Choose Your Own Adventure: ZOO-F.O. Part 4

The curtains blow quietly, past them, rain splashes against the tin roof. The house is still and quiet, shadows slump hidden behind every object.

“Olivia? You up?” Mom pokes her head into my room. I put on a fake, pained expression.

“Hi Mom.” I mumble.

“Everything okay Honey?”

“I don’t feel well.” I say slowly.

She glances out the window towards Mr. Hanks house for a moment. Does she know I went over there this morning?

“I’m sorry Olivia, but you have to go to school today. No questions.”

“But mom my head hu-”

“Olivia, you heard me” Her voice suddenly very stern. “Now get up, you can’t miss the bus.”

I slip into a sweatshirt that’s too big and jeans that are too small.

Mr. Hanks is waiting for me in his kitchen. I collapse in one of his chairs and he looks at me with his soft expression.   

“I thought I’d see you again today. Let me guess, your mother thinks you are at school?” he says slipping a bookmark into an old musty book.

I nod, feeling a little ashamed. “Mr. Hanks, can you please tell me what’s going on? Everything has been so, weird lately… I’m just so confused…”

He rubs his temples and puts two pieces of bread in the toaster.

“All I can tell you, is that your mother is in danger. There are things you don’t know about your mother, Olivia. Things you will find out today. She should have never kept it a secret,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m sorry Olivia.

“I just don’t understand…” Tears pile up like rain on a windshield in the back of my eyes. I force my windshield wipers to wash them away.

“What can I do to help… how is she in danger?”

“I’m not the right position to tell you Olivia… But if– if your mother wants you to be at school, that’s where you should be.”

“But you said–”

“I know. Now let’s go. The first bell rings in six minutes.” He stands, pours his coffee into a travel mug, and wraps the two pieces of browned toast in a napkin and drops it in my hand.

* * *

I look up from my test, and out at the soccer field. Rain drips from the roof and the clouds are tired. A teacher hustles young students out of the school to the waiting buses. I look back down at my empty test.

Buzzzzzz. The last bell rings. Students sling their bag onto their shoulders and hustle out the door. I grab my backpack, pull my hair back into a ponytail, and shove my test into the recycling bin.

The outside air is bitter. I bite my lip and scurry onto my bus, to the very last seat. The bus is much emptier today than usual. The bus bumps along and I picture Mr. Hanks in his classroom picking up students’ trash, stacking chairs, filing through homework packets.

The bus runs through a pothole. I try to imagine mom at home clipping coupons or typing away viciously at her computer. The bus rolls to a stop, and I walk through the aisle, down the steps, and murmur a quick thank you to the bus driver who nods and folds the plastic doors behind me.

“MOM! I’m home! MOM?” The door slams behind me, echoing through the silent house. “Mom are you here?” I walk to the kitchen, my wet sneakers leaving behind ugly grey marks with each step. I cross the date of the calendar and pour myself some tea with the hot water on the stove.

“MOM! Seriously? Where are you?” I check the laundry room, she’s not there. Half the laundry is folded in the basket and there is still some in the open machine. My heart speeds up. What’s going on? Where is she? She is always home.

I check the bathroom, den, living room, her bedroom, and my room. Nothing.

“MOMMMMM!!!” I scream. I swing open the back door. Lying In the dying grass in front of me is a single metal chunk. I run my hand across the surface. The metal is hot, and makes my hand tingle. Dozens of marks line the surface. I turn it over and gasp.