I walked into the kitchen pulling my sweatshirt down over my head. My mom was at the stove, scrambling a couple of eggs for breakfast. She reached over and laid her hand against my cheek, then reached back to help me pull my hair out from under the neck of my sweatshirt. Smiling, she turned back to the eggs pushing them around in the pan.
“I have to run up to Chandler today to deliver some kits to a store that’s going to start selling them.” She said, turning to split the eggs between two plates on the counter. She set them on the table and sat down in the seat across from me.
Taking a bite of my eggs, I nodded cautiously, knowing what was coming next. I opened my mouth to say at the exact same time as my mom “If anything happens to me..” We both trailed off and my mom laughed nervously.
“I know you think it’s stupid, but I really want you to take this seriously.” My mother pointed her finger at me and swallowed her eggs. “Yesterday I heard from someone I used to know, from before your father left us. He said that they are coming.”
“Who’s coming?” I asked the question, even though I knew she wouldn’t give me an answer.
My mother just looked at me until I scooped up another bite of my eggs. “OK. They’re coming.” I was skeptical. My mom had been paranoid about people “coming” for us, for the last few years, but I knew better than to ask.
My mother nodded in relief. Her eyes relaxed and she pushed a curl of her brownish red hair behind her ear and continued. “This trip to Chandler is going to be my last trip, but those kits should generate some income for a little while.” After a few years of working as a waitress my mom started making survival kits for hikers. All of that paranoia paid off and some of the local stores had started picking them up to sell. She nodded towards my backpack leaning against the wall by the door.
“My contact said we have a couple of days, and we need this money. But if something happens,” My mom stopped talking until I looked up from my plate and looked at her. She changed subjects abruptly, looking down at my hands. “Where’s your ring?” She asked sharply.
I looked down and cursed inwardly, fumbling in the pocket of my jeans until I pulled it out. I jammed it on my finger, twisting it until I got it over my knuckle. I looked back up at her and winced. She had given me this ring a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t told me too much about it, just that it was my grandma’s and really important. I twisted it nervously and my mom reached out and grabbed my hand, stopping the movement.
“Don’t take it off again,” she said, gripping my hand tightly.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed, trying to withdraw my hand from hers. “OK! I won’t!” I shook my hand out and my mother relaxed back into her chair. What was that all about? I wondered. My mom had been acting even weirder than normal lately.
I pushed my chair back from the table and stopped by her side. “Mom, I’m sure everything is going to be fine. Stop worrying so much.” I said, trying to reach down to give her a hug, but she shrugged me off. I felt a pang of hurt, but pushed that aside. My mom wasn’t ever going to be the type to hug. I don’t know why I even tried. I put my plate in the sink, and went over to the door to pick up my backpack. Trying to ease her mind, I zipped it open to show her the extra set of clothes I’d put in it the other day.
“See, I’ve been listening to you,” I said, pulling a t-shirt out. My mom smiled in relief and I felt a warm glow of pleasure at making that happen. A rare occurrence.
“I’ll see you later.” I said, as I walked out the door.
I had been halfway listening to my teacher ramble on about the Louisiana Purchase when the door opened, interrupting his monologue midstream. The principal, Mrs. Kendrick, stood at the door with a cop next to him. I hunched my shoulders in panic when the teacher looked over at me and waved me up to the front of the room.
I grabbed my bag, my mom’s words from that morning entering my head. Had something happened? I could hear all the other kids start whispering as I walked up the aisle to the front.
“Avery Anderson?” When I nodded, Mrs. Kendrick clasped my arm and led me outside the door of the classroom. The cop followed and huddled next to the principal. She had taken off her uniform hat and had it under her arm. She awkwardly reached out and laid a hand on my arm in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture.
“Is it my mom?” I asked quickly, my heart hammering inside my chest. “Did something happen?” Before the cop could respond, Mrs. Kendrick nodded.
“I’m so sorry honey,” she said trying to reach out to give me a hug. When I evaded her grasp, she turned to look at the officer as if to ask for help.
“Your mom was in a car accident this morning.” The officer spoke with respect for my loss, but I could tell she was trying to gather information at the same time.
“Where?” I asked sharply, my eyes tearing up, as I remembered her saying that someone was after us, just this morning.
“Avery, your mom was in Chandler at a stoplight that malfunctioned. All of the lights turned green at the same time and multiple people were injured.” Through the tears in my eyes, I could see the cop look kind of perplexed.
“A lot of people were hurt?” I asked with a tremor in my voice.
“Just one other, seriously, a man on the side of the road was hit by flying debris.” The officer’s voice faded when he saw the question in my eyes.
“There was a wild wind storm that kicked up suddenly. We think that contributed to the malfunction.” The officer continued to speak to the principal as she asked a couple more questions. I realized that they had grabbed hold of my arm and were leading me down to the main office. My legs were trembling, and my mind was racing as I tried to grasp what had happened.
My mom had been right? Was there a connection between someone trying to get us and this accident? I focused when I heard my name being repeated a few times.
The principal had steered me into her office and was asking if there was someone she could call. I remembered my mom’s instructions and told her that I could go to a neighbor’s apartment. After giving her a phone number, she called and reached Mrs. Gonzalez who was going to come to school and pick me up.
I stared at the principal and realized that I couldn’t see her for the tears that were running down my face. I reached for the tissue she held out to me and wiped my eyes.
Fifteen hours later:
I leaned my head against the window of the bus and wearily watched fields go by. The pungent scent of fertilizer came in through the cracked window and I reached up to close it, settling myself back against the seat and closing my eyes.