Janie Face to Face - By Caroline B. Cooney


The woman who had once been Hannah barely remembered that day in New Jersey.

It was so many years ago, and anyway, it had been an accident.

It happened because she was driving east. There was no reason to head east. But when she stole the car and wanted to get out of the area quickly, she took the first interstate ramp she saw. It was eastbound.

She had never stolen a car before. It was as much fun as drugs. The excitement was so great that she had not needed sleep or rest or even meals.

Everybody else driving on the turnpike had experience and knew what they were doing. But although the woman once known as Hannah was thirty, she had done very little driving.

Back when she was a teenager and everybody else was learning to drive, her cruel parents had never bought her a car. They rarely let her drive the family car either. They said she was immature. And in the group she joined, only the leaders had cars.

She found the group during her freshman year at college. She hated college. She hated being away from home and she hated her parents for making her go to college. Even more, she hated admitting defeat.

The group had embraced Hannah. Inside the group, she did not have to succeed or fail. There were no decisions and no worries. She did not have to choose one of those frightening things called a career. Her parents—those people from her past—had always been on her case about her future. Always demanding that she consider her skills and abilities.

Hannah did not want to consider things.

She wanted other people to consider.

While she was still useful to the group, earning money and getting new converts, she kept the name they had given her. But time passed and the group disbanded. Its members ended up on the street. She found herself homeless and helpless, and she needed another name. For a while she called herself Tiffany. Then she tried Trixie.

In the years that followed, she made use of stolen paperwork. She was pretty good at lifting the wallets of careless college kids in coffee shops. They had too much anyway. They needed to share.

After many hours on that turnpike in that stolen car, Hannah was amazed by a sign reading WELCOME TO NEW JERSEY. She had crossed the entire country. If the road kept going, it would bump into the Atlantic Ocean. She stopped for gas. Now the signs gave directions for the Jersey Shore.

During her childhood in Connecticut, her family used to go to the beach. She didn’t mind the sand, but her parents always wanted her to learn how to swim. Swimming was scary, and she refused to try, but her parents were the kind of people who forced you to do scary things. She still hated them for it. The group had told her not to worry about her mother and father. Parents were nothing; the group was her family.

No. She would not go to the beach today, because it reminded her of things better forgotten.

She got back on the interstate. It was difficult to merge with traffic. She crept along the shoulder for a while until there was finally a space. She couldn’t seem to drive fast enough. People kept honking at her.

It occurred to her that she had not eaten in a long time. A billboard advertised a mall. She took the exit.

The mall was disgusting, full of American excess. People were shopping too much, eating too much, talking too much.

Her parents had been like that. They loved things. They always bought her things. They spoiled her. It was their fault that she had struggled later on.

She decided she wanted ice cream. At the food court, she was shocked by how much they charged and had to take another turn around the mall to walk off her fury. How dare they ask that much! American society was so greedy.

She took the escalator to the second floor. She was an excellent shoplifter, but she could not think of a way to shoplift ice cream. She would have to pay for it. Like the gas! She had had to pay for the gas, too!

A toddler was standing just outside a shoe shop.

Hannah did not care for small children, who were sticky and whiny. But this one was cute enough, with ringlets of red-gold hair. Hannah reached down, taking hold of those warm little fingers. The toddler gave her a beautiful smile.