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Authors: Liz Garton Scanlon

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BOOK: The Great Good Summer
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“You thought it would be fun? You have a weird sense of adventure. Fun is hanging out at the city pool and not having homework. This wasn't supposed to be fun! This ‘crackpot scheme,' as you call it, happened because we were desperate, remember? Me worrying about my mama, who's gone off missing? And you, too! You were desperate because all your dreams were being laid up in a museum. Or at least that's what you acted like, all lost and heartbroken. But it turns out you were just looking for some fun? Lordamercy, Paul Dobbs.”

I gulp down my soda, icy cold and thick-sweet, not caring anymore if it hits my tummy like a brick. I deserve whatever happens from here on out. What a mighty mess.

“I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings,” says the voice in my head, and I don't rightly know if it's
coming from Pastor Lou, or Mama, or God himself. And it doesn't really matter, because they'd probably all be saying the same thing right about now.

Paul has enough money for two tickets. But not a whole lot more on top of that. Once we get to Florida—if we get to Florida—we won't make it long without some help from somebody, or a job at a burger joint.

“Should I just buy tickets back to Loomer and call it an aborted launch?” asks Paul. I guess he thinks he's being kind of funny with the space reference and all. We're back in the main lobby, looking over the schedule and trying to decide what to do—go ahead with our plans or turn right around and head back home.

“No,” I say. “No. If we go home now, the whole thing was a bust. You sold your planes, we lied to our parents, all my babysitting money is gone—and your money's about to be gone too, once you spend it on me. And meanwhile we've got no mama, no space shuttle, no nothing to show for it all. We can't just up and go home now, can we?”

Paul doesn't answer, but by the time I look up from the schedule, he's halfway to the ticket counter. The bus to Tallahassee leaves at one thirty, and the way things are going in Houston, that's not nearly soon enough.

“Let's start thinking about how to find The Great Good Bible Church,” I say to Paul. We're sitting in the front row of waiting room seats, looking out at the buses as they arrive and leave. I've got my ticket, tight in my hand. I'm done with losing things, and I'm done fighting with Paul about whether this is fun or not. I just am.

“Okay. So since we're gonna keep on going,” says Paul, “here's what I think we need. A hypothesis. If your mom is really at a church in the Florida panhandle, then . . .” Paul lets his voice drag off.

“Yeah? Then, what?” I ask. But Paul doesn't answer. “Then, what? You're the scientist, Paul. You're in the business of hypotheses. You tell me!” I was hopeful for a second that he actually
had
a hypothesis, but I guess he was just prompting
me
to come up with one.

I take a big bite of one of the granola bars from my backpack, along with a last drink of root beer. I still feel wobbly after my fainting episode.

“Ivy, I know you're feeling kind of sore and mad at me,” Paul says, “but I'm trying here. And d'ya have another one of those granola bars?” Which makes me feel kind of bad, because I've had my manners in hand since the first grade, and here I am drinking the root
beer Paul got for me, without even thinking he might be hungry too.

“Yes. Okay. I'm sorry. Here's a bar.” Paul takes it and opens it, all in one quick move. “And we're about to get back onto the bus and be squished in next to each other for about a zillion hours, right? So, truce? Truce all around?” Because now I really mean it. I'm done being mad.

“Truce,” says Paul. And he holds out his hand for a fist bump. “Y'know,” he says, “your Mama's missing, Ivy, but my mom and dad are pretty vacant themselves. I mean, everything's all ‘Jenny, Jenny, Jenny' at my house, and I mean, I love my sister, but it sucks to be a misfit in your own family. I'm not comparing, Ivy, honest. I'm just saying. We're on the same side.”

I nod and don't say a thing, because what can you say to a thing like that?

“Okay. So back to our plan,” says Paul. Which is a relief. “If your mom is at a church in the Florida pan­handle, then maybe one of the other churches in the Florida panhandle will have heard of it. Right? Let's start calling the ones in Tallahassee, don't you think, since that's the main city?” Paul opens a map of Florida on his lap and shows me exactly where Tallahassee is. Which
makes me think he is a pretty good guy to run away with after all.

And in what seems like just minutes, a crackly voice comes over the loudspeaker announcing that our bus is boarding. The man sitting across from us crushes a cigarette with the toe of his leather boot, right there on the floor of the bus station. It wasn't lit—there are
NO SMOKING
signs everywhere—but he still stamps down on it like he's making sure it's good and out. And then he stands up and shakes out his skinny knees.

I wonder if he's riding with us to Florida, and also if he's overheard us, and also if he wants a granola bar. He looks like he could use one. I mean, if you look around, it seems like most folks here could use a snack. And something to drink. And a shower.

Chapter Twelve

O
ur new bus driver is a man with an actual uniform, and he's all kinds of proper compared to Magdalena, which makes me nervous, since we're runaways and all. He collects and punches everyone's tickets before we step up into the bus. Magdalena just had a box she held out as we passed the driver's seat. I don't think she ever even looked at the tickets. This new guy is different.

“Tallahassee?” he asks when I hand him mine. “Final destination?”

“I think so,” I say, and Paul kicks at my heel a little.

“I mean, for now,” I say, and Paul kicks again. I stand up taller in my shoes—I'm already tall for my age, thanks to Daddy, and I mean to look at least sixteen right this very minute.

“Yes, Tallahassee. Final destination,” I say, one foot on the step of the bus.

I move ahead, and Paul gives his ticket to the driver next.

“Y'all on your own?” asks the driver to our backs, just
when I thought we were free. I stop. Paul bumps into me, and I don't feel tall. I feel tiny. Neither of us says a word for what feels like five minutes.

And then, at the same second, we both say, “Yeah.”

“We're visiting our uncle,” adds Paul, since I guess he figured “yeah” wasn't quite enough of an answer.

“Long ride for a couple a kids on their own,” says the driver, and neither of us answers that. We move up into the bus. I'm praying we don't get asked another thing and that he just flat-out forgets we're even on the bus at all.

“Remember how we were gonna say we were visiting our grandma,” I whisper to Paul once we're tucked way down in our seats, “because so many grandmas live in Florida?”

“Yep. I remember that now,” says Paul. His face looks as red and hot as mine feels. We both stay low and quiet as other folks take their turns getting on the bus. Our phone calls to all the churches in Florida can wait.

It's not till the bus revs up to leave the station that I have the guts to look up and around. Sure enough, there's Skinny Man, his cigarette pack showing through his shirt pocket, brown leather boots sticking out into the aisle, kitty-corner from us. I have Mama's phone in my hand,
but I'm not sure I want to make phone calls with him right there, listening.

“What if folks hear us?” I whisper to Paul, kind of nodding my head in Skinny Man's direction. Paul turns to look and busts out laughing. And then I laugh too, because in that half second since I first looked around, Skinny Man has fallen sound—and I mean sound—asleep. His mouth hangs open and his head is lopped sideways in a way that doesn't look right.

“I don't think we've got cause to worry, Ms. Green,” says Paul. He's still laughing a little as he pulls a spiral notebook out of his pack and then kicks the rest of the bag underneath his seat. “Now let's get going on the research portion of our adventure.”

And for a second at least, maybe even two, I think Paul is right—this
is
an adventure. And maybe there's even a tiny tidge of fun to be had. That doesn't mean we're not desperate, right? Or that we're not serious? It just means we're making the best of a bad situation.

Here's how the research portion of our adventure goes:

I open up Mama's phone.

(Yes, her phone is the kind you have to open up. The kind with actual buttons instead of a touch screen.
“Smart people shouldn't need smartphones,” according to Mama.)

So I open up the phone and I dial 411, which is what smart people without smartphones do to find other people's phone numbers.

After the computer determines that I want service in English instead of Spanish, an operator answers.

“What city and state, please?”

“Tallahassee, Florida,” I say.

“How can I help you?” she asks.

I pause a second and then give it a try. “Do you have the number for The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida?” I say.

“I do not,” she says, which is what I expected. But I couldn't just
not ask
, could I? “Would you like another listing?” she asks, almost sounding sorry.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. I guess I'm looking for a Baptist church.”

“I find a number of Baptist churches,” says the operator. And then she lists them. “Bradfordville First Baptist Church. Celebration Baptist Church. First Baptist Church. Highpoint Baptist Church. Immanuel Baptist Church . . .” She goes on and on, in alphabetical order. I scrawl them down in Paul's spiral notebook as quick as I
can. I mean, my handwriting's barely legible even when I'm sitting at a school desk, and this bus is no help at all.

“Would you like the number for one of the churches I've listed?” asks the operator, and I say, “Yes, I'll try First Baptist Church.” I just say that 'cause it seems like “First” is a good place to start.

And then a computer connects me. My face flushes hot, and I lick my lips and the bus rolls on as I listen to the phone ring at the First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida. We are heading in that direction, I think, but we don't even know if that's where we want to be.

“Greetings,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “First Baptist.”

“Oh, um, well, hi,” I say.

Dear God, I did not expect someone to pick up the phone.

“May I help you, ma'am?” she says, which makes me less panicky because she apparently thinks I'm a grown-up!

“Yes, I hope so. We're looking for a church. The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida,” I say. And the woman doesn't say anything when I pause. So to help her out, I say, “We were wondering if you know of it.”

“Is it in Tallahassee?” she asks. But before she lets me answer, she says, “It can't be in Tallahassee, 'cause I
would've heard of it, and I've never heard of it.”

“Oh. Well. Okay, thanks.”

It's discouraging, during the research portion of an adventure, to hang up without any new information at all. And, especially, to repeat this
particular
portion of the research portion again and again. I call back and ask the operator to connect me to Immanuel Baptist Church. And then Northwoods Baptist Church, which I think is kind of funny since we're in the South. And then Maranatha. And as I talk to the church secretaries, Paul crosses off the names of the churches, one by one. The secretaries all pretty much tell me the same thing: they've never heard so much as a whisper about The Great Good Bible Church. Not a whisper. One woman says, “I haven't the foggiest, young lady,” which I guess means I'm not that grown-up sounding after all. “The Great Good Bible Church doesn't even sound Baptist, if you ask me,” she says. And I kinda think she's got a point.

A couple of the ladies are extra nice, though. One says she's never heard of The Great Good but we are always welcome to visit
her
church—“It's where God's people gather,” she says. And another invites me to be a part of their cozy flock. “Like a lamb coming in from the cold,” she says. And I promise you, I'm not just gone-off crazy,
her voice sounds a bit like Mama's. I've half a mind to head straight there. Like a little lamb.

Paul finally makes a couple of calls for me, because I'm about this far from giving up, but he gets the same answer. The Great Good Bible Church may as well not even exist.

My mind races straight past possibility and heads toward hopelessness. What if we go all this way and don't find Mama? What if Mama doesn't want to be found, at least by us? What if she's not just gone for the summer but gone for good?

I shake my head like a wet dog would, and I sit up straight. “I'll finish up,” I say to Paul. “I'd rather have something to do.” And as I reach for the phone, I look around to make sure we're still speaking in private. Skinny Man's mouth hangs open, and he hasn't budged a bit.

“Can you connect me to Highpoint Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida,” I say to the operator, and while it rings, I whisper to Paul, “What's our next plan?”

“Pardon me?” says a man on the other end of the line.

“Oh. Oh, gosh. I'm sorry. I was talking to someone here. Listen, you don't know of a place called The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida, do you?”

“The Great Good Bible Church. I don't think so. Why?”

Why? Well, huh. Nobody's asked me that before. I swallow, and then, because he's got a nice voice—about as much like Daddy's as the little lamb woman's was like Mama's—I start talking. Like he's my own personal pastor.

“Well, sir, this is all kind of crazy,” I say. “The thing is, I'm looking for The Great Good Bible Church and this Holy Roller preacher called Hallelujah Dave because I'm pretty sure—almost one hundred percent positive, actually—that that's where my mama is. She needs her medication. And I need her.”

“Oh,” says the Daddy-like man on the other end of Mama's cell phone.

And that's all he has time to say, because I start up again. “And I'm on my way to bring her home. But I can't very well do that if I can't find her, can I?” That's what I say into the phone, and that's when I feel Paul touch my arm with his fingertips. I turn to look at him, and he's holding one finger up to his lips, as a
shh
sign. But not in a mean way like this morning. This time it's almost gentle, really.

And then I look across at Skinny Man, and guess what? He's staring straight at me too.

“No, I guess you can't,” says the voice I forgot was there. “That would make it pretty tough,” he says. “But I have something for you, my dear. I don't know The Great Good Bible Church, but Hallelujah Dave I've heard of. Just this morning. He was in the Tallahassee paper, and I hate to tell you this, but that man's in jail. I don't know where that puts your mama, but the fellow who calls himself Hallelujah Dave is most definitely in the county jail.”

Jail. Jail? My throat stops up, and I drop the phone into my lap like it's on fire. I hear a murky, spooky voice calling out, “Miss? Miss, are you okay?” But it's Paul who reaches for the phone and says “Thank you for your help” before hanging up properly. Which is only right, because the pastor from Highpoint Baptist truly
was
a help. Just not the kind of help I expected. Or wanted, really.

BOOK: The Great Good Summer
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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