I'm frozen in the doorway. I can't stop staring -- I wasn't expecting a dead body.
I'm supposed to be here -- Mrs. Andersen told me to get a top hat from this storage room. The dead body is NOT supposed to be here.
I try really hard to see his chest move. It doesn't. His arms and legs are in an odd position, like someone dumped a dead body on the floor for me to find.
I should tell Mrs. Andersen! I back out of the room, slam the door shut, and run. I dash past Belle practicing her lines with the Beast, techies repainting a backdrop, and I dodge through some teacups and silverware doing their homework. Someone yells at me, annoyed, "Watch it, Screech."
Wait! I stop. Was that just a prop?
I catch my breath. It was just a dummy! From a previous play. Of course. It had to be a dummy. I calm down and wait until my breathing is normal. It had to be a dummy. It had to be a dummy.
I help Mrs. Andersen for the rest of rehearsal, then I quit being her helper.
* * *
I stop doing my homework and try to take the position of the dead body. I can't. I relax as much as I can, and that helps. But I think you have to be dead to be in that position.
I go downstairs. My parents are sitting on the couch, reading their books. "Mother, Father, what should you do if you see a dead body?"
My father's eyes light up and he sets down his book. "A very interesting question, Andrea. I'll go first. If it's in a museum, for example a mummy, you should study it. Alice?"
It's my mother's turn. "If it's in a morgue, you shouldn't touch it unless you are wearing gloves. I have read that there is a serious risk of infection from bodies that have been dead too long."
Father: "If the dead body is at a funeral, different cultures have different traditions. In some cultures, they kiss the dead body."
Mother: "In our country now, we usually just pay respects to the dead body."
My chest feels empty. I say, quietly, "Never mind," and start walking back upstairs.
Father: "I once read an article about funeral directors preparing the dead body for viewing. It's really quite an art."
Mother: "If you see a dead body on TV, you should change channels. There is too much violence on TV already."
And then I'm upstairs and I can't hear any more.
I'm sitting by myself on the school bus, replaying yesterday in my mind. I opened the door and saw the body. I probably shrieked. I don't know how long I was in shock. I remember every detail of that scene -- it's like a video, except he wasn't moving.
* * *
Mr. Zane is our ninth-grade math teacher. He's nice. "It's important to see the structure of numbers. That's often your first hint for solving the problem. For example, what do you think when you see the number 25? Andrea?"
I look at it. "Two is the number of moons of Mars. Five is the number of fingers on a dead hand."
He looks startled. Doesn't he know moons of Mars? I should have used ears or eyes. Stupid me.
I never can guess what people will know. Sometimes they don't know facts that seem obvious. Other times they know things I can't see at all. Mr. Zane would know what to do if he found a dead body.
* * *
We're learning about the environment in science. I go up to my teacher after class. "Mr. McBride, why doesn't Greenvale have an Ecology Club?"
"I don't know if there's any interest. But that's a good idea, Andrea, Greenvale should have an Ecology Club."
If I show Mr. McBride that there's interest in an Ecology Club, maybe he'll start one.
* * *
At dinner, I tell my parents that our high school might start an Ecology Club.
Father: "What a wonderful idea."
Mother: "And a natural idea too, Samuel. Who should care more about the environment than the children? They will have to live in this world long after we are dead."
Father: "If your mother and I can do anything to support your club, please let us know. Right, Alice?"
Mother: "Of course."
Me: "How do I know if there's any interest in an Ecology club?"
Mother goes first. "You can take a poll of your fellow students. However, polls tend to be biased towards socially-favorable answers, such as expressing an interest in ecology."
Father: "Behavioral measures are always preferable. You could start a club and see how many students join."
Mother: "However, that would tend to underestimate interest. Many students might be interested but for one reason or another be unable to join."
I interrupt. "Which of those is the easiest?"
Mother: "The poll. Ask people if they are interested in an Ecology Club. Try to take an unbiased sample from your population."
I can't just go up to people and ask them questions. Doesn't she know I'm shy?
I'm reading the notices on the bulletin board next to Principal Yancy's office, when I see
He's stalking me! Except he's just a picture. I stop screaming. He isn't stalking anyone.
He's alive in the picture. The poster says Missing Person. Wayne Jenkins. It says he is a 10th grader. That should be past tense. I start looking in my backpack for a pen.
People are standing around me in a circle and watching. I find a pen and start changing the poster. Principal Yancy comes out of his office and asks me what I'm doing, in a very firm principal's voice.
"I'm changing this to past tense. Because he's dead." Do I need to explain that? "It's considered proper to use past tense for describing dead people."
Principal Yancy arches one eyebrow. "And what makes you think he's dead?"
"I saw his dead body in the Auditorium Storage Room."
Principle Yancy starts running in that direction. The kids who were watching us all run to follow him. I follow too, in the back.
We get to the door of the storage room. Principal Yancy fumbles with his keys while everyone watches. I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be letting high school students follow him and see a dead body. He hasn't thought this through very carefully.
He finally opens the door and bursts into the room. The other students rush in behind him. They all run past where the dead body was.
I look in. There's no dead body on the floor where I saw it. Everyone is searching the room for a dead body. The search isn't very organized -- everyone looks everywhere. I don't understand why someone would look for a dead body in a small drawer.
Eventually the principal realizes there's no dead body in here. "Boys and girls! What are you doing here? Return to your classes right now."
We start to go back to our classes. I feel a large hand on my shoulder. Principal Yancy says, "Not you. Come with me." He sounds angry. I'm scared. I follow him back to his office; he's walking so fast I have to run sometimes to catch up.
We walk into his office and he points to the chair facing his desk. "Sit." We sit down.
"I don't appreciate you lying to me. Do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf?"
"Yes." It's a very well-known story.
"What's your name?"
"Andrea, do you want people to trust you to tell the truth?"
I shrug my shoulders. I can't imagine when that would be important.
"You can't make up stories and then expect people to believe you when you do tell the truth."
"Yes, sir." But in the story, they believed the boy the first time.
"It's okay to tell small lies that don't hurt anyone."
"It is?" I'm screeching. No one ever told me that. I thought lying was wrong.
"Everyone does it."
"I never did that."
"Andrea, do you remember when your parents told you there was a Santa Claus?"
"They never told me that. He's a fictional character." I thought everyone knew that.
"The point I'm trying to make is this. It's okay to tell small lies. But you can't lie about something like this."
"Yes, sir." Principal Yancy is telling me it's okay to lie? Is he allowed to do that?
"I think you can go back to class now. Let me be very clear, Andrea -- I don't want anything like this ever happening again."
"I promise." I NEVER want Principal Yancy yelling at me again.
* * *
"Andrea Wellington please report to the principal's office." That's on the loudspeaker in our classroom. I'm embarrassed.
Everyone in my class is looking at me, making me even more embarrassed. I hate attention. When I stand up and start to leave, Miss Banks says, "Maybe you should take your things with you, Andrea."
Was I supposed to know that? I've never been called to the principal's office. It's so frustrating not to know what other people know. I pack up my things with everyone still watching me, hoist my backpack onto my shoulders, and leave.
Samantha is sitting in the hallway as I pass by. She tells me, "You're in trouble, Screech. They're going to kick all the freaks out of this school."
The principal's secretary walks me over to the principal's office and opens the door. The principal isn't there -- instead, a policeman is sitting in the principal's chair. I sit across from him in the same chair I was in just an hour before. There's a large desk between us. "Hi Andrea. I'm Detective Jacobs."
His name tag says Jacobs. He's young for a policeman and he doesn't have a gun. He gives me a nice, friendly smile. That helps me not be as nervous.
Detective Jacobs: "According to Mr. Yancy, you reported seeing Wayne Jenkins in the Auditorium Storage Room."
He stands up and sits on the side of the desk. He smiles at me. "Tell me what you remember."
"I was the helper for Mrs. Anderson in the play. She sent me to the Auditorium Storage Room to look for a top hat. The Beast somehow lost his. We keep the props and equipment from previous plays in there."
He nods and smiles. "Yes, go on."
I'm babbling, he doesn't care about props. "When I got there, I opened the door like nothing was going to happen."
Detective Jacobs: "Keep going."
"Then I was staring at a dead body." I can still see the empty look on his face.
Detective Jacobs: "I see. How did you feel?"
Detective Jacobs: "I imagine. Now, why did you think he was dead?"
"The arms and legs were in strange positions. Like this." I get out of my chair, lie on the floor, and show him as well as I can. "It wasn't exactly like this. But close. A real dead person could show you better." That's stupid. I stand up and go back to my chair. "And he wasn't breathing."
Detective Jacobs nods. "Was there any blood?"
Detective Jacobs: "Was there any sign of violence?"
"He was dead."
He smiles at me. "Were there any other signs of violence?"
Detective Jacobs: "But you were sure he was dead."
Detective Jacobs: "Were there any signs of decay?"
Detective Jacobs: "Was he warm?"
I shriek, "I didn't touch him!" Now I'm breathing really fast -- the thought of touching him is really scary.
Detective Jacobs: "You just looked at him."
"Yes." I'm trying not to hyperventilate. I take slower breaths.
Detective Jacobs: "Did he move?"
"No." Dead people don't move. Detective Jacobs should know that.
Detective Jacobs: "Then what happened?"
"I looked at him more." Every hair was perfect. He couldn't have been a dummy. Why did I convince myself he was a dummy?
I get his friendly smile again. "What happened when you were done looking at him?"
"I ran to tell Mrs. Andersen."
Detective Jacobs: "And what did Mrs. Andersen do?"
"I changed my mind and didn't tell her."
He frowns quickly, then goes back to smiling. "Why? Why did you change your mind, Andrea?"
"I decided the dead body was just a prop. From a previous play. You know, a dummy."
Detective Jacobs looks at me like he doesn't believe me. "I see. Even though you were sure you had just seen a dead body, you decided it wasn't a dead body."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
Detective Jacobs: "And then you changed your mind again later on and decided it was a dead body?"
I think about that. "No, sir. I always knew it was a dead body."
Detective Jacobs: "But you didn't tell anyone until today."
"It was too late to tell anyone." Is this one of those things I'm supposed to explain? No, he was a kid once. And I got in trouble for telling people today.
* * *
Rachel stops me in the hallway between classes. Rachel teases me more than anyone. I try to walk around her, but her friends won't let me get past. "You are so weird, Screech. Telling people you saw a dead body. You shouldn't be allowed to go to this school." She looks at me more. "When we aren't calling you Screech, we're going to call you the Dead Body Girl."
Then her friends let me past and they all call me Dead Body Girl and laugh. I should have known better than to tell anyone. She's right, I'm weird.
* * *
Bradley sits down next to me on the bus ride home. No one ever does that, I always ride the bus alone. He's a 10th grader. He's not ugly or gross, and he's never been mean to me, so worse people could be sitting next to me. He still makes me nervous.
Bradley: "Did you really see a dead body?"
He's actually talking to me? I try to talk back, but it's scary. "Yes."
Bradley: "That is so cool."
He thinks. "Okay, maybe it wasn't cool for you. Was it frightening?"
"Yes. Very." This is making me so nervous.
Bradley: "I'm sorry you had to see a dead body."
"Thank you." Bradley is nice. I relax a little.
Bradley: "And you got called on the PA. I heard that."
"Yes, a detective wanted to talk to me."
Bradley: "Cool! He was grilling you about the body."
Bradley: "I'd like to be grilled by a detective some day."
He stops talking and we ride for a little while. Then he says, "Um, if you want, I can help you catch the killer."
"What?" Stop screeching, Andrea.
Bradley: "When you find a dead body, you're supposed to try to catch the killer. I can help. I'm kind of smart. Not as smart as you, I know you get 100's on every test. But I'm strong and brave."
He doesn't look strong. Is there a way I'm supposed to know if he's brave? "Why would I try to catch the killer?"
Bradley: "Don't you want to prove you weren't the one who killed him?"
"I'm a ninth grade girl. No one thinks I killed him. No one even believes I saw him."
Bradley: "Oh, they'll believe you on that. They can suction the floor, pick up dead skin tissue, then do a DNA analysis."
That makes me anxious. I like it that people don't believe me, because then they don't pay attention to me. "Then everyone will think I killed him?"
Bradley: "I know you didn't."
It feels good to have him on my side. "Do you know how to tell if there's any interest in an Ecology Club?"
Bradley: "An Ecology Club. That would be so cool."
Bradley: "Put up posters around school. On the poster, tell people to email you if they're interested. Do you want help?"
"Yes." I definitely need help with that.
* * *
Detective Malich: "Get anything interesting from the girl?"
Detective Jacobs. "She was strange, and things didn't add up right. I'm guessing she's making up a story to get attention. But something's bothering me about that."
Detective Malich: "Or she really saw a dead body, decided not to tell anyone, then decided to out herself with the whole school watching. Yeah right. And what happened to the dead body? He had to get up during the night to take a piss?"
Detective Jacobs: "I guess you're right. Should I still order a lab test of the floor for DNA samples?"
Detective Malich: "And what did I tell you is the first rule of being a detective?"
Detective Jacobs: "Cover my ass. I'll order the test. If the chief doesn't want to pay for it, that's his problem."
* * *
Bradley emails me a possible poster. It's really good, but there are errors. I fix some grammar and email it back to him. He changes his mind on a few things, then I remember something we forgot to say. Finally we agree on a poster.
Bradley isn't on the bus in the morning.
* * *
During lunch, a boy sits next to me at my table, even though no one ever sits with me. He makes me really nervous."Hey, you must be Andrea. I'm Kyle. Cute sweater, I like it."
"Thanks." I think I'm blushing.
Kyle: "Are you just bullshitting everyone, or did you really see a dead body?"
"Really saw." Why do I have to be so nervous?
Kyle: "Well, if you want help catching the killer, let me know. I can be your muscle."
He looks really strong. I think he's a 12th grader. "Are you interested in an Ecology Club?"
Kyle: "What's that?"
"It would try to help save the environment. That's really important."
Kyle: "Nah, not my thing. What do you say? Do you want help catching the killer?"
"Are you brave?"
Kyle: "The bravest."
"I'm not trying to catch him yet. But when I do, sure."
Kyle: "Great. I'm your guy. Well, see ya' around."
He leaves. I hope Kyle isn't disappointed when he finds out I'm not looking for the killer.
* * *
"Next week, we'll be dissecting dead frogs. If you have a signed note from a parent or legal guardian, you will be excused from this assignment. But I strongly recommend that you participate. You will be tested on this, whether you participate or not. Furthermore, this will be a good learning experience. For you, not the frog." The class laughs nervously. "Yes Andrea?"
"I can't dissect a dead frog, Mr. McBride." I cannot stand to look at another dead body. Even if it's a frog. I'll spend the whole time thinking of the dead boy I saw.
Mr. McBride: "I'm sorry to hear that, Andrea. As I said, bring in a signed note from one of your parents."
"I can't imagine them doing that." My parents love all things science.
Mr. McBride: "Then you'll have to dissect a dead frog. It won't be as bad as you think."
"Will there be any live frogs we can dissect instead?"
Some students in the class go "Eww."
Hannah: "She's the Dead Body Girl, Mr. McBride."
Mr. McBride: "Hannah, that's not a nice thing to call her."
Hannah shrugs. "That's not my fault, Mr. McBride."
It hurts me to be called that name. But I don't like being called Screech either. Why do people make up cruel names?
* * *
I print up copies of the poster and give some to Bradley. I put the posters in places where there is no Missing Person sign.
* * *
Bradley sits next to me again on the bus ride home. We don't have much to say. He tells me some things that happened to him today. He can be funny. I really like it when he talks to me.
Bradley isn't on the morning bus again. I guess he doesn't take the morning bus.
* * *
On the bus ride home, I tell Bradley that four people emailed me to say they were interested in the Ecology Club. I'm discouraged. He says four is good. He must be an optimist. We talk a little about the poster.
* * *
"Andrea! What in the world are you doing?"
"Hi Mrs. Starring. Look how the limbs of this squirrel fall into different positions when I drop it different ways. See how the head is turning now? That's very unnatural. I don't think a live squirrel could do that."
Mrs. Starring: "You're playing with a dead squirrel, Andrea."
"I know. I think it just died." I pick up the squirrel and drop it again. I look. The left paw would never take that position if the squirrel was alive. I try to hold my left hand in that position.
Mrs. Starring: "Leave it alone, Andrea. Right now!"
"Yes Mrs. Starring." I put it back in the street where I found it and walk home.
After class, I wait and talk to Mr. McBride. I explain that six people are interested in an Ecology Club. Is that enough interest to start a club?
Mr. McBride: "Oh gosh, Andrea. It's nice that you're finding a little interest. But . . ." He looks embarrassed. "I don't really have time to supervise a club. It's not really my main interest, and they don't pay us for that. But mostly I'm really busy. I'm sorry I can't help you."
I'm heartsick. Why do I always fail at everything?
* * *
On the bus ride home, I tell Bradley that Mr. McBride isn't going to sponsor an Ecology Club, so we can't have one. But he says he'll ask his science teacher. So I go back to having hope.
I tried to tell Bradley something about my day. But I told him about a test, and then it just sounded like bragging, and he looked uncomfortable. I don't know how to be funny. So I mostly listen to him. When he's done, we don't have anything more to talk about. I wish we did.
* * *
Bradley emails me an idea for a new poster. This one is in color. I email back a change saying how important an Ecology Club is. He adds some changes about how interesting it will be.
My father agrees to make copies at work, because the school doesn't let us make color copies. My father is really happy to help. He asks if the Ecology Club needs any money. "Father, there isn't even a club yet."
"You're in it, right? It only takes one person to make a revolution."
Mother: "I thought it was one person to have an idea, two to make a movement, and three to make a revolution."
Father: "Well, you get the point, Andrea. One person can be a voice for change and make a difference."
I'm not a person who makes a difference. He should know that.
At lunch, another boy volunteers to help me catch the killer. He's the fourth one now, including Bradley. It must be a boy thing.
* * *
Bradley still sits next to me on the bus ride home. His science teacher wouldn't sponsor the Ecology Club either. Bradley says we're going to ask as many science teachers as we have to, until we find a sponsor. I agree. This is new for me, to keep trying.
We sit in silence for a while, then I say, "When I saw the dead body, I went to tell Mrs. Andersen. Then I convinced myself it was just a dummy from a previous play. But I really knew it was a dead body."
Bradley nods. He looks really interested.
I keep talking. "That made the detective suspicious. I think that's one reason he didn't believe me."
"Yeah, it's their job to be suspicious. It's called a hole, you had a hole in your story. But I believe you, Andrea."
I like that he believed me.
* * *
Why did I bring up the detective again? We were done with that conversation, and it isn't something I like to talk about. I just knew Bradley would be interested.
I wait until there is a free moment in the dinner conversation. "Mother, Father, why would I tell a boy something, just to keep him interested in talking to me?"
When I hear what I just said, I flush really badly. "Never mind."
The both have a big happy-parent smile. Father: "That was a lob pitch."
Mother: "No problem hitting that one out of the park."
Detective Jacobs: "There's a DNA match on the Jenkins kid -- his DNA was on the floor where the girl said she saw him. Maybe the girl was really telling the truth."
Detective Malich: "That just means Jenkins was that room at some time. You can find his DNA all over the school. No dead body, no murder. He just ran off."
Detective Jacobs: "Yeah, but's a locked room. You're probably right, but I think I need to talk to the girl again."
Detective Malich: "Don't be soft on her. Do you want me to come along?"
Detective Jacobs: "She was pretty frightened the first time. I think I better talk to her myself."
* * *
I give half of the posters to Bradley. We put them up.
Someone should take down the Missing Person signs. They're showing signs of decay.
* * *
Miss Banks is explaining irony to us. "Miss Banks, isn't irony a lie?"
"Technically yes, Andrea. But the reader knows it isn't true."
She's explaining exaggeration, which is also a lie, when we are interrupted by the PA: "Andrea Wellington please report to the principal's office."
I pack up my things, hoist my backpack onto my shoulders, and leave. It feels good to know what to do.
Mrs. Simonsen, she's the principal's secretary, sends me into the principal's office. The only person there is Detective Jacobs, sitting in the principal's chair. He smiles at me, and I sit in my chair on the other side of the desk.
Detective Jacobs: "Hi Andrea. It's so good to talk to you again. Why don't we start out by you telling me what you remember seeing from the other day in the Auditorium Storage Room."
I spend three minutes describing Wayne Jenkins. Detective Jacobs takes notes.
Detective Jacobs: "And you aren't making any of that up?"
"No, sir." Am I allowed to make things up? I thought I had to tell the truth.
He stands up and walks around the room, sometimes sitting on the side of the desk, as he asks me more questions. "Did you know Wayne Jenkins?"
Detective Jacobs: "Did you know any of his friends?"
I don't know who his friends were. Was I supposed to find out his friends on Facebook so I could answer questions about them? "I don't know."
Detective Jacobs: "But you thought about it before answering me."
"Because I don't know who his friends were."
Detective Jacobs: "Do you ever get teased or bullied?"
"I get teased a lot. It isn't bullying. They aren't allowed to bully in school any more." He should know that.
Detective Jacobs: "Did Wayne or any of his friends ever tease or bully you?"
I just shrug. If I don't know who is friends are, how am I supposed to know?
Detective Jacobs: "Did you ever have any thoughts of revenge against people who tease you?"
"I used to hope that someday they would get teased. Then they would learn how I feel. But that isn't nice."
Detective Jacobs: "I agree. But still, did you ever want to harm them in any way?"
"No. Why would I want that?"
Detective Jacobs: "Do you have a boyfriend?"
Detective Jacobs: "Have you ever had a boyfriend?"
Detective Jacobs: "Did you ever date Wayne Jenkins?"
I am tying to imagine how I could date someone and not know who they were. That sounds like a TV soap opera. "We had an affair one weekend in Moscow."
Detective Jacobs: "When were you in Moscow?"
"That was supposed to be irony, Detective Jacobs. We were learning about that today in English. I'm sorry. I've never been to Moscow. I've never had an affair. I'm a 9th grader, I've never even been on date."
Detective Jacobs: "Where have you traveled outside the United States?"
I'm really sorry I tried irony. "London, Paris, Naples, most of the cities in Europe with a good museum."
Detective Jacobs: "Including Moscow?"
Moscow doesn't have a good museum. Doesn't everyone know that? "I've never been to Moscow. I've been to St. Petersburg, of course."
Detective Jacobs: "And that's in Russia, correct?"
Detective Jacobs: "Did you see Wayne Jenkins in St. Petersburg?"
"Detective Jacobs, St. Petersburg is a large city. I saw thousands of people. I can't remember them all. Can I go to the bathroom?"
Detective Jacobs: "I suppose we're done here. Thank you for your cooperation."
* * *
Bradley still sits next to me on the bus. Neither one of us found an advisor for the Ecology Club. I admire how Bradley is going to keep trying. I give up.
We ride for a while, then I say, casually, "I have news on the murder front."
Bradley's interested. "Yeah?"
"I was grilled again by the detective today."
Bradley: "Oh, wow! Yeah, I heard your name called on the PA and wondered about that. Why did he grill you?"
"He suspected me of killing Wayne Jenkins."
He's really interested. "They always suspect the person who finds the body." He adds, "They must believe you now about seeing him. I bet they got the DNA results."
We ride for a while. What else can I tell him? "And I told a lie."
His eyes get big. "You did? To the detective?"
"I told him that Wayne Jenkins and I had an affair in Moscow."
His eyes get big. "You had an affair?"
"Of course not. It was irony. How could the detective believe that? It just came out of me. I never lied before."
Bradley: "You must lie sometimes. Everyone does."
"I didn't. Until today."
He smiles. "Welcome to the world of liars."
I don't know if I want to belong the world of liars. But I don't like living in a world by myself either.
* * *
At dinner I say, "Santa Claus is real."
My father's eyes twinkle. "Yes, of course."
My mother adds, "Wherever there is love and kindness and giving, the spirit of Santa Claus is alive."
I hate lying -- it makes me anxious, and it's too complicated. I don't even see the point of doing it. I'm just going to keep living in my own world.
* * *
I read on the internet for what to do when you are questioned by the police. But it's mostly advice for criminals, not ninth-graders.
Then I read about words detectives use, in case I ever talk to Bradley about it again.
I go up to Miss Banks after class. "Miss Banks. I can't do the assignment to use irony and exaggeration. Because they're lies."
She thinks about it. "And you don't like lying. I guess that's fair, Andrea. I'll find another assignment for you."
Miss Banks: "How's your Ecology Club coming? I saw the posters. That sounds like a wonderful idea."
Me: "It's not doing very good. Nine students are interested. But no one will be the advisor."
Miss Banks: "Let me think."
I wait patiently.
"I can sponsor your club. If you find someone better than me, I understand. I know I'm just an English teacher."
I shriek with delight. Then I don't know what to say. "Thank you. Thank you very much Miss Banks."
* * *
Mrs. McVeigh: "What was that scream?"
Miss Banks: "Some 9th-grade over-enthusiasm. I just volunteered to be the advisor for their Ecology Club."
Mrs. McVeigh: "Are you sure you want to do that? No one looks at that much when you're evaluated for tenure to see if you keep your job."
Miss Banks: "I've heard. But you have to admit, it's strange that our school doesn't have an Ecology Club."
Mrs. McVeigh: "Probably because being the advisor doesn't pay anything and doesn't count for anything. How much do you know about ecology?"
Miss Banks: "I'm not a science person. I hope that doesn't become too much of a problem."
Mrs. McVeigh: "I think you're right about the school needing a club like that. If you need a warm body, let me know. A ninth-grader is trying to start a club?"
Miss Banks: "Andrea Wellington. She's an excellent student and a very sweet girl."
Mrs. McVeigh: "The Dead Body Girl?"
Miss Banks. "That's her."
* * *
Bradley is excited that we found a sponsor. He asks me what the Ecology Club actually does. I don't know, except that we try to save the environment. He says that's cool.
* * *
I wake up from a nightmare. I was walking down the hallway after school. Someone threw a coin at me and hit me in the back of my head. I tried not to cry. I didn't turn around. He shouted, "Pick it up, Screech." I kept walking. I heard him running behind me, so I started running. But he caught me and turned me around. He spit in my face.
I tried to get away, but he was holding me too hard. I screeched, "Let me go." But he didn't. Then the janitor appeared. "Let her go, boy." The boy ran away.
His face was Wayne Jenkins. Now I remember that really happening two years ago. I tried to forget, it's a really painful memory.
After class, Miss Banks tells me that our meetings will be after school on Thursday. I'm supposed to inform everyone who told me they were interested. Miss Banks asks me what an Ecology Club actually does. I tell her I'll find out.
* * *
On the bus ride home, I tell Bradley, "The Ecology Club Meetings are on Thursday after school. Starting this week."
Bradley: "I'll make up posters saying that. We can interest more people if they know we really have a club."
* * *
I take out my house key. I turn the key and open our front door. I take one step into our house
in our front hallway. The side of his head is bloody, and parts of his head are gone.
When my mind comes back to me, I'm running to the library. I try to study there, but all I can think about is the dead body. I wish I couldn't, but I remember everything about it. He was mostly bald, with long strands of black hair over his bald spot. He wasn't breathing. It was horrible.
My parents call me when they get home, then my father comes and picks me up. I walk into the house holding his hand, even though I haven't done that in years. But there is no dead body.
I'm not surprised that the body is gone -- in my experience, dead bodies usually disappear. There's a spot of blood on the rug. So his brain leaked blood onto our rug. I carefully step over the blood spot. It's disturbing to walk on a rug that had a dead body on it.
What do you do when you see a dead body? Study it, don't touch it unless you have gloves on, add it to your collection of dead bodies you have found. I wonder if I could get my name in the news for finding two dead bodies. But I'm not telling anyone -- I learned my lesson on that.
* * *
At dinner, my Mother asks, "Why were you at the library today, Andrea?"
Me: "Why would a student go to the library instead of going home?"
Father: "The student could be working on a paper and need to use resources at the library."
Mother: "The student could be interested in the social aspects of being at the library."
Father: "Perhaps the reason is something about physical comfort, such as the library being warmer."
Mother: "Would a student go to the library to do research? Let's rethink that first answer, Samuel. With the widespread availability of the internet, the library might be outdated."
Father: "The student might be required to use books as references. Also, the encyclopedias in the library would be more reliable than information from the internet."
Mother: "The library might be closer than home."
Father: "Or perhaps it's farther and the student wants exercise."
* * *
It bothers me that there was a dead body in our house.
I look on the internet and copy a list of things an Ecology Club can do.
Mr. McBride's classroom door is closed. I'm supposed to go in for class, but I'm too scared to open the door. I don't know why -- but I can't. I wait for another student to come and open the door, then I scurry inside.
* * *
On the bus ride home, I show my list to Bradley. Conduct an audit of the plants and animals found on the school yard. Make birdhouses and nesting boxes to place on school grounds. Build a compost pile, using grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps. There's 12 suggestions.
"Which one do you like best?"
"I don't know. Maybe the one about building a nature trail with signposts and information."
I've seen Bradley when he's interested. He doesn't look interested now, even though he said he was. That would have confused me before, but I've learned about small lies. "Is there anything you want to do that's not on the list?"
He thinks. "I don't know. These are fine."
I know where to get more ideas.
* * *
I stand motionless on my front porch. I'm terrified to open the door.
I force myself to put the key in the lock. I force myself to turn the key. But I can't open the door. I panic and start running to the library.
I stop. I, responsible latchkey kid, go back and remove the key from the door. But I'm not opening the door. I walk calmly to the library. After a few minutes of waiting in the cold at the library door for someone else to open it, someone comes out of the library and I can go in.
I see his picture in one of the newspapers in the library -- the man from my hallway. It's a shock. I have the feeling he's following me. But it makes sense -- dead people get their picture in the newspaper. I don't read the article, it's none of my business.
* * *
"Mother, Father, what would be interesting things for an Ecology Club to do?"
Father: "Alice, you can go first."
Mother: "There is an anti-fracking demonstration in the capital a week from Saturday. You could go to that. Fracking needs more regulation."
Father: "And raise awareness about the chemicals used in fracking. That would be useful."
Mother: "The voice of concerned youth could carry some weight on that issue."
Father: "You could raise money to support Greenpeace."
Mother: "What about looking for endangered species in the land they are planning to use for the new mall? We really do not need another mall."
Father: "I've been saving this idea for last. Bud Bowy at the university has wanted to chemically analyze the Reeding River for years. But he doesn't have the manpower. You could collect water samples for him."
* * *
I'm petrified to call Bradley on the phone. I would almost rather find another dead body. But I won't know if he's telling the truth if I email him.
"Hello." A female answers.
I read what I have written. "Hello, this is Andrea Wellington, from Greenvale High School. Could I please speak to Bradley?"
"Yeah." It sounds like his older sister. I hear her shouting, "Bradley, some girl on the phone for you."
I keep reading. "Hi Bradley. This is Andrea Wellington. Could I tell you some additional ideas for the Ecology Club and hear your opinions?"
He doesn't know what fracking is, so I have to explain it. He says that sounds interesting, but he's just being nice. He says he doesn't want to raise money for Greenpeace. So he doesn't even tell a small lie about that idea.
"Looking for endangered species in the land they're going to use for the new mall."
Bradley: "Cool. If we found an endangered species, we could shut down the whole mall." He's interested!
"It is hard to find an endangered species. Just so you know."
"It would still be fun to look. And you never know, I bet we could find one."
Then I tell him about collecting water samples.
Bradley: "That one's even better. I want to do that one."
"Thanks. Good-bye." Now I don't feel anxious about not having any ideas that interest Bradley.
I liked talking to him on the phone, even though I was really nervous.
I take some of the ideas from my first list, plus the ones from my parents, and make a new list. I email it to Bradley and he says it's good.
* * *
"Mother, Father, how do you say good-bye in a phone conversation?"
Mother: "Au revoir, mon ami."
Father: "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
Mother: "Happy trails, to you . . ." She starts singing, and my father joins in.
I wait until they are finished singing, then I interrupt. "Yes, but suppose you're talking to someone and you don't have anything more to say. Then do you just say good-bye?" Or arrivederci or sing them a song, but I'll probably just say good-bye.
Mother: "I don't believe I have ever read anything on that topic."
Father: "Interesting question Andrea. I don't know the answer! Alice, I think our daughter is growing up. Good question, Andrea, I'm proud of you."
Mother: "You could try a search for transitions in phone conversations."
* * *
The internet says, "Smile, state that you enjoyed the conversation, and say goodbye." Smiling doesn't make sense -- this advice must be for face-to-face conversations. I feel more confident knowing this. I can learn to be normal, it just takes time.
Bradley and I are on the bus riding home. I have to tell someone or I will go crazy. "Can I tell you something gross?"
Bradley gets a big smile on his face. "Sure."
"I found another dead body."
His smile disappears. "Another one?" He doesn't believe me.
"Yeah, two. I know, that gives me serious credibility issues."
Bradley: "You're right on that. Where did you find the dead body?"
"In my house. I opened the door and it was right there in our hallway." It's suddenly hard for me to breath -- I can still see his chest not moving.
"Did anyone else see the body?"
I try to take a calm breath. "No. It disappeared."
Bradley: "So it's going to be hard to get people to believe you. Did you tell the police?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Um, you're supposed to tell the police when you find a dead body."
"My parents didn't tell me that. Will the police believe me?"
He thinks. "Pretty unlikely without a body to back up your story."
"And then they'll grill me."
Bradley: "For sure. And don't expect them to believe you about anything. Did you tell your parents?"
"No. You're the only one I'm telling." He smiles at that. "There's still a small blood stain on the rug."
"Cool. Can I see it?"
"Not cool. Of course you can see it. Do you want to see it now?"
Bradley: "Definitely." He looks at me. Then he smiles. "You wouldn't lie."
I hold up two fingers.
Bradley: "You lied twice?"
"My Moscow affair with Wayne Jenkins. Then I told my parents that Santa Claus was real."
Bradley: "Whoa, you are wicked." We get the giggles.
We get off the bus together and walk to my house. I tell him everything I can remember about the dead body. When we get to my house, I give him my house key and let him open the door.
I'm disappointed about how small the blood spot is. It seemed so big and scary when I first saw it. Now, it could be just a little spot of mud.
Bradley's disappointed too. He kneels down and examines it. He sniffs it, but it has to be too dry to smell. It's not very good evidence. He takes a picture with his cell phone. When we look at the picture, we can hardly even see the spot.
"If you want, you could cut off a piece of the rug. There must be a way to test if it's blood." I want to make this more interesting for him.
"Yeah, I could probably find out how to do that. But won't your parents be upset if I cut off some their rug?"
I shrug. "If it's for learning, my parents are always happy." I get him some scissors, and he cuts away some of the hairs of the rug where the blood is.
"I'll get you a plastic bag." Detectives put their evidence in plastic bags.
"Thanks." He puts the rug hairs in the plastic bag, seals it up, and puts it in his pocket. Now he can be a detective. He looks happy.
Bradley leaves and I go upstairs. My bedroom door is closed.
I go downstairs and study until my parents get home. Then I ask my father to open my bedroom door.
I remember not to close my bedroom door before going to school.
* * *
I can't really concentrate all day in school. The Ecology Club meets today after school, and I keep thinking about that. Probably no one will come except Bradley, Miss Banks, and me. But at least we'll have an Ecology Club. I'm excited.
* * *
Twelve students are at the Ecology Club meeting -- eight girls including me and four boys including Bradley! Miss Banks greets everyone and starts explaining what the club is. Then she starts presenting ideas from the list I made.
When they get to the idea of a compost pile, one girl starts talking about a lot of other things the school could do to save energy and be nicer to the environment.
Then we have a vote on which project to do. Helping the school go green gets the most votes. Bradley voted for collecting water samples, so I did too. Another boy also voted for that, but that wasn't enough to win.
The go-green girl raises her hand. "Miss Banks, why can't we do more than one project? According to my notes, if we do the green school project, the anti-fracking demonstration, and collecting water samples, there would be something for everyone here."
The guy who voted for water samples says, "I can find other people to help with the water sample project."
Back to the go-green girl: "So we'll encourage more participation if we have three different projects."
Then we wait for Miss Banks. She says, "That would be a lot for this club to do, and we shouldn't overextend ourselves. Plus we are just starting. So I'm not sure that's a good idea, but it's up to you. Let's vote."
Everyone votes for the idea of doing three projects. Roberta, that's the name of the go-green girl, is head of the Go Green Project. Matthew, that's the guy who said he could find more people to collect water samples, is head of that project. And a girl named Cynthia is in charge of the anti-fracking demonstration.
I volunteer to help with collecting water samples and anti-fracking. When I say I want to be on anti-fracking, Bradley joins that one too.
Then we elect officers. Roberta is unanimous for President, and Matthew is Vice-President. No one wants to be Secretary-Treasure, so I raise my hand for that.
And then we're done, except I should get everyone's email address and what projects they're on. I tell that to Bradley, and he tells it to the club, so there's a sign up. The sign up sheets have cell phone numbers on it, including Bradley's.
As people leave, Matthew stops to talk to me. "Can you find out how I'm supposed to contact Dr. Bowy?"
Cynthia also talks to me. "We need to get going on the Anti-Fracking demonstration. Send an email to everyone who signed up as interested and ask if their parents can drive."
Bradley asks Cynthia, "Did you want me to make a poster? We could put it up to see if anyone else from the school wants to go to the demonstration."
She smiles at him, this really cute smile, then touches his arm. "That would be great, Bradley. Thanks. We should work on that tonight. Call me." She tells him her cell phone number.
I hope Cynthia is an eleventh- or twelfth-grader and too old for Bradley. She's really pretty.
* * *
We're on the late bus together. Bradley says, "It was blood."
Bradley: "I would need fancy equipment to tell if it was human blood. But it was definitely blood."
"He was human."
Bradley: "Do you know what this means?"
"Dead body in my house." I can still see his mouth hanging open as he lay on the floor with his bloody smashed-in skull.
Bradley: "There's more. The dead body was for you."
I SCREAM. The whole bus looks at us. I try not to hyperventilate. "For me? Like a present?" I'm screeching.
Bradley: "Or a message, or something. You were supposed to find it."
"Like a homework assignment?"
Bradley: "Yeah, like someone's giving you a really gruesome homework assignment."
"I'm not doing it."
We sit for a while, then Bradley asks, "Did you ever see him before? The dead man at your house?"
"How am I supposed to know?"
Bradley: "Well, do you remember seeing him?"
Bradley: "Then you can answer the first question no."
I'm grateful to Bradley for explaining that. He's really nice to me.
Then I try to touch Bradley's arm, but I can't do it.
I go straight to the library after school, I know I can't open our door.
* * *
I'm so excited about the Ecology Club! I send out the email to everyone who signed up as being interested in the anti-fracking demonstration.
Bradley doesn't answer. Maybe he's too busy.
I look up Cynthia on Facebook. She's a 10th grader, the same grade as Bradley. That gives me a sick feeling about why Bradley is busy. He usually answers my emails.
I help Bradley put up the posters he made for the Anti-Fracking Demonstration. They give some information about what fracking is. But fracking is hard to explain, so the posters are kind of confusing.
* * *
Mrs. McVeigh: "How was Ecology Club?"
Miss Banks: "Except for the fact that I don't know anything about science, or Ecology Clubs, or for that matter even how to start a club, it was good."
Mrs. McVeigh: "You have to fill out a form. The counseling center has them. It was good?"
Miss Banks: "Twelve students were there. I wasn't expecting that many."
Mrs. McVeigh: "Twelve is good."
Miss Banks: "They have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It was enough to make me proud of our students here. Roberta Friend is in the club. What a fireball!"
Mrs. McVeigh: "Maybe you hit on something."
Miss Banks: "Are you still interested in coming? Our next meeting is next Thursday. I think I need all the help I can get."
Mrs. McVeigh: "It depends on my schedule. Will a history teacher help?"
Miss Banks smiles. "As much as an English teacher. Do you know anything about fracking?"
Mrs. McVeigh: "What's fracking?"
Miss Banks: "I think something to do with oil and shale."
Mrs. McVeigh: "What is shale exactly?"
Miss Banks. "Some kind of stone, right? I have a few days to find out."
Mrs. McVeigh: "And that's the project for the Ecology Club?"
Miss Banks: "Just one of them. We have three."
Mrs. McVeigh: "Three? That's too many. You are so deep in trouble."
Miss Banks: "You got that right."
* * *
On the bus ride home, Bradley tells me, "Andrea, I think you have to tell the police about the body you found in your house."
"I do?" I hate myself when I screech.
Bradley: "Yeah. Maybe the body wasn't dead when you saw it. Maybe someone killed it somewhere else. But someone put it in your house for you to see."
"I saw it. So I did what I was supposed to do. Why do I have to call the police?"
Bradley: "That's not going to be the end of it."
"Will you tell the police for me?"
He smiles. "Sure!"
I couldn't have called them.
He gets off the bus with me and we walk to my house. I wish I could think of things to talk about. I give him the key and he opens the door. Then we go into my house and Bradley calls from our house phone.
Bradley: "Hello. I would like to report the discovery of a body." He listens. "Bradley Jankowski." He listens. "1237 Lochmore St." That's my address. He listens some more. "Okay."
Bradley ends the call and turns to me. "We have to wait here. The police are coming."
There's a boy in my living room. Do we just sit here? "Did you want something to eat?"
My mother left a plate of carrots and celery sticks for me. Does Bradley eat healthy? We don't have a lot of junk food, just some potato chips and an old can of coke. I put the coke in a glass with ice, the potato chips in a bowl, and bring it out to Bradley with the carrot and celery sticks.
He eats the potato chips and drinks the coke. I try to eat a carrot stick, but I'm too nervous. Then a police car with a siren pulls up in front of our house. They turn off their siren but leave their rotating lights on. I'm so embarrassed. Two policemen run to our porch and starting knocking loudly on our door. Bradley opens it.
Policeman: "Where's the body?"
Bradley: "It's gone."
Policeman: "You said you found a body."
Bradley: "It's gone now. She found it three days ago." He points at me.
Everyone looks at me. I hold up four fingers.
Bradley: "Four days ago."
Another police car pulls up. It's Detective Jacobs and another policeman. The policeman who got here first explains everything to the policeman with Detective Jacobs. They thought we found the dead body just now. Except we never said that. Detective Jacobs tells the regular police that they can go.
Detective Jacobs: "Hi Andrea. This is quite the coincidence. You remember me, right? I'm Detective Jacobs. Can we come in?"
They walk in and sit on the couch; Bradley and I sit on chairs. Detective Jacobs says, "This is my partner, Detective Malich. Are you Bradley Jankowski?"
Bradley "Yes Sir."
Detective Jacobs: "And Bradley, you found a body four days ago?"
Detective Jacobs: "You found the body, Andrea?"
Detective Jacobs: "Why am I not surprised? Detective Malich, I think you've heard of Andrea."
Detective Malich: "She's the girl who claimed to have found a dead body at the school?"
Detective Jacobs: "Yes."
He shakes his head. "This is such a waste of time."
Detective Jacobs turns to me and smiles. "Do you mind if we talk about this a little? We want to hear what you have to say."
Detective Jacobs: "Great. To start, why don't you just tell me what happened."
"Do I get to hear my Miranda Rights?" That's one of the terms I learned.
He winces. I probably asked a dumb question. "You're not being charged with anything, Andrea, and we don't suspect you of anything. We just want to hear what you have to say. You called us, remember?"
Bradley nods at me that it's okay to talk.
"I came home from school on the bus. I walked up to my door. I got my key out the backpack." He doesn't care about that. "I unlocked the door and turned the key." I act out that part. "Then I opened the door." I act that out. "And then I saw the dead body."
Detective Jacobs: "Can you describe the dead body?"
I take about 3 minutes describing everything about him. I lie on the floor and show him the position of the dead body and the vacant look on his face. I can still see both dead bodies perfectly in my mind.
Detective Jacobs: "How did you know he was dead?"
I think. "I just thought he was dead."
Bradley: "Why would a live person be lying in her hallway?"
Detective Malich: "Why would a dead person be lying in her hallway?"
Detective Jacobs turns to Bradley. "Bradley, could you do us a favor and let Andrea answer the questions? We need to hear what she has to say." He turns to me. "How did you feel when you saw the body?"
"I don't remember."
Detective Jacobs: "Did you scream or anything?"
"I probably shrieked. I'm not a good screamer."
Bradley: "You're a good screamer too."
"So maybe I screamed."
Detective Jacobs: "Then what happened?"
"I stared for a while."
Detective Jacobs: "And after you were done staring?"
"I went to the library to study. I studied there until my parents called, then they came and picked me up."
Detective Jacobs: "What did your parents do when they saw the body?"
"It disappeared before they got home."
Detective Jacobs: "What makes you think that?"
I just shrug my shoulders.
Bradley: "They would have called the police if they found it. So it must have been gone when they got home."
I say that to Detective Jacobs: "They would have called the police if they found a body in their hallway."
Both detectives give Bradley a dirty look. Detective Jacobs says, "Mr. Jankowski, could you please wait in the kitchen while we finishing asking Andrea our questions?" Bradley scowls and then goes into the kitchen.
Things are a lot scarier now. There are two detectives, and Detective Malich doesn't like me and he has a gun. Detective Jacobs returns to grilling me. "This happened after school on Monday?"
Detective Jacobs: "And why didn't you tell anyone?"
"Quit now. Talking." I'm too nervous to talk.
Detective Jacobs gives me a big smile, but it doesn't help, I'm still scared. "You're helping out a lot. We really appreciate you doing this for us. Just a few more questions and we'll be done. Did you tell anyone that you found this body?"
Detective Jacobs: "You can't tell anyone?"
"Can't answer more questions." This is too frightening.
Detective Jacobs: "Would it help if Bradley came back?"
I nod my head yes.
Detective Jacobs shouts, "Bradley, could you please come back and join us?"
Detective Malich: "Jesus Christ, Jacobs."
Bradley comes back and sits down again. Detective Jacobs asks, "Did you tell anyone you found a body?"
"I told Bradley."
Detective Jacobs: "When did you tell him?"
Detective Jacobs: "I see. Why did you tell him?"
"I was going crazy not telling anyone."
Detective Jacobs: "Of course. Now, why didn't you tell your parents or the police?"
"I didn't know I was supposed to tell the police. Bradley told me that today."
Detective Jacobs: "And this is Friday."
Detective Jacobs: "So you are telling us about the body on Friday."
"Yes sir." I turn to Bradley. "Why is he asking me what day it is?"
Bradley: "They want to know why you didn't tell them until Friday."
"Oh." I turn back to Detective Jacobs. "Detective Jacobs, if you find a dead body, you can tell people, because you know what to do. You don't have to feel anxious about doing the wrong thing. And when the police come to grill you, they're just your friends. You can joke around and have a good time. When you're a 9th grade girl, it's completely different."
Detective Jacobs: "I understand."
Detective Malich: "You understand? This is all such a crock of shit, Jacobs. Why are you putting up with this?" He turns to me. He's not smiling and he sounds angry. "Lying to us is a crime. Do you know what a crime is? That means we can put you in jail. Just tell us the truth. There was no dead body, no live body, no body at all. This is just a story you're making up to get attention. Right?"
I start to cry. Everyone waits for me to stop. Bradley says, "I think you can ask them to leave and then they have to leave."
Detective Jacobs: "We have just a few more questions. I'm sorry my partner disturbed you. He just gets that way sometimes. He had a hard day and he has hemorrhoids."
Me: "Please go."
Detective Jacobs: "Are you sure? It doesn't really help anyone now if we leave. Can I ask just one more question?"
I shake my head no.
They look at each other, then stand up. Detective Jacobs: "Thank you for answering some of our questions."
Detective Malich: "Yeah. If you ever do find a dead body, call us before it disappears."
My parents didn't tell me that. "Can I leave town? We have an anti-fracking demonstration at the capital a week from Saturday. It's for the Ecology Club."
Detective Jacobs smiles at me. "You can leave town. We don't suspect you of anything."
"I enjoyed talking to you. Good-bye." They leave.
Bradley: "That was so cool. I mean, I know it wasn't cool for you. But thanks for letting me be here and watch."
"Now do you see why I didn't want to tell the police?"
Bradley: "Totally. I still think you had to, though. They did good cop/bad cop. That was so cool to see."
After Bradley leaves, I put the carrots and celery back in the refrigerator. He ate the junk food. So I did something right. That's new for me.
* * *
Detective Malich: "That story was the biggest piece of bull I ever heard. I told you we were wasting our time. Did you really have to make up that part about hemorrhoids?"
Detective Jacobs: "Creative genius at work."
Detective Malich: "I owe you one, Jacobs. And you should have left the boy in the kitchen."
Detective Jacobs: "Funny, I was thinking I sent the wrong boy to the kitchen."
Detective Malich: "The description she gave, that fit the Burson suicide from Monday. Did you notice that? She saw him in the paper on Tuesday and made up that story."
Detective Jacobs: "If what she said was true, maybe that wasn't a suicide."
Detective Malich: "If what she said was true, I'm the Pope. Gimme a break, Jacobs."
Detective Jacobs: "I know, her story is impossible. Should I ask for a DNA testing of the hallway anyway?"
Detective Malich: "Depends. You can if you want to look like an idiot."
* * *
At dinner Mother says, "I had a strange experience today, Samuel. A detective from the Greenvale Police Department called me. He said Andrea had reported seeing a dead body in our house last Monday. He thought she actually had not seen anything."
Father: "That is most strange. I can't even guess at an explanation. Andrea, would you like to try?"
"Mother, Father, what are the different ways of using a toothpick?"
Father: "I'll start with the obvious -- to pick your teeth. Alice?"
Mother: "We can answer that later, Samuel. Andrea, can you explain why I received that call?"
"I reported seeing a dead body in our house."
Mother: "And why did you do that?"
"Bradley told me I should."
Mother: "And if Bradley told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that?"
"We don't have any cliffs in Greenvale."
Father: "She has a valid point, Alice."
Mother: "It was a rhetorical question, Samuel. Andrea, why did you tell the police you saw a dead body in our house?"
"Because I really saw a dead body in our house."
My mother's eyes get big and just stare forward, her mouth falls open, and she stops moving. She's just staring at nothing. But I can see her breathing. I like it when I can see people breathe.
Father: "Good answer, Andrea. It was simple, but simple answers are often the best." My mother is still sitting motionless. She looks like I do when I find a dead body.
Me: "I'm not hungry any more. May I be excused?"
Father: "Of course." I pick up my plate and silverware, take them to the kitchen, and put them in the dishwasher. I hear my father, "Alice? Alice, are you okay?" I don't think she's okay.
I'm walking upstairs when my father asks, "Andrea, can you come help me?"
I walk back downstairs and take my place again at the dinner table. My father says to me, "I don't know what to do."
I try to think what Bradley did when we were talking to the police. "Maybe you could try to help her and protect her."
He stands up and goes behind my Mother and puts his hands on her shoulders. "I'm here, Alice. What can I do to help?"
She puts her hand on his, but she's still staring straight ahead. "Know more."
"She wants to know more, Father. Should I tell her more?"
Father: "Please, Andrea."
"I came home on Monday. There was a body in the hallway. It looked like a dead body. So I went to the library. It was gone when I came home."
Mother: "Hold me, Samuel. There was a dead body in our house."
My father puts his arms around her. "We don't know that, Alice. The policeman believes that nothing happened."
Mother: "Andrea is usually right."
Father: "You have a valid point, Alice."
It's nice that they believe me. It feels so lonely when people don't believe me.
Father: "I'm sure the police will find whoever did this."
Mother: "That's a good answer. Thank you, Samuel."
I like that answer too. My father is really good at thinking of answers.
* * *
I look up on the internet what 10th grade boys like to eat. But all the web pages are about healthy eating. I don't think that helps me.
Mother: "I read that the police do not find the killer in more than 60% of the murders."
Father: "That's interesting, Alice. TV shows probably give us an unrealistic expectation of how often killers are identified."
I try to signal my father that he should try to help Mother. He sees me and adds, "And we don't know that the body in our hallway was a murder victim."
Mother: "The failure rate is 73% for serious crimes not involving murder."
Father: "Yes, but those statistics would include urban crime. In small cities like Greenvale, the police are much more likely to find the guilty person."
Mother: "Do you really think so?"
Father: "I'm sure of it."
Me: "Would you like Father to find out the statistics for Greenvale?"
Father: "I'll find that out."
Mother: "Thank you, Samuel."
Detective Jacobs: "Did you read the autopsy report for the Burson suicide?"
Detective Malich: "No, I didn't. But we found him with a gun by his side and a bullet hole in his temple. I'm just a dumb cop, but I'm gonna guess he died of a gunshot wound to the head. What did the coroner say?"
Detective Jacobs: "He agreed. However, when someone shoots himself in the temple, the bullet usually travels slightly backwards from the point of entry. Here, the bullet traveled slightly forwards. That's a slightly unusual way to hold the gun and kill yourself."
Detective Malich: "I'm hearing a lot of slightly's. Jacobs, the coroner always finds something unusual. That's his job. It never means anything."
Detective Jacobs: "I know. But it makes me wonder about the suicide. Burson's business was doing badly. But there was no indication he had given up."
Detective Malich: "Maybe it's just my way of looking at the world, but to me suicide seems like giving up."
Detective Jacobs: "And we found his body in the woods. Who commits suicide in the woods? Why didn't he just kill himself in the comfort of his home?"
Detective Malich: "He didn't want his wife or kids finding the body."
Detective Jacobs: "Yeah. Still, I'm getting a funny feeling about this."
Detective Malich: "And how many times have I told you? A good detective follows his gut."
Detective Jacobs: "So I should look into this more."
Detective Malich: "Do you want any help?"
* * *
Rebecca Valfont walks into class in front of me. She stops in the doorway, and turns to me, so I have to stop. She sticks her tongue out at me and then shuts the door on me. I have to wait until another student comes to class and opens the door. Then I hurry into the classroom and take my seat. I don't understand why people are mean.
* * *
Bradley says to me on the bus, "We never told the police about the blood stain."
"Do we have to tell them?"
Bradley: "We're supposed to. Or else it's called concealing evidence."
"They won't believe me."
Bradley: "Right. But they can't prosecute you as long as we tell them."
"I don't want to be put in the slammer."
Bradley: "If they DNA test the blood stain, then they'll believe you."
"Is it my turn to call?"
Bradley: "I'll call for you."
We get to my house. Bradley opens the door. I fix him another coke and a bowl of Fritos and pretzels. My mother and I picked those out at the grocery store this weekend -- she didn't know what he would like either.
When I bring out the food, Bradley starts eating and then calls. "Hello, this is Bradley Jankowski. Could I please speak to Detective Jacobs?"
He waits a little, then says "Can I leave a message?" Another small wait. "During the grilling of Andrea Wellington last Friday, we didn't tell Detective Jacobs that a spot of blood from the victim is on the rug. We want to confess that now. Thank you."
He turns to me. "Done. Is the spot of blood still there?"
We go look. It's not there.
Bradley: "Where did the spot go? Did your mother clean the rug?"
"Bradley, this is a different rug. She must have gotten a new rug."
Bradley: "Why did she change rugs now?"
"Because it had a dead body on it. She didn't deal with that information very well. It caused psychological trauma."
Bradley: "You decided to tell your parents?"
"Detective Jacobs ratted me out."
Bradley: "Yeah, you're a minor, they had to tell your parents. Couldn't you lie your way out of it?"
I just shake my head no.
Bradley: "Right, you don't lie. I forgot that."
"What about the piece of the rug you took?"
Bradley: "I threw that out."
* * *
According to behavioral measures, he likes Fritos more than pretzels.
Guidance Counselor: "Thank you for coming, Mrs. Wellington. The reason I asked you here is that Andrea seems to have developed a fear of opening doors by herself."
Mrs. Wellington: "I have read that females are twice as likely as males to develop a phobia."
Guidance Counselor: "That's interesting. And useful to know. Thank you for that information. Anyway, if I may go on, her fear creates problems for her at school."
Mrs. Wellington: "It's quite natural to suffer emotional distress when confronted with the source of a phobia. Is Andrea required to open doors in school?"
Guidance Counselor: "We don't formally require it, but it would be very useful if she could. We thought you might have some insight into what's causing her difficulty."
Mrs. Wellington: "Usually, the feared object or situation has been associated with a unfavorable outcome. For example, perhaps she opened a door and hit her head. There is also vicarious fear acquisition and informational fear acquisition, but those aren't as common."
Guidance Counselor: "Well, we'd like to try to help her."
Mrs. Wellington: "I once read an article on that from Mayo Clinic. I can email it to you if you would like. There are several different treatment modalities. Prognosis is reasonably good, though many people cannot be helped."
* * *
According to the internet, there is no name for a fear of opening doors. One girl got this fear from opening a door and finding her friend dead. So I feel more normal.
"Andrea Wellington to the principal's office."
I collect my things, pack them into my backpack, and leave. When I get to the principal's office, I wave to Mrs. Simonsen and walk into the principal's office. It's Detective Jacobs again. I'm not surprised.
Detective Jacobs: "Hi Andrea. How are you doing?"
He smiles. "I guess you know why I'm here."
I shake my head no.
Detective Jacobs: "You reported that there was a spot of blood on your hallway rug."
Detective Jacobs: "You didn't tell us about that when we talked on Friday."
Detective Jacobs: "But you called with that information on Monday."
"Why did you call on Monday?"
"That's when Bradley said we had to. Or else we would be concealing evidence."
Detective Jacobs: "He's right. Bradley Jankowski?"
Detective Jacobs: "Is he your boyfriend?"
I feel myself flushing. "No. But we're friends."
Detective Jacobs: "I talked to your mother yesterday. She said she threw out that rug on Saturday."
Detective Jacobs: "Do you know why she threw out that rug?"
"The dead body news was psychologically traumatic to her."
Detective Jacobs: "Yes, well, I'm wondering why you didn't mention that the blood spot was gone when you called on Monday."
Detective Jacobs: "You didn't know she had thrown out the rug?"
Detective Jacobs: "Things have a way of disappearing around you."
"You can relax, Andrea. Calm down. I just wanted to talk with you about this. Let me give you the number for the police station. If you think of anything else we should know, you can call us right away."
"I enjoyed talking to you. Good-bye."
I leave. On my way back to class, I hear "Bradley Jankowski to the principal's office." He's going to be so thrilled.
* * *
Today is our first day to collect water samples. Bradley and I are in a car with a 12th-grader named Marshall. We're in charge of going North; Matthew, Robin, and two of Matthew's friends are going South. Marshall stops at the first bridge. "Let's take a sample here."
I explain, "This isn't where Dr. Bowy said he wanted a sample from." His instruction said to take samples every mile.
Marshall: "He's crazy if he thinks we're taking samples from the locations he said. They're too hard to get to -- it would take us all afternoon just to get two. This is good enough."
Marshall waits in the car while Bradley and I climb down to the river to do the sampling. Bradley takes the sample, and I write down where it's from and when we took it. The first sample is from the surface of the river. The second one is supposed to be 6 feet deep. Bradley: "I can't take a sample that deep."
Me: "What are we going to do?"
Bradley: "I guess I'll roll up my sleeve and get as deep as I can."
No one is doing what Dr. Bowy told us to do. That makes me anxious.
We stop at the other places where it's easy to get to the river by driving. While we're driving, Marshall wants to hear all about our grilling by the detective. So Bradley and I tell about that.
When we have taken six samples and run out of time, we drive back to the school and meet up with Matthew. They give all the samples to me, so I can give them to my father, who will give them to Dr. Bowy. Then Marshall takes us home.
* * *
Detective Jacobs: "The girl said she didn't know her mother threw out the rug."
Detective Malich: "Well, let's start believing her now, even though she hasn't yet told the truth. Jacobs, if the girl said the sky was blue, I wouldn't believe her."
Detective Jacobs: "Her boyfriend backed her up."
Detective Malich: "So what? You still got no evidence. You're supposed to be DNA testing a possible blood spot, not spending all day finding out exactly when and why some small rug went missing."
* * *
I wake up from a nightmare. In it, I'm in 6th grade and at a birthday party. We're sitting around the table and the birthday girl's mother serves me some cake. I'm excited to get it and I must have screeched, because the birthday girl says, "Stop screeching all the time, Andrea. We should just call you Screech. Mom, why did you make me invite her?"
And then she calls me Screech for the rest of the party. And the other girls start calling me that too. Her mother and father are at the table, and they just let everyone tease me even though they're adults. Finally I start crying and leave the party.
I remember that really happening. I tried to forget. It was Rachel Burson's birthday party. Her father was the dead body in my house.
As I'm riding the bus into school in the morning, I imagine walking into the Ecology Club meeting and no one is there. Everyone else quit, even Miss Banks and Bradley. It's like another bad nightmare. I wish Bradley took the morning bus.
* * *
Fourteen students are at our Ecology Club meeting. Plus, Cynthia says that Robin couldn't make it, and Matthew explains that a few of his friends are helping with the Water Sample Project but they couldn't come. So we're getting great attendance. I'm relieved and really happy.
Matthew goes first. He describes what we did. Someone wants to know if we have any results, but Matthew says that takes time.
Cynthia goes next. She reminds people that the demonstration is in two days. I'm so excited I can hardly sit still in my seat. She encourages more people to come.
Roberta points out that not many students actually understand anything about fracking. Cynthia says she explained it, people just didn't read the posters carefully. Roberta says it needs to be explained better.
Miss Banks interrupts their argument. "This is a problem we environmentalists often face. Scientific issues can be very difficult to explain. We just have to keep trying our best."
My parents make it look so easy to understand things.
"Cynthia, you did a wonderful job of collecting and organizing information, in a very short time too. It would be A+ work on any school essay. But maybe we should brainstorm how to put up information in a way that it might sink in to students. That's an art of writing too."
I loved the sound of 'we environmentalists'.
Then Roberta talks about their project. They're evaluating the different ways the school could go green. Building a compost pile using leftover potato peels isn't practical, because all the school food comes from cans and packages. But recycling would be important, because the school lunch room has a huge amount of waste.
Miss Banks: "How are you getting this information, Roberta? It sounds excellent."
Roberta: "The kitchen people are letting us watch what happens in the kitchen."
Miss Banks: "That a great idea, Roberta. Remember to make friends with them too, they might be the ones who have to help implement whatever plan you decide on."
* * *
On the ride home on the late bus, Bradley is still talking about getting grilled yesterday. Maybe it's a boy thing to like getting grilled. But no one thought he killed anyone.
He says he's now a mini-celebrity at school. So I must be one too. Not everyone calls me the Dead Body Girl, but everyone knows that's me. I wish no one knew who I was and they left me alone. I look plain, I dress plain, I wish I just faded away and no one noticed me.
"Andrea Wellington to the principal's office."
I pack up my things, hoist my backpack onto my back, and leave class.
The principal's secretary just points to his office. "You know the way."
I'm surprised to find the principal in his office. When he sees me, he stands up. "Follow me." He sounds angry, making me very anxious.
I follow him. He walks really fast when he's angry, so again I have to run sometimes to keep up. Eventually we get to Assistant Principal Johanson standing next to my locker. There's a bad smell in the hallway here. Principal Yancy says in a firm voice, "Andrea, why does your locker smell?"
"I don't know. I didn't know it smelled." My parents could think of ten reasons why my locker smells. I wish they were here. It's hard for me to think of any reasons with the principal and assistant principal staring at me.
Principal Yancy: "Could you please open your locker for us?"
"I don't open doors." I try not to hyperventilate.
"Did you say no?" He sounds really angry.
"I can't open doors. It's too scary. I'm sorry."
Principal Yancy: "What do you do when you want to get into your locker?"
"I don't go to my locker any more." There's no reason to go to my locker if I'm afraid to open the door. Do I have to explain that?
Principal Yancy: "When's the last time you went to your locker?"
"Ten days ago."
Assistant Principal Johanson: "She probably left her lunch in there."
Principal Yancy: "What could you possibly be afraid of, Andrea?"
"Finding a dead body."
Principal Yancy: "There's no dead body in your locker."
Assistant Principal Johanson: "From the smell, there could be."
There could be? A dead body in my locker?
Principal Yancy: "Andrea, stop screaming! There's no dead body in your locker."
I stop screaming. "Mr. Johanson said there could be a dead body in there."
Principal Yancy: "He was joking." Mr. Johanson shrugs.
Principal Yancy: "What's your combination?"
I say my combination. The assistant principal opens my lock. I close my eyes as he opens the door. The smell gets really bad. He quickly shuts it.
Principal Yancy: "What's in there?"
Assistant Principal Johanson: "A dead cat."
What? I pull out my phone.
Principal Yancy: "Andrea, stop screaming. Who are you calling? Can you please stop screaming? You can't use your cell phone in school during school hours. In God's name, STOP SCREAMING. Everyone in the whole school can hear you."
I stop screaming. The police have answered the phone. "Could you please tell Detective Jacobs I found another body? It's a dead cat in my locker. I can't use my phone now. I enjoyed talking to you. Good-bye."
I explain to the principal: "When you find a dead body, you're supposed to call the police before the dead body disappears."
Mr. Johanson says to Principal Yancy, "I don't think this dead body is disappearing by itself. I'll get the janitor." He walks off.
Principal Yancy: "Follow me." He walks slower now, so I can keep up without running. We go back to his office and I sit in my chair. He doesn't look happy with me. "I would appreciate it if you let me call the police first."
"Yes sir. I'm very sorry. Detective Malich, he's the detective who didn't believe that I found a second dead body, said I should call before the body disappeared."
Principal Yancy: "He meant a human body."
"I didn't know that." I hate how I don't know things. Why don't people explain things?
Principal Yancy: "The police aren't interested in a dead cat. You told the police you found a second dead body?"
Principal Yancy: "Andrea, I warned you about this. The police aren't going to believe anything you say."
His secretary quickly opens the door and puts her head in the office. "A Detective Jacobs just called. He said not to touch anything and keep everyone away from that locker. It's very important. He'll be here in 8 minutes."
Principal Yancy starts running back to my locker and I follow. But we're too late -- the janitor took the cat away. We try to chase down the janitor, but he already put the cat in the incinerator. When Detective Jacobs gets here, he's very unhappy about that.
Detective Jacobs gives me his cell phone number.
* * *
Detective Jacobs: "The girl found another body."
Detective Malich: "So she says. One dead body -- unlikely. Two dead bodies -- impossible. Three dead bodies -- she needs psychiatric help."
Detective Jacobs: "The assistant principal and janitor saw it too."
Detective Malich: "Holy shit! A real dead body?"
Detective Jacobs smiles. "A dead cat."
Detective Malich: "Don't jerk me around like that, Jacobs. Where did they find it?"
Detective Jacobs: "In the girl's locker. The locker was smelling pretty bad, so they asked her to open it."
Detective Malich: "Gimme a break. She put the cat in her own locker."
Detective Jacobs: "I don't think she would do that."
Detective Malich: "Combination locks, right?"
Detective Jacobs: "Right."
Detective Malich: "So we can eliminate everyone who doesn't have the combination. That leaves. . . whaddaya know? The girl! Don't be an idiot Jacobs, she put a dead cat in her own locker."
Detective Jacobs: "Why would anyone do that?"
Detective Malich: "She's crazy, Jacobs. Crazy people do crazy things. Trust me. It's a law of nature."
Detective Jacobs: "I dunno. I feel like something's going on."