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The Truth

The Truth Trouble. Kids smell it coming the way deer catch the faintest trace of smoke on the wind. Necks jerk to attention. Someplace, the fires begin. Like deer, the class becomes one concentration. All eyes follow the boy summoned to the front. They pretend subtraction, scratch pencil in the margins - but every ear is tuned in, detecting, deciphering: what's he done?

`` ... And I want the truth, young man!'' Mrs. Rasmusson is wearing her long green dress with the orange roses. Her voice is made of ice and thorns.

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The boy's eyes cut left and right. His tongue tip darts from the corners of his mouth. ``The truth!'' he thinks, ``What's she mean by the truth? It's not just what I did and when! How about why? How about what Jimmy Skeeter said? How about Rachel and her friends after school? How about late nights, letters home, a whole year of better-not-tell?''

The boy is reaching for words in the dark, wrestling them in his mind. The windows glare at him. Shadows climb the chalkboard. The dictionaries pick him clean. The floor beneath his sneakers sags like a trampoline, then lofts him slowly, tumbling in the air. The teacher is waiting. The class is waiting. The universe is whispering his name, waiting for the boy or the truth to come down. There is no sound in the room but his heart, his skittery headstrong heart, and the radiator hissing.

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