Read The Girl Death Left Behind Online
Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
Tags: #General Fiction
I was passing a playground and I looked over and saw this little girl on the swings. Her back was to me, but she had long blond hair and she was wearing a red shirt and a red hairband. I kept watching her and all of a sudden it was like time moved backward and I heard Allison’s voice say: “Push me higher, Beth! Higher!”
And I heard myself say, “I’m tired of pushing you. Learn how to pump your legs, Allison. I can’t push you forever.”
And I kept thinking Allison! Allison! And all of a sudden I yelled, “Allison!”
The girl on the swing stopped and turned. She looked right at me. Then she jumped off the swing and ran away. I don’t blame her. She probably thought I was crazy. Maybe I am.
Sometimes I think I see Allison or Doug in a crowd at the mall. But, of course, I don’t. It’s not real. It’s never real.
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Text copyright © 1999 by Lurlene McDaniel
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RL: 5.2, ages 12 and up
To my beloved father,
James G. Gallagher
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.… Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
ou know the worst thing about my family?” Beth Haxton didn’t wait for an answer from her friend and next-door neighbor, Teddy Carpenter. “They’re always in my face. I never have any privacy at home.” She released the basketball and watched it sail through the rusty rim anchored to the side of Teddy’s garage.
Saturday-morning sunshine warmed her back, and from down the street came the sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower. Teddy’s radio, tuned to a rock station, sat on the stone ledge that ran the length of the driveway. Beth’s family had lived next door to
Teddy’s for years on Signal Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their families were tight with each other, their mothers great friends. Beth and Teddy had played together, gone to school together, practically grown up together.
Teddy scooped up the ball and took aim. “Why do you need privacy?”
“You’re asking me? Don’t you remember all the times you used to complain about your brother?”
“Sure, he was a pain when he lived here, but I sort of miss him now that he’s not around.” Teddy flashed her a grin. “Plus there’s no one to blame my messes on. Mom automatically knows it’s me.”
Teddy’s older brother, David, had gone off to college in September, leaving Teddy alone with his parents. Now that it was June, David would be coming home for the summer, which meant that Teddy would get a dose of reality very soon. Then maybe he’d be more sympathetic, Beth told herself. She said, “I hate sharing the bathroom with Doug and Allison. She uses my shampoo and other hair stuff without ever asking. And as for Doug”—she rolled her eyes—
“well, seven is a creepy age, let me tell you. He collects bugs and stores them in bottles on the windowsill.”
Teddy shot the ball, and it swished through the hoop. “Nothing wrong with keeping bugs. We used to catch a few ourselves.”
“Fireflies,” Beth said. “And we always let them go.”
Teddy dribbled toward the basket, jumped, and dunked it through the hoop effortlessly. “Two points for me!”
“No fair! You’re taller.”
“Too bad, shrimp.” He patted the top of her head.
Beth made a face at him, snatched the ball, and took a run at the basket. They were both fourteen, but Teddy had suddenly shot up, and he towered over Beth. It irked her because until his growth spurt, she’d always had the edge when they shot baskets.
Teddy asked, “What do you hear from Marcie?”
It was no secret that Teddy had a thing for Beth’s best friend. “She’s coming over this afternoon.” Beth slid him a glance in time to watch his Adam’s apple wiggle as he swallowed.
“I may bring her over to shoot some baskets. If you’re nice to me, that is.”
“Aren’t I always nice to you?”
“It depends on how bad you want to see my friends.” She watched his face color. It wasn’t nice to tease him, but it was fun. “Oh, stop looking hyper. I’ll bring her over.”
“Do what you want. I may not even be home.”
“Sure,” Beth said. “Just like Allison won’t be using my stuff anymore.”
Teddy dribbled, made a run around Beth, and shot from outside. The ball swished through the hoop. “Do like I did when your family gets on your nerves. Pretend you’re an orphan and come out here and shoot baskets. That’s how I handled it when I felt picked on.” Breathing hard, he stood in front of her and looked down. “How do you think I got so good at this game?”
“And so humble,” she fired back.
Teddy laughed. “Want to go again?”
The honk of a horn interrupted them, and Beth turned to see the Haxtons’ van pulling into the driveway. “Rain check,” she said.
“Allison and Dad are home from soccer practice. Got to run.”
“I got two goals in the scrimmage,” eleven-year-old Allison told Beth as she climbed out of the van. Her hair was sweaty, and dirt streaked her cheek. She kicked her soccer ball up onto the porch.
“Well, rah, rah,” Beth said without enthusiasm.
“You coming to my game next Saturday?”
“We all are,” their father interjected. “We like watching you play.”
Beth knew it would be useless to argue. Hers was a family that did everything together—Allison’s soccer games, Doug’s T-ball games, her own middle-school track events. “Support,” Paul Haxton, her father, called it.
, Beth usually thought. The only time it was fun for her was whenever Marcie came to the fields with her family and they flirted with the older guys.
“Wash up,” Carol Haxton said as Beth and Allison trekked into the kitchen. “And Allie, take off your cleats. You’re making dents in the floor.”
Beth sighed dramatically. Their mother had to tell Allison the same thing after every soccer event. You’d think the girl could remember it by now.
Doug bounded into the kitchen. “I’m hungry.”
“Lunch is almost ready.”
He headed for the pantry.
“No snacking,” their mother called over her shoulder.
“Aw, Mom, I’m starving.”
“Why don’t you eat some of those bugs you’ve been saving?” Beth suggested.
Doug stuck out his tongue at her.
“Mom, Doug’s acting jerky,” Allison said in a singsong voice.
“All of you stop it,” Carol Haxton said sharply. “Honestly, can’t you get along for a day? Having the three of you in the room together is like having a pack of dogs fighting over a food dish.”
Doug scooted out the door. Allison plopped her cleats into the mudroom. “I’m taking a shower.”
“Stay out of my shampoo,” Beth warned. She turned to their mother. “She uses it all
the time, Mom. Why can’t she buy her own?”
“Sharing with her occasionally won’t ruin your life, you know.”
“Sharing? She almost sucks every bottle dry!”
Her mother set a salad bowl on the table. “I’ll speak to her. Set the table, please.”
“It’s Allison’s turn.”
“Didn’t she just go up to shower?”
“She owes me a turn,” Beth grumbled.
“I talked to your aunt Camille this morning.”
“How’s she doing?” Camille was Beth’s mother’s sister, and she lived in Tampa, Florida, with her husband and her daughter, Terri. Beth’s mother was close to her younger sister, and hardly a week went by when the two of them didn’t phone one another.
“She’s fine. Busy as ever running Terri places. Did you know that your cousin won an essay contest at her school and is headed to Tallahassee to read it in front of the governor at a special luncheon?”
Beth mumbled an appropriate response.
“Actually, Camille and I were discussing an idea, and I’d like to get your thoughts on it.”
Beth froze. When her mother used that tone of voice, she expected trouble. “Like what?”
“We talked about the possibility of Terri’s coming for a nice long visit this summer. She can stay in your room and sleep on the cot. You can do things with her and all your friends—I think the two of you would have a great time together. Tell me, what do
hat did you tell her?” Marcie sat cross-legged on Beth’s bed, eyes wide with curiosity. And sympathy.