in a Crowded Place
A Surprise
Getting a letter was such an unprecedented thing that for what seemed like forever Sam just stared at it before she slit open the envelope with a table knife.
The letter inside was neatly folded, and written with blue pen in careful handwriting that looked as if it had taken ages to write. Sam glanced instinctively at the bottom of the page and her stomach flopped around a few times.
The letter itself was brief:
“Dear Samantha,
“I enjoyed talking to you at the library and I am sorry that I acted funny. I hope that you will come to the library this Saturday or any other day because I would like to see you again.
“Al Jordan.”
A confusing surge of emotions battled their way through her. The first was relief that he was still thinking about her, followed by a return of the hurt anger that had consumed her after their last meeting—though that was, to her surprise, considerably softened. In fact, with everything from resentment to curiosity all bubbling up at the same time, it would have been impossible for her to describe how receiving this letter made her feel.
She read through the letter a few more times, and then returned it to its envelope as if that might allow her to put her Al Jordan thoughts back into whatever pocket of her mind they’d been consigned to.
The letter seemed almost ridiculously formal, like the sort of thing you’d do in school when you’re learning to write a letter. Then, reflecting on this, she realized that it was exactly what she would have done if she’d been forced to write a letter.
And in fairness to Al, how else would he contact her? They hadn’t even talked enough for him to know where she lived.
She frowned. So how did he know where to address the letter?
She decided that he must have coaxed it out of the librarians.
She tried to push it all out of her mind. She stalked to her bedroom, threw herself on her bed, and snatched up the Bridge to Terabithia. Maybe reading would force Al out of her mind.
In time she even began to read. And finally the story swept her away.
She was at a point where the main character, Jesse, was torn between spending time with his friend Leslie or spending time with a favourite teacher. She lay on the bed until past the time when she should have been making herself something to eat, completely swept up by the story until she reached the end.
There was a turn in the story that was so terrible that she didn’t even like to think of it. One of the characters in the story had died, and the story was so vividly written that Sam felt as if she’d lost a friend herself. She couldn’t imagine it.
She fanned through the pages of the book, from the end to the beginning and then back again, as if there was a way to somehow add more to the story.
Sam was lost in thought, deeply satisfied by the story but still wishing she could find a way to change the ending. The death had taken her by surprise. She didn’t like to think about death. It was tied to thinking about her parents, and that was a deep-buried thought.
Her parents were photographs in well-thumbed albums that Aunt Stacie kept on a big shelf in her bedroom even though she said they belonged to Sam. Her parents were tiny figures frozen in colours that never seemed quite real. She didn’t remember them.
She allowed the pages of the book to flip through her fingers.
Aunt Stacie was her mom’s sister. When Sam was five weeks old Aunt Stacie concocted a plan to babysit Sam while her parents and grandparents went out for dinner.
They didn’t come home. It was a car accident, a big truck that totally wrecked their little car. Aunt Stacie was barely more than a teenager herself, and suddenly she was Sam’s only family. She had another set of grandparents, of course. At first they said that they wanted to take Sam. Of course, they sometimes wrote and said that they’d like Sam to come for a visit, but that had never happened either. Sam had made a lot of toast and canned soup and folded a lot of laundry when Aunt Stacie went through nursing school.
They might not see each other much, but they were family.
Sam found herself staring at the inside of the back cover, where the little book pocket showed who had taken it out. She idly pulled out the card, and got her second great shock since returning to the apartment after school. The last name on the list was Al Jordan.
She saw right away that this was no more than a coincidence—this Al Jordan had read the book years and years earlier, before she was even born, and was obviously a different person altogether. Yet it was a coincidence that made her thoughts even more jumbled and confused.
It was like fate. It was as if she couldn’t escape thinking about Al.
Maybe she would meet him on Saturday. Maybe she wouldn’t. She still had a couple of days to decide.
Then she noticed something that struck her as even more strange. She distinctly remembered Miss Blanket signing out the book for her—she was sure she’d actually watched Miss Blanket do it—but her name was not there.
* * *
NOTE: Bridge to Terabithia is a real book, written by Katherine Paterson and winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal. It’s a great story. If you can’t find it at your local library, they will almost certainly be able to borrow it for you from another library!

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