Read The Dear One Online

Authors: Jacqueline Woodson

The Dear One

Table of Contents
 
An unwelcome guest . . .
Rebecca pulled a small suitcase from the back seat, then followed me inside.
“Wow!” she said, looking around the living room. “This is like a mansion or something.” I must have frowned a little. “You people are rich. I didn't know rich black people existed except on the Cosbys. But that's television.” She put her bag down and walked over to the fish tank. She was a little clumsy because she leaned forward slightly to hide her stomach. “Look at this!” she said. “Look at all those fishes.”
“Fish.”
She straightened up and turned to me, her eyebrows meeting at the center of her forehead. “Look! Just 'cause I'm in your ritzy little house,” she hissed, “doesn't mean you gonna teach me how to talk and tell me what to do. I don't want to be in this mansion in the boring country nohow! You think you special or something, but I know all about you, Feni Harris. Your mama says you don't talk to nobody and you don't have any friends. So you better consider yourself lucky that I'm here, whether I'm here saying ‘fishes,' ‘fish,' or ‘fried fish'!” She put her hands on her hips and stared at me.
“The word is still
fish
,” I said, taking the groceries into the kitchen.
“The book rises above the limits of a problem novel by offering portraits of richly developed characters and a satisfying emotional conclusion.”
—
The Horn Book
“Woodson's deep understanding of and concern for the role of black women in society is evident . . . in her moving, powerful story.”
—
Publishers Weekly
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
First published in the United States of America by Delacorte Press, 1991
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2003
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2004
This edition published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010
 
 
CIP DATA IS AVAILABLE
 
eISBN : 978-1-101-47796-0
 
 
 
Copyright © Jacqueline Woodson, 1991
All rights reserved
 
 
 
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
eISBN : 978-1-101-47796-0

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For my readers at MS 51 and
New Voices Middle School
ONE THING I LEARNED FROM REBECCA IS THAT WHEN people talk about fifteen-year-olds who are pregnant, they never mention anything about the lost look in the girls' eyes. Rebecca said those people talking and writing books and articles don't know what's really going on. They don't know that a lot of times, the girls don't even take all their clothes off. They don't know that romance is out the window like time flying, and sometimes the kids are so into listening out, making sure nobody's coming up the stairs, that they miss all the action right there in the bedroom or the corner of the kitchen, or the closet—wherever they are. Rebecca told me that. In the same breath she explained how she couldn't wait to get with Danny, how she loved the closeness, loved being loved by him. She said there's something you can't explain about that feeling, least to a twelve-year-old. How could anyone who's never met Rebecca know anything about what it's like to be fifteen with your back pressed against a cold wall, listening . . . listening, hoping nobody catches you in such an embarrassing position? Rebecca said sometimes you're so scared. But she could never come up with a word to describe just how scary it is.
My grandmother once told me that all it takes is for one tiny thing to happen and then, Boom! your life is changed forever. That's what I'm trying to remember now—the one tiny thing. The thing that might have happened to Rebecca before she came, the thing that happened to me after she was here. Because by the time she left, we were different people, all of us—her, me, Ma—even Marion.
Grandma said if I ever want to remember stuff about anything in the past, then I have to go back as far as I can, reach down as deep as I can, even if all that reaching and remembering hurts sometimes. She said only after I've gathered it all up can I make sense out of it. Grandma told me that if I hold on to stuff, I can tell it to my children and they can grow up stronger.
One
THE SKY WAS THE PALEST PINK THE DAY I TURNED twelve. Sitting on the ledge of my window, I watched blue jays and cardinals flutter by, their wings black against the little bit of light in the sky, black against the bare trees forming skeletons up and down the block, black against the pale patches of February snow.
“Why'd you have to be born in the winter?” my friend Caesar had asked me at lunch the previous week. “Winters are too cold, too still, for anybody to be born in.”
I had looked at Caesar for a long time and thought of the word we had learned in English class just the day before.
Profound.
“That's a profound question, Caesar,” I'd said, liking the way the sentence rolled off my tongue. Feeling proud and profound. Caesar had giggled. Giggles come easily to her. “You're right, though,” I'd said. “Winter's such a dead season.”
And sitting on the windowsill, I thought of the question and counted back. If I was a February baby, then Ma and Dad would have had to have done it in April or May. Maybe Ma found out that she was pregnant in one of those months. Maybe she and Dad hadn't started fighting a whole lot yet. If it was a weekend when the doctor gave her the news, maybe she set out the good silverware and china, lit two candles on the dining-room table, and made Dad fettuccine with broccoli in a red sauce. Maybe the two of them held hands across the table when she told him, and maybe he came around to her side of the table and hugged her long and hard when he realized he was going to be a daddy. Maybe he laughed so hard, tears came into his eyes.
 
Clair phoned at six in the morning. At first I thought it was Caesar calling to tell me she wouldn't be at school because of the snow. But then I heard Ma say softly, out of breath, “Oh, Clair, it's you. It's been so long.” After a pause she added, “Too long.”
Outside, the snow had left a thin white sheet over the trees, and I knew the day would be cold and bright. I tiptoed to the top of the stairs, hid behind the banister, and listened.
“But what about the father?” I heard Ma say. There was silence. “Well,” Ma said after a long time, “I really want to do this. It would be wonderful having Rebecca here. But what about Feni?”
“What
about
me?” I wanted to scream.
“We'll have to see how it works out,” Ma said. “When is she due?”
More silence. I was crouched low in the darkness and the backs of my knees were beginning to hurt.
“Well, I'm touched that you're asking me to do this. And you're right, I think it would be good for Feni. Look, I should be home around five. I'll talk to her then,” Ma said. She sounded tired. “Right now, I have to make a meeting before work.” Ma laughed nervously. “I've stopped drinking, you know. Yes, it
is
hard but I'm doing it. One day at a time,” she said. “It's so good to hear your voice too. . . .”
Ma and Clair talked for a few more minutes. When she hung up, I leaned back against the wall and pulled my knees to my chin. Somebody was coming to stay with us. Sitting against the wall, I wondered who that somebody was.
I heard Ma dialing and leaned against the banister again.
“Marion,” she said, “I guess Clair's called you too.” She sighed. “Well, I'm going to talk to her about it tonight. Are you coming for dinner? . . . Good! We can all talk. Eight o'clock is fine. See you then.”
When I heard Ma heading toward the kitchen, I tiptoed back to my room and climbed underneath the comforter. It is blue with pink roses. My father had it sent to me from Colorado, where he lives now with his new wife and baby daughter. He left three years ago when I was nine. I used to think about him every day. Sometimes I would come home thinking he'd be sitting in his favorite chair, the brown leather one in the living room next to the fireplace. I'd see him there reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe. I'd think that as soon as I opened the door, the cherry-sweet smell of his tobacco would fill up my nose and mouth and Dad would say, “Let me take a look at what schoolwork Roper Academy is sending home these days.” I'd see myself coming over to him with my coat still on, handing him last night's homework or that day's test, and he'd pat me on the arm or hug me real quick and say, “Smartest girl in the school, aren't you? That must come from
my
side of the family.” Then maybe he'd laugh, scratch a five-o'clock-shadow kiss against my cheek, set up the chessboard, and show me how to play a fool's game, capturing my opponent's king in six moves or less.

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