Fractured an Islamic Fiction Story © 2010 Linda D. Delgado
Chapter 1 – Liar
Andrew took the stairs two at time. He was breathing hard and his face was suffused with a bright red color. His hands were doubled up in fists and he felt as if his brain might explode. Andrew was angry. He had never been this angry in his life and he didn’t know what to do with it. He reached the top landing and kicked open his bedroom door and slammed it shut with a fist. Andrew paced back and forth mumbling in angry spurts before throwing himself across his bed and beating on a pillow.
He closed his eyes, but could still see his mother’s face. Her silent tears streaming down her cheeks. With slumped shoulders, she looked as if she had been physically kicked. All the sparkle he had become accustomed to seeing in her eyes was gone, replaced by pain and sadness. He had caused this, but he wasn’t sorry. And his twelve year old sister’s strident and accusatory voice echoed in his ears. “Andy you come back here and tell Mom you are sorry. Andeee…!”
How could he apologize when he wasn’t sorry? She’s a liar. After nearly three years of living with the taunts of former friends and classmates, Andrew had enough of it. It was her fault his Dad had moved out and a year later divorced her. It was her fault that his high school years, which should have been the greatest, were something he hated. He hated going to school and hated her showing up at his football games and her showing up dressed in those ridiculous clothes at any other school activities. He felt humiliated. He was seventeen and she had destroyed the family and his future.
Andrew was sure that she would come to her senses after 9/11 happened, but she didn’t change. If anything she dug in her heels and was even stronger in that crazy religion she was practicing.
Today when he confronted her about his dad she told him more lies to excuse what she had done. He wouldn’t believe her and this time he did not stay silent.
Andrew turned over onto his back and remembered the days when he had a family. When they were together and happy. Mom cooked meals and was always there to give advice. Dad was always teasing Mom and they had lots of friends they visited and invited to their home. His own friends used to hang out after football practice and on week-ends. No one visited his home anymore. Dad had spent many of his week-ends doing cool stuff with him and his sister and they all went to church together on Sundays. They were a ‘normal’ American family. Sure he’d get mad at either of his parents when they had to tell him no, but all kids got that message from parents sometimes.
Dad even joked about how frequently they changed churches. Something his Mom initiated when she said she could not find the answers she was looking for from a priest or minister. It was a family joke, their switching memberships in different churches. Andrew and his sister hadn’t minded because every time they began going to a new church the church members were especially nice to them just because they were new members.
Today when he confronted his mother about wanting to go live with his Dad she answered with nothing but a pack of lies. He knew it was her religion that had made her into a different person. She was not the mom he grew up with and loved. She said awful things about his Dad that he refused to believe. Even Mandy was suckered into believing all the awful lies their mother had told him today about their Dad.
His mother had said that his parent’s marriage was in trouble before she changed her religion. That his dad was seeing his secretary. She told Andrew that his dad did not pay child support and the reason his dad ever invited Mandy or Andrew to visit him in his new home was because the secretary was living with his Dad. Lies! His dad told him he had to travel a lot and his apartment was a small one-room apartment. All he could afford because of the support payments he made. His Dad visited twice a year and took Andrew and Mandy on a one-week vacation. His dad told him he had to save money all year just to do that.
Andrew heard the knock on his door and his mother’s soft voice asking if he was okay and if she could come in. He ignored her and after several tries, his mother stopped knocking and asking.
Andrew woke up gradually and rubbed his aching eyes. He looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It was a few minutes after midnight. The house was quiet. Before he had fallen into a fitful sleep Andrew had made some decisions about his life. A lot depended on his dad, but he felt confident that his dad would understand and give his support. Andrew got up and went to his closet where he pulled out an empty duffle bag. Without making any noise, he carefully packed it with the clothes he thought he would need and took a copy of his birth certificate from his desk drawer. He checked his wallet to make sure his new driver’s license was in it and took out all the money he had saved in a sock he kept under his bed mattress.
Andrew opened his bedroom door slowly. He picked up the duffel bag and his shoes and headed for the stairs. He cleared the alarm system and once outside the house put on his tennis shoes. Walking to the driveway, he opened the driver’s door to his beat-up 1957 Chevy and tossed in the duffle bag.
Andrew’s dad had bought the car for peanuts because it needed a complete overhaul from engine to body work. He left before he and Andrew did much of work restoring the ‘classic”. In the years following his parent’s divorce, Andrew had grown to over 6’ and he had plenty of muscle built in the gym and on the football playing field. He was broad shouldered like his dad and was naturally intuitive when it came to fixing cars. Andrew rebuilt the Chevy on his own using the money he earned from a part-time job at a local vehicle repair shop.
Using every ounce of his physical strength, Andrew pushed the car backwards down the driveway into the street. He pushed the car forward to the stop sign before he started the ignition. It was a hundred and sixty three miles to the town where his dad lived and Andrew was anxious to get there and talk to his dad before his mother or sister discovered he was gone.
Andrew drove around the town for nearly two hours before he found his dad’s place. He couldn’t stop anywhere and ask for directions. At this early morning hour, some adults taking a close look at him and discounting his size would wonder what he was doing driving around by himself in the early morning hours looking for an address.
Andrew sat in the car and stared at the ranch-style home with its neatly mowed lawn and flower gardens. He had the correct address. It wasn’t the apartment complex his dad had so often told him about. Andrew continued to sit in the darkened car with his thoughts a jumble of confusion. There had to be a good reason for his dad telling him he lived in a one-room apartment. Andrew felt sure, well almost, about this. Once he talked to his dad he’d know the good reason for his dad telling him something different from the house he was looking at right now.
Andrew was afraid but didn’t want to admit this. Afraid that maybe what his mother had told him might be true. No! He pushed that thought away. He squared his shoulders, grabbed his duffle bag from the seat, and got out of the car. Slowly he walked down the sidewalk to the front door of the house. All the lights in the house were out, but what looked like a fairly new Buick was parked in the driveway. Somebody was home. He hoped it was his dad. Taking a deep breath, he depressed the buzzer several times and waited. He depressed the buzzer a second time and waited some more. Andrew was just about to leave when an outside light was switched on and the front door began to open.
“Andrew! What are you doing here?” The shock and disapproval on his dad’s face made Andrew shrivel inside. He stared back at his father, momentarily unable to speak.
“Who is it honey?” a woman’s voice came from inside the house. Andrew’s dad continued to stand in the doorway. He hadn’t invited Andrew inside.
“Go back to bed. I’ll be with you in a minute.” Andrew’s dad looked back over his shoulder. When he did, the door opened a little more. Andrew could see a woman standing in the long hallway leading from the foyer.
“Russell, the baby is awake now and you know that there is no way I can go back to sleep!” came the plaintive whine of the woman. As if in agreement, Andrew heard the cries of a baby from behind his father’s figure still blocking most of the doorway.
Andrew’s father stepped outside onto the porch and closed the front door behind him. “Does your mother know you are here?” he demanded.
Andrew stared hard at his dad without responding.
“Why didn’t you call me at the office like I have told you or call me on my cell phone?” Andrew’s father’s tone of voice was accusatory as if Andrew had done something really awful and deserved to be chastised for it.
“That woman was your secretary, Brenda, isn’t she? Is that baby your baby?” Andrew managed to choke out.
“Brenda happens to be my wife and that baby happens to be my daughter Britannia. I was planning on telling you about them, but the time just never seemed to be right.”
“Isn’t this just great. A wacko religious nut for a mother and a lying, cheating, and cheapskate for a father!”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that!”
“I’ll dare to talk to you any way I want to and what’s more this is for all the lies you told me and my sister.” Andrew’s arm shot out and his fist connected with his father’s face.
His father staggered back against the door from the force of the punch and slowly crumpled to the porch. He watched silently as Andrew turned and without a backwards glance walked down the sidewalk, got in the old Chevy, and drove away.
Chapter 2 – Running
“Mom! Mom! Andy’s gone.” Mandy’s high pitched voice preceded her as she rushed into her mother’s bedroom and shook her sleeping mother’s shoulder. “Mom, wake up. Andy’s not in his room. His car is gone and he took some of his stuff with him.”
Janice heard her daughter’s loud and anxious voice and clawed her way from sleep into the present. Janice looked at the clock radio. It was 7 AM. and she had slept through morning prayer. The stress and frustration of the previous evening had led to exhaustion before sleep finally overcame her. She hadn’t heard the alarm or didn’t remember turning it off. She sat up and looked at Mandy. “What do you mean Andy’s gone?” Janice said while trying to organize her thoughts.
“I went downstairs to start breakfast and looked out the kitchen window and saw Andy’s car wasn’t in the driveway. I started to feel scared so I rushed upstairs and knocked on Andy’s door, but he didn’t answer so I went into his bedroom. His bed was empty and his computer is not on his desk. I checked his closet and his large duffel bag is gone. His dresser drawers all pulled open and it looks like he took most of the stuff from the drawers. His jacket isn’t in his room either. I checked and half his jeans and shirts are missing. Mom, the sock where he keeps his money under his mattress is missing, too.”
Janice rushed out of the bedroom and went to the opened door of her son’s room. It was just as Mandy described it. Janice felt a coldness surrounding her heart. The room felt empty of Andy. Not just his material things.
Mandy stood in the doorway behind her mother as silent tears streamed from her eyes. Janice turned and looked at her daughter. What do I do? Where could Andrew have gone and being so upset and driving, he could get careless and end up in an accident or worse, she thought and then quickly shoved the negative thoughts from her mind.
“Maybe he went to one of his friend’s home to calm down. He probably just wanted some space to think,” Janice tried to reassure her daughter and herself. “We’ll wait until noon and if he hasn’t come home, I’ll make some calls to the homes of his friends.”
“Mom, Andy doesn’t have any friends he’d go to. He stopped hanging around with anyone a long time ago. You haven’t noticed that his old friends don’t come here anymore?” Mandy’s almost accusatory tone of voice cut through the growing sense of panic Janice felt and her hands began to tremble.
“What do you mean Andy doesn’t have any friends? He plays on the football and basketball teams. Surely he has lots of friends with the other boys on the teams?”
“Mom, Andy is always mad or angry since Dad left. He’s pushed away all his friends. He says they rejected him, but that’s not true. Andy’s the one who pushed them away. He’s even gotten into some fights with some boys who made remarks about your hijab.”
“But he never said anything to me about this. I didn’t know. Janice said softly shaking her head as if trying to deny what her daughter said. Why didn’t you tell me, Mandy?”
“I promised Andy not to tell you about the fights and I thought you would have noticed when his friends didn’t come over to the house anymore.” Mandy mumbled. She couldn’t believe her Mom had been so clueless.
“I’ll call his boss at the repair shop. Maybe Andy went to see Mr. Gates. Maybe Andy is there or told him where he was going.”
“Mom you should call Dad first. I think that’s probably where Andy went.”
“But Andy doesn’t know where your Dad lives. Your Dad has never taken either of you to his new home. If I call him and Andy hasn’t shown up there, what will I tell your Dad?”
“I don’t know what you tell Dad, but you are going to have to call him if Andy doesn’t come home. May as well find out now if Andy went to see Dad. Knowing Andy, he probably went there to prove to himself that what you told him wasn’t true. He practically worships Dad and thinks he can’t do anything wrong. That’s why Andy got so mad at you, Mom. You should have told us the truth instead of covering for Dad.”
“I know this now, Mandy, but I thought it was your Dad’s place to tell you kids. I didn’t want to poison your minds against your father and his short comings. How did you get so smart and figure things out on your own about your Dad?”
“Why would you have to work two jobs, now if Dad was paying the child support? You work four 10-hour shifts at the bakery and then you work Saturdays and Sundays at the Food Mart, Mom. The only day off you have is on Friday and you go to Andy’s games on Fridays.” Mandy continued without giving Janice a chance to answer. “Why did Dad never let us call him at his apartment or take us there? Before the divorce and Dad moving out, I used to hear Dad sneaking in late at night and I overheard some of your arguments even though you tried to keep them quiet. I put two and two together, Mom. When we went on vacation with Dad, he was always calling someone. He said it was the office, but he’d call late at night when he thought we were asleep. Andy was always busy with his friends and football practice or basketball practice and didn’t notice what was going on with Dad and you.”
Janice sighed and gave Mandy a hug. “Well, let’s go downstairs and get this call to your Dad over with. God willing Andy is there with him and we can get this situation worked out. If he’s not there and there aren’t any friends to call, and he’s not at the repair shop, then I am going to have to call the police and make a report.”
“I know Mom. The longer we wait, the harder all this is going to be on everyone.” Mandy said as she headed down the stairs in front of her mother.
The phone rang five times before the receiver was picked up and a woman’s voice said, “Hello.”
“Hello. I’d like to speak to Russell, please.”
“Whose calling?” the voice was now suspicious and edgy.
“This is Janice, his ex-wife. I really need to speak with Russell about an important matter. Is he home or at the office?”
“If it’s about the thug you are raising, he’s just lucky I didn’t call the police and have him arrested. You people love violence. That’s the way you Muslim people live. I told Russell he needs to take a belt to that son of his and get him straightened out before he ends of in jail or worse.”
Janice held her anger in check. She needed to talk to Russell and trading insults with his wife would not help matters. Right now finding Andy was all that mattered to her. “May I speak to Russell?”
Janice waited as the silence grew. Then she heard the woman yell away from the receiver, “Russell it’s that heathen woman you were once married to. She wants to talk to you about Andrew. Do you want to talk to her or not?”
Janice could barely hear her ex-husband’s voice and could not make out what he was saying. She waited again for the other woman or Russell.
“Just what in the hell did you tell Andrew about me,” Russell shouted into the phone. Before Janice could reply, Russell went on the attack. “Andy showed up here just before dawn and woke up the whole house. He was raving about all the lies you told him. He accused me of all kinds of rotten stuff you made up. He heard my daughter crying and blew up when I told him she was my daughter and that I was married again. As if it is any of his business to tell me what I can or can’t do. I am his father and I don’t have to answer to him and I told him so. He hauled off and punched me in the face. He could have broken my nose, damn it! Stormed away and took off in that piece of junk burning rubber. That boy is just lucky I didn’t call the cops on him. I don’t know what you told him, Janice, but this is entirely your fault.”
Janice said a short prayer asking Allah for calm before replying. She kept reminding herself as Russell railed at her that finding Andrew was what she needed to do, not fight with Russell. “I told Andrew the truth and he did not want to believe it.”
“Sure you told the truth. You are not fit to be raising our kids. I should have done something about that when you turned into one of those Muslims. You’ve made a mess of Andy, and I’m not going to give you the chance of doing the same thing to Mandy. You can expect to get papers served. I’m going after custody and you better not even try to stand in my way.”
“Russell you do whatever you think you need to do. Right now I want to know if Andy said anything about where he was going before he left your place.”
“He never said nothing about that and I didn’t ask. How could I, sitting on my ass after he knocked me down!” Russell yelled in an aggrieved voice.
“I am going to call the local police and report Andy missing. You should expect a phone call from the police or from the local police in your town.” Janice replied. She should have expected Russell to whine and blame her and even Andrew. He never did accept his parental responsibilities. Sure, he’d play with the kids and make promises he seldom kept, but the kids as they grew older and missed him seemed to remember only the good things and not all the disappointments and no-shows when Russell was gone on phony business trips with his girlfriend, now new wife.
Janice hung up the phone and looked across the table at Mandy. The look on her heart-shaped face and silent tears rolling down from her big brown eyes told Janice that Mandy knew Andy was not at her Dad’s place. “He’s gone, honey. Your Dad doesn’t know where he went.”
“Maybe he’s on his way back home,” Mandy said to her Mom even though they both felt sure Andy would not be coming home of his own accord.
Janice gave Mandy a weak smile and picked up the phone to call the police. After she hung up, she told Mandy the police would be coming to the house in about an hour to get a photo of Andrew and take a report.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and get dressed Mom and I’ll call some of Andy’s old friends and see if he might have stopped by or something. Maybe he called one of them, okay?”
“Thanks, sweetie.” Janice slowly climbed the stairs. After the revelation of her husband’s infidelity and his walking out and leaving them, Janice thought then that her faith had been truly tested. Again, when she received the divorce papers and realized she would need to find a job and would become a single parent, Janice’s faith had held fast. Her many sister friends had been a rock of support during those difficult days. But now, facing this new trial, Janice thought as she silently pleaded with Allah. Help me because I don’t know where to turn or what else to do. She prayed silently over and over for strength as she went through the motions of getting dressed.
Andrew had covered over 300 miles in the past five hours. He knew he’d have to get off the state highway and begin traveling on more rural roads. He had crossed the state line into Ohio a hundred miles back. He wasn’t sure how soon his mother would discover he had taken off or how long his mother would wait before calling his Dad and then the cops. He was low on fuel and needed a map. Up ahead the highway exit sign announced the town of Weldon, Ohio, just two miles. He’d find a convenience store with gas pumps and get gas, something to eat, and the map.
“Morning, young man. Can I help you?” The clerk was an old man in a plaid shirt and jeans. He sported a long bushy, grey beard and shiny bald head. He looked at Andrew with only mild curiosity; nothing that gave Andrew a sense of alarm.
“I could use some help finding a road atlas and I need $30 on the unleaded pump #2. Is there a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s open in town?”
“Sure. Maps are on the right wall in a stand next to the soda cooler. McDonald’s is just three block down and take a left. You’ll see the sign on your right. Not lost are you?” the old man asked.
“No I’m not lost. I just left my map on the dining room table at home. I’m on my way to visit my Dad for the summer and one of my friends I met last summer. My Dad moved so I’m not familiar with the route to get to his place.”
The old man looked out the plate glass window at the front of the store at Andrew’s car stopped at the gas pump. “Restoring that Classic, are ya?”
“Me and my Dad are. It’s going to be a beaut when we get it painted,” Andrew replied and turned to go get the map.
“Need any help with locating that address on the map?” the now nosey old man asked when Andrew brought the road atlas to the counter to pay for it and the gasoline.
“Naw, but thanks.” Andrew gave the old man a friendly smile, paid for his purchases and went outside to pump the gas. Man, I gotta do something about this car. It is too easy to spot and remember.
Andrew drove to the McDonald’s and ordered a double Big Mac with cheese, fries and a large soda. He sat in the car eating while looking at the map before deciding what direction he would take next and how to get to the next point where he’d need some gas or a town big enough where he could do a trade on the Chevy for another used car. All the work and care I took to rebuild this car and I won’t even get to see it painted and fully restored. Andrew’s anger mounted toward both his parents when he thought of losing his car, his prized possession. He realized after the old man noticing the car that he couldn’t keep it. The car would be too easy for the cops to spot. The cops would make him go back home. Maybe his Dad had already called them? He didn’t have a home anymore as far as he was concerned.
“I’m never going back, never!” he spoke harshly out loud. He thought of his sister Mandy with sorrow growing inside his heart. He quickly closed the door of his mind on this new grief. He would miss her terribly. He hoped she would forgive him for running out on her.
Two hundred miles and three hours later Andrew pulled into the parking lot of a Copy Rite store. He pulled out his birth certificate from the duffle bag and with an ink pen carefully changed the last year on his birth date. He opened the glove box and took out the vehicle title form and carefully signed his Dad’s name to the back of the form for owner signature. Andrew was ready to get copies made of the changed documents. He went inside the store and found an empty copy machine. After making two copies of each, he inspected the copies. “Not too bad,” he muttered. The copies would pass muster where he intended to use them.
Andrew got back in his car and drove back two miles to the used car lot. The sign read “Burt Buys & Sells the Best! Guaranteed Satisfaction!” Andy pulled into a visitor parking slot, turned off the ignition, and sat a few moments watching two men standing by an blue,’77 Ford 2-door. The obvious salesman wearing a plaid sports jacket was talking rapidly to a man who looked angry, if his wildly waving hands and then the pounding of a fist on the hood of the blue Ford, was a good indication.
Andrew took off his jacket, reached under the seat for a grease-smeared rag, got out of his car and approached the two men, keeping a short distance, but close enough to hear what they were saying. It became clear to Andrew that the angry man bought the car yesterday and was upset because the car wasn’t running right…sluggish…is what he kept yelling at the salesman.
Without thinking twice, Andrew got the attention of the angry man by asking him to pop the hood and start the car up. He turned to the salesman, saying, “Sorry I’m late for work, Burt.” The salesman stared at him and was momentarily speechless. Andrew checked the oil and confirmed his suspicions.
“Sorry boss. I promised to get the oil changed yesterday before you got this baby sold. It’s all my fault. I’ll just take the car to the repair stall and do that right now.” Andrew got into the car and drove it to the empty stall. The angry man seemed to be temporarily mollified. At least he wasn’t yelling and waving his hands in the salesman’s face for now.
The salesman told the man to wait in the office and then approached Andrew and the car already being hoisted up on the hydraulic lift. “Just what in the hell do you think you are doing and who are you?” the salesman demanded while stepping close and getting into Andrew’s face.
“Name’s Andy. See that ’57 Chevy primer parked over there?” Andrew pointed toward his car. “I rebuilt her and all she needs is a good coat of paint and she’ll look as good as she runs. I’m helping you out and want to make a trade with you for that Chevy.”
“You got a clear title to the ’57?”
“I do and I’ll show it to you once I get this piece of junk running so you can get that customer off your back,” Andy replied.
“My name’s Burt and I own this business. You looking for work? You look like about twenty years old. You on your own? I could use someone maybe …but I don’t pay above minimum wage.”
“I’m eighteen, on my own, and I’ll take the job for what you pay. Why don’t you take your customer for coffee while I check out this car and see if I can fix it so your customer doesn’t show up here tomorrow with another complaint.”
“Okay, Andy, but I’m locking the Office while I’m gone and don’t you go get any funny ideas, you hear?”
“No funny ideas, Burt,” Andrew said and watched Burt head for the Office.
Chapter 3 – Mandy
Mandy sat on the living room couch next to her mother with her hands clasped tightly together. She had taken a fast look at the male and female cops when she answered the door, but now she sat silently with her head bowed. It hurt to hear her mother’s shaky voice answering all the questions about Andy and her dad. Mandy was embarrassed for her mother. The cops were not rude but they didn’t act very friendly or show any sympathy for the obvious distress her mother was showing.
“Mandy get the pictures of your brother from the dining room table.”
Mandy was jerked back from her private thoughts when her mother touched her arm. Without saying anything, Mandy got up from the couch and walked to the dining room. She picked up the photos of Andy and looked up to see the female cop staring at her. Mandy stared back hard and compressed her lips. She walked back to the couch and handed the photos to her mother instead of the out-stretched hand of the female cop. Mandy stood next to her mother and place a hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed it. Her mother looked up at her and gave Mandy a wan smile.
“Can you tell us what happened and why you think your brother will not be coming home?” the female cop asked as she continued to stare at Mandy.
“I heard what my mother told you and I don’t have anything else to say,” Mandy replied firmly not taking her eyes away from the female cop’s face.
The male cop handed her mother a business card and told them both to call if they heard from Andy. He said they would notify other law enforcement agencies and send a copy of Andy’s photo with his description and a description of the Chevy also. The two cops and her mother moved towards the front door and Mandy went to one of the front windows to watch the cops leave. They were talking together and the female looked over her shoulder back at the house. That cop meant trouble for Mandy and her mother. Mandy just felt it in the pit of her stomach.
Her mother went back to the couch and sat down heavily. She patted the cushion next to her and Mandy sat down and placed her head on her mother’s shoulder. They sat like that quietly and not speaking for several minutes.
“Mom. Did you notice the way the female cop kept looking at me and then at you? I think she is gonna make trouble for us.”
Mandy’s mother stirred and turned toward Mandy. “Trouble? What do you mean by that, Mandy?”
“She kept staring at me while you were talking to the other cop. I think she is going to report this to the welfare people. I think they might try to take me from you because of Andy running away and because you are Muslim.”
“Mandy dear, people just can’t take a child from a parent just because the parent is a Muslim. Whatever put that thought in your head?”
“Mom you are just too nice a person. You don’t realize that a lot of people don’t like Muslims or don’t understand about your religion. Some people might think they are helping me rather than hurting us by trying to take me from you.”
Janice shook her head and tried to process everything that had happened and couldn’t come up with an adequate response. She had a bigger worry and one that might have some teeth in it. Her ex-husband had threatened to file for custody of Mandy. He might just do it. Not because he really thought Mandy was in any danger with her, but because that would stop him having to pay child support and Mandy would be an excellent built-in baby sitter. How do I bring this up to Mandy when she is worried about that female cop and more worried about her brother? Janice thought.
“Honey there would have to be an investigation and hearings, and the welfare people would need to prove I am not fit to take care of you. We both know that cannot be proven. Don’t worry about matters that could happen. If it does, well we will deal with it then. Right now let’s get something to eat and we can think about Andy and make sure we haven’t forgotten anything about where he might be now.”
Mandy wasn’t hungry but knew it would help her mother if she had something to do. She’d eat what her mother fixed even if she had trouble doing so.
“Mom while you go to visit your friend Nancy, I am going over to Sandy’s house to hang out for a couple of hours. I’ll be home before it gets dark out so don’t worry, okay?”
Janice nodded her head as she secured her hijab scarf under her neck. “Sandy’s number is on the friend’s phone list?” she asked.
“It’s listed and don’t worry. Sandy’s family is not going to grill me. Even if they do there’s not much I am going to say except Andy got upset and took off. Kids do that a lot these days.” Mandy walked over to her mother and wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged her.
“How did you grow up so fast and get so smart?” Janice asked her daughter before planting a soft kiss on her forehead.
Mandy just squeezed her mom again and turned quickly so her mother wouldn’t see the tears threatening to slip down her cheeks. “See ya, Mom. Be careful and don’t forget your cell phone just in case Andy calls or the police. I’ve got my phone in my pocket so you can call me if you need me.” Mandy said as she headed out the backdoor.
Sandy was about the best friend any girl could have. She never told anyone your secrets and she had this way of giving you all her attention when you talked to her…like she was listening and cared. Mandy and Sandy started Kindergarten together and were fast friends from their first day of school. Nothing had changed when her parents got divorced and not even when her Mom became a Muslim and started wearing a head scarf. Her parents were just like Sandy. They seemed to stay the same. Always friendly and welcoming to Mandy and her mother. Why everyone can’t be like Sandy and her parents, Mandy thought as she walked the two blocks to her best friend’s house.
Sitting cross-legged across from Sandy on her friend’s double bed, Mandy told her about the two cops and her worries about the welfare people showing up next at her house. “I don’t care what anyone says I am not leaving my Mom. She couldn’t take losing me, too!” Mandy said vehemently. “It’s not fair. I am so mad at Andy and I’m scared, too. What if the cops don’t find him? What if he doesn’t call or I never see him again? What will me and Mom do without Andy?” Mandy’s lower lip trembled and she took some deep breaths to keep from bawling her eyes out.
Sandy patted her friend’s knee and said, “My Dad’s a lawyer and I just know he would help you and your Mom.”
“Do you really think he will? My Mom doesn’t have a lot of money. Would that make a difference?”
“I’ve heard my Mom and Dad talk lots of times about adjusting the fees for Dad’s clients. We won’t know if we don’t ask, right? We could talk to my Mom first and then talk to my Dad after he has his supper. When he gets home from work, he wants to eat supper and relax afterwards for a bit talking with Mom. I don’t know what all they talk about, but I usually wait about a half hour before I ask them about stuff I want to talk about or tell them stuff about school and all.”
“Good idea. We could talk to your Mom and then if your dad agrees he could talk to my Mom. I think she needs to have some legal advice, just in case. She gets her strength from her religion and support from her Muslim friends, but I don’t think any of them are lawyers.”
“And a lawyer is what is needed if anyone starts trying to take you from your Mom.” Sandy said while nodding her head like a wise old sage. Changing the subject Sandy asked, “Do you think Andy will come home in a few days?”
“I want to believe that he will but deep inside I don’t think he will come home on his own. He’s been so mad for such a long time. Maybe he’ll find a safe place to be and then he can think better if he’s away from this mess?”
“Yes and maybe…” Sandy’s voice trailed off as she watched her friend slide off the bed and begin pacing back and forth across the room. Mandy’s face was no longer thoughtful. Her expression was now like angry clouds gathering on a stormy day. Mandy slapped her leg repeatedly as she paced. Sandy didn’t know what to say.
“He’s so selfish. Just like my Dad. When things got hard they both just ran away. What about me. My Dad leaves and now Andy. He didn’t even bother to think about how I would feel. He didn’t even leave me a note! He’s supposed to be my big brother and look out for me.” By this time angry tears were falling down Mandy’s cheeks and her shoulders hunched as if she was in pain. She was, but it wasn’t a physical pain. Mandy’s heart was breaking up and her friend Sandy sat helplessly not knowing what she could say or do to help.
Chapter 4 – Janice and Brenda
Janice watched Mandy until she was out of sight. She took off her hijab scarf and abeya and sat down at the kitchen table. She had no intentions of leaving the house. Andy or the police might call and she had to be home to answer the house phone. Mandy would not have gone to visit her friend Sandy if she thought Janice was staying alone in the house.
Janice put her arms on the table, bent her head down and cried the tears she had been holding back. It was easy when everything was going okay to tell yourself not to worry and put your trust in Allah but when things were so difficult it was much harder to do so. Janice knew she needed to pray for strength as she had done earlier and for the safety of her children.
The ringing of the house phone startled Janice. She got up from the chair so quickly she knocked it over as she rushed to the living room and grabbed the receiver saying, “Andy?’
“Janice please don’t hang up. I have something important to tell you.”
It was Russell’s wife, Brenda.
“Janice are you still there? I know I was really unpleasant when you called us about Andy and I want to apologize. I also want you to know that I heard Russell’s threat about Mandy and there is no way I will agree to a custody battle with Russell against you for your kids. I guess that surprises you?”
Janice was in fact speechless. The tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“Janice, did you hear me? Now that I have a baby daughter and I love her so much I can’t imagine what I would do if anyone threatened to take her from me. I’d fight tooth and nail.”
Janice finally found her voice. “Brenda I am surprised… shocked by what you just told me. Well not about loving your baby, but about all the other. I don’t know what to say except thank you.”
“Janice we used to be friends until I had the affair with Russell that led to your divorce. I am sorry about that, too. What you don’t know and what I should have known is that Russell has no intentions of ever being faithful to one woman. Where I got the idea he would be faithful to me …well I chalk it up to refusing to see only what I wanted to see. Russell has already started seeing someone else. I guess I am getting what I deserve, but unlike you, I am not going to pretend everything is okay or waste years of my life on that no account man.”
“I am sorry, Brenda for you and your daughter. I thought maybe with you he would settle down. I appreciate the phone call and I thank you for your apology. I need to get off the phone now in case Andy or the police call.”
“Of course. If I learn anything at all about Andy…if he tries to contact Russell I will be sure to call and let you know. Take care now and tell Mandy I am sorry for all the hurt I caused.”
Janice heard the click and then the dial tone. She placed the receiver back and slowly let her shoulders relax. Brenda’s phone call was something she would never have imagined happening. Oh Allah, how could I have had doubts? Please forgive me and give me strength and courage to face whatever I must. Amen.
A divorce and two children he refused to support, a new marriage, and new baby and Russell was out on the prowl again for a new girlfriend. Janice shook her head. Brenda was right. She had held on to her marriage too long. It was such a relief to be free. If only she had been more forth coming with her children and discussed things, especially about Russell. She wanted to protect them. Instead, she set them, at least Andy, up for anger and disillusion. “Oh my wonderful son, please call me. Please be okay and safe,” she whispered.
Chapter 5 – Andy
Burt watched his customer listening to the kid who had barged his way into a job. Something’s not kosher with that young man. He’s gotta have a powerful reason to be willing to trade that ‘Classic’ for one of my pieces of junk.” Burt scratched his head and shoved his eyeglasses further up on his nose. He does have an easy going way about him. Don’t say as I like that glib tongue of his. Those lies just rolled off his tongue smooth as butter. I should know. I am an expert in doing bull sh-t. Burt rang out the register and locked it for the night. He locked the office door and the door between the office and the garage after signaling to Andy to meet him in the garage bay.
Burt watched the kid as he cleaned the grease from his hands and arms and tossed the working towels in the laundry bin. Seems to know his way around a repair shop okay.
Andy glanced out the shop door to the parking lot where he had parked his car. He really needed to get it out of sight until it was painted. “Where do you want me to park the Chevy,” Andy asked as he walked over to where Burt was sitting on a stool.
Burt hooked his foot in the rung of the other stool and slid it toward Andy. “Let’s talk first,” Burt said without answering Andy’s question.
“No problem,” Andy said.
Burt cleared his throat. He wasn’t comfortable having the ‘talk’ he was gonna have with Andy. Burt had never married and as far as he knew he didn’t have any kids. Now that he had a closer look at Andy he thought he looked younger than the 18 years the kid had claimed. “If you got some problem kid and want to talk about it I’ll listen. I was thinking maybe you might want to back track. Ya know…head back from the direction you came from. That is if the law isn’t looking for you?” He watched Andy squirm on the stool as a faint redness crept up his neck.
“I didn’t steal or murder anybody if that’s what you mean, Burt. I didn’t commit any crimes. I just have some problems I need to work out and I need some space and time,” Andy replied looking at Burt directly without his gaze wavering.
Burt stared back at Andy for a few minutes and then said, “Okay. But if you need to talk you come to Burt. I don’t like surprises. You hear me, now?”
Andy nodded his head.
“You can drive your Chevy around back and park it inside the compound.” Burt took a key off the keychain hanging from a large chain looped around his belt. You need to get around town you can use the Ford pickup parked out front. I use it for business and all. If you need to get gas for it tell Mack at the Texaco station you work for me and he’ll charge it to my account. Tell him Fast-Talking-Burt sent you so he knows you didn’t just drive off with my truck. We went to school together and that was my nickname.” Burt grinned at Andy.
Andy found himself smiling. He didn’t think he would ever smile again, but realized that Burt was the kind of gruff guy that could make jokes and laugh at himself and the world around him.
“If you need a place to stay and aren’t too choosy, there’s a room above the garage. Last guy who worked for me stayed in it. He’s been gone a couple of months so you might have to use some elbow grease to clean it up. You can use the room if you want until you get on your feet and can get an apartment. It’s nothing fancy. There’s a bed, dresser, card table and chair, and a shower, sink, and toilet. You can use the hotplate, microwave, and fridge here in the shop as long as you clean up after yourself.”
“Thanks, Burt. I really appreciate your offer. I’ll clean up the room and keep the snack area in the garage clean, too! I want to be upfront with you Burt. I don’t know how long I can work for you. I might have to take off suddenly. Maybe we should settle on which car you are gonna trade me for my Chevy?”
“Now I gotta think on the trade some. How ‘bout I let you know in a day or two?”
A look of relief washed over Andy’s face. The Chevy was his for a few more days and it was well hidden in the compound among the vehicles Burt used for parts. “Okay Burt.” Andy replied.
Burt stood up from his stool signaling the talk with Andy was over. “Be down at the office door at 7AM sharp in the morning and lock up the garage when you leave tonight. Ya know how? Andy nodded his head and walked with Burt to the shop door. Burt walked out and then looked back over his shoulder and said, “The barber shop on the corner of Malone and Vineyard is open until seven. A buzz cut might do the trick. Maybe some of that five-minute men’s hair color stuff wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Just take the pickup, get gas and do your business. The key to the room above the garage is under the floor mat in front of the door. Be careful of those wooden stairs as I been meaning to get some of the steps fixed, just haven’t got around to it yet.”
“Ah…thanks Burt,” Andy called out to Burt’s retreating back as Burt reached his silver Caddy, got in, and drove out of the car lot.
Andy picked up his bag he brought from the Chevy, locked up, and went to the back of the garage and climbed the wooden stairs to his new, but temporary home. He unlocked the door and a blast of heat and the acrid odor of old cigarette smoke stung his eyes and face. First things first, Andy, he mumbled out loud as he stepped through the doorway and looked around.
He walked over to the dresser and opened the drawers. Inside the top drawer he found a couple of clean but threadbare towels and washcloths. The second drawer yielded up two clean, but worn sheets for the cot that was against one wall of the room. The other two drawers were empty. Andy looked at the beat up card table and metal chair. Both could use a good scrubbing and the linoleum floor needed sweeping and scrubbing. Andy opened the door to the washroom and almost puked. The shower stall, sink and toilet were corroded with ilk. Andy added cleaning supplies to the mental list he had been making of the necessities he would need. He had to be frugal with the money he had as his first pay day was a week away. He didn’t like admitting it, but he was glad his mother had taught him how to clean and do grocery shopping.
Andy tossed his bag on the cot, pulled down the zipper and got a notepad and pencil from one of the side pockets. He took the pad and pencil to the card table and sat down in the metal chair and began writing his store list. He added paper plates, cups and bowls and some plastic spoons. Next he added to the list a broom, a box of trash bags, a pillow, roll of paper towels, a bar of soap and some cheap shampoo, and the hair dye Burt mentioned. For food he listed three loaves of bread, a large jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly, two boxes of Wheaties, a small box of sugar, a bag of pretzels, a bag of apples, and some cans of vegetable beef soup, 6 cans of beef stew, and a box of crackers. Andy looked over his list and added a package of chocolate chip cookies. I’ll just have to learn to do with less food, he thought. I’ll get burgers for lunch from McDonald’s. That will have to do it for now.
Andy hoped he could stay a few months working for Burt, at least until the cops stopped looking for him and the media had other news to talk about other than a missing teenage boy. He’d stay as long as he could and save the money he earned. Now was not the time to think about that.
Next things next….Andy had no intentions of getting his haircut locally. He walked back to the bed and pulled out his road map and zeroed in on the town of Evanston which was 40 miles north. He’d find a barbershop there and get a haircut and then look for a Wal-Mart or Target store and do his shopping.
Andy wanted to try and contact Mandy, but didn’t want his mother to be around. He’d wait until he knew she would be saying prayers and then he’d call Mandy on her cell phone. He had been avoiding calling her because he knew Mandy was going to end up crying and begging him to go back and when he told her no, she would get mad. It would end up with both of them feeling awful after they ended their conversation. But he had to call her. He just couldn’t leave Mandy hanging out there worrying if he was okay. He had to take the chance she would not rat him out about calling her.
Haircut and shopping completed, Andy was gassing up the pick up at a Shell self-serve gas station and convenience store. He put the hose nozzle back in its holder when a cop car pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store. His heart began to race and his hands tightened into balls. Andy had to use all his inner strength to keep from panicking and speeding away from the cop. The cop didn’t even glance his way. Andy let out a relieved breath and uncurled his fingers.
He spoke softly to himself as he casually got in the pickup and drove out of the service station lot. “The cops are looking for a long-haired teenage boy driving a ’57 primer Chevy ‘classic’, not the young man in grease monkey coveralls with a buzz cut, wearing a baseball cap and driving a beat up brown Ford pickup.”
Andy found a fast food drive through and ordered a soft drink and large fries. On his way out of town he pulled over to a rest area and parked. He pulled from one of the bags on the seat beside him a disposable phone and dialed his sister’s cell number.
Chapter 6 – Sophie
Janice was startled awake by the loud knocking at the kitchen door. She opened her swollen eyes and saw the cold cup of tea and empty valium prescription bottle in front of her arms that were folded on the table. As she slowly raised her head and began to sit up her body ached and protested. It seemed as though the weight of the world had settled onto her slim shoulders. Gradually as her mind began to clear she remembered fixing the tea and thinking about taking a few valium pills to help calm her racing heart and taunt nerves. Instead she had thrown the pills down the kitchen sink and sat down at the table. Her doctor had prescribed the valium during the period right after her divorce, but she had not taken them then. She had turned to Allah instead.
Again today she turned to Allah and prayed as her tears had flowed until exhaustion overtook her and now she realized she must have fallen into a troubled sleep. The knocking at her back door had increased in volume and she recognized the voice calling her name.
“Janice… JANICCCCE! It’s me! Sophie.”
Why did Sophie come? Janice thought in distress. Ah, yes, I called her two days ago but she was out of town visiting her mother. If only she would have come sooner. But, I need her support. I am feeling so drained. The door, yes, opening the door. I am going to need to focus on this right now.
“C’ming, Sophie” she called out as she stood and began walking toward the back door after throwing the empty prescription bottle in the trash. She glanced at herself in the pantry’s mirror. Her face was pinched and drawn with red splotches on her cheeks and dark circles ringing her eyes. “As Salaam‘Alaykum, Sophie,” she said as she opened the door to her best friend.
When Sophie saw her, she grabbed Janice and gave her a bear hug. Sophie felt any words she had meant to say temporarily stick in her throat when they separated and she looked at Janice’s face. Sophie pulled Janice’s face between her hands and while kissing both cheeks said, “Oh la la, O my god, Janice. What happened? Are you okay? I came as soon as I could.”
The two women walked from the kitchen to the living room and sat beside each other on the couch. “I woke up and…”
Janice tried to answer but Sophie interrupted, “Do you have any news from Andy?”
“No, not yet,” answered Janice. She felt her heart begin to beat more rapidly just hearing Andy’s name.
Sophie continued, “Don’t worry, Janice, Allah knows what is best for us. Sometimes he sends us stuff that is destined to help us strengthen our faith in Him. Put your trust in Him. I am sure Andy is safe, wherever he may be. Allah will watch over him.”
“It’s just that he went away in anger. He thinks I lied to him.”
“He’ll come around, Janice, you’ll see.”
“He is so frustrated and angry, you know. He feels betrayed by the people he loves the most.”
Sophie held her friend by the arms and said, “Nobody can stay angry forever. He is smart. Most teenagers who leave home come back after a few days. He’ll come back, you’ll see. There is no need to panic.”
“Maybe… I… should not have…said what I said, done what I’ve done… Sophie, I’m a mess,” said Janice and then her sobs took over and covered up her words.
“You did what you had to, Janice,” reassured Sophie. “There was no other way to do it.”
“Really? You think that’s true?”
“Take courage, dear. Allah will take it from here. What is written is written, you know.”
“I know. I’m just afraid of what’s written.”
“Where is Mandy?” Sophie asked.
“Her best friend’s mother, Karen Whitman, took the girls to the Science Center today to see the new exhibit. I told Mandy that sitting here and staring at the phone was not good for her. She has a cell phone and after promising a dozen times to call her if I needed her or if I heard any news, she finally agreed to go with her friend.”
“Is this the friend who has the father that is a lawyer?” Sophie asked.
“Yes. Mr. Whitman kindly offered to represent me and Mandy at the hearing that police woman instigated through the Child Protective Services. He is busy now gathering the required records that we will need from the kids’ doctors, my employer and credit checks.”
“All thanks to Allah for making his help possible.” Sophia stated.
“Sophie you won’t believe this. I can hardly believe it myself. That female police woman was so hateful when she came with her partner to take the missing person’s report about Andy. I could feel her hatred. Her partner seemed to be uncomfortable as well. His face turned red in embarrassment at her pointed interrogation-type questions.”
“That’s just awful, Janice. So when do you have to appear before the judge?
“Mandy and I have to see a psychologist appointed by the judge to evaluate us first.” The CPS person was here the very next morning after I called the police. When she first got here she acted as if Mandy was in some kind of danger just by being left alone with me. Then after we talked and she talked alone with Mandy, she explained that since a report had been filed she would have to follow procedures and this includes the scheduling of the psychological evaluation that will go to the judge along with her own report.”
“She left Mandy with you so that has to be something positive, right?” Sophie asked.
“That is what Mr. Whitman said. I sure hope he is right. I just have to figure out how I am going to pay him.”
“You need to talk to the Imam. I can ask my hubby to meet with him first if this is okay with you. I think the community will pull together to help you. If they don’t there are lots of Muslims who will hear it from me, for sure.”
“Thanks Sophie and thank your husband for me as well,” Janice said as her eyes brimmed with unshed tears once again.
“Getting back to finding Andy… Janice. You know me. I do not beat around the bush. Your son is like my son and I was wondering if you knew all your options here.”
“What options, Sophie?”
“Well, have you ever heard of Code Adam?”
“Code what?” exclaimed Janice in astonishment.
Sophie patted Janice’s arm and then removed her headscarf while she explained, “Code Adam is the alert issued when someone reports a missing child in a shop.”
Janice looked surprised, but she knew Sophie, so she waited patiently to hear more.
“Well, it’s actually one of the country’s largest child-safety programs.”
“But… Isn’t that just for shops?” asked Janice confused.
“Non! Ma chérie. There is a parents’ Code Adam all over the country. People volunteer to look for missing children. It is a huge spider web thing. I think you should contact them.”
Janice was stunned. A faint hope started to burn in her chest and she stopped trembling. She was glad Sophie had come. She hugged her impulsively, not having the strength to pretend she was so strong anymore.
“First Andy runs away and now that female police woman means to try and take Mandy from me. Just three days ago Andy was here and things were pretty normal. Well I thought they were. I guess I only saw what I wanted to see. I have failed so miserably.”
“No way. Zut! I’m sorry Janice. Okay, so that means you have to act quickly. Have you entered Andy into the National Crime Information Center Missing Person File?”
“No. What’s that?”
“They help you locate your child. They even pick up some fees for you. In Texas, there is a Missing-Child Clearinghouse Program in Austin. They have a team called HOPE that helps people search. I’ll check and see if they have a similar program here.”
Janice sat straight as if suddenly alarmed, “Is it the police again?”
“Non, mon amie. They are all parents who went through the same nightmare as you. They understand. They care, so you can trust them. They do not care if you are Muslim or not; they just want to help.”
“Thank God there are people like this.”
“They are called Team HOPE. I’ll contact them for you if you want. There is also the group Stand Up For Kids. They walk through the streets to search for homeless and street kids. I know… I’m sorry Janice. You never know…”
“God forbid, Sophie.”
“Hey, your son is so smart. I’m sure he is safe right now. Didn’t he fix this car all by himself?”
Janice nodded with a faint smile.
“Impressive, right?” continued Sophie.
“Yeah,” answered Janice with a loving smile on her face.
“You know, you’re not alone.”
Janice nodded her head and gave Sophie the beginnings of a smile.
“Let’s get busy then,” Sophie said and watched as Janice reached into her pocket and took out her cell phone.
*Note – Many thanks to author Soumyana for collaborating with me in the writing of Chapter 6 – Sophie.
Chapter 7 – Andy and Mandy
Andy found a fast food drive through and ordered a soft drink and large fries. On his way out of town he pulled over into a rest area and parked. From one of the bags on the seat beside him he pulled out a disposable phone and dialed his sister’s cell number.
“Andy is it you?” Mandy’s voice shook as she listened to the silence on the other end. She didn’t recognize the phone number and it had a different prefix. “Andy?”
“Don’t call out to Mom or I’ll hang up,” Andy finally spoke.
“Mom’s in prayer and I won’t call out to her, okay?” Mandy replied quickly.
“Are you mad at me?” Andy asked his younger sister.
“Of course I am mad. What did ya think? You left without even telling me goodbye. Note even a note. I can understand you maybe being upset because Mom didn’t tell us everything about Dad but how could you just up and leave me?”
“Mandy I was so sure she lied about everything and then when I found our Dad’s house and he admitted he was married to his secretary and they had a baby…. I even heard the baby crying. I just exploded when he started yelling at me like I had done something wrong. Me! He’s such a liar and I keep thinking about all those vacations and week-ends staying in motels. It really makes me angrier.”
“But Andy now that you know how Dad really is…why can’t you come home? I miss you. Mom misses you, too.”
“She still lied to us and covered for him even after what he did to her and to us. She should have told us, Mandy.”
“You wouldn’t have believed her back then, either and we were both younger when Dad walked out on us,” Mandy replied. “I knew about Dad seeing other women. It wasn’t just his secretary. He would sneak around and make phone calls late at night when he thought we were all asleep. Then he would fight with Mom. Sometimes I overheard their arguments. He picked on Mom so he could use it as an excuse to leave the house.”
“I never saw any of that going on. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were too busy with sports and hanging out with your friends. You probably wouldn’t have believed me anyways,” Mandy replied. “When Dad left you stopped hanging out with your friends and didn’t like to talk anymore. You seemed mad all the time.”
“Maybe you’ll think I am some kind of racist or worse, but Mandy… Mom’s wearing those scarves and hanging out with Muslims…well it embarrasses me. I don’t understand that mumbo-jumbo religion she’s into this time and I don’t want to. All my so-called friends talked about her being a Muslim making some not so nice remarks behind my back until I kicked Tommy Wayne’s butt after school one day.”
“Andy I don’t understand where this is coming from. You never were prejudice before or a racist. There are lots of Muslims living in our town and quite a few going to high school. A few of the guys played on the same teams you did.”
“Well I sorta had the thought of live and let live when it came to Muslims until Mom brought those ideas into our home and I just don’t accept what she believes. I can’t help it if she embarrasses me. Don’t you think I feel awful for having those feelings about my own Mom?”
“Yes I do think you can help it, Andy. We were brought up to believe that a person’s religious choice was their own to make. I don’t think you really believe that since you don’t seem to accept Mom’s right to choose her religion.”
“Mandy I didn’t call to argue about Mom’s religion, okay? Just drop it.”
“Okay but Andy you have just got to come home. The police came to take a missing person’s report and one of the cops, the female cop, kept staring at me and then frowning at Mom. She wasn’t very friendly to Mom and kind of hinted at her neglecting you and me or worse.”
“Nothings gonna happen Mandy. Stop worrying. I’m okay. I am not coming home. I don’t feel I have a home anymore.”
“Andy something already has happened. The welfare is investigating Mom and I’m worried they might take me and put me in some foster home. You should know that Dad really doesn’t want us in his new life except when he wants to have an audience to brag to. Now that we know the truth about him I don’t think he’ll be bothering with visiting occasionally anymore. I think the only reason he spent a little time with us was to keep Mom from filing for child support. I think that’s the hammer she had over him…like forcing him to spend time with us. He’s the one who messed up our lives but you, me, and Mom are the ones paying for it. Bad things are coming Andy and me and Mom need you with us. Please, please come home.”
“I gotta go, Mandy. The time is almost up. I’ll call again in a few days. Don’t start crying, little sister. I’m okay and I will stay in touch. Just don’t tell Mom what we talk about. I’m counting on you and your loyalty, understand?”
“Andy I don’t think I will be able to keep you calling me a secret. Can I just tell her you called so she knows you left on your own and won’t come back willingly? At least she’ll know you are okay for now.”
“Okay, but nothing else.”
“Andy you didn’t tell me anything else about where you are or what you are doing.”
“I have a safe place to stay and I got a job so stop worrying. I am not going to starve or sleep in the streets, okay?”
“Okay. Miss you big brother.”
“Miss you little sister.”
Mandy waited until the click and the dial tone before she burst into tears.
Chapter 8 – Itchy Feet
After hanging up Andy felt a heavy weight settle on his heart. He knew that sooner or later Mandy would break down and tell their Mom everything that he and she had talked about. He also knew that the area code on the throw away phone wouldn’t tell the cops exactly where he was, but it would give them a generalized location to search for him. How long did he have before that happened? Would his Mom tell the cops? Maybe because they had pointed the welfare at her she might decide to remain silent?
Andy sighed. When did my little sister get so smart and logical? He started the truck and headed back to Burt’s place and his temporary apartment.
Andy saw Burt locking up the office as he pulled into the driveway next to the stairs to his makeshift apartment.
“Hey I like the hair cut. You look a lot different if that was what you were aiming for,” Burt said without a hint of questioning.
“It feels a lot different. I can’t remember the last time my hair was cut this short.”
“Need some help with those packages?”
“Thanks Burt but I can get them. There’s not that much. Mostly food and a few other things I needed,” Andy replied as he pulled the bags from the front seat and set them on the ground. “I need to get gas before I turn in the truck keys.”
“Toss them to me. I have a few errands to do and I’ll fill ‘er up when I’m finished. You have a good night, you hear.”
“Thanks again, Burt,” Andy said and tossed him the truck keys, picked up three of the five bags, and headed up the stairs.
I hope this 5-minute hair color stuff works and doesn’t leave me with dye on my head and face. Andy sat on the cot reading the directions on the box of men’s hair dye. The sink should work okay. Just mix the two bottles in one and put the dye on the hair, leave it for five minutes than wash it out until the water runs clear. Sounds easy enough he said to himself as he used the card table to mix the two bottles of dye mixture.
About six minutes later Andy looked at himself in the cracked mirror and grinned. No one would be looking for a kid with a 1950’s flat top and black hair driving a beat up used car. Now he needed to work a couple of weeks to earn a paycheck before he hit the road again. Andy was concerned that Burt might get hit with a touch of conscious once he got a flyer and decide to turn Andy in to the local cops. For all his wheeling and dealing and over-bearing manner, Burt was a good guy who tried hard to keep that fact a secret. Andy knew that the next place he ended up there might not be another Burt so he tried to make sure he didn’t get too friendly with Burt. Better to keep it more formal. Just in case the cops did show up after he left Burt would not get into trouble because he knew the truth about whom Andy was…a runaway.
The next morning at 5:30 AM Andy was up early to open the shop and begin work on one of the new ‘used’ cars Burt had recently acquired. Andy intended to get it in good running order before Burt put it on the lot with an outrageous sticker price. When Andy finished the repairs he knew that at least the car would not break down before the buyer drove it a week. Andy grinned when he thought of Burt the flim-flam used car dealer with the fast talking sales pitch and the kind man who had given him a break without asking too many questions. The two personas just didn’t seem like they would fit but they did.
At 9 AM Burt pulled into the lot and parked his car. He opened the office and walked to the door of the repair shop and stuck his head through the open doorway. “Did you eat breakfast?”
“About three hours ago,” Andy replied from under the hood of the 2002 Ford Taurus.
“I stopped by the bakery and picked up some doughnuts and a couple of breakfast jacks from the fast food store next to it. Take a break and have breakfast with me. What time did you start this morning?”
“About 6 AM I think or close enough to it. You have at least half a dozen vehicles that need going over before you put them on the lot, Burt. If the engines purr I think it’ll help your sales.”
“Humph. Seems I was doing okay before you showed up,” was Burt’s grumpy response.
“Hey, Burt. I didn’t mean nuthin by what I said. I was just thinking about you getting top dollar and no headaches like the day I stopped by here and that man was so ticked off,” Andy said. His insides were roiling. The last thing he wanted to do was get Burt mad.
Burt looked at Andy’s face and then gave him a light punch in the arm. Don’t pay me no mind, kid. Had a bad night. Thought the breakfast might change my attitude. You’re right. That customer was one happy camper after you worked your magic on his car and he drove out of here.”
The knots twisting in Andy’s stomach began to slowly unwind. When they were almost finished eating Andy caught Burt’s attention by loudly clearing his throat.
“Well spit it out kid. What’s on your mind?”
“I’d like us to do the paperwork on swapping my Chevy for one of your vehicles. Ah I might just need to leave suddenly and I want to drive away knowing everything is square between us,” Andy replied.
“Kid I already told ya you don’t have to give up that car of yours. It’s fine where it is in the impound lot. Nobody’s going to see it.”
“The thing is Burt, I can’t leave here driving that car. I need some wheels plain and simple.”
Burt looked at Andy long and hard. “How long you figuring on staying put here?” Burt asked.
Andy looked at Burt and said, “I went through your inventory and you have six vehicles that could use some work before you put them on the lot for a sale. I decided that once I get all six ready to sell it will be time for me to leave. I’m looking at two to three weeks at the most.”
“And have you decided on which vehicle in my inventory you want me to swap you for the Chevy?”
Andy ducked his head for a moment and then looked Burt squarely and said. “I want to swap for the pickup truck you use for errands. I checked it out and with a minor tune up it would be good to go for me.”
Burt grinned at the kid and said, “You want to swap me that great Chevy you rebuilt for that beat up brown truck? I don’t believe it. You wanting some cash on the side, too?”
“Nawh…just a straight across trade.”
“I don’t mind cutting a few corners…ahem… making a good deal with most anyone, but my friends, well I treat them right. I don’t think you are making the best deal for yourself. Maybe you need to hang around a while longer and learn the selling side of the business,” Burt said hoping the kid would agree to stay longer.
“I think the deal is fair and that’s what really counts, Burt. If I am satisfied then you don’t have to be concerned that I’m getting the short end of the stick, okay?”
“Kid I haven’t wanted to be nosey but if you got some problem maybe I could help with it?”
“Thanks Burt. I know you mean well but the less you know the better. I didn’t rob a bank or kill anyone. I just need time to work out some problems private-like.”
“Okay kid. Get your Chevy’s title and I’ll get the title to the truck and we can sign them off before we start to get busy. I have a feeling this is gonna be a good day for sales.”
Andy put the food wrappers in the trash can and went out the door to get the title to his Chevy from his backpack in the apartment. Andy sighed with relief. Burt applied a little pressure but he was a pretty good guy and gave it up after seeing Andy wouldn’t change his mind. With the dye job and haircut and driving a beat up looking, but reliable truck, Andy felt he had a better chance to avoid being discovered by the police. After work today he would begin planning his next destination. The farther away he got from his hometown the less likely anyone would be looking for him. At least that’s what he was hoping for.
Andy signed the title and paused as he thought about his Chevy and all the hours of work he had put into it. When he left it behind he felt he would be shedding the last memories of his Dad and could get on with his life. He never would get over leaving his little sister and maybe in time he’d forgive his mother for lying, but for now, Andy had to keep moving and making his own way.
Chapter 9 – On the Run Again
Six vehicles led to seven and then Andy lost count. He had been working for Burt for six months now and here lately with each passing day the feeling grew stronger that he needed to get on the road again. Every time he broached the subject about leaving, Burt would delay him by telling Andy he had another vehicle needing work.
Six more months. If I can make it six more months without getting caught I’ll be eighteen and then I’m free and won’t need to be looking over my shoulder all the time. Andy was brought back to the present by the door opening between the office and the repair bay. He looked over at the door which was only slightly opened to see Burt in the doorway with his back to Andy. Burt was talking to someone that Andy couldn’t see.
“Like I just told ya. I remember that young man with the Chevy Classic. He didn’t stay long. He needed some cash and tried to unload that Chevy on me. Instead I paid him for fixing your car and he was gone that same day. I could’a used someone like him with his skills. I offered him a job but he didn’t want to hang around here working for peanuts.”
Andy couldn’t make out what the other person was saying and didn’t want to move or draw attention to himself. He watched as Burt closed the door and moved away from it. Andy crawled deeper underneath the car he had been working on and waited for Burt. Is he talking to the cops? Andy felt an icy shiver run down his spine. He shuddered. No way am I going to let the cops take me to some Juvie lockup. He wasn’t going back. I gotta get out of here! Andy tried to move his legs but they felt like lead. He began to sweat. Burt’s probably mad…real mad. Andy kept watching the bottom part of the door that he could see; waiting for it to open again. Andy heard a car start up and drive away.
“All clear. You can come out from under there now,” Burt said while closing the door to the repair bay.
Andy grasped the front bumper and with both hands pulled himself from under the car. “Was that the cops asking about me?”
Nah, remember that guy that was all upset the first day we met? You fixed his car and I hired you?”
“What did he want? Why was he asking after me?”
“Seems his wife belongs to one of those organizations that look for missing kids and runaways. She brought home a flyer with a picture of a kid he said looked a lot like that kid who fixed his car. Wanted to know if I knew where the kid went or if he had said anything about where he was going”
“I heard what you told him. Do you think he’ll come back?” Andy asked.
“I think it’s possible he’ll talk some more about it and his wife will end up calling the police and they’ll come by to talk to me sooner or later,” Burt said.
“I knew I should’a left weeks ago.”
“I know we never talked much about why you ended up here at my business and why you’ve stayed. I haven’t pried respecting your privacy and all, but that flyer says you’re 17 years old. Is that right?”
“Six months ago that was right but in less than six months I’ll be 18 and Burt there is no way I’m going to go back and stay locked up in a juvenile detention facility for six months. Just not gonna happen. I’m not going to go back to my mother’s home or to my father’s home so their only choice is to lock me up because if I get caught and sent to either parent’s house I’ll just take off again.”
“Then I guess you better go pack your stuff and I’ll get your pay ready. D I don’t know how much time you have to clear out of here before someone shows up asking me more questions.”
Andy cleaned his hands and walked over to Burt and put out his hand. Burt shook it then grabbed Andy and gave him a quick hug. “Go on now and get your gear.”
Andy heard the gruffness in Burt’s voice but didn’t comment. He opened the bay door, walked to the stairs and climbed them to his apartment over the garage.
The sun was just setting over the horizon when Andy pulled into the rest area. He had been driving the last five hours and it was time to take a break and stretch his legs. A feeling of loss went with him as he had driven from the used car lot and watched Burt through the rear view mirror standing by the door waving at him. I’m gonna miss him, Andy thought, and not for the first time over the past five hours.
Andy was headed west. He had plenty of cash for now, a sleeping bag, and enough food for a week or so. He didn’t have a plan. He figured he’d drive until he saw an opportunity or could make one like he did with Burt. “Burt’s an okay guy giving me a handful of his business cards for me to use as a reference,” Andy spoke softly out loud…talking to himself. “I better call Mandy before it gets too much later.”
Andy opened the new disposable cell phone and punched in Mandy’s cell number and waited while the phone rang.
Andy heard the receiver pick up but before he could say anything he heard his sister say, “Sandy I’m sorry I forgot to call you before I left to go to my Dad’s place. I’ll be staying there until the day after Christmas. We are stopping to get some cold drinks in about 10 minutes. Call me back. Okay?”
“Okay, little sister. Ten minutes it is.” Andy closed the phone cover and shoved it into his pants pocket. He took an apple from the paper bag on the front seat and got out of the pickup. He walked around the rest area munching on the apple before deciding to sit on the edge of one of the picnic tables and call his sister again.
“What’s happening little Sis? Why are you going to your Dad’s house? You know he’s nothing but a low down snake!” The anger in Andy’s voice was unmistakable.
“Relax and just listen for a minute, Andy. I’m going ‘cause I want to go. I want to know my little sister and I want her to know me. Brenda invited me because it’s Christmas time and you know Mom doesn’t celebrate Christmas so Brenda invited me and it’s winter break from school. Mom didn’t have any problem with me going!”
“Mom has always been weak. Didn’t stand up for herself or us. Now she’s letting that woman walk all over her too and you are part of it,” Andy shot back at his sister.
“You listen to me big brother. You ran away. Just like Dad. So don’t get all preachy and high and mighty with me. Brenda apologized to Mom and Mom chose to accept her apology. She says its normal I am curious about my baby sister and agrees I should get to know her and be part of her life. As for Dad. Well he met his match when he married Brenda. She doesn’t let him get away with nothing. Mom says he has a nose ring and Brenda leads him around with it.” Mandy laughed. “I know it probably isn’t nice thinking that about Dad, but Dad hasn’t been the nicest person.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean? Leading him around by the nose?” Andy angrily demanded.
“Brenda is now the company Operations Officer and she assigns out of town meetings and trips to staff. Dad doesn’t make any out of town trips anymore unless she goes with him. Her first action was to fire Dad’s secretary. Gave her a six month severance package with a glowing recommendation. She hired him a male secretary as the replacement. She had a video conferencing system installed that reduces a lot of unnecessary travel. She also twisted Dad’s arm and he approved a daycare created onsite for employees. They pay $25 a week to use the service. She did a real number on him for sure!”
“I can’t believe that. No way would he knuckle under like that. She had to of had something on him to get him to agree,” Andy replied.
“She told him she would file for divorce and destroy him. She’d go after his business and take control, kick his butt out of the house, and put him on the street. She told him she knew enough of his secrets that if she revealed them he might even be looking at some jail time. Being his private secretary for five years I guess she would know just about everything there is to know about Dad’s business. She gave him some choices and now he’s getting what he earned according to Mom. He seems happy enough with Brenda the times I’ve seen them together.”
“How’d Mom find out this and how did you?” Andy asked.
“Brenda came to visit with the baby and without Dad. Mom and Brenda had a long talk. Later I overheard Mom telling her best friend. That’s how I know.”
“He sure messed with the wrong woman,” Andy said. His voice was lighter and the anger and strain seemed to have disappeared. “Too bad our Mom didn’t have the guts to stand up to him.”
“Andy you just won’t give an inch will ya! You know darn well Mom never had any access to information about Dad’s business. He always kept her away from it. And Mom is just a nice person. So just don’t say another mean word about her or I’m going to hang up on you!” Mandy was none too happy at Andy’s remarks about their Mom. “And remember that my Dad is also your Dad.”
“Okay. Okay. I called because I wanted you to know I was moving. Don’t know where I’ll land next but when I get settled I’ll call you again. I‘ve been studying for my GED test and am going to take it on my 18th birthday…my get out of jail free day…so don’t be worrying any more about my education.” Andy said in a conciliatory tone trying to smooth things over.
“Why can’t you at least tell me where you are going or maybe write to me? After all this time I don’t think Mom will force you to come back.”
“Until I’m 18 I can get picked up and forced back. Probably end up in juvenile detention for runaways because I won’t live with either of our parents. No, Mandy. My only choice is to avoid getting caught until my birthday. Then I’ll let you know where I am and send you my address. You promised not to bug me about this.”
“I know I promised but if you could see what you being gone has done to Mom. Andy please talk to her, at least,” Mandy pleaded. Mandy waited and listened to silence. “Andy you still there?”
“I gotta go now Mandy. You have a fun vacation. Merry Christmas, Sis. Take care of yourself.”
Andy closed the lid of the cell phone breaking the connection. It always hurt to say goodbye to his sister.
Chapter 10 Janice Gets a Marriage Proposal