Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult


  Five minutes later, she went into the coffee shop and ordered a latte with skim milk. The barista was a girl with improbable purple hair and a straight piercing that went across the bridge of her nose at the level of her eyebrows; when Josie was little and they'd come here, Alex would have to tell her not to stare. "Would you like biscotti with that, Judge?" the barista asked.

  She went into the bookstore, the pharmacy, and the gas station, and in each place, she could feel people staring at her. She knew she was naked. They knew she was naked. But no one said anything until she got to the post office. The postal clerk in Sterling was an old man who had been working there, probably, since the changeover from the Pony Express. He handed Alex a roll of stamps, and then furtively covered her hand with his own. "Ma'am, it might not be my place to say so . . ."

  Alex lifted her gaze, waited.

  The worry lines on the clerk's forehead smoothed. "But that's a beautiful dress you've got on, Your Honor," he said.

  *

  Her patient was screaming. Lacy could hear the girl sobbing all the way down the hall. She ran as fast as she could, turning the corner and entering the hospital room.

  Kelly Gamboni was twenty-one years old, orphaned, and had an IQ of 79. She had been gang-raped by three high school boys who were now awaiting trial at a juvy facility in Concord. Kelly lived at a group home for Catholics, so abortion was never an option. But now, an ER doctor had deemed it medically necessary to induce Kelly, at thirty-six weeks. She lay in the hospital bed with a nurse trying ineffectually to comfort her, as Kelly clutched a teddy bear. "Daddy," she cried, to a parent who had died years ago. "Take me home. Daddy, it hurts!"

  The doctor walked into the room, and Lacy rounded on him.

  "How dare you," she said. "This is my patient."

  "Well, she was brought into the ER and became mine," the doctor countered.

  Lacy looked at Kelly and then walked into the hall; it would do Kelly no good to have them fighting in front of her. "She came in complaining of wetting her underwear for two days. The exam was consistent with premature rupture of membranes," the doctor said. "She's afebrile and the fetal monitor tracing is reactive. It's completely reasonable to induce. And she signed off on the consent form."

  "It may be reasonable, but it's not advisable. She's mentally retarded. She doesn't know what's happening to her right now; she's terrified. And she certainly doesn't have the ability to consent." Lacy turned on her heel. "I'm calling psych."

  "Like hell you are," the doctor said, grabbing her arm.

  "Let go of me!"

  They were still screaming at each other five minutes later when the psych consult arrived. The boy who stood in front of Lacy looked to be about Joey's age. "You've got to be kidding," the doctor said, the first comment he'd made that she agreed with.

  They both followed the shrink into Kelly's room. By now, the girl was curled into a ball around her belly, whimpering. "She needs an epidural," Lacy muttered.

  "It's not safe to give one at two centimeters," the doctor argued.

  "I don't care. She needs one."

  "Kelly?" the psychiatrist said, squatting down in front of her. "Do you know what a C-section is?"

  "Uh-huh," Kelly groaned.

  The psychiatrist stood up. "She's capable of consent, unless a court's ruled otherwise."

  Lacy's jaw dropped. "That's it?"

  "I have six other consults waiting for me," the psychiatrist snapped. "Sorry to disappoint you."

  Lacy yelled after him. "I'm not the one you're disappointing!" She sank down beside Kelly and squeezed her hand. "It's okay. I'm going to take care of you." She winged a prayer to whoever might move the mountains that could be men's hearts. Then she lifted her face to the doctor's. "First do no harm," she said softly.

  The doctor pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'll get her an epidural," he sighed; and only then did Lacy realize she had been holding her breath.

  *

  The last place Josie wanted to go was out to dinner with her mother, so that she could spend three hours watching maitre d's and chefs and other guests suck up to her. This was Josie's birthday celebration, so she didn't really understand why she couldn't just demand take-out Chinese and a video. But her mother was insisting that it wouldn't be a celebration if they just stayed at home, and so here she was, trailing after her mother like a lady-in-waiting.

  She'd been counting. There were four Nice to see you, Your Honors. Three Yes, Your Honors. Two My pleasure, Your Honors. And one For Your Honor, we have the best table in the house. Sometimes Josie read about celebrities in People magazine who were always getting handouts from purse companies and shoe stores and free tickets to opening nights on Broadway and Yankee Stadium--when you got right down to it, her mother was a celebrity in the town of Sterling.

  "I cannot believe," her mother said, "that I have a twelve-year-old."

  "Is that my cue to say something like, you must have been a child prodigy?"

  Her mother laughed. "Well, that would work."

  "I'm going to be driving in three and a half years," Josie pointed out.

  Her mother's fork clattered against the plate. "Thanks for that."

  The waiter came over to the table. "Your Honor," he said, setting a platter of caviar down in front of Josie's mother, "the chef would like you to have this appetizer with his compliments."

  "That's so gross. Fish eggs?"

  "Josie!" Her mother smiled stiffly at the waiter. "Please thank the chef."

  She could feel her mother's eyes on her as she picked at her food. "What?" she challenged.

  "Well, you sounded like a spoiled brat, that's all."

  "Why? Because I don't like fish embryos sitting under my nose? You don't eat them either. I was at least being honest."

  "And I was being discreet," her mother said. "Don't you think that the waiter is going to tell the chef that Judge Cormier's daughter is a piece of work?"

  "Like I care?"

  "I do. What you do reflects on me, and I have a reputation I have to protect."

  "As what? A suck-up?"

  "As someone who's above criticism both in and out of the courtroom."

  Josie tilted her head to one side. "What if I did something bad?"

  "Bad? How bad?"

  "Let's say I was smoking pot," Josie said.

  Her mother froze. "Is there something you want to tell me, Josie?"

  "God, Mom, I'm not doing it. This is hypothetical."

  "Because you know, now that you're in middle school, you're going to start coming across kids who do things that are dangerous--or just plain stupid--and I would hope you'd be--"

  "--strong enough to know better than that," Josie finished, echoing her in a singsong. "Yeah. Got it. But what if, Mom? What if you came home and found me getting stoned in the living room? Would you turn me in?"

  "What do you mean, turn you in?"

  "Call the cops. Hand over my stash." Josie grinned. "Of hash."

  "No," her mother said. "I would not report you."

  Josie used to think, when she was younger, that she would grow up to look like her mother--fine-boned, dark-haired, light-eyed. The combination of elements were all there in her features, but as she'd gotten older, she started to look like someone else entirely--someone she had never met. Her father.

  She wondered if her father--like Josie herself--could memorize things in a snap and picture them on the page just by closing his eyes. She wondered if her father sang off key and liked to watch scary movies. She wondered if he had the straight slash of eyebrows, so different from her mother's delicate arches.

  She wondered, period.

  "If you didn't report me because I'm your daughter," Josie said, "then you're not really being fair, are you?"

  "I'd be acting like a parent, not a judge." Her mother reached across the table and put her hand on Josie's, which felt weird--her mother wasn't one of these touchy-feely types. "Josie, you can come to me, you know. If you need to talk, I'm there to list
en. You're not going to get into legal trouble, no matter what you tell me--not if it's about you, not even if it's about your friends."

  To be perfectly honest, Josie didn't have many of those. There was Peter, who she'd known forever--although Peter no longer came to her house and vice versa, they still hung out together in school, and he was the last person in the world Josie could ever imagine doing anything illegal. She knew that one of the reasons other girls excluded Josie was because she always stuck up for Peter, but she told herself that it didn't matter. She didn't really want to be surrounded by people who only cared about what happened on One Life to Live and who saved their babysitting money to go to The Limited; they seemed so fake sometimes that Josie thought if she poked one of them with a sharp pencil they'd burst like a balloon.

  So what if she and Peter weren't popular? She was always telling Peter it didn't matter; she might as well start to believe it herself.

  Josie pulled her hand away from her mother and pretended to be fascinated by her cream of asparagus soup. There was something about asparagus that she and Peter found hilarious. They'd done an experiment, once, to see how much you had to eat before your pee smelled weird, and it was less than two bites, swear to God.

  "Stop using your Judge Voice," Josie said.

  "My what?"

  "Your Judge Voice. It's the one you use when you answer the phone. Or when you're out in public. Like now."

  Her mother frowned. "That's crazy. It's the same voice I--"

  The waiter glided over, as if he were skating across the dining room. "I don't mean to interrupt . . . is everything to your liking, Your Honor?"

  Without missing a beat, her mother turned her face up to the waiter. "It's gorgeous," she said, and she smiled until he walked away. Then she turned to Josie. "It's the same voice I always use."

  Josie looked at her, and then at the waiter's back. "Maybe it is," she said.

  *

  The other kid on the soccer team who would rather have been anywhere else was named Derek Markowitz. He'd introduced himself to Peter when they were sitting on the bench during a game against North Haverhill. "Who forced you to play?" Derek had asked, and Peter had told him his mother. "Mine too," Derek admitted. "She's a nutritionist and she's nuts about fitness."

  At dinner, Peter would tell his parents that practice was going fine. He made up stories based on plays he'd seen other kids execute--athletic feats that he himself could never have done. He did this so that he could see his mother glance at Joey and say things like, "Guess there's more than one athlete in this family." When they came to cheer him on during games, and Peter never left the bench, he said it was because Coach played his favorites; and in a way, that was true.

  Like Peter, Derek was just about the worst soccer player on the planet. He was so fair that his veins looked like a road map underneath his skin, and he had such pale hair that you had to search hard to find his eyebrows. Now, when they were at games, they sat next to each other on the bench. Peter liked him because he smuggled Snickers bars into practice and ate them when Coach wasn't looking, and because he knew how to tell a good joke: Why did the ref stop the leper hockey game? There was a face-off in the corner. What's more fun than stapling Drew Girard to a wall? Ripping him off. It got to the point where Peter actually was looking forward to soccer practice, just to hear what Derek had to say--although then Peter began to worry again if he liked Derek just because he was Derek, or because Peter was gay; and then he'd sit a little farther away, or tell himself that no matter what, he wouldn't look Derek in the eye for the whole practice, so that he didn't get the wrong idea.

  They were sitting on the bench one Friday afternoon, watching everyone else play Rivendell. Sterling was expected to be able to kick their collective ass with their eyes closed (not that that was reason enough for the coach to put Peter or Derek in to actually play during a real league game). The score was climbing to something humiliating in the last minute of the final quarter--Sterling 24, Rivendell 2--and Derek was telling Peter another joke.

  "A pirate walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder, a peg leg, and a steering wheel on his pants," Derek said. "The bartender says, 'Hey, you've got a steering wheel on your pants.' And the pirate goes, 'Arrrgh, I know. It's driving me nuts.'"

  "Good game," the coach said, congratulating each of the players with a handshake. "Good game. Good game."

  "You coming?" Derek asked, standing up.

  "I'll meet you in there," Peter said, and as he leaned down to retie his cleats he saw a pair of lady's shoes stop in front of him--a pair he recognized, because he was always tripping over them in the mudroom.

  "Hi, baby," his mother said, smiling down.

  Peter choked. What middle school kid had Mommy come to pick him up right at the field, as if he were leaving nursery school and needed a hand crossing the street?

  "Just give me a second, Peter," his mother said.

  He glanced up long enough to see that the team had not gone into the locker room, as usual, but hung around to watch this latest humiliation. Just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, his mother marched up to the coach. "Coach Yarbrowski," she said. "Could I have a word?"

  Kill me now, Peter thought.

  "I'm Peter's mother. And I'm wondering why you don't play my son during the games."

  "It's a matter of teamwork, Mrs. Houghton, and I'm just giving Peter the chance to come up to speed with some of the other--"

  "It's halfway through the season, and my son has just as much right to play on this soccer team as any of the other boys."

  "Mom," Peter interrupted, wishing that there were earthquakes in New Hampshire, that a ravine would open under her feet and swallow her mid-sentence. "Stop."

  "It's all right, Peter. I'm taking care of it."

  The coach pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'll put Peter in on Monday's game, Mrs. Houghton, but it isn't going to be pretty."

  "It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to be fun." She turned around and smiled, clueless, at Peter. "Right?"

  Peter could barely hear her. Shame was a shot that rang in his ears, broken only by the buzz of his teammates. His mother squatted down in front of him. He had never really understood what it meant to love someone and hate them at the same time, but now he was starting to get it. "Once he sees you on that field, you'll be playing first string." She patted his knee. "I'll wait for you in the parking lot."

  The other players laughed as he pushed past them. "Mama's boy," they said. "Does she fight all your battles, homo?"

  In the locker room, he sat down and pulled off his cleats. He had a hole in the toe of one sock, and he stared at it as if he were truly amazed by that fact, instead of because he was trying so hard not to cry.

  He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt someone sit down beside him. "Peter," Derek said. "You okay?"

  Peter tried to say yes, but just couldn't get the lie through his throat.

  "What's the difference between this team and a porcupine?" Derek asked.

  Peter shook his head.

  "A porcupine has pricks on the outside." Derek grinned. "See you Monday."

  *

  Courtney Ignatio was a spaghetti-strap girl. That's what Josie called that posse, for lack of a better term--the girls who wore belly-baring tanks and who, during the student-run recitals, made up dances to the songs "Bootylicious" and "Lady Marmalade." Courtney had been the first seventh grader to get a cell phone. It was pink, and sometimes it even rang in class, but teachers never got angry at her.

  When she was paired with Courtney in social studies to make a timeline of the American Revolution, Josie had groaned--she was sure she'd be pulling all the weight. But Courtney had invited her over to work on the project, and Josie's mother told her that if she didn't go, she would be stuck doing all the work, so now she was sitting on Courtney's bed, eating chocolate chip cookies and organizing note cards.

  "What?" Courtney said, standing in front of her with her hands on her hips.
>
  "What what?"

  "Why do you have that look on your face?"

  Josie shrugged. "Your room. It's totally different than mine."

  Courtney glanced around, as if seeing her bedroom for the first time. "Different how?"

  Courtney had a wild purple shag rug and beaded lamps strung with gauzy silk scarves for atmosphere. An entire dresser top was dedicated to makeup. A poster of Johnny Depp hung on the back of her door, and a shelf sported a state-of-the-art stereo system. She had her own DVD player.

  Josie's room, in comparison, was spartan. She had a bookshelf, a desk, a dresser, and a bed. Her comforter looked like an old-lady quilt, compared to Courtney's satin one. If Josie had any style at all, it was Early American Dork.

  "Just different," Josie said.

  "My mom's a decorator. She thinks this is what every teenage girl dreams of."

  "Do you?"

  Courtney shrugged. "I kind of think it looks like a bordello, but I don't want to ruin it for her. Let me just go get my binder, and we can start . . ."

  When she left to go back downstairs, Josie found herself staring into the mirror. Drawn forward to the dresser with makeup on it, she found herself picking up tubes and bottles that were completely unfamiliar. Her mother rarely wore any makeup--maybe lipstick, but that was it. Josie lifted a mascara wand and unscrewed the cap, ran her finger over the black bristles. She uncapped a bottle of perfume and sniffed.

  In the reflection of the mirror, she watched the girl who looked just like her take a tube of lipstick--"Positively Hot!" the label read--and apply it. It put a bloom of color in her face; it brought her to life.

  Was it really that easy to become someone else?

  "What are you doing?"

  Josie jumped at the sound of Courtney's voice. She watched in the mirror as Courtney came forward and took the lipstick out of her hands.

  "I . . . I'm sorry," Josie stammered.

  To her surprise, Courtney Ignatio grinned. "Actually," she said, "it suits you."

  *

  Joey got better grades than his younger brother; he was a better athlete than Peter. He was funnier; he had more common sense; he could draw more than a straight line; he was the one people gravitated toward at a party. There was only one thing, as far as Peter could tell (and he'd been counting), that Joey could not do, and that was stand the sight of blood.

 
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