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Chapter 8: Scene 28: Is that you Mom?


ThinkLink: If you were only allowed one 5-minute phone call per week, who would you call?


After what seems like a twenty-hour wait, it's finally four o'clock. I sit on a bench with three other kids, waiting outside the cottage manager's office on the far side of the dayroom . Inside, I hear a kid's voice go up and down as he talks on the phone. Why can't he finish up so it'll be my turn? Mom'll be so glad I called. She doesn't say much mushy stuff, but she'll be glad. And I can talk to Nick and Lori. We've got a neighbor who sent his kid away to military school. Maybe Nick'll think I'm in a place like that. But what if Mom hasn't talked to anybody about getting me out? I sit on my tailbone on the hard wood bench until I hurt all the way up my back.

       Delgado comes up to the office door and calls out to the kid on the phone, "Time. You've got one minute to sign off." He turns to me. "I see on the tag board you're on yellow level. You'll work your way out of here yet." He sticks his head back into the office. "That's it," he tells the kid inside. He looks back at me. "You're up now."

       Hurry, hurry, I tell him in my head while he puts the call through. What if no one's home? What if they're outside and they don't hear the phone ring? Delgado hands me the phone. "Five minutes. I'll give you a warning before your time's up."

       "Mom? Is that you Mom?" Blood pounds in my eardrums and I have trouble hearing for a minute. Take it easy or she'll think something's wrong.

       "John? I'm so glad they let you call. But you sound funny. Is somebody standing there with you?"

       "It's all right, Mom. Mr. Delgado's out in the hall. I'm OK and things aren't too bad. I just got my privs , that's my privileges . That's how I got to call you. How're Lori and Nick? Do they miss me?"

       "They ask about you every day. They were so excited when they got the letter you wrote to them this week. They both put notes in the letter I wrote back. Did you get it already?"

       "Not yet."

       "Since they think you've gone away to school, they want to know when you're coming home for vacation. And Red asked how you're doing." Her voice drops. "John, I worry about you. If you get sick or something, will they tell me?"

       "Sure, Mom." I don't know whether they will or not, but no use getting her all revved up . "How about the kids? You sure you're all OK?"

       "We're fine. Nick and Lori are out hunting for her kitten. It didn't come in last night. They'll be so disappointed they didn't get to talk to you."

       "Are you trying to get me out of here? Am I going to get to come home?"

       "Norman's going to talk to his lawyer again. Maybe he can do more than Mr. Jackson did."


       "You remember, Norman Ryan, the man I met at the Grange ." I think of him standing at the back of the courtroom during my hearing , butting in where he doesn't belong.

       "Why this Ryan guy? Why his lawyer?"

       "He's been very nice to me, John. He even took Lori and Nick with us to a movie in town last Sunday."

       A movie? A date? Geez, a boyfriend. Hasn't she got enough problems? I flop across the desk and almost drop the phone. "Mom, you got to be careful of guys."

       "He's not just any guy. He's even had some suggestions about ... about ways I could leave the ranch and get started in a new place. Like we always talked about."

       "I bet! Don't fall for this guy's line, Mom."

       "That's up to me, John." Her voice sounds sharp, and I can see her in my mind, her head tipped down, looking up at me from under scrunched up eyebrows. "I'll work things out. Beside, Norman's a good friend, and I can use a friend right now."

       "What about Pete and Red? Have you talked to them about me coming home?"

       "You know how they are ... they're no help." She doesn't say anything for the longest time.

       "Mom? Mom?"

       "Pete's been saying you shouldn't come back to Carroll County until things quiet down. Roy Fletcher has been talking about what happened to everyone who pulls into the gas station . Pete says people will stop talking about us if ... if you don't come back here right away." Her voice cracks and fades out, and then it gets louder. "I told them if you don't belong here, then the kids and I don't either, so you can see how important it is for me to make a ... a move," she says, trailing off again.

       Delgado comes to the door. "One minute, John. Time to say good-bye."

       I start talking fast. "Why does Pete care what people say? What business is it of theirs anyway?" I give up. There's no answer to why Pete does what he does. "My time's almost up, Mom. If this Norman guy can get his lawyer to help, tell him to hurry." No use turning down help, and if it's Ryan's lawyer, maybe he'll pay him.

       "I'll try, honey. I really will try. Write to me."

       "Bye, Mom." I'm mad at her for not doing anything yet, and mad at myself for hoping so hard. I'm mad at Norman for taking her mind off me. And I'm mad at Pete for being such a hardass. I stumble out to make room for the next kid to get his insides tore up.

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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