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Authors: Liz Garton Scanlon

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BOOK: The Great Good Summer
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“Yeah, I guess I am,” I say, because my backpack's packed and I've got money and a telephone, and at least Paul Dobbs is coming with me.

I pull the peanut butter off the shelf and dip a spoon deep into the jar. I don't think I'm really hungry, but I sure am nervous.

“But I mean, are
you
ready?” I ask. “Are we really gonna do this? Is this crazy? Is this safe? Did you sell your planes? Are you scared? Are you sure?” I stop myself from asking a hundred other questions, by popping the peanut butter into my mouth. It's sticky and sweet.

“Well, yeah,” says Paul. “I think I'm ready. And I think it's crazy, too, but a lot of great ideas are at least a little bit crazy. Don't you think?”

I don't answer, because I don't
know
the answer to that. I guess he's talking about taking a leap of faith, right? Except for the fact that Paul Dobbs probably
wouldn't put it that way, due to the word “faith” and all.

“Y'know who wanted all my flying gear? Dash. He's always wanted a bigger collection, and he obviously gets some kind of whopping allowance, because he bought everything. Perfect, huh?”

“Yep. Wow. Perfect. You didn't tell him, though, did you? This has to be top secret, right?” My voice comes out funny 'cause of all the peanut butter, but I'm serious. If a single soul knows about this, we won't make it to see the space shuttle in Cape Canaveral or The Great Good Bible Church in Tallahassee or even, probably, the bus station in Houston.

“Top secret,” says Paul. And I believe him, because for whatever reason, he seems to want to make it to Florida at least as much as I do.

Chapter Nine

P
aul and I'd agreed to meet at the end of my street at ten till six in the morning with everything we'd need. So at five twenty my alarm shakes me awake. Last night I stowed it under my pillow so it wouldn't disturb Daddy, which you have to admit was a good idea, but it is startling, like my own head is a fire alarm, clanging.

I turn it off and roll over onto my back and stare at the ceiling of my own little room in Loomer, Texas. I think about lying to Daddy and to Mrs. Murray, and about getting onto a bus with Paul Dobbs, of all the people on God's green earth. I think about going all the way to Florida and maybe—or maybe not—finding Mama, and then I stop, because I simply cannot think about not finding Mama.

I tiptoe into the bathroom, pee without flushing, and brush my teeth without water. I can't make a single mistake, or the whole thing is off.

For the first time in my life, I'm glad that I don't have a dog. A dog would hear me and bark, or come panting after me down the stairs and wake Daddy. So it's good
I'm all alone, tiptoeing around this quiet house. When I get back from Florida, though, I'm gonna go right back to wanting a dog. I just want to get that on the record.

It's five forty when I set the note I pre-wrote on the kitchen table and sneak out the door toward the garage. By seven, I'll be on a bus to Houston, and Daddy will be drinking his coffee, surprised that I forgot to tell him about having to babysit extra early for the Murrays today.

That's not like Ivy,
he'll think.
That's not like Ivy at all.

And it's true, it's not. But hopping a Greyhound bus to Florida isn't either, and I'm doing that, so I guess some days are just full of surprises.

It's still that creepy kind of dark outside, and the streetlight near the front of our house sizzles like a bug zapper as I ride beneath it. My blood beats hard, not only in my chest but in my head and hands too, and I'm not sure if that's just because I'm riding fast or because I'm scared of getting caught or because I'm afraid that if I don't get caught, I'm really, truly, honest to goodness going to do this. I'm going to run away.

Paul says we're not running away. He says we're going on an exploratory field trip, but somehow I'm thinking that Daddy isn't going to see it that way. To be honest, I'm
not 100 percent sure
what
Daddy is going to think about this whole thing. He's been not really all that Daddyish ever since Mama left, and I don't blame him for that, but I can't just sit here in Loomer and wait for him to come around.

I see the silhouette of Paul and his bike standing under another buzzing streetlight a few blocks down, at the corner of Magpie and Lowey. His backpack hangs off one shoulder, and one of his feet is still up on a bike pedal, as if he might take off at any moment. I roll quietly nearer and nearer to him until I can actually see his face, yellow in the light.

“Why are you standing under the light for all the world to see?” My voice comes out louder than I expected, a sort of yelled whisper.

“Why are you yelling for all the world to hear?” Paul yell-whispers back. I guess we're both a little tense.

“Sorry,” we say at once, and then, without another word, we turn our bikes out onto Lowey and head for the bus station. My pumping matches Paul's pumping, my breathing matches Paul's breathing, and the yellow-pink beginnings of the day shine at the end of the street like something sweet—a berry or a flower or a promise.

We lock our bikes around the corner from the station, near the Lazy Laundry, just like we planned. Because nobody'd look for us there, that's the sure truth. Inside the station almost all the seats are empty, except for three—an older man and woman who remind me of my Papa and Meemaw, Daddy's parents, which makes me sad because they've both passed on; and a man on his own, who I'm pretty sure is homeless. I recognize him from when our Bible study gave out clean socks and granola bars to people who were down on their luck, which, from the looks of it, he still is. So he makes me sad too, and I start to wonder if it's just a sad sort of morning. Or if maybe every morning's a little sad at the bus station.

“One way to Houston,” says Paul to the girl in the booth. Because here's our plan:

1. We will buy one-way tickets because we're not exactly sure when we're coming back, or how, or who will be with us. (Please, Mama, be with us.)

2. We will buy tickets just to Houston, so that if anyone tracks us to the station, we won't have given away our final destination.

3. And we will buy tickets separately so that maybe the ticket girl won't know we're together. And that's an easy way to keep our money straight.

4. Also? You have to be fifteen to ride on the Greyhound alone—Paul found that out in his research—and since we are not exactly fifteen we plan to look as old as possible at all times. People like Mrs. Murray have always called me “mature,” so that's what I'm counting on. Neither of us is wearing a school T-shirt at least, so that's a start.

Paul buys his one-way ticket to Houston, and I buy a bottle of Dr Pepper. And then, a few minutes later, after Paul's gone to the men's room and the homeless man has tipped over sideways in his seat, I step up to the window.

“A ticket to Houston, one way, please,” I say, and I slide a little of my babysitting money across the counter. The girl, who has long, curved, tiger-print fingernails, slides a ticket back. She never even looks up.

“Here I come, Mama,” I whisper as I walk away from the counter. “Everything is going to be okay. I promise
you that. Everything is going to be okay.”

And as the morning sun comes beating through the windows of the little station, I believe this, through and through.

Chapter Ten

W
e sit quietly in our seats as the bus starts up, hoping not to be noticed. Just like that, so quietly, and away we go. Right after we pass the big, beat-up sign for the county dump, the long lines of sooty, blackened trees appear. There was a week or so, not too long after the fires, when Daddy was coming out here all the time to help assess the damage and make bids on rebuilding the roofs. He said you could smell the smoke straight through the windows of his truck, and when he got home, his clothes smelled like he'd been camping. Now I lean into the rounded window at my shoulder and breathe in, but it just smells like bus.

Before long the skeleton trees are gone. Loomer is gone.
We
are really and truly gone. I'm sure we've got a long way to go before landing in Florida, but it feels like the hardest part of the trip is over already. We did it. We left.

I take another deep breath—more like a sigh this time—and I feel Paul do the same thing in the seat next to me.

“Y'know,” I say. “I've spent nearly my whole long life wishing for a dog and wishing for a middle name.”

“I'm not one for dogs,” says Paul. And then a second or two later he says, “You don't have a middle name?”

“Ivy Blank Green,” I say. “That's me.”

“Well, what kind of a name is that?” asks Paul.

“A lame one,” I say. “Mama and Daddy decided to skip the middle-name thing, like we always skip a verse when we're singing hymns at church? It was supposed to be meaningful—they were leaving room for God, they said—but to me it's just always felt like I was missing a name. And missing a dog. And now I'm missing a mama.”

I sigh again, for real this time.

“Yeah,” says Paul. “Yeah. Sorry.”

I don't know what to do with myself after that. I wish I would've brought a book or something, because I have a feeling this is gonna be a really long ride. My fingers find the little cross I wear on a chain around my neck. It was Mama's when she was a girl, and it's been mine since Daddy got her a new one. I love it, even though the gold has worn off in places and you can see a sort of unshiny silver underneath. Which I guess means it's fake, but that doesn't really matter much to me.

I've pressed myself up against the corner of my seat to sleep for a little bit, on account of getting up early and all, when our bus hits something big. You can tell because there's a bounce and a terrible bang—I lurch awake—and the next thing you know, we're thumping off to the side of the road. Everyone around us sits up high and leans out into the aisle to see what's going on.

Our driver, an older woman who's so large, she uses the steering wheel like a handle to pull herself up, moves a lever to open the door with a big swooshing sound, and out she goes.

“Oh my God. This was a crappy idea,” says Paul, too loud and kind of out of the blue. “The whole idea of leaving early was to get out of town—as far out of town as we could, before anyone realized we were gone. And now we're stuck on the side of the road? I knew it. This whole thing was really, really a crappy idea.”

He sits to the right of me—trapping me up against the window—and he suddenly seems bigger than before, with a voice that's deep and mad. Even still, his hands shake and jitter on his knees.

I turn my body toward him, my back up against the side of the bus. “Hey!” I say. “What on God's green earth? This was your idea, Mr. Smart Man. And you're giving
up on it, just like that? I ran away from home because of you, and you're giving up?”

I'm shaking too, my hands and my voice. What is happening here? We just left! We planned this all the way out, pretty carefully, and still, everything is falling apart before we've even made it to our first stop!

Our driver heaves herself back up the steps of the bus and booms, “Well, folks, as luck would have it, that was some heavy chunk of lumber we hit, and I believe our axle's broke, and we're gonna have to wait here for the mechanic to come and fix us up. Y'all make yourselves comfortable.” And then she turns and plops back in her seat as if she doesn't have a place in the world to be.

I sink down low and wrap my arms around my body, tight. It's like I want to hold myself together so I don't start to cry.

“You're right,” I whisper to Paul after a solid minute of just sitting and squeezing and not crying. “This was really, truly a bad idea.”

I turn back to the window, rest my head against the frame, and look out at a tangled field of soybeans that goes on and on and on.

“Oh, dear God,” I say, in that sort of yell-whisper I've used all morning. “Oh, please, please, please, dear God.”
'Cause really, a little bit of God would come in handy right about now.

Everyone on the entire bus has to stand on the side of the road while the tow truck guy uses some fancy jack to raise the bus up toward the back of the truck.

“Wow. Would you look at that?” I say. “That is quite the tool. Daddy needs one of those to get himself up onto roofs. He could kiss his ladders good-bye!”

“It's a hydraulic lift,” Paul says. What he's really saying is, “It's a hydraulic lift, you dummy.” I can tell by the shake of his head and the sort of tone he takes.

Any fool who's been raised right would tell you I was just trying to be nice, to make conversation. But Paul has to do his it's-a-hydraulic-lift-you-dummy thing, and then he finishes with “Shhh.”

“Shhh,” as in to hush me!

Okay. I'm sorry, Mr. Boss of the World, but I don't think that being really quiet standing next to a gigantic Greyhound bus on the side of the road is gonna keep us from getting caught. And I don't think that being in a fight is gonna get us to Florida. (I mean, of course I don't actually say that, because I'm supposed to be quiet.)

Most other folks aren't quiet, by the way, because
they aren't running away from home and Paul Dobbs isn't their running-away partner. In fact, everyone else seems to think this is a little bit fun and worth making friends over, never mind that we're all standing in wobbly gravel and the tow truck's noisy and the sun is already hot.

The lady and man who were sitting a couple rows up from us, across the aisle from each other, seem to be discovering that they actually know each other from way back when. “It's a small world,” the lady keeps saying.

“A mighty small world,” the man answers.

Which makes me think of Mama, who, heaven knows, would not only be making friends with everyone on the bus but would also be giving them recipes and possibly starting a sing-along. She's polite and friendly that way, ten times more polite than I am. She'd be driving Paul Dobbs half-crazy if she were here right now.

“Blest be the tie that binds,” I whisper under my breath, because Paul cannot keep me away from Mama's favorite hymn. He just plain can't.

“We pour our ardent prayers . . .” I whisper and I keep on going, all the way till the bit that says, “When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain,” and I think,
that
is the real truth. I am parted from my mama, and I am inward
pained. I am! And I don't understand why she isn't too! Why isn't
she
on a bus, coming for me? Whatever happened to the “family” part of my mama's moral fiber?

“Hey,” says Paul all of a sudden. “Hey, now! A new bus! Lookit, Ivy. We're not even gonna have to get hauled back into town. We can leave from here!”

And he's right. A new bus—a perfect twin to the one we were on, only this one has all its pieces working right—pulls off into the gravel in front of ours. Our driver, the very gigantic (but also, I've realized, very beautiful) woman who's told everyone by now that her name is Magdalena, and she's originally from Sweetwater, and she started driving Greyhounds to see the world . . . well, she steps up onto the edge of the asphalt now, so she looks a little taller and in charge, and she claps to get our attention.

“Friends,” she says, “great news! A new bus is here, and we're gonna get back on the road just as soon as we all load up and Mr. Dalnaut here helps transfer over all of y'all's luggage.”

“All right,” says Paul, next to me and sounding less serious now. “That's what I'm talking about. On the road again.”

“Someone's looking after us,” I answer. And then I
look at Paul and smile because we're starting over, God on our side.

He rolls his eyes at me. So. That didn't last long. I feel silly one more time.

Here's how Paul Dobbs and I left things in Loomer, Texas, so that nobody will know we're missing till we're really good and gone:

•
I left Daddy a note saying that I was going to the Murrays early and that I was spending the night at Abby's afterward, so I'd see him tomorrow night, and I love him and he should have something besides a burger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

•
I sent an email to Mrs. Murray to say that I couldn't babysit today or tomorrow because I've got this overnight with Abby and then we're going to the water park, and I hoped she'd understand and could she kiss Lucy and Devon on the tops of their little heads for me? I didn't leave a voice mail for her, because what if she answered?

•
I left nothing, no note and no email and no voice mail, for Abby. I'm just praying that nobody sees her or calls her and asks where I am, even though I'm pretty sure it's sacrilegious to pray that you don't get caught when you've done something wrong.

•
Paul left a note for his parents saying that he and Dash were taking a field trip out to the flying field at the Woodlands, since the one at East Loomer Park had shut down, and they were gonna get back late and he thought he'd spend the night at Dash's afterward. So, yeah, he'd see them tomorrow.

That was my idea, the story about going off to fly planes with Dash. I thought it was a good one. Until Paul turns to me from his nice comfy blue seat on our new bus and says, “So, hey. There's really a flying field out at the Woodlands, right?”

“Oh,” I answer. “Oh, mercy. I honestly don't know.”

As our bus finally pulls back onto the highway and rolls farther and farther away from Loomer, I hear Mama's voice humming along underneath the rhythm
of the wheels: “Not every idea is a good idea, baby. Not every idea is a good idea.”

I look at Paul, who's closed his eyes, and at our backpacks shoved down by our feet, and at the broad blue sky outside. It all looks plenty promising, if you ask me.

“Hush up, Mama,” I whisper. “I don't see you coming up with anything better. And also? You should talk!”

BOOK: The Great Good Summer
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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