Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  "Margaret, then," he answered, and he slipped back inside.

  On the way to the car, Josie opened her fingers like a flower. She watched the bills fall to the ground near a plant that looked, like everything else here, as if it was thriving.


  Honestly, the whole idea for the game came to Peter when he was asleep.

  He'd created computer games before--Pong replicates, racing courses, and even one sci-fi scenario that let you play online with someone in another country if they logged onto the site--but this was the biggest idea he'd conceived of yet. It came about because, after one of Joey's football games, they'd stopped off at a pizza place where Peter had eaten way too much meatball and sausage pizza, and had been staring at an arcade game called DEER HUNT. You put in your quarter and shot your fake rifle at the bucks that poked their heads out from behind trees; if you hit a doe, you lost.

  That night Peter dreamed about hunting with his father, but instead of going after deer, they were looking for real people.

  He had awakened in a sweat, his hand cramped as if he'd been holding a gun.

  It wouldn't be all that hard to create avatars--computerized personas. He'd done some experimenting, and even if the skin tone wasn't right and the graphics weren't perfect, he knew how to differentiate between races and hair color and build through programming language. It might be kind of cool to do a game where the prey was human.

  But war games were old hat, and even gangs had been totally overdone, thanks to Grand Theft Auto. What he needed, Peter realized, was a new villain, one that other people would want to gun down, too. That was the joy of a video game: watching someone who deserved it getting his comeuppance.

  He tried to think of other microcosms of the universe that might be battlegrounds: alien invasions, Wild West shootouts, spy missions. Then Peter thought about the front line he braved every day.

  What if you took the prey . . . and made them the hunters?

  Peter got out of bed and sat down at his desk, pulling his eighth-grade yearbook from the drawer where he'd banished it months ago. He'd create a computer game that was Revenge of the Nerds, but updated for the twenty-first century. A fantasy world where the balance of power was turned on its head, where the underdog finally got a chance to beat the bullies.

  He took a marker and started to look through the yearbook, circling portraits.

  Drew Girard.

  Matt Royston.

  John Eberhard.

  Peter turned the page and stopped for a moment. Then he circled Josie Cormier's face, too.


  "Can you stop here?" Josie said, when she really didn't think she was going to be able to spend another minute riding in the car and pretending that her meeting with her father had gone well. Matt had barely pulled over when she opened the door, flew through the high grass into the woods at the edge of the road.

  She sank down on the carpet of pine needles and started to cry. What she'd been expecting, she really couldn't say--except that this wasn't it. Unconditional acceptance, maybe. Curiosity, at the very least.

  "Josie?" Matt said, coming up behind her. "You okay?"

  She tried to say yes, but she was so sick of lying. She felt Matt's hand stroke her hair, and that only made her cry harder; tenderness cut as sharp as any knife. "He didn't give a shit about me."

  "Then you shouldn't give a shit about him," Matt answered.

  Josie glanced up at him. "It's not that simple."

  He pulled her into his arms. "Aw, Jo."

  Matt was the only one who'd ever given her a nickname. She couldn't remember her mother calling her anything silly, like Pumpkin or Ladybug, the way other parents did. When Matt called her Jo, it reminded her of Little Women, and although she was pretty sure Matt had never read the Alcott novel, secretly she was pleased to be associated with a character so strong and sure of herself.

  "It's stupid. I don't even know why I'm crying. I just . . . I wanted him to like me."

  "I'm crazy about you," Matt said. "Does that count?" He leaned forward and kissed her, right on the trail of her tears.

  "It counts a lot."

  She felt Matt's lips move from her cheek to her neck to the spot behind her ear that always made her feel like she was dissolving. She was a novice at fooling around, but Matt had coaxed her further and further each time they were alone. It's your fault, he'd say, and give her that smile. If you weren't this hot, I'd be able to keep my hands off you. That alone was an aphrodisiac to Josie. Her? Hot? And--just as Matt had promised every time--it did feel good to let him touch her everywhere, to let him taste her. Every incremental intimacy with Matt felt as if she were falling off a cliff--that loss of breath, those butterflies in her stomach. One step, and she'd be flying. It didn't occur to Josie, when she leaped, that she was just as likely to fall.

  Now she felt his hands moving under her T-shirt, slipping beneath the lace of her bra. Her legs tangled with his; he rubbed up against her. When Matt tugged up her shirt, so that the cool air feathered over her skin, she snapped back to reality. "We can't do this," she whispered.

  Matt's teeth scraped over her shoulder.

  "We're parked on the side of the road."

  He looked up at her, drugged, feverish. "But I want you," Matt said, like he had a dozen times.

  This time, though, she glanced up.

  I want you.

  Josie could have stopped him, but she realized she did not intend to. He wanted her, and right now, that was what she most needed to hear.

  There was a moment when Matt went still, wondering if the fact that she hadn't shoved his hands away meant what he thought it meant. She heard the rip of a foil condom packet--How long had he been carrying that around? Then he tore at his jeans and hiked up her skirt, as if he still expected her to change her mind. Josie felt Matt pulling aside the elastic of her underwear, the burn of his finger pushing inside her. This was nothing like the times before, when his touch had left a track like a comet over her skin; when she found herself aching after she told him she wanted to stop. Matt shifted his weight and came down on top of her again, only this time there was more burning, more pressure. "Ow," she whimpered, and Matt hesitated.

  "I don't want to hurt you," he said.

  She turned her head away. "Just do it," Josie said, and Matt pushed his hips flush against hers. It was the kind of pain that--even though she was expecting it--made her cry out.

  Matt mistook that for passion. "I know, baby," he groaned. She could feel his heartbeat, but from the inside, and then he started to move faster, bucking against her like a fish released from a hook onto a dock.

  Josie wanted to ask Matt whether it had hurt the first time he had done it, too. She wondered if it always would hurt. Maybe pain was the price everyone paid for love. She turned her face into Matt's shoulder and tried to understand why, even with him still inside of her, she felt empty.


  "Peter," Mrs. Sandringham said at the end of English class. "Could I see you for a moment?"

  At the sound of his teacher's summons, Peter sank down in his chair. He began to think of excuses he could give his parents when he came home with another failing grade.

  He actually liked Mrs. Sandringham. She was only in her late twenties--you could actually look at her while she was prattling on about grammar and Shakespeare and imagine not so long ago, when she might have been slouched in a seat like any ordinary kid and wondering why the clock never seemed to move.

  Peter waited until the rest of the class had cleared out before he approached the teacher's desk. "I just wanted to talk to you about your essay," Mrs. Sandringham said. "I haven't graded everyone's yet, but I did have a chance to look over yours and--"

  "I can redo it," Peter blurted out.

  Mrs. Sandringham raised her brows. "But Peter . . . I wanted to tell you that you're getting an A." She handed it to him; Peter stared at the bright red grade in the margin.

  The assignment had been to write about a significant event t
hat had changed your life. Although it had happened only a week ago, Peter had written about getting fired for setting the fire in the Dumpster at work. In it, he didn't mention Josie Cormier at all.

  Mrs. Sandringham had circled one sentence in his conclusion: I've learned you will get caught, so you have to think things through before you act.

  The teacher reached out and put her hand on Peter's wrist. "You really have learned something from this incident," she said, and she smiled at him. "I'd trust you in a heartbeat."

  Peter nodded and took the paper from the desk. He swam into the stream of students in the hallway, still holding it. He imagined what his mother would say if he came home with a paper that had a big fat A on it--if, for just once in his life, he did something everyone expected of Joey, and not Peter.

  But that would have necessitated telling his mother about the Dumpster incident in the first place. Or admitting that he'd been fired at all, and now spent his after-school hours at the library instead of at the copy center.

  Peter crumpled up the essay and threw it into the first trash can that he passed.


  As soon as Josie started spending her free time almost exclusively with Matt, Maddie Shaw had seamlessly slipped into the position of being Courtney's sidekick. In a way, she fit better than Josie ever had: if you were walking behind Courtney and Maddie, you wouldn't be able to tell who was who; Maddie had so closely cultivated the style and movement of Courtney that she'd elevated it from imitation to art.

  Tonight they'd gathered at Maddie's house because her parents had gone to visit her older brother, a sophomore at Syracuse. They weren't drinking--it was hockey season, and the players had to sign a contract with the coach--but Drew Girard had rented the uncut version of a teen sex comedy, and the guys were discussing who was hotter, Elisha Cuthbert or Shannon Elizabeth. "I wouldn't throw either of them out of bed," Drew said.

  "What makes you think they'd get in in the first place?" John Eberhard laughed.

  "My reputation reaches far and wide . . ."

  Courtney smirked. "It's the only part of you that does."

  "Aw, Court, you wish you knew that for sure."

  "Or not . . ."

  Josie was sitting on the floor with Maddie, trying to make a Ouija board work. They'd found it in the basement closet, along with Chutes and Ladders and Trivial Pursuit. Josie's fingertips rested lightly on the planchette. "Are you pushing it?"

  "Swear to God, no," Maddie said. "Are you?"

  Josie shook her head. She wondered what kind of ghost would come to hang out at a teenage party. Someone who'd died tragically, of course, and too young--in a car crash, maybe. "What's your name?" Josie said loudly.

  The planchette swiveled to the letter A, and then B, and then stopped.

  "Abe," Maddie announced. "It must be."

  "Or Abby."

  "Are you male or female?" Maddie asked.

  The planchette slipped off the edge of the board entirely. Drew started to laugh. "Maybe it's gay."

  "Takes one to know one," John said.

  Matt yawned and stretched, his shirt riding up. Although Josie's back was to him, she could practically sense this, so attuned were their bodies. "As thrillingly fun as this has been, we're out of here. Jo, come on."

  Josie watched the planchette spell out a word: N-O. "I'm not leaving," she said. "I'm having fun."

  "Meow," Drew said. "Who's pussy-whipped?"

  Since they'd started dating, Matt spent more time with Josie than with his friends. And although Matt had told her he'd much rather fool around with her than be in the company of fools, Josie knew it was still important to him to have the respect of Drew and John. But that didn't mean he had to treat her like a slave, did it?

  "I said we're leaving," Matt repeated.

  Josie glanced up at him. "And I said I'll come when I want to come."

  Matt smiled at his friends, smug. "You never came in your life before you met me," he said.

  Drew and John burst out laughing, and Josie felt herself flush with embarrassment. She stood, averting her eyes, and ran up the basement stairs.

  In the entryway of Maddie's house she grabbed her jacket. When she heard footsteps behind her, Josie didn't even turn around. "I was having fun. So--"

  She broke off with a small cry as Matt grabbed her arm hard and spun her around, pinning her up against the wall by her shoulders. "You're hurting me--"

  "Don't ever do that to me again."

  "You're the one who--"

  "You made me look like an idiot," Matt said. "I told you it was time to go."

  Bruises bloomed on her skin where he held her fast, as if she were a canvas and he was determined to leave his mark. She went limp beneath his hands: instinct, a surrender. "I . . . I'm sorry," she whispered.

  The words were a key--Matt's grip relaxed. "Jo," he sighed, and he rested his forehead against hers. "I don't like sharing you. You can't blame me for that."

  Josie shook her head, but she still didn't trust herself to speak.

  "It's just that I love you so much."

  She blinked. "You do?"

  He hadn't said those words yet, and she hadn't said them either, even though she felt them, because if he didn't say them back then Josie was sure she'd simply evaporate on the spot from sheer humiliation. But here was Matt, saying he loved her, first.

  "Isn't that obvious?" he said, and he took her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed the knuckles so gently that Josie almost forgot all that had happened to get them to that moment.


  "Kentucky Fried People," Peter said, mulling Derek's idea while they sat on the sidelines in gym class, as the teams for basketball were being picked. "I don't know . . . doesn't it seem a little . . ."

  "Graphic?" Derek said. "Since when were you aiming for politically correct? See, imagine if you could go to the art room, if you had enough points, and use the kiln as a weapon."

  Derek had been road testing Peter's new computer game, pointing out room for improvement and flaws in the design. They knew they had plenty of time for conversation, since they were bound to be the last kids chosen for teams.

  Coach Spears had chosen Drew Girard and Matt Royston to be team captains--a huge surprise, not--they were varsity athletes, even as sophomores. "Look alive, people," Coach called out. "You want your captains to think you're hungry to play. You want them to think you're the next Michael Jordan."

  Drew pointed to a boy in the back. "Noah."

  Matt nodded to the kid who'd been sitting next to him. "Charlie."

  Peter turned to Derek. "I heard that even though Michael Jordan's retired, he's still getting forty million dollars in endorsements."

  "That means he makes $109,589 a day, for not working," Derek figured.

  "Ash," Drew called out.

  "Robbie," Matt said.

  Peter leaned closer to Derek. "If he goes to see a movie, it'll cost him ten bucks, but he'll make $9,132 while he's there."

  Derek grinned. "If he hard-boils an egg for five minutes, he'll make $380."





  By now there were only three kids left to be picked for teams: Derek, Peter, and Royce, who had aggression issues and came complete with his own aide.

  "Royce," Matt said.

  "He makes $4,560.85 more than he would working at McDonald's," Derek added.

  Drew scrutinized Peter and Derek. "He makes $2,283 watching a rerun of Friends," Peter said.

  "If he wanted to save up for a new Maserati, it would take him a whole twenty-one hours," Derek said. "Damn, I wish I could play basketball."

  "Derek," Drew picked.

  Derek started to stand up. "Yeah," Peter said, "but even if Michael Jordan saved a hundred percent of his income for the next four hundred and fifty years, he still wouldn't have as much as Bill Gates has right this second."

  "All right," Matt said, "I'll take the homo."

  Peter sh
uffled toward the back of Matt's team. "You ought to be good at this game, Peter," Matt said, loud enough so that everyone else could hear. "Just keep your hands on the balls."

  Peter leaned against a floor mat that had been strung on the wall, like the inside of an insane asylum. A rubber room, where all hell could break loose.

  He sort of wished he was as sure of who he was as everyone else seemed to be.

  "All right," Coach Spears said. "Let's play."


  The first ice storm of the season arrived before Thanksgiving. It started after midnight, wind rattling the old bones of the house and pellets drumming the windows. The power went out, but Alex had been expecting that. She woke up with a start at the absolute silence that came with a loss of technology, and reached for the flashlight that she'd put next to her bed.

  There were candles, too. Alex lit two candles and watched her shadow, larger than life, creep along the wall. She could remember nights like this when Josie was little, when they'd crawl into bed together and Josie would fall asleep crossing her fingers that there would not be school in the morning.

  How come grown-ups never got that kind of holiday? Even if there wasn't school tomorrow--which there wouldn't be, if Alex was guessing correctly--even if the wind was still howling as if the earth were in pain and the ice was caked on her windshield wipers, Alex would be expected to show up in court. Yoga classes and basketball games and theater performances would be postponed, but no one ever canceled real life.

  The door to the bedroom flew open. Josie stood there in a wifebeater tank and a pair of boy's boxers--Alex had no idea where she'd gotten them, and prayed they didn't belong to Matt Royston. For a moment, Alex could barely reconcile this young woman with her curves and long hair with the daughter she still expected, a little girl with an unraveling braid, wearing Wonder Woman pajamas. She tossed back the covers on one side of the bed, an invitation.

  Josie dove underneath them, yanking the blankets up to her chin. "It's freaky out there," she said. "It's like the sky's falling down."

  "I'd be more worried about the roads."

  "Do you think we'll have a snow day tomorrow?"

  Alex smiled in the dark. Josie may have been older, but her priorities were still the same. "Most likely."

  With a contented sigh, Josie flopped down on her pillow. "I wonder if Matt and I could go skiing somewhere."

  "You're not leaving this house if the roads are bad."

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