Home > Small Great Things (Ruth Jefferson #1)(8)

Small Great Things (Ruth Jefferson #1)(8)
Author: Jodi Picoult

Lucille arches her eyebrows at me. “Stand up here,” she suggests. “I’m going to hold Brit’s left leg and you’re going to hold the right…”

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. An hour later, Brit’s hair is matted to her forehead; her braid is tangled. Her fingernails have cut little moons in the back of my hand, and she’s not even making sense when she talks anymore. I don’t know how much more of this either of us can take. But then Lucille’s shoulders square during one long contraction, and the look on her face changes. “Hang on a minute,” Lucille says, and she pages the doctor. “I want you to take some slow breaths, Brit…and get ready to be a mom.”

It’s only a couple of minutes before the obstetrician bursts into the room and snaps on a pair of latex gloves, but trying to help Brit to not push feels like being told to hold back a tidal wave with a single sandbag. “Hello, Mrs. Bauer,” the doctor says. “Let’s have a baby.” He crouches down on a stool as Brit’s body tenses up again. My elbow is hooked around her knee so that she can strain against it, and as I look down, the brow of our baby rises like a moon in the valley of her legs.

It’s blue. Where there was nothing a breath ago, there is now a perfectly round head the size of a softball, and it’s blue.

Panicked, I look at Brit’s face, but her eyes are screwed shut with the force of the work she’s doing. Anger, which always seems to be on a low simmer in my blood, starts to boil over. They’re trying to pull one over on us. They’re lying. These goddamned—

And then the baby cries. In a rush of blood and fluid, it slips into this world, screaming and punching at the air with tiny fists, pinking up. They put my baby—my son—on Brit’s chest and rub him with a cloth. She’s sobbing, and so am I. Brit’s gaze is focused on the baby. “Look at what we made, Turk.”

“He’s perfect,” I whisper against her skin. “You’re perfect.” She cups her hand around our newborn’s head, like we are an electrical circuit that’s now complete. Like we could power the world.

WHEN I WAS fifteen, my grandfather dropped like a stone in the shower and died from a heart attack. I reacted the way I reacted to everything those days—by getting into trouble. No one seemed to know what to do with me—not my mom, who had faded so much sometimes she blended into the walls and I walked right past her without realizing she was in the room; and not my dad, who lived in Brattleboro now and sold cars at a Honda dealership.

I met Raine Tesco when I was staying with my dad for a month the summer after my freshman year of high school. My dad’s friend Greg ran an alternative coffeehouse (What did that even mean? That they served tea?) and had offered me a part-time job. Technically I wasn’t old enough to work, so Greg was paying me under the table to do things like reorganize the stockroom and run errands. Raine was a barista with a sleeve of tattoos who chain-smoked out back during all his breaks. He had a six-pound Chihuahua named Meat that he’d taught to puff on a cigarette, too.

Raine was the first person who really got me. The first time I saw him out back, when I went to put the trash in the dumpster, he offered me a smoke—even though I was only a kid. I pretended I knew what I was doing, and when I coughed my lungs out he didn’t make fun of me. “Must suck to be you, man,” he said, and I nodded. “I mean, your dad?” He screwed up his face and did a perfect imitation of my father, ordering a medium half-caf no-foam nonfat soy latte.

Every time I went to visit my dad, Raine made time to see me. I’d talk to him about how unfair it was to get detention for whaling on a kid who had called my mom a drunk. He’d say that the problem wasn’t me but my teachers, who didn’t realize how much potential I had and how smart I was. He gave me books to read, like The Turner Diaries, to show me I wasn’t the only guy who felt like there was a conspiracy of people keeping him down. He’d give me CDs to take home, white power bands with beats that sounded like a hammer pounding nails. We’d drive around in his car and he’d say things like how the heads of all the major networks had Jewish last names like Moonves and Zucker and were feeding us all the news, so that we’d believe whatever they wanted us to believe. What he talked about were the things that people might have thought about, but never were brave enough to say in public.

If anyone felt it was strange that a twenty-year-old might want to hang out with a fifteen-year-old kid, no one commented. Probably my parents were relieved to know that when I was with Raine, I wasn’t actively beating anyone up or cutting school or getting into trouble. So when he invited me to a festival with some friends, I jumped at the chance to go. “Are there, like, bands there?” I asked, figuring that it was one of the music gatherings that dotted the Vermont countryside in July.

“Yeah, but it’s more like summer camp,” Raine explained. “I told everyone you’re coming. They’re psyched to meet you.”

No one was ever psyched to meet me, so I was pretty pumped. That Saturday, I packed up a knapsack and a sleeping bag and sat in the passenger seat with Meat the Chihuahua in my lap while Raine picked up three friends—all of whom knew me by name, as if Raine had really been talking about me after all. They were all wearing black shirts with a logo over the chest: NADS. “What’s that stand for?” I asked.

“North American Death Squad,” Raine said. “It’s kind of our thing.”

I wanted one of those T-shirts so bad. “So, like, how do you get to be part of it?” I asked, as casually as I could manage.

One of the other guys laughed. “You get asked,” he said.

I decided at that moment I was going to do whatever it took to get an invitation.

We drove for about an hour and then Raine got off an exit, turning left at a handwritten sign on a stick that said simply IE. There were more signs like this, indicating turns through cornfields and past sagging barns and even through a field of milling cows. As we crested a ridge, I saw about a hundred cars parked in a muddy field.

It looked like a carnival. There was a stage, and a band playing so loud my heart thumped like a backbeat. There were families milling around eating corn dogs and fried dough, toddlers balanced on their fathers’ shoulders wearing T-shirts that said I’M THE WHITE CHILD YOU’RE SECURING THE RACE FOR! Meat wove around my feet on his leash, getting tangled as he scarfed down bits of popcorn that had been dropped. A guy clapped Raine on the shoulder and gave him a big reunion-style hello, leaving me to wander a few feet away toward a shooting range.

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