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I'd never considered that his family might be as rich as the others at Yancy. Grover blushed right down to his Adam's apple. All year long, I'd gotten in fights, keeping bullies away from him. I'd lost sleep worrying that he'd get beaten up next year without me. And here he was acting like he was the one who defended me.

Black smoke poured from the dashboard and the whole bus filled with a smell like rotten eggs. The driver cursed and limped the Greyhound over to the side of the highway. After a few minutes clanking around in the engine compartment, the driver announced that we'd all have to get off. Grover and I filed outside with everybody else. We were on a stretch of country road — no place you'd notice if you didn't break down there.


On our side of the highway was nothing but maple trees and litter from passing cars. On the other side, across four lanes of asphalt shimmering with afternoon heat, was an old-fashioned fruit stand. The stuff on sale looked really good: heaping boxes of bloodred cherries and apples, walnuts and apricots, jugs of cider in a claw-foot tub full of ice.

There were no customers, just three old ladies sitting in rocking chairs in the shade of a maple tree, knitting the biggest pair of socks I'd ever seen. I mean these socks were the size of sweaters, but they were clearly socks. The lady on the right knitted one of them. The lady on the left knitted the other. The lady in the middle held an enormous basket of electric-blue yarn. All three women looked ancient, with pale faces wrinkled like fruit leather, silver hair tied back in white bandannas, bony arms sticking out of bleached cotton dresses.

The weirdest thing was, they seemed to be looking right at me. I looked over at Grover to say something about this and saw that the blood had drained from his face. His nose was twitching.

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They are, aren't they? Weird, huh? You think those socks would fit me? Not funny at all. I heard Grover catch his breath. Across the road, the old ladies were still watching me. The middle one cut the yarn, and I swear I could hear that snip across four lanes of traffic. Her two friends balled up the electric-blue socks, leaving me wondering who they could possibly be for — Sasquatch or Godzilla.

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At the rear of the bus, the driver wrenched a big chunk of smoking metal out of the engine compartment. The bus shuddered, and the engine roared back to life. The passengers cheered.

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He slapped the bus with his hat. Grover didn't look much better. He was shivering and his teeth were chattering. What is it about them, man? They're not like. Dodds, are they? He said, "Just tell me what you saw. It was something else, something almost — older. He said, "You saw her snip the cord.

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He started chewing at his thumb. They never get past sixth. Promise me. No answer. Does that mean somebody is going to die?

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I know, I know. It was rude. But Grover was freaking me out, looking at me like I was a dead man, muttering "Why does this always happen? Instead of waiting, I got my suitcase, slipped outside, and caught the first taxi uptown. A word about my mother, before you meet her.

Her name is Sally Jackson and she's the best person in the world, which just proves my theory that the best people have the rottenest luck. Her own parents died in a plane crash when she was five, and she was raised by an uncle who didn't care much about her. She wanted to be a novelist, so she spent high school working to save enough money for a college with a good creativewriting program. Then her uncle got cancer, and she had to quit school her senior year to take care of him.

After he died, she was left with no money, no family, and no diploma. The only good break she ever got was meeting my dad. I don't have any memories of him, just this sort of warm glow, maybe the barest trace of his smile. My mom doesn't like to talk about him because it makes her sad. She has no pictures. See, they weren't married.

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She told me he was rich and important, and their relationship was a secret. Then one day, he set sail across the Atlantic on some important journey, and he never came back. Lost at sea, my mom told me. Not dead. Lost at sea. She worked odd jobs, took night classes to get her high school diploma, and raised me on her own. She never complained or got mad. Not even once. But I knew I wasn't an easy kid. Finally, she married Gabe Ugliano, who was nice the first thirty seconds we knew him, then showed his true colors as a world-class jerk.

When I was young, I nicknamed him Smelly Gabe. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. The guy reeked like moldy garlic pizza wrapped in gym shorts. Between the two of us, we made my mom's life pretty hard. The way Smelly Gabe treated her, the way he and I got along I walked into our little apartment, hoping my mom would be home from work. Instead, Smelly Gabe was in the living room, playing poker with his buddies.