Chapter no 12

The Locked Door

26 Years Earlier

During lunch, Tiffany gets the idea to wad up little white pieces of paper and turn them into spitballs. She sticks one into her straw, purses her little pink lips, and blows into the straw. The spitball flies into the air and lands square on the back of Marjorie Baker’s stringy brown hair.

Marjorie swats at the back of her head, where the spitball is wet and shiny between strands of hair. She knows something hit her, but she’s not sure what. Tiffany clasps a hand over her mouth and giggles. Tiffany is always the one leading the attacks on Marjorie lately. Tiffany has long blond hair that’s silky and beautiful, and every boy in the class has a secret crush on her. But she doesn’t care about boys—all she seems to care about is picking on Marjorie. It’s her favorite thing.

“Let me try!” Amanda Cutraro says. She takes her own straw and repeats the process. Soon enough, a second damp spitball has lodged itself in Marjorie’s hair. A third bounces off her hair and falls into her hoodie.

The worst part is Marjorie can’t seem to find the spitballs. We watch her feel around the back of her head, her fingers searching, but she’s nowhere close. She turns around to glare at us, and the table dissolves into giggles.

“Nora,” Tiffany says, “you want to try?” I shake my head no.

“Why not?” Tiffany says.

I shrug. “I don’t feel like it.”

If I were someone else, Tiffany probably would’ve twisted my arm to get me to do it. But Tiffany doesn’t mess with me. She and I have an understanding.

By the end of the lunch period, when Marjorie brings her tray to the garbage, she’s got no less than a dozen spitballs still in her hair. She managed to get a few out, but most of them are stuck to the strands of her hair like glue. She’ll probably have them in there all day.

After lunch is recess. Marjorie has her book as always and I watch her walk (or waddle) to the far end of the playground to read alone. The other girls are going off to play hopscotch, but I don’t join them today. Instead, I walk over to where Marjorie is sitting. Without waiting for her to say anything, I sit down next to her.

“Hi,” I say.

Marjorie looks up at me. “Did the other girls send you over here to make fun of me?”


She narrows her watery brown eyes at me. “Then what are you doing here, Nora?”

“You were all alone. I thought you might want somebody to talk to.”

Marjorie snorts. “If you talk to me, the other girls won’t be friends with you anymore. They’ll think you’re a loser, like me.”

“I’m not too worried about that,” I answer honestly.

For the first time since I sat down, I see a little seed of hopefulness on Marjorie’s face. In all the time I’ve known her, since we’ve been in first grade, she’s never had a real friend. And even though I have had groups of girls that I’ve hung out with, she knows I’ve never had a close friend either. She thinks maybe there’s something here.

That’s exactly what I want her to think.

“Listen,” I say. “I promised Tiffany I would play with them today, but I think we should hang out sometime. If you want.”

“Um…” Marjorie chews on her lower lip. “You really want to?”

I bob my head. “I think you’re nice. It’s so unfair that the other girls are mean to you.”

A teeny tiny smile blossoms on Marjorie’s lips. “Well, okay. We can hang out if you want. When?”

“How about after school today? We can walk home together.”

She makes a face. “My mom is picking me up right after school today.

I’ve got a dentist appointment.”

I try not to let my disappointment show. “That’s okay. How about tomorrow after school?”

She’s smiling for real now. “Okay, sure!”

“Great!” I return the smile, which feels plastic on my lips. “But here’s the thing. You can’t tell anybody we’re going to hang out.”

She frowns. “I can’t?”

“Think about it,” I say. “Our friendship has got to be a secret. If you tell other people, Tiffany is going to find out, and then she’s going to try to convince me not to hang out with you. I don’t want that.” I raise my eyebrows. “Do you?”

Marjorie shakes her head slowly. “No…”

“You probably shouldn’t even tell your parents,” I say. “Because you know how all the parents talk to each other.”

“Right,” she says, although she doesn’t look entirely convinced.

I wish Marjorie had agreed to meet me after school today. That would make things so much simpler. I wouldn’t have to worry about her blabbing to the world. “If you tell anyone,” I say, “including your parents, then we can’t hang out tomorrow. Okay?”

“Okay,” she finally agrees.

I stare her in the eyes, wondering if I can trust her. I think I can. Marjorie Baker has never had a friend, and she wants one. Desperately. She wants to believe so badly that I want to hang out with her. She wants to believe that I’m doing this because I actually like her, and not because Tiffany put me up to it.

Well, Tiffany didn’t put me up to this. It’s something much worse.


“I’m going to be late coming home from school tomorrow,” I tell my parents during dinner.

“Oh?” Mom spoons a bite of casserole into her mouth. “What time?” “Maybe an hour? I just need to look some stuff up at the library.”

“Okay,” Mom says. “Just give me a call if you need a ride home.” “I will.” Except I won’t actually.

“Linda.” Dad is looking down at Mom’s plate. “You’re not really going to eat all that, are you?”

Mom frowns. “What do you mean?”

My father’s voice is calm and even, like it always is. But there’s an edge there. “Isn’t it bad enough that you’ve gotten fat like a house? Are you trying for a building?”

Mom’s cheeks turn red. “I’ve just been really hungry.”

“Still.” My father takes a long swig from his Old Fashioned. It’s his favorite drink—he has one every night with dinner. “It’s embarrassing, Linda. I don’t even want to take you out in public anymore.” He looks over at me. “Nora, this is an example of what you shouldn’t do after you get married.”

With those words, my mother stands up from the table and grabs her plate. She disappears into the kitchen, and the door swings shut behind her. This isn’t the first time they’ve argued like this. My mother is probably finishing her casserole in the kitchen where he can’t see her.

Now that my mother is gone, my father seems to have forgotten I’m at the table. He shovels his own food into his mouth and drains the last of his Old Fashioned. Once he’s done, he stands up so fast, the chair almost tips over. He takes his keys out of his pocket, unlocks the door to the basement, and disappears inside. I probably won’t see him the rest of the night. He always goes down there after they fight.

I’ve only finished about half my casserole, but I’m not really hungry. I quietly get out of my seat and creep over to the basement door. I reach out and gently try to turn the knob. Of course, he locked it.

I press my ear against the door. I hear a whirring noise. Some sort of a mechanical saw? I wish I could see what’s going on down there.

As I press my ear harder into the space between the door and the frame, the lavender scent becomes almost overpowering. But there’s something else. Some other smell intermingling with the lavender. It smells like…

Something rotting. “Nora.”

I almost jump out of my skin. My mother is standing in front of me, holding a stack of three empty plates with a cup balanced on top. I quickly back away from the basement door, pretending I wasn’t trying to hear what was going on down there. My mother is probably going to tell me to stop being so nosy about the basement.

“Help me wash the dishes,” Mom says instead.

“Okay,” I agree. I squeeze my hands into fists. “When do you think Dad will be done making that bookcase?”

My mother is quiet for a moment. “I don’t know.” “But—”

“I said I don’t know, Nora.”

I stomp my feet as I follow my mother back to the kitchen. I just don’t get why Dad is so secretive about his basement workshop. Why can’t I see what he’s doing down there?

After all, maybe I could help.

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