Sometimes, there's more than one way to tell a story. This one is about Drew Kelley, who's a lot like Kelly Drew but different. I'll let him tell his own story.
by Wanda Cunningham
Mom and I moved out in the middle of the night--the idea being that when Dad got home in a few days, no one would be able to tell him where we had gone. I didn't like this but being only eleven, I had to go along with it. Mom had the right of it, we had to move but I didn't think sneaking around was the best way to do it. "I can't take another fight with your father, Drew," Mom had said simply.
Two nights later we were staying in a motel in a small town in New Mexico. Mom had come down with a killer cold, from stress, she claimed, so we slept in. Because we were both worried and upset, we shared the same big bed, even though the room had two of them.
I woke up several times before Mom did, but I didn't get out of bed. The motel room sat off the main highway far enough that the traffic was like the sound of water somewhere far away. I guess the walls -- thick walls, they were made of cinder block -- helped with the noise and the small windows didn't let much in either. One of the windows had a big, brown air conditioner in it running on fan only, another noise that seemed to make things far away and very small.
It had been hot outside when we got there the previous night, even at eleven at night, but the motel room had been cool enough. The little town had looked hot and dusty in the moonlight, like some desert town in an old black and white movie where you know that somebody is going to get beat up or shot in the first half hour. I tried not to think about things like people getting shot or beat up.
Mostly, I just lay there thinking about how much Dad would have disliked Mom and I sleeping in the same bed. He worried about things like that, I don't know why. I tried to keep quiet so as not to wake Mom up, so I kept falling back asleep and waking up again. I had one weird dream where I reached under the bed to get my shoe and my hand came out with a big, black, dead insect that looked like a praying mantis. I almost screamed but I woke up in time to put my hand over my own mouth so I didn't make enough noise to wake Mom.
She had her back to me, anyway. I reached out and played with her hair a bit. It's the same brown as mine, with gold streaks and red highlights. We've got the same color eyes, too, a kind of bright blue. I look a lot more like Mom than like Dad, anyway. We're both small and skinny and colored the same with skin that turns pink when we blush.
Dad's not exactly a big guy, more average. His hair and eyes are both very dark brown, not like you might expect from someone with the last name Kelley. His skin is darker, too, almost what they call olive; when he gets mad or embarrassed, he just gets darker. Black Irish, he told me once, which is from Spanish immigrants to Ireland. So I guess that makes me Hispanic if that sort of thing counts, but I don't look it.
Besides hair and eye color, I've got Mom's dimpled chin and button nose. Mom says I look like Dad around the mouth and the shape of my eyes. "Rosebud mouth and almond eyes, those were the things I noticed about your father when I first met him. And his wavy hair." Dad's hair is thick and curly, Mom's is nearly straight and very fine. I'm sort of in between on that with wavy hair that's thicker than it looks.
I must have just lay there, awake and thinking, for an hour or two. I thought about why Mom and Dad didn't seem to do anything but fight anymore. Something about what Dad did for a living, traveling around the country for his father and uncles, sort of a troubleshooter for the family business. They never fought about money like I guess some people do. I think we had plenty.
No, it was always about why they had to be apart and what the other one was doing when they weren't together. I think Mom believed Dad had a girlfriend and maybe a family in every town he visited. And Dad thought Mom must be out seeing other guys while he was gone. I don't know which one stopped trusting the other first. And now Mom and I were running away.
I didn't like running away but the last time they had fought, Dad had hit Mom in the face and made her cry. He sure seemed sorry after he did it and pounded his fist into a wall until it was more hurt than Mom was. Mom had to bandage his hand for him, it was all bloody. They didn't know I had seen the whole thing because I had hidden in the little hallway off the kitchen that goes to the laundry.
I used to do that, another hallway from the laundry went to the guest bathroom and then along to my room, I would sneak out of my room and hide in the kitchen where I could see and hear Mom and Dad. I kind of wished I hadn't done it that time. If we never go back to that house, I guess I won't do it again.
Mom still had like a bruise around her left eye but she could cover it with makeup so it didn't show. I guess it was the right time to run away, still the middle of summer, so I wasn't in school. But I'd sure miss my friends and I hated to drop out of my Little League team.
I lay there in the motel room on the bed that must have been twice as hard as my bed at home and watched Mom sleep. I hated when Mom or Dad got sick, and especially Mom cause she takes care of us. Or did. Now she just has me, so I guess I have to try to take care of her some when she's sick.
When she did wake up, Mom just groaned; she didn't even roll over. I made a noise so she knew I was awake, like, "Hi," or "Morning," or something.
She cleared her throat before trying to say anything. It sounded like someone tearing thick pieces of paper. "We'll have to stay here a couple of days, hon. I've got to feel well enough to drive," she said, still without looking at me, then she coughed up something, sneezed, blew her nose and tossed the tissues into a waste paper basket.
"Okay, Mom," I agreed. I got out of bed and came around to her side so I could see her face. I didn't give her a kiss though.
With her clean hand she pushed my mop of brown hair back from my face and grinned weakly at me. "Afraid of your old Mom's germs?"
"Yeah," I admitted. "If I get sick, you'll be twice as miserable." She always worries about me; I was born six weeks premature, she can't have any more kids (one of the reasons she and Dad had fights), and I guess she hasn't gotten over being worried about me.
"S'okay, kiddo. Go on over to the Denny's and get yourself some breakfast, bring me back some orange juice." She got her purse off the end table and dug around in it then gave me a slightly damp ten dollar bill.
"You going to be okay?" I asked. I guess I worry about her too.
"Sure, go on. I'll take a nap. I get over this kind of thing faster if I sleep a lot."
I watched her get comfortable on the bed, her face turned away from me, then I slipped quietly out of the door with my ten-dollar-bill in my pocket.
* * *
A Late Breakfast
Outside, I walked across the wide parking lot to the restaurant on the corner. Across the street--back away from the highway though--a dozen or so kids were getting up a game of baseball. A row of shaggy looking trees along a sort of narrow hill hid the field from the highway and probably helped stop long hit balls from getting into traffic. Another row of trees behind the field separated it from some sad looking houses.
The kids were all different ages and sizes, mostly boys and a few girls, most of them with black hair and brown faces that weren't just tan. I watched for a bit before going into the Denny's and taking a seat at the empty counter.
A smiling waitress put a glass of water in front of me. She had a lot of black hair with some gray in it, all done up in a bun. Her eyes were so dark they looked black, too, and her nose had a bit of a hook in it. "All alone this morning, sweetie?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," I agreed. I've kinda gotten used to people thinking I'm younger than I am. I guess because of being a preemmie, I'm still sort of small for my age.
"Well, aren't you being all grown up? Want some milk, or are you ready for coffee?" She had an accent I didn't think I'd ever heard before.
"Uh, I want eggs and pancakes to eat here, and an orange juice for my mom to take back to the motel room, please. She's got a cold. Will there be enough left for milk?" I showed her the ten dollars.
"Sure," she agreed. "Just hang on to it for now. How do you want your eggs?"
"Scrambled. Not runny. Thank you."
She grinned with very white teeth. "Okidoke." Her name tag said, 'Rosie'.
It was almost ten; we'd slept late; well, Mom had, after driving till nearly midnight. I'd been awake for hours though and my stomach almost hurt from being hungry. Rosie brought my milk and I drank almost all of it right away. From where I sat, if I turned a little bit I could see the kids playing ball.
There were boys and girls, big kids and little kids. They were playing some version they probably made up because they didn't have enough kids for two full teams. It looked like a lot of fun.
Rosie brought my food and asked me, "You like to play baseball, sweetie?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "I was on a Little League team back in--back home." Mom had said we shouldn't tell anyone more than we had to, not our names, or where we were from and especially, not where we were going. I probably shouldn't have mentioned the Little League.
"The tall kid out there is my nephew, Jimmy," Rosie said. "I bet they would let you play?"
I shook my head. "I've got to take the orange juice back to Mom."
"If she's sick, you're going to be staying for awhile?"
"Well, after you take her the juice," Rosie said, "ask her if you can go play."
"Maybe," I said. Her attention embarrassed me a bit.
She chuckled. "You don't have to, just if you want to, honey," she said. "More milk?"
"Please? Do I have enough money?"
"This one is on the house," she said bringing a new full glass and smiling at me.
"Thank you," I said, after I had chewed through a mouthful of egg and pancake.
"So polite," she grinned at me.
I grinned back. The food tasted good, not as good as Mom's cooking 'cause the eggs were kind of greasy and the pancakes kind of chewy, but good enough. I kept glancing at the baseball game and Rosie kept watching me. The place was nearly empty, only an old guy who looked even more like an Indian than Rosie did, sitting in a corner, reading a paper and eating a cinnamon roll that he kept dunking in his coffee.
Rosie brought me a tall styrofoam cup full of orange juice and a straw. "Here you go, hon."
"Thank you," I said. I finished off the pancakes except for one bite. I just couldn't eat that last forkful.
"Still watching the game?"
I nodded and handed her my ten dollars. I was kind of glad to get rid of it, I imagined it had Mom-cooties on it but I didn't tell Rosie that. She showed me the bill and went to the cash register to get me some change.
"What position did you play? In Little League?"
"Uh, second base?" I said. I'd finally worked up on the team to being the regular second baseman this year, though sometimes we all played other positions.
"Wow," she said. "That's a tough spot."
I grinned. Second base is pretty tough. I was kind of upset that we were leaving town after I made the team as a regular player.
She gave me the change and said, "I played third base on my high school team. The first girl on the team."
"Wow!" I said. Third base is just as hard as second; sometimes the ball is travelling really fast there and you have to be able to throw all the way across the diamond and do it quick. "Cool!" I said because I really was impressed. Guys don't like to let girls play their games and to play third base with the boys, she must have been good.
I put a dollar from the change down for her. Mom had worked as a waitress and had told me never to forget to tip. But Rosie handed the dollar back to me and winked. "Keep it, honey. Us tomboys have to stick together."
I stammered a thank you and got out of there quickly. I took the orange juice right to our room and Mom woke up when I used the key to get in. "Drew, honey," she said. "Did you have a good breakfast?"
"Yes, Mom," I said. "Here's your juice."
She got up on one elbow but didn't reach for it right away. "You drink some of it first, save me about half."
"Uh, okay, Mom, thank you." I drank down about a third of it and then set the rest on the table, next to the bed. "You can have the rest."
"Thank you, hon." She sat up and sipped at the juice. "I called the deskman and told him you would bring some money for another night. It's on the desk by the television.
I went over and looked at it. "I've got some money left from breakfast too."
"Keep it, in case you need pocket money. I feel terrible, Drew. I really need to sleep. I hate to ask you, but could you find something to do until I get to sleep? Then you can come in and watch TV if you want, just keep it down."
"Okay," I said. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and pushed at my hair. "I think I need a haircut, Mom. Maybe I can find a place?"
She frowned. "I don't want you wandering off too far. Aren't there video games at the restaurant?"
"Uh, no. But there's a baseball game across the little side street there?"
"Well, you can go watch that for awhile. I'm sorry, hon. I should have thought to have you pay the room rental while you were out at breakfast, then I could have concentrated on going to sleep already."
"You needed your juice," I told her.
She smiled. "You're such a good kid, Drew. Have I told you that lately?"
"Mom, don't get embarrassing, okay?" Besides, her nose was all red and her eyes were kind of gummy looking -- I still didn't want to kiss her.
She laughed. "Well, take the money to the office and go watch the ball game, hon. I'll be fine, if you get hungry, there should be enough left there to get a pop and a bag of chips from the machines."
"Wake me up about three and we'll get some real lunch," she said then she sneezed again and rolled over with her back to the window. "Be good, honey."
"I will," I said then I let myself out, making sure that I had the money and the room key to get back in.
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