About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Caroline B. Cooney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Caroline B. Cooney
All rights reserved.
For his seventeenth birthday, West Trevor was given an old Chevy truck. It was badly rusted, but this made West happy. He was taking courses at the auto body shop and would rebuild the exterior himself. The engine ran rough, but West was happy about that, too; he had had two years of small engine repair and, although this was no small engine, he ached to use what knowledge he had, and bring that Chevy truck back to strength.
Over the years, Dark Fern Lane had achieved its name. In the deep backyards near the shallow, slow-moving creek, bracken, ferns, and bittersweet had grown up in impenetrable tangles. Mrs. Trevor would not let West leave the truck in the driveway because it was so repulsive, and there was not room for it in the garage, so he drove it down the grassy hill and parked it at the bottom among the weeds and vines. From his bedroom window he could admire its blue hulk and dream of weekends when he would drive it to the vocational school shop and work on it for lovely grimy greasy hours on end.
Sometimes West just stood on the back steps of the house and stared down into the yard. "You can't even see your truck from here," Brown would point out. But West didn't care about that. He knew it was there.
West liked almost everybody. He was not discriminating. He thought most people were pretty nice. He preferred the company of boys, and next to rebuilding his Chevy, the best part of his life was managing the football team. He wasn't big enough to play, but he was crazy about the sport. Fall of his senior year in high school, therefore, was spent on playing fields or in locker rooms instead of working on his truck.
Football season would be over after Thanksgiving weekend.
West spent a lot of time thinking about what he would do next on his truck. He read and re-read his extensive collection of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Car and Driver. He thought he was the happiest guy in town. He thought his life was perfect and it never occurred to West to change a molecule of his existence.
But something happened.
West Trevor fell in love.
He fell so deeply, completely, and intensely in love that even the truck hardly mattered, and football seemed remote and pointless.
What amazed West most of all was that he fell in love with a girl he had known—and hardly noticed—all his life.
Meghan Moore, of course, had been planning this moment for years.
Girls always think ahead, and Meghan thought ahead more than most. Meghan had worshipped West since she was eight. I'm fifteen now, thought Meghan. That means I've spent half my life adoring the boy next door.
It seemed perfectly reasonable.
West had grown broad, rather than tall. Meghan was crazy about his shoulders and had spent all last year imagining herself snuggling up against that broad chest.
This year she was doing it.
Sometimes, cuddled up against West, her long thick hair arrayed across him like a veil, Meghan would feel the joy rise up in her chest and throat, and envelop her heart and mind. She would actually weep for love of West Trevor.
Furthermore, West was dizzy with love for her. West could not go down the school hall without detouring to her corner, and waving. (Making, said his brother Brown gloomily, a complete idiot of himself.) West could not have a meal unless he was sitting beside her. West could not be near a telephone without calling her. West could not sleep at night without slipping through the privet hedge that had grown tall and thick between the houses, running in the Moores' back door, and kissing her good night.
The only thing better than having a terrific boy in love with you was having the entire world witness it, and be envious, and soften at the sight.
Meghan was the happiest girl on earth.
Mr. and Mrs. Moore were not sure they liked this situation.
Meghan's interests had previously been confined to music. She was in the marching band, concert band, and jazz ensemble. She played flute and piccolo. Since she planned to be a band teacher when she grew up, she was now studying other instruments as well: trumpet, and the whole noisy range of percussion.
The entire neighborhood had been forced to follow Meghan's musical progress. There were those who hoped Meghan would attend a very distant college. Mr. and Mrs. Moore were tremendously proud of Meghan and were sure she had abilities far beyond teaching high school band. They expected her to be first flutist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and cut records, and be on television.
They were not thrilled that West Trevor was cutting into Meghan's practice time. With much difficulty (they had to look out the window or down at the table instead of at their daughter) they gave stern talks on sex, babies, AIDS, and life in general.
Meghan nodded reassuringly, said the things she knew they wanted to hear, and went ahead with her own plans.
Two houses away, the Trevors had other things to worry about than West's love life. Tuesday and Brown, so delightful and compatible as small children, had become extremely difficult teenagers. Mr. and Mrs. Trevor were worrying pretty much full-time about Tuesday and Brown. They could not imagine where they had gone wrong. Tuesday and Brown's being horrible was very gratifying to the rest of Dark Fern Lane, after having had the perfect Trevor family held up in front of them all those elementary school years.
West, at seventeen, with his driver's license and his good grades and his busy life, was their success story.
Still, his mother was not sure she liked the intensity of this relationship with little Meghan Moore. "He's only seventeen," West's mother would say nervously, as if she thought West and Meghan were going to get married when she wasn't looking.
It wasn't marriage that worried West's father. He chose not to say what he had been doing with girls when he was seventeen. He thought it was just as well that the Chevy truck was not in good enough condition to drive farther than the vocational school repair bays. He tried not to laugh when he looked at his son. He had never seen a boy so thoroughly smitten.
Young love, thought West's father, smiling. There's nothing like it.
Meghan herself had everything: two parents who lived together and loved her, neighbors who included her, a boy who worshipped her, and a school in which she was popular and successful.
Meghan did not analyze these things. She did not ask why she was so lucky, nor worry about the people who were not. She was fifteen, which is not a particularly kind age. It's much better than thirteen, of course, and greatly superior to fourteen, but age sixteen is where compassion begins and the heart is moved by the plight of strangers.
Meghan was fifteen and her world was West and West was world enough.
Nobody knew what Lannie Anveill thought.
And nobody cared.
Meghan danced down the hall to West's locker. In the shelter of the ten-inch wide metal door, they kissed. Then they laughed, the self-conscious but wildly happy laugh they shared. Then they held hands and admired each other's beauty.
"I've got Mom's car for the day," said West.
They were airborne with the thought of a front seat together.
Meghan slid the strap of her bookbag over her shoulder. West slid his over his opposite shoulder. They wrapped their arms around each other's waists, and slowly made their way out of the school.
Every girl daydreams of a boy so in love he can't bear spending time away from her. There were a thousand boys in that high school and maybe ten had ever behaved like this. The girls watched West watching Meghan. They ached to be Meghan, to have West, to be adored like that. They saw how his hands and his eyes were all over her. How he was thick in the clouds of his love.
West did not see a single girl except Meghan.
Meghan, of course, saw all the girls, and knew exactly how envious they were, and got an extra jolt of pleasure from it.
Lannie Anveill fell in step with them.
Meghan could not believe it. There were certain rules of etiquette, and one was that you did not join a couple who were linked body and soul. Meghan glared at Lannie to make her go away, and Lannie glared right back. Meghan flinched. She had forgotten the power of Lannie's eyes. They went too deep.
West remembered his manners—he had fine manners; sometimes he stood behind his manners like a safety rail—and said cheerfully, "Hi, Lannie. What's up?"
Lannie stood still. She was still thin and wispy, looking little older than she had when they had played yard games. It was a little spooky, really, the way Lannie did not age. As if she would bypass all that tiresome human stuff of stages and ages. Her bleached-out eyes passed straight through Meghan and came out the other side.
Meghan, lovely in casual plaid wool pants and clinging dark sweater, felt stripped. As if Lannie did not see clothes. Only interior weaknesses.
Lannie discarded Meghan from her sight. She focused on West. Sternness left her. Hostility left her. With unusual softness, Lannie said to him, "It's time."
Meghan felt a strange tremor.
West smiled politely. "Time for what, babe?" He called girls who did not interest him "babe." He did not know how much this annoyed them.
"You remember," said Lannie.
West considered this. One of his nicest traits was being serious when being serious counted. Not every seventeen-year-old boy had figured out how to do this. "Remember what?" he asked her at last.
"Your promise," said Lannie.
Something cold shivered in Meghan's memory.
West was blank. He said, "Am I taking everybody to a movie or something? Sorry, Lannie, I'm a little off-center today." He pulled Meghan close, to demonstrate what put him off-center. "Remind me, babe."
Lannie tightened like a bow and arrow. "You must remember!" she whispered so hotly she could have lit a match with her breath.
West frowned. "Ummm. Lannie, I'm sorry, I'm not sure what we're talking about."
"Give us a hint," said Meghan. From the lofty position of Us—she had a partner, she had a boyfriend, she was a pair—she could look down on Lannie, who was alone and unloved and unpaired. It was more comfortable to be scornful than to be scared. So Meghan looked down on Lannie, and it showed.
Somewhere from the distant past she heard Lannie say, "You'll be sorry, Meghan Moore." Something in Meghan Moore quivered like a rabbit as the fox's jaws close on its leg.
"You want a reminder, Meghan Moore?" said Lannie Anveill. "Fine. Tomorrow. You will be reminded."
Meghan's knees were weak. She could remember that, too. That moment when her body failed her.
Lannie turned and walked away, vanishing in the high school crowds with the same ease she used to vanish on Dark Fern Lane.
Meghan forced a giggle. When she took West's hand, hers was sweaty. I always hated it when Lannie joined the neighborhood, thought Meghan. The last thing I want her to join is us. She has no right.
West said, "Didn't she sound like the voice of doom?"
Meghan dropped her voice an octave. "You will be reminded."
They actually laughed.CHAPTER 2
It was a good morning. One of the best.
In geometry Meghan learned the new formula right away and her mind glittered with pleasure. There was nothing like mastering math to make you feel like a genius.
In history, usually so dusty and remote, the teacher read an exciting passage from an old, old journal. Meghan's skin prickled, imagining how it had been back then.
"Why is history important?" said the teacher. His voice was soft, uttering a sentence he wanted the students to carry through life. "Because ... if you forget history, you are doomed to repeat it."
Where did I just hear that word? thought Meghan. You don't hear it very often. How dark it is. A word for death and eternal sorrow.
"Doomed," repeated the teacher softly.
But I have no history, Meghan thought. So I am not doomed to repeat anything.
In Spanish, Meghan was required to read a passage aloud. For the first time ever in foreign language class, her tongue knew how to sound. She felt a wild surge of triumph, and yearned to speak with somebody Spanish.
She could hardly wait for lunch, to tell West.
Sometimes school frightened Meghan. Sometimes she failed, or it failed her. Sometimes it puzzled her or left her behind.
But this was not one of those days.
She burned with excitement. She savored the feel, even the taste of the new Spanish syllables. She planned the phrases she would use to describe the new knowledge.
She danced down the hallway to where they always met, at the drinking fountain.
He was there already, smiling.
Oh, how she loved him! He was West, wide and handsome and fascinating and wonderful, and most of all, hers.
For years she had averted her eyes from any boy she liked. All through middle school, the more she liked a boy, the less able she was to look at him.
But she could look at West. Soak him up. Like a flower facing the sun.
He started talking first. "Guess what."
"What?" They saved things for each other; tiny tales of success to hand each other at lunch, and after school, and on the phone.
"We had a quiz in physics. Guess what I got." West was shining.
He wanted to be an engineer and design cars. He loved anything to do with motors or movement. "A hundred," guessed Meghan.
"Yes!" West hugged her with his pride. "I raised the curve," he bragged.
"Yeah, you toad," said another kid from physics. He punched West cheerfully. "I was the next highest," he confided to Meghan. "I got eighty-nine."
"Congratulations," said Meghan. West's hand on her waist was opening and closing, going nowhere and yet exploring. She loved being possessed like that—the proof of his clasp like a bracelet: this is mine, it stays here.
"You want to get in the sandwich line or the hot line?" asked West.
They checked out other people's trays. The hot plate was unrecognizable. It was brown and it had gravy, and that was all you could be sure of.
"Sandwiches," said Meghan.
"Sandwiches," agreed West.
They laughed and wanted to kiss in front of everybody, but didn't. Still, it was in their eyes and in the way they walked.
"Guess what," said Meghan.
"You got a hundred in Spanish."
"We didn't have a quiz. But listen to me talk. I'm going to knock your socks off with my accent."
"I'm ready," said West. He tugged his pant legs up so they could watch when his socks came off. Meghan giggled.
Of course, the cafeteria was always noisy. People yelled, laughed, talked, gossiped, burped, scraped chairs, and dropped dishes. A scream was not extraordinary.
But this was a scream of terror.
It was the kind of scream that grabbed at the roots of your heart, and wrenched the air out of your lungs, and made you want your back against a wall.
Five hundred students went silent, breath caught, looking for the source of the terrible scream. Eyes sped around the room like paired animals, seeking the terror.
Meghan had a queer slicing memory, like a knife, a knife dripping with blood, and somehow it was mixed with Tuesday, and grass, and darkness, and childhood.
The last time I heard a scream like that ... thought Meghan.
But she could not quite remember the last time she had heard a scream like that.
West sucked in his breath. Her hand was on his back and she felt his ribs and chest expand, and felt them stay expanded, as if holding onto his lungs would keep him alive. As if there were danger of not being alive.
Toppled on the floor, like a statue knocked over by a vandal, was a girl. One leg remained raised and off it, a long skirt hung like drapery.
"She fainted," said somebody.
"Give her air."
"Call an ambulance."
Teachers and cafeteria workers rushed over to help.
The girl was stiff.
"She's ... sort of ... frozen," said the cafeteria monitor, backing away, as if it were a virus, and would leap free of the fallen girl and attack the rest.
People touched the frozen girl with a single extended finger, and then pulled back, afraid, even wiping their hands off on their trousers.
The air swirled around Meghan Moore and West Trevor.
Old air. The air of their childhoods.
The quiet of the night came back, and the softness of the summer, and the deepness of the horror.
Meghan remembered the morning glory by the steps, whose bright blue flowers had slid into their green envelopes, saving its glory for dawn. Meghan had always wondered what morning glories knew that people did not.
Excerpted from Freeze Tag by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 1992 Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.