A week before Labor Day, at Hillcrest middle school, someone had been raped.
            “It happened right here,” Chris said.
            They were by the back doors, where a strip of black top ran along the edge of the building. It was in the morning, before the first bell rang, and the air was crisp.
            Shawn put his books down and squatted, as though he were looking for something.
            At first, Danny didn’t know what they were talking about.  He kept his hands in his pockets and glanced down at Shawn, then at the books. In his backpack, Danny had the same spiral notebook, but Danny’s had a blue cover and tabs to keep his subjects divided. 
            “I heard she ran home that way,” Chris said, casting his arm back in a gesture toward the field and the woods beyond it. “But it happened here. The paper said it was by the back doors.”  Chris put his hand into a brown lunch bag that he was carrying.
            Looking down at the black top, Danny heard the crunch of Chris biting into an apple. Danny remembered what his older brother Jeremy had said at the kitchen table, about how the creep was in his senior class, how he’d always seemed a little weird. He had red hair, and he’d done something to a girl, but Danny didn’t know what exactly. It must have been something awful, because Jeremy had said that when the police had finally found the creep, fresh welts and old scabs were all over his body, from a cigarette lighter that he kept in his desk drawer.
            “Who do you think she is?”  Shawn asked.
            Actually, it occurred on the grass, where the sod was churned up in patches and punctured with cleat holes. Her left cheek was pressed to the dirt, and his fingers were squeezing the back of her neck, and he was saying Shutup, Shutup, Shutup, and she had no idea that she was making any sound at all.
            The guessing began:
            Two hundred and eighty-one students were in the seventh grade class, and out of these, one hundred and sixty-three were girls. On his way to homeroom, Danny glanced at people in the corridor, sensing that the smiling faces could be dismissed. Girls crowded by lockers in groups and pairs; they talked and laughed. There were new breasts and new hips, and he felt that for many girls, their bouncing gait was given a new grace. He noticed that a girl who had worn thick black glasses last year was now wearing glasses with thin wire frames. Another girl, Cindy, had painted her lips red and kept brushing her hair from her face. Linda wore a skirt and had emerald studs in her ears. Nancy was still fat.
            But some of the girls had downcast eyes, and they didn’t seem very happy. The hurt girl was probably one of these, but there were still too many to say which one she was. 
            At lunch, Danny listened, realizing that Chris and Shawn assumed that most likely she was absent. Apparently, it took longer than a week to recuperate from being raped.
Shawn dipped his straw into his chocolate milk, put his finger on top of the straw, and pulled it out. Lifting his finger, he let the milk flow back into the carton.
            Chris, who several periods ago had eaten the lunch his mother had packed for him, was eating two servings of school tattertots. He put a dab of ketchup on each one.
            Danny listened.
He knew that a story was spreading, because Shawn said things like “Jack said,” and “Pam said,” and “I heard.”  Chris seemed to have an intuitive knowledge of the details. As far as they knew, four girls were absent. Morgan, the short girl, had moved away; Vicki’s father had just died of a heart attack; Emily was sick with strep throat or something.
            “Maybe mono.”
            “Maybe.”  Chris puckered his mouth into a kiss.
            They laughed. Danny smiled.
            And Katie might have been held back a grade. She wasn’t in anybody’s class.

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