The Incognito Parallel -12-

What you see is what you get...

incognito.gifby Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 12
Mirage

Chapter 12

We bought a few more things, mostly for Mom. We didn't find a pink Arizona Diamonbacks cap but Mom got me a bucket hat, green with Tinkerbell in different poses all around it. I wasn't sure I would wear the thing.

The bill at the register came to less than $150 and Mom paid with some twenties that she had got from an ATM the night we left the house. I tried to remember if that had been last night or two nights ago or more and got mixed-up.

Then we got drinks at the snack bar before carrying our loot out to the Jeep. I settled on lemonade since the only orange drink they had was Sunkist. Mom got a herself a khaki-colored mixture of lemonade, Diet Coke and orange drink that she called a 'suicide'.

"You said it," I told her which caused her to snort into her straw. "Don't play with it, just drink it," I added -- something she used to say to me when I was littler.

So we had a good laugh or two.

Once we got back in the Cherokee and out of the parking lot, Mom asked, "Do you really want to go back to the dirty old baseball game or would you like to do more shopping?"

I fingered the barrette in my hair while I thought about that. I wasn't sure if Mom was just trying to goof on me for liking baseball or if she really meant I should volunteer to do more shopping. Shopping had been fun, kind of, if scary, kind of. But did I want Mom to know how I felt about it?

She snickered evilly when I glanced at her which was no help at all in making my mind up. I almost broke up in giggles just looking at her. Being with Mom was always a lot of fun and if she felt like being silly, even more so. But if we were going to go hide on a ranch in the Arizona desert, how soon would I get a chance to play ball with other kids again?

"How much money do we have?" I asked.

"Enough to do some shopping, which we need to do, and buy gas and food to get us to Martha's and then some left over," she said.

"Huh," I said. "How about if I play ball for a couple more hours while you get another nap then we can get dinner and do some more shopping?"

"Place like this, I bet the mall closes early," she said.

I looked around. It was actually a fairly good-size town, not a real city like back home but probably 20,000 people or more. A big government place outside of town made a lot of jobs available. I wasn't sure what they did out there, making rockets to shoot at the little green men who were supposed to have landed not too far away fifty or sixty years ago maybe.

High mountains climbed above the town to the east, fuzzy looking higher up with distance and forests. On the west side, scrubby-looking desert stretched toward something white and shiny on the horizon, like a big piece of metal or a lake. A lake seemed unlikely but a piece of metal that big would have to have been brought by the little green men.

The sun wouldn't go down for hours and heat waves bounced off everything in sight, especially the street. Maybe the shiny stuff was a mirage.

The Jeep had gotten pretty hot while we'd been inside K-Mart and the air conditioner was roaring, trying to get the inside cool again. I put my hands up and played with the stream of air while I thought about things. It was only another mile or so back to the motel.

South, I could see planes landing and taking off at the airport next to the government place. We'd come from the north and I knew there was another town, almost just like this not more than a dozen miles up along the freeway. It had more hills in it though; we had come down out of mountains right into the middle of town there. Maybe it was cooler back there, I thought.

But here we were and we wouldn't be going backward. Mom had traced the route we had planned on the map last night. From here southwest into Arizona then follow the interstate there until we could turn south. Martha's ranch must be within a few miles of the Mexican border.

"How far is it to Martha's?" I asked.

She glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard. "I'm not sure how far in miles," she said, "but I figured it out last night, we could get there in eight or ten hours . We've got some mountains to go through but it's really good road up until the last thirty or forty miles. Well, on the map." She grinned at me.

From the passenger seat, I couldn't see the bruise under her left eye. She looked very pretty and maybe like she wanted to laugh. I smiled back at her.

"Well?" she asked me.

"I'm still thinking," I said. She sniffed then made a snorting noise and I looked away in case anything tried to escape from her nose.

We stopped at a light. There didn't seem to be much traffic. I decided I kind of liked this town, it was hot in the summer but I bet it was nice most of the rest of the year. And hot wasn't so bad.

"Will the police be looking for us?" I asked.

She shook her head. "We haven't done anything wrong, honey. And your father and his uncles won't want the police involved. At least, not officially."

"Huh?"

She pulled away from the light. Alongside us, a big flatbed truck loaded with dark-skinned people in work clothes chugged out a puff of black smoke.

Mom sighed. "Officially, the police won't be involved but that... it's complicated. But people like your father's uncle's friends often have friends with the police in various places."

"Bad guys," I said.

She nodded.

I looked around. "Even in a small town like this?" The Spanish name of the place meant something like "Big Orchards," but there actually weren't that many trees. The only things that seemed big were the mountains and the desert.

"Well, maybe not here," she agreed. "And probably not in any of the little towns near Martha's. But I looked it up in the phone book, there's a 'Good Dimes' place in the downtown here." Good Dimes was another of the names the video game places our family owned sometimes used.

"Wow," I said. I didn't understand why we used different names in different places, something to do with franchising which Dad had told me meant that people paid us to use our idea and open their own stores. So, maybe we didn't own this one here but Dad went around and visited the franchise stores, too. The idea of Dad coming here to look for us and maybe finding me with a barrette in my hair made me nervous.

We had to stop at another light and the truck full of men and boys in khaki pants and white shirts caught up with us. The older ones all wore straw hats but most of the younger ones wore baseball caps. They looked tired and dirty and sweaty but several of them smiled at me and a friendly-looking older guy winked.

The light changed and we pulled away from them again. Why would he wink at me, I wondered.

Mom got over to the left to turn into the parking lot of the motel. The truck full of working guys passed us again and I watched them go. It didn't look like a fun way to make a living, out working in all this heat.

"You still thinking?" Mom asked as we bumped into the parking spot in front of our room.

"Huh?" I think I said, or maybe, "About what?"

She sighed like I had just said the dumbest thing then shook her head and grinned at me. "About whether you're going to go get more dirt in your hair or go shopping before the mall closes."

"Uh," I said.

"See, if we're going to go shopping, you can get a shower and change into your new clothes."

"Uh-huh," I said.

"That's what you want to do?" she asked.

"I don't know, maybe."

She stuck her tongue out, probably annoyed at me for not making up my mind. We climbed out of the truck and carried our bags of loot inside. Someone had made the beds and cleaned the bathroom while we were gone, I could smell the cleanser. We piled all our stuff on the bed nearest the front of the room and Mom sort of flopped across the other bed.

"It's nice and cool in here," she commented, then rolled onto her back and watched me.

I stopped in front of the mirror to look at my hair and the barrette that kept it in the new style. I still looked like me, but a girl me. I didn't look silly at all, even if I felt a little silly. A tomboy, sure, but -- I didn't look silly.

The girls at the store had thought I must be wearing my brother's clothes. I'd let them think that. This morning, even without the barrette, everyone thought I must be a girl. I put one hand to my face and played with my lower lip, thinking.

"Don't throw any breakers," Mom said. "Thinking so hard." She propped herself up on one elbow and grinned at me.

I shook my head. I could feel my cheeks turning read. "If there's really going to be a game this afternoon, I'd like to play...."

"Okay," she said. "I'll take a nap then, wake me up when you come back in." She got up and went to the other bed to dig in one of the bags and come up with the Tinkerbell hat. "If you're going to be out in the sun, wear a cap or something."

I took the hat and tried it on, looking in the mirror. Now I really looked about eight or nine, and more than a little silly in the hat. "Uh?" I said.

"No argument," she said. "That sun is brutal out there. Where are your sunglasses? You should have been wearing a hat and sunglasses earlier. We both ought to wear hats and sunglasses when we go outside here."

"I think mine are in the car," I said.

She dragged her purse onto the bed and rummaged inside it. "Here's mine, like a dummy. Take the keys and go find yours," she said, handing me the wad of keys with the little pink troll attached. She took her glasses out of the case and started cleaning the lenses.

"Okay," I said.

"Bring the keys back before you go off to play," she said.

"Uh-huh. If there's no game, or after the game, I'll come back and shower."

"Right, and we can decide what to do then, depending on what time it is. I think I'm just as glad to take a nap." She sucked on her suicide soda until it made that rattling noise you get when there's nothing but ice.

I went back out into the heat and unlocked the Jeep. My sunglasses were in the console between the seat and I found them right away. But I crawled into the back and found the big canvas bag of baseball stuff in among the suitcases. I dug out my shoes and glove and put them to the side. I pulled out my Little League uniform cap and looked at it but I thought the orange-and-black with the "Hilltopper" in like handwriting over the big capital G might be too memorable.

No chance Dad would come looking for me and ask Jimmy and his pals about anyone wearing a Hilltopper Giants cap but it would be better to pretend that it might happen and get in the habit of not doing things that might give me away.

By that logic maybe I shouldn't go play ball at all. Or would it be better to go there and be as convincing as I could be at being a girl. Thinking that made me, I don't know, shiver or something.

I pulled the top of the bag tight and put it back with the baseball stuff back inside. I'd take the keys back to Mom and change my new sandals for my crosstrainers. Better to not let anyone know I had my own baseball equipment.

With just the sunglasses and keys, I climbed down from the Jeep and relocked the car door. I looked toward the vacant lot across the side street. Six or seven kids were already there playing pepper, standing in a big circle near the trees. I recognized Jimmy because of his height.

Seeing him made me smile, I'm not sure why. I took off my Tinkerbell bucket hat and put my sunglasses on and put the hat back on. Then I went inside the motel room to give Mom her keys back and change out of my sandals.



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