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Janie Hannagan's math book slips from her fingers. She grips the edge of the table in the school library. Everything goes black and silent. She sighs and rests her head on the table. Tries to pull herself out of it, but fails miserably. She's too tired today. Too hungry. She really doesn't have time for this.
She's sitting in the bleachers in the football stadium, blinking under the lights, silent among the roars of the crowd.
She glances at the people sitting in the bleachers around her -- fellow classmates, parents -- trying to spot the dreamer. She can tell this dreamer is afraid, but where is he? Then she looks to the football field. Finds him. Rolls her eyes.
It's Luke Drake. No question about it. He is, after all, the only naked player on the field for the homecoming game.
Nobody seems to notice or care. Except him. The ball is snapped and the lines collide, but Luke is covering himself with his hands, hopping from one foot to the other. She can feel his panic increasing. Janie's fingers tingle and go numb.
Luke looks over at Janie, eyes pleading, as the football moves toward him, a bullet in slow motion. "Help," he says.
She thinks about helping him. Wonders what it would take to change the course of Luke's dream. She even considers that a boost of confidence to the star receiver the day before the big game could put Fieldridge High in the running for the Regional Class A Championship.
But Luke's really a jerk. He won't appreciate it. So she resigns herself to watching the debacle. She wonders if he'll choose pride or glory.
He's not as big as he thinks he is.
That's for damn sure.
The football nearly reaches Luke when the dream starts over again. Oh, get ON with it already, Janie thinks. She concentrates in her seat on the bleachers and slowly manages to stand. She tries to walk back under the bleachers for the rest of the dream so she doesn't have to watch, and surprisingly, this time, she is able.
That's a bonus.
Janie's mind catapults back inside her body, still sitting at her usual remote corner table in the library. She flexes her fingers painfully, lifts her head and, when her sight returns, she scours the library.
She spies the culprit at a table about fifteen feet away. He's awake now. Rubbing his eyes and grinning sheepishly at the two other football players who stand around him, laughing. Shoving him. Whapping him on the head.
Janie shakes her head to clear it and she lifts up her math book, which sits open and facedown on the table where she dropped it. Under it, she finds a fun-size Snickers bar. She smiles to herself and peers to the left, between rows of bookshelves.
But no one is there for her to thank.
Evening, December 23, 1996
Janie Hannagan is eight. She wears a thin, faded red-print dress with too-short sleeves, off-white tights that sag between her thighs, gray moon boots, and a brown, nappy coat with two missing buttons. Her long, dirty-blond hair stands up with static. She rides on an Amtrak train with her mother from their home in Fieldridge, Michigan, to Chicago to visit her grandmother. Mother reads the Globe across from her. There is a picture on the cover of an enormous man wearing a powder-blue tuxedo. Janie rests her head against the window, watching her breath make a cloud on it.
The cloud blurs Janie's vision so slowly that she doesn't realize what is happening. She floats in the fog for a moment, and then she is in a large room, sitting at a conference table with five men and three women. At the front of the room is a tall, balding man with a briefcase. He stands in his underwear, giving a presentation, and he is flustered. He tries to speak but he can't get his mouth around the words. The other adults are all wearing crisp suits. They laugh and point at the bald man in his underwear.
The bald man looks at Janie.
And then he looks at the people who are laughing at him.
His face crumples in defeat.
He holds his briefcase in front of his privates, and that makes the others laugh harder. He runs to the door of the conference room, but the handle is slippery -- something slimy drips from it. He can't get it open; it squeaks and rattles loudly in his hand, and the people at the table double over. The man's underwear is grayish-white, sagging. He turns to Janie again, with a look of panic and pleading.
Janie doesn't know what to do.
The train's brakes whine.
And the scene grows cloudy and is lost in fog.
"Janie!" Janie's mother is leaning toward Janie. Her breath smells like gin, and her straggly hair falls over one eye. "Janie, I said, maybe Grandma will take you to that big fancy doll store. I thought you would be excited about that, but I guess not." Janie's mother sips from a flask in her ratty old purse.
Janie focuses on her mother and smiles. "That sounds fun," she says, even though she doesn't like dolls. She would rather have new tights. She wriggles on the seat, trying to adjust them. The crotch stretches tight at mid-thigh. She thinks about the bald man and scrunches her eyes. Weird.
When the train stops, they take their bags and step into the aisle. In front of Janie's mother, a disheveled, bald businessman emerges from his compartment.
He wipes his face with a handkerchief.
Janie stares at him.
Her jaw drops. "Whoa," she whispers.
The man gives her a bland look when he sees her staring, and turns to exit the train.
Copyright © 2008 by Lisa McMann