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Chapter 16: Scene 57: Why do I have to go to a group home?

     


       "Why do I have to go to a group home ? Why can't I stay at Eagle Crest if they're not going to let me go home?" I ask Jerry. He just grunts and leans over the steering wheel of the van, looking for an exit sign off the freeway . Sam's slouched over on a back seat, half-napping. He got his orders the same time I did, right after we got back from the rafting trip.


       We got all the usual lectures and warnings from Dan. Then Corrie went over the same stuff on our exit interview. "You've got a lot to lose here. Don't mess up if you hope to get back home any time soon. You'll be faced with a lot of temptations. Kids trying to get you into trouble. Others trying to get you to do bad stuff with them. All I can tell you is resist . Hang in there. Don't spoil your chances of going home."


       "Here it is," Jerry says. "The big, little town of Kenwood ."


       Sam rouses up and looks out the window. "Whoever heard of this dinky place?" he says. "If my grandma ever does come see me, she won't be able to find it. I bet there ain't three hundred people in this town."


       "Four hundred eighty-five," I say. "Saw it on a sign back there before we hit Main Street."


       "My grandma don't even drive a car, and I bet no bus ever comes here."


       "Enough already," Jerry says. "It's right off the freeway . She'll find you." He drives on, looking at each place we pass. "At last. There's the Montgomery place. Get your stuff together."


       I pull my two paper sacks up off the floor and look out at the old house. Feels like we're being dropped off like bags of groceries. A heavy-set woman and a man with a bushy dark-gray beard stand in front of the porch that runs around three sides of the house.


       Sam pulls over his old red canvas bag and looks out, sizing up the place . "Don't seem too bad. Lots of trees and bushes. And a hammock . I could go for laying around there. Whad'ya think?"


ThinkLink: What do you imagine would be different if you lived in a house with adults that you didn’t know yet?

       I try to get a better look at Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery. They're old-fashioned looking. She's wearing an apron over a dress and he's got gold-rimmed glasses and overalls on. Like they're dressed for a barn dance. "Maybe they'll be OK," I say. I hook my thumb at Sam. "Come on, let's give it a try." Like we have a choice. I twist the paper sacks around in front of me, and don't see a crack in the walk. I stumble right at their feet.


       "Watch it, young man," Mr. Montgomery says to me. "We don't want to lose you before we get you in the front door." Jerry sorta chokes. He sure doesn't want to lose us before he hands us over.


       Mrs. Montgomery pushes her hair back off her forehead. "Let's not all stand around. Come on inside with your things. Put them in the front hall until we take you up to your room."


       We file past her through a dim entry hall and into an old-time parlor . I look around at the brown woodwork and the faded overstuffed furniture . Dark-green drapes cut out part of the light that filters in through the tall, narrow windows.


       Everything may be old, but it's clean – real clean – too clean. It's nicer than our house on the ranch . Grandpa Steele never did fix it up much, and Red and Pete haven't done one thing to it since they got the place from him. Mom does the best she can, but Pete won't cut loose for paint or curtains.


       Jerry's making polite talk. "Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery, I'm Jerry Krider from Eagle Crest Forest Camp. Here's John Hanson and this is Sam Phillips."


       Mr. Montgomery takes my hand and squeezes hard, and then he leans over and grabs Sam's. "Get to know a man by his handshake, right off. You two will do fine."


       "Now, don't just stand there," Mrs. Montgomery says, "Sit down. Jerry, I'll get you a cup of coffee and maybe the boys would like some Kool-Aid after their trip."


       Kool-Aid? "Yes, ma'am," I say.


       Mrs. Montgomery beams at me. "It's so nice to have a boy who knows his manners. All of you sit right down here in the parlor, and I'll be right back."


       Mr. Montgomery points us toward the faded couch. "Jerry, I appreciate you bringing us two such promising young men." He stands in the middle of the room looking down on us. "I'm sure this will be a positive experience for you boys, and you should look on this as your opportunity for proving yourselves."


       He doesn't seem like he expects an answer, so I just look around. Ever since we got here a funny feeling's been building up in the pit of my stomach . I don't know why. Montgomery acts nice enough. Actually, he's a big talker. Even after Jerry finishes his coffee and starts down the front walk, Mr. Montgomery follows after him, talking all the way.



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