Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  Peter tilted his head. "I thought it was a really big cat."

  "Either way, it's totally gross." She shuddered. "Ugh. How am I going to take a paycheck from that guy's hand now?" Then she looked down at Peter. "What else can you do with that computer?"

  "Anything," he bragged.

  "Like . . . hack into other places? Schools and stuff?"

  "Sure," Peter said, although he didn't really know about that. He was just starting to learn about encryption and how to make wormholes through it.

  "What about finding an address?"

  "Piece of cake," Peter answered. "Whose?"

  "Someone totally random," she said, and she leaned over him to type. He could smell her hair--apples--and felt the press of her shoulder against his. Peter closed his eyes, waiting for lightning to strike. Josie was pretty, and she was a girl, and yet . . . he felt nothing.

  Was that because she was too familiar--like a sister?

  Or because she wasn't a he?

  Stop looking at me, homo.

  He did not tell Josie this, but when he'd first found Mr. Cargrew's porn site, he'd found himself staring at the guys, not the girls. Did that mean he was attracted to them? Then again, he'd looked at the animals, too. Couldn't it just have been curiosity? Comparison, even, between the men and him?

  What if it turned out that Matt--and everyone else--was right?

  Josie clicked on the mouse a few times until the screen was filled with an article from The Boston Globe. "There," she said, pointing. "That guy."

  Peter squinted at the caption. "Who's Logan Rourke?"

  "Who cares," Josie said. "Someone who looks like he has an unlisted address, anyway."

  He did, but then, Peter figured that anyone running for public office probably was smart enough to take their personal information out of the phone book. It took him ten minutes to figure out that Logan Rourke had worked for Harvard Law School, and another fifteen to hack into the human resources files there.

  "Ta-da," Peter said. "He lives in Lincoln. Conant Road."

  He looked over his shoulder and saw his smile spread, contagious, over Josie's face. She stared at the screen for a long moment. "You are good," she said.


  Economists, it was often said, knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. Lewis considered this as he opened up the enormous file on his office computer, the World Values Survey. Gathered by Norwegian social scientists, here was data collected from hundreds of thousands of people around the world--an endless array of details. Simple ones--like age, gender, birth order, weight, religion, marital status, number of children--and more complex accounts, like political views and religious affiliations. The survey had even considered time allocation: how long a person spent at work, how often he went to church, how many times a week he had sex and with how many partners.

  What would have seemed tedious to most people was, to Lewis, like a roller-coaster ride. When you started to sort out the patterns in data this massive, you didn't know where you'd twist or turn, how steep the fall or how soaring the heights. He'd examined these numbers often enough to know that he'd be able to quickly crank out a paper for next week's conference. It didn't have to be perfect--the gathering was small, and his higher-ranking peers wouldn't be present. He could always take whatever he eked out now and polish it later for publication in an academic journal.

  The focus of his paper involved putting a price on the variables of happiness. Everyone always said that money bought happiness, but how much? Did income have a direct or causal effect on happiness? Were happier people more successful in their jobs, or were they given a higher wage because they were happier people?

  Happiness wasn't limited to one's income, either. Was marriage more valuable in America or Europe? Did sex matter? Why did churchgoers report higher levels of happiness than nonchurchgoers? Why did Scandinavians--who scored high on the happiness scale--have one of the highest suicide rates in the world?

  As Lewis set about picking through the variables of the survey using multivariate regression analysis on STATA, he thought about the value he'd have put on the variables of his own happiness. What monetary compensation would have made up for not having a woman like Lacy in his life? For not getting a tenured position at Sterling College? For his health?

  It didn't do the average person much good to know that marital status was associated with a 0.07 level increase in happiness (with a standard error of 0.02 percent). On the other hand, tell the Average Joe that being married had the same effect on overall happiness as an additional $100,000 a year, and it put things into perspective.

  These were the findings he'd reached so far:

  1. Higher income was associated with higher happiness, but in diminishing returns. For example, someone who made $50,000 reported being happier than the man with a salary of $25,000. But the incremental gain in happiness that came from getting a raise from $50K to $100K was much less.

  2. In spite of material improvements, happiness is flat over time--relative income might be more important than absolute income gains.

  3. Well-being was greatest among women, married people, the highly educated, and those whose parents didn't divorce.

  4. Women's happiness was declining over time, possibly because they'd reached greater equality with men in the labor market.

  5. Blacks in the U.S. were much less happy than whites, but their life satisfaction was on the upswing.

  6. Calculations indicated that "reparation" for being unemployed would take $60,000 per year. "Reparation" for being black would take $30,000 per year. "Reparation" for being widowed or separated would take $100,000 per year.

  There was a game Lewis used to play with himself, after the kids were born, when he was feeling so ridiculously lucky that surely tragedy was bound to strike. He'd lie in bed and force himself to choose what he was first willing to lose: his marriage, his job, a child. He would wonder how much a man could take before he reduced himself to nothing.

  He closed the data window and stared at the screen saver on his computer. It was a picture taken when the kids were eight and ten, at a petting zoo in Connecticut. Joey had hoisted his brother up, piggyback, and they were grinning, with a striated pink sunset in the background. Moments later, a deer (deer on steroids, Lacy had said) had knocked Joey's feet out from beneath him and both boys had fallen and dissolved into tears . . . but that was not the way Lewis liked to recall it.

  Happiness wasn't just what you reported; it was also how you chose to remember.

  There was one other finding he'd catalogued: happiness was U-shaped. People were happiest when they were very young and very old. The trough came, roughly, when you hit your forties.

  Or in other words, Lewis thought with relief, this is as bad as it gets.


  Although Josie got A's in math and liked the subject, it was the one grade she had to fight for. Numbers did not come easily to her, although she could reason with logic and write an essay without breaking a sweat. In this, she supposed, she was like her mother.

  Or possibly her father.

  Mr. McCabe, their math teacher, was walking through the rows of desks, tossing a tennis ball against the ceiling and singing a bastardized Don McLean song:

  "Bye, bye, what's the value of pi

  Gotta fidget with the digits

  Till this class has gone by . . .

  Them ninth graders were workin' hard with a sigh

  Sayin', Mr. McCabe, come on, why?

  Oh Mr. McCabe, come on, why-y-y . . ."

  Josie erased a coordinate from the graph paper in front of her. "We're not even using pi," one kid said.

  The teacher whirled around and tossed the tennis ball so that it bounced on the boy's desk. "Andrew, I'm so glad to see you woke up in time to notice that."

  "Does this count as a pop quiz?"

  "No. Maybe I should go on TV," Mr. McCabe mused. "Is there a Math Idol"

  "God, I hope not," Matt muttered from the desk behind Josie. He
poked her shoulder and she pushed her paper to the upper left corner of her desk, because she knew he could see the homework answers better there.

  This week they were working on graphing. In addition to a bazillion assignments that made you take data and force it into bar graphs and charts, each student had had to create and present a graph of something near and dear to them. Mr. McCabe left ten minutes at the end of each class period for the presentation. Yesterday, Matt had shown off a graph of relative age of hockey players in the NHL. Josie, who was presenting hers tomorrow, had polled her friends to see if there was a ratio between the number of hours you spent doing your homework and your grade point average.

  Today was Peter Houghton's turn. She had seen him carrying his graph into school, a rolled-up piece of poster board. "Well, look at that," Mr. McCabe said. "Turns out we are talking about pie. The other one, that is."

  Peter's graph was a pie chart. It had been clearly shaded with colors, and computer labels identified each section. The title at the top of the chart said POPULARITY.

  "Whenever you're ready, Peter," Mr. McCabe said.

  Peter looked a little bit like he was going to pass out, but then, Peter always looked like that. Since Josie had started working at the copy shop, they'd been talking again, but--by unwritten rule--only outside of school. Inside was different: a fishbowl where anything you said and did was being watched by everyone else.

  When they were kids, Peter had never seemed to notice when he was drawing attention just by being himself. Like when he'd decide to speak Martian during recess, for example. Josie supposed that the flip side of this, the optimistic angle, was that Peter never tried to be like anyone else. She couldn't lay claim to that herself.

  Peter cleared his throat. "My graph is about status in this school. My statistical sample came from the twenty-four students in this class. You can see here"--he pointed at one wedge of the pie--"that a little less than a third of the class are popular."

  Shaded violet--the color of popularity--were seven wedges, each sporting a different classmate's name. There was Matt, and Drew. A few girls who hung out at lunchtime with Josie. But the class clown was also lumped in that group, Josie noticed, and the new kid who'd transferred from Washington, D.C.

  "Over here are the geeks," Peter said, and Josie could see the names of the class brain and the girl who played tuba in the marching band. "The largest group is what I call normal. And roughly five percent are outcasts."

  Everyone had grown quiet. This was one of those moments, Josie realized, when the guidance counselors would get called in to give everyone a booster shot of tolerance for differences. She could see Mr. McCabe's brow furrow like origami as he tried to figure out how to turn Peter's presentation into an After School Special moment; she saw Drew and Matt grinning at each other; and most of all, she noticed Peter, who was blissfully unaware that all hell was about to break loose.

  Mr. McCabe cleared his throat. "You know, Peter, maybe you and I should--"

  Matt's hand shot up. "Mr. McCabe, I have a question."


  "No, seriously. I can't read that skinny piece of the pie chart. The orange one."

  "Oh," Peter said. "That's a bridge. You know. A person who can fit into more than one category, or who hangs out with different kinds of people. Like Josie."

  He turned to her, beaming, and Josie felt everyone's eyes on her--a hail of arrows. She curled over her desk like a midnight rose, letting her hair fall over her face. To be honest, she was used to being stared at--walk anywhere with Courtney and it was bound to happen--but there was a difference between people looking at you because they wanted to be like you, and people looking at you because your misfortune brought them one rung higher.

  At the very least, kids would remember that once, Josie had been an outcast who used to hang out with Peter. Or they'd assume that Peter had some weird crush on her, which was just sick, and she'd never hear the end of it. A murmur ran through the classroom like an electric shock. Freak, someone whispered, and Josie prayed prayed prayed that they were not talking about her.

  Because there was a God, the bell rang.

  "So, Josie," Drew said. "Are you the Tobin or the Golden Gate?"

  Josie tried to stuff her books into her backpack, but they scattered to the ground, pages splayed. "London," John Eberhard snickered. "Look, she's falling down."

  By now, someone in her math class had surely told someone else down the hall what had happened. Josie would hear laughter following her like a kite's tail for that whole day--maybe even longer.

  She realized that someone was trying to help her pick up her books, and then--one beat later--that this someone was Peter. "Don't," Josie said, holding up a hand, a force field that stopped Peter in his tracks. "Don't ever talk to me again, all right?"

  In the hallway, she turned corners blindly until she found the little alley that led to the wood shop. Josie had been so naive, thinking that once she belonged, she was firmly entrenched. But In only existed because someone had drawn a line in the sand, so that everyone else was Out; and that line changed constantly. You might find yourself, through no fault of your own, suddenly standing on the wrong side.

  What Peter hadn't graphed was how fragile popularity was. Here was the irony: she wasn't a bridge at all; she'd completely crossed over to become part of her group. She'd excluded other people to get to where she so badly wanted to be. Why would those kids ever welcome her back?


  At the sound of Matt's voice, Josie drew in a sharp breath. "Just so you know, I'm not friends with him."

  "Well, actually, he's right about you."

  Josie blinked at him. She'd witnessed, firsthand, Matt's cruelty--how he'd shoot rubber bands at ESL students who didn't know the words to report him to the faculty; how he called one overweight girl the Walking Earthquake; how he'd hide a shy kid's math textbook in order to watch him freak out, thinking it was lost. It was funny then, because it hadn't been about Josie. But being the object of his humiliation felt like a slap. She'd thought, mistakenly, that hanging with the right crowd granted her immunity, but that turned out to be a joke. They'd cut you down anyway, as long as it made them seem funnier, cooler, different from you.

  Seeing Matt with that grin on his face, as if he'd thought she was a total joke all along, hurt even more, because she'd considered him a friend. Well, to be honest, sometimes she wished for even more than that: when a fringe of hair fell over his eyes and his smile lit as slowly as a fuse, she went totally monosyllabic. But Matt had that effect on everyone--even Courtney, who'd gone out with him in sixth grade for two weeks.

  "I never thought anything the homo said would be worth listening to, but bridges take you from one place to another," Matt said. "And that's what you do to me." He took Josie's hand, pressed it up against his chest.

  His heart was beating so hard she could feel it, as if possibility were something you might cup in your palm. She looked up at him, keeping her eyes wide open as he leaned in to kiss her, so that she would not miss a single, startling moment. Josie could taste the heat of him like cinnamon candy, the kind that burned.

  Finally, when Josie remembered that she had to breathe, she tore away from Matt. She had never been so aware of every inch of her skin; even the bits hidden under layers of T-shirt and sweater had come alive.

  "Jesus," Matt said, backing away.

  She panicked. Maybe he had just remembered he was kissing a girl who five minutes ago had been a social pariah. Or maybe she'd done something wrong during the kiss. It's not like there was a manual you could read so you'd know how to do it right.

  "I guess I'm not very good at that," Josie stammered.

  Matt raised his brows. "If you get much better . . . you might kill me."

  Josie felt a smile start inside her like a candle flame. "Really?"

  He nodded.

  "That was my first kiss," she admitted.

  When Matt touched her lower lip with his thumb, Josie could feel it
everywhere--from her fingertips to her throat to the heat between her legs. "Well," he said. "It's not going to be your last."


  Alex was getting ready in her bathroom when Josie wandered in, looking for a new razor. "What's that?" Josie had asked, scrutinizing Alex's face in the mirror as if it belonged to a stranger.


  "Well, I know what it is," Josie said. "I meant, what's it doing on you?"

  "Maybe I felt like wearing makeup."

  Josie sank down onto the lip of the bathtub, grinning. "And maybe I'm the Queen of England. What is it . . . a new photo for some law review?" Suddenly, her eyebrows shot up. "You're not going on, like, a date, are you?"

  "Not 'like' a date," Alex said, brushing on blush. "It's an honest-to-goodness one."

  "Oh, my gosh. Tell me about him."

  "I don't know anything. Liz set me up."

  "Liz the custodian?"

  "She's a groundskeeper," Alex said.

  "Whatever. She must have told you something about this guy." Josie hesitated. "It is a guy, right?"


  "Well, it's been a really long time. The last date you went out on that I can remember was the man who wouldn't eat anything green."

  "That wasn't the issue," Alex said. "It was that he wouldn't let me eat anything green."

  Josie stood up and reached for a tube of lipstick. "This is a good color for you," she said, and she swept the tube over Alex's mouth.

  Alex and Josie were exactly the same height; looking into her daughter's eyes, Alex could see a tiny reflection of herself. She wondered why she'd never done this with Josie: sat her down in the bathroom and played with eye shadow, painted her toenails, curled her hair. They were memories that every other mother of a daughter seemed to have; only now was Alex realizing that it had been up to her to create them.

  "There," Josie said, turning Alex to look in the mirror. "What do you think?"

  Alex was staring, but not at herself. Over her shoulder was Josie--and for the first time, Alex could really see a piece of herself in her daughter. It wasn't so much the shape of the face but the shine of it; not the color of the eyes but the dream caught like smoke in them. There was no amount of expensive makeup that would make her look the way her Josie did; that was simply what falling in love did to a person.

  Could you be jealous of your own child?

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