As the last bell of the day rang, angel sullivan sat quietly in her seat in the last row of Mr. English's room and waited for her classmates to disappear before she even started stowing her books in her backpack. Finally, when even the chatter in the corridor outside the room had died down, she stood up to pull on her jacket.
"You okay, Angel?" the teacher asked, peering worriedly at her from behind his desk.
Okay? she repeated silently to herself. How could she be okay after what had happened this morning? And if Mr. English didn't know what was wrong, how was she going to explain it to him? After all, it had happened right there during the first period, just before the bell sounded, when Mr. English asked the class if they wanted to sing "Happy Birthday" to her. "Happy Birthday," like it was still third grade! Didn't he know that none of her classmates even spoke to her except to say mean things? So there she'd sat, in her seat in the last row, her face burning with embarrassment as a horrible silence fell over the room and half the class turned to stare at her. The only thing that saved her from bursting into tears of humiliation was that the bell had rung. Then everyone rushed for the door.
And now Mr. English wanted to know if she was okay?
Biting her lip but saying nothing, she hurried toward the door and the safety of the corridor beyond, which with any luck would now be empty.
She heard Mr. English, but was already out of the room, the door swinging shut behind her.
Angel. What kind of name was Angel?
For a long time-well, maybe not all that long, but for a while, anyway-she had thought it was a wonderful name, maybe the most wonderful name in the world. Even now, memories of phrases from when she was barely more than a baby echoed softly in her mind.
Daddy's little Angel.
Mommy's little Angel.
Grammy's perfect little Angel.
It had been Grammy who gave her the very first Halloween costume she could remember. It was a white dress that Angel was certain had been made of satin but her mother insisted was only cheap muslin. But it didn't matter, because it had white sequins sewn all over it that glittered even when she was standing as still as she possibly could. On the back of the dress there were two wings Grammy had made of papier-mâché and then covered with white feathers.
"I've been saving them ever since you were born," Grammy had told her as she carefully fitted the wings onto her tiny three-year-old shoulders. "Some people might tell you they're only seagull feathers, but don't you believe them."
"But if they didn't come from seagulls, where did they come from?"Angel had asked.
"Angels," Grammy told her, looking deep into her eyes. "Angels just like you. They come to me when I dream, and leave feathers on my pillow. Feathers from real angels for my own perfect little Angel."
Angel still had those wings, but they no longer hung on the wall of her room, as they once had. Now they were wrapped in tissue paper and packed away in an old hat box she'd found in the basement of the house they lived in when she was nine, and even though her mother thought they should be thrown away, Angel knew they never would be. They were all she had to remind her of Grammy, who died a little while after that wonderful Halloween when she'd worn the angel costume, and Grammy held her hand and led her up to the porches decorated with jack-o-lanterns. Angel remembered being too shy to knock on the doors herself, and too terrified of the strangers who answered the doors to call out "Trick or treat," so Grammy had done that for her too.
Then, even before all her Halloween candy was gone, Grammy had died.
And she had been alone ever since, with only the wonderful feathered wings to remember her grandmother by.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Black Creek Crossing by John Saul. Copyright © 2004 by John Saul. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.