فصل 19

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19

At home my mother said she’d never seen me in such a bad mood. The mood lasted the whole three weeks of that dumb committee project. To top off everything else our group voted three to one to report on Belgium. I wanted a more exciting country, like France or Spain. But I lost.

So I ate, breathed and slept Belgium for three weeks. Philip Leroy was a lousy worker. I found that out right away. All he did was fool around. During project time, while Laura, Norman and I were busy looking things up in reference books, Philip was busy drawing funny faces in his notebook. On two days he snuck comic books inside his notebook and read them instead. Norman Fishbein tried hard but he was so slow! And I couldn’t stand the way he read with his lips moving. Laura was a good worker. But of course, I never told her that I thought so.

During the third week of Project Belgium Laura and I got permission to stay after school and work in the library. We needed more time with the encyclopedias. My mother was going to pick me up in front of school at four-thirty. Laura was going to walk from school to church because she had to go to Confession.

Now that really started me thinking. For one thing, I never knew she was Catholic. For another, I wondered what she said in Confession. I mean, did she talk about what she did with boys? And if she did, what did the priest say to her? Did she go to Confession every time she did something bad? Or did she save it all up and go once a month?

I was so busy thinking about Laura and the Confessional that I nearly forgot about Belgium. And probably I never would have said anything at all if it hadn’t been for Laura. She picked on me first. So she was really to blame for the whole thing.

“You’re copying that straight out of the World Book word for word,” she whispered to me.

“So?”

“Well, you can’t do that,” she explained. “You’re supposed to read it and then write about it in your own words. Mr. Benedict will know if you’ve copied.”

Normally I don’t copy word for word. I know the rules as well as Laura. But I was busy thinking about other things and anyway, who did Laura think she was giving orders like that? Big shot!

So I said: “Oh, you think you’re so great, don’t you!”

And she said: “This has nothing to do with being great.”

And I said: “I know all about you anyway!”

And she said: “What’s that supposed to mean?”

And the librarian said: “Girls-let’s be more quiet.”

And then Laura went back to work. But I didn’t.

“I heard all about you and Moose Freed,” I whispered.

Laura put down her pencil and looked at me. “You heard what about me and Moose Freed?”

“Oh-about how you and Evan and Moose go behind the A amp;P,” I said.

“What would I do that for?” Laura asked.

She was really thick! “I don’t know what you do it for. But I know why they do it… they do it so they can feel you or something and you let them!”

She shut the encyclopedia hard and stood up. Her face was burning red and I saw a blue vein stick out in her neck. “You filthy liar! You little pig!” Nobody ever called me such names in my whole life.

Laura scooped up her books and her coat and ran out of the library. I grabbed my things and followed her.

I was really being awful. And I hadn’t even planned it. I sounded like Nancy. That’s when it hit me that for all I knew Nancy made up that story about Laura. Or maybe Moose and Evan made it up just to brag. Yes, I bet they did! Moose was a big liar too!

“Hey Laura! Wait up,” I called.

She walked fast-probably because her legs were so long. I chased her. When I finally caught up to her I could hardly breathe. Laura kept walking and wouldn’t look at me. I didn’t blame her. I walked alongside her. I took four steps to every two of hers.

“Look,” I told her. “I’m not saying it’s wrong to do those things.”

“I think it’s disgusting that you all pick on me because I’m big!” Laura said, sniffling.

I wanted to tell her to blow her nose. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” I said. “You’re the one who started it.”

“Me? That’s a good one! You think it’s such a great game to make fun of me, don’t you?”

“No,” I said.

“Don’t you think I know all about you and your friends? Do you think it’s any fun to be the biggest kid in the class?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never thought about it.”

“Well, try thinking about it. Think about how you’d feel if you had to wear a bra in fourth grade and how everybody laughed and how you always had to cross your arms in front of you. And about how the boys called you dirty names just because of how you looked.”

I thought about it. “I’m sorry, Laura,” I said.

“I’ll bet!”

“I really am. If you want to know the truth… well, I wish I looked more like you than like me.”

“I’d gladly trade places with you. Now, I’m going to Confession.” She walked on mumbling something about how the wrong ones always confessed.

And I thought, maybe she’s right. Maybe I was the one who should confess. I followed Laura to her church. It was only two blocks from school. I still had half an hour before my mother was due. I crossed the street and hid behind a bush watching Laura climb the steps and disappear into the church.

Then I crossed back to the other side of the street and ran up the brick steps. I held open the front door and looked inside. I didn’t see Laura. I stepped into the church and tiptoed up the aisle.

It was so quiet. I wondered what would happen if I decided to scream; of course I knew I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t help wondering about how a scream would sound in there.

I was really hot in my heavy coat, but I didn’t take it off. After a while I saw Laura come out of a door and I crouched down behind a row of seats so she wouldn’t see me. She never even glanced my way. I thought it didn’t take her very long to confess.

I felt weird. My legs were getting weak. As soon as Laura left the church I stood up. I meant to leave too. I had to meet my mother back at school. But instead of walking to the front of the church and outside, I headed the other way.

I stood in front of the door that Laura came from. What was inside? I opened it a little. There was nobody there. It looked like a wooden phone booth. I stepped in and closed the door behind me. I waited for something to happen. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just sat there.

Finally I heard a voice. “Yes, my child.”

At first I thought it was God. I really and truly thought it was, and my heart started to pound like crazy and I was all sweaty inside my coat and sort of dizzy too. But then I realized it was only the priest in the booth next to mine. He couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see him but we could hear each other. Still, I didn’t say anything. “Yes, my child,” he said again.

“Yes?” the priest asked me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

I flung open the door and ran down the aisle and out of the church. I made my way back to school, crying, feeling horribly sick and scared stiff I would throw up. Then I saw my mother waiting in the car and I got in the back and explained I was feeling terrible. I stretched out on the seat. My mother drove home and I didn’t have to tell her any of the awful things I’d done because she thought I was sick for real.

Later that night she brought a bowl of soup to my room and she sat on the edge of my bed while I ate it. She said I must have had a virus or something and she was glad I was feeling better but I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow if I didn’t feel like it. Then she turned out the light and kissed me goodnight.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret I did an awful thing today. Just awful! I’m definitely the most horrible person who ever lived and I really don’t deserve anything good to happen to me. I picked on Laura Danker. Just because I felt mean I took it all out on her. I really hurt Laura’s feelings. Why did you let me do that? I’ve been looking for you God. I looked in temple. I looked in church. And today, I looked for you when I wanted to confess. But you weren’t there. I didn’t feel you at all. Not the way I do when I talk to you at night. Why God? Why do I only feel you when I’m alone?

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