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Chapter 19: Hanging Out


ThinkLink: Have you ever known an adult in a position of authority (teacher, police officer, principal, etc.) who was friendly and respectful toward you?

       "How's it going?" Vonda says, squatting down next to where I'm slumped on the brick steps at the high end of the Square.

       "Seems like I've been hanging out here forever."

       "You? You still got new kid written all over. You been here a month? Even that?"

       "Two weeks. Third weekend washing dishes all night. I can hardly stay awake."

       Tess, today's security guard at the Square, walks past. The kids call her Tess Truehart. She's pretty mellow. Doesn't hassle us much. She gives us a nod and a half-wave of her hand. That first day at the Square I ducked behind a pillar every time a guard walked by. Or dodged back behind some guy or other when a cop car cruised Liberty Street. Vonda keeps telling me Cops are too busy to chase down kids hanging out. I believe her, I guess, but I still feel like there's somebody always a step behind me, ready to haul me in.

       I look up along the sidewalk and see a woman dragging a little boy along by his arm. He's howling , trying to get loose of her and she yells, "You're just like your father."

       Vonda sits down on the step beside me and stretches her arms over her head. "You sure don't talk much." She gives me a soft punch on the shoulder. "Walk me down to the other end and we'll see what's happening. I need to see some guys anyway. I got to tell them I'm getting off the street. Maybe for good."

       "You going back home to live?"

       "You serious? Last time I had some place to go was two years ago. I come in after school and there's a note on the kitchen table. 'So long. Rent's paid for the rest of the month. Call your dad.' My mom's gone off to California with some guy she picked up." Vonda makes a growling sound. "So I roll my stuff up in a blanket and come down here. Been around here ever since. Got the freedom blood in me now."

       "Why didn't you call your dad?"

       She growls louder, real low in her throat. "And have him prowling after me again? No thanks."

       "Sorry." Sorry I asked and sorry about her dad.

       She shrugs. "Long as we're being so straight, why don't you go home?"

       "Want to, but my PO's going to send me back to Fire Oak the minute he finds out where I am."

       "You could call your family, at least. Tell them you're OK."

       I look over at the phone booth, like I do every day, trying to make myself call. "What time is it?"

       She looks over her shoulder at a clock on a jewelry store across the street. "Right at four. Think they'd be home?"

       "Yeah. Probably."

       "Then do it."

       I get a rush just thinking about talking to Mom, even if I'm still sore, her getting married and leaving the ranch without telling me. "Wait for me here?"

       "For a minute. Now do it."

       I lope up to the pay phone and do just like I'd played out in my head every day I've been here. I plunk in my quarter, give information Norman's name and Philmont County and call collect .

       "John? It's me, Lori. The lady said did I want to talk to John. John? Is that you?"

       "Hi, Lori. Is Mom..."

       "Nick. It's John on the phone. John, can you come home? We live in a new place, but it's a ranch , too."

       I cut her short. "Lori, put Mom on the phone. Please, Lori!"

       "She's not here. She's over at Mrs. Roberts' place, taking her some food 'cause she's sick. John, Norman's going to 'dopt us."

       "He's what?"

       "He's going to 'dopt us. Nick and me are going to be his real kids. And we're going to have two grown-ups for brothers. One lives in Seattle and the other lives in.... Nick where does the other one live?"

       "Give me the phone." They scuffle over it and Nick wins. "Hi, John. Norman gave me a calf of my own. I get to take him to the county fair. Can you come home when I show him?"

       "Nick, what did Lori mean? Why did she say Norman's going to adopt you? People can't adopt kids that already have a father. They have to be orphans ."

       Nick yells away from the phone, "Norman, we're not orphans are we? You can so adopt us."

       I yell into the phone for him to talk to me. Adopt? What about Johnny? They can't make it so we're not his kids ... can they? "Nick, come back. Tell me what's going on."

       Then I hear his voice. Norman's voice. "John, where are you? Your mother isn't here. Tell me where..."

       "Never mind. I'll call her later."

       "Give me the number. I'll have her call."

       " Portland . No number."

       I start to hang up, but he's still talking. "Where in Portland ? Do you know how worried she's been about you? What you're putting her through?"

       "Yeah, Well, you can tell her I'm doing fine."

       "She'll just be gone a few minutes. Or I can give you the number there."

       "No. Tell her..."

       "At least let me explain about the adoption ."

       "Explain? You bet. Like explain how you're taking over our whole family. What about Johnny? He's their dad."

       "Your father agreed to sign the release papers. He's not able to contribute to their support. He hasn't seen them since they were babies. Says he's satisfied this is what's best for them." Norman spits it out fast, like he knows how close I am to hanging up. "Your mother and I want us to be a real family. We want you to be part of it, too."

       "Me? Get adopted at fifteen? In a pig's eye."

       "We'll talk about it when you come home."

       "I got no home now. Bye."

       "John, don't hang up."

ThinkLink: What do your senses tell you about this scene?

       "Tell Mom..." I want to tell her I miss her, but I can't say that to him. "Tell her I'm OK." Then I do bang the phone back on the hook.

ThinkLink: Have you known anyone your age that was going to have a baby?

       I kick bricks all the way down the steps in the Square, looking for Vonda. I find her next to the statue, the one with the guy holding a brass umbrella over his head.

       She grins at me. "How'd it go?"

       "Shitty." I change the subject. "Where'll you go now?"

       "There's places. I seen a caseworker up at the clinic on Eleventh. She's helping me get in somewhere."

       I look at her closer. "You sick?"

       "OK now. First time I went in was 'cause I had, like, the flu. I didn't think nothing of that. Been sick half the winter, sleeping in the cold, walking around all day in the rain." Then she gets this shiny look, like she's seeing something wonderful, something I can't see. "They said all it is--is I'm having a baby. A real live baby."

       "A baby?" I stare at her and she grins, ear to ear.

       "Yeah. A real kick, huh? I ain't got no family, so I'm making one for myself."

       "You all right? I mean, living on the street and all."

       "Fine so far. The doc, though, she tells me to stay clean. No dope , no drinks, not even smokes. Nothing. She even gave me vitamins to take. This little one don't come with a habit in her first day in the world." Vonda stretches her T-shirt tight over her belly. "Can't see yet. I got six, maybe seven months to go."

       I shake my head. "How're you going to make it?"

       "Stay off the streets, for sure." She stops short. "Not that we'll be too good to come down and see all you guys down here. I'll dress her up just like a little doll, bow in her hair and a fancy dress. Show her off just like Jessie did. Was you here when Jessie brought her baby to the Square?"

       "Nope. Don't know her."

       "She gave the baby to Kate to hold while she went down on Third to pull a trick . Didn't come back for hours. The kid wet herself and screamed her head off for something to eat. I won't never do that to my kid. You'll see." She gets up and pulls me to my feet. "So come around with me. While I tell the guys."

       We walk down into the Square and pass a kid leaning back against brick steps. I look back over my shoulder. It's Pat!

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 Updated on 9/30/03

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