Authors: David Levithan
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction.
Copyright © 2009 by David Levithan
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Love is the higher law / David Levithan. — 1st ed.
Summary: Three New York City teens express their reactions to the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and its impact on their lives and the world.
[1. September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001—Fiction. 2. Interpersonal relations—
Fiction. 3. Homosexuality—Fiction. 4. World politics—1995–2005—Fiction.
5. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
To Craig Walker
(who was next to me on 9/11)
To Eliot Schrefer
(who was across the table when
I wrote most of this book)
Table of Contents
WHAT JUST HAPPENED
MY FIRST THOUGHT
My first thought is:
My mother is dead
When Mrs. Shields, the school secretary, shows up so gravely in the doorway and gestures for Mrs. Otis to come over to her, I am sure that my mother has died, that I am now going to have to pack up my books and go to Sammy’s school and collect him and tell him that Mom is dead and I’m all he has now and somehow we’ll get by. I am so sure that something is wrong, incredibly wrong, and I can’t imagine what else it could be. I am already gathering my books as Mrs. Shields whispers to Mrs. Otis. I see Mrs. Otis nod, distressed, and then Mrs. Shields disappears back into the hall. I sit up straighter, waiting for Mrs. Otis to look at me, to say my name. But instead she looks at all of us and says, “Class, a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”
Katie Johnson gasps. Other kids start talking.
I am blank.
And then Mrs. Otis asks, “Do any of you have parents working in the World Trade Center?”
We look around. No. But Teresa says that Jill Breslin, who’s in one of the other senior English classes, has a father who
works there. I think of our apartment, only ten blocks away from the towers. I know my mother isn’t home. I know she left with me and Sammy this morning and continued uptown to her office. But suddenly I’m wondering:
What if she forgot something? What if she went back to the apartment? What if she took the subway down to Chambers Street, underneath the towers?
I’ve gone from being sure she’s dead to being unsure she’s alive, and that’s much scarier, because it almost feels rational.
Mrs. Otis informed us on the first day of school that there would be no cell phone usage tolerated in class, but now it’s the fifth day of school and there’s nothing she can do. She’s trying to hold it together, but she’s as confused as we are. Cell phones are ringing, and all these kids are telling their parents they’re okay, we’re all okay—our school is a good thirty blocks north of the Trade Center. Abby Winter’s mom starts telling her what the news is saying, and then she tells it to the rest of us: “The plane hit around the ninetieth floor. The building’s still standing, and people are evacuating. Firemen are going up. The other tower looks like it’s okay…”
My friend Randy spots a TV in the back of the class, but when he tries it out, all we get is static. I know Randy has a phone and I ask him if I can use it. I try calling Mom’s office, but nobody picks up. I leave a message on the answering machine, telling her I’m okay.
The principal gets on the PA and says that all the classes have been informed of the “situation downtown,” and that if there are any “concerned students,” they should come to the guidance
suite. We all know what he means by
—he means if your parents are there.
We’re not a big school. There are only about seventy kids in each grade. So I can’t help imagining Jill Breslin down there in the guidance office, and a few other kids. Teresa’s getting frantic now, saying she has to go see Jill. And it’s not even like they’re best friends. Mrs. Otis tries to calm her down, saying the guidance counselors will take care of it. And I think that kind of makes sense, since the guidance counselors are adults, but it also doesn’t, because even if Teresa isn’t best friends with Jill, she definitely knows Jill more than any of the guidance counselors do.
The thought of Jill Breslin in that guidance office makes me feel I should go to the lower school and see Sammy. I wonder if they’ve told the second graders what’s happening, or if Mrs. Lawson is closing the blinds and giving them a spelling test.
Suddenly there’s this big scream from the classroom next to ours—at least ten people yelling out. Mrs. Otis goes to the door connecting her room to Mr. Baker’s, and about half our class follows, so we’re there when she asks what’s going on. But nobody needs to answer—Mr. Baker’s gotten his TV to work, and it’s not one but two towers that are burning, and they’re saying on the TV that there was a second plane, that the towers are under attack, and seeing it erases any premonitions I might have had, because even if I felt something was wrong, I never would have pictured this. This isn’t even something I’ve feared, because I never knew it was a possibility. Kids are crying now, both in Mr. Baker’s class and in my class, and we’re looking at each other like
What do we do?
and the principal is on the PA again telling everyone to remain calm, which only makes it worse. It’s like the principal knows something he’s not telling us, and the TV is saying that people are jumping, and Teresa just loses it completely, and we’re all thinking about Jill and who knows who else, and people are trying to call their parents on their cell phones, but now all the lines are busy, or maybe they’ve stopped working, and I don’t even have a cell phone and neither does my mother. I just want to get Sammy and go home.
All of our class is in Mr. Baker’s room now—it’s practically the whole twelfth grade. Mrs. Otis and Mr. Baker are in the front, talking to each other, and then Mrs. Otis heads to the office to see what’s going on. Randy offers his phone to me again, but says it’s not really working, although maybe it will work for me. It doesn’t, and I don’t know what else I can do, except I realize now I should’ve given my mom Randy’s number. The TV is showing people downtown running away. I tell Randy I have to get my brother, and saying it to him makes it mean I’m going to do it.
I go up to Mr. Baker and say my brother’s in the lower school, in second grade, and I have to go get him. This girl Marisol hears me and says her sister’s over there, too, in first grade, and is probably really scared. Mr. Baker says nobody is supposed to leave the school, but we tell him we’re only going across the street, and we must sound really desperate, because he looks at us and says it’s fine, as long as we come straight back.
I don’t know Marisol at all—she’s new to the school, and the only reason I remember her name is because when it was called in attendance on the first day, I thought it was a pretty name. I take her to the side door, because I’m afraid someone from the office will stop us if we try the main door.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Marisol says.
“I know,” I say.
But we have no idea until we’re out the door and onto Sixth Avenue. We don’t even see it at first—we just see everyone else looking up, and then we turn to look back at what they’re seeing. The towers are burning and people are cupping their hands over their eyes and staring straight at it. Shaking their heads or crying. Looking at each other in disbelief. Total strangers are talking to each other, saying “Oh my Lord” and “I never thought …” And then there are the people—this steady flow of people—coming from downtown. These are the people we were seeing on the TV just a few minutes ago, escaping what just happened. Some of them are covered in what looks like heavy dust, chalk almost, and others are just ragged from getting away. Strangers are coming up to them and asking if they’re okay, if they need any help. One guy has opened up his shoe store and is giving out sneakers to women in heels. Just giving them away.
Marisol grabs my hand, and I let her. We’re about to cross the street when we hear a siren—an ambulance heading north. There should be more ambulances coming from downtown, I think. It’s scary that there’s just one.
Marisol is crying now, and she takes her hand from mine so she can wipe her eyes.
“Sorry,” she says.
There’s a guard at the lower school, and even though we tell him we’re here to get Marisol’s sister and my brother, he makes us sign in and get a pass. I show Marisol where her sister’s room is, then say goodbye. We’re far from the only visitors—there are moms and dads coming to pick up their kids, and I have to admit that I’m hoping our mom will be one of them. I know she’d come for Sammy first.
I want her to be here already. Because that would mean she’s definitely alive.
I get to the classroom and Mom is nowhere to be found. There’s no TV, but the kids are definitely aware that something bad is happening, because parents keep arriving, and while nobody wants to say how bad it is, there’s no way to pretend it’s a normal day.
Sammy’s teacher, Mrs. Lawson, is the same teacher I had for second grade. “Are you here for Sammy?” she asks, and I say yes. Then I realize she’s asking if I’m going to take Sammy away, and I tell her that we live downtown, so there’s nowhere for us to go. I’ve never in my life said those words before.
There’s nowhere for us to go
. I feel it. I ask Mrs. Lawson if she needs any help.
I need to stay here. I need to stay close to Sammy.
“I’d love that,” she says. She gestures toward the desks. “We were drawing flowers. Maybe if you could go around and help them. At least until everything’s straightened out.”
My first stop is Sammy, who gives me a big hug and asks me if we’re going home like Lucas is.
“Not yet,” I tell him. “Let’s do some drawing first.”
“Is Mommy coming?”
“Yes,” I say. “She’s on her way.”
The kids’ desks are pushed together so that each set of six makes a tabletop. Sammy’s best friend, Spencer, is at the same tabletop as him, and he asks me if
mommy is coming. I tell him I think so.