Chapter 1

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Eight minutes.

Eight more minutes of Mr. Sloan, soft, doughy teacher of American history, pasty pale except for his pink bald head. Droning more ruthlessly than ever this afternoon, smothering them in his thick blanket of words.

Elizabeth sat in her desk in the second row by the window, resisting. She would not be suffocated under the Constitution or Federalist Papers or whatever it was he was talking about. She tried to keep her eyes off her watch, but it was hopeless, partly because she did want to know when freedom would arrive, but also because Sloan could be so hard to look at without negativity filling your head - frustration, madness, revulsion. Pity?

Six minutes and thirty seconds. Sloan - oh, how deadly was this and who cares about separation of powers today, a Friday in early spring when the snow was finally gone, gone gone – this was endless and agonizing, and probably not just because of the Friday thing when everything seemed worse before the bell, and everything so much better after it .

No, Sloan was ticked. Seriously peeved and offended. And they knew it – Elizabeth realized that up to this point, even up to the very last minutes of class, things had been quieter today. Not quite as much murmuring or rustling – none at all actually. It was a sign. Even though they – her class – hadn't done a thing. Well, at least not that thing.

His shirt was more drenched than normal, a damp spot growing from the middle of his chest, his bald head glistened with more sweat and shaded dangerously toward red. Even on his worst days, Sloan would pause and ask a question. Usually to humiliate someone, but still, it livened things up. He'd even crack a lame joke. None of which he had done today. Instead, he barked, ordered them to take notes because everything he said today – everything – would be on a quiz on Monday and none of it – none was in their books. He flicked on the overhead and swimming dimly in front of them, hanging from the ceiling, were words. It was a wall of words, typed and copied on to a transparency, there for them to copy as they listened, to listen to as they copied, for fifty minutes straight.

It was the car. Oh, the car. Trying not to laugh as she thought about it, trying to remember how mean it was, how disrespectful, Elizabeth studied the plea someone had scratched deep into the wood of her desk years ago, before Sloan, before her, maybe, knowing this dump of a school, even before she was born – " HELP!"

That crew of wicked senior boys, ingenious in pranks but somehow dumb as bricks in everything else – two of them were in Elizabeth's health class, repeating it from their sophomore year - placed a classified in the paper, advertising a car for sale: "Space #57 in St. Anthony's High School parking lot."

And at noon yesterday, during government class, Sloan had looked out the window and stared, the seniors reported, at an older couple walking around his car, circling the dented Escort like a pair of slightly grounded hawks, and he'd wondered aloud – not quite droning any more - what the tall old man could be solemnly writing on a yellow pad while peering into his car.

Too, too awful, and too funny. Elizabeth hid her face in her hands and tried to think of something else. Those baskets. She would meditate on the baskets for tomorrow. She had to make sure Brittany knew where to pick up the baskets and that she would actually get them back to the church basement. She should probably go with her, just to make sure.

But was it worth the risk? Brittany, happily clutching the wheel of dirty yellow boat of a car, her two month old license sticking out of her back pocket? Wasn't she, Elizabeth Finnerty, way too young to die?

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