Friday, May 1, Houston, Texas
If Betsy Keyes had known about the car waiting at the curb that morning, waiting for the moment she stepped into the intersection, she would have worn the purple shirt. Purple was for special days, days she marked with stars in her diary. The most
important days got the purple shirt and three stars.
Hopping over a jagged hump in the sidewalk, she shoved a hand in her pocket and pressed a thumb-sized metallic noisemaker: Click! Released it. Click!
Sometimes the dark secret Betsy held inside made her feel exactly like a teakettle about to boil over. Squeezing her toy clicker allowed tiny bits of worry to escape, like steam from a teakettle's whistle. The shiny black cricket painted on top had worn thin from rubbing against her finger. Crickets were supposed to be lucky, weren't they?Click, Click.
But today's worry wasn't the bad kind. Today she would read her story to her sixth-grade classmates, which was worth two stars in her diary, at least. The story was exceptional. The class would love it.... Betsy hoped they would love it. They would laugh, certainly, and clap.
A honeybee zipped from a smelly wisteria vine trailing a chain-link fence and buzzed past her hair. She dodged it, skirting a puddle from last night's rain. Maybe she'd write a story about an angry honeybee that could only buzz-buzz-buzz, while its secrets stayed locked inside forever.
From the time Betsy was five years old, reading picture books out loud to her younger sisters, she'd known she would someday be a fabulous writer. She often skipped the real words and made up her own, inventing new adventures, new characters. Her sisters liked the made-up stories best.
She wished Courtney and Ellie hadn't played sick today. If they'd walked to school with her, she could have practiced her story. She'd whispered to them, before Mama went out to jog, that she didn't think they were really sick. After all, they were both fine at Daddy Jon's party last night.
An empty school bus rumbled past, snorting like an old bear. Betsy wrinkled her nose at the smell. Maybe she'd write a story about a girl bear with two lazy sisters.
She liked going to school early, before engine roar and car horns and the crossing guard's whistle cluttered the morning with noise. It gave her time to think about...things...like what she might have done to make her real daddy go away. She remembered his dark eyes and the way his hair flopped over his forehead like Courtney's, but she could no longer remember his smile.Click, click.
Sidestepping a pink and yellow buttercup that had poked up through a crack in the concrete, dewdrops glistening on its petals, Betsy pushed the empty feeling away. Today was for happy thoughts. As she neared the intersection, she recited the first line of her story over and over, because teacher said the opening was so important. It had to grab a reader and pull, like reeling in a fish.
Betsy was so caught up in her words she didn't notice the car waiting for the moment she crossed the street. She didn't hear the engine ripping toward her until it was too late. As the shiny black cricket bounced from her hand, Betsy knew she should have worn the purple. Today was the last important day of her life.
HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT
RECORDED INTERVIEW: JANUARY 4, 19--I felt the bump and looked in my rearview mirror at the body lying beside the road.... I honestly thought the killing would end there.
Excerpted from Bitch Factor by Chris Rogers. Copyright © 1998 by Chris Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.