The white boy, the skinny, tall boy with shocking white hair, sneaks behind the stone bench and leans against the tree trunk. Since I can’t move my head, I watch him out of the corner of my eye. He could be a ghost. For a minute I think he’s here to contact me, but that would be stupid. I don’t see dead people.
He pulls out a paperback and starts reading.
I hunch over my own book.
Mom’s black CR-V crunches to the curb and idles. I rip out the page I just read, ball it in my fist, and stand.
The white boy watches me. I don’t make eye contact. Not with him. Not with anyone.
I shoulder my book bag, walk to the car, open the door, and get in. My thighs squeeze together.
“Who is that?” Mom asks. She’s peering over my shoulder at the white boy. In the side-view mirror, I see he’s moved to the bench and taken my spot. Like he did yesterday.
“Was he talking to you? Do you know him?”
He’s into me, Mom. He likes ugly sick girls who have to wear neck braces.
She shifts into drive. “I don’t want you associating with people outside of school, people I don’t know. If anyone talks to you, go back inside the building.”
What if I talk to them?
That was a joke.
She checks the rearview mirror to merge into the street. Her face is filled with worry lines. “Your father has a late meeting with a client, so it’ll just be us for dinner.”
She smiles expectantly.
I can’t even look at her.
“I’ll be leaving for Houston in the morning, but I shouldn’t have to stay more than two days. Dad will drive you to school and pick you up. He may be a few minutes late if he can’t get away by two thirty, but you just wait for him on the bench.” We circle the roundabout and she adds, “If that… person, if anyone bothers you, tell your dad.”
Sure, Mom. I’ll use sign language.
Wal-Mart, on my right, is packed. “Oh, I really need to stop for deodorant and toothpaste.” She slows at the entrance, but doesn’t turn in. We pass the Wal-Mart. “Never mind. I’ll get them on my way to the airport.”
Her eyes betray the fear. She’ll never lose it. She doesn’t stop because she’s afraid I’ll have a wack attack. I’ve only had one in public, but it happened when she left me alone in the car. It was in our red car, the old one. I was ten. She needed to pick up a few groceries at King Soopers on our way home from school. She said a few. I had to go to the bathroom, but I figured a few meant a few minutes. She said, “I’ll be right back.” She said that: “Right. Back.”
The door shut and instantly all the air in the car compressed. I couldn’t breathe. Minutes ticked by. The walls closed in. She left me there, alone, and I knew, I just knew she was never coming back for me. My bladder ballooned like I’d been guzzling water for weeks, and even when I crossed my legs and scrunched up tight, I couldn’t hold it.
At the first dribble, I squealed. Then I exploded. I don’t remember screaming or honking the horn. The fear of being locked inside, I remember every day. If I close my eyes, I can hear the ringing in my ears, still, from the blaring horn. I see the distorted faces of everyone peering through the window. Mom’s panicked eyes. The door unlocking and her hand wrenching mine away from the horn.
“What’s the matter?” she cries.
I heave a sob. “I peed my pants.” The stretchy pink capris she just got me. Ruined.
Mom gives me that look, like, Who are you? What are you?
She has to tell the people, “It’s nothing. She’s fine. I was only gone a few minutes.”
“Why did you do that?” she said between clenched teeth as we drove away fast. She was powerless to control me. She still is. I was trapped, Mom. Why don’t you get that?
Peeing my pants isn’t the reason she can’t leave me alone now. I’m under twenty-four-hour suicide watch.
If I could speak, I’d tell her, “What can happen in a few minutes changes you forever.”
Excerpted from BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD © Copyright 2011 by Julie Anne Peters. Reprinted with permission by Disney-Hyperion. All rights reserved.