Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
Books by Joan Lowery Nixon
A Candidate for Murder
The Dark and Deadly Pool
The Ghosts of Now
Ghost Town: Seven Ghostly Stories
In the Face of Danger
The Island of Dangerous Dreams
The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore
Laugh Till You Cry
Murdered, My Sweet
The Name of the Game Was Murder
The Other Side of Dark
Playing for Keeps
Search for the Shadowman
Secret, Silent Screams
The Weekend Was
Whispers from the Dead
Who Are You?
The Making of a Writer
Maybe it’s a premonition. I don’t know. I’m staring at the telephone when it rings so loudly that I jump. It takes all the courage that I’ve got to move toward it a step at a time. It rings again as I put my hand on the receiver, and the vibration trembles through my body.
“Hello?” I clear my throat and try again, speaking more loudly. “Hello?”
The voice that comes over the phone is a whisper. “Angie?”
In the pause that follows I shout, “Who is this?”
There’s a strange sound, like a sob or even a smothered laugh, and the whisper continues. “Your brother is dead.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 1984 by Joan Lowery Nixon
Cover illustration copyright © 1984 by Tim Barrall
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company. Originally published in hardcover by Delacorte Press, New York, in 1984.
Laurel-Leaf Books with the colophon is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.
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First Delacorte Press Ebook Edition 2013
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You can make it, Angie
, I tell myself.
Hey! You’re a good kid. You’ll survive
. I clench my teeth and stare through the dusty classroom window. Across the street squats a row of ancient houses with brick the color of mud, wisps of lawn, and scraggly, parched trees. I think of the old cliché “What’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?” and I have to smile, in spite of the way I feel. I’ve survived before.
Maybe I’m in this mood because the other places we’ve lived have had something going for them, and this place doesn’t. Maybe it’s because of the uneasy feeling I’ve had about this town from the moment we climbed off the plane, knowing this town would be our new home. Mom said later that all she could see were those flat stretches of dusty mesquite, but I saw the faces—some of them weathered like old shoes, some of them squinting against the blowing sand, some of them curious as they glanced at us, some of them suspicious, and none of them friendly.
Five minutes until the bell will ring on my first day in senior English in this stupid high school in this
stupid town, and I sit here pep-talking myself. Meredith would have a good laugh at that. I’ll write and tell her all about it and about the girl with the capped teeth who’s sitting in the row next to me and how I said “Hi” and her glance flicked off my forehead the way a June bug bounces off a lighted windowpane before she turned away. Great school. Friendly kids. I have to stop thinking of Meredith or I’ll start to cry.
A hand gently touches my shoulder, tearing me from my thoughts so abruptly that I jump.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” a deep voice says in my right ear. “I just wanted to say howdy.”
He’s tall and lean with a sunburned nose and light brown, curly hair. He’s got a grin right out of a soft drink commercial and an accent so broad that his words sound spread out and buttered. “Del,” he says. “Del Scully.”
He leans over his desk, elbows jutting into the aisles, his face close to mine. “You gotta be new to Fairlie. I’d remember if I’d seen you around school before this.” He pauses and adds, “Your eyes are the darkest blue I’ve ever seen, Angie. They’re really something on a blonde.”
Just like a kid I start to blush, and he grins again at my embarrassment.
“So what are you doing in West Texas?” he asks. “Your daddy with an oil company?”
I answer with a nod while I say to myself,
That’s a good question. What am I doing in a place like Fairlie, Texas? What have I been doing all my life, moving to
new cities and new schools and saying good-bye to friends and hello to strangers, swallowing tears and wishing I were somewhere else while my father moves up and up something he calls the corporate ladder?
“Tough,” he says.
“What?” For a moment I think he’s reading my mind.
But one side of Del’s mouth twists into a rueful smile as he says “A lot of folks don’t like the oil companies coming in to suck out all those big bucks.”
“It’s not my fault! It’s not the oil companies’ fault. Those people shouldn’t have bought their land without the mineral rights.” It comes out angry, but Del puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey! I’m glad you’re here. Where are you from?”
“Los Angeles, this time.”
“Disneyland,” he says.
I giggle. “I didn’t exactly live there.”
“I’ve never been. Tell me about it.” A short woman, trying to balance a stack of papers, steers a zigzag course from the front door to her desk, and the room quiets. Del mumbles, “Talk to you later,” and manages to fold his long legs in their scuffed cowboy boots under his desk.
It’s like any other new day in a new school. The ins versus the outs, and these ins are easy to spot. Friendly old Capped Teeth is in, but she’s a follower. Someone named Debbie, who’s an impression of pink and white and lots of money and
to be a cheerleader, seems to be the center of a lot of flutter and flatter.
I find that I’m ahead in my reading in English, but
their French teacher is tougher than the one I’d had, and chemistry isn’t going to be any snap. Never mind. My grades are good because I’m willing to work for them. I can stand this place for one year—just one. Then Meredith and I will room together at the University of Southern California. Back to California and a friend I’m going to keep. Dad promised if I’m accepted I can go. And I will be. No doubt about it, because that’s my goal.
I walk home from school. It’s just six blocks. Mom picked out a big home facing a pocket park. Somehow it looks like all the other homes we’ve lived in. Change the sofa, change the bedspreads, add some decorator touches here and there, but they still look alike. They just keep getting a little larger, and a little more important looking.
“This will be your room, down the hall from Jeremy’s,” Mom had said when she first showed me through this house and opened the door to a large bedroom with its own bath and with wide windows facing the garden.
But it isn’t my room. My room is in my imagination. It’s a dorm room with everything that’s important to me stuffed into my side of the closet so I won’t crowd into Meredith’s space. For now it’s my daydream room. But just a year until I get there. Just a year until it’s mine.
I unlock the front door, grateful for the rush of cooled air, and wander through the entry hall to the dining room, dropping my books on the table. “I’m home, Mom,” I shout.
Jeremy comes through the door to the kitchen, stuffing the ragged remains of a sandwich in his mouth, saying “She’s not here.”
About a year ago my little brother got to be as tall as I am, and now he’s about two inches taller—around five-ten. He eats all the time and it doesn’t help. He’s still skinny.
Jeremy has his head cocked now, his eyes on mine. “This school is dumb,” he says.
“So are all tenth graders,” I answer, pushing past him into the kitchen. “Anything good to eat in here?”
“Chocolate chip cookies,” he says, following me. “I mean nobody’s friendly.” He stops and looks at me again. “Are they?”
“No, they’re not.”
He folds himself into the nearest chair and relaxes against the kitchen table. He shoves a ragged Monopoly box toward me. “Look what I found in that box of books Mom told me to unpack.”
I grin, thinking about the wild Monopoly games Jeremy and I played with each other as we were growing up. “I used to get so mad at you when you’d beat me!”
He rubs his shoulder. “I remember!”
“Look, I only socked you once.”
Jeremy pushes the box aside. “There’s a guy named Boyd in my P.E. class. They matched us as tennis partners. He says most of the kids have lived here all their lives. They don’t have much to do with the oil people. Or the farmers. They call the farmers ‘kickers’.”
I shut the refrigerator door with one elbow and
carry my glass of milk and fist of cookies to the table. “Who cares?”
“Nobody.” Jeremy reaches across the table for one of my cookies, and I move them with one hand, giving him an arm chop with the other. “I just wanted one,” he says, rubbing his arm. When I don’t answer he adds, “Have you seen those kickers? They all wear cowboy hats and boots and jeans, and a lot of them drive pickup trucks.”
I think of Del. I didn’t see him after class was over. Maybe I would like to tell him about Disneyland. Maybe I will.
“I’d like to have boots.” He thinks about that for a minute. “Boyd says that a lot of those guys come right to school from the barn. He doesn’t like them.”
“Who’s this guy Boyd? Another loser like your friend George in L.A.?”
I wish I hadn’t said it. That was mean. I keep telling Jeremy that he shows he’s too eager to make friends; so naturally everywhere we go he gets the leftovers, the sort of odd people no one else wants. But it doesn’t do any good. And just because I’m in a rotten mood myself I’ve hurt him. I didn’t mean to.