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Livvie and Joyce got the chain letters in November. They didn't know who had sent them. Dear friend, the letters started. This chain letter has not been broken for fifteen years.
"Right," Livvie said. "Who do they think they're kidding?"
Joyce was sitting at the kitchen table at Livvie's house, copying the letter onto notebook paper. Her handwriting was short and square, as if every word had been squashed. "The only other chain letters I've ever gotten have been on e-mail," she said. "But a girl I met at camp last summer told me those aren't as powerful. You're supposed to write every single copy by hand. Otherwise it's bad luck."
"It's bad luck just to get a chain letter," Livvie said. "They're a waste of time. Besides, you think everything is bad luck." She opened the refrigerator. She wanted something sweet and hot--maybe a warm brownie with hot fudge and nuts and whipped cream--but her mother had some unexplainable bias against chocolate. Livvie couldn't remember what it was.
"I don't think everything is bad luck," Joyce said. "Just some things."
"Black cats," Livvie said, staring into the refrigerator. "Ladders. The number thirteen. Opening an umbrella indoors."
"And mice," Joyce said. "Mice are bad luck. Most people don't know that." She tore another piece of paper out of her notebook. "Also worms when it isn't raining. When it's raining I think they're all right."
"It's weird that we both got these letters on the same day," Livvie said. They had walked home from school together, stopping first at Joyce's house, where the mail carrier had been stuffing the metal box full of catalogs and bills. Joyce had found her letter in the middle of the stack and brought it with her. A second, identical letter had been waiting for Livvie, at Livvie's house.
"I wonder why they're typed--and not signed," Joyce said. She finished her sixth handwritten copy and began on the seventh. "Who do you think they're from?"
Lazily and without enthusiasm, Livvie looked at her envelope. The postmark was blurry, and there was no return address. "It looks like somebody dropped mine in a snowbank." She looked over Joyce's shoulder. "I hate the way these letters always try to make you feel guilty. Don't break the chain! This letter began one hundred thousand years ago when it was scratched into stone by cavemen! You will be a very bad, bad person if you don't send it to all your friends!"
"Better to send it to your friends than bring all that bad luck onto yourself," Joyce said. "I'm almost finished. Only three left." She had taken off her glasses, and now she was leaning so close to the table that the tip of her nose almost touched the letter.
"Well, hurry up," Livvie said. "I'm hungry, and there's nothing good to eat around here." Livvie's mother wouldn't get home from work for another hour and a half. She was a physical therapist and worked with disabled kids, and she didn't have a lot of sympathy for people who complained about a lack of snack food. "I'm reminded every day," she told Livvie at least once a week, "how incredibly fortunate both of us are."
"When are you going to copy yours?" Joyce asked. "I think you really are supposed to do it the same day you get the letter."
"No way," Livvie said. The few times she had been suckered into taking part in a chain letter, she had been told that she would soon be receiving dollar bills in the mail. First a few, trickling in, and then bucketsful! Hundreds! She would be rich! But all she got after forwarding her letters were dirty looks from some of the people she had included in the chain. Her mother, for example. "Take my name off that list," her mother had told her. "I did my time on those horrid things when I was your age. I'm not going to answer them anymore."
Well, Livvie wasn't going to answer them anymore, either--especially if they were supposed to be so much work. "Watch this," she said. When Joyce looked up, Livvie tore her chain letter in half and threw the pieces in the trash beneath the sink.
Joyce stopped scribbling and put on her glasses, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. "That's definitely bad luck. Very definitely, Livvie. That's very bad."
"Sure. Whatever. I guess I'm cursed." Livvie studied her friend. It was hard sometimes to know whether to look at the right side of Joyce's face or at the left. Joyce had mismatched eyes: One was bright blue, the other brown. She was like two people combined into one. "There's no one I could have sent it to, anyway," Livvie said. "I can't send it to you or to my mother, and I don't want to send it to anyone at school."
"What about Peter? He likes you."
Livvie scowled. "He doesn't like me like that. Besides, Peter wouldn't answer a chain letter." Livvie had known Peter since they were very small. Livvie's mother and Peter's father were both single parents and had been in a babysitting group together. When Livvie was four, she had spent two afternoons a week at Peter's house.
"Just don't blame me when the lousy luck starts coming your way," Joyce said in a singsong. She licked the envelopes and stamped them with Livvie's mother's stamps, then tapped them against the tabletop to straighten them.
Joyce's confidence made Livvie nervous. "How about we just act like we got the one letter and you answered it for both of us?" she asked.
"Fine, then. I don't care." Livvie wiped the eraser crumbs off the table. The letter wasn't really part of a chain anyway. It didn't have any power. It was just a piece of paper delivered to an address in the middle of St. Paul, Minnesota, the city itself just a star on a map. "I'm not superstitious. So I'm not going to worry about it," she said.
From the Hardcover edition.