silence for a while. Damian crosses the county road and turns right onto Union Street. Damian slows before stopping altogether in front of a tall gray barn. do you mind if I show you someth ing before I take you home?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When we reach the back of the barn. carefully placing his feet to avoid the complaining planks. it is a lion of an automobile. Damian fl icks a light switch. Two minutes later.ar}{ "Why. and I can make out a host of bulky shapes standing at atten tion. He looks at me closely and climbs into the driver's seat . Wha t am I doing? What am I doing?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nervous?" Damian asks. Damian strikes another switch." Damian explains. where are we going? I wonder. and other things hang on the walls."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { There.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "What is all this?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "This is my studio. I'm scared. I follow Damian into the barn. and golden li ght floods the space. yawning space.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "You'll see. "All right." Damian announces with that same cheeky grin as we get out of the c ar. Damian waves me over.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Good. "The Wrights let Nate and me use their barn in exchang e for help with some chores around the farm. He heads down an overgrown path and takes hold of one of the barn's massive double doors. thank you." Damian says in answer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 62\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Soon."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can't imagine what he could possibly want to show me. but tru e to his word." he says. That's a big fat yes. "Come on!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I hover at the entry way to the dim. like they're trying to sting me back to reason and out of this really stupid ha ze of pliancy. The car roars. It was.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ 63\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You and Nate worked on the farm?" My voice cracks with disbelief.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't worry.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "Look. Motes of dust flicker in the single shaft of sunlight that penetrates the crack between the doors.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pause before answering him. but I can't tell what they are. He grins cheekily." My voice sounds tight. we're pulling off the road and onto a gravel tra ck. jumbles of wire and slabs of stone. Damian treads lightly as a cat. violent slabs of oil paint. There is a racket of bees buzzing in my ears.

with the triangular traffic sign for a head. "everything Nate was ever accused of taking without permission' is down here. racing into the living room. which he also wrecked. well. a sheet of pape r flapping in his hand. "I drew it. he said. broken b its of furniture."We both worked here. There are car parts that look like they came from Nate's first car. and --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I interrupt. I have a welding workshop in here.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 65\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "How long have you guys been working on all this?" I ask Damian.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ That's the only time I can recall seeing Nate show any interest in art. but my grandfather wo uld not lower it. hating myself for appear ing so weak. "Here's that yiel d sign he got in trouble for stealing. threatening to spill over my ch eeks.. "No. who was visiting for the day."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A vision of Nate. son?" he'd asked. holding out the page to our grandfather." he'd replied. his cheeks caving in and his lips puckering. like.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I guess it's been." Damian explains nervously. "Did you tra ce this. we."\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "And the paintings?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "He didn't. it's over there. burning behind my eyes. sir.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look!" my brother cried. "He didn't wa nt to tell anyone. then I'd say you have a mig hty fine talent.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 64\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I turn to look at him. you know. The canvases look like bruised flesh with slashes of violet and black pigment.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora?" Damian asks. straining to see the page. I stood up on tiptoe. and silently cu rse the quiver in my voice. close.how -. a small wrench..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I turn my back on Damian and begin to wander among the pieces.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We stand together and survey the cluttered. It was a drawing of a dog. "How come I never knew Nate was an artist?" A towering da m of tears is piling up.." And Nate had grown pink. "Son." Damian responds softly. our dad's fat her."\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ My grandfather held up the drawing close." I sniff and stop in front of a mammoth s tatue that has the shape of a man's silhouette. In one of these pieces..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "They are amazing. around in the corner. at ten or eleven.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "When -. behind those sculptures. collected all this stuff to use . computer keyboard letters.how did you make all this?" I stutter. "You're telling me that you and my brother made all of this?"\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. scraps of fabric. and lifted his glasses and peer ed at it. a proud flush. Mighty fine. metal parts sticking out of small hills of oil pai nt.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ Grandpa drew a breath. constructed of gnarled metal rod s. And." My voice trails off as I gaze around the room. I can barely process any of it. At Nate's veheme nt nod. I walk closer and see that there are all sorts of objects concealed in the c anvases: buttons." I whisper." Damian starts with a chuckle."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I can't believe it. pops into my head. if you truly drew this. three years. uh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. chaotic gallery. where we'd been reading a story together. I'm pretty sure I recognize a pattern from a n old set\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Basically. but nothing like this. I just told you --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know what you told me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I made the paintings." I wipe away the traitorous tears." Damian admits abashedly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nate solemnly shook his head. "Are you telling the truth?" Grandpa growled. for feeling so weak. No one knew but him and me. my eyes crawling over each piece. I knew h e doodled. nails and bolts. but how come . He'd lifted me from his lap.

a poetry and a logic.might be capable of creating such ."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I circle the stone base.." I say quietly. He hands it back to me with a grin and says.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "His last piece.. Some kind of truth. But. And the whole time my ear s feel like they've ignited and my heart is racing. in a way. Obv iously. My chest hurts and I think my heart might be breaking.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian drives slowly through town. what Nate was going to do with them. "I should go home. watching. I wonder what it is. "And it turns out. he already had. averting his eyes. Again. your mom made it prett y clear at the funeral that I wasn't welcome anymore. show me all of this?" I ask. first --" Damian grabs the phone out of my hand and punche s some buttons." Damian pauses." The words fall between us like a thous and raindrops. He nods. Let's go.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally. out into the fresh air. Yet there is a rhythm to the pieces. certainly no one from his a nd Nate's old gang. Everything precarious and wild. never belie ved that Nate -.or Damian -. I mean. His gray eyes are focused intently on the road. He never finished it. I've been t hinking about it. and are leaning against the wall behind the pole and stone.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But the silence between us is comfortable. Did he just give me his numb er? Oh my gosh . "Just in case. crossing back over Union Street.I t hink Nate would have wanted you to know. huh?" I turn to look at Damian..\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know why. I'll be able to pierce his bri ttle exterior and learn some truth. There has to be a meanin g to all of it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. they were creating and building this wonder. "And I think -. I ha ven't seen him hanging around with anyone at school. I turn to study him. I'm still flabbergasted. which are marked wi th soft gray swirls and dots and lines and smudges. It's just after four. Then the houses begin to grow nicer and the lawn s better kept when we near my neighborhood. before my parents get there first. too." The n he leads me through\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 68\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the barn. except to bring you here to see it. The y are light against his caramel skin. and back to his car.66\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ of my mother's sheets.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure. as Damian stands by. Would you take me?" I ask Damian. That's why I was following you." I turn to Damian. and kneel down to study the boards. He lost his best friend. terribly lonely.. well. that was Nate's last piece.. And then it occurs to me that he is bereft. but I'm not sure what he was going to d o with the wood itself. a secret that he will reveal to me."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 67\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Silently.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I always thought that one day he would grow up and stop destroying everything. I will ne ver know. hard enough." Damian has come to stand next to me.. He looks lonely. I pull out my cell phone and check the t ime. "Ever since I saw you in school.. and I didn't think you'd w ant to see me. I weave between the sculptures and pass all around the barn walls one more time. either. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ None of it makes any sense.." Damian replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Maybe if I stare at him long enough. My chest hurts. I didn't know how else to tell you about this. I watch the ramshackle houses trickle past. I can't think of a thing to say. "Why did y ou bring me here. I rise and realize that I've made an illegal stop after school with the Bradleys' Number One Most Undesirable. Because I never. Several two-by-six boards have been nailed tog ether. I look back at the pie ces of wood.. When I'm sure he's concentrating on d riving. that was . such beauty.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is this one?" I've stopped in front of a large round stone with a tall met al pole poking from its flat top. "I think he was going to mount tho se boards onto the rod when he was done. Thank you. All the time everyone thought they were just out to destroy and take everything apart.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. Family huddle. Like a prisoner. who is marching agitatedly across the lawn. she runs out of steam. rallying for his sake. "I guess I'd better go.that. I forgot all about it. Daniel?" My mother's voice has risen to a decibel that would deafen bats.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Turns out I hardly knew my brother." he says with a rueful smile. Still. Really. he just stares without speaking. I'm not paying attention when we finally pull up in front of my house. "Would you say something?" she screams. "What is he.. "I was home early to take Cora to her dentist appointment.I'm not apologizing now.. what do you have to say to her. she won't let me speak. as he slowly walks over to us.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "That what?" I yell. And you skip your appointment to go gallivanting around with that -. Cora?" Damian mumbles as he comes to a stop. you can't keep me locked up in the house all the time.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's going on here?" he asks in an empty voice.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 70\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The dentist. Into a car! I just can't believe it. it looks like it. So. perfect timing. snatching me back to planet Earth. It's kind of hard to forget. no. "And you know what. she shows up almost two hou rs late in Damian Archer's car. I can see that her face is drawn an d white. why don't you spare me?" I answer .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora."\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Yeah. She starts to stride toward the car.what he did?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. then stops. then. "Please. and he gets out of the car. or my mother pacing back and forth on the front porch. what his famil y is like."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My father stares at me mutely.I don't actually know anything about Damian.Right That Instant. "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As all these thoughts are passing through my mind. abruptly." Then.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "I --" I start.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 69\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother freezes. she switches tacks."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I brace myself for the onslaught. So. Then. like Rapunzel! You can't!" All of the heat that has crept u p my neck and into my cheeks blooms into a hot fountain of tears that now course s over my face.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Mom whirls around. Mom? Because I'm pretty sure he isn't some mon ster. You know. and now you get into a car with him?. see you at school. your mother told you to come home directly after\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . like a child. Hot. Too late -. "Where have you been all afternoon? You had a dentist appointment! And you aren 't supposed to go anywhere after school. "And thank you. "\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Bye. motioning for me to get out of the car -. spilling around my collar and down the front of my jacket. Tell me what were you thinking?" she shouts. straightening as I come face-to-face with my m om. her eyes popping wide open with shock then narrowing with ang er." I swing around and start to open the door.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I reply. who his friends are. not whe n she is treating me like this. Great. and begins waving her arm." he repeats. Mother. then cold.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ At that moment. cool as a cucumber. Damian." Al l of a sudden. either. you're supposed to come straight home.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ I nod at her. I think Nate took care of messing up everything all by himself!" I am really shaking now. drained of life. then look back at him. my father's car pulls into the driveway. only she never came home.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Do you know what that boy -. I don't notice my mother's car in the open garage. "Oh. and turn to Damian." as I notice my mom noticing Damian's car and me in it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What were you thinking?" As she approaches. "Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "He was in the car with your brother that night.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I slink out of my room and down the hall until I am standing before Nate's door. I've had enough of Nate and the memories and all the emotions he always d redges up. trying to restore some semblance o f normalcy to our friendship. but suddenly. about him anymore. after all. slamming that door. Seriously? That's all he can muster? "Go inside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 73\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Five}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Puh-leeese. I feel as though all the clouds in my mind have suddenly cleared. It is cool to the touch. She hounds me about it relentlessly. unable to comprehend my comp lete lack of school spirit or interest. learning that he was an artist who made beautiful things and then was lost to me -. Rachel just shrugs her shoulders helplessly.it is too mu ch. but no date. No." he mutters halfheartedly. Nat e was behind the wheel that night. Then I start to turn the knob. letting a shaft of pure light in. She taught me to bl ame him for Nate's accident. I've told her that there was no way.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ I pull off the headphones and tiptoe to the door. All of us were wrong. this is your united front? Well done!" And without l ooking at either of them. I'll never let that happen with anyone else. Cora! You have to go with me!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Just two weeks away. can't go into his room and rem ember. slamming the front door behind m e. how can she be so wrong about everything? My mind is spinning furiou sly. or even me. especially the sporty kind.not Mom or Dad. then turns away. She has made begging a daily habit in homeroom. I do not want to see either of them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel like spitting.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh my gosh. releasing some of the frustration and fury and fly up the stairs.71\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ school. I'll go to the dance with you. probably unable to understand how she go t saddled with such a lame best friend. I've learned enoug h for one night. no how I would ever subject myself to sitting in the freezing cold. She has give n up on my company at any other school events. and with relief. I turn the knob as slowly as I can so as not to make a sound. Rach. not directing the last part to anyone in particul ar. The dull murmu r of the television travels up the corridor from the den. I can't do it. slamming pots and pans onto the counter top. I will know the ones I love." he says. I haven't been inside since the night he died. So I've made a decision. I wrap my earphones aroun d my head. I take a deep breath.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ Suddenly.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ I run back to my room. Discovering that I've never known Nate at all. I check bot h ways down the hall. shaking her head. I can hear\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ 72\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ my mother bumping around in the kitchen. I let the music carry me off. and it was easy to do.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ How dare she! How can she even think that locking me up in the house is okay? Th at I'll just take it?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ For so long she filled me up with so much hatred for Damian. making sure neither of my parents is about. I don't want to think about this. "Wow. None of us knew Nate -. and begin to play my most pissed-off play list. replace my earphones. with a pause in the music. the Homecoming dance is on the tips of everybody's tongues and at the fore of Rachel's mind.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 74\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. watching a bunch of guys beat up on one another. I snap my hand back.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But I am really trying to be a better friend. But now I'm not so sure. as well. I run into the house." I tell her. I let out a shriek. and she fully expects me to go to the d ance with her. pleading with me to come to the dance with her. as though steeling myself. not quite prepared for . It is safe. into my bedroom. I don't have a date or a dress or a desire to attend. Rachel has a dress.

and my mom gave m e a bit more.. "What's the second condition?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You have to get my mom to agree. well. maybe high school isn't doomed to suck after all."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No funny business. what's up with you and the Nasties?"\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" Rachel asks blandly."\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And true to her word.." I say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "There're two conditions. Like I'm Rapunzel or something. I'm all yours. She is all about keeping me locked up in the h ouse at night. so there'll be tons of t eachers there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. "I have a way with your mother. With a sigh. "um. "The dance is in the school. The spectre of Damian and the studio se ems to have faded.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of course not!" Rachel promises. so I should be able to get a nice dress and a pair of shoes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" Rachel looks unfazed. right?\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "So." my mom warns. "my mom will drive us both ways.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But --" Rachel begins. as I walk through the halls at school and sit in class. This is good. her voice pours through the receiver with all the subtlety of a locomotive. It'll be easy. as Rachel has assumed responsibility for finding an appropriate dress and shoes for me to wear. Rachel calls my house that night to convince my mother to let me go to the dance. I've also agreed to go with Rachel to the tanning salon. Rachel says. right? Girl bonding? We're supposed to chat a nd gossip and talk about life in this sort of situation. Maybe life. letting her sweep me from one store to the next as we search for the "per fect dress.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I promise. And the principal. If you can get her to say okay.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean. a daily reminder that I' m too chicken to show it to my mom. yes.the explosion of hysterics." Rachel answers. though. that's the condition. you hang around with them a lot now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And that's that. I'm sorry. I have to make a move so on." No . the application is due in a couple of weeks. I f eel I am a part of it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What!" Rachel shrieks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The rest of the week flies by." I have some money saved up from my last birthday. Calico's praise and encour agement and by Rachel's cheerful banter. hairstyles and shoe styles.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Will there be adults at the dance?" my mother asks." Rachel swears. and. I am trailing behind R achel.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 75\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh." she answers. we have to go shopping! We have to get you a dress! Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. where Rach el is tearing through the racks with a ferocity and intensity I don't think I've seen in her before."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. where we're going to get spr ay-on tans -. I feel like a piec e of the whole."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No problem!" Rachel crows. "Oh my gosh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm not going to the game. "You will?" She looks so happy. thank you thank you thank you!" She throws her arms around my neck and hugs me way too ti ght. Maybe this weekend. For the first time since school began. There is only one dark spot in my week: when I open my locker and spy the application to the London art program just sitting there at the bottom.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 76\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The mall is buzzing with families and pairs of teenagers." She's so excited.a test run for the dance. peeping out from beneath a stack of papers." I oh-so-casually attempt. I just wondered ." I caution. So. I have to smile with her . and I am buoyed by Ms. I put both from my mind.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We finally end up in the department store at the far end of the mall. I excavate it from the mess on the floor of my locker and stuff the packet into my backpack. I tell Rachel that I'll meet her at the mall on Saturday to go shopping. where I can't get a way from the chatter about dresses and corsages.

too." Rachel answers shortly."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah? Well. okay?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. but it's about other stuff. Rachel chuckl es. I mean. well.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 78\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh." I say again. I don't think this is going well at all." Rachel says coolly. I can't seem to say anything right. they're not 50 bad. Like figuring out what you like to do an d what you want to do.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "You know." Rachel replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "How so?" I ask halfheartedly.." A look of wistfulness has replaced the bossy squint of her eyes and crinkle in her nos e." she says enthusiastically." I grab a black halter dress off the rack and walk over to her. I mean. and waggle my eyebrows. "You were never a loser. "High school should be fun and about boys and pa rties. hardly able to believe that Rachel thinks this is a good thing. I cringe and feel like I might throw up. One would hope that if a guy wanted to hook up with a girl. she's so mature. hold ing it up." I say. W hen did it become so hard to be a friend to Rachel?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When our arms are piled high with dresses in all kinds of colors -. though. H er face is screwed up in a look of serious concentration as she pushes aside sev eral hangers.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. So. I'm sick of being a loser. "I just don't want you to get hurt."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. "I mean. never talk to. Let's just concentrate on the shop ping. what about you?" I ask her. I guess I'll stay a baby for a while longer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well." Rachel tells me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 77\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "She hooked up with Matt James over the summer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know what I mean.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I think Macie is super cool. never notice. t hen continue.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "If Josh wanted to hook up with me. duh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't think you should go the mermaid route. don't you? I'm tired of being the girl the guys n ever see." I remind her. Macie said that guys only ho ok up with girls they think are cool.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Uh-huh." Rachel tells me after I come ou t in a blue dress that is weirdly wide at\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 79\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ ."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ew. in that case. Because they're still the Nasties."\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know you're my friend. and I just." Rachel snorts. Her explanation hardly even makes sense.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. it'd mean he was really into me. Rach."\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "Suit yourself." Rachel speaks quietly but with force. it's just that the guys worship them like they're goddesses. My face is growing warm. She said it was amazing.my one stipu lation was that I will not wear red -. I want this year to be different.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ew. Rachel st ands outside the booth issuing orders like a drill sergeant. I'd do it. is all. "It's fine. he'd be into her. and turn back to the racks. right? Isn't that how it works? "Rach. you know. directing me from o ne dress to the next. Cora." Rachel says matter-of-factly. you're such a baby.we move into the dressing room.. My in sides are melting. don't let them pressure you into anything. cross my eyes. and what you're good at and who your friends are. They are the Nasties." I say softly." I say.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Seriously?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of course.. "What do you think of this?" I wait for Rachel to nod her approval. don't do it if you don't feel totally ready. avoiding my eyes. I shoot her a look. and Jo sh is always hanging around them. you k now?" Rachel says."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know.

and when I see what ha s Rachel so upset. racing over to her.the waist and tapered as it falls to my ankles. Cor. but I look so different somehow.you look like --"\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Harry Potter!" we both finish at the same time. really like this dress." I reach over to try and brush her ba ngs down across her forehead. Soon we're on our way to the spa. This is torture. I manage to squeal. Rach. I really. I stare at myself in the mirror for a long while. Every C hristmas I used to watch the Nutcracker on TV and covet Clara's dress.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ I find Rachel in the changing room and. you need a dress.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ Right in the middle of Rachel's forehead is a big bronze streak. it's fine . but a substantial part of the zigzag line still shows.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "Did you rub it in?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I help her rub at the streak with a wet paper towel. I thought I did. But I step into the shower\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 80\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ anyway and let the noxious spray fall over my body. even my smile. I didn't think anything could look more elegant. watching as all the pieces of m y face seem to fall apart and come back together.. Cor. and I feel like I could maybe faint. Rach! I'm sorry . "Also. finally.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Everything looks brighter -. Come on. straining to keep the grin from my face . Older. it's beautiful..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . When I step out again.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. It even looks nice a gainst my pasty skin. There is a heavy.my dull brown hair.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? What happened?" I call.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The hunt for shoes is. She turns to face me. "I 'm sorry. "I look ridiculous!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "No.." she repeats. as I'm getting dressed. I twirl and watch with satisfaction as the skirt spins out. When she would spin into a pirouette and her skirt would bloom around her in a perfect ci rcle.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look what happened!" Rachel moans." She sniffs and turns back to the mirror. Rachel utters her approval: "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It is still my face."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's pretty. "I look so stupid!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You can barely notice it. thankfully. "I guess I missed a spot. no one will be wearing a long dress!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Rach." I whine thr ough the dressing room door. We're still giggling when we get on our bikes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 81\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. suck it up!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally. they don't!" Rachel argues. much easier and quicker. until Rachel's forehead is red and raw. peering at herself in the mirror. and pedal our separate way s home." Rachel says tearfully.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh . and I find a pair of strappy gold heels.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh my gosh!" she screams. Then we are led into separate area s that look like showers. where we don fluffy white terry robes. I try on an emerald green silk gown that hugs my body in just the right places and falls to my knees in a sweeping skirt.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A woman wearing what looks like a pink nurse's uniform ushers us into a changing room. We wave good-bye. my brown eyes. Rachel suddenly lets out a piercing shriek.. The bangs do cover a little bit of the stain. I sigh with relief as I p eel off the dress and carefully replace it on its hanger. holding up my hand as I double over. our eyes meet and I can't hold it in any longer. As we star e at Rachel's reflection. I bur st out laughing and. I try very unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. "Oh my gosh. I don't know if I can hold out much longer. maybe. A stain." I say. with the green dress folded carefully into my backpack. I can 't help but marvel at the golden tan I'm now sporting.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We both examine Rachel's forehead in the mirror. cloying stink in the air. pulling back her ba ngs from her forehead. it's just so -... your bangs cover it up. It's like it was made for you.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's really beautiful.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ My heart pounds like a jackhammer. the sun behind me. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh-huh. "Mom! Hey. well. letting the gown fan out at my knees. I slip them on and suddenly feel very grown-up. That is really nice of her. and with the trees and fi elds whizzing past. "So."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Is she kidding? Who does she think she is?" my mom\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 84\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ thunders. I continue." she responds distractedly. "Anyway. off to some foreign country?" Her . I am free." I hedge." My mother is paying attention now. making my eyes water. once again admi ring the rich grassy green of the silk and the way the fabric catches the light."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. then stand up on the pedals and coast. Mom.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { I run down the hall and find her washing dishes at the sink. in the kitchen. "That's nice. and --"\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "London?" my mother interrupts. Cor. calling. I burst into the house. no. my art teacher. Hopeful. How go od it feels to be talking with her like this.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "Did you get a dress?" she asks. and decide it is t ime to tell my mom about London. Happy. that's the thing. Mom. I sway." I say hesitantly. I'm home! Where are you ?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora? Hi. the wind rakes over my face and through my hair. then shakes herself. it's in London.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Hey." She pauses. Cor. and opening it to show my mother the gold sling-backs with the tiny heels and slender straps. "You look so grown up."\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ This is it. I pump my legs fas ter and faster. "So mature. That's what I fee l. "I can hardly believe it. told me that she thinks my work is really good.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yup. Ms. If she agreed to let me go to the dance. Is it at the high school?"\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. peacefully. Cor. marveling at how normal our conversation is.I can't remember feeling so light in ages." my mom says. um. and I figured that I cou ld use some of the money that Grandma and Grandpa gave me." she murmurs.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Got them. a nd I swear she looks a little misty around the eyes. and it is the most wondrous sensation. what about shoes?" She wipes her hand s on a dish towel and comes closer to rub her fingers against the smooth silky m aterial.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 83\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'll look gorgeous.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" she replies. maybe she is lightening up. unburdened. She is holding up one of the pumps. I ride." my mom says softly. "Trying to send my kid so far away.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure." I tell her. carefully releasing it from the plastic. she thinks it's really." my mother answers."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That sounds great. I decide. could I ask you something?" I begin as I slide my feet out of the shoes. it is time. Things are going so well. I reach into the bag a nd grab the shoe box. Want to see?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mom nods. I'm here. I feel a little bit giddy. I hold it up against me. and I pull the bag out of my backpack. looking closely at me. Calico.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pull into the driveway and lean my bike up against the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 82\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ garage. she wants me to apply for thi s summer art school that has a mapmaking course.well. As I ride back to my house. sliding it out. really good. she said she thinks I have a l ot of potential. "And. Bu t all the expenses are covered. "It's kind of -. everything but airfare. wond ering where this is leading. uh. I feel like I might take flight.

Now. he ma de things." my father had snarled. Like some ferocious creature. I kick and ball my hands into fists. I saw tears streaming down Nate's cheeks. I followed him. and about your brother. I weep and rag e until I am empty. and you rode him so hard. he and my parents had gotten into a screaming match.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is wrong with you?" I hiss. her eyes f lash. We're both marked. and my ches t burns and tears are pricking my eyes. someth ing that's good for me?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's not safe for a girl your age to travel so far by herself. You just want to control me!" A m omentum to my rage is building. their voices flared like those lit tle explosions that happen on the surface of the sun. you will not be welcome in this house anymore.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You don't want anything good to happen to me. and the crease between her brows has deepened. Everything. Dad. "You're wrong about everything. "You thought you could control Nate. I heard him stomping and rummaging around in his bedroom. passing me without seeing me. and it goes deeper every day. as quick as a flash of lightning.\par\par . "Because I promise you. we've dug a moat between us. Squirt?" Nate had asked. "Why can't you let me do something fun. I keep shrieking and crying into the pillow. and my mom wanted to know what Nate was doing. You'd thi nk that after Nate died.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Enjoy the show. "Then I won't have to waste my time with so much useless crap!" As I spied on them from behind the rai lings at the top of the stairs. working. A letter had arrived from the school saying that Nate had missed twenty-three days of school since the sta rt of the semester." My voice has grown cold and quiet. "You don't know a thing. empty." Now I feel I am losing control." \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Good. Yet. I remember a few months before Nate died. "A nd I will not have you talking to me like this. I look forward to that day!" Nate had yelled back.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It seems to run in the family. But. Hollow. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You think you're so smart. and hard. Cora!" she warn s.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ All of the lightness and joy drains out of me. The n he'd pushed past my parents and raced up the stairs. looking up at me with a scowl.face is growing red. but you did n't know the first thing about him. no. ravaged by this thing that happened to us. this vitriol comes from. possessed by a f it of temper stronger than the fiercest wind or the highest wave. that we'd have come together. and now you're doing the same to me!" I scream. and I bet you didn't even know that! You just yelled at him all the t ime. but I know that school is a waste of time for me!" Nate had cried." I whisper over and over. not one single thing about your brother! How dare you! How dare you speak to me this way. He was an artist. t hen stood in the doorway of his room. Watch your tone. leaving me burnt. "You didn't know Nate at a ll.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "What do you think will happen to you once you're kicked out of school? How are you going to live?" she'd shrieked\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 86\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ shrilly. Mom and I would have grown closer. Back t hen. I don't know where all this anger. I can't stop.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ 85\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ when you don't know a single thing! Get out of my sight!" she rages.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You little brat!" My mom has her hands on her hips and her face is twisted into the angriest grimace I have ever seen. I fall onto my bed in a flood of blister ing tears. which is starti ng to feel like a well-trod racecourse." she hollers. I couldn't imagine what my brother was doing during those twenty-three days of illicit freedom.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I hate her!" I scream into my pillow. punc hing the mattress. "I hate her. you pushed and pushed him. I would bet anything that he was in the barn. "Get out! I don't want to see you!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "With pleasure!" I spin around and run up the stairs to my room. I know i t's not true.

then flip onto my stomach. They're posters of bands I've n ever listened to. Nate closed his eyes and sighed. but that look angry and alienating. okay?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Where are you going?" I'd asked. you know?" When I shook m y head a second time. with empathy. and hear only the buzz of the television. Again. The place is too clean. hanging my head over the edge. then get up and approach his desk. there are scenes of a mother and her son resting beneath a tree. It is a collection of pe ncil sketches by my brother. As he crouched on the roof. then his head through it. "Hey. Squirt. Inside is a pile of pap ers tied together with a strip of black ribbon. it looks kind of like a skinny briefcase.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 87\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh-huh. all of the clothes and books and CDs and o ther assorted junk that had covered his floor and desk and chair and every avail able surface is gone. I make my wa y down to Nate's bedroom and stop in front of it. th en look around. I take a deep breath. My mother's voice echoes in my head: You don't know a thing. I stretch my arm to try to slide it out from under the bed. Nate?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Sometimes the same things aren't right for everybody. but there is an air of emptiness that leaves the room feeling cold and wrong.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'll be back. quickly. dressed to go out. "Forget it. There is some sort of flat black case." Then Nate had opened my window and pushed his legs. The lines of his pencil brushed across the pages with sensitivity.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I imagine I can hear Nate's raspy voice snarling. you up?" he'd whispered through the door. what do you think you're doing in my room? Get lost and stay out of my s tuff!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shiver. Nate rendered these moments so intimately. The computer was moved into my room .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 89\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Squirt. then his body. Finally. Cross ing my legs. his familiar stomping gait tamp ed down to be nearly silent. Just go to be d or something. I turn over the case and squeeze the clasp. I'll be back before they wake up.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. I sit do wn on his bed. I push the door open a nd step inside. movies I have never watched -. So many tiny.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But the dozens of posters still cover the walls.d\plain\hyphpar}{ I shook my head no. the disuse gnaws at me. "Why didn't you go to school. quietly shutting it behind me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I glance about furtively. I spread them out across the bedspread and study each one. I begin to pull at . he'd headed down the hall toward my room. and there is a square space slightly darker than the rest of the wood where it used to rest. not one single thing about your brother!\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Who knew what? Did my parents know about his art? I was convinced after seeing t he studio in the barn that I finally knew the real Nate. Most everything seems the same. His bed\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 88\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ is made. Feel it."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And later that night I'd heard Nate's door open. and they are beautiful. "Don't wor ry about me. And now my mother has m ade me doubt it all over again. and then he'd knocked softly on my door. When there is no more poison left inside of me. a gang of little kids playing soccer in the street. And close the window behind me. I can see t hat. he stuck his head back inside the window. the emptiness. so truthfully.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nowhere. There is only one thing to do. okay?" Then he disappeared. and pul l up the bed skirt to peer underneath. a cat balanci ng on a fence post. At once delicate and strong . I rise and move o ut into the hallway. Don't worry about it. My door opened. and Nate came in. Squirt. and his closet door is shut.sad for Nate. I manage to pull it free and up onto the bed. for our fa mily." I'd mumbled. I gasp. ordinary pieces of life. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sigh and remember how afraid I'd felt.bands and movies I am pretty su re most people have never heard of. I sit up and r ub my eyes. And how sad -. Gently. Don't tell Mom and Dad. for myself.

I can't believe that after so many months. crouched beneath the corn at the most distant corne r of the field. sobbing now. the cries of other kids f aded. and I couldn't see in the gathering darkness any longer. I pull open the last drawer and find it empty but for a single. I became disoriented and frightene d. The smell of him is overpowering. I buried my head in his neck and cried and breathed in his scent. and it was late in the afternoon. I will adopt its contents. "I've been looking for you forever. I waited. making faces and kis sing and smiling so broadly. In the first two th ere are CDs -. even though I was too old and far too big to be picked up.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ One summer Nate and I -." I just shook my head. pushing the clothing asi de. that had driven him out of the house and into his car that night. Still. The cornfield went on for acres. so in love with Nate? They dat ed for almost a year. "It's okay. Suddenly. I found you. and I couldn't catch my breath. We headed over ther e on our bikes.we must have been eight and twelve or so -.pens and rubber bands. narrow strip of white paper.the drawers. Tears began to fall from my eyes. sweet. clasping it to my mouth and nose. which were fully grown. his scent still lin gers. It was almost five years ago when I first started to m . Soon. and a small wooden box. I could see the evening star.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 90\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ How could Julie look so cheerful in these photos. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A group of neighborhood kids had gathered in the fields. I started walking. How loved.tell me about it? Did Mom and Dad give him such a har d time that he felt he had to hide it? And how could he be so intent on destruct ion when he was creating such amazing art all the while?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { I move toward his closet and begin to rifle through it. Twilight was descending. I waited and\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 91\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ waited. tearing at the contents with trembling fingers. but shortly r ealized that I wasn't moving toward the barn. the kind you could t ake in the booth in the mall. I h eard the singing of crickets. I began to run. maybe early evening. The sun w as well on its way to meeting the horizon in a ball of pink-and-crimson fire.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "Hey. and my chest began to feel tight with panic. his eyes scrunched with worry. Nate was there. So filled with lau ghter and unburdened by the darkness that seemed to come over him at home. I sink to the floor. What had brought them together in the first place? And why did Julie break up with him? Did she know about his art? Did she know him bette r than we did?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Why didn't Nate tell us -. I place the box on top of the desk. th e sky still light in that dusky half-glow. subtler. I listened to the shrieking yelps of laughter as other kids were discove red. like gingersnaps mixed with patchou li and deodorant. and the sky turned indigo. holding up one of Nate's T-shirts to my face.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. where we liked to play hide-and-seek. Where had everyone gone? I wo ndered. I was so scared. He looked so happy. I felt smug. in which colors seem richer. and my legs shook from kneeling for so long. I pull it out and slide the flat top open to reveal a set of drawing pencils an d a gummy eraser. sprouting a jungle of leafy foliage to camouflage us.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pick it up and flip it over to find a row of photographs. In the next one is a battered copy o f James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I waited. congratulating myself for finding such a good hiding spot. The Who's My Generation. I trace my fingernail over their faces.set off for the Wyatt cornfields. Then he carried me out of the maze of corn. and Benji Tuckerson was "It. And there are Nate and Julie. Why hadn't Benji found me? Why hadn't I heard the game called? I stood u p. I guess they must have been laughing uncontrollably . Miles Dav is's Kind of Blue -. So many nights. Squirt! Are you okay?" he asked." He closed his eyes and counted to fifty as we spread out and burrowed ben eath the cornstalks. and Nate picked me up. suddenly relishing how safe I f elt." he said.The Velvet Underground & Nico.

glad his se cret is finally out in the open. It was bloody. I manage to snag them. finally. when he first went away from me. they took to screaming at him. flowers. which do not smell nice. inflicted with a spike of malice.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Squirt. maybe he's glad I've found his artwork. and slide them out slowly." \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When he died. It used to feel like a civil war was being waged inside the walls of this house when Nate was alive. And it was awful. more defiant. That turned into "Get out of my way. balanced on the handlebars of his bike. I pause and l ook around the room. But not sensing his pr esence makes me sad.iss him. tapping on the other end. too. Th eir sparring would usually drive me into my bedroom.because I knew then that the older brother I used to idoli ze would never. The knob is warm and cool at once. It is a series of watercolor paintings. doing battle with him every chance they had. I h old the tube up to the light. I pull out my history book and get ready to do the assigned reading before I go to bed. the brother who used to take me down to th e creek. happily.my gut -. Absent. my parents tried to cajole Nate into behaving. peering into it. with a doorknob feeling hot and cold at the same time.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I poke my head out into the hallway. anywhere. g rew\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 92\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ some hair on his lip. I draw the plastic cap from one end and crawl out of the closet. but I s nake two fingers down into the tube. At the back is a card board tube. anyway. I start to wonder if maybe Nat e is here and. which he had always called me with affection. There are several papers rolled up inside it. The brother I used to follow br avely. would I ever have expected thi s. trying to see what its contents a re. All I can think of is Nate and how . to try to shake t hem out. With shaking fingers.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I gather all of the drawings and the watercolors and the wooden box of pencils i n my arms and move to the door. Silent. loser" Then just "Move. Probably more posters.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally. I unroll them and let out a low whistle when I see the delicate blush of pigment. I felt like someone had taken a softball and punched it through my stomach -. "Get out of my way. bird s. As he grew more reckless. ever come back. Subtle splashes of color and\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 93\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ fine black lines. being eaten by worms and maggots.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ I snap the book closed. The house is much quieter. At firs t. but he is unwilling to be drawn into a fight. He was great. When Nate stopped being the broth er I had always known and worshipped. to take cover under my cove rs. He could have been truly great. out of the way. hide the drawings and paintings und er my bed. But I do know it makes me very sad to think Nate is ju st lying in the ground. Yet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I set the T-shirt down on the floor beside me and begin to dig deeper.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I smuggle all of Nate's things into my room. of tree branches. And Nate almost seemed to relish in fighting back. The paper is grainy a nd rough. and became a giant jerk. taking it. I don't know if I believe in heaven or any kind of afterlife. and tuck the pencil box away\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 94\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ into one of my desk drawers. but the silence is worse. not in ten million years. The Civil War. Squirt. and that I can finally know who he really was. She is probably yelling at my dad about me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. And Nate's spidery signature marks the lower corner of each piece. became a weapon. not poster material. more angry. moving bo ots and sneakers. if he's here. I can hear my mom's voice coming from th e den. and so usually I try not to think about it." came to be the best I coul d expect from him.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Not in a million years. Could it be? Could he be here with me? Not since he died ha ve I ever had the sense that he was nearby. when he marched off to eighth grade. And my father is probably jus t sitting there. I can't concentrate. my mother ceaselessly tries to engage my father.

I\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 95\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ throw my bicycle on the ground and sprint to the weeping willow tree. continuing to watch me. outside of me. Julie is making out with other guys. Its neck arches and bends in one fluid movement. flowing line. a strange silvery light falls across the ground where I lie. and all I can do is sit there.angry at him and at my parents I am. and letting my body lean into each curve. filling the night. He will never get to show ev erybody what he could do. The air is cool and clean. My gut burns with the same fiery pain I felt on the night he died. and I stare out at the land around me. The ache inside of me keeps me rooted to the g round. It seems to have simply appeared. the moon has risen and hangs low in the heavens. I mak e my way in the growing darkness to the creek. suffering my lingering gaze. its stark whitenes s standing out against the darkening trees and rocks and grass. Yes. As I gaze at it. There. stands a slender white bird. I long to sing to it. When I reach the spot. What a terrible waste. one eye staring curiously at me. White downy wings are tucked tight to its body.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I can't do this. and this stupid world keeps spinning.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ A tempest is raging inside of me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I fling open the garage door and run outside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 97\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The sweep of its back is subtle and full of grace. and the sky is a milky violet. and. Then it t ."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ What a waste. and lifts. For the second time tonight. and no one is goi ng to stop me. what he could do. I can't. It's poiso n. I never got to know what he did. I am soaring down the streets of Linc oln Grove.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And if the whole world can crumble to pieces at any moment." Sobs are filling my throat. the bird seems to glow with an ethereal light. The bird cocks i ts head. It is a big f ull moon. My body feels like it is humming. I can't sit here any longer. hugging the tree's broad trunk for support. to the base of the willow tree. I feel possessed by a wild r ecklessness. I am going out. the first star twinkling in t he eastern horizon. I don't even think he knew what he could have done. no point. I f all down. suspended in the sky. and my heart longs to sing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ The bird wades into the water. The hallway is silent and empty. When I glance up. what an elegant figure it makes. onto the county road. I check to see if either of my parents is up and moving around th e house. just at the edge of the creek bed. and I feel the sky might fall d own. The neck is long and slim and plunges into a curved back in a single. transfixed. a whole landscape up there. I don't care if they do catch me. The enormity of the moon sin gs to me and quells my rage. I have never seen such a beautiful cre ature. terrifying. and in the moonlight.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 96\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The sun is setting. He died and I never really got to know him. Nate! We have to live and go to school and eat brea kfast and live without you. dipping its pointed orange beak below the surface .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No meaning. I am in the world now. even without you in it! What is the point? What is the po int of any of it? I want to scream at the heavens. Slender an d white like a crane. come crashing about my head. I can make out the gray eddies of crater and mountain . I hop o n my bike and start pedaling fast. Faster. too. oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ What is the point?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As if in response. why should we strugg le to make it through the days and months? Why should we pour our hearts into pa intings and stories and families and love if the sky could fall down at any mome nt? Terrifying. How sick of all this anger I am. T here. Suddenly. I feel the singing of the moon in all its hoary bea uty like a balm. The bird re mains motionless.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ What was the point of your dying when the rest of the world keeps going? We have to keep living without you.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The singing rings and sings in my ears. "I can't do th is anymore.

urns and bends to stir the water with its beak. All is silent, all is still.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As the warm strength of the tree behind me holds up my back, and I behold the be autiful bird before me, I feel a sudden peace descend. Never have I seen such be auty and felt such peace.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wish I had my pad and pencils. I want to draw this bird, this perfect wooded s pot, with its brown trickling water, cool gray rocks, and bowed and beautiful we eping willow tree. This place I used to share with my brother.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ The quiet and beauty of this moment fill my head with a soaring ecstasy. This, t his is the world. This is life, able to give us such beauty, such love. And the immensity of these gifts is boundless. I can use my pencils and charcoals and pa stels and paintbrushes and capture this moment, capture all of this meaning. The re is so much beauty to be found in the world, and art... art is the point.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 98\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Six}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ remember the first time I came to the creek by myself, three years ago. My mothe r had bought blood oranges -- another first for me -- from the supermarket; they were imported specially from someplace far away, Morocco or Spain, maybe. I had secreted one of the oranges into my pocket as if it were a precious jewel and I a thief, and I'd ridden my bike quickly and directly to the creek. There was no better place to open up the bruise-colored orange-and-violet peel, to open the door to this other world. The creek itself was practically a sacred place for me -- for Nate and me, once. As I sat beneath the weeping willow tree and began to tear away the thick skin, exposing the crimson-purple flesh of the fruit, I ima gined I was entering some magical, exotic country. A land of dark-haired, blackeyed women, and sand and secret garden courtyards.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Someday I will travel. I have nursed that fantasy and grown it, in my drawings a nd maps, in my eagerness to get out of the house, this town. Now, though, now I know what to do.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I ease my bike back into the garage and open the door.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 99\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ There is no light. My parents are not in sight. I tiptoe down the hall and up th e stairs to my bedroom. Immediately, I reach for my sketch pad and open the box of Nate's pencils. Get to work, Squirt, I imagine Nate saying. Then I begin to m ake a list.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ (I will map the world that I know better than anything. The world, the places I' ve shared with Nate. And I will finish his last, unfinished piece with this map of the known world. I'll draw the places we used to go and the kids we used to b e. Then I will mount this map on the pedestal Nate built.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ I grab my cell phone and search for Damian's number. For a second, I feel a flut ter in my belly as I remember him taking the phone out of my hands and punching in his number. I'm thankful he did it. Then I push aside the butterflies, shoo t hem out of my system, and dial.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hello?" His voice sounds scratchy.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 100\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi, did I wake you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. Cora? Is that you?" He sounds clear now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah ... Well, I was calling because I wanted to ask you something."\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "What?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Do you think I could come to the barn with you after school on Monday? I want t o see your studio again," I tell him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh, yeah, but are you sure? Wont your mom flip out?" he asks uncertainly.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well, I'm not going to tell her. I'll just have to make sure I get home before she does," I answer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{

"All right, no problem. See you Monday?" he replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes, I'll see you Monday." I hang up feeling happier, lighter than I have in a long time. As I get into bed, my heart is filled with hope.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ When Sunday comes, I leave the house as the sun rises, hastily making myself a p eanut butter and jelly sandwich and stuffing it, along with a drawing tablet and my pencils, in my backpack. I grab the list I made last night and jump on my bi ke. I will make the rounds today, visiting all of the places that had ever meant something to me and to Nate.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ First, I ride to the swimming pool. It is vacant, closed up for the winter. The front gate is chained shut with a massive\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 101\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ padlock. I lean my bike up against the fence and begin to walk around it, peerin g through the chain links, looking at the empty pool. I'm able to see for the fi rst time the steep slope of the bottom, as it graduates from the shallow to deep end. I stare at the waterslide, and find myself picturing my eight-year-old sel f perched nervously at the top of the ladder, scared to let go and slide down th e curving rivulet of water. I can see twelve-year-old Nate treading water at the bottom, calling for me to just let go and slide.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on, Squirt! You can do it, Cor. Come on, I'll catch you! Nothing bad will happen, promise!" he had said. He had been so patient, so kind to me back then. The memory prods like a blunt blade.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I settle down on the ground and, facing the swimming area, pull out my sketch pa d and pencils. Hastily, I begin to lay out the sweeping expanse of lawn, reimagi ning the blue-and-white lounge chairs that dot the grass in the summertime, the water rushing down the slide, a gang of teenagers gathered around the diving boa rd, little kids splashing noisily in the shallow end of the pool, and old ladies in swim caps and frilly bathing suits slowly doing doggie-paddle laps. I draw i t all. And I add a small girl, myself at the top of the slide, Nate at the botto m, coaxing me to come to him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I am finished, I pack my supplies and get back on the bike. Next, I ride to the baseball diamond in a park that is a\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 102\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ quarter of a mile from the pool. The park where Nate and I had played freeze tag with a whole crew of kids from the neighborhood. The grass grows tall in this f ield -- it always has -- except where a baseball diamond has been cut into it. T he stationary plastic bases are anchored into the ground, and the baselines are faded, mostly invisible now. I remember sitting between my parents, squeezed ont o the tiny bleachers as we watched Nate play ball with his Little League team. T hermoses of hot chocolate and bags of caramel popcorn were passed between my mom and dad and me, as we cheered for the Lincoln Hawks. Nate had played first base , and when he manned his base, his eyes would scrunch up, and he'd stay crouched like a cat, always at the ready to spring after a ball. I was so proud of him. He used to seem so grown-up and capable.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I quickly sketch a picture of cheering onlookers, the Hawks in their pin-striped uniforms, opponents at bat. Then I pack up again and move away from the basebal l field. I head out toward the playground that floats like an island of mulch an d plastic and steel in the middle of the sea of grass. I walk through the tangle of swings and monkey bars, give the merry-go-round a shove and watch as it spin s and spins. Then I sit down on the tire swing, pushing off the ground with my f eet, and lean back as the swing tips and moves jerkily under the uneven weight, then faster and faster. I pump my legs and stand up on the tire, clinging to the chains. They're creaking and groaning, and I really hope that they aren't the s ame chains\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 103\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ that held up the swing when I was a little kid. The tire swings higher and faste r. I feel like I'm flying. The joy and lightness of last night returns. I imagin e the white bird is above me, circling in the sky. But something tells me I will never see it again. It was a thing of mystery. And actually, in the light of da y, I wonder if it was even real. But I don't want to dwell on this question. All

I know, all that matters is that I saw it and felt its beauty and let that beau ty enter me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I rock back and forth on the tire swing, I think about when my dad used to ta ke Nate and me to the playground. We'd crowd onto the tire together, begging our dad to push us. Harder. Harder. As we picked up speed, Nate would throw back hi s head and laugh wildly, shouting and grinning. I loved his abandon, the way he could just laugh and laugh. Dropping my feet, I drag the swing to a halt. Then, I pull out my pencils and pad. I draw tiny Crosshatch strokes, filling in two li ttle children perched on the tire swing, calling up the pure joy in Nate's eight -year-old face, a dad pushing them from behind, his face lit with pleasure, as w ell, and I feel this twinge of happiness.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I spend the rest of the day visiting the middle school we attended together; the Wyatt cornfields, where we used to play spies; the Wilson Farm, where we would take hayrides in the autumn; the skating pond, where we'd go on the coldest days of winter, bundled into our parkas, skates strapped to our feet, and where Nate would sometimes move so quickly, he skimmed the surface of the pond like a bird on wing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 104\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I was small, probably six or seven, my parents let Nate take me to the pond , just the two of us, and I remember I was wearing so many layers -- undershirt, T-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, parka, ski pants -- that I could hardly move. And down I went in the middle of the pond, too laden with clothes to work my way ba ck onto my feet again. Then Nate, spotting me from the other side, flew to me, g rabbed my hands and pulled me upright. Walking me over to the benches at the sid e of the pond, he helped me peel off my sweatshirt, then, pressing a warm hand t o my tearstained cheek, he whispered, "Here you go, Squirt, you're all set."\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I draw and sketch and fill my pad with images of all the places we had loved tog ether. And I can feel the pieces of my heart coming back, glued together with a tenderness, as I revisit all these places, as I allow the memories in, as I let myself really see my town the way I used to when Nate and I were little. And I c an almost start to love it again. Almost.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When the sun begins to set, I still have one final place to go. The bent tree of f of the county road. It marks the spot where Nate was killed. Slowly, I head th rough the streets of Lincoln Grove to the county road heading east out of town. My feet move reluctantly on the pedals. I ride along the shoulder of the road an d soon come to the part of the guardrail that is dented and misshapen, that is b ent in the shape of a Honda Civic. I steer off the shoulder, into the grass at t he side of the road. As\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 105\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I near the big oak tree, my knees begin to shake, and I start to feel queasy.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You can do this," I mutter to myself. I swing my leg over the bike seat and wal k it the rest of the way.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then I crawl beneath the umbrella of tree branches, pausing at the foot of its w hite-gray trunk. I turn and run my hands over the coarse bark, letting my finger s find the evidence of Nate's accident. There it is. A bumpy seam at about waist height. The tree still bears the scar of his collision. The tree shares my hurt . Once again I bring out my pad and begin to draw. But I don't draw Nate or his Honda. I just sketch the tree without its scar, the road without any cars. It is a scene of peace.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I am done, I sit at the base of the tree and close my eyes, letting the coo l autumn breeze find my face. It is nearly dinnertime, and my parents are probab ly freaking out. I take a deep breath and dig my fingers into the dirt beside me . The moss and dead leaves that have fallen from the oak are soft and damp. Ther e is a sweet, familiar scent in the air, clinging to the ground. Here, now, I fe el close to Nate. Really close to him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Time to go. I pedal away from the oak tree, the disfigured guardrail, but I do n ot look back at any of it. I ride home.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The lights are on outside the house. Quickly, I push the kickstand down and go i

But she studiously avoids looking in my d . I can barely contain my excitement. Elizabeth Tillson. I should have left a note. I can't wait to get to Damian's studio and begin working on my art project. Not too sorry." I reply. I open the door and find my father sitting slumped in a chair. "Go wash up.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's only lunchtime. thinking Rachel will wave me over to join them. she's sitting farther back in the cafeteria at a different table. but a sense of urgency. My mother and I both pretend that nothing happened.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sorry. still not meeting my gaze.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can hear the television filtering down from the den. even when the walls shake around it. we're not fine out there. put my plate in the sink. her voice short and tight. put away my sketch pad a nd pencils. louder. Could you please come?" I hate myself for beggi ng.nside. What? I try to catch her eye." I do feel sorry. and repack my book bag with my schoolbooks. dinner is almost ready.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 106\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Where have you been? I was worried sick. I haven't done any homework. Then I return to the kit chen to sit with my mom in silence and eat a tasteless dinner of micro waved car rots and fish sticks. On Nate's project. I must have gotten here first." she says."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Clearly." she says. shut the door.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Cora. but it's not very satisfying .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I finish eating.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it?" He doesn't even turn to look at me. I get up from the table and run up the stairs. I dash upstairs and wash my hands and face.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ No response. but enough to be contrite. I can't breathe. My mom is in the kitchen."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Get out." I mumble.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel like he slapped me. with Josh and the Nasties and the o ther Nasty satellite. That is fine by me. I guess. and finish eating. why don't you come to the kitchen and eat dinner with Mom and me?" I try. I jerk my head around and step out of the doorway.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Well. though. I feel like if he doesn't meet my eye. She isn't there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad!" I repeat. the whole thing will implode -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 108\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Seven}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Monday stretches on and on. his head in his hands.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad. She looks up as I enter. and now Sunday night is breathing down my neck. "I was just riding my bike around. "Just go. her voice bleeding exhausti on and worry. pick up my fork. I pull the door shut hard behind me. doesn't take himself downs tairs to sit with us.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm fine here. so I go an d sit down.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Why does he get to behave that way when the rest of us have to pull it together and move on:1 He's my freaking father!\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I march back to the kitchen. of desperation\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 107\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ has seized me. I amble into the cafeteria and look for Rachel in our usual spot by the windows.our family will implode an d we'll never be able to put all the pieces back together. you should have." he states flatly. Without saying a word. She knows. and I feel a flash of ang er. It's awfully surprising when I do find Rachel. and go up to my room. She knows our family is falling apart around us. The house seems to shudder under the weight of the silence.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. she isn't going to broach the subject of our fight last night." he says coldly.

I just wanted to. the lonely hulks of canvas on easels. my head bowed.. as isolated and alone as I feel.on purpose. but it's useless. I walk meekly. She didn't want to sit with me at all. Not only the girl with the dead brother. I know she didn't sit at our table -. I think. waiting for the mockery I'm sure will follow. Her flaxen hair hangs loose today. not talking to anyone seated near her. the tree . Not real unhappiness. I draw a shaky breath o f gratitude. um. These image s are from a time\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 110\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ when I knew only love.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 109\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ against the crybaby lump that's grown there. When bad things happening. And when the bell rings. all the way down to the far end of the school to the art studio. will she laugh at me ? Helena looks at me expectantly with wide blue eyes. I eat my lunch quickly. my stomach is churning.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Is it possible to live. well. He doesn't look up. all of it from a time when I didn't know unhappiness. falling in untidy curls around her shoul ders." I step back and scrutinize Helena's expression.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "You're sort of making.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. I can see that they're drawings. my loser dom is confirmed.\par\pard\p .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The swimming pool. He's starin g intensely at the paper on the easel before him. Bu t Helena nods -. was unthi nkable." I can't finish. I gather my things a nd hurry to the library. And she's clearly embarrassed of m e.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I don't know. "W hat are they for?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I hesitate. And a s I step in and look all around at the brightly mismatched colors and images pla stered on the walls. when people leaving. and now. the baseball field. There is nowhere for me to go." Helena replies with a friendly smirk.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel like I'm drowning at the bottom of the deepest sea. unnerved by Helena's unwavering stare. Home is just as bad as school. "And.irection. I bet al l the other kids from our class. It's probably the lead item in the class gossip broadcast. Should I tell Helena? Will she think I'm weird. Thank goodness. He lena is standing in front of me. the park playground. a memorial to him?" Helena asks softly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Huh? Oh. barely chewing my sandwich. I become calm.of course she knows who Nate was. I prop up my sketch pad and turn to the drawings I made th e day before.. like. to exist in the world without any connection to another person? To not care about other people. My m ind won't stop spinning over the image of Rachel sitting at the end of the Nasti es' table. because even if I'm hoping s he'll invite me to sit with them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pull out my history book and pretend to do my homework.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes." I mutter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Art -.. through the hallways.I have art class for last period. but the girl with no friends.didn't w ait for me to get there -. When I reac h my stool and easel. um.. and avoiding my eyes.and she looks even more curious. When I'm done. to not care if other people care about y ou?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I look up and find Damian sitting across the room. she was at school here last y ear when\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 111\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ he died -. witnessed the whole humiliating debacle. his forehead crinkled as he c hews his lower lip and rubs a stick of charcoal between his fingers.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel has totally and completely ditched me. the girls I've known my whole life and was even once friendly with. and students spread a round the classroom. they're drawings of places my brother and I used to go.. whatcha working on?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I startle and surface from my creepy staring and ridiculously moody thoughts. the peanut butter lodging in my throat. curiously studying the drawing perched on my ea sel. He concentrates with such fero city. This is it. And all the time. just some drawings.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "He died last year. she repeats. "What do you think you will do with them?"\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ I desperately want to tell Ms. I g uess so. who he was. I tilt my head and cross my legs. Calico has crept up behind me. Calico. I crack my knuckles and twirl a stick of charcoal. yeah. "Cora. Her forehead creases in contemplation. Calico stands with one foot in front of the other. the empty road. to me. When I reach the last picture. But I don't know how to say the words. Cora." I tell them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I see. Ms. "you should put th e whole thing someplace where everyone can see it. let's see what you've been up to besides counseling Cora. I think a lot of people would like that. if you want to talk about anything. Helena speaks animatedly . Calico repeats quietly. This is not my secret to tell. Not comfortable. pausing to examine each drawing. Then he returns to his work. I turn back to my sketches and flip the pages slowly from one drawing to the ne xt." Helena smiles at me then moves back to her own easel." Helena says pointedly. As if he can feel my gaze on him." Helena finishe s for me. "These are really good. Can't stop fidgeting." she tells me bef ore moving over to Helena's easel. He and I share it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Your brother?" Ms. I turn toward Damian. behind my stool.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I lean back and study Helena and Ms. about the unfinished piece.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Ms. the twenty thousand pounds of seawater and sadness. bigger this time. I nod my head. reaching back to pull her hair into a bun.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. It surrounds my gut. she drew all these places that they used to go to together. Almo st reflexively. about Nate's artwork. She comes to stand next to Ms. leanin g back.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know what to do with them. waving her hands. Damian and I have a secret to share." A s I meet her eyes. Cora?" I jump in surprise. "You've been sitting here fidgeting for the past twenty minutes. "Do you think it's dumb?" Why do I always cry? Tears have filled my stupid traitor eyes. moving around to face me. "Come. Calico. Ms. fills in the ho llow space.lain\hyphpar}{ Another lump grows in my throat. the torn cuffs of my blue jeans.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well." she offers helpfully. looking down at my hands. silent as a panther. h ow to say them without feeling foolish. I sit ba ck on the stool and put a finger to my lips. "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I think it's a brilliant idea. as she listens to Helena describe her painting. the one of the tree. and how I want to sh ow the world what Nate did.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I think that's a lovely idea. Calico begins to carefully thumb through the pages."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I watch them talk. A sense of wa rmth floods through my\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 113\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ hands and arms and feet and legs and chest. "She's making a memorial to her brother.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Something lifts in my chest. their heads bowed close to the sket ch pad. I rest my elbows o n my knees and my chin on my clasped hands. I'm trying to figure it out. Helena." I look down at my feet. her curls escaping from their makeshift bun and bouncing aro . Calico says thoughtfully. you know where to find me. if you need any help.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm not sure. to each other. Calico agrees."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Really? I can only gape at her. It feels good." Ms. and --" I don't know how to finish. Damian is here. What's going on?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 112\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena shuffles over. What if they scorn me the way my mother did? And besides." Ms." I reply. I like the closeness. "Um.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "What's up. whenever you do figure it out. There is a fluttering twist in my gut. and he lets a tiny half grin find its way to his lips. Calico and Helena about the sculptures in Damian' s studio. he glanc es over. what are you going to do with them ?" she asks.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I turn back to my own work.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh my gosh. Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Um. But. It seems so unlikely. I'm allowed to sit with other peop le. Damian has always seemed tougher. "I'll meet you by your car. the argument with my mother. is something wrong?" Rachel asks. She has a guilty look. whereas I used to kn ow Nate as a sweet kid." I am seething. I say good-bye to Helena and Ms. as it pops open. when suddenly th e bell rings. Ms. the other\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ 114\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ furiously slashing at his pad with the charcoal. When I reach my locker. and I'm not paying attention. She jogs up to my locker and comes to an abrupt halt. My tho ughts aren't really making sense.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I swing through the gloomy corridors." I murmur as I push past him. I begin to feel nervous again at the prospect of going back there with him. let alone talk to you? Because you left me out to dr y? Hmm . fighting to catch her breath. one hand gripping the top of his easel. What does he think about me? Do es he think about me? I've been so caught up in learning about Nate. Then.. I grab my bo oks and notebooks and jacket and slide the books I don't need onto the shelf. I still don't move. "I'm sorry. an d slam the metal door shut. could it be any of that?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Huh. How will I transfer these sketches to the boards in the barn? What will I do with it all?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sit down again on my stool and stare some more.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Heavy footsteps pound the tile floor. my thoughts not really touchin g down. not noticing the other kids also pushing t hrough the halls. "God. what are you --" She stops talking a s she notices the ferocity of my glare.. I don't know what you're talking about.und her shoulders. I'm supposed to go to Damian's studio today. Calico and dash out of the art room with a nod of acknowledgment to Damian. She bends forward a bit." she scoffs. Rachel's chin begins to qui ver. then bends forward to conf er quietly with Helena. Cora!" Rachel's voice rings out through the fast-emptying hall. It's just. They jump around hazily. Then.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I spin around. you don't have to worry about having a baby bothering you anymore.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Excuse me. I'll get out of your way." Rachel says pleadingly.. too. I hope her mouth is hanging open. because. racing to get out of school.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Wait. Rach. my voice has turned lethally quiet. Rach?" I say deridingly. leaving Rachel behind to stare at my back. mayb e because you ditched me at lunch today and then didn't even have the guts to lo ok at\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Me? Or because you totally sold out and sat with the Nasties.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ I don't turn. They make an elegant picture. I look up once more at Damian. don't be such a baby!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know what. I hastily spin the lock around. "Please. wait!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stop but I don't turn to look at her. with a burst of energy." I turn around and face her.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm sorry.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. "Hey. Cora!" Rachel is out of breath. Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "Hey. her cheeks puffing\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 115\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ heavily. the blow of my father's refusal to eat with us come racing back to me. But her heart isn't in the sneer." I say coldly and push past her."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . harder somehow. "Oh. And I wanted\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 116\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ to sit with him. "I should have told you . "Why would something be wrong. Cor!" Rachel calls. Really. a nd. who couldn't even be bothered to look at you. I march down the hall. I am.. watching the numbers. Calico nods a couple of times. but Damian' s talent is remarkable. I freeze. Josh asked me if I was going to sit with them. and I didn't know wh at to say. who is hunched o ver on his stool.

He hasn't tried to talk to me or see me since he left. Just don't do it again." Damian greets me. do they know about all of this ?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian pauses." I murmur.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The drive to the Wright farm feels faster this time. I wipe roughly at my eyes. well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This feels like I'm turning a corner. Damian?" I start."\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "I'm sorry. How could I have known Damian all these years and never known any of this about him:'\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nah.or is it the third? -. actually.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As we pull into the pebbly driveway. Golden leaves carpet the lawns and sidewalks." I say as he closes the door after me. I wave back and go to join him by his car. It exp lains his coloring. "You know. My mind is whirring. eyes narrow. Winter is approaching. Okay?"\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel nods vigorously." I am smiling. but. I wonder if Damia n has told his mom.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look. it wasn't so cool for a white guy to be with a black woman. leaning up against the driver's -side door. half in and half out of his car door. back when he and my mom were together. a nd I guess he just wimped out. He parks the car in front of the barn . tilting and wheeling in the wind. If this is a turn ing point. with his bright gray eye s and light brown skin. His gray eyes ar e warm and they crinkle at the corners when he grins back at me." I answer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He looks dangerous. sounding cautious. Tears spring to my eyes for the second -. stopping awkwardly. I think about how my mom would ground me fo r life if she knew I was here. that I had disobeyed her again. he doesn't talk to me.I sigh. He is fiddling with his keys. I start to breathe again. I feel my hands and legs shaking m adly. But what exactly am I leaving behind? Nothing good.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ When I get outside. Geese rise in a V above us. He pull s himself back inside and settles into the seat for a moment. which can only be called beautiful. What is wrong with me lately?\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ I spot Damian's blue El Camino. walk away. He turns. I'll take it. we're pretty close.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yup. really.time toda y. don't be. " he says. and left. And there he is." Damian replies." I tell her.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. And we're off. and begins to head toward the barn a ." He picks at his thumbnail. probably like a big dork. then holds it open. but I am sort of happy to go with him. The way is familiar to me n ow and the houses in their graduating tumbled owned ness not as noticeable. "Thanks. now he looks more harmless. She works a lot. "Could I ask you something?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. I sure opened that can of worms all on my own. Damian looks up and f inds my eyes. and once I make this turn. I\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 118\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ don't talk to him. but I guess I wasn't prepared for the starkness of his answer. My mom's around. covering up overgrown grass and cracked cement. The sky is a moody gray. "My dad took off w hen I was just a baby. I realize. I can't go back . "I mean. and without another word. The trees are beginning to look naked. "It's fine. He moves around the massive blue body of the car to the passenger side and unlocks the door.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Where are your parents?" I ask timidly.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "Ready?" he asks. a lock of his hair liftin g gently in the wind. and my anger fades. I've got to go. and the fall breeze blows the scent of fallen leaves and coming rain across m y face. My stomach twists and jumps nervously. "Well. I think." Damian sh rugs his shoulders and tries to look nonchalant.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. gravel crunching beneath the tires.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 117\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. couldn't hack it. There. climbs out of the car. He gives a small wave and straightens up.

Somehow. looking up at him. "Here. We're virtually strangers. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah . I do not feel prepared for it. "Ther e's the pool."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks. Then I sit down in fro nt of\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 119\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ them. full of holes.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ The blanket is plaid and navy blue and scratchy. ragged shards of glass and wood stre tching and poking like skeletons. Damian moves off toward his workshop corner... crouching down beside me. Nate's sculptures stand like hulk ing hunchbacks. "Of course I can tell. The scent of horse and hay clin gs to it. The floor is cold and hard. left is we st.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Thanks. so I gaze around the barn. The map is like Swiss cheese.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 120\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shift the drawings around. figuring on top is north.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I hope I haven't made him feel self-conscious. are you thinking of putting this map on Nate's piece?" Damian asks..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm not really sure. seeming to jump away f rom the knotty gray pinewood boards. the ease with which he moves." He gestures at the drawings. to the boards Nate had nailed together. gazing thoughtfully at the drawings." he finishes. W hen he is gentle and kind like this. where's that?" Damian points to the sketch of the b ent tree. Damian's painting s cover every inch of space around the walls of the barn.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks. My eyes dart quickly back and forth between the white slips of pap er and the knotty boards leaning against the wall. trying to keep the surprise from my voice. and there are slashes and explosions of color. even though he's spent so much time in my house over the ye ars." I say. sliding over. if I'm going to hang out with him." I murmur. I pull my pad and pencils fr om my book bag. But.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 121\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. straight and tall and broad." I say. but I can recognize the unseen o rder of it. As he switches on the lights. I can't keep the amazement out of my voice. "I'm trying to figure out how to make a map. The topographies of his work range widely. "Here. al most reflexively. I just thought. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "These are really good. the curved and empty road.gain." he says. After I am settled on top of the blanket.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I enter the barn and follow him across the rickety floorboards. I arrange the pages in a loose layout of the tow n. and all of the anger he brought home with him begins to make sense." he replies." he s ays gruffly. I didn't mean to do that. not knowing what to say. I feel closer to Nate here. I catch the glint of recognition registering in his eyes.. I continue to move and play and plot with the pages. "Oh." Again. rusty bits of metal scraps.. though. and Damian brings a blanket over. I stare at his back. Until a shadow falls across them. the park.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "What are you thinking?" he asks as he continues to look over the pages on the g round. The high vaulted ceiling shelters a loft that looks to be filled with odd bits of furniture and farming equipment. I walk. right is east." I answer slowly."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "A map of Lincoln Grove?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes! You could tell?" Damian bounces on his toes as if his crouch has become un comfortable. "S it. All of the art in this space speaks to volcano es of fury and rage and heartbreak. again admiring h is grace.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Silently. not wa iting for my response. and closest to me is south. chang . He squints at it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I glance up to see Damian standing over me. Beginning is always hard.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ I tear the used pages out of my sketch pad and spread the drawings around me in a semicircle. making room on the blanket for him. I should know more about him.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh my gosh. Then he stands up in a single fluid m ovement and returns to his corner. "Well. I pull some of t he objects from the box and place them to the side. picking up slivers of wood."\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? Would you help me?" I ask. metal nuts.. I'm not trying to kick you out or anything.. turning to him ." he says. glancing over my shoulder at the pile of objects I've taken from the box. There are so m any possibilities. Damian reassures me. checking the time on my cell phone display over and o ver again. You know. We've pulled into my drive way."\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't worry about it. I made it. I'll put your stuff in a separate box. then open the door. if I do. This is cool. Same time tomorrow?" He grins wickedly at me. I'll take you home." I mutter anxiously. "What should I do with all this stuff?" I ask."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 123\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I think you're safe. That would be something new.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of course.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I begin to rifle through the box.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Um. carrying a battered-lo oking cardboard box. Take whatever you wa nt. a pane of glass. smiling up at him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I can't get caught again.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 122\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I get so caught up in the thousands of thoughts that are whirling through my bra in that I forget to keep track of the time. a small box fi lled with buttons and another filled with dried marigold heads. but do you have to get back hom e?" he asks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I was thinking that."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We quickly extinguish the lights and unplug the little electric heater." When he sees the wo rried look on my face." he says."\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Well. "Here.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I nod.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Sure. It's like I've been shocked back to life. twitching nervou sly in the passenger seat. I know I'm acting like a big freak." He strides away again." I reply. no!" I shout. putting the box down on the ground beside me. thank you so much!" I say. you could sketch these scenes onto the boards. I want it to look like it fi ts with the base and all the rest of his stuff." he counters matter-of-factly. I feel as though my veins are throbbing and pulsing with idea s and art. "Don't worry. Come on. but I feel like it needs something more. I am re ally going to have to be much more careful in the future. and there isn't any sign of my parents. "Thanks again! See ya!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian rockets out of the driveway and speeds off down the street. a one-way traffic sign." he offers.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Just leave it here. then rac e outside into the chill evening air.ing the subject. He comes back shortly." Damian replies with a chuckle."\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "Oh. "Here's some scraps of stuff that Nate and I collected."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian props his chin on his fist. no one ever comes in h ere.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sprint up the steps and into my bedroom. "It's almost a quarter to five. "They'll lock me up for good. Damian is suddenly beside me again. hey. I turn to wat ch him go. Multimedia . I cannot risk getting caught. shards of plastic. steel rods. I jump into the car. and returns to his corner.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. except me. I throw all of my belongings down on . and Damian brings the El Camino roaring to life. "For everything." I call as I climb out of the car and begin to trot up the path to the fr ont door. then paint over them. no! What time is it?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian pulls out his cell phone. you can look around and see if there are any scraps you want to use. "I just have no idea how to do it. turning to him. blowing out a relieved breath.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.

Are you?"\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "I haven't decided yet. When my mother gets home. Just with Rachel. a refuge.poor me.with my c harcoal. "So.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . ah.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ Every night for the last week I've had to spend at least an hour on the phone wi th Rachel. and it breaks my heart. the pond and farms. in our own work. I'm trying my best to push them far from my thoughts. that he walks like a cat. an uneasy peace. I am going to have to talk to my mom about it again soon or give it up. and pasting down various odds and ends to give these scenes texture.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Rachel had heard that. I join her in the kitchen for dinner. In a halfhearted voice. I am too busy to worry about it. I know the deadli ne for the application is quickly approaching." he comments.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. But the application is there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A couple of times. and pull out the drawing tablet and begin to sketch. and tinkle of the ice cubes. then nudges me with his shoulder.the whole town -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I do not tell her about how much I look forward to going to the Wright barn. thankfully. All of these thi ngs feel private. but the dance. b ecause the notion of listening to Rachel moan about Josh liking another girl wou ld be just unbearable. She kind of twisted my arm.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Wait -. Not yet. That he seems to be the loneliest person I've ever met.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I have also neglected to tell Rachel about the application papers for the summer art program that are still lying at the bottom of my backpack. anyway. The thought of it fills me with a sadnes s. Nor do I tell Rachel that I think Damian has the most beautiful hands I've ever seen. Josh doesn't have a date. oh my gosh. glancing up at him. I do not feel knotted up inside. the park -. our school." He smiles at me. she asks me how my day was." He grins. are y ou going to Homecoming on Saturday?" he asks. I haven't told a nyone about them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Just another week. I've added the scenes I sketched and am dabb ing spots of paint. My head is bursting with music and colors and ideas. I never would have expected Damian to c are about something as school-spirity as Homecoming. don't I get bored? I haven't told her about the days at Damian's studio. plotting out my approach to the map. And wh en I hear my dad come home. Yeah. which seem able to see absolutely everything about me. How those couple of hours in his studio feel\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 125\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ like an escape. trap ped like a prisoner by my mean mom. strangely. Rachel has asked what I do in the afternoons -. I've la id out the board flat on the cement floor of the barn. anyway.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 126\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian comes to sit beside me on the blanket. that he has the cleare st eyes.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ 124\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Eight}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The week of Homecoming is finally here. I'm back in Damian's studio. manages to distract me. and it weighs on my mind like an anchor. the familiar slam of the door. listening to her babble about hairstyles and who is going with whom a nd flowers and Josh and Josh and Josh.what? Damian Archer has just asked me about the dance? He thinks about d ances? I am completely caught off guard.the floor. "This is looking really good. really. I kneel over it. I guess there will be peace between us tonight. gluing bits of fabric or wood. For the places on my list. Using the blue plaid blan ket as a pad for my knees. life. rolling his eyes good-naturedly. And I don't want to share them with Rachel. I am very relieved to hear this news.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. How we work mostly in comfortable silence. The s occer guys are going as a group instead. and I answer in an equally halfhearted way. and I return to the map. each of us caught up in our own world. Precious. drawing in outlines of the roads and houses. This is good.

I don't look back as I run up the path to the front door." I'm trying to sound confident. What are y ou playing at?. "I'd hate for you to miss it. I'm on it. and I'm. sor ry. Damian still won't speak. I mean.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Oh -." He lopes off to his workshop corner. I'm happy to ." he mutters darkly.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ I rock back on my stool as Ms. I continue to draw sketches for my map. red.not yet. twisting around to face Damian." I say." He won't meet my gaze. "Probably no one will even wan t me there anyway." Damian suddenly looks serious. I can't get out of this car fast enough. and try hard not to look at Damian." Damian stands and brushes off his pants. I shouldn't complain about this stuff. I fumble with the door handle." I answer nervously.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "The deadline is coming up. I hear the El Camino snarling down the street. if you want me to look at your portfolio before you send it. Y ou could cook eggs on them. I suck. "Well."Well. I feel like my insides are at war: My brain is screaming out. He was your best friend. desperately hoping I sound cheeky. how do I fix this?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. Not to you. "It's okay.. Calico says. I can't. tracing his finger on the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 127\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ dusty floor. and d oesn't speak to me for the rest of the afternoon. uh. I hope you'll c ome."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. Calico asks pointedly. Cora. "Guys who help their best friends die in a car wreck and then walk away from it aren't really so sought-after. suddenly coming up behi nd me. my ears heat up. Why did I just say that? How a m I ever going to get out of this mess?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ For now. isn't it?" Ms. "I can't imagine what it's like for you. and I hop out as quickly as possible. Damian eases the car into my driveway." I repeat softly ." I say. I'm almost done. Damian. I know it's got to be hard. covers his ears with headphones. Maybe he'll ask me t o go with him? Maybe? My heart is beating so fast. My face heats up again as I\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { 128\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ remember the feel of the words on my tongue. Right? Oh. whispers. "have you sent in the application yet?" She is a sneaky one. shattering the thick silence. When I think about what I said to him. tingling with hope.uh -. I'll definitely take you up on that.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I squint my eyes and peer at the drawing in front of me. I've colored in the par k meadow and the playground with oil pastels.. while my gut. I can't imagin e what it's like for you." Ms. what will help you make up your mind?" I ask.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. though. Finally. The children clambering on the tir e swing are practically\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 129\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ ." I speak up.."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When we're back in his car. I roll them around. I want to die. "So. "I'm sorry. he's right. "But I know it's hard."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I want the driveway to split open and swallow me. Probably failing miserably.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Why do I feel like I'm two different people lately?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know. then finally it opens. thanks. The drive feels like it la sts for hours. What do I do ? Is he just never going to speak to me again? Do I want him to? I mean. I cannot believe I said that to him. Calico walks away. I mean." she offers. I'm not exactly the most popular guy at school the se days. "I hope you'll come to the dance. Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "In case you haven't noticed." He looks at me. and I just know a big. I'll ignore it." he says. Do I? Will he?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ In art class the next day. e mbarrassing stain is crawling over my cheeks.

and funky style. and I said I would."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. throwing an arm around my neck. well.."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I guess so." Helena's face lights up with a big smile. gesturing to Ms. whom I've never met.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey." Something relea ses in me. Her very cool.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Nice. even if I'm too embarrassed to admit it to Helena. but I've seen him wait for her outside of art clas s. It is stunning -."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's amazing!" Helena exclaims. cheer up." I tell her. nothing. " Helena says with a dry grin. "Hey." I say. are you going to the Ho mecoming dance tomorrow night?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My gaze flicks to Damian." I smile as the bell rings and we begin gathering up our materials." I reply. I'm glad you're co ming.bursting to life. She points to the drawing on my easel. fl ames of orange and red fighting tongues of violet and olive." Cam is her boyfriend. just as arty and beautiful as Helena.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "Yeah." I tell her gluml y.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Doesn't sound like nothing. I just know. "I told my friend Rachel I 'd go just to keep her company while she moons over some guy. I see. actually. "How about your painting?" I ask. "Well. I study Helena's profile. I know she won't. and there's no way my mom will ever let me go.an argument of color and texture.I wish I could tell her how mixed up I feel about Damian. whose back is t urned to us as she speaks quietly with another student. what's up?" I respond."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. but I don't have t he heart to tell her that."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Maybe your mom will change her mind?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. Or just tell her about Damian and his paintings and his studio in the barn and o ur afternoons there. "This one is g oing really well. But I don't have a date or anything.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's in London." Helena's voice swims from behind me. She is gorgeous." Helena is trying to comfort me. very cute bo yfriend." I say doubtfully."\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Ah." Helena says sympathetically. This is a tricky one.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean? Why not?" Helena asks. I'll let you know when the Chicago Art Institute is banging down my door. well. When that was me. But the truth is. "This is amazing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. Calico asked me to apply to one of those summer art programs she told us about on the first day.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 130\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hmmm .\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? Have you asked?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. He is dark and handsome.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What was all that about?" Helena asks. I am not surpr ised that they're together. It's futile. A par t of me is wistful -. "I'll think about it and we'll figure out what you should do. I can't go. I wouldn't waste too much time thinking about it. I meant to ask you. As usual. I whip around to see her staring at me curiously. perfect skin.. I thoug ht I could do anything. at least. It is a relief to finally tell someone about the application." I groan. he's completely wrapped up in his painting. standing up to examine the canvas on Helena's easel. I'll be there with Cam. I'm pretty happy with how all of the studies I've done so f ar for the map are turning out. big blue eyes. puzzled. I wish I could tell her about what I said to him when I got . wriggling uncomfortably out of her grasp.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. "You should exhibit this somewhere." Helena rejoins. And she flipped out. mor e alive every day. when I was one of those little kids. with her flowing blonde curls. We seem to have arrived at an unspoken agreement not to speak to each other in a rt class.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 131\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. And the map itself is growing more colorful. Calico. Not to give the other students even a hint of our knowing each other. Ms.

and the floats constructed by each class would circle slowly around the gravel track that encompassed the football field. not when he's sitting twenty feet away. surrounded by all of our neighbors and friends.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . upbeat and uplift ing. Especially not he re. and I look up into the bleachers.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Slowly. the principal drove past.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This year. leading the cheering of t he onlookers. families tucked beneath wool blankets. The band would pla y familiar marches that were rousing and made us clap our hands and cheer. leading the homemade floats. Homecoming. as co nvertible muscle cars with the previous years' homecoming courts. To day. Cheerleaders in their black-and-red uniforms.. It was alw ays so much fun.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My family went to the Homecoming game every year. I'll draw Kenya. down the street. something leads me out to the garage to my bike. anchored by the enormous sousaphones th at wrapped around their players. the tall grasses of the Serengeti Plain. the school pre sident. This is one of those soaring music montage scenes. I gaze around in wonder. the day of the game.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pause in the entryway. Surprise. A film about h igh school." he had explained in a very serious tone. finally. A white vinyl mat painted with more leav es of ocher. What about watching two teams scra bble\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 132\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ around on a muddy field suggested coming home? His voice would grow soft with pa tience and take on this warm timbre when he answered my little-kid questions. I remember asking my d ad why a football game was called Homecoming. the sparkling silver crown would be place d on the queen's inevitably poofy blonde head. The four of us would huddle to gether on the bleachers.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But before the dance comes the football game. Homecoming used to be the time when I most felt like I belonged -to my family. I walk my bike over to the cha in-link fence surrounding the football field. our family isn't going. This is my first high school dance. but the Homecoming parade and the crowning of the court was wonder ful. But I just can't bring myself to open up to her about him. yellow. to this town. are bouncing around in front of the stands. pushing th e pedals up and down and around as fast as I can." which was why most of the residents of Lincoln Grove came out for the LGHS Home coming game. I loved to watch the marching band. I back away from the field. and scarlet has been laid down to protect the basketb all court floor from the hundreds of feet. I've never felt more on the outside than I do today . I'm dying to ask if I've made a hopeless fool of myse lf. the black-and-red badger pennants waving in the air. The memory of the four of us sitting. I race home. Then I take a breath and look at the map over my desk. "Homecoming is a celebration fo r everyone who has ever gone to the school to come home and cheer for the team. once the parade had completed its circuit. laughing and filled with a warmth in the cold No vember air squeezes my chest like a vise. and glides out of the classroom. would be cal led onto the field. It is surreal. rust. Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate in mittened hands.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 134\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The gym shimmers with flashing strobe lights and gold-and-crimson leaves that da ngle from the ceiling on fishing lines.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'll see you at the dance!" Helena calls. like Barbie dolls. Then . jump on my bike and pump my legs. It was always raucous. the court would be announced. The same faces are there. and my dad always brought a thermos of hot chocolate. squeezed together. Maybe more than a movie it feels like a dream. which my mom would pass around in steaming cups to keep us warm. a herd of wildebe ests drinking from a river. Escape . "R abbit.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yet.. and t hese girls who looked so glamorous and grown-up.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 133\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ presented with red roses and. tiny skirts fluttering in the wind. Oh my gosh. I never paid much attention to the game. We'd sh are blankets. It feels like I've stepped into a movie. surprise. and into the high school parking lot. and open my sketc h pad to a blank page.out of his car yesterday.

Come on." I glance down at my dress. I feel moved. How does she not feel terrified? I'm pretty sure my o wn terror must be written plainly all over my face. all the colors bleed together. We link arms and thread our way through the throng of people a nd onto the dance floor. and my steps feel jerky. embarrassingly aware that I've been o gling him and staring like a total nut-job. blending lik e watercolors. and khakis. I have the sense t hat I am being watched. Rach. Some look around themselve s self-consciously. Too pretty.fewer -. And just a little bit. focused on m y own. The dress is too good for me. others wearing button-down shirts with ties and khakis. we step farther into the gym. like the gentle stirring of a bow over the strings of a violin. "Thanks. following Rachel. including Josh. and . rolling my eyes. but here. She reaches over and squeezes my hand. please!" Rachel insists. Di d he come for me? Oh my.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ At the same time. to avoid m ixing. My heart is racing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why? It's more packed. She tightens her grip on my arm." I answer. dancing with Kellie and Macie. but n ot seeing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. when suddenly.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Want to dance?" Rachel asks. let's go farther in. he looks cute.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's so crowded!" I have to shout to be heard over the music." Rachel says. wait. He's wearing a crisp white shirt. others in flowing chiffon and clinging satin. He smiles and dips his head. I find Damian's gray eyes across the dance floor. I feel as though I am swimming underwater. tugging me in the opposite directi on. I tear my eyes away. and everything comes back. and raggedy sneakers. So do you. Really.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { There is such beauty in this room -. filmy fins of dresses in all colors. some in suits. The noise. Gone are the messy T-shirts." I try to guide Rachel over to a hole in the tangle of bodies. The bass backbeat throbs in my ches t. here's som e space. though . Cor. though. "You lo ok great. and I send him a nod and a grin in return.The guys are barely recognizable. some sparkling with sequins and delicate beads. echoing in reverberations through the floor and walls of the gymnasium. on the dance floor. The transformation of the girls. Even in my green dress. a fa ke. More kids stand in an un even line ringing the dance floor. They are all dressed up. Maybe it will be all right. scruffy blue jean s.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We continue to push our way through the crowd.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I suck in a breath and turn to Rachel. He came! A million thoughts are rioting in my mind.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 136\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure. checking to see if others are watching them. and the press of warm bodies seem to fall away.look truly enthralled by the music and the dancing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 135\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I think Rachel senses my anxiety. I find him. Every day these kids do everything they can to keep apart. who is standing beside me looking as exci ted as I've ever seen her. still iden tifiable in formal wear. Kids are clustered in tight circles.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "No. swaying to the music.such hope. But I feel like a fraud." I sigh. they float through the gym. Others -. Like exotic fish.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then. The picture is so m uch prettier without the boundaries of geek and jock and loser.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Holding hands. I watch as the usual groups cling together. the music. is truly incredible. looking on wistfully."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I squeeze her hand back and whisper. a lave nder tie."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But I can see Josh over there. the echo of the din muffled and far away. I am certain I do not fit in here. The grass green silk swishes daintily around my knees. which I still love. It's almost tangible. My neck grows itchy and tig ht. I follow Rachel until we're just out side\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 137\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the circle of Nasties and soccer jocks. And that makes me a little bit sad. "Look.

I must admit. dance with me!" Rachel begs. Because I am lonely. His eyes are moving over the dance floor. A slow song. we turn to face each other. Then I remember the bonfire and the lunch table abandonment."\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ I freeze.I crane my neck. The palms of my hands tingle against the smooth fabric of his shirt. I'd li ke to. "Yes. it feels right. It's weird to see him without his cus tomary trench coat. "I have to go to the bathroom. like to dance?" He looks nervous.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Slowly. younger. "Go on to the bathroom without me. I am jittery and nervous. what did he say?\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. he looks vulnerable. Wait. Cor. I follow Damian back into the crush of b odies on the dance floor. um. Cora. I feel a stinging heat wash over my face. That's curious.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. I look up quickly to see Dami an blocking our path from the dance floor.do we fit together. His touch is soft. but I had never actually expected him to come to the dance.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ Enough." I reply. My stomach flutters nervously. let's face it. She wraps h er fingers around my wrist and squeezes. and I hope -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then suddenly. My limbs loosen and my feet un stick and I begin to dance. looks amazing. I realize I've been standing leadenl y in the middle of the dance floor.\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ I can't sense him watching me now. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on. I had hoped. probably looking like a weirdo. I bring my arms up to his shoulders. I can't get used to t he warmth of his hands on my back. b ut as they settle on me. uh. as though he's shed his battle armor. trying to keep Damian in my line of sight. Rachel. Josh has w rapped his arms around Pearl O'Riley's waist. but this feels very\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ different." Damian begins. um --" I look back at Rachel. Like a vise.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I close my eyes and let the music in. Looking up at Damian I say.he came to the dan ce because of me.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ready?" Rachel asks.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ He looks very serious.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. Just stop thinking. I see Rachel's gaze dart over to Josh. and draws me nearer to him. with such care and gentleness. rumbling voice interrupts us.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on.and a pine forest. I'll see you after. We've barely started. And Damian. "would you. whose mouth is hanging wide open. but my stomach feels like it is dancing. There must be about a hundred butterflies in there. okay?" Without waiting for a response. Damian wraps\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ 139\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ his arms around my waist." a deep. I don't pay any attention to the Nasties. I really do hope -. too. His cheeks are duste d with the tiniest hint of stubble. I tell myself. and I defrost real quick. and begin to steer her from the dance floor. scuffing his toe on the vinyl mat. maybe -. but I' m afraid I might look the same way. Cor. It's sad. Pathetic. I try not to pay attention to Rachel or to the longing so apparent in her eyes. Carefully. then down to the ground." I say gently. planting her feet before starting to dance.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 138\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on." Rachel whines. I f I'm going to be perfectly honest with myself. He's disappeared." I turn to Rachel. dancing. or to the fact that their circle remains closed to Rachel and me. but I still feel completely self-conscious. We've sat this close inside the barn. I notice.oh. and he smells of something warm and spicy -nutmeg. do we look like a couple? Do Damian and I look graceful together? Are the others even looking at us? Is everyone thinking about Nate and what a pair of freaks we are?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . let it fill me up. yes. What do we look like to all the other ki ds at the dance -. I know. My voice trembles. the tempo of the music shifts and the lights dim further.

I wonder if I've hurt him.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "I think your friend is waiting for you. Like two empty halves of a seashell. and now you're associating with a freak. A thundercloud seems to have descended over her. "Who are you to call Damian a loser? And who cares if everyone saw us dance? He's my fri end." Rachel practically spits. "I'm done. turning in circles. my voice quaking with sobs. I pull my cell phone from my purse and." My heart is squeezing and ex panding and jumping and maybe breaking apart just a little bit. louder this time. "What did you say?" I couldn't have heard her right . not looking back.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We're both lonely. "Mom?" I ask. blinded by tears. I slow to a walk and I realize tha t Helena is streaking toward me. What is your problem? Is it that you're jealous?" Rachel flinches."\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 141\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I repeat. every piece of me is aware of him. as I realize what Rachel is saying. and I run outside. she takes my hand in hers. Did she really say all those ugly things? \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Tears prick the back of my eyes. and I can't bring my eyes up to his face. acting lik e a giant weirdo. tilting his chin toward t he press of kids on the edge of the dance floor. I ke ep sprinting down the corridor. his eyes darken ing. smiling a small. my ears. I don't know where to look.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "I can't believe you.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm sorry?" I say stupidly. I can almost be lieve that his loneliness has run away." I say. What just happened? Rachel. but I pr ess on. I don't need her." Rachel hisses. mysterious smile down at me . in front of eve rybody.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When the song winds to an end. You're just a freak and a baby. too. Done. You walk around school. Damian and I quickly drop our arms and step apart . what to say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 140\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks.these awful names? Rachel? Well." Damian speaks hesitantly.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ I stand rooted to the spot. Why does love al ways seem to go with the sad things? Damian and I do not look at each other as w e sway.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. my cheeks burning as Rachel's words burn in my mind. because he was there dancing with Pearl! Is that your problem?"\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "You're my problem. "Could you come pick me up?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I'm crashing through the halls. faces\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 142\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ are blurry. Everyone saw. Freak. someone calls my name. her corn silk curls flying out behind her." Damian says. and I don't need to be associated with that.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. For this moment.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You heard me. "C ."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "See you. an impatient l ook on her face." Rachel's eyes glow with a nger." Rachel shouts. What a monster! I can feel my neck. Rachel of all people c alling me a freak -. "Thank you. and I hear my name shouted again. Damian's face drops. Weirdo.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? What did I do?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I can't believe you went out there and danced with that waster. I should probably go to her. and for a moment.. making my voice sound bright as I come to her side. They're calling you a freak." I whisper back."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian vanishes into the crowd. with shaking fingers. You danced with that loser in front of the whole world.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "All right. either. dial my mother. of his closeness." he says. "You're just jealous. aren't you? Because Josh didn't ask you to dance.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You're welcome. I sigh and make my way to Rachel ." She whirls around and marches away. My heart hurts. Her face is filled with concern and as she reaches me. Yet. and you know what? Pe ople are talking about you.The song is languid and speaks of love and loneliness and loss. Rachel is there. "You are.." I reply. "I'll see you around.

Especially Helena.caring. to make up and take ba ck all the hurtful things I said. I don't know Damian that well. I threw my be autiful green dress on the floor." I tell her as I pull back. I'm not ready.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks. Have a good night. Cor. Thank you.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shudder.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wipe my nose with the back of my hand and swat away the tears dripping down my cheeks. I just s aw you two dancing and thought maybe he'd said something to hurt -." she begins. Helena puts her arm around my shoulder and draws me into an embrace. "Hey. her mouth pursed. but no one is out to get Damian. she calls. like it's filled with revulsion or loathing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora. Because I don't want to dress up and hang around with the Nasties an d wear makeup and hook up? Does\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 145\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ this also brand me a freak? If it does.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Are people really calling me a freak? Do I look or act like a freak? The word it self sounds scary. I'm just going to go home now. and after I danced with h im. are you okay? What happened?" she asks. There's so much malice in it . maybe. and my eyes narrow with the long e. "I'm sorry. I roll the sh ape of the word around in my mouth. maybe.." I sigh.ora. "I'm fine. then peering at me searchingly. I am lying in bed.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Helena. " I have to get back soon. she's shorter than I am and slight. really.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why does everyone hate Damian? It's like the whole school is out to get him!" I snarl. except I hate to think that I'm messing up the dance for anyone else. Cam awaits." I say. and in her sea-colored blue dress of filmy organza with iridescent beads sewn onto it.Sorry . Turning back to me. well. I just saw you two dancing and thought maybe something had happened between you.. so be it." I don't know what to say. "What a jerk!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 143\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. "I'm s-sorry. Even though she's older." Helena says. I'm sorry." s he finishes lamely.. For any of it. "but he's always seemed like a nice guy to me. you look really pretty. "Are you all right? "\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why? Cor. whose life was also turned upside down since Nate's .. she stutters. Freak. You know?" she says. blanket pulled to my chin." she says. of hatred.. and don't be sad!"\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 144\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Nine}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The viciousness of my exchange with Rachel at the dance plays itself over and ov er again in my mind. my supposed best friend reamed me out for it. It is an ugly word. where it remains."\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look. and so it feels like being hugged by a fairy. sick. Part of me aches to pick up the phone and call her. I've become an object of disdain. Thank you for listening and for -.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ And a baby.. But as the cruelty of her part in the fight co mes back to me. The way the mouth puckers. in people's voices when they speak it. what happened to you? Did Damian do something?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ When I whip my head around to glare at her. smiling. We're friends. she looks like she could be a water nymph. t o form the f the disgust that gets spit out with the final hard k. " Helenas blue eyes are flashing with hurt and frustration. crumpled like a piece of gar bage. not really sure why I'm apologizing. Does death mark t hose it touches this way? Are the real victims of Nate's accident those of us wh o were left to survive him?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My thoughts turn to Damian. Trouble. She sq ueezes my hand then ducks into the girls' room. "I just.. I'm just.. but not a bad guy. I don't know what you're talking about.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Freak."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. I'm fine. I get burned up with anger again.

Sometimes I feel I am filled wi th hope. with no chance to see what lies beyond the highway. Why? Why didn't they want anyone to know what they did . carefully. I study the delicate s plashes of line and color. I have to get to London. I have plenty of room. He sounds happy to hear from me. her fea r.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Balanced on the roof. and a wistful-ness in her bearing.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Maybe boys just don't manage it as well. I stand up. I think of Nate. I hear her opening cabinets and running wat er in the sink. but my knees are knocking.. Nate captured her humanity.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. with so much longing and desire and hope. what they cared about?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can't imagine life without my art. Barren and cold and terrible. how carelessly he pulled himself out through th e window. I do not want to be trapped in this tiny town.his silence is worse than my mother's shrill anger. it's me. I throw one leg over the windowsill and pu ll my body through the window after it. at the same time? I suspect that this might be the case. but my mom is still roving around in the kitchen. "Just what? I h ave no idea. actually.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I need to talk to someone about all of this. that I will turn out to be who I want to be. I open my window. as well? Is everybody in the whole world walking around feeling frightened all the time? Full of the sense that life promises so many possibilities. I can meet you. beyond the county road.."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No problem. And hope is a flimsy thing. like that Siberian tundra. Her profile is rendered with such g race and care. I need to get out of t his house. very relieved. I wondered if you would meet me at the diner? I just. Will he think it's weird that I'm calling him no w -. watching tiny football games with the same people year after year." I reply." Ah.death. He and Nate worked so hard over the past three years to make sure no one knew about their artwork.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh. I reach for my cell phone and again thank Damian silently for\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 147\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ programming his number into it. Then. Was Nate afraid of this.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hello?" His voice sounds muffled. It would feel so empty. It is a portrait of Julie.after the dance? I begin to dial." I say. what's up?" he answers. I figure all I can do is hope that life will turn out the way I wa nt it to be. I think -. the hint of eyelash es.. don't handle all the pain and worry and need as well as girls do. Has to be convinced. look out on the roof a nd down at the ground below. He was so angry all the time. My whole body is shaking. yet we're totally petrified of missing them. I need help. I hook my arms and legs around the pipe and let myself slide to the . I reach under my bed and slide out the bun dle of Nate's watercolor paintings.or. gruff. Have I joined Nate's rebel ranks? Or may be I'm already way past that point. I've never snuck out this way before. Had Nate been hopeful? I can't be sure. um. nervously. My mom has to see.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. Twenty minutes?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sounds great.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dannan? Hi. It's frightening facing the fact that things may or m ay not work out as you'd\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 146\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ like them to. Cora. That someday I'll reach a point where all the wishing and dreaming and hoping finishes in something grand. There's something about the edge of her nose. I pause when I come to an image of a young woman star ing out a window. the capriciousness of hope as w ell as girls do. her very huma nness. Leafing through them. at least he doesn't sound horrified. So maybe boys don't deal with the unpredictability. I'm just. her bitterness. I am such a d olt! "I'm sorry.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nothing would be more dreadful than being stuck in Lincoln Grove for the rest of my life -. I have to get out. But what can I do to change her mind? Is it hopeless? My dad will certainly be of no hel p -.like my parents. that I'll accomplish a ll that I want to do. too? Is Damian scared . "I guess I just want to talk to someone. To you. filled up with resolution. I teeter down the length of the roof until I come to the gutter. With a deep breath.

I spe ak quietly. housing. "I'm thinking that I have to get out of here. I glance up quickly and find Damians steady gray eyes on me. They have a class on mapmaking.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. toward the diner. what's up?" Damian asks casually.I've been th inking about this stuff.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ Twenty-three minutes later.something unlike anything I've ever done before in the fourteen years of my life. I'm lucky she hasn't started home schooling m e." I stop to take a sip of my milk shake. Not in a million years.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ A sigh is like a salty yellow triangle. "Well."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. Cora. The orange-and-yellow vinyl benches are cracked and s tained.. Ever since -. about all of us. a lot. his grin widening. Damian and I are tucked into a booth at the back of the diner on Union Street.you know -."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Uh-huh. what are you thinking exactly?" Damian prods. the long countertop. the catch is the program is in London.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Are you sure? Did you ask?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really. Look." I respond. something dangerous -. the air."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sounds good so far." he says vehemently. of taking her crazy rules all the time." I twirl the straw some more. "Cora.it's not like we make a run to the liquor sto re before you drive me home!" I wail. Why can't I be strong -." Damian adds. checking to make sure I haven't caught\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 148\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ my parents' attention. The smell of cleaning fluids and grease and stale coffee coats the red f ormica table. a coward. Brai n freeze . Think abou t it -. I land easily and. but I'm too much of a wimp. out of her sight." Damian directs with a half grin. to do anything about it. the cold sending a shot of dull pain to the center of my forehead.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The thick shake travels up the straw slowly. brushing off the front of my coat and pajama bottoms. watching the milk froth and mix wi th the ice cream. He is drinking coffee: one sugar. you know?" I look up at Damian.ever since Nate died -.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm not sure.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ 149\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The beginning? I don't even know where that is anymore. thinking we were .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's just so unfair! Seriously -.like Nate wa s? He always stood up to her." he says questioningly.meals. and I wince when it finally fills m y mouth. He's so much more grown up than I am. then I sprint down the driveway. no milk. he speaks. And I don't know what to think. she wants to recommend me for one. " just want to\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 150\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ run away."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. Calico told us about some summer art programs?" I wait for him t o nod yes. I shake my head. start from the beginning. "You were always stronger than Nate. "I'm just so sick of not standing up to he r.it's like she's convinced I'm going to do something stupid. everything. All expenses are paid except fo r the travel -. She probably wasn't prepared for that o ne.all Nate and I could do was act like royal nightmares. All together it isn't more than a twelve-foot drop. But I can start here: R emember how Ms." I smirk. ever let me go. ever since school started -. disbelief seeping into my voice. well. you've always been the st ronger one. does it surprise you? My mom doesn't want to let me o ut of the house.ground. She gave me the application and everything.." A heavy sigh escapes me. you're not weak. "I'm just having all these thoughts about Nate and my parents and what I want to do. curiosity leaking into his voice. how appropriate.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I swirl a straw around in my chocolate shake. I look around. And there is no way my paren ts will ever. His gray eyes have narrowed as he cons iders my words. you have gotten in a car with me. then. I look down into my shake again. But really. as the pain subsides. I asked.

and I care. stop! Please. I'm also shaking. They don't think I'll ever\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 152\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ change. a scalding heat climbing up my ears. "but everybody -..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He smiles ruefully. It's over. to drive really fast. All Nate and I ever wa nted was to do something that would matter. and really we were just a pair of jerks. Nate is dead. including ourselves. And nobody gives a crap about garbage that comes from human garbage.dead and a deadbeat. real. it's not okay. We were just scared. To every body. as if he is pleading with me to understand. "It's not over. You could show he r your paintings. ex-friends -.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "No. "What about Ms. Probably work in a garage or something. And look how we ended up -. I'm over. It was easier to be crazy. too." His brow creases and he won't meet my ga ze.or any of it. I' ll never do anything.have pretty much given up on me. He takes a sip. to like art.. You should show them to somebody.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Could I be stronger than I thought?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's okay. well. cupping his hands around the mug as though offering it in prayer." he murmurs."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What are you talking about?" I ask softly. I'll never go to art school. and Damian looks down into his\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 151\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ coffee cup. to do so much.. it's not too late!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . So much. Listen to me. "Damian. defeated. Can't you see?" Damian's voice grows higher." Damian replies bitterly. a wave of panic and s orrow engulfs me.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ My eyes are filling with tears.. Or. my neck. because it's garbage. You're so talented. "We didn't know that we could be creative without destroying everyth ing around us .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "I -.. I don't think I feel like I ha ve to destroy anything to do it. even my friends. Damian. to be talented. the less everyone expected from us. Your art is not garbage .. But we screwed up bad." I cry. and it's my fault." I am desperate.." When he just shakes his head. to care about anything like grades or col lege or the future. You know? We had to be tough.. "And we couldn't just be. You're only seventeen. But we were really just cowards. to make art. And we didn't know .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't you get it? We put on this ridiculous act because we were afraid that to be smart. a loser. Your work is beautiful and you have changed. I don't think I'll ever change. And I'm your friend. his voice laced with cynicism. She doesn't know about Nate or -." I whisper lamely. But the worse we behaved. it seems. "And acting like this made us feel free.I don't know what to say. Pure. I feel like someone has picke d up the whole restaurant and shaken it like dice in a cup. to not listen to anyone . So bad. And Nate died because of it... "I want to do something with my life. It's gotten to be a habit. Nobody wants me to. And that's it. cool."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. shaking his head as though he still can't believe it. made ou r art feel raw . There is so much you can do."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks. Nobody wants to see the stuff in the bar n. I t was easier to be bad. and we were free from all the rules and restrictions. But Da mian looks so small.. my t eachers. those paintings in the barn . "Cold. Cora. Phonies putting on this whole big stupid act.to get out. Co uld Damian be right? Could he possibly be right? I do want the same things as Na te did -.my mom. I care a lot. dangerous. I'm just a misfit. Calico? She is new." His voic e trails off.why are you hiding them? And the draw ing sin art class -. to be even a little bit responsible or mature wasn't cool.they're amazing. anything that could stifle. I mean. No one could tell us what to do. You don't have to say anything. I don't think there's any room for me to change. It can 't be too late. I can feel my heart breaking.." he says.so rebellious and cool. Scared." His eyes glisten and he looks into his coffee cup again. you've grown up or something. You're not garbage. so lost and scared and weak." Damian stops and slumps back in his se at. there's so much you can do.

I am going to release them into the world. I silently let myself in the front door and head up the stairs. though. "Uh-huh. but there has to be a way to make things better. The package feels like it is burni ng a hole through my bag. really look at him. "These are lovely. and his eyes are down cast. I am ready to submit my application. the portfolio is ready. Is this growi ng up? I wonder. Like a scientist on the brink of discovery... turning the\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 153\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ attention away from himself. s tudying each of the drawings critically. I can hardly concentrate during any of my classes. flashing eyes and flashing castanets." I reply.if you'd like to leave this packet with me. Maybe for my parents. Now."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. cross my room. my heart pounding with excitement. but I know I have to go. and. use them for something -. I just have to find the right path. But his hands and shoulders are strong. I feel ready to plunge ahead. my mind is racing. I pore through my sketch pads and b ooks and begin to plan my portfolio. but my eyes do not want to stay closed." I mutter stupidly. For Rach el." she tells me. I hand my portfolio to her. that would be amazing. They didn't serve a purpose.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ On Monday."\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know . Since the cartography\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 154\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ class they offer is a big part of why I want to go. here? What is happening to me? May be there's a part of me that will never feel at peace again." My eyes widen. A flamen co dancer whirls around in the middle of a plaza. and pull the application papers out of my book bag. Bhutan. maybe to keep me sane. I look at Damian.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Well. Calico recommended m e. I think it will be a wo nderful opportunity for you. For me. I decide to include my maps. Calico. Mongolia. for Damian. Spain. I tiptoe up to the front of the classroom and whisper that I have my application and portfolio ready to send out. or a mountain climber neari ng the summit. "I th ink you stand an excellent chance of being accepted. Calico can begin mak ing her rounds to all of the students. "Thank you. the wry half smile returning. France. Oh my gosh. and begin filling in the blanks on t he page. praying I don't meet either of my parents."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We pay the check and stand up to go.. I throw myself back against the pillo ws and try to find sleep." he says. how crazy the whole situation is. His l ong black coat hangs like the wings of a raven around him."Anyway. and she turns the pages. Before Ms. Under no circumstances can Ms. how my mom actually said no. and his eyes are clear. sharp. it's a start. I wonder if I can use anything I've already done. Kyrgyzstan. Except. There.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian drops me off half a block from my house. But they certa inly weren't for anyone else to see. there ar e many to choose from. "I have a l etter of\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 155\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ recommendation ready -. why Ms.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "May I see it?" she asks. even. As I get ready for bed.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I get out of bed. to use. What is happening now.. I will send out the whole thing after school. I smooth out the wrinkles and creases. It's so strange to think how these maps used to be all my own.something concrete. Each thought p ries them wider apart. Calico know how messed up my family is. If only he could see.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am just putting the finishing touches on a drawing of Sevilla. "What will you do? We have to get you to London. Her layered dress fanning out behind her."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I step back uncomfortably."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm really glad your parents agreed to let you do this. I'm so nervous abo ut turning my application over to Ms.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 156\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Ten}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . scorching my shoulder.

lying flat on his bed. completely ignoring me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ She and I are sitting at a lunch table with Cam and a few of his friends.The holiday season is here. come back togethe r as a family? Is this the end of the Bradley family?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 158\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's strange to think about. gin and tonic in hand. caught in a silence as thick as an oil spill and twice as deadly. I made my own breakfast. parents. to keep it from crumpling. I'm just relieved they aren't thinking about me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I get back to school on Monday.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "A fake front for what?" my dad had asked less than calmly.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "For the fact that we have nothing in common!" Nate had screamed back. so ev eryone was focused on them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We sat around the table. I haven't heard my mom in the kitchen. How dead this house feels. "It was fine. Nate eventually came d own for dinner. Cam is serious and quiet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Back then. though. pulling the string taut against her throat. We waited for sixty-five minutes.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ Shyly. all their attention is saved up fo r me. bu t I wasn't ready for how lonely I am. We waited and waited."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sit back."\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "I know what you mean. Is that a boy t hing?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. five of us. As it happens on weekends. and me. doing who k nows what. I try ve ry hard to keep my face normal.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ My mother was twisting the beads of her pearl necklace\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 157\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ around her fingers. the better. Which was fine with me. t he room mute and heavy. but someday he'll snap out of it That day never came."\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Really?" I ask. g ot my own lunch. and myself from colla psing into tears. He's just a jerk. but Nate said that he thought holidays were stupid excuses for consumerism and that family time was a fake front.well. I remember my parents argued with Nate all morning about coming downs tairs for dinner.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ Last year. heal. when my parents fight. My grandparents were supposed to arrive. I'm in Nate's room. and ." he adds with a mischievous smile. I ask him how his holiday was. Where is he now? Is his soul floating around t he house? Is he haunting Julie? Did he go to heaven? Does someone who puts the p rincipal's office placard on a stall in the boys' bathroom have a place in heave n?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Are you sorry you won't get to taste Mom's turkey or her pumpkin pie again? Will I get to taste them again? Will we ever snap out of it. I've been dreading the start of the holidays since September. It feels as though the whole house is holding its br eath. so I expect dinner will be another micro waved wonder. "It was nice. "Sometimes. Every little move I make is fodder for their microscopes. and ate as much turkey as anyone. "My sister and her husband just had a baby. He'd refused the pumpkin pie. makes a strange pressure in my chest that feels lik e it's pushing all the air from my lungs. The whole world looks like a ceaseless wash of gray. seemingly the opposite of Helena's effervescence.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Today it's rainy and the rain is a little bit frozen." he replies. she'd looked so hurt. I knew it would be awful. I can't wait. eager to steer the conversation away from me. I could tell myself. my mom in her sewing room. Helena asks me how my holiday was. glad to have removed myself from the focus of the conversation." I tell her.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nate. well. and me -. Sounds a little bit like how Nate used to talk. Today is Thanksgiving. my grandparents. with my sister out of the house." Helena says. and charged back up to his room after a terse good-bye to my grandparent s. and each of us is locked in his or her own room -my dad in his den. where did you go? I wonder. "The less attention my parents pay me.

" I reassure her. It's numbing." I whisper to myself. The shutters of this tiny town seem wide open in this field. the husks stick up from the snow. I set off. I walk until I come to a pile of hay bales and plop mysel f down. saying. and even some of the o nes who do aren't as fortunate as we are. Sixteen whole days stuck in the house with my parents. breaking into my thoughts. and clomp my way over to the Wyatt cornfields. trudging between the rows. Rachel and I still aren't speaking. I pull on my puffy ski pants an d strap on my clumsy snow boots. like a big black hole. until I find Rachel\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 159\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ in her now usual spot beside Elizabeth Tillson at the Nasties' table. and that was only four days. run downstairs. Helena an d her family are going to Indiana to visit her grandparents.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Merry Christmas. no decorations. she grabs my elbow and asks. Nate. The sun is bright and the air is sharp.so focused. and no esca pe. the white flakes da ncing on the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 160\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ wind before driving into the ground with an aimless fury."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena nods." she murmurs. I think you're right. I'm stuck inside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I guess it's because they don't feel like they can keep us safe anymore. when everything was tinged a warm gold en yellow. the snow abates for a bit. He asked if he could give one of his presents to a child who wouldn . I mean? I didn't even think --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Everything is fine. well . destroyed city. "Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena stares at me closely. It's so peaceful here. In the snow. Nate. her eyes glittering. You can t hink here. "No. so worried all the time?" Cam wonders aloud. "Merry Christmas. Too cold to ride my bike.. I continue straight on. I can't help but glance around t he cafeteria. would really think about it.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ When I reach the end of one row.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ After lunch.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 161\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When we were little." Nate had been very distressed by this revelation. the dried out stalks are bent. "He is. The snow comes down hard outside.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ Winter break. and make lists of what we hoped our present s would be. then cross his fingers and squeeze his eyes shut like he was praying. There's a gloomy absence. Nate a sked my mom if every child got Christmas presents. In the distance I hear the lowin g of cows. Rachel." I ans wer.refreshed by the normalcy of this lunch. Still. like the remnants of a deserted..\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Thanksgiving was bad enough. "It was really nice to sit with you guys. When he was nine."\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ I think he would have liked sitting here with me in the crisp silence. "Was that okay? What we were talking a bout. and th ere's no Christmas tree.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "I wonder why parents get like this -. swallowing up this house. not every child celebrates Christmas. So. We'd sit on the living room floor. Last time I came by here was in the fall. shake each one of the b oxes with our names printed on them. no hint of holiday cheer. And. coloring the whole wor ld a dull gray. though. away from the barn and the farm and the road. But now I have more th an two weeks of isolation. leaning wearily l ike broken old men. It's the firs t year we haven't had a Christmas tree or lights strung up along the gables of o ur upstairs windows. It's the longest fight we've ever had. taken aback by my directness. Damian and his mom are traveling to Missouri to visit his cousins.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ On Christmas day. In other places. Nate and I would wake up at dawn on Christmas morning. his brow wrinkled. isn't he?" she says happily. and peer at the array of presents that had been placed beneath the t ree during the night. le tting my mittens brush against the dead leaves that rattle at my touch. My mother had responded truth fully. Cam is a good guy.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I creep back into the house. We were laughing and trying our best to ignore the fact th at Nate had decided to skip Christmas that year.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ That's it. Nate followed sulkily. especial ly your mother with this behavior." he'd mumbled. "How about you keep all of your presents. trudging toward my house.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nathaniel." I'd smirked. though. I slide down into a pillow of snow at its ba se. I just have to focus on the art. drinking fresh orange juice. hold on to him through his art. sat at the table. An d you'd better think about how your behavior is making everyone else feel. from bank to creek bed. but I can't hear the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 164\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ television. From where I sit. Nate didn't wake up early and exam ine the gifts with me. I rise from the hay and slowly make my way back toward the farmhouse. "I was tired. but I can see the hint of life b eneath it.'t get a gift. What is he doing? He's turned to ice. it almost looks like a painting. groggy and grumpy. Nate's art. My mother had chuckled. He didn't join in the laughter. and through my map. Too cold to cry. For the retur n of flowers and leaves and birds. I look into the creek. I think wistfully. Because I have to get that feeling of purpose back . when he wandered in. I miss hearing the call of cardinals\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 163\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and the humming of jays. the force of my loneliness carves out a hollow space in my belly. And the wrinkles in his forehead had smoothed out. Oh lord. My father is crying." My dad's voice was low and harsh.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ I leap back as though I've been stung. When I come to the willow tree. I move closer to the door. by which time my paren ts and I had already exchanged presents without him. but she'd looked proud. Maybe I can touch hi m. muddy browns and w hites sliding into each other. I overslep t. Our last Christmas together . I could overhear h im.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Last Christmas was a different story. The sun is high i n the robin's egg sky. I long for the white bird to come back." Nate replied. and the laughter felt forced anyway.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can't go home yet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When my fingers and my nose are frozen and I can't feel my toes anymore. Instead. Maybe he isn't wholly lost to me. I have to remember that.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know what you're talking about. while my dad made waffles. when he took Nate into the living room. and press my ear to it. "That is very gen erous. and I'm tired of it." she'd told him." my father had said menacingly. and ate waffles with us. you'd better think about whether you want to be a part of this family. dork.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Once again. I stil l have that piece of him. the surface is frozen. I hear a low keening sound. I see that the light underneath the door to my d ad's den is still on. like a worm gn awing its way through my gut. to fill my emptiness again with the same sense of magic and hope."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nate. It's about the art. I walk back through the fields and head east toward the cre ek. What a sorry memory. The three of us were in the kitchen. "You are hurting all of us.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Whatever." Then Dad stalked back into the kitchen. I start off.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 162\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nice of you to join us. how I miss him.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ The crooked angles of dead branches and the humpbacks of rocks lining the creek remind me of the towering mounds of metal in the Wright barn. you come with me. I wil l not stand for it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know very well what I'm talking about. but the atmosphere in the kitch en had changed. and I won't see you hurting your mother this way. He . I miss Nate. A shuddering moan. and we can go to the store and pick out something to send to a charity?" Nate liked that idea. I can do this. I tell myself. His gifts were left under t he tree. I can't wait for spring."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What behavior?" Nate had asked sarcastically. He didn't wake up until afternoon.

if I could convince Dami an to show his paintings. green with little white flowers. I will never wear it. I've been working feverishly on th e map.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wake abruptly. I crumple it into a ball and throw it into the back of my closet. My first day back. toward Nate's art. All is silent. But my heart is racing a little bit. I close my eyes and imagine what an arm around my waist would feel like. Then suddenly. b ecause it will always remind me of this awful Christmas day.. My mother has left a tray containing a TV turkey di nner with the plastic cover still on it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I want that. I want someone to hold me. But now I am going to take a break and watch the c ountdown to midnight on television. and I fall to my knees. Maybe. and I can't completely ignore the tingling in my shoulders. My ears are burn ing. and when I begin to fall. over me. almost animal-like. watching me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 7:52. and I'm late. to kiss me. It circles around me.. its wings V-shaped and stark against the starry night sky. I try to picture myself kissing Damian. It's overwhelming. expectant. electrifying. and I'm all alone. the white bird is standing before me. no ribbon. I struggle to keep my footing.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 166\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Eleven}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ dream of walking alongside the creek.someone I kn ow? What if they belonged to Damian?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Keeping my eyes closed. I tear off the paper. this bird that looked like the swash of a pai ntbrush\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 167\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ seems ever to be propelling me toward my art. a comforting warmth. This is ridiculous. the trees and rocks. the bir d suddenly stretches out its wings and soars into the air.. Oh my gosh... it s heavy weight. time to make something of this map. The bird peers at me with an orange eye. If a bird could have an expression. no box. It is like walking through a ghost story . grasses and water lit by the moon with an icy silvery light. Like it was telling me I had work to do. This day has been too potent. It's time to get to work. sketching and re-sketching the scenes I want to include on the boards in the barn. charges through my body. Crumpled blue wrapping paper. He can't cry. kissing and hugging as they count down the seconds to the New Year. For the past week. What if that arm and those lips belonged to someone -. What a pair of lips brushing over mine woul d feel like. Its neck is curved and sleek. figuring out\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 165\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ how to piece it all together. maybe everyone could see this better side of both of t hem. A sense of wonder. a hunge r starts to grow in my belly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ At least I have a project to keep me occupied. He could go to art school. my heart throbbing. and Nate could be remembered as more than a screw up. If the dullness of the walls of my room stifled me before. shining feathers tucked tightly against its graceful body. if I could show the world Nate's sculptures.doesn't cry. poised on its slender legs. and a feeble Christmas present for me o n my bed. The sounds are guttural. this one seemed . and I think I could drown in i t. that gave me this connection to Na te. and I feel it heaping all around me. too heavy with grief. There is so much sadness in that room. Yes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I watch the carousers taking part in the festivities in Times Square. head cocked to the side. instead. to ring in the New Year with me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Tonight is New Year's Eve. I can't catch it. now it seems that the weight of so m uch sorrow might. Its unwavering gaze stays with me . yet the bird remains perfectly stil l. It was the bird that made me realize how dearly art matters. The groun d seems to tremble and roll beneath my feet. My neck and back are coated i . And I'm plenty full from dinner. then I'm falling an d falling.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wander back to my bedroom. The bird. My breath runs away from me in a rush. and uncover a sweater. I watch couples s tanding hand in hand. and Damian could have a second chance.

I am gripped by an urge to see his den. still feeling slow. I draw it out and pick i t up. fuzzy. my hair is plastered to my cheeks. I barely notice the other kids shuffling past me in the hallways. doesn't look my way once. the teachers rambling in class. which still bears the impr essions of my father's body. It's impossible for me to think o f my dad with anything but resentment now. Does my father t race his fingers over this same crack while he cries? His sorrow lingers in the air. I hear someone calling my name. The door to the den is open slightly. Just the thought of him makes my stomach feel fluttery a nd light. I grab a strawberry Pop-Tart a nd race back up the stairs. I'm excit ed to see Damian again.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ I hoist my backpack onto my shoulder. on me. It's a photograph of my dad and Nate that was taken during a vacation to D isney World when I was seven and Nate was eleven. trying to snap o ut of this strange soupy funk. I take my lunch to the library and eat alone. "Are you all right? You seemed kind of out of it in ar t today.. hearing the words but not quite understanding them. looking for something quick to eat.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ There is a hairline crack in the protective glass. as I step out of the art room. Slowly. I pedal away. but other than that. weird. How about you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . overshadowing the ornately carved anti que wooden desk and a rattily upholstered couch that bears the scars of a long-d ead cat's claws. The room is painted brick red and six long boo kshelves line each of the walls. A large. the phot o and its frame are unblemished. A facedown silver picture frame. go out to the garage\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ 169\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and mount my bike. when I spot my dad' s crystal tumbler in the sink. I don't pay any attention to the fact that Rache l is still ignoring me. They bo th look so young.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ At the end of the day. tired. I notice something shiny underneath the stool. This morning. brown leather armchair\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ 168\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ takes primacy over the den like a throne. I'm fine. severing Nate from my dad's arms. I kn eel to see what it is. Mostly. "You know. He holds a stuffed Dumbo in one hand and a puff of cotton candy in the other. though. so happy. the holidays were . As I approach the armchair.. waving frantically at me. The sound of his weeping still rings in my ears. like he'd been laughing. Witho ut Helena around. It creaks and groans as I push it open farther. "I 'm -. It's like I'm not there. this is exactly what I'm tal king about "Oh. There isn't room for pity or for empa thy anymore. how are you? How were your holidays?" Helena starts. and his tongue is bright blue. Not since he left Mom and me to go on without him. heavily. Enough.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pause. Just a little . I pu tter around the kitchen.n sweat. I run my thumb along the crack.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I replace the frame. I turn to see Helena standing in the doorway of the studio.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ The school day passes and I feel like I've been walking through a cloud. See. to talking to Hele na about the kernel of an idea I had during the night. I was dreaming so hard I slept right through my alarm clock. and Nate's he ad is thrown back. then coughs as she fi ghts to catch her breath. worn. pressing on it."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stare at her curiously. I dress and run downstairs.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Quickly." I tell her. Suddenly. They're smiling. It stretches do wn the middle of the picture.. I'm looking forward to art class. Pumping my legs hard and fast. I wait for Helena to jog over to catch up wi th me. and back out of the room. The armchair faces a flat-screen television and a small wooden stool crouches beside it. the notion of school doesn't feel as unap pealing as it usually does. Sounds seem muffled. wait up for a second!" Helena calls.what?" Helena's eyes widen as if to say.. My parents have already left for work.

I just wanted to let you know." His voice. I'd love that." I say as I catch up to him. I\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ 172\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ saw Calico had a canvas of his stretched out on her desk today. She.you're not not coming because you're avoiding me or anyth ing. and that decides it for me." I make my voice sound light. "No. too. "Did you have a good holiday?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But can I come over tomorrow?" I ask. you're not upset with me. "He does these incredible paintings where he sticks object s -.right into the paint ." he says.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I come back over to Helenas side.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah." he says reluctantly. Let me just t ell someone. are you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. I've needed a frie nd." Damian says slowly. He's really good ..I'm wheeling my bike along beside me -. she says. and feeling my cheeks grow warm.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian hears and turns. I can tell he isn't fully convinced. soothing. might not want me to come over anymore.you know." Damian looks relieved. Then I spot the familiar black-cloaked back striding toward the blue El Camino. happy New Year. Then I'll see you tomorrow. and I cran e my neck to look for him. Now. I'm tired." She cocks her head and looks at me intently." I say. I begin to sprint toward Damian's car.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Hi.want to go to the diner? We can share so me pie and you can tell me all about it?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am thoroughly alert now. worried that he might be angry."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Happy New Year. an amazing painter. the notion of Helena's company feels safe." I tell her. "No. like washers and screws and bits of metal -. "Hey. are you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of course not. I'm sure. This morning I was so fixated on seeing Damian aga in." he replies easily. and have reached the doo r to the student parking lot. "Hi. "Hey. "You know. but then.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. after entering my father's den. I'm not going to come over to work today. "I wonder why he doesn't tel . thanks." We've been walking through the school." He's worried I was upset with him?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay... "Will you wait for me here a sec?" I ask Helena. " I try to explain. I couldn't even look at him in cla ss.. though.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. uh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cool. "You?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 171\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It was nice. I think about what my mom would have to say about thi s idea. I just need to take a day and think about the map and what I want to do with it and everything. no problem.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I should let Damian know I won't be coming to the barn today. but with his brow wri nkled."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really!'" Helena asks as we -.170\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Are you sure you're okay? You still seem kind of spacey... smiling."\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "All right. not paying any attention to the many heads that turn in my direction across the par king lot. "You know what. They're unbelievable..\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As she nods." I tell him. okay. wanted to talk to me about something."\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. Like. Thank goodness he can't read my mind.stroll o ut of the parking lot and head toward Union Street. my pulse leaping. It's just that -. dull. "S o." Helena asks. It was a rough couple of weeks. Just." I put my hand on his arm and squeeze gently before turning back to Helena. no. "Is anything wrong?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I catch a glint of worry in his eyes. I'm just going to go to the diner with Helena. I'm okay.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Did something happen? Hey -. Damian!" I holler.I know -. remembering how I'd thought about him on New Year' s Eve. nothing at all.

"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The catch.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . Anyway. you should be able to take Nate's stuff yourself. with its shiny aluminum exterior and big windows c overed in paper snowflakes.l anybody. Just amazing. I want everyone to know they're not total screw ups. actually. And. Calico and get permission from the principal. I've been hanging out at Damian's studio working on a big map -.they should be th ere. He has stepped outside of his workshop and is now playing with a new set of oil paints.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Actually. Maybe I can do something. I can't help but think tha t it is strange to spend so much time with Damian and not know this most basic p iece of his life. Then everyone will see!" Helena hops around in her seat. yet no one else in our lives -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 173\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Her enthusiasm floats over the booth like birdsong. used to th ink he was a monster. a party!" She claps her hands excitedly and blows a lock of pale hair out of her eyes. and they set up a studio in this barn across town and made all these sculp tures and paintings. or show anyone.knows. "You're not crazy.." I stop and look at Helena. . After school the next day. I want. We are going to have a gallery opening. And. You're brilliant.. I know what we're goi ng to do. were best friends. her z eal getting the better of her. looks like something from the 1950s. they were both art ists. something good and meaningful.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I have no idea how to broach the subject with Damian. Maybe she really can help.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of course! Why not? All you have to do is convince Damian to bring Nate's sculp tures. actually.aside from Helena. to show Damian's and Nate' s art to everybody. somehow. "Oh my goodness.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It seems strange that Damian and I have been spending so much time together. But I see nei ther. half e xpecting to see an expression of disgust or disbelief on her face. She has always gotten what I 've tried to tell her in the past." My voice trails off as I try to figure out how to form the right words. It's strange to think about how I used to hate him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. just a few weeks ago. I." Helen a nods again. they're amazing. Brown. we can ask Ms. She shakes her head then looks straight at me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? You really think we could do this?" I ask as a bubble of hope rises up in my chest. and I recall how. He's being stubborn. and his sculptures ca n be the centerpiece of the show! We'll make a big event out of it and advertise to\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 174\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the whole school.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Help you with what?" Helena asks eagerly.all of those little pieces I've been doing in art class are studies. "Do you think I'm crazy?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena sits back and folds her hands beneath her chin. buoyed by s ome sense of promise. this w ill be incredible. We settle into one of the booths. sitting across from D amian. right ?" I wait for Helena to nod her assent. like I told you. I go to the barn with him and stare at his back as he hovers in front of a canv as. here goes. I have a feeling that convincing Damian may not be as easy as strawbe rry rhubarb pie."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. I've never met his mother. Mrs. I tried to tell him that he should.. how to explain what I want to do. That th ey have been doing something great all along. helpless. There's only one t hing to do. I'd felt so sad. Leap. too. So much has changed. and sorry. how to tell her about Nate. now -. A fter we order hot chocolates and a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie. to include Nate's art in this year's art show. and we'll have to get him to bring his own paintings -. then continue. Archer works two jobs. But now I feel hopeful. "So. I was wondering if you could help me. Her eyes shine with a brilliant curio sity. and while I know Mrs. "Well. which. pieces of the larger map. You know Damian and my brother. right ?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Right."\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ We approach the diner. Nate. I begin to t ell Helena everything.

time lost. then. "Are you ready to go?"\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ I nod. We walk beside each other in amiable silence. M y fingers twist and knead and turn each other white. turning and wiping his hands on a spotted rag.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian?" I call softly. when you can look back and say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sure. The anatomy of my childhood. our paces matched. It's not a big deal. even though I am pretty sure I sound like a complete weirdo. dissipates.. we ha ve to make the choice to either mourn the loss of that time.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hmm.and I watch plumes of breath burst in front of me.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ We are led through this world by our breath." Damian interrupts. by tears for lost toys and wild imagin ings. and it's the safest space in the world." he responds easily." I say breathlessly as we step out the front door into the chilly air. eventually it won't\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 177\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ be home anymore. And there can be no go ing back.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks." he answers. letting the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 175\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ colors and textures blur before my eyes. a body marked by the games Nate and I p layed. who knows t hat whatever mistakes I make. I could use a break. Breath fans out.\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "Do you feel like going for a walk?" I ask. So. Or forget a book at school or maybe get a bad grade. I have to keep my hands in my pockets -I forgot my gloves -.' You know. I'll never again be a small child who is sure of my parents' love. I cock my head and sit up. "I've been thinking about what it means to be grown up. little beads of life. the more the piece seems to break apart and float lazily in layers.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean . I never knew why. by dizzying joy and scraped knees. the innocence. it doesn't really matter. "Any particular direction?"\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ I start to head in the direction of the skating pond. These places meant something to me once. Damian and I walk over to the snack stand and buy a couple of hot chocolates. Unbidden. wobbling back and forth across the ice." I stop and look down at my hands.I crouch in front of the map and stare at it. now. and vanishes. There can be no going back. "Then. and released into the world to explore. when we're old enough to realize all of these things. the safety and ease of it all. there are skaters. relieved of the we ight of this giant safety blanket.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally we reach the pond."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 176\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No problem. then follow Damian as he bounds out the door. mostly little kid s with their parents.. Bec ause the worst I can do is break a vase or track dirt onto the carpet. by time shared and. then sit down on a b ench to watch. The longer I stare. Or we can feel excited to be free. The sky has reached that ha zy violet-and-blue shimmery brightness that comes midway between a winter's day and dusk. there's this p lace called home.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I begin to speak out loud. Will I ever feel that happy again? Tha t free or heedlessly anchored again?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I trace the painted white-blue swirls of the skating pond. the dried-out stems of grass an d wheat that I've glued down for the cornfield suspended on top of the flakes of the oil pastels of the ball field. but it shook my . smiling. my dad took off when I was a baby. and sure enough."\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Unless you already stopped feeling safe a long time before you grew up. the thought that it is probably cold enough to go skating now flits through my mind. I'll never be a little kid again." Damian returns. of their protection. Mea nt so much. But when we go off to college or whatever.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I want to see the skating pond. "Thanks for coming with me.

"What are you scared of? Remember at the coffee shop. I'm totally freaked most of the time. j ust walk out and not even look back. "I know you're not a screw up. right? Fr om art class?" He nods. "And how would I be able to do all that?"\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "We-e-11. I'm so scared I'll mess up.you know who she is.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "I've got this image in my head of how I want my life to look. and he was wearing the swea ter and these big woolly mittens with leather stitched onto the palms." I start. And I'm so scared that I'll make some wrong decis ion -. like snowmen mummies. um. but Damian cuts me off with a shar p look. I have no idea." Damian is shaking his head vigorously. a gala opening or something. He knelt in the snow at the edge of the pond.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 179\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ They're all bundled up in parkas and hoods and scarves and mittens. That sweater always made me feel safe." His brow is wrinkled.whole world to its core. "So. I knew that he was going to take me to the pond to skate or out into the woods to hike or that we were going to play Monopoly in front of the fireplace in our living room. show ing Nate's and yours and my art can only help. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. Dads and Moms stagger after them.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. As soon as I was old enough to realize he wasn't comin g back. he grabbed me under the armpits and hoisted m . He had this really thick sweater of navy blue wool with white snowflakes knitte d in lines across it and around his arms. very cautiously. anyone could. and I have absolu tely no idea how to get there.making?"\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ He cocks a wary brow at me. Rabbit?" he asked." he repeats. It was the "Daddy and Rabbit weekend sweater.my dad -. so they can barely move their arms or turn their heads. "No way. And I.could do that. Perfectly happy. since I was completely unstead y on my feet. y ou said you wished you weren't such a coward? This is your chance. clenched those mittens between his teeth. When I toppled over.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ They are all so happy. I think I'm way past the point of being able to make mistakes w ithout them mattering. And everyone is laughing. wishing I could go back and be a little kid and have it all safe and easy. Then Dad held my hand and very ging erly. surprised. portentous and dark as a thundercloud. Damian. his ey es crinkling with that warm smile he used to save for just the two of us."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? No. No way. But I have to think that doing this.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ One day he brought Nate and me to the pond to skate.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I remember how my dad used to take Nate and me skating here when we were little. "\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I don't know what else to say to him. And I think you should show your paintings. We sit there and watch the little kids tot tering around the pond on their skates. remember the school art show? We want to have. very. I truly believe it will help you. He patted Nate on the top of his head and watched as N ate hurtled out into the middle of the pond. "what if there was a way to fix it?" H e looks up quickly. to say what. most of them not looking any more sure-footed than the twerp s.and everything will get messed up and go wrong -. And believe me. pretty much holding me up. I figured out that I was never safe. out of my freaking house."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I open my mouth.just one -. I wanted to show Nate's art. And the map.for good. like. gripping his hot coco a with whitened knuckles. very carefully. I've been talking with Helena Carson -. his ey es downcast. Some days I just live in this sna il's shell of memories. a nd tied my skates for me. I've screwed up everything. losing Nate doesn't make the surviv al instinct in me feel very strong.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why? Why not?" I press. lowered me onto the ice. "Anyway. "Ready. He hel d my hand as I skated. we've been\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 178\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ talking about. If he -. well. Don't you see?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean. What if you could show everyone who you really are? What you've been doing -." When he wore it. and other days I feel like I'll die if I don't get out of her e.

a half mile from the turn that is shaped like a bear 's claw. and throw my arms around him. Finishing this map is something I have to do. it\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 182\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ seems Death leaped up from the backseat. I move the cursor up and down on the scre en. His death will stay meaningless and stupid and po intless and a waste. This is so great. the space between u s yawns wider. something I want to do. and he came careening toward us." I mutter. like stealing and vandalizing and defac ing:1\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I will never know. why he behaved the way he did. I can't figure out what the last piece is." he says. huh? Well. I flip through my sketches and try to figure out w hat part of the whole remains undefined. where the bent oak tree stands. but with thi s crazy joy for the speed and crisp air and the knowledge that my dad would scoo p him up before he could crash and swing him around and roar with a laughing moc k anger. the brain gets lazy and easily distracted. He had plenty of stuff to do. found the tree.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sorry. laughing wildly -. and took my brother. will I? I'll just never understand why Nate did what he did. so he could plant a kiss on my cheek. then he s wung me back down onto the ice. The blinds are shading my window s. It's interesting how there's a sort of breakdown in communication b etween what I know I want and actually getting my hands to do the work. why was he so filled with bad thoughts. what.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nate skated in circles around us. "Maybe you're rig ht. so I'll do it. shepherding. now. Death was in the clothes that he wore and the music he listene d to.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Anyway. That hole needs filling. poof. keeping out the late afternoon light. I can't seem to get myself to stay stil l long enough to work. At leas t I had all that once."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I put my cup down. a nd tucked away in sketch pads. What a beautif ul time it was. all the way up into the air.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ Tibet is shaped like a crocodile head.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I glance at Damian. grabbed the wheel. and then. "Maybe you're right. sometimes moving so fast his legs blurred. But at least I can remember it..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nate liked Death. The evidence of that is under my bed. so over. He rests his chin on h is hand on his knee. He would wrap himself in a black sweater and ask Death to ride along with him in his Honda Civic. and everything. and gathering yak du ng.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And out on the county road. finding. then here is what I can't understand: Nate was busy.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 181\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Twelve}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ now that I know what I'm supposed to do. Maybe I can't hate it anymore. An immense sadness. "But thank you. my mom always used to say that busy hands are happy hands. fills me then. when suddenly Damian looks at me. So. "Really?" I shout. But the last piece still needs . where.like driving without headlights. and shakes his head so slightly. I wish I knew what filled it.e\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 180\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ up. un evinced."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He chuckles softly and turns back to look at the skaters. un drawn\par\pard\plain\hyp . rolled into a poster tube. letting it crawl over the Tibetan Web page. I have to get to work.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Tibetan children are kept busy fetching water. Again.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We sip our cocoa in silence. He is sitting completely still. It's over.. Does that apply to hands picking up yak poof And if idleness supposedly breeds w ickedness. but a sweet one.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yak dung. bad i deas -. I'll never know.not with meanness.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This is home. All thes e grand ideas. but there's a hole in the map that stares up at me like some walleyed fish searching for wa ter.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ Then I remember who. The map really is nearly done. and am beyond embarrassed.

" he says. limp as a sack of corn. caressing it. I'm the one who's frightened.the Hawks colors -. beaten pair of cleats. I'm just about to turn around and retreat to my room.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad?" I whisper.stuff in the middle of the floor.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Dad? Are you okay?" Now I'm getting worried. "I'm fine. thinning hair. I hav e to believe that wherever he is now. But I wonder if. and a pom-pom of blue and gold -. he got it burning himself with the soldering gun. a dirty.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "Nothing. a Hawks baseball c ap. I'm fairly sure that none of this would be okay with him if he were alive. as though . from wondering what it would feel like if Damian liked me back. so I cou ld hold on to him. A warm buzz fills my stomach when I im agine touching those lips. It's because of Damian. The scar is shaped like a crescent. He presses his forefingers to the corners of his eyes.hpar}{ I know why I can't concentrate. There is no response. It may be the first time since The Accident that he does so. And I mean like like him. Nate left Damian behind as another piece of himself for me to find.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian has this tiny white scar on the fleshy triangle of his hand.. In truth. really sees me. and . and it feels like a knife is cutting deep into my ribs.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I found this.. l ies on its side. however. Damian probably never would have noticed me anyway. I like the guy my parents think killed my brother. frightened animal. What woul d Freud have to say\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 183\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ about that? I kick my legs up onto my desk and clasp my hands behind my head. who still crouches with his head bowed and tucked into his arms. I turn to my father. skinny neck hunch over his knees. If he kissed me. when I notice his shoulders shudder and his pale. I like him." He sinks back against the wall and slides\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 185\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ fully to the floor. I run to my do or and out into the hallway. I miss him so much. Give them to Goodwill.streamers. through the tissue and bone and muscle tha t might protect my heart. hate me for liking his best friend. An old cardboard box. I just thought I'd get rid of some of these old things. Then again. thinking about taking his hand and touching that scar. I creep down the sta irs so softly. playing. a droplet of wate r. a tatty softball. a crash from downstairs jolts me from my ruminations. Then he looks at me." His voice breaks and his e yes are glossy.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { None of this stops me.. as if I were approaching a wild. Nate's old mitt. An d that he knows how much I miss him. "What happened?"\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ He looks up as though surprised to see me there beside him and quickly wipes at his eyes and rubs a hand through his gray. My father is crouched over a pile of-. and all sorts of objects have leaked from inside it: a pair of navy mittens connected by a length of yarn. Even if Nate didn't think of me much when he was alive.." he replies in a deadened voice. I do. that he misses me. between thum b and forefinger. Then I see that a baseball glove has fallen to the fl oor in front of his feet. picking up the glove. nervous. "And I just remembered him standi ng out there in his uniform. oh . spilling all around him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I come up beside him and kneel down. he does think of me. His mouth is like a seashell. The front room closet is open and a landslide\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 184\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ of boxes continues to pour forth from it. tentative. if Nate were still alive. I can't figure out if Nat e would hate this. may be. "Dad?" I try again. And I can't stop picturing it in my head. then crane my neck trying to peer over the banister and down the stairs. My eyes fill with hot tears that I try to blink back. weathered and torn.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then. pink and round and perfect and smooth. Seeing my fat her outside the depths of the freezer or his den is new. Loud.

trying to dam the tears. my eyes and nose and whole body drie d out. "Marie." I say. but he lets me si t there with him and put my head on his shoulder. snarls in his chest and rises up into his mouth and escapes . "He was such a good boy. I c an't detect much of a difference between this fourteen-year-old self and the thi rteen-year-old one. All of Nate's things arc through the air like a waterfall and fall to the floor in a clatter. Brown eyes. His face. I can almost smell the cordite. then rises and begins\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 186\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ to scoop all of Nate's old things back into the box. empty.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 187\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My father stands mutely. I curl my fingers around his. Like the warmest. He doesn't squeeze mine back. I stand and begin to back up to the stairs." A low sound. He presses my hand so gently he might not have done it at all.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I'm cried out. safest blan ket.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Dad's head snaps up as footsteps near. and runs out the door. The den do or squeaks open and closes with a click.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Daniel. I put my shoulder to the door and nudg e it shut. his skeleton -.a sob. almost a growl -. I walk to the bathroom."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My father has finished depositing everything back into the box and now has it tu cked in the crook of his arm. taking on that tinny qual ity it gets when she is about to explode. long time. and follow in my father's wake up the steps and slide past the den into my own bedroom. he stares around at all of the things. Then silence.the freeze-out -. Then quietly. "I know he w as. each grasping a flap of battered car dboard. Enough I have t o be stern with myself. I stare at m y reflection. "What are you doing?" Her face grows red and her fists are clenched at her waist. against my own.it all seems to have collapsed in on itself. but it's as though I'm not eve n in the room. then I sit down beside him and reach for his hand."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Shut up. yanking and heaving and my mother's chest is heaving with sobs. Glare as though they hate each other. What a watery picture I make. Same flat chest.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Almost without thinking. She runs over to him and tries to pry the box away from my dad. Daniel. cradling the baseball mitt like a baby.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ I know it's not a breakthrough or a new beginning or the end of the bad period . it's time. My face is pale and my eyes are bloodshot. warm and soft. feeling th e putty-like flesh. I remain in front of the mirror above the sink. My father d oesn't look at her. gaping. Enough with this.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shake my head.but not -. My mother appears in the do orway. It's tim e to let him go. Right now!" She's really yelling now and tears are streaming down all three of our faces. This was th e worst thing I have seen since the night he died. I hear the door to her sewing room bang shut. My father raises his eyes to mine briefly then tur ns and shuffles past me up the stairs. dull and brown. skinny arms. Af ter I wash my face. carefully.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What are you doing?" Her voice comes out in a strangely strangled clanking. wasted. We sit there and cry together. He sees me for the first time in such a long. and he sees me. ff rrip. I grab my cell phone and start to dial . he says. and they glare at each other. what are you doing?" My mother's voice rises. Daniel. I don't blink. like some bug exoskeleton wasting away on a windowsill. hate and hate and th ey pull and glare and pull until the box splits apart with a meek exhalation. look back at me. and he looks as fragile as a butterfly. collarbone that sticks out sha rply. nor does he answer her as he continues sweeping the clutter back into its container. dropping into the space between us and hanging there. while my mother swoops down and grabs as much as she can hold in her arms. Then. and put the box down. "Put the box back in the closet. all the way to my shoulders. I lie down on my bed and cry until I think I'll throw up.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. a nd suddenly they are in a tug-of-war match. Dark b rown hair hanging in heavy waves."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My father lets me hold his hand.but it's something.

all of this looming possibility that seems beyond my reach.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. It's too much. We're making jewelry.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I need to have some fun. She stops so quickly that I walk right into her with a gasp.life." She looks so excited.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Why can't this -. bracelets. catching her arm before she falls over. echoing off mirrors a . Over it. "I'm so sick of being morose. We step inside. living -. I'm reveling in breaking Rule #5.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Cora.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "These look just like the ones Macie was wearing the other day. Helena sprin ts and darts like an elf.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey." I mutter. How about you?" she replies. Helena comes to an abrupt halt in front of Tricia's Trinkets. the idea that I'm not good enough. "That sounds cool.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'll see. They're cute. breath-suckin g grief. taking everything apart and redesigning it?"\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yeah." Helena ann ounces.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Sorry.come easier to me? My parents and their insane fragility scare the crap out of me.this crushing. are you busy?" I ask. fun. although I've been breaking Rules #3 and #4 for the past five months. and so on. "Come on. her eyes shiny in the glow of the extra-bright mall light ing." I correct her. modeling feathered earrings for each other."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Good enough. a tiny boutique that sells cheap earrings.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Want to go to the mall?" Maybe chain stores and the lure of shiny objects will erase the whole horrible scene I just witnessed. You know. then call Helena. and giggling. grab a basket . tapping her finger to her lips.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Where are we going?" I ask. Then we'll take it apar t and put it back together even better. I feel something lift inside of me. Done. a wicked grin spreading over her face. and begin filling it with beaded necklaces\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 190\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and bracelets. weaving between shoppers and bulky bags and kiosks and baby strollers." I tell Helena as we stroll past the fluorescent-lit s hops that look like candy-colored daisies lined up in a plastic garden.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ An instant later." I say to Helena. of everyone treating me like I'm going to break down all t he time.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 189\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay." Helena says thoughtfully. I hear a familiar voice and some of the weight bears back down on me." she says.." I say and put my hand through her arm.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You mean buying it. do n't you think?" Rachel's voice resonates through the shop.Rachel's\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 188\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ number. making it. fun .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why not?" Helena says good-naturedly. I have the antidote to your gloominess. Suddenl y. necklaces. "Meet me at the entrance in twenty?"\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sounds like a plan. Quickly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nope. Guilt and elation make a funny cocktail. let's buy some stuff. the notion of being lonely a nd alone for the rest of my life.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Let's go. silently thanking whatever power made her free ." I tell her. I snap the phone shut. and this grief -. What am I thinking? I shake my head clea r." she says."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Secretly. Remember how this used to feel? I ask myself.. "Come on!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ She takes my hand and pulls me down the polished beige stone tile path. trying to catch my breath and keep up. "I've got it!" she exclaims.

and that was more than a month ago. and I could swear I see the same hint of regret b ehind her eyes that chisels at my chest. then gives me a searching look. Well. who's been my best friend for as lo ng as I can remember.. a note of surprise catching in her throat. come on." Helena whispers to me. Like one of those old sitcoms -. She wasn't always this way. and when we arrive." she says. offering a smile but not much more." Helena trills as we walk into th e kitchen. Then she turns and marches away. who also has a mane of blond curls. a funny. Maybe I know how to be a friend because of Rachel. hoping to take cover behi nd another. idiotic pla ce. hi.." she says. I don't know.but not in a bad way. it's so nice to meet you!" Her mother plants herself right in Helenas path and beams at us so widely." She clearl y has no idea how she's supposed to act. she bounces on the balls of her feet.nd glittering headbands. this is my friend Cora from school.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "I'm just. Mom. Cora. still smiling as we duck aro und her and head for the stairs. welcomes us warmly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} ." She looks at me with big." A hood has come down over her eyes. Helena is my friend. Elizabeth comes to stand just behind her.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Oh. cheerful gait. Helena comes up beside me. earnest eyes."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Ugh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey." I say back. Then. "Urn." she whispers. Rachel's eyes switch\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 191\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ over to Helena's face and give her a long once-over. grown out of our friendship." Rachel says stiffly. shrill voice replies.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It wasn't always this way. As she strides down the sidewalk. l ike dust?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.. She is wearing an apron tied arou nd her waist. I don't know how I'm suppo sed to act. Now I'm getting corny in a way I don't think I want to carry on pursuing." Elizabeth Tillson's unmistakable. Does that always happen? Does it have to happe n? Does it mean that all ten years of our history are meaningless? Blown away. "I'll ca ll you girls when the cookies are ready. I can't believe you were ever friends with her. heading for Helena's father's basement workshop.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. I can't see my old friend.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. I'm struck by how normal everything here seems. on the other side of the county road. picking up some stuff." Helena breaks into my thoughts. awful way like this with Rachel. "I can't believe you were fr iends with her. of cookies or muffin s. either." I tell her.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The truth hits me: Helena is my friend.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What are you doing here?" she asks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What a freak. My stomach clenches.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena looks at me and rolls her eyes. "Let's pay and go back to my hou se. Another Nasti es\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Hanger on. I spin right into Rachel's path.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ How can I avoid them? There is nowhere to hide in this stuff-filled." I reply. We still haven't spoken since Home coming.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Totally. how Rachel and I seem to have grown out of each ot her." Elizabeth's voice wafts over to us. and whatever happens bet ween Rachel and me. and the whole house smells deliciously sweet. I am not alone.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. It is not friendly. "Sorry about that. she looks a bit like a satellite dish.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 192\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena lives on Elm Street. as though she were coming to be Rachel's second in a duel. um. It's so str ange how so much has changed. see you around. Elizab eth hovering at her side. her mother.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean? Your mom seems really nice. "You hate this place. a quick walk f rom the mall." It's very strange to be speaking in such a strained. As I'm wheeling around the rack I'm hiding behind. rolling. the hood rising a millimeter.

I love this color. I like him!" I shout. He was my brother's best friend. All kinds of tools are hung up on display. too." I murmur." Helena sneers. right?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It feels like all the air in my lungs is spiraling out of me in this bubbling ru sh. She cuts so me lengths of thread and fishing line and hands me a needle and scissors.. and shelves with little containers of nails and screws a nd bolts and washers fill the back side of the workbench.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. then rearranging and pu tting them back together again. shaking her head."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We dump the contents of our shopping bags out onto the rough surface and spread all the pieces around.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Who says making your own stuff isn't better than buying designer stuff?" Helena asks out loud.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ 194\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "This is amazing. what's up with you and Damian?" Helena asks. but her voice is so ft and sad." It's true -.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "I guess so. they never are.{ "Well. what's going on? "\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nothing is going on. would think so --\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . not exactly retail therapy. She's too nice. It's becoming pretty annoying. It's pathetic."\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "And it's relaxing. Come on." Helena says." Helena adds. That's it. I know you like him.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "I don't know. what are we going to do about it? " Her conspiratorial we makes my insides feel even fizzier. and you've been spending a lot of time together. but therapeutic all the same. a flash of inspiration strikes. let alone everyone else in this tiny town. waving a pair of pliers as if punctuating her point. "Making exactly what I want. let's empty out all our loo t and see what we've got. I don't think there's anything I can do." Helena responds. It's a little weird. my cheeks growing hotter. and she just takes the c rap my dad dishes out to her. "I knew it! So. lib erating somehow." I say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 193\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I'm mulling this over. "The shop.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My home. louder than I intended. I can't e ver seem to not show how I feel.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "What do you mean?" Helena repeats.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My eyes catch a fake amethyst pendant.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "But you do like him. and I look up as thoug h a bolt of lightning has touched my head.wo rking with my hands like this.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I guess even when things seem perfect. talking like this feels good.. So. and suddenly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We begin cutting and pulling apart all of the jewelry we bought.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We get to the bottom of the stairs where a long workbench of two plywood planks resting across three sawhorses stretches along the far wall. designing. "Come on.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" I can feel the heat of a blush coloring my cheeks. That's the problem.\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Let's get to work. I know what it should be. "Satisfied?"\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "Yes!" Helena yelps gleefully. and hold up the stone against the leather cord from another necklace. He was in the car with Nate when he died. how I want it. the last piece of the ma p.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "Here we are!" Helena announces. isn't it ? I'm sure Damian. being creative feels invigorating. she is nice." I stammer.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes." I reply. mocking me with a grin. separating bead s and chains and stones and shells and cords into piles. "Ooh.

Hungrily. A signed permission form. to London. I think.195\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ would think I'm totally creepy for even considering liking him that way.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Crash-landing. your parents. But I nod in pretend agreement and force a grin to my face.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I reach my house. How am I supposed to achieve that? It w ould take nothing less than sheer magic. Bradley. when I see a yellow envelope poking up from the bottom of the stack. I tear open the envelope and pull out the small sheaf of papers tucked inside." Helena begins. He lena says that when she sees us together. United Kingdom.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's this?" I mutter aloud. maybe.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Her brow crinkles up as she contemplates my question. "I sent off the application. to wherever. We'll see. the note says it must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Could it be from the art school? Already? It's early. I'm supposed to call Damian when I get home and ask him to come. I'm t humbing through the envelopes. she'll be able to get a better read on the situation and come up with a strategy.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Right. "But we'll come up with a plan. too. smiling. the fact tha t Damian was Nate's best friend means that he and you share this special bond. The whole idea of. anyway. huh?" she asks. Maybe she has a point. Except. I shou ld hear in the next couple of weeks. and Helena has a new pair of\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 196\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ feather-and-beaded earrings."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yeah right. "See. whatever happe ned with the London thing?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Who hate him. I can't believe they thought my drawings were good enough and let me in.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh my gosh. well." She pauses."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Your mom finally gave in. "This I need to think on. What if I've been so freaked out by the idea of the very thing that has actually brought Damian a nd me together:1\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So what do I do?" I ask her. mostly bills for my parents and junk mail.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I slide the envelope to the top and my heart skips a whole lot of beats when I s ee my name printed on it. Suddenl . any of this makes my stomach turn cartwheels and kick like an angry gymnast. and walk my bike into the garage." I break in. Helen a and I have agreed to meet at the diner tomorrow afternoon to talk about the ar t show. return address.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We are pleased to offer you a place in the King's School of Art Summer Program. I can't believe it."\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "I think you're looking at this all wrong."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pause and let Helena's words sink in. I wonder if Ms. I freaking got in! I fall back against my dad's Volkswagen . I got in. "Hey." I say. And the engines on the jet I was about to fly to the moon. Well. I leave with a leather cuff bracelet with the purpl e stone and some shells stitched around it and a somewhat hopeful feeling. No. And a London. I thank him. Accepting t he small bundle of letters. t his closeness and connection that he can't have with anyone else. flicker and d ie as I read the last line:\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Kindly include the enclosed permission form signed by a parent or legal guardian with requisite registration materials. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ By the time I have to leave. My eyes fall down across the rest of the letter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The letter begins:\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 197\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Dear Ms. we have gorged ourselves on chocolate chip cookies." she tells me. I meet the mailman at the foot of the driveway. It feels as though a whole garden of butterflies has been released into my gut. what I was saying is that you need to look at this tie bet ween the two of you as a good thing. I told you! It always works out in the end. "I mean. Calico could sign it fo r me. feeling suddenly uncomfortable. There's a strange blue stamp with a lady in profile on it.

I brus hed it until it was glossy and smooth.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "So. See you guys tomorrow!" Helena slides out of the booth and s tands up. I place the envelope at the bottom of my backpack.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Great. "Okay.. I put cream in my hair to flatten the frizzy flya ways. I'll ask first thing tomorrow. Calico if we could do it on February eighth.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Rest safely. you should have a voice in this. Then we'll just have to make posters calling for submissions and adverti sing the date. S till he says nothing. Promise. great." she mumbles." Damian says."\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Wait. I wanted to look good." The principal of LGHS is infamous for saying no to student-organized activities. it's a plan. and Dam ian won't even make eye contact. it's fine. over and over. I'll admit it." Helena replies. I took care this afternoon as I got ready to c ome to the diner. Helena. I mean. across from Damian . \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . She's right. "I was thinking that maybe we could a sk Ms. "and I'll ask Mr s. and she was certainly no fan of my brother's." Hele na begins brightly. his gray eyes pier cing. "I'll figure out how to get to London.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ I stop and think about it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh . I was thinking you could ask Ms. cocking her head like a bird examining a juicy-looking\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 199\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ worm. your paintings will be such an important part of the show. The whole point of doing this is to give Nate the opportunity to be recognized for what he made. That leaves me about two months to figure this one out.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I would love to know what you think. "Call for submissions?" I ask.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. Damian.y. The registration forms are due back by March 15." I tell her gently. Brown. I dabbed some lip gloss onto my lips and I chose my favorite blue jeans and the ocean blue sweater with the delicate navy embroidery around the neck. He's twisting a straw wrapper around his finger.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 200\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay." I add. confused. though."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian and I both start at Helena's words. and besides. Calico. how to get permission to enter Nate's stuff.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian is silent. I fold up the letter and place it back inside the envelope. I'm going to have to f igure out a way to appeal to her soft side." I reassure her. "Do whatever you want. Damian nods and looks at me. I feel like a deflated balloon. makes her way out of the diner. and not lookin g at either of us." Helena continues. I thought we should figure out how we're going to pull off this art show pa rty. looking uncertainly at Damian. sullen. surprised. I'm sorry.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "That sounds like a good plan. and I look at him. Shouldn't everyone get that chance?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cool. Very glad I went to all that effort. you worked with Nate."\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ Damian looks up and squints. the anniversary of what?" Helena asks." I say softly. I return his nod. "I mean.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Of the day Nate died. as though he's trying to see inside of Helena." I whisper. "So." he starts slowly. "That's it." he grumbles."\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 198\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena and I are seated on one side of the red Formica table. and how to advertise it. If she has one. what do you think?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know. yeah. it's already open to whoever wants to show their art."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The anniversary. Here we are."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. Then he looks at me. Don't you think we should encourage everyone to submit stuff?" she says.. She winks at me and." I say. and when I get upstairs to my bedroom. shaking her hips.

"Because I don't know how I would have surviv ed without you. upset. only a hairbreadth stands between us. his arm brushing my shoulder every so often.. excited at the same ti me. Icicles hang from branches. People are going to ." I reply. too. Then what?" I can't seem to catch my breath. when something grabs hold of my waist and hauls me back to my feet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's good. "You know. "I never would have found out about his art. and I can't help but sigh. clear and jagged. And the whole thing with Nate -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. Unexpectedly."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" Now excitement is definitely gaining on my embarrassment. and begin h eading down toward the park. I'm pressed agai nst Damian. slippery mud beneath our boots. I don't know . somehow. really. you didn't kill him. Once again.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "And I would never have gotten to know you. he could have killed you. He's a gentleman. "Hey. his voice heavy with disbelief. We pay our bill and get up together." Damian says slowly. louder. we reach the snowy. Damian. I don't know how to make this bett er.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "And you what?" he asks."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You mean about showing your stuff?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ .. I'm such a dork."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian drops the spoon into his coffee and sinks back against the vinyl seat.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ Damian matches my pace and stays close to me. And. and he is looking down at me.marking the anniversary. showing his work .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 203\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My breath fogs out in front of me in puffs." Damian is looking at me intently. "Then what?" I rep eat. and I can't he lp but think. my foot slides in the wet muck and I start to fall down.. his silver eyes glinting. His black trench coat can't be nearly warm enough.." I say quietly. bu t it might as well be the Grand Canyon. His forehead is creased with lines and he looks ill at ease. And\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 201\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I don't know how I would have survived this year without you. as I take a step..\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 202\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Thirteen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ my heart is thumping as fast and hard as a jack-rabbit runs. marchi ng forward. neither of us saying a word. I'm fine. I find we are so close. but something stops me. "Yes. I wish I knew what he was thinking. muddy swath of grass that surrounds the playground and leads out to the baseball diamond. I'm just kind of nervous. I'm the guy who killed hi s best friend.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Yup. With each touch. He folds his hands together and picks up his head to meet my eyes." he tells me gently.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Careful there. I do. I don't know how to take away the hurt and the guilt." I say. I want to take Damian's hand. We c ross Union Street in silence.. ignoring the belching.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Is everything okay?" I ask. He was the one being reckless. "He was the one behind the wheel. as light as a breath.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You sure? You look kind of. either. I don't know. Damian stands back to let me walk ahead of him. grinning. looking hard at me. cut diagonally across the county road." he answers tersely.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. peering at him. feeling embarrassed and. as though all the boughs of all the trees are weeping. look at me." my voice tra ils off."\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Really?" he asks. Damian stares straight ahead. And I. want to get out of here?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. how to soothe it. waves of electricity swim up m y arm. through my chest and my belly.Damian shifts in his seat and stirs his coffee. What right do I have to be showing his art?"\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "Damian.

eyeing me keenly. I miss his warmth."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The one in London?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I nod yes. Damian is smiling a wide smile that is as unburdened a nd light as a child's. We stay in place.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . I can't breathe.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I quickly scramble up onto the tire and sit across from him."Thanks. and the tire swings crazily.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He's going to kiss me. I want to lean into him." I mutter. He throws his head back and laughs a deep belly laugh." he says. a satisfied grin spreading over his face. my heart is tap-dancing so quickly." he whispers as he pulls back to look at me. His breath is sweet and the taste of coffee barely lingers in his mouth.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ His arm is still around my waist. In an instant. Th e lurching of the swing loosens something inside of me. too. Damian lowers his head to mine and I think my chest might explode . but my whole being feels electrified. letting the tire rock back and forth. Want to swing?" I nod.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I straighten up and nod. knees just brushing. brush\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 205\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ over my lips. Wyatt's horses growing wings." I say quietly. and rea ches across to grab me in a hug. And as we all know. "It's in your map. tilting and\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 204\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ spinning in wild circles.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Your mom?" Damian prods.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I used to come here with Nate." I feel buoyed by the wild fr eedom of the swing. I can't move. I need to get her to sign a permission form.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "So do you. and I can't help but gig gle madly. was that a stupid thing to say? I turn my face into h is jacket and breathe in his scent. how about Lo ndon? When do you leave?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't think I'll be going.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Finally. Dami an drops his feet and lets them drag us to a halt." I sigh and scuff my boots against the ground. too. and Damian u nwraps his arm." Damian answers. Damian's arm warm and heavy around me. He stretches his long leg over the lip of the tire and hops on. And all I can think is Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh. ready. actually.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. "Fine. Slowly. I wouldn't be surprised if my hair were sta nding on end.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh my gosh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I got accepted to the summer art school. rushing apart and then back together. Finall y.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I've imagined this and now that it's really happening." I murmur. that's a bout as likely to happen as Mr. where the tire swing sways slightly in the frosty br eeze. I'm afraid. We c ontinue tramping across the field. are you okay?" he asks." Damian says. and when I turn away to keep walking. "I have news. Oh. Damian lets out a loud whoop.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You have the softest lips. a small grin playing at his l ips. as the tire starts to lose its momentum and we begin to slow down. Better than fine. then lips. like some exotic but comforting spice.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's your news?" Damian asks. he smells good. nutmeg or car damom. he keeps it there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. I close my eyes just as the lightest feather of a breath. I am like a block of wood . "Come on!" he calls. by the memory of his arm around my waist." I search for something to say. we reach the playground. and I can't help but keep ramrod straight.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. "That's amazing!" he shouts. then lifts his feet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Good. by his closeness. the cold of the cha ins whistling through my woolen gloves. Damian kicks his legs back and holds us poised." I say sarcastical ly." I feel shy all of a sudden. I feel as though my whole body has turned to liquid. "So. into a river of mill ions of droplets.

I don't think that's all we're meant to do." he mutters. "no."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "But then what? What happens when it's time to go?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Then I just go. I think that's probably part of it. squeezing his hand and smiling into his gray eyes. wo rk.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "I just don't want you to do something stupid. hangs in the air between us.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We disentangle ourselves from the tire swing and begin to walk. which i s cold and rough. muddy snow squir ting and squirching beneath our feet."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" Damian's confusion is evident. Unless . "Just promise me you'll wait a while. To sense. "Life is supposed to be about passion." It is as though a chilly frost has fallen down upon us.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean. what are we supposed to do?" I tell him. scrawled all across his face. "I promise.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Unless what?" Damian asks eagerly. There has to be a way to get you to London. And that you'll talk to me before do ing anything irrevocable."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. I'm certain it's a bad one. pulling back. In an instant. reaching for my\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ 207\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ hand. sleep.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Unless I can get my dad to sign it in his zombie-like state. Damian. all of this just makes me wonder." Damian says. to experience it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know." I reply. until the blood be gins to pump to the surface. To love. I could do this. Narrow. work." Damia n's brow wrinkles in concentration." I want him to understand. We're meant to live. Do you?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He looks at me pleadingly. it's never going t o happen for me. "If I don't go.. More to it than just existing lik e an animal. die? Is that all there is to life? To living? Because som ething tells me there is more to it than that. Just leave and finally slip out from underneath my mother's controlling thumb. am I meant to just eat. "Let's walk?"\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Let's walk.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "How is it stupid? If I don't go --" I take a deep breath and look into Damian's eyes. this discussion has opened up a chasm bet ween us."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 208\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's what I think. that's not what I . I need someone to help me know what to do. to see things and make new things. we need to strategize.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm freezing here.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't want to fight. to taste. almost invisible at first. go to school. and the cut widens. but ho w am I supposed to know that." I tell him." I agree. and die. if I'm stuck here?" Damian looks down at the ground." I have an idea. but it could work. do what my mother says.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cor. He leans over to kiss me again. I promise. becoming painful." Damian says warningly. "No." A cocky sureness is growing inside me. Cor.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look. I will die. toward the baseball diamond. someday. sleep. I coul d do it and get away with it. and this time I bring my hand to his cheek. etched into his eyes. okay?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I promise you. okay?" \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Fine. I mean.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 206\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Unless I sign the form myself. then drops his gaze. To experience and to create. I could forge her signature. Might as well be a cat if we're just supposed to eat. I've put my foot in it." Damian starts slowly. like a paper cut. I don't really see any other options.." I repeat." Damian says. Oh. and then. I don't know."Well. I don't think --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. "just promise me you won't do anything rash just yet. But I think we're put here to do more than just exist. Damian holds my hand.

beyond high school. "What happened in the car that night?"\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian sucks in a sharp breath and winces."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Maybe."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Are you sure?" I ask. scarlet fingers. telling him 'Man. Like the tree was screaming. telling him to stop the car.' And he asked if he could pick me up. "I am just so grateful that he didn 't kill you. it's okay. crying and breathing each other in. "Yes. Anything. Over the phone.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. and he just. casting shadows over his eyes. As we turn onto my street. There's nothing you could have said to convince him to sto p.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We begin the long march back through the meadow. and then he was driving so fast. Not one of them has ever lived anywhere else." I sigh with remorse. and I kept asking him to slow down. could I ask you something?" I am hesitant to go on. then begins to talk. to just pull o ver. trying to figure out how I could have made him pull over. trying to sha ke them loose. as he drove out of town." he says.' but he wasn't listening.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. he started flying all over the road. "Or your mom might get upset. you did everything you could. too. "I would guess that for you and me. and watch as the sky turns a hazy tangerine."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian shakes his head. My parents were born here. and I said sure . "I tried to make him stop." Damian explains. And then I passed out.meant. Damian walks me home. and I started to get scared when he pulled ou t onto the county road and you know. Maybe it was me sc reaming. But I did nothing. until the sun has nearly set." A sob shudders through me. was really ticked off because Julie had just broken up with him . And he called me and said. and then all I can remember was this horrible re nding screeching crashing sound.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . I just think that if I can't get to London. I just have to drive.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. How I could have pulled up the emergency brake or grabbed the wheel. and I was shouting at him. 'Here's a new trick. looking off to the tree line. His eyebrows climb into his forehead and crash down. How can staying in thi s one tiny town be living and experiencing life to the fullest?" I ask. I think I do. their pa rents.. pulling me down beside him on a snowy-damp bench next to the baseball diamond. I know Nate. That's it. and then he looked at me and said. I mean beyond this town. and his eyes are shining with tears that he wipes away r oughly." A veil of tears clings to his eyes. Damian nods. I feel my nose and my own eyes leaking. hand in hand. Then he heads off in the direction o f the diner to pick up his car. You know what I mean?"\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "I think I do." I say quickly. I will shrivel up and then I might as well be dead. he just wouldn't. but I don't want to be alone. I know. wheeling my bike for me. but at his question ing nod."\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "You're right. Damian brushes his li ps against my forehead and says good night. living has a very different meaning than it does for our parents. you know. and he blinks. streaked with long. What about when we grow up? My family has always lived in Lincoln Grove."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wrap my arms around Damian's neck and pull his head down to me. I know how stubborn and pigh eaded he was. just ta ke it easy. 'Hey man. And I just. I would guess that it works differently for everybody. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Nate. I take a breath and continue.' and he switched off the he adlights." Damian says. but he was somewhere else... I guess that makes sense.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You should get back." Damian says. and we stay li ke that. Something.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ 209\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. huddled together. "It's all right. I replay tha t night over and over.. and he's dead\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 210\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ because of it."\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. It was like some demon just took over.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" I ask. he is not taking advantage of me. which she spits out like acid. He is kind and gentle and generous to me. How dare you gallivant ab out with him! How dare you!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 212\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian did not kill Nate!" I shout back at her. And no. my legs." My mother's head je rks back as though I've slapped her. you hear me? That boy killed Nate. but it was you and Dad who pushed him and pu shed him and made him feel like a failure.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You mean what was I doing with Damian Archer?" I sneer. yawning for . "You could n't possibly know what it's like to lose a son." she says. "You little monster. what she knows. it's small an d large at once. "He has a name. just a sliver of moonlight." All of the anger that has been building inside of me for the past eleven m onths is seething like a mass of snakes. Mom. It's your fault he d ied! Do you hear me?" I scream. He is good for nothing. Then I sl am my bedroom door behind me. eyes flashing. his voice warm with affection. I lost my brother. You couldn't possibly know!" she roars.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know you lost a son. because you and Dad h ave turned this house into a cemetery. I have no idea what she's seen. Was someone watching us? Shortly. young lady.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What were you doing. Mom! I lost Nate. like a screw up. You don't know anything about it. abou t what it's like to be a parent. It's impossible to forget it. What on earth were you doing? I want to know right this instant. my hands. too! But I want to live!" And I spring from the kitchen and up the stairs. I'm literally shaking. "Nothing like you. tighter. well. This map of all that I know."See you tomorrow?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Wouldn't miss it for anything. Don't you tell me it was my fault! Don't you dare. "Nate took care of that all by himself.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "Do not even think about getting smart with me. I can't stop trembling. what were you doing with that boy?" Her tone has grown nasty. taking no comfort in the way the walls shudder and a picture frame containing a photo of the four of us falls from its perch over my desk.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "How dare you! How dare you!" she hollers. There is so much hate and hurt in here. It's Damian. and my mother is\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 211\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ standing there in the kitchen. and he wanted to live. all of me. And we're just lucky Nate didn't take Damian with him! Nate was a beaut iful artist.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I mean.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 213\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Sometime in the middle of the night I wake up. What were you doing with that boy. Cora?" she snaps.. Cora. her voice quiet and mean. I have to get out of h ere. and I can't live with it anymore. There are acres and acres of fields stretching out. Then I sit up and turn on the lamp beside my bed. I open the door into the house ." Damian answers. I curl up on my bed.\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I walk up the driveway and notice the curtain at the kitchen window that faces t he street move." \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I was taking a walk with him. At first I lie on my back and loo k for stars outside my window. boots and clothes and all and feel my thoughts grow cold and still. I pull m y sketchbook from my backpack and begin flipping through the pages. But the sky is cloudy and I can't see any. and it catches on boy.. hands balled into fists at her wai st. Tears are streaming down both of our faces. Is that against one of your many ridiculous rules ?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Is that boy taking advantage of you?" Now her voice grows higher. "It's all your fault!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother's face is as white as the snow outside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel as though all the breath has been knocked from me. "You don't know the first thing. all the places I've known my whole life .\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Would you stop calling him that boy?" I snap back.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "All right." I tell Helena wryly.not just Damian and me and Nate -. "Witch. will I stop belonging altogether? And can it even matter if I don't feel like I belong? Will I ever know the answers to these questions? Something tells me it may be a long time before I figure it out. We're going to wallpaper the school with posters. But I don't want any funny business. anything.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 215\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Posters. if we can feature Nate's art and have a sp ecial gala opening at the start of the art show. the principal. She is electricity. No. Ms. Sheldon. we kissed. it would seem your priorities are not straight. earning her another glare from the librarian. No Nathaniel antics. At least we got the green light. N ot that I'd go in for that anyway. It still astonishes me how so many teachers a nd kids lump me together with my brother. to incite. The librarian. What are you doing after school? Can you come to my place to plan?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.the frown lines smooth out. I just say it and sort of enjoy the blazing heat that engulfs my ears and neck and cheeks. I was getting to that. well.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Easy there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You are clearly holding something huge back. No one could belo ng here more than me. to excite. we paper the place. though."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Huh?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 216\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Wait. this house doesn't feel much like a home."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ There." she says. the crease between her eyes dee pens until it's a small canyon. Spit it out!" Helena is a nxiously twisting a lock of buttercup hair around her index finger. Now. There's so much space. Brown seemed like a priority.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I report all this to Helena as we huddle in the library during lunch. I'm pretty sure I'm grounded for life.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay." I reply. what!" Helena interrupts with a squeal. will that sever my connection to Lincoln Gr ove? If someday I don't live here anymore. so --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Wait. Start from the beginning.abou t everything. I got it. B ut as I explain that it would still be a chance for all the students of LGHS to show their artwork -. quiet! Yes. hemmed in by roads and fences and little white and yellow ho uses with their blue and red shutters and all these people who have lived in thi s tiny town their whole lives. She just t osses her head. where we are locked in by land and more land on all sides. but Mrs. She twists her face into the sternest grimace. glanc es over and shushes us loudly.. since my mom caught me with Damian yesterday." she instructs . Here in the middle of this country. too. confused."\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "Lady. you unders tand. It's like he r whole being is carried away by her excitement and energy and curiosity -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ So why do I feel like I don't fit?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ If I run away to some far-off place.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Seriously?" she shouts. Calic o's art studio. It'll be awesome. Ms.. Clean and quiet. This is most unsatisfactory. and I don't like it! You'd better tell me everything. And don't even think about leaving one single little detail out. "I'm going to give you permission to do this in Ms. whose parents and grandparents have lived here al l their lives. My parents and grandparents were all born here. You know.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "Helena. Bradley?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The emphasis on my last name wasn't lost on me.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ 214\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Fourteen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I ask Mrs. seriously. Only the posters hav e to be art. Forget about her. For now. you might break every single pane of glass in a five-mile radius. Brown.miles to meet an endless sky. and she gives the most imperceptible nod. but everything feels so cl ose.

should I come over to your house?" she asks. I don't know if I should be traipsing around town after school today. she makes me feel normal. while I'm stretched out on the floor. flowing like ribbons. and then he just sort of leaned over and kissed me. I watch her as she le aves..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You left us at the diner.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ While everyone else has treated me like I have a mildly contagious rash. and I so rt of slipped. none. somehow we ended up walking to the park together.. Helena just swept in and nursed me back. and he put his arm around me. Everything about her is fluid as a river. It was like Antietam.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. then quickly lowers her voice." I reply.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Something that will make everyone want to come see what's\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ 218\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ going on."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We set to work. because she saw Damian walk me u p to our driveway. and you just want to stick your nose against their neck and stay there?"\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ I nod in agreement. breathing him in. kept it there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. and there is nothing I can do to peel off the go ofy grin that is plastered to my lips. I don't know. it was amazing. "What if we make a collage of pictures of Paris or famous museums or something like that?" she suggests. then bolts as the bell rings. and. then filling in the white spaces with ch arcoal sticks. Then we got on the tire swing --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "The tire swing?" Helena sighs. colored pencils. and she has her own silly smile stuck to her m outh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. when I got home.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So." Helena says. "He smells so good. what do we write?" I ask. it's\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 217\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ not for her to hear or to know."\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "That's the best. and I imagine she is thinking of Cam.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Sounds like a good idea to me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. Awful. Helena at my desk. my mom came after me. "What next? What di d he say? What did you say?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'll get to it if you give me a chance. And what a wonderful feeling that is. sketch pad and pencil in hand. So. Thanks. Her messy hair."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "To the park!" she screeches. if you're grounded.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ "You're willing to risk it?" I say disbelievingly. "We were walking.me. and he just. Even her camouflage army jacket hangs loose. Beyond yesterday. unopened National Geographic mag azines that have been languishing in a wicker basket in our living room. we were swinging. and tempera paints. Not that I have much experience. how did you meet Cam?" I ask. and she completely flipped out." I tell her.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena flashes a cocky grin. "When they smell so good. isn't it?" Helena says.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena is staring off into space."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "And it was amazing?" she prods." I reply. "So. her xylophone vo ice. "That's so romantic!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Will you let me finish?" I wait for her to nod. cutting photos from the unread. I don't tell her all the things Dami an and I spoke of."\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yikes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We're sitting in my bedroom. and everyone who has some kind of artwork stashed in their back pocket want to come show it. act ually. thumbing through my copy of The Odyssey.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ ." Helena says as she flips the atlas to a page showing a m ap of France. Those words are between Damian and me. the strokes of her paintbrush. pasting them down onto sheets of poster board. and maybe Nate.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Anyway. But it did feel good to be close to Damian like that.

"Maybe.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "These posters look pretty good. "How did that happen?" So o ften. I don't know.fo r it. f rom one end of the school to the other and have a system down -. in that short space of a half hour and the few inc hes of cold metal bleacher between us. a giggle escaping her. her face has turned a li ght shade of pink.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Perfect. but every so often. And not. just sitting u nder this big old oak tree we have. then waves his hand over it. It was like everyt hing suddenly made sense. But one day. and I roll each strip into loops and hand them to Damian. We lean into each other and laugh until tears are streaming down our cheeks. too. We are working our way through the corridors. 6 o'clock in the evening\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 221\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ .the ridiculously cruel fights your pa rents have..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ February 8. even from the start. Like. or he complains that his arms are falling asleep if I take too long to pass him a loop of tape. the dopey glow s till lighting her face. We've been best friends since w e were little kids. A carnation."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Artists! LGHS wants you to bring your drawings." I struggle for the right words. and I arrive at school early. Helena rips the masking tape. Helena or I will murmur to Damian that the poster he is holding up is crooked. I can't help but wonder at how. I never used to feel this way with Rachel. it was different. will be frozen forever in my memory."\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "It's like you can get through anything -. things just changed. smoothi ng any creases and bumps."\ par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really? I mean . I mean. And i t was perfect." I interrupt." he admits in a teasing voice.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena.Helena picks a spot. We are both doubled over with laughter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 219\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ when we were in eighth grade. or if I said the wrong thing. This moment. like a snapshot. she would tease me or be embarrassed by me -. Completely different.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. when I'm around other kids. I think. Damian holds the poster in place. as we sat on the bleachers. Then he shoots me a crooked grin and hangs his head between his raised arms as if unbearably weary . She never made me feel like she would judge me.. sculptures.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I giggle. since first grade. I don't remember how it happened. I've always known him. a whole hour before the first bell .\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "It wasn't weird between you two after that?" I ask. we were hanging out in my backyard. to tape up the posters that Helena and I painted last night and photocopied in the school office this morning. watching myself feeling so happy.. forming a pattern that actually makes sense."Cam? Well. As if." I reply. and she's lit up and happy. I feel at a loss for words. all of the shards of this fractured life came hurtling together like the pieces of a kaleidoscope. I felt perfectly comf ortable around her. and any o ther works to a celebration of art and life.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Why not?" she asks ironically. When I think about how Helena and I came toge ther.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We work mainly in silence. places a loop of tape on it. "Even if they ar e starting to feel like they weigh a ton. Damian. you know?" She looks at me earnestly. and he just leaned over and kissed me. that is.. And one day. and then it becomes totally contagious. like language just escapes me. who carefully lifts each corner of the poster. Then the wrong thing comes out. until recently. paintings.or hate me -. hovering just on the peripher y of life. our a rms around each other." I imagine she is bathing in her memory.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I remember how I felt with Damian at the park. Just perfect\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 220\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Today I feel like I'm floating outside of my body. the stupid craziness of school --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "A dead brother.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You know. "Maybe I do know.

"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ His silver eyes are dancing with laughter. kids notice the posters and stop and stare. my breath catches as I recall the plain board covered with gray smudges I found just half a year ago. My stomach flutters nervously. here's hoping. rivers. I do not know how to make a house that no longer feels like a home. Ho w do I render that?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then I know. and kiss him roundly on the lips. We only have the D hallway left. painted and positioned in it s proper place. looking down at Helena and me. He's so warm and solid. as if trying to puzzle out the answer to some complex math problem.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ But. Time goes so fast. "For sure. He puts his fingers to his temples as he ponders the qu estion. Suddenly I'm the carnation. And I can't believe I could feel more at home anywhere.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Maybe if you weren't so slow --" I elbow Damian in the ribs. creek. the baseball diamond a mat of grass. On top of the paints and pastels. metal. The schools are built of pil es of pebbles. Damian reaches over and\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 222\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ squeezes my hand. s taring at my map. one by one.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Later that afternoon. We stand back and watch as. Every single fragment of this town is there. then fall against him laughing. cotton stuffing for the skating pond.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Think people will show?" Damian asks. grass. I pull back .\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "I do. The board is shaded over with greens and browns and yellows and blues. Excitedly. Waves of bodies pour into the D hallway as we gather the leftover posters and rolls of ta pe." Helena says with certainty.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. but the halls are going to start filling up in about ten minutes. I drew in s ome of the buildings and houses and streets of Lincoln Grove with charcoal and m arker. blue mylar from a balloon for\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ 223\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the swimming pool. so let's get a move on and try to finish. the Wyatt cornfields yellow flannel.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Seashells?" he repeats. and pond.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I've highlighted the spots from my list with all sorts of odds and ends: bits of earth. from pastel pencils an d acrylic paints. It is a living thing. It's as though a new page is turning over. a standing tree branch at the bend in the county road. "The lady is a taskmaster." Helena urges. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. and a black button stru ng from a tripod of paper clips for the tire swing. Would clamshells work?"\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ "Yes! You're a genius!" I exclaim. I have never seen Damian so light of heart. leaves. The details are intricate. He lets the poster he's holding fall and wraps his arms around me. "Where can I find seashells?" I ask." Damian says with a heavy sigh and a playful shrug of his shoulders ." I joke."Maybe you should start working out. okay. woods. Haifa year. Houses that are no longer homes. sitting beside each other. cotton wool.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We quickly finish papering the last hall just as the first bell rings. an impish smile playing over her lips. and fabric. wood. I used moss and leaves for the park grounds and creek. there is a hole in the northwest corner. I can truly see my town in it. Damian and I are in the barn.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { I turn to Damian. It's almost a year since --\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ The map. where my house should rest. Now that I am several feet away from it. "There are clams in the pond. The pieces of Lincoln Grove spring from the pine surface." I add. Seashells. It is contagious and it is wonderful. I can't imagine feeling bri ghter or more beautiful. The background colors and textures reflect the fields and road s. I hate to break up the love fest. a nd although the distances are not to scale. It gap es at me. And I've drawn the scenes atop these materials with markers and paint.

"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Maybe we should bring shovels. holding up hammers\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 225\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ and mallets and screwdrivers. legs." I add with a chuckle. I've never seen so many things all in one place. soccer ball." I tell him.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "Fancy a trip to the skating pond?" I ask. Soon. I have a place. "My mom is going to kill me. There are naked lamps without shades. But lovely. just in case. I still marvel at how he holds open the passenger do or for me." Damian urges me to stay in the car.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 224\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Not to fear.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Where are we going to get shovels?" I grumble. Still weird to me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Beautiful it may be. there is a mustard yellow stove that is mis sing a burner. and I look on as Damian twists and dodges. basketball. but do you think we can find clamshells this time of the y ear? I mean. two kinds of handsaws. watching to make sure my\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 226\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ fingers. that we'll have a garage sale. The back w all is lined with a wooden plank to which hooks are nailed.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ We climb back into his car.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know. carving a path to a far corner where a snow shovel an d a garden shovel are both propped against the wall. It is practically fill ed to the ceiling.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I hear it's beautiful this time of the year. There's hardly space to walk through the clutter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Welcome to my humble abode. Damian takes the shovels from the back of his truck . tennis balls.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ Clutter. with stuff. this kissing business.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "My mom would clobber me if she knew I'd let you in here to see this mess. "Almost. I keep promising h er I'll clean it out." he replies with a grin." Damian says. our basement is almost as bad as this. from wall to wall. We're passing houses that don't look very dissimilar from mine. and although the driveway is cracked with weeds sprouting in ma ny places. It's become compl etely natural. there is a wilted cardboard box with a baseball bat and a collection of various balls -." he replies. let a lone allowed you to lift a finger to clean any of it. many of which are chipp ed and cracked. "Let's go. but some are slightly run-down .quickly. It's just that there's alwa ys something else -. We pile into the El Camin o and roar across Union Street.something better to do. the pond is frozen over." Damian answers smugly." he finishes ruefully. digging a finger into my side to tickle me and laughing at my answering shriek.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He finally makes his way back to me." he says with a grin.baseballs. He takes both shovels then pulls a spade down from the tool board. they're probably bugging out of my head like two brown d inner plates." Damian suggests. there is a crowd of vases and flowerpots. there is a pair of wooden chairs with red upholstered seat bottoms littered with holes and tears where the stuffing climbs out. He leans in for another kiss. keeping south of the county road. Damian pulls into a driveway. embarrassed by my forwardness. you stay here. The house is painted a mustard yellow with green shutters. there are lamps with shades that have turned brown and yellow with age. Now. football. shaking his head. there is a dirt bike and a lawn mower and a tool bench and shelv es of plastic containers holding nuts and screws and nails and bolts. let's go.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Once we arrive at the pond. and coat are all safely stowed inside before carefully closing th e door.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Maybe we could do it together?" I offer. the house looks well kept."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I promise you. wrapping my arm around his neck." Damian ex tends a hand and pulls me to my feet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on.\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ My eyes have gone wide. "You've witnessed our dir ty secret. But I follow him up the driveway and into the garage anyway. and a drill.

quick and fluid like a panther. He is scratchi ng at the frozen soil with a strange ferocity. but I don't kn ow what I'm begging for. I don't understand!" I sound like I'm pleading with him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Crazy?" he snaps. but it's like he's speaking a foreign language. I'll save you the trouble. It 's tough going. digging. but I haven't done a nything. But don't worry. let me. .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel like I am reeling. But something happened to create a chill that now han gs in the air between us. Some of the ice-skaters have stopped skating and gliding in their circles to wat ch us. bends. wouldn't it? Although everybody might be wondering about you.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I gasp. Fool ish. so I'm not sure that he would have to.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. What's worse is I ca n't even say what changed. with snow shovel in hand."\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ 228\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Have you gone crazy? What are you talking about?" My poor mind is trying so har d to understand. and.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Here. You don't want to be seen out here with me. even with wool gloves on my hands. my fingers are turning a s stiff as the dirt. burrowing d eep into my skin. I don't know. Once he has cleared a bare patch of soil. as though someone pulled the plug in a bathtub drain. t ucks the trowel into the ground. heavy an d bitter. I drop the spade and flex my fingers. clawing i ts way through layers of feathers and wool sweater and cotton shirt. I kneel down and begin to scrape at the hard ground with the spade.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you mean?" Damian stops digging and drops the spade. then. I can't seem to put his words together and make sense of them. Really clear. lodges in the back of my throat. The cold seems to pierce my heavy down coat. Have I?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't worry. come on. There isn't a glint of a smile in his eyes.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "We must look ridiculous --" I start." Damian says. what ar e you doing hanging around with the crazy dude who killed your brother?" He's ye lling. I'll spell it out for you. "Yeah. I mean. And suddenly our hunt for clamshells by the side of an ice-ska ting pond in the dead of winter feels worse than absurd.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ What did he think I meant? I wonder.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "You think we look ridiculous? Are you worried about being seen with the freak o f Lincoln Grove?" he snaps. nudging me over and taking the spade from my frozen fingers. It feels childish." Damian springs to his fe et. Does he want to break up with me? We aren't even officially dating. and lifts up a load of fluffy snow. turning to look at me."\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. to the edge of th e frozen water at the far end of the pond." I remark. then turns back to work. crouched here. I look over at Damian. Then he tosses the spade down to the ground. and his eyes have gone narrow and look as hard as the frostbitten earth." he says woodenly. then start again. I stay next to him and look up to see several ice-skaters eyeing us cu riously. That would make a whole lot of sense to everyon e. He drops th e garden shovel and hands me the spade. where the ice stays thin. but am cut off by a vicious glare.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I just mean that we must look pretty weird.and I follow him past the ice-skaters and the hot cocoa stand.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What a strange pair we must make.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ All of our earlier cheerfulness seems to have been sucked\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 227\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ away.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Has Damian just been humoring me these past few weeks? Has he grown tired of it. His words might as well have been a bat brought down o n my head. It's as though I need forgiveness. tired of hanging around with a flat-chested fourteen-year-old? A ball. Maybe you're embarrass ed by me. maybe. He drops it behind him then goes in for another shovelful.

"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 231\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ That's when I realize I am shuddering with great."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's impossible to tear my eyes from the doom I see scrawled across the ice.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. My heart is beating an angry. and slowly. like the report of a starter pistol. then I feel the steadying warmth of his hand closed around my wrist. A crowd has formed at the far end of the pond." he gasps.\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ The ice is mostly covered with a light dusting of snow. fixed to the pond 's surface. Must move qui ckly. "I'm sorry. I can hear his heavy black combat boots crunching over the frozen surface. no skating. Cora." He is crawling closer. can you slide toward me?"\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I shake my head. tearing sound clenches at the air." Damian is coaxing me in the soft. weaving around the fissur es and cracks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 230\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He comes close to me and reaches for my hand. My heart has started beating a rapid staccato and I don't think I'll ever catch my breath again. continues moving in a straight line toward the center of the i ce." he says. jagged branches radiating out from under my butt. He throws one leg over the wooden rails blocking access to this end of the pond. M y stomach is churning.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What were you doing. feeling the rough unevenness of the fractured surface through my g love. I lift my hand. As we reach the bank of the pond. moving deliberately as though in slow motion. The worst sound. and push off with your hands and s lide. snaking toward Dami an. my brain is churning. and I cough and splut ter. smoothly. People point and shou t. frosty surface follows us to the very edge. He starts to wal k toward the center of the ice. "Cora. toward Damian. Damian?" I manage between sobs. reaching. Cor.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ I am sitting on my bottom when I hear it. He turns around gingerly and I can read in the horror spla shed across his face that things do not look promising. He kicks the rusty metal sign nailed to the post. t owing me after him. I am frozen. "look at me. A thunderous cracking .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 229\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He doesn't waver. I look down and s ee a long seam in the milky ice threading out from under me. but I can't focus on what they're saying. too. Cor.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ The booming of another gash opening up spurs me into action. I am lying faced own in the snow. reaching. so slowly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "That's it. I look up and find Damian on hi s hands and knees. I glance down. another rupture in the smo oth. And it is crossed by a second fissure. He reaches o ut a hand to me. crawling achingly slowly toward me. Before I am even aware of what I'm doing. frightened tattoo. and sit up before I drown in snow. I think my bottom may be frozen. Just look at me. lulling tone he might use if he were tr ying to soothe a wild animal. you can do this. I plant my back han d on the ice. Then Damian begins to inch toward the shoreline. A crease of worry pocks his forehead. but before I am five ste ps from the shoreline. his trench coat billowing out behind him like a parachute. and then I am splayed out on my stomach on the snowy bank. Ano ther gasping. and my breath escapes in a grunt.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora!" Damian calls. my foot suddenly slides out from under me. and the cold damp is filling my nostrils. All I know is I have to get him back.and it rings with a metallic hollowness and the sharpness of gunfire. What is he doing?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. We're really a spectacle now. The white ripple grows like an arm. I hit the ice hard.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . heaving sobs. shakes me to my senses. I begin to crab walk. and the rest o f my body follows. "I'm so sor ry. Damian quickly shoves me forwar d. The ice h as begun to splinter. thin ice. "Cora. come back here! What are you doing?" I scream. I have started after him. I feel him beside me before I can turn my head to look for him. This must be how deer feel when the rumbling explosion of a hunter's rifle pursues them.

outlined in heavy scr ipt. Or what you were trying to prove. Look at what I just did. I'm a total screw up. and move my arms and my legs in and out like a scissor." he replies.. then plants a kiss. Now my hands won't stop shaking. Marie Bradley. And maybe that's the trick to g etting through it. I'd understand. the square of his chin.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora.I don't know. study the right angle his jawline makes. I am sitting on my bed. I've never even imagined doing something like this be fore."\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "I can't even remember now. And there we lie . I flip over onto my bac k. by March 15."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 232\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ he says.. but I can't wait. "That is insane. Something bad. to be seen with me. How could I hate your1 You're the only one who gets me. The permission forms for L ondon are due soon. I have never done s omething like this before.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ One part of me is horrified. There it is. if you never w anted to speak to me again. I jus t can't remember." he admits. Each in our own special." I say. I forged her signature. I can't tell. Where could you possibly have gotten that i dea from?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't know. we're all screw ups. but maybe he isn't for me. What did I just do?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I did it. I hold the pen there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't be stupid. including ourselves. "A snow angel?" I have not made one for years. the teardrop shape of his cheekbones. I feel free. Not anymore. willing my hand to steady itself..grown up. indepen dent -. Maybe we are put here to help each other carry the loads. the a cceptance and registration papers balanced on my lap. two screw up angels in the snow. "I don't know if I can do this. "I mean. I can't see anything el se. I do the s ame."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I look hard at him. As I say the words. Then quickly I trace the swoops and sw irls of my mother's signature.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh. I signed my mother's na me." I ans wer ruefully. we roll ourselves up an d Damian helps me to my feet. Where I have the pen point pressed."I -. I realize how true they are.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When we are too wet and shivery to lie there any longer. "I was so upset.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. Seriously. My whole body is trembling. I'm sorry. I guess . a deep blush staining his cheeks. And we walk back to his car.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Do you hate me?" Damian asks." he says softly. then he turns over onto his back and begins waving his arms and legs back a nd forth. and I stare at the thick.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 233\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Fifteen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am about to do something. familiar-looking letters. look at me. I cannot bring my eyes to meet hi s. She can't tell me what to\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 234\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ ..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Were you trying to prove something?" I ask. side by side." he tells me. the line of his nose. soft as a snowflake. his voice cracking. He is handsome. He puts his head down in the snow with a relieved sigh." \Damian mumbles. "Because I don't know what you poss ibly could have been thinking. is lugging around some kind of screwed-up baggage. Whether i t's with disgust or excitement or fear. I guess I just don't understand why you would ever wa nt to be with me. not after this. My blood feels like it has frozen in my veins. I thought --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? What could you possibly have thought to make you believe that walking out onto that ice was okay?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I thought you were ashamed of me. disgust filling his vo ice. his voice low.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I splutter. too. on my chee k. hand in hand. the black ink bleeds deep into the fibers of the paper." I tell him. through life: realizing that everybody. stupid way. the other part is exhilarated. and now .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thank you.

um. surreptitiously. What do I do? Shoul d I turn around and return to my room? Do I make up a story for why I need the s tamps?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come on in. What is with the questions all of a sudden?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stare at him." I reply tersely. Brown call her? Traitor.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you care?" I shoot back at him. but now my head is spinning. indicating the oak desk that fills up part of the room. old. pausing to listen for any noises.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 236\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Your mother seemed to think it was. Not a sound escapes. it feels -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I heard about your little project. I need a stamp. nor can she stop me from doing what I want to do. scratchy. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 235\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What's up?" I ask warily.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What are you up to?" he inquires gently. I wend my way to the door and into the dark hallway. "When?" he asks simply. I just need a stamp. "Huh?" I gurgle ungracefully . I can get away with this. I watch as my father brings his hands together as if in prayer. as if from disuse. foreign concept. and he rests his chin on the steeple of his fing ers." he says. well.. She's the only sibling of either of my parents who mov ed out of state. How did my mom learn about it? Did Mrs. thanks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I just. but a rumbling sigh comes from h is direction.do. I am really going to London. Slowly. and he doesn't say anything more. Maybe they've gone to bed.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You're having an art show of some sort?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My heart stops racing. "Dad?" I whisper hesitantly. hulking desk. Cor. I guess. I halt and pres s my ear to the door. I am sure my mouth is hanging open. Silently. and there's only one place to find stamps in this house. makes me catch m y breath. "You know.. How much is it to send an envelope to London? I wonder ." he says. so low."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. I turn the knob and nudge the door open. drawn from the savings account flush with the money my grandparents have sent me over the past fourtee n birthdays. I wanted to send a letter to -. but I don't hear a thing." I lie... Empowered.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My heart sinks into my stomach." From the dark recess of his chair in the corner. so much bigger. But. And how did he find out?\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's no big deal. catches me off guard. as if to clear it of dust.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Maybe Dad is exasperated with my short answers." I tell him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Wow. I should feel glad that I di d this. Left without a word and wi thout a warning.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora?" comes a weak voice. I can barely hear him. I star t off down the hall. then spin around and stagger out the do ." he says. he hasn't shown an iota of interest or concern for what I'm doing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Now. When it's time to buy my t icket. His voice is so soft. stamps are in the top drawer."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Dad's voice.uh -to Auntie Janie. Does he suspect that I've forged Mom's signature on the permission for m? Does he know what I'm doing? In more than ten months. his eyes seem to gleam in the lamplight as the rest of his face is e aten by shadow." I say as I start toward the huge. I shiver with excite ment. A father who pays attention .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah.I feel -. I peel off a stamp and stick it to the palm of my hand . I shake my head. This is a lie bigger. My dad's study. When I'm in front of my dad's study.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ Quickly. I was just looking for a stamp. My parents will be so sad when they discover I've left. than any I've ever told before. I have to admit. I will walk to the bank and get a cashier's check. thinking maybe I can make him forget that I am the on e breaking into his study.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. And nausea. "She told me you had found some a rtwork by Nate and were going to show it.kind of awful.

Then I realize. Carefully. feels even more fractured a nd foreign. More important. Another fre ezing draft slinks into the room like a cat. An apology." His voice trails off. I don 't know what to say to him. since . a rush of cold air seems to wrap itself around my ve ry bones and marrow. I wonder what they talk about. One "I'm sorry" is not enough. and there is still a gaping hole in the center. It's a command.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I move over to his bed and perch myself at the edge of the mattress. and he falls back into the cushions o f his armchair and is enveloped by the evening gloom once more. I had never expected this. and it has taken me by surprise. Will never be enough to make up for all those months of silence.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Wait some more. but as I peer through the sparkling haziness of the gla ss. Gently. Then he leans forward and clears\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 237\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ his throat with a sharp cough that seems to cut through the charged air. I bring the glass up to my eye and look through it. closing the door with a quiet click. if he's feeling sorry for hims elf or sorry for the way he messed up everything.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ In Nate's bedroom.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ I never managed to get those clamshells for my map. a chill envelopes me. Now there is a hole in the glass. how to bui ld this. Sorry for me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I know I left you alone. so that my feet seem to turn of their own accord and march me back into the study. Now this house. there is no need for hesitation anymore. I heave a sigh -. "Are you here?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wait. wrapping itself around my arms and shoulders. Cold air whistles into the room. I stand in the doorway with my hands behind my back. "Since Nate died. A cloud of frosty crystals prevents me from seeing clearly." It is as if he has used up t he last of his strength saying this to me. That's it .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora!" he calls.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wonder what my dad is thinking about right now. it's like looking into a dream. Will Mom try to stop me? Ha."\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ It isn't a quavering question or a whisper. Clearly they do talk. I know what lies inside. there is a tiny mirror with a seashell frame around it that m y grandparents had brought back from a trip to Florida many years ago. I swing my head wildly about. just behind the bed wh ere I'm sitting.. In that I'm your father.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Still nothing. stunned. I open the door. It wiggles. don't get fresh with me kind of tone that I haven't heard in almost a year. I wonder if he k nows about\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 239\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ .or.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nate?" I whisper. Or a fun house. where everything known is su ddenly the unknown or the unusual. as if waiting for some kind of blow. I move back up the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 238\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ hall to Nate's room. I reach out my hand and graze the triangular shard with my fingertips." he continues. Mom and Dad. "and I'm sorry for that. now. w hen they're by themselves. My mouth opens and closes once like a fish. and then I spot.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yet.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Nothing.. Loudly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ Between my mother not speaking to me and my father's renewed interest. "Come back here. a small crack in the window. when I enter the room. so as not to cut myself. this real house. well. I cock my head and brace m yself. she can try. smacking my forehead with a great "Aha!".no ghosts here. then I leave. I feel li ke I'm trapped in an insane asylum. roughly the shape of Michigan . An admission. I prod the loose piece out of the pane. I know that I haven't been there. they know about the art show. The splinte r of glass rests heavily on my palm.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ I'm reeling. fingers twi sting and knotting and kneading themselves anxiously.

Then a terrible thought occu rs to me. I take a long piece of cardboard out from under my bed -. . trying to pry it loose from its frame. I'll lose my courage. onto the cardb oard. "Um. I place the shard of glass and the mirror on the cardboard. and how did this window break. hi. Mom. not to do som ething stupid that I would regret. I'll wimp out. it's Friday night. and soon I have a pile of tiny shells. I can mount this onto my map. It's only 8:30. which just goes to show that I'm a prisoner. I jump out of bed and look out my window to the mailbox.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ "Are you looking for something. I suck in a deep breath and jog down the length of the driveway to the mailb ox.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ So. I grab a palette knife from my desk and wedge it between the mirror and the f rame and begin to pull it apart. Gently. Be sides. and this is the only course of action open to me. all those we eks ago.London. and so I cut away the excess cardboar d. rustling through the drawer of Nate's bedside table. To talk to him about it first. There is a peaked roof and even a little chimney.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I clean up.my dad gave it to me once to use as a hard surface when I used to draw on loose sheets of construction paper. Then. seashells start droppi ng off the frame.a letter or a bill?\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I dig out my slippers from underneath the disheveled piles of drawings and books and discarded clothing. The final. What if my parents have to mail some' thing -. leaving a small square beneath the house as a base. The mirr or pops and shatters into a dozen jagged pieces.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 240\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Using tweezers to pick them up. I sigh and flop back down on my bed. I find the mirror with the seashell frame. Now. Then I set about fiddling with the mi rror. I think I'm safe. Maybe. and head out to the mailbox. In the wiggling process. I begin to glue the pieces of glass and slivers of mirror and seashells to each other. and slip ou t of the room. But I know tha t if I don't mail this letter right now. It's Friday night. I remember Damian telling me." I tell her. As I pass through the garage and slowly w eave my way between my parents' cars. They come off easily. b lah blah blah. pop the envelope inside." I fumble for something to say. taking care to pick up any extraneous shards of glass. Done is done. I shift the racket over to the piece of glass from the window and do the same. until I have cobbled together what looks like a miniscule house. The ba se of the house is glued to the cardboard. \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. Probably not. and I can't even see my boyfriend (if that's what he i s). and lift the red flag. the mailman. should pick this up early tomorrow a fternoon. I open the mailbox.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. if my mother told him she'd forbidden me to go. because the glue is old and dried out."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I pull a glass down from the cupboard and pour myself some orange juice.\par\pard\p lain\hyphpar}{ A year ago. no. I can just pull off all the shells instead. Cora?" My mother's dead' ened voice startles me. just wanted a glass of ju ice. then wipe my hands on my jeans and grab the now-stamped envelope with the permission form off my desk.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 241\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When morning comes. I guess. so Joe. and run downstairs. I think. I bring my tennis racket ou t of my closet and rest the butt of the handle on the mirror and press. It seems to have been glued togethe r. he'd have looked at this broken window and roared about how the heat he was paying for was escaping from the house. "help yourself. I feel like I am going to bounce off the walls of my bedroom . I pocket it and then. Before. missing piece. The flag is still up. Th at's it. I check my clock. Joe won't get here for at least another four or five hours. There are no envelopes in the bills and letters and things pouch in the kitchen. when the acceptance letter first arrived. not to do this." she replies.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I'm back in the safety of my own bedroom.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can use this piece of glass. I bet he'd just shrug his shoulders and shuffle back to his chair.

Mom?" I ask.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I get ready for school. She looks\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 242\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ exhausted. then my mo m would squeeze the juice when she got up. Now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ What's changed? Well. then gets up and wanders into her sewing room . She is clutching her coffee mug as though it were a lifeline. Helena and Cam were supposed to meet him there. My heart flut ters excitedly. a tiny burning pull. And Rachel and I aren't spea king to each other." She picks up her mug and pushes out her chair.\p ar\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Are you -. I just don't see any other way. It was the first thing she'd do.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. And I'm making my own art. But that tradition went out with The Accident . My dad would pick up oran ges from the grocery store on his way home from work Friday evenings. and I am so proud of him.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ One thing that's stayed the same: I don't want to be a screw up. I am treated like a broken thing to be guarded. Well. and how he would daydream with his eyes o pen. I am doing something bad by lying to her. But they're broken. I wonder if I would have found out about his art.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My parents used to trust me.by Nate's best friend. or if he'd have continued to guard that sec ret. how I f .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel a tug in my chest.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 243\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Sixteen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ February 8. There are dark circles under her eyes. One year has passed since The Accident. today is the day his secret is released into the world. I remember how looking into his eyes felt. When I think about what I've done. I can't help but remember my first day. sucking on his lower lip. just trying to keep breathing -. but I have a new friend. I wonder if he would still be acting so crazy. My parents act like zombie prison-masters. it feels like just yesterday that Nate was calling me a dork as he breezed out of the house.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ If Nate were alive. Like when I think about Nate. like Nate is dead. Cor. Damian said he'd leave early this morning to pick up all of the artwork in the Wright barn and bring it over to school in his El Camino.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 245\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ As I step into the school today. I don't know how a whole yea r got by me. I guess they'll never trust me again. they used to pay attention to me. I remember his laugh and\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ 244\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the way his nose scrunched up when he smiled. were left hanging in some kind of suspended animation.and time got stuc k in there with us. and I feel g ood about it. On one hand. I started high school and have b een kissed -. "I don't think I am. carefully packing a change of clothes and some makeup in to my backpack. sitting there in her ratty pink terry-cloth bathrobe. to help bring out all the pieces a nd load them into the back of the truck." she says.are you okay. someho w. that everything went okay. On the other. I remember how intent he looked wh en he stood out in the baseball field. This is it. like looking into my own.a few times -. too. I remember how he used to help me catch minnows in the creek and hold my hand when we cros sed the street to go to the pool.we used to have fresh-squeezed juice on the weekends. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I bring my glass over to the table and study my mom. The thought makes me feel sick to my stomach. there are the more subtle changes. there is the obvious stuff. and her hair hangs in strings around her face. I'm aching to know what happened. it's as though we three rem aining Bradleys got tangled up in a pool of quicksand.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then. and I miss him. I suppose another difference is that I know about N ate's art now. forging my mother's signature. afte r switching on the coffee machine. looking at me earnestly. I no long er concentrate on the fact that he either ignored me or tormented me.

"It was no problem. I think we have our first participant. and other assorted works. mobiles. It's like a hig h school rainbow. Suddenly. the jailer wouldn't let me out of her sight.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Not yet." he greets her. But this school has come to be as muc h mine as anyone else's.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Hi.elt like a fish swimming upstream. And I smile back at him. "Dana. I make my way to the art room . the re are kids from the basketball and soccer teams. against the flow of all the other kids."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Don't worry about it. collages. "Hey." she says uncertainly. Nate's sculptures are stre wn across every flat surface in the classroom. Dana. we did it!" she proclaims happily. hesitates the re. too. grateful for his thoughtfulness. Dana. there are goths and emos.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I realize that Damian is staring at me."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Wait. "We're still trying to figure out how to set up e verything --" I stop talking as a stream of people start to file into the art ro om.\par\pard\plain\hy phpar}{ "Wow! Thank you." he adds." I manage to reply. all carryin g paintings. One last silhouette appears in the doorway. "Hey. and Cam. hey. "Pretty soon there won't be room for all of this stuff. "So. He comes over and puts a hand on my shoulder. his gray eyes silvery in the bright sunlight pouring through the windows." Cam chimes in. "I'm fine. balanced on its stone-and-metal base. prints. Cam." Damian introduces her. brushing his floppy brown hair out of his eyes . laughing. And there's my map.\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Rachel?" I ask.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "Cora!" Helena drops her bubble-wrap sheet and prances over to me and throws her arm around my neck.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 247\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I never would have guessed that all of these people were artists. sketches.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey." Damian says. my girlfriend. guys." I agree. He smiles at me. I survey the c rowd of kids dropping off their works. how are you doing today?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 246\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I smile. "Do you have something to submit?"\par\pa . What? His girlfriend? Oh my gosh.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hi. I'm sorry I couldn't come help. "Can you believ e this? Most of these kids don't even take art! It's all our posters. He squeezes my hand and nudges me toward the door. feeling a warm glow heat my cheeks. Damian's paintings are resting on easels. and Damian huddled in a corner of the room. and recognize a girl from the junior class. look. It's really cool." I reply. popping the bubbles in giant sheets of bubble wrap. It seems every clique is represented.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Thanks. It's amazing !"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It is amazing. wincing at the note of shock in my voice. this is Dana. and Helena. As I move toward it. I like your map. leave their pieces and walk out again. How about you?"\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ "I'm okay. how alienating this building felt. of ho w cold. Hey. and skaters and calculator nerds. A dimple winks in his cheek as he tosses me a shy smile. the figure steps forward into the room.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ I turn. cheerleaders and hip-hop wannabes. I like this feeling of us being a foursome." Damian thrust s his chin in the direction of the door. did anyone else drop off any pieces to be in the show?" I ask. She's in my English class. and it feels comfortable. But y ou know.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena comes over to Damian and me with her hand over her mouth. sculptures." she whisp er-screams. Damian is by my side. where I find Helena. "Look. what are you doing here?" I ask. The first bell will ring any minute. for doing all this. There must be at least two dozen kids here from various classes. and for a second time this morning I am blushing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Some more kids trickle in. And. t his is Cora.

so there's space for people to walk through the exhibit and stop in front of each of the pi eces. "Thanks. I just wanted to think about boys and c lothes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I brought -. Rach.I am not sure what -. we can clear out the center of the room. "Look. Cor. For not being there for you." Macie stammers. "I already promised Lizzie -. but I don't think we do. relief washes over me." I nod in agreement with a small smile. "I just wanted to come by a nd see if you needed help." she replies. Just giving the Nasties more fuel to use again st me. So. I'm truly sorry for that."\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ Her eyes meet mine. "And I think I took a lot of that ang er out on you. whom I didn't even se e slip inside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. I look up and my breath catches as I recognize who the latecomer is: Macie Jax.affect ion.but we can rest them on these easels. then step out into the hallway." she announces. do you want a sneak preview of the show?" I propose. I'm sorry. That's\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 250\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . Very smooth." I whisper. I close my mouth and try to not act like a total idiot. Cam." she mumbles." We both sniffle and smile wavery." I say. But I will definitely be there after school. but as I loo k at my old friend and think about my new friends in the art room. Nasty #3. "I don't have an artistic bone in my bod y. is directing them and helping to clear tabletops and easels.Elizabeth -that I'd meet her before homeroom. we won't be able to hang the paintings -. "I was so angry after Nate died. a tear ha s already slipped down my cheek. And somewhere between not knowing how to talk to you and not wanting to think about what had happened to you.\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ I think my jaw just scraped the floor. for being such a jerk. surprised. I'm sorry. then twists around agai n." Too late.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Please don't cry." she says." She turns to leave. wow. well. Calico. and Ms. We sit on the sill of one of the tall wi ndows across from the art room." Rachel begins uncomfortably. offering me one. You know. it's okay. and Damian are lining up tables an d stools around the periphery of the room." I respond. Helena." I tell her. Queen Bee.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "Well. I'll see you later then. too." Rachel says. "I'm sorry for everything.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "I just didn't know how to react." she says." \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 249\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I guess things are not going to go back to the way they used to be. I realize it' s okay.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ When I return to the art studio. They are wide and full of apprehension and growing moist. then.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Um." she answers with a gruff chuckle.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 248\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. "How to talk to you or be with you. "And if you guys can come at lunchtime. I became this giant jerk. warmth." Rachel wipes her nose with her sle eve then digs through her bag for tissues. too.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Peace. watery smiles.I brought something for the art show.rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "No.\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "Hi. I guess I'll go. "All right.we're just not equippe d for that -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. hi."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I'm shifting some easels to stand against the wall by the door. Quickly. And I wanted this year to be different. when I sense tha t someone is waiting to enter the classroom."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Peace?" I ask. "I'm sorry for that. "Oh.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Unfortunately. and I just held on to that anger for months. "Because then I'll cry."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh." A rush of-." I tell her.

to see my map. "See you guys at lunchtime!"\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "See you at lunch. a collage of papier mache and found obj ects. not bringing them to this.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "So. Then she gives a small wave and exits the room." Helena sings sweetly. If you don't want us to --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. No one mentions Nate to me. then scatter.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Mercifully. since it's the anniversary and everything. Damian. and she seems to regain her bravura and walks boldly the rest of the way. ac tually. You know. And I don't believe any of my teach ers or classmates are\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 251\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ aware of the significance of the date today. A Nasty in the art show. which they place in the middle of the room. it means a lot. "It's really nice." She looks at me intently then pulls me into a loose embrace. it's fine. though. "Only if it's okay with you. though.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ For the first time I am conscious of the fact that I do feel strange about not m arking this day with my parents. taking in all of the artwork w e've amassed for the show. "I mean. Cam. you k now."\par\pard\pl ain\hyphpar}{ Macie gingerly sets one foot inside the art room. Helena corners me and says. I wonder wha t the show will be like. but I'm really okay with it . which. The four of us finish moving the furniture just as the bell rings. But kind of cool. we thought Nate's pieces could go here." we all echo. I think my stomach has sprouted a whole garden of insects. Calico rearrange the room a nd hide extraneous pieces of furniture in the storage closet.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ "What are you guys doing?" I ask. I am grateful." I say. coming to where they are sliding the table. "I thought we were leaving the center clear. This is unexpected. my classes pass uneventfully. as Helena.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 253\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b ." I say. I guess this is it." I tell her. I feel kind of weird about my family." Damian comes up behind me and slings an arm around my shou lders. Just two and a half more hours. She lays her piece. and I help Ms. in the\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 252\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ middle. It feels good to smile at Rachel and s ay hi as we pass on our way out of homeroom." Cam says. actually. She looks around. almost as though she were afra id of walking into a snake pit. "I wasn't sure how to ask you this earlier. and sad that they won't be here this afternoon to see Nate's art. I wish things could be different." I add. I'm so nervous all of a sudden.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian and I look at each other. is pretty brilliant. on a table with her index car d on top of it. flanked by several easels. what it will bring. I'm fine.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's going to be awesome.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ At lunchtime. "Really. then walk down the art hallway together." Helena explains.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ There's nothing to do but wait now. Thanks." Helena shoo ts me a questioning glance.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena squeezes my arm and heads over to help Cam with a long table.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ "Just six hours to go. I think. not talking to them."\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "I think we're done. and for this. each of us heading in a different direction. to share this with me. no. tr ying to center it just so.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ Whoa. See you guys here right after school?" I ask as we walk out of the classroom.\pa r\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thank you. but I wanted you to know t hat I am here for you if you want to talk. "You can bring it in and just set it down somewhere. I have to admit.great. and he winks."\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well.

We are standing around nervously. the blues and yellows and grays -." he tells me. She beckons to me t o join her." he says. she says. Where I expected to find glowering pits of fire.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "Did you think we wouldn't come?" she asks me quietly. All of the pieces of art that more than thirty of us students of Lincoln Grove High created look terrific.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'd better go to them. but I shake it off. too. complimenting one another. and h is gaze is so full of warmth. Easels holding his watercolor p aintings and pencil drawings flank either side of the table. searching for me."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ If she only knew. without looking at me. and the lines around her brow are creased. but your map is . It feels like a real gallery in here. And I'm so glad you're going to London.Chapter Seventeen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ ms. to have two such talented siblings in one family. indeed. his voice tight.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It looks amazing. Now. It looks so festive and beautiful. the board has become a three-dim ensional.the palette I once found so stifling. and Cam is standing at her side. However\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 255\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ unhappy her parents may be. and I am alone. touchable.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You'd better turn around. trying not to loo k at our own pieces. "Sure. she is standing with an older couple.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ People have started to file into the room.and proud." Damian answers thoughtfully. Congratulations. Then the warm pressure of his arm withdr aws. forging the signature on the form." she declares. I notice that the room has filled even more. I am fairly certain I have messed up everything. "And I think he'd be happy about it . Calico leans her hip against the table where Nate's sculptures are balanced. I guess." I turn to smile up at him."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I wince as I think about what I've done. sadder kind of way." I reply. but not in an angry way. "Your parents just walked in the door. at least they can come here together and stand in th e same vicinity as Cam and be here for Helena and look normal -. A fl ash of self-pity grips me. I trudge over to the entrance of the classroom and reluctantly lift my e yes to meet those of my mom and dad. It's rare." Damian's voice is in my ear." I reply."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Do you believe he knows what's going on?" I ask. And my father. There's no room here for that ton ight. "Your brother was ex tremely talented. I let my eyes run over the map.. "What do I do?" I ask Damian frantically. "I thin k Nate does love it. "And this is just spectacular. y ou know. I find something wholly different and unexpected. He had such an exciting and original sensibility.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Slowly. everyone who has artwork on exhibit i s here. I see Helena in the far corner of the room. Calico brought in bottles of soda and bowls of pretzels and platters of brow nies and cookies. topographical. my parents have just entere d the classroom and are craning their necks. "I'm proud of you."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I hope so. in a softer. My mother's eyes are filled with tears. though. She strung up vines of twinkling white Christmas lights around the perimeter of the room. "I think Nate would love it. his arm around her waist. You should be receiving more formal training than I can provide."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 254\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Ms. I recognize her mom. Helena is chattering brightly. Your parents must be very proud. "Thanks. Calico raises an eyebrow then walks over to the corner where my map stands.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . and when I do. across the warm greens and cool browns. standing on the metal-and-stone base Nate had constructed. living thing. But I can't think about that now."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I gasp and whirl around to see that. it came out perfectly. twitchy and awkward. "The whole thing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora?" Damian sounds uncertain. Ms." he responds.. As I turn to look at the table of Nate's pieces.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I guess I do.

Instead. brushing the tears from my own face. it's just.My tongue is stuck. look. pressing my hands to my cheeks. it is. what else is there to see? Do you have anything on display here?" m y father asks. "Well. I lead them into the center of the room." My father disentangles hims elf and moves closer to one of Nate's easels. as though she is fighting to keep\par\pard\plain\hyphpar }{ 256\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ herself from crying. usi . I take a deep breath and make a concerted effort to keep it together. too.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Come." I murmur. Cora. and turns to me. you did this?" my father asks disbelievingly. It is the drawing of the mother an d son.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "He was a good boy. hand over her mouth. "I' ll show you. How I long to be a part of them again. so they c an stand in front of the collection of Nate's sculptures and paintings." I say." I whimper." Tears glisten in the corners of his eyes."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother wipes her eyes and moves over to my dad. What do you think?" \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "It's amazing.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Daddy. She bends to look at the pain ting. that kept him so far apart from us all thes e months. not sure what to do. "My beautiful boy. Imagine my surprise. even if we didn't know we needed it. She reaches out a hand as if to caress the painting. look at this. brooding look s hadows his face. which I can feel are flushed. Cora.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 258\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I do. "This is incredible." my father says. "Yes. and she begins to stroke my head. and I step in and huddle with my mother in the safe embrace of my father's arms. "Marie. we're here now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ They had no idea. He's standing in the far corner alone. "Well. the only one of the artists who isn't accompanied by parents or a crowd of friends. My stomach gives a nervous twitch." I reply. Thank you for giving this gift to us. "He could hav e been --"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Mom. for the three o f us to fit together once more. It's our town. an outsider. No one notices the thr ee of us as we gather before Nate's work."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I'm so glad you guys came..\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh my goodness. "Shh. Marie. I grope for an answer but only nod my he ad. A small smile crosses her lips. I made the map.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother crumples up like a paper doll.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ The room is really crowded now. "It's you and Nate. Nate built the base. I catch a glimpse of the man he used to be through the g ray pall that\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 257\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ painted and stained and changed him. They fit together. Would you show us around?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I can tell that there's a pretty good chance that I'll burst into tears.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I stand there.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My father steps in front of me and puts his arm around her. and for th e first time in a year. only a watcher." she says with a rueful grin.. "Mrs. Both of my parents are gaping in surpr ise. then lifts his head from the cloud of m y mother's and my hair." she cries.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mom's chin trembles."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora. too. robbed of language. chest collapsing in on itself. but I turn back to my parent s and tell them to follow me. Brown called to ask me if I knew about this." she says softly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. I look aroun d for Damian." my mom murmurs. A dark." I answer. her shou lders shaking. "Thank you for doing this. drawing her in to hi s chest." my father whispers. just looking at them. her fingertips fall onto my hair. And I am lo cked out. then thinks better of it and pulls her hand back." My mother takes my hand and they both follow me over to where my m ap stands atop the base Nate built. And he reaches out his hand to me. bustling with students and parents and some teac hers clustered in small groups around each of the pieces.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I don't see him.. I wish I co uld find Damian. I did something terrible.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 260\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "We know." Helena's voice interrupts." "You should." The nausea returns slightly." The nausea abates slig htly." comes a strangled sound from my throat.ng his nickname for me for the first time since The Accident. He wouldn't leave.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The thickness in the back of my throat starts to rise." my father says."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? What is it?" my mother asks. and replace all of the fe ar and blame and guilt with the knowledge of how much I love and need her and my dad. "I am not saying you can or cannot go. because. open to all of its student artists. as a spark of hope ignites in me. I have messed up so profo undly." my mom answers." Ms. we can talk about it." I begin.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. "I'm so sorry."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I start to open my mouth. I turn to look for Damian. so sorry!"\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora. who nods. "before it's too late and people start to go home. no. What a roller coaster of a day. and I really begin to wor ry I might be sick. Calico calls out. "We'd like to talk to him. I failed as a mother." my father replies." she says . the room begins to s ettle. We will discuss this at home. Maybe he stepped outside.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian is here. but can't spot him anywhere. an exceptional artist in her own right. You should explain about Nate and everything. If only I could somehow staunch the flow of those terrible words and thoughts." The floor.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What? What do you mean? How do you know?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You didn't put enough postage on the envelope. This wouldn't have happened without one person. the ceiling.any -. Calico will introduce y ou.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Then my mom straightens and glances at my father. I know. "You should make a speech. and I think I'm going to thro w up. I failed Nate. I know it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I did something. not waiting for me to ready myself." I moan."\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "We have much to talk about." I agree shakily. But I was so scared that if I let you have too much -. "I've been hard on you.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Good evening."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Really?" I ask." "Cora. the whole world is spinning." I tell them. She waves me to be q uiet."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Whatever it is. Ms. I don't know how I'll ever fix it. "As you know. Cor. Helena darts off to find our teacher. the memory of what I did comes rushing back. We've made this a gala opening night to honor the life and w ork of Nathaniel Bradley.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "No. But this isn't the place.freedom. "I didn't prepare anything.. "including what you've been doing with Damian Archer. I was so frightened." I bawl. surprised. each year Lincoln Grove H igh has held an art show. I'm so sorry. Gradually. "Okay. a nd I was so scared that I would --" She doesn't finish."\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "Augghh. "I'm really glad you told us about the form before I had to bring it up. It came\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 259\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ back last week. I found it. steering me away from my search for Damian.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mother continues. I forged your signa ture on the permission form for the London art program. "Mom. This year's show i s special. and I saw that you'd forged my signature. Please give a hand for Cora Br adley!"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . I would lose you like I lost Nate. would he? I wonder. I. "Rabbit.. whose map of Lincoln Grove is also on display tonight." My heart starts to beat faster. I'm so pr oud of you. lurching madly. everybody. I'm so. It helps me feel like we ca n trust you again. "Something awful. as everyone turns to look at her. who was a student at Lincoln Grove High. however." she says calmly.

Calico stops us on the way out. and as the crowd thins. "Hey." I look around f or Damian again." she says. "And all the time he had this amazing talen t and wouldn't do anything about it. Nate. We thought the best way to remember him and to celebrate him would be to include his work in the show." Rachel says. Mr. "Congratulations. I'm so pleased you're allowing her to explore it in London this summer. He left without saying good-bye. and people begin filing out of the room. Some of you may have known Nate."\par\pard\plain \hyphpar}{ "Thanks.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I reach my parents and tell them that I want to go home. and it m akes me even happier that there are so many of you here tonight who I don't ordi narily see hanging around the art room. Hello. w ho are both smiling at me encouragingly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Jerk?" I fill in." I take a step back. Mrs.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 262\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I don't doubt that tomorrow everything will go back to the way it has always bee n. "I'm so happy for you." she says.helped me find some of his artwork.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ Once more. "It really did." she replies. I try to find Damian. Cor."\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ Another voice interrupts. Nate's best friend -. has come up beside me." I survey th e room and am amazed by how full it is. people I've never spoken to once." I tell her." I say."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. "I'm glad you finally got his stuff out in the open. Cora has so much pot ential. "I am just so happy it all worked out okay. but for one night. Bradley. It drove me crazy. everybody. He kept his art hidden. And one of the things that I just couldn't deal with was how he hid it. And thank you. Everybody is clapping and staring at\par\pard\plain\hyp hpar}{ 261\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ me expectantly.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yes. "Hi. " I just -. but there is no sign of him. are looking at me with shining eyes and clapping as hard as they can. and the room erupts into applause.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "This is really great. "You must be so proud.my friend -. I realize that he's gone. then wander off to look at the rest of the art. Her green eyes are th ickly lined and her blonde hair hangs limply around her face." I smile as some of the kids start to ch uckle."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ My mom and dad greet Rachel. How strange and wonderful this evening has been. to come together like this feels like a miracle. by how filled it is with different peopl e from every walk of life. everyone." I whisper.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 263\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Julie Castor. I knew about Nate.I just wanted to thank you for doing this. It should be." I say. "Thanks for coming and thank you to all the artists who have pieces on display here. and says to my parents." \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . "This is an important date for me. He passed away one year ago today in a car accident. his art. How he acted like such a total --" she stops. I never knew this while he wa s alive. I glance at my parents." The room is silent." I begin. Each and every one is phenomenal. Ms. B radley. Nate's ex-girlfriend. and there are a lot of eyes out there.I can't catch my breath. I learned that he was an artist. a secret from almost everyone.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Thanks.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to find Rachel standing before me.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey. then turns to my parents." Julie looks at me gratefully. It m akes me really happy to see his artwork here alongside everyone else's. "Damian Archer. It's the first ann iversary of my brother Nate's death. People who are my friends and who aren't. "Hello."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar} { "I can imagine. "Thank yo u. "And in the mont hs since he died." I return.

\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I turn out my light and try willing myself to sleep. She smiles cryptically. but you'd better have a note from the principal saying you've been promoted to the junior class and you're supposed to be in my classroom now. Same result . it never will be. It doesn't\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ 266\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ work. I run into the building. I don't expect our famil y and all our problems will be fixed by tomorrow."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I sink back in my seat and mull over my mother's words. two steps in. I already ha d lost you. Thank you. "So. when the permission form is due. "Miss. too. And for allowing her to incl ude Nate's\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ artwork in the show. it is necessary. what happened?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "When I found the envelope. Or. They lifted the 4:00 p. and we don't have to hide or sneak anymore. I have to know why he left the show early last night and why he will barely even look at me. I speak up from the backseat.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ When I arrive at school. It wasn't eas y. He doesn't. It's not like before Nate died. and\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 264\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ the discussion we're going to have won't be easy. After I chain up my bike. we're very grateful to you for encouraging her. I think with relief. cur few. that somehow. He's here. I don't know what you're do ing in here. Why did he leave the art show early? Did something happen to him? Is he up set? Did he decide that the whole thing was a mistake? He called me his girlfrie nd this morning. and we reached a point of understanding. it feels like all three of us have come inside.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Yet. hoping he'll smile and leap to his fee t." my mother begins. I hope Damian will materialize. I feel unsteady. No sign of him. uncertain. run to the classroom door. there will always be a hole i n our family. and as we walk thr ough the school building. they told me I could see Damian. Then your father and I had a very long and frank talk. either. How everything changed in one night. together. I think. I wave my hand.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Dully. I immediately spy his blue El Camino in the parking lot . I try again. What is going on? I start to feel nervous.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 265\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\b Chapter Eighteen}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The stink of greasy pizza fills the house. he looks up at me. from the cold. I take out my cell phone a nd dial Damian's number. fighting through the slow-moving crowd of students towa rd Damian's locker. a booming voice rings out. and swallow me in a hug. and that I'm allowed to see him.m. I think. I can't wait to tell him what happened. I duck my head into his homeroom and spy him crumpled into a desk in the corner of the classroom." They shake hands all around. though. somewhere along the way. "I realized that we were on the v erge of losing you.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The phone doesn't ring. and says. and my par ents shepherd me to the car. so he must be okay. Could he regret that? I toss around in my sheets. I start to enter t he classroom. There was a long night of talking and explaining and crying and pizza.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian!" I cry. Like a shroud. I'm not sure how I fit now.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Once we're all seat-belted in and on our way home. He doesn't stir from his seat. But now. But if this family is going to stay together. My parents and I got to know each other again. All I know is that I have to understand why Damian won't speak to me.My mouth goes dry and I look at my mother. it goes straight to voice mail. and they said they would discuss whether I could go to London and decide before March 15." The very\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . his ever-present black tre nch coat wrapped around him. I dial a third time and receive the voice mail once again.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am in bed and my face feels tight from dried tears. What happened. I won 't know anything until I see him in school tomorrow. but I expect things will be be tter. "We ll.

I don't understand.\par\ pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He takes a deep breath and lets out a loud sigh. of loss rips at me. tears pricking at my eyes.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ At lunch I sit with Helena and Cam and describe our exchange in the hallway. maybe he was intimidated by your parents. Elizabeth by her side. then bow my head." I sound path etic. I just didn't -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ . I dart a pleading look in D amian's direction. That's a good idea.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ The bell rings. I can't help it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I hear the footsteps behind me before Mr." I say. and besides. I cran e my neck. I just didn't feel like hanging around any longer. "Nothing happened. as if he is about to explain. I notice that many of the kids who were at the art gallery show last night are here in the cafeteria. and mumble an apology and back out of the r oom. Cross has risen from his desk at the front of the room and is glaring at me crossly. Now. picking at a loose thread on my sleeve." I say.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I -."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ It's as though someone has released all the fury of a raging\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 268\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ sea on me." Helena guesses.you left early last night. I am knocked down and battered.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What?" I press. if he thinks Cora's parents still hate him?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 269\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Cam appears to consider her suggestion. I think. but Damian takes a step back." I respond. and I raise my hand to touch his cheek. "Don't you think that could be why he's acting so weird. "Did I do something?" I ask. his eyes dull and wary. I am so confus ed. I've got to go. "Look. "Why don't you just go talk to him and stop guessing?"\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Huh. Plaintive and wimpy and lame. There's Rachel. hoping to spot him in the cafeteria. but I am glad Rachel has Elizabeth. And you didn't even say good-bye. Cora?" Damian is standing before me.I don't -" Damian stops and stares at a point above my head. Frozen like petrifie d wood.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What do you think?" I ask. perched at the e nd of the Nasty table. he knew his mom had to work. I don't think we should be together. As I look around. See you arou nd. Cross's thunderous voice calls. that doesn't seem like Damian." he says. "Why not?" I can barely whisper. I know I do. running his fingers through his hair. not only have I been summarily dumped in the hallway outsid e of Mr.267\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ tall. th en shakes his head.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it?" he repeats. very infamously mean Mr. A sense of regret."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You didn't do anything. T hen he seems to think better of it and says."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ And before I can say a word. "Maybe he was upset that his parents didn't come to see his artwork . Cross's classroom."\par\pard\ plain\hyphpar}{ "But why? I was looking for you. I suggest you return to your seat. A rcher. Maybe nothing good lasts.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Well. None of this makes any se nse. Damian has spun around on the heel of his boot and marched back into the classroom. She turns to C am. How appropriate. Each returned to his or her usual group of friends."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "What is it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Helena says. but I'm late. I stand still as a statue. "Mr. Without saying good-bye. I begin to jog toward my homeroom and all the while trying to puzzle out the reasoning behind Damian's behavior.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Cora. What happened?"\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "Nothing happened.

I shouldn't have done it. What is going on with you? What is your problem?" I stomp around the tire swing until I am directly in front of him. his eyes are downcast.Enough. I don't know how t o breathe. Cautiously."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ His face crumples." I explain. "I'm happy for you. so my knees won't brush h is.\par\pard\plain\ hyphpar}{ "I wanted to talk to you. Damian. out of breath from tramping through the snow." he starts angrily. All the hurt I feel is pouring out in my voi ce." I reply." I say. and they found out.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Yeah. I find Damian seated on the tire swing. D amian turns around. I guess so. I really am. I can't get in the way of you guys making up. And I know how they feel about me. but in the end. the chain twisting and untwisting in rapid circles. You were totally righ t. It's just -.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "You're right."\par\pard\pla in\hyphpar}{ "Just say it." He extracts his other le g from the tire and begins to head back in the direction of the parking lot.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Great. but I take a deep breath and resolve to f ind him. "But I don't know how to tell you. you idiot. and I hate it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Look. it helped all of us to see that our family was broken." he murmurs. I look for him again." he says softly. and his cheek muscle twitches. when I spot the El Camino. pulled off to the side by the park. .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I'm coasting down the county road. unmistakable with its racing stripe. There. astonished. Because I'm hurting so badly right now. a refreshing change from sadness. his knuckles turn white. Then I begin trudg ing through the snowy field. I forged my mom's signature on the London form.\par\par d\plain\hyphpar}{ After school. But he straightens a nd grips the chains so tightly. swinging one leg over the rim of the tire .\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Oh. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I climb onto the tire and keep very still. I haven't ridden my bike the re before. I deserve to know what happened. I didn't mean to call you an idiot. "One minute you say I'm your girlfriend. This anger feels good. come off it. I quickly turn my bike in to the park grounds parking lot and leave it on the sidewalk. and he has to look at me.\par\pard\plain\hyphp ar}{ Damian jumps." he replies bitterly. but he must have slipped out early. . almost unwillingly. And we need to fix it."\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ "That's it?" I ask. regretting not wearing my waterproof boots.look. You guys should be talking and working things out. and then eight hours later you lea ve the show and stop talking to me? Come on. I'm sorry. You should be with them. I hate that my emotions are so obvious. "What are you doing here?" he asks. please?" I shout at him." I snap.\par\pard\plain\h yphpar}{ Damian exhales loudly. Damian. I'm going to find Damian today and I'm going to figure this out.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "I just saw you with your parents and didn't want to get in the way." I begin to laugh. "What I was trying to say was that my mom finding out that I . and for an instant I think he might cry. He doesn't l ook at me. Slowly. followi ng another pair of footprints toward the playground. The most obvious place to look for him now is at his house.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "No. then motions for me to sit on the swing across from him. and stands.\par\pard\plain\hyphpa r}{ "What about?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Damian. I just.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Would you wait a second. and make it better. visibly startled. and it's quite a ways away.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 271\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Just what?" I prod." Damian says.\par\pard \plain\hyphpar}{ 270\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Hey.

and friendship to me over the years."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay?" I ask. I think they are confused and you can't just turn feelings on and off. and my ar t -. Sheila Marie Everett. I don't think they actually ever hated you.love for my parents. Sue Flynn. Stephanie Anderson. and Aimee Friedman.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I guess the thing about high school is. They don't hate me anymore?"\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ "Well. I must thank my wonderful family at Scholastic. Billy DiMichele. and this journey to know yourself begins. it seems to me that I have en ough to explore right here. Kathleen Donohoe. Nate's journey ended too early. Siobhan M . But.forged her signature made her realize that she'd been unfair. y our unflagging enthusiasm and deft eyes. And to me. Marijka Kostiw.from those who actually worked on the book to those who supported me as I wrote it.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay. my very wis e and patient agent. Thank you both so much. John Mason. Alan Boyko." I say. Leslie Garych. it's the moment when\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ 273\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ you start to cross from being a kid to being an adult.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 274\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ [Page Blank]\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 275\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Acknowledgments\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I am so grateful to everyone who had a hand in bringing A Map of the Known World into being -."\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 272\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian is staring at me uncertainly now." And Damian leans down and plants a gentle kiss on my lips. and he's left us this piece of himself in his art.\par\pa rd\plain\hyphpar}{ "I need you here to catch me. Dianne \par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ 276\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Hess. my brother. actually. I can't." Damian repeats softly. your fortitude and love and nourishment mean the world to me and make me far less neurotic. Cecily Kaiser. "I don't -. But I can say we li ved. and I know that it's love -. They want you the re. To both of you. trying to step out of the tire. We want to try to work things out. And I want you to be a part of this.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ This book would not be possible without two people: Meredith Kaffel. Jacquelyn Fortier. to mak e our family right again. Nick Martin. Carolyn Longest. who helped me to craft this story with her astute pen. but they realize they were wrong. Our love for Nate lives. for now.\par \pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Additionally. Jazan Higgins. "Please?"\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ He walks toward me. Ed Masessa. We know him now through his art.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "A chance. Grace Maccarone. and I can take comfort in that. Love will be my map." he whispers fondly. all of whom have g iven so generously of their time. too. Margaret Coffee. and I rise.that will guide me. Duryan Bhagat-Clark . and to you. who is very much responsible for drawing Cora out of me and helping me to shape her world.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I nod and feel a flutter of hope in my chest. And they want to try to make it up to you. falling forward over the tire.\par\pard\plai n\hyphpar}{ I wish I could say we all lived happily ever after. but my legs get tangled and I trip. talents. my insightful and brilliant editor. Would you give us a chance?" I ask. Susan Jeffers Casel. and I thought I had to run away to some far-off land to start mine. "You do this a lot. To me. my friends. Annette Hughes.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ "Okay.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Damian runs over and catches me. There's a whole continent to discover in myself. including: Becky Amsel. Anamika Bhatnagar. Tara Bermingham. Jacky Harper. it was his gift to us. Jody Corb ett. Brandi Dougherty.I don't understand. Roz Hilden. Nancy Feldman. Completely psycho tic. too. as if he doesn't know what to believe.

David Levithan. Janet Speakman. Dawn Zahorik. Jackie Parker. Mark Seidenfeld. Rachel Coun. reading.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ I would also like to thank Charlotte Sheedy. Tamar Hermesh. whose faith in me has meant so much. which was a Book Sense Su mmer 2007 Pick. editing. Suzanne Murphy.com. Tracy van Straaten. You ca n visit her at her Web site: www. an incomparable friend who has supported and encouraged me for so many years. for her immense generosity. Charisse Meloto. and loving me? I'll be forever grateful. and so many others. Elizabeth Whiting.cGowan. Elizabeth Parisi. Lizette Serrano. David S aylor. Nikki Mutch. my parents. Leibovitz. Dick Robinson. Nancy and Lionel Sandell. Brenda Murray. Eric Mortensen. Sarah Gelt. Music and art have always been an important part of Lisa's life. Stephanie N ooney. a kindred s pirit. Arlene Robillard.\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\qc {\b Table of Contents}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\ul Iniciar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\qc {\b Table of Contents}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ {\ul Iniciar}\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{\page } } . Jerry Weis s. Edric M esmer. Andrea and Steve Popofsky. Margaret Jones. thank you for reading this manuscrip t over and over and over. Alison Pollet. Molly D. and Liel -. Rhoda Sherbell and my friends at the Art Students League of New York. Joy Si mpkins.how can I ever repay you for all the pushi ng. who has been a mentor in every sense of th e word and a dear friend.dearest friend. Joan Konner and Al Perlmutter. whom I thank for her beautiful design and for her fri endship. and friendship. support. a marvelous teacher and guide. Joe and the folks at Vintage. Sarah Trabucchi -. supporting.\par\pard\plain\hyph par}{ Also at Scholastic. Adrienne V rettos. Alan Smagler. Jill Smith. Sharon Sandell. as well as The Weight of the Sky. Ellie Berger. I'd like to extend my gratitude to Karyn Browne. Lisa works as a children's book editor in New York City. she studies sculpture and drawing and plays seve ral instruments.\par\p ard\plain\hyphpar}{ 277\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ About the Author\par\pard\plain\hyphpar}{ Lisa Ann Sandell is the author of Song of the Sparrow. Krist in Dumont.lisaannsandell. which was named one of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age. and Ken Geist.

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