Marbles
Chapter 1

Author's Note: I really started to like this idea more and more after I got it. I know exactly what's going to happen and how it'll end and everything, so all you have to do is stay with me. This won't be too long, but hopefully if you like it enough, it'll make up for length. Enjoy!

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"Aw, Boo, guess what happened yesterday? I found out somethin'. Jem likes girls. He's been writin' notes to that ol' Margaret Applewhite in the neighborhood downtown near the courthouse. Her daddy's friends with my daddy. He told him once that every day, he'd look out the win-da and see Atticus in there pacin' the floor and doing the lawyer things he does. That was when Atticus proposed puttin' shades on the courthouse win-das - but Judge Taylor was the first to speak up, and he said" - Scout Finch furrowed her eyebrows, puckered her lips, and spoke in a low voice - "'Mistuh Finch, you know better'n any-un else in this town that those win-das are the on'y good way t' light th' whole courtroom right.' I know if I had an Applewhite lookin' in on me every day while I was carryin' out my business, I'd want shades on my win-das too, no matter how many times I got those "Mister" or "Miss Finch"-es."

The Applewhites always were a wealthy family. The father had had hundreds of dollars in the stock market before it crashed, but they still were well off after it, or they seemed it. The whole family dressed up for church every Sunday, and the children were always dressed flawlessly for school. The only thing that indicated their possible journey downhill was their faces. The mother's had gone first. Her cheeks had already begun to sink into her face, and her neck had gotten considerably more stick-like. The father's mustache had grayed, and his fingers, when out of his pockets (a now uncommon thing, as he tried to hide them) were seen to be twigs, much unlike the old muscle-bound healthy looking fingers he used to have.

Then, the children had gone.

Margaret Applewhite's eyes had begun to darken, and her lips were almost always chapped. One day she came to school with dirt on her collar, and a rip in her dress, something that before, no one anywhere, from any place, any age, would have seen. Daniel Applewhite, her younger brother, now always looked like a gargoyle, with wide eyes, a gaping mouth, and spindly deer-like legs.

Atticus once said that he still respected the family because they still had the courage to hold their head up and pretend like nothing had changed, even though they knew in their hearts that things had, and had changed dramatically, for the worst. He said it took brave men to resist giving in to the effects of horrible circumstances, and that if he had a choice between a rich man, and a person who pretends to be a rich man, he'd choose the latter any day.

"You know what people say? People say they only don't wash their clothes 'cause soap's so expensive, but then, you know, sometimes I wonder why Atticus still makes Cal wash our clothes. They've still got more money than we do. Mr. Applewhite's still got a job and everything. Not the same one as he had before, but he's got one as a shoe salesman. That's as good as any job, I guess.

"I don't know much about Margaret, though - just that she's got a brother my age. He's always talkin' about fancy stuff, like fish eggs and starched suits. I did ask him about the soap once, you know. He kinda tilted up his head and said that he wouldn't even know, that I was askin' the wrong person, 'cause he's not the one who washes the clothes. He said that if it's true, the money's bein' spent on better things. If you ask me, Boo, I can't think of anything much better'n soap."

Nathan Radley had come out of the kitchen soon after, and shooed Scout back home. She walked home gloomily and preoccupied, kicking a can down the road, and flattening it on the sidewalk when she reached her house.

"Jem," she called when she got on the porch. "Jem, you home yet?" Scout opened the screen door carefully, and let it slam shut behind her when she entered the kitchen.

"Yeah, Scout, I'm home," Jem answered from his bedroom, "Atticus isn't, though. He went to see Mr. Applewhite."

"Mr. Applewhite!" Scout exclaimed, giggling, "Fancy that, Jem, I was just talkin' about him!" Scout hopped into Jem's room and flung herself onto his bed. He was on the floor biting into an apple, his school books scattered around him. "Why's he got to see him, Jem?"

"I don't know. Cal didn't tell me much," Jem sighed.

"Do you think it's somethin' bad?"

"I hope it's not."

"Why, 'cause of Margaret?"

Jem shot an angry look at his sister. "What do you know about Margaret?"

"That you like her, is all."

"Good. You don't know nothin' about them Applewhites. They're good, respectable folks, just like us Finches."

"Whatever you say, Jem. I hear they don't even buy soap."

"That's a lot of nonsense, Scout."

"It's true, Jem, it's true, I - "

"Jem? Scout?"

Jem looked at his sister sharply. "Atticus's home."

"Come on, Jem, let's go ask him!"

The children both snapped from their positions and went to greet their father.

"Hey, Atticus!" Scout said, wrapping her arms around his waist. Calpurnia came out of the kitchen as well, and frowned at Scout.

"Goodness me, Jean Louise. Let your father breathe a moment. Mister Finch, did they give you supper already, or should I start cookin' those lambchops?"

"That's fine, Cal," Atticus said, putting his hand on top of his daughter's tangled hair. He attempted to straighten it out with his fingertips, while she pulled away. "Go on and cook - I haven't eaten anything since breakfast." Calpurnia nodded and disappeared. Scout watched her go, buried her face back in her father's coat, and smiled to herself, for she smelled the strong scent of a well-done steak off of him.

"What'd you go over to the Applewhites's house for, Atticus?" asked Jem. Atticus took off his hat with his free hand, drew in a breath, and adjusted his glasses.

"They had to ask me a question, Jem."

"But why were you there so long? You were out too long for just a question."

"Well," said Atticus, shifting his weight, "you know how it is when you get to talking to somebody. It's often difficult to stop. Well, anyhow - Scout, Jem, why don't the two of you go and wash up for supper?"

"Is everything all right, Atticus?" said Scout, who had a natural way of reading people's emotions like a minister would preach the holy book.

"Everything's fine, Scout."

But everything was not fine.

Margaret Applewhite wasn't in school the next day, or the next day, or even the day after that. On the third day, Jem began to search for answers.

"Cecil - hey, Cecil!"

Cecil Jacobs, who had been playing catch with Charles Little, turned to the pair on the other side of the schoolyard, and waved at them. Jem jogged to him, Scout calling to him to wait for her from behind.

"Cecil, do you know anything about Margaret Applewhite being out for three days?"

Cecil looked at Chuck Little uncomfortably, threw his ball back to him, his face steadily growing more and more rigid and dark, and shuffled Jem and Scout to the most deserted part of the yard, near a giant growth of bushes on the side of the schoolhouse, underneath a fully grown maple tree. It was the one part of the yard that no one ever went to because of its absence of sunlight and sheer spookiness. Cecil Jacobs had a knack for getting the mood for a situation, and this time, he hit the nail directly on the head.

"Mrs. Applewhite's dead," he said quietly. Scout looked at Jem, who shifted. There was a long silence, and Jem licked his lips.

"What killed her?"

"Well, there's been rumors goin' round. The police are startin' to think so too, now, that Mr. Applewhite murdered her."

"He the only one they suspect done it?"

"Nah, they have a neighbor they think mighta done it, or had somethin' to do with it."

"And Atticus's defendin' him? Mr. Applewhite, I mean?"

"You sure ask a lot of questions, Jeremy Finch. And, I don't know anything about that. All's I know is that Mrs. Applewhite's been havin' (or had been havin') an affair with the neighbor, Mr. Michael J. Dawson. Recently, though, she told him it had to stop, and she couldn't go on livin' with herself if she had to cheat on her husband anymore."

"Well then maybe she killed herself."

"Could be - or, Mr. Applewhite found out about it, and he shot her."

"She was shot?"

"Yeah. Right in the very middle of her heart. They said it looked like someone'd gone right up to her with a measurin' stick, found the exact center of it, and pushed the bullet right in like you would a thumb tack. Said one bullet killed her instantly."

Jem's face paled, reminded of only one thing. "Thanks, Cecil. We'd better get goin' home now."

"All right, Jem. I'll see you Monday."

"Yeah, see you Monday."

"Bye, Cecil," Scout said, still feeling as though she needed to speak softly. She and Jem slowly set off towards home. Jem didn't talk for the entire walk, so when the two stopped in front of the Radley house, Scout looked at her brother, took a deep breath, and asked him, "What are you thinkin' about, Jem?"

"Well...just that..." Jem paused, unsure whether he would be able to continue. Hesitantly, he did. "We were gone the other night, Scout, remember?"

"Yeah, for CJ's birthday party. So what?"

"What if..." Jem stepped on his left foot with his right one.

"What if what, Jem?"

"What if Atticus did it?"

Scout's eyes widened wildly, and she stamped her foot on the cement. "Jeremy Finch, how dare you say somethin' like that! You know very well that our Atticus ain't the kind'a person that would kill somebody. He wouldn't have it in him, and he wouldn't let himself lose control like that, for any reason!"

"Scout, remember, they called him 'One-Shot Finch'?"

"Well, I don't care, Jem. I don't care what they called him," said Scout, her eyes slowly wetting with tears of frustration and amazement, "I don't care if they called him - if they called him a straight out murderer. Atticus never killed nobody. He didn't do it." Scout stared at her brother for a long time, fiercely wiped the tears from her eyes, and stamped up onto the porch. There, she spun around angrily, her fists at her sides. "I can't believe that you'd even say somethin' like that. I don't know what would ever make you think that. You say it again, Jeremy Finch, and I'll make you look identical to Mrs. Applewhite, ya hear?" Scout sniffed, turned again, and rang the doorbell. Jem remained on the sidewalk, wincing at the shrieking bell, and dropping his shoulders slightly when Nathan let his sister in the door. He gave one last look at the house, then erased the remaining steps between the Radley gate, and his own door.

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Again, you must stay with me. It'll get better, I swear...I hope...Don't ask me, I lack self esteem. But anywho, review! and you may just build it up a little more. And read/review Scout and Boo if you feel like it. That one's all right. See ya later. xox Meredith