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By R. Jamerson

Sally sat motionless, staring out the window. She watched the red and gold leaves, dancing in the wake of the bus, as it sped along the highway. Her short blond hair all but hidden beneath the burgundy stocking cap, pulled low over her face. Fall was Sally’s favorite time of the year; but today her mind wasn’t on the beauty of the countryside. How things could change so completely in such a short time, she thought remembering a different bus ride just six weeks ago.

The rattling old orange school bus groaned to a stop in front of the gas station. Sally skipped the steps and jumped to the ground outside. It was the second week of school, and she was a freshman! That word never did make any sense, thought Sally. Oh well! She had finally made it to high school!

“Hey Sally,” the voice of her friend Chris jolted Sally back to reality. “I thought we were going to plan our strategy for getting out of the house tonight!"

“Oh yeah,” replied Sally. Now where is this we are planning to go?"
“To see my sick and lonely grandmother of course: you know she depends on me to do chores for her now and then.”

“Chris Stacy! You don’t even have a grandmother,” Sally said, laughing.

“Right, but your mother doesn’t know that,” quipped Chris.

“Well that might work, but I don’t know. My mother is always suspicious! I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up some morning and find bars on my window! You would think I was a criminal!”

“Your mother is a trip, on the other hand, my mother doesn’t care where I go as long as I am home before 11:00. Hey, did you see that new boy Johnny Barrow? Julie said he always comes to the Den! Maybe he will be there tonight!”

“Yeah that would be great, if I’m able to get out of the house. Mom has been so grumpy lately!”

“Do you ever hear from your Dad, Sally” asked Chris?

Sally’s face became serious for a moment. Her lip trembled and she turned her face away.

“I’m sorry,” offered Chris. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally recovered her composure. “No, I don’t hear from him,” Sally responded. “Thanks to mom he left when I was three. Hey, race you to the tracks.”

The two girls ran laughing down the path to the railroad tracks. Chris waved to Sally. “Don’t forget now - my lonely, sick old grandmother! I’ll check with you after dinner, to see how you made out,” she yelled, disappearing over the hill.

Sally stood looking after her for a moment. “I wish I had a Mom like Chris’s,” she mumbled. “She gets an allowance! That will be the day, when I get an allowance. We are always broke!” For a brief moment Sally felt a twinge of guilt. Why did Davie have to leave me all alone with Mom. Besides he was only sixteen; he never should've left. Visions of Davie storming out of the house two years ago flooded Sally's mind. It's all Mom's fault. If she would've stopped nagging him about his friends or didn't bug him about going to Church with her, he's still be here. Maybe I should've escaped with him.

Shaking the unpleasant thoughts from her mind, Sally turned and started toward the old, white frame house. It wasn’t much to look at, in a hollow by the railroad tracks, sitting at the foot of a steep hill. There was a long, covered porch with a swing, and Sally did love that swing. It was her favorite place to be. There she could dream about places she wanted to go, things she wanted to do, and pretend to be rich and famous. It was also where she went when she was sad or lonely. The sound made by the chains on the metal hooks was irritating to some, but strangely comforting to Sally. The best time of all was when it rained. The steady rhythmic sound on the tin roof overhead would drown out everything, and allow her to retreat into a world of her own.

Realizing the Greyhound bus had stopped, Sally’s thoughts returned to the present.

The burly driver barked down the aisle, “Chow Time!”

Suddenly everyone was chattering away as they made their way toward the door. Sally remained in her seat. The last thing she wanted right now was to have someone ask a lot of questions. When the last passenger disappeared down the steps, Sally reached inside her canvas bag for the sandwich Ms. Harmon had placed there. Peanut butter & jelly had always been her favorite but today it was tasteless. After a few bites she returned it to the bag. Leaning back against the smooth vinyl of the seat, Sally allowed her mind to return once again to the events of that fateful day.

She ran eagerly through the pine thicket, anxious to get inside and start working on her Mom. Sally reached the clearing and stopped a puzzled look on her face. There were cars, lots of cars at her house! What is going on, she thought. Why are all these people here? She ran faster now, across the lawn and up the steps. The old screen door groaned in protest as Sally yanked it open and stepped inside. She was about to yell, “Mom,” when she froze! The room was full of people. She recognized some of them as neighbors. Her attention focused on a chair in the corner of the room where her mother sat. Her head back, eyes closed, she was not moving.

She’s dead, thought Sally, as her brain responded to what she saw. Mrs. Harmon was behind the chair wiping her mother’s brow with a white cloth. Just as quickly her consciousness analyzed the scene and responded, she can’t be dead because dead people don’t perspire. She tried to speak but the words would not come out, “Whaaa…Whaaa…”

Mrs. Harmon spoke softly, “Your mother had a stroke, Sally. We have sent for someone to take her to the hospital”
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