Authors: Caroline B. Cooney
HE BEAUTIFUL GOTHIC STONE
dormitories in which the college freshmen lived were surrounded by a very high but equally beautiful black iron fence. This was to keep the City out.
Jersey let herself into the quadrangle with a key. Inside, the landscaping was cool and green. Immense old wooden doors, heavy as coffin lids, led into the Commons.
Four weeks before the end of freshman year, and Jersey was still in awe of the campus. Still thrilled that she was here, attending the best college in the nation. Her father had graduated back when the school was all men, and she had been brought up on his college stories.
Jersey went to her mail slot, opened it, and found a letter from home. Jersey loved mail. Going to college was worth it just for the mail. She ripped open the letter, which had only one word. Enjoy! said Dad’s handwriting.
Wrapped in his letterhead was a hundred dollar bill. Jersey laughed to herself. Dad was so tickled that his little girl was attending his alma mater. All year long he had been celebrating by sending money.
Ooooh, goody! she thought. I’m going to get those shoes Mai found at the Downtown Mall.
Mai was one of Jersey’s two roommates, a serious competitor for World’s Best Shopper. While lesser shoppers found nothing in any store, Mai zeroed in on terrific bargains at every counter. And Jersey’s other roommate, Susan, had unbelievably good fashion sense. Susan could take some repulsive orange-and-turquoise scarf — not fit for a preschooler’s bath towel — pair it with just the right shirt and necklace, and make herself look like a million dollars.
Jersey’s proud father was under the impression that she was enjoying classes, boys, dorm life, and the coast — and she was — but better than anything, Jersey enjoyed shopping with Mai and Susan.
Unfortunately, Mai and Susan had labs on Mondays and, being dedicated future research scientists, would work right through dinner. Shopping alone rots, thought Jersey. Who cares about shoes unless Mai and Susan are along to giggle and criticize and compare?
The hundred dollars burned, dying to be spent, frantic to be exchanged for shoes.
Jersey, Mai, and Susan had become a trio so tight they hardly bothered with other close friends. Jersey left the quad, wandered through the Arboretum and detoured into the library, hoping to spot a shopping partner. She knew nobody well enough to ask them along.
She knew she should wait until she had company. Not just because shopping was only fun with friends, but because of the City. They were always being warned about the City. Always being told that they were not street smart and must be careful about where they walked and when.
Jersey, however, could work up no interest in the City.
Only in the mall.
The hundred dollars was a single bill, but it lay heavy and demanding in her tiny pocket, as if it could not,
wait for tomorrow.
Jersey keyed herself out the high black gates, and left for the Downtown Mall.
It was the eleventh of May, but already the weather was sweaty sticky, disgustingly hot. The temperature should have fallen by six o’clock, but it hadn’t. The Downtown Mall would at least be air-conditioned, which Jersey’s dorm wasn’t. Generations of important male undergrads had perspired in that Gothic hall and nobody was going to tamper with history and put in air-conditioning.
Jersey hated going to the college dining halls by herself, or having to stand with her full tray and scout through the room hoping to find a dinner partner. If she had to eat without Susan and Mai, she would rather buy something at the Food Court in the Downtown Mall. Now, along with shoes came visions of Mexican food, twice-baked potatoes, pizza slices, and Heath Bar Crunch sundaes.
Jersey’s body was her friend: It allowed her to eat anything any time and stay petite.
Jersey’s skirt, shirt, stockings, earrings, and ponytail bow were black, the color of choice on her campus. In fact, the shoes she was dreaming of now were also black; they would be her ninth pair of black shoes.
Within yards of the gate, the City began. No more huge old trees to soften the heat. No more landscaping and bright blooming flowers. No more laughing young people swinging book bags from their shoulders.
The sidewalks were cracked and buckled. The fire hydrant was broken and the stunted tree in its little wire enclosure had died. The pavement generated its own heat, as if there were a contest — City versus sun — to see which could get hotter.
She sweated. Jersey hated sweat unless it came from an acceptable game. Tennis sweat was okay. Street sweat was not.
She passed a brick building with inner and outer bars on the windows and an ugly thick grate drawn across the big wooden entry. The first few months of school she thought it was some old-fashioned jail — it was a church.
Spray-painted on its walls were the initials of the biggest local gang, KSI. On this street alone, according to campus rumor, there had been over thirty drug arrests last year.
But that, Jersey was sure, was by night. This was daytime. Behind her, newly cleaned dorm windows sparkled and the spires of old college buildings glinted in the relentless sun. She was one block from Peppi’s Pizza, from which she and Susan and Mai ordered constantly. The City was famous for its pizza, which Jersey found weird. You could be famous for your museums or your theater — but your pizza? What kind of claim to fame was that?
Cars were so tightly parked there was barely room for a line of moving traffic. Indeed, this afternoon, the traffic was not moving. Cars idled, revving their motors, honking their horns, waiting for the lights to turn and the gridlock to cease. Jersey stepped around a huddle of black plastic garbage bags which were blockading the sidewalk like fat angry people.
She was vaguely aware that she was walking past some real live angry people, but Jersey was thinking about shoes. When she looked up she didn’t glance at the people near her, but through them, and higher. Three blocks away were the glass spans of the Downtown Mall.
Fashion displays filled the windows, as if amazingly thin, rich people were partying up there.
Beside her, traffic advanced. One car did not move ahead. People screamed obscenities at the driver. Vaguely, Jersey thought of taking a taxi back to the campus. It probably would have been better to take a taxi
the campus. But you couldn’t let fear rule your life.
No, thought Jersey, smiling to herself. Shopping rules.
The gunfire began.
Jersey did not realize there was shooting until she was flung against the pavement. Even then she thought somebody had pushed her. It was such a great force. A football tackle, maybe. She did not realize that a bullet had shoved her down until she saw her black clothes turning red.
As if she had suddenly decided to dye them scarlet.
The body that had never let her down had been punctured without her permission.
I have to stop the bleeding, Jersey thought.
She tried to tighten her hands on the wound, make her own tourniquet, but her hands simply lay there on the sidewalk while blood saturated her clothes and began to puddle on the broken cement.
That’s me, thought Jersey. That puddle is me.
ETH HATED HAVING TO
He liked knowing everything already.
The worst possible scene was being a jerk in front of people. Strangers (or far worse, friends) would find out that you didn’t know what you were doing.
So he was volunteering in the Emergency Room in order to learn everything before medical school. He would get relaxed with blood and gore, pain and violence. When at last he became a medical student, he would have the edge on every other future doctor.
What maddened Seth was that no matter how much they learned, volunteers continued to be totally ignorant.
Oh, sure, you knew which set of elevators to use when you wheeled a patient to CAT scan. Which corridor to the cafeteria. Which door to Medical Records.
But basically, being a volunteer was a terrific way to find out that you knew nothing, nobody was going to teach you anything, and no matter how helpful you were, you were in the way.
This was a famous teaching hospital, and when they brought a gunshot wound into Trauma, supposedly you could go in and watch them explore the wound, administer the anesthesia, remove the bullet, and sew it up. But in fact, the room was so full of doctors, residents, nurses, techs, and police that somebody was bound to sweep you back into the hallway like a disposable glove that had fallen to the floor. When they hooked up a cardiac arrest to a monitor, supposedly you could learn what they were doing. But in fact, the tech accomplished the event so fast, and moved on to the next one so fast, that you never quite saw what was going on. And while Seth had not really expected that when they gave a patient a shot in the buttocks, he would get to practice, still he had not expected the nurse to draw the curtains shut and tell him to come back later.
Once Seth coaxed an aide to show him how to set up a sterile tray for suturing a minor wound. (Seth always learned a task the first time around; that was his rule. Learning it the first time spared him the trouble of going back and studying.) So once he saw how the sterile tray was done, he knew he would always be able to do it himself without errors.
But did the tech let Seth prepare the next sterile tray? No. In fact, the tech was pretty exasperated. “Look, this is my job,” said the technician. “You’re a volunteer. You run errands. I went to school for this stuff, buddy. Just because I spent five minutes with you, you still don’t know from nothing.”
Every year of his life, Seth had waited for adulthood.
When he was eleven, he had finally been old enough for his own paper route. But it didn’t make him a grown-up; it just made him get up at dawn and deliver twenty-four papers.
When he was thirteen and started seventh grade he expected to be a grown-up. No. He was just taller and gawkier.