The Incognito Parallel -7-

The hard part of making a plan is telling someone about it.

The Incognito Parallel

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 7
Hiding Place


We finished eating and Mom paid with some more damp money. The waitress didn't look any happier about touching it than I had the ten Mom had given me earlier. Mom was a regular walking oolie, which is something that is so disgusting you don't really want to touch it if you can avoid it.

We walked across the parking lot and the heat made the air dance over the pavement, like a movie taken underwater. Mom said the heat felt good and I didn't mind it except that going in and out of hot and cool kind of gave me a headache behind my eyes.

"Do we need to disappear?" I asked Mom after we got back to the motel room. The brown air conditioner made enough noise that once inside it seemed to be a little private world all our own. The air was actually cold but if you got near the back wall, which faced south, you could still feel the heat right through the cement blocks.

Mom lay across the bed right away after we closed the door but she sat up when I started asking questions. She nodded, looking miserable. "I'm afraid if they find us, they'll take you back. I won't be able to fight them, honey. "

I wanted to cry but it looked like if I started that Mom would cry, too. She said, they, not he, so I knew it wasn't Dad she was afraid of but the men he worked for now.

"If they take you back," Mom said, "I won't have any leverage to make your father quit this business because I won't leave you there without me and we're the only two things your father cares enough about to go against his family."

"Have you got some kind of plan?" I asked Mom. "Someplace we're going where they won't find us?"

She shook her head. "Not really." She sighed. "I have a friend in Arizona who might be able to help us. She has a place way out in the middle of nowhere. I thought it might be a good place to hide. But your father knows her name and sooner or later, he might try to find us there."

"Huh," I said. That still sounded pretty good. Maybe if Dad figured out where we were, he wouldn't tell on us. But no, he'd be really worried, and maybe mad, wondering if we were okay. He'd help them find us and we'd have to go back. And Mom didn't want to do that. I understood that; I didn't like what it meant but I understood it.

"What we need to do is just disappear for a year or so. Maybe your father can figure out how to get out of this situation. I'm afraid he might go to prison if he doesn't." Mom put her the side of her hand in her mouth and chewed on it, something I've been trying to break her from for years.

"Stop that," I said. "If I did that, you'd really be upset."

She grinned at me and wiped her hand on her slacks. "Sorry," she said. "It itches there when I'm nervous or upset."

"It' s unsanitary and doesn't look very ladylike," I told her. "And wiping your hand on your pants is worse."

She laughed at me, and I grinned. We'd done this before, I hated it when she chewed on her fingers and she knew it but it kind of become a joke between us.

"You're pretty bossy sometimes. Do you forget who's the kid around here?"

"No, but sometimes you do," I said.

We both laughed, then she coughed and got up to blow her nose and rinse her mouth and wash her hands. The coughing sounded better but I reminded myself not to kiss her yet.

"You and your father are the only ones who ever expect me to be ladylike," she said, after she stopped coughing. "Remember, I had three older brothers, I think I'll always be a bit of a tomboy. " She smiled. "I've got some pictures, or my brother Jake does, of me at your age, dressed almost the same. I played second base, too, you know."

I grinned at that, I'd seen the pictures. She did look like me, except, she had a bow in her hair. "What about Uncle Jake and Uncle Todd and Uncle Marcus? Would they help?" We didn't see them much, even Uncle Marcus was a lot older than Mom and none of them lived close by.

"Yeah," she said looking a bit sour. "Jake would help put your father and his uncles behind bars. He's with the state attorney's office, remember?" She made a face, "And Todd is in Europe with the Navy. Marcus is no help, he'd just run to Jake."

I felt a sinking sensation, like someone pushed my heart down under the ice cubes in a tall soda. Mom's brothers were all years older than she and no one in her family really liked my dad that much. Mom's parents were dead and Jake was head of the family. They'd help, but they'd only help their way. They actually called Mom 'Little Sis' and she always complained that they treated her like she was still twelve.

I took a deep breath but it didn't help. I still felt scared and lonesome, even with Mom right there in front of me. "I think I have an idea how we could hide where no one could find us," I said. It hadn't just come to me, I'd been thinking about it since before lunch.

Mom looked at me. "I don't think there could be such a place, honey," she said.

"Not a place," I said. My idea was really embarrassing and it was hard to talk about it. I shook my head.

She looked thoughtful. "Some kind of disguise?"

"Uh, yeah," I said. Mom is little and cute, too, and lots of people don't believe how smart she can be or that she'll be thirty in less than two years. I bet myself she figured out what was going on with my uncles before anyone told her.

Which reminded me that Dad is pretty smart, too. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. But if we thought Dad would be able to out think us, no matter what we did, then we might as well just go home.

"It's worth a try," I said out loud.

"What is?" Mom asked. Then she had to cough some more and spit up ugly green nose potatoes. I looked away until she was done.

"I got the idea when I went out to play ball with the other kids," I said, when Mom was through being disgusting.

"Um?" she said. "I don't think we could disguise ourselves as locals. Everyone here is so dark. Black hair, brown skin and eyes, it's almost like being in a foreign country. Not really, but you know what I mean. I grew up in a small town back east ...." She trailed off, looking at me oddly.

"Well, Dad and his uncles are going to be looking for you and me, right?"

She nodded. "So your idea is that we be someone else?"

"Uh huh," I said. "They're looking for a young mom with a son who's starting sixth grade. Right?"

She nodded again. "Am I going to think you're crazy when you tell me your idea?" She grinned. "You want me to disguise myself as a boy or something?" She pulled her shirt tight over her front and looked down. "I admit, I'm not Dolly Parton but ...." She patted herself on her butt, snorted a laugh, then had to blow her nose.

I wiped my hands over my face. This just wasn't easy and Mom being sick made everything harder. "Is it really, really important we don't get caught? I mean, couldn't we go to the police and have them protect us?"

Mom looked down at the floor. "Maybe, but that would be like trying to get your dad in trouble. We'd probably have to tell why we're running away and ... I'd rather not. This is your dad and his family, they wouldn't really do anything bad to us so it's not right to get them in trouble. But I want to ..." She stopped and looked around the room for a moment.

I decided she was trying to think how to tell me something that made her feel bad so I just stayed quiet and studied my shoes. They were maroon and gray cross-trainers with a big red letter N on the side. I hadn't brought my baseball shoes with the rubber cleats along but these worked pretty good out on the field. I wondered how much money Mom had with us; shoes and clothes weren't cheap and if my disguise idea worked, we'd both need a lot of new clothes.

Mom got up from the chair where she'd been sitting and walked over to the little TV fastened to the table against the wall opposite the gap between the two beds. She turned the set on and a bunch of Spanish came out of the speakers before the picture came on. The TV looked pretty old, it still had a picture tube not a flat screen. She flicked through a few channels when the picture came up and found some old movie in black and white. In English but with Spanish in yellow letters near the bottom. It looked really odd to have yellow letters on the black and white screen.

I didn't recognize any of the actors and Mom turned the sound way down, so it might as well have been in Spanish, anyway, since neither of us could hear it; just see the Spanish words on the screen.

After she stopped playing with the TV, she went over to the air conditioner hanging in the small window high up in the front wall. She studied the controls or maybe just pretended to because she didn't touch them. Finally, she turned to me and I quit playing with my shoelaces and looked at her.

She sighed and wiped her nose with a tissue then wadded it up in her hand and squeezed it. "We're running away because I want your father to worry about us," she said. She acted like it was a big thing, that she felt bad about, and maybe she thought I would think it was a terrible thing to do.

I just nodded. I'd figured that out, too.

"Maybe if we're gone, he'll think about why we left and change what he's doing," Mom said. She really looked awful, not just from the cold but from the pain it caused her to do something that mean to my dad. I knew that my mom and dad really cared about each other, more than about anyone else in the world, except me. And here Mom was doing something to hurt Dad and using me to help her do it. No wonder she got sick.

I nodded again.

"Do you think it'll work?" she asked. And that's how messed up she was about this; she was asking me how a grown-up would act about something.

"It's worth a shot," I said, not wanting her to feel worse. Personally, I thought Dad would be worried, then mad, then worried again and finally, he might try to think why she would do something so awful as running away. And maybe he would decide that he was the one who had messed up. But maybe not. And I knew that Dad could stay mad a long, long time.

And Mom knew that, too. Which was probably part of what she felt so bad about.

She sighed, rolled her eyes, cleared her throat and spit into her tissue.

"Please don't look at it," I said.

She grinned at me, threw the tissue away and got a clean one. "So tell me this idea of yours," she said.

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