Bufflye by Jennifer George
Chapter Thirteen - Bo
A car rumbled up the gravel road in front of the house around eleven o'clock on the worst night of any of our lives, ever. I had put Sydney to bed almost four hours before because she was weak and hot and fell asleep at the dinner table. Aunt Georgia had taken her temperature and given her Tylenol and a lukewarm bath to try to bring the fever down. Poor kid didn't even want me to read her a story, she was so tired. So Hayley and I watched a little TV and then went upstairs. Hayley was watching music videos on Youtube, and I made myself comfortable lying on my bed with my feet propped up on the wall.
"Your mom off work early tonight?" Hayley asked when headlights flashed across the backyard.
"I dunno," I answered. Momma worked eight to eight, five days a week, or at least that was what she said. She never seemed to take a sick day, not even now that Sydney wasn't doing so hot. She said she had such good helpers, and Aunt Georgia was capable of taking care of a kid with a fever. I knew mom was lying to me because she talked to me all fake cutesy like I was Syd when she called me her good little helper. I knew what she was probably doing all the time, but I didn't want to think about that.
Instead of passing by, the car turned off the road and up the driveway, keeping its headlights shining on the backyard. I went into Momma and Sydney's room to look out the window. The car's lights shut off, and a man got out. He had long hair and a baseball cap on, and he was carrying something, but I couldn't tell what. The security lights Aunt Georgia had put on the house flooded the guy with bluish light that also lit up the room some. Even though he looked like a character in some mystery movie in that shadowy light, it wasn't hard to guess who he was. All the pictures of Bo from the newspaper showed him with long hair. The farm hands had all gone home hours ago, and none of them had a long ponytail. My stomach dropped to my feet. I ran back to Hayley.
"I think it's Bo!" I half whispered.
Chapter Twelve - Mother Dear
When Momma came home from work the next morning, I was waiting for her, sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor with the rolled-up baggie between my fists. Sydney wasn't in bed. Hayley was making pancakes with her in the kitchen, which meant they wouldn't be upstairs for quite a while. That was the plan. Hayley would keep Syd out of the way for a while so I could try to get the truth out of Momma. Or yell at her. Or something. I didn't really know what I was going to do, but there I was, nonetheless. My plan was kind of fuzzy after that.
"Hey, sweetie," Momma said lightly without really looking at me. She wore her green gas station uniform polo and black pants with sneakers. She dropped her keys on the dresser before pulling off her shirt and slipping into another one. I didn't look down. I was around her all the time, so it didn't matter that she changed clothes in front of me. We were both used to it. We were both girls, anyhow.
Chapter Eleven - Target Practice
In less than a day, Aunt Georgia drummed up a plan to try to protect the farm and all of us from Bo. She had Jared call ADT and arrange for them to come out and set up a burglar alarm, motion detector lights, and even a camera at the front and back doors, and at the stable. She also called a locksmith to put extra locks on the doors. Even though I knew it was for my own good, I hated the idea of lock down. Aunt Georgia's sudden niceness couldn't last forever. With a crazy ex convict, ex-stepfather running around, though, the thought of shimmying down the tree at night wasn't so appealing.
While Jared stayed at the farm house with the security alarm people, Aunt Georgia spent the day with us in town. Our first stop was Walmart. I hadn't known they sold gun ammunition there, but Aunt Georgia led the way right back past the fishing rods to a counter where a man checked her ID, asked to see her gun license, and then sold her a couple of boxes of bullets. Hayley's eyes were wide. I tried to play it cool, like I'd seen bullets before. Sydney, however, asked, "Aunt Georgia, what'cha buying those for?"
"Target practice," Aunt Georgia said.
"Can I do targets practice?"
Chapter Ten - A Change
Three new things started happening within just a few months at Aunt Georgia's house. The first thing was the phone calls. The house phone never used to ring much before then. Sometimes Hayley's friends called in the evenings, but otherwise, all the calls came to the business cell phone. The land line started ringing five or six times a day or more. One time, it rang twenty different times. Aunt Georgia must have grown new legs, since she answered it before we could every time. I didn't know how she ran so fast to get to that phone, unless she carried it around in her sweater pocket or something. Every time she picked up the phone, she started hollering within just a few seconds. Then she would hang up and throw the phone down on the table or couch or whatever was nearby. Sydney asked who it was just once, and Aunt Georgia said it was a customer who got mad about her raising the price of her hay. Sydney had said "Oh" and gone back to coloring, but Hayley had looked at me and raised her eyebrows. Then Aunt Georgia made all of us sweep and pick up the upstairs one more time. I hoped Sydney wouldn't ask too many more questions. I may have been bored living out there, but I didn't want to fill the time with extra chores.
The second weird thing was that Aunt Georgia started wanting to know where Hayley and I were every second of every day. At first I was confused because Aunt Georgia had never shown much interest in any of us kids before. The constant questions got really old really fast, since we didn't really go anywhere of note, unless you counted the occasional ride we hitched with Jared to McDonald's. We were always in the same places--either in the stable or one of the barns pestering the workers, or up in Hayley's room. Oh, and of course, we went to the bookmobile and sometimes Kirsten's house. Now Hayley had to ask permission for even that much.
Chapter Eight - It's Not Any Better
Hayley and I stomped our feet on the way up to the back door of Aunt Georgia's house, trying to get feeling back in our toes. This time of year was always cold, but it was twice as cold here, out in the middle of nowhere with no trees around. The wind blew hard enough to nearly knock us down. It stung our eyes and cheeks, and our fingers ached pretty quickly. It was worse for me because I didn't have gloves. Sometimes I got so mad at the wind, I swore into it, but the wind just took my words away. We had started riding our bikes to the stable in the mornings because it was faster. I had mostly forgiven Hayley for abandoning me at the party, so we were back to normal, laughing little frozen clouds out of our mouths as we rode.
Chapter Seven - My Education
Who needed school, anyway? I learned a lot from Hayley. Stuff like how to take care of horses, where to download music for free, how to ride a horse, and how to bum rides into town from Jared, one of Aunt Georgia's four farm workers. Hayley also taught me how to ride a bike, since Momma had never had the money to buy me a bike and we would've had to leave it behind somewhere, anyway. Most important, I learned how to keep quiet and stay out of Great Aunt Georgia's way. That old woman was every bit as mean as she was that first day when she yelled at my sister for singing.
Chapter Six - Beginning Again
Bo had never met Great Aunt Georgia, so her place was the safest place for us to be. That was why Momma packed up Sydney and me and as many of our things as fit into the car and drove us the entire length of the state. We left everything else behind. While all the other kids in the last town were getting ready to start school with their new backpacks and shoes, we were eating gas station donuts and watching Illinois go by out the window. There was no air conditioning in the car, so we kept the windows rolled down. Wind blew our hair all over the place, and Momma blasted the radio louder than the wind. We yelled along instead of singing along with the music, and Sydney hooted and screeched with laughter every time we went over a bump and the pile of bed pillows fell onto her.
Flat cornfields and soybean fields whipped past us, and Momma seemed happier with every mile she put between Bo and us. I didn’t remember much of anything about Bo, but I felt lighter as Momma’s mood lifted. For the whole day, it felt like we were back to normal, just the three of us and a new start. Everything that had happened over the summer seemed less and less real.
Chapter Five - Once Again
Life didn’t have time to settle back down to some kind of normal before everything changed. We never saw Justin again, though for a while strange men knocked on our door at all hours. I never opened it. Finally they must have figured out he was gone and left us alone. But it seemed that just as soon as Justin's losers stopped coming around, we got that phone call.
It was the night before school started, and the cell phone Momma left for us for emergencies rang. Momma didn’t give that number out, so I thought it must have been her. Without checking the number on the screen, I pressed the talk button and said “Hello?”
“Well, hello,” a man’s voice said. Something about the voice sounded familiar, but I didn’t know how. The only men I knew were teachers at school and Justin's freak show. The voice made my stomach tighten up, and I was scared.
Chapter Four - Busted
All that long summer, Momma worked all day, stayed out most of the night, and ordered us around like she was a boss and not our mother whenever she was home. She growled in frustration when Sydney made messes. She wouldn’t color anymore, not even faking it like she used to do. And she always smelled like the bad smoke. She also started drinking little bottles of what she told Sydney was grownup Kool-aid in the mornings after she got home and finished her daily routine of barfing into the toilet and asking me to bring her ice water. We didn’t have an ice cube tray, so I could only give her cold water from the tap. It made her barf more sometimes, but I wasn’t sorry. I knew full well what that special Kool-aid was because I could read the labels for myself. I knew how bad that stuff was for you. They told us at school. But what could I do about it? She was no longer on our side. She was on Justin’s side.
Chapter Three - The New Momma
I woke up to a silent apartment sometime in the middle of the night. My lap was wet, but not from me. Sydney had wet herself in her sleep.
“C’mon, Sid, wake up. You’re wet. We’ve got to change you.”
Sydney stirred, but didn't fully wake up. Instead, she stood up with my help and waited right where she was under our clothes rack in the closet until I moved the bed away from the bedroom door. It was slow going, walking on pins and needles. How many hours had we sat in that same position on the closet floor? My sister looked like a pale ghost in the mixture of blue moonlight and orange parking lot light. She swayed a little on her feet, as though rocking herself back to sleep. I got the door open and led Sydney to the bathroom by the hand, where I ran a bath for her. Then I finally got to use the toilet. I didn't realize how badly my bladder had hurt until I was able to relax and go.
We didn’t have a washing machine in the apartment, so I threw her wet clothes and mine into the sink with some detergent and water. Then I climbed into the tub right alongside my sister and washed both of us up. Dried blood had crusted up on the cut I got from the broken plate. The water made it sting, and I made sure I washed it really well so it didn’t get infected.
Chapter Two - The Summer of the Closet
By summer, Momma had a job again. She worked thirty-five hours a week checking groceries at The Pig. Momma had said the pay was less than it had been at the nursing home, but somehow we were still doing fine. There were always crackers in the cabinet and plenty of stuff in the fridge, and Sydney's shoes were brand new. Momma had even bought me some new shorts and T-shirts, and a huge book full of pictures of butterflies for Sydney. Better than all of that, she worked from noon until seven o'clock. We had mornings to play outside together at the playground behind our apartment building. Of course, I was too old to really play, but it was so nice having my mother around, I didn't complain. Momma was happy and not so stressed out all the time. She could walk to work because The Pig was one block away. She loved taking walks in the fresh air and sunshine, and work was done before sunset. We ate late dinners together. Syd was thrilled to get to stay up later, now that Momma was home at night. I kind of missed the quiet time by myself at night, but only a little part of me felt that way.
“Hey, Cara, could you check on Sydney? I don’t want her light on all night,” Momma said as she yanked open a kitchen drawer and fished around inside. She was running late as usual. That made her rush around and drop a lot of things and cuss a little under her breath. She worked all night taking care of old people at the nursing home. I was her helper. I was eight years old. That meant I was big, so I got to stay home and take care of Sydney by myself all night. I didn’t turn on the stove or answer the door while Momma was at work.
I left Momma to make her lunch in peace and went down the hallway of our tiny apartment to our bedroom. I left the light on for Sydney and me every night, but Momma said electricity was expensive. I shouldn’t leave a light on unless we were awake, even though the dark was scary. But I always did; I just didn't tell Momma. Right away when I opened the door, Sydney turned toward me and smiled her big, silly smile.