New Year's Eve, Mother had gone to an AA meeting and as she was coming home -- how ironic -- a drunk driver rammed her in the back. Then the drunk fool backed up, I guess to drive around her, but he just got a running start. The first time he hit her, she came close to losing control of the car and just as she was almost in control, he hit her again. She lost complete control and drove down an embankment and into the swamp. The car came to rest in fairly shallow water - it came up to the bottom of the windows -- but it continued to sink into the ooze. Mother's door was jammed, but she managed to climb out the window and onto the car roof. She had presence of mind enough to grab her purse before she climbed out and used her cell phone to call 911.
A fire and rescue squad appeared in a short time and took her to the hospital. She, aside from being pretty shaken up, was none the worse for wear and was released after a few scrapes had been treated.
When she walked out from the treatment bay, a state trooper was waiting for her. She gave him a report and when he finished, he said the drunk had managed to get a mile down the road before his ruptured radiator caused his motor to freeze up.
Every time something unusual happened, I expected Mother to fall off the wagon and being rear-ended had to have an emotional toll. I was surprised and relieved when she came down to breakfast New Year's Day, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I guess it showed on my face because she said, "Marcus, I guess you have been on pins and needles waiting for me to slip. Well, it may very well happen. In fact, it is almost sure to happen. If I sat around anxious because I might, I know it would happen. I have my AA sponsor to call on and I am taking sobriety one day at a time. Think you might do the same. I don't want to crawl back into the bottle, but you and I have to remember I am and will be a recovering alcoholic, not a recovered one." I tried to take what she said to heart.
School started again and we were all back into our routine very quickly. Wednesday when I got home from school with John, Mother was in the kitchen talking to Clarisa, who was getting snacks ready.
"Afternoon, Mrs. Porcher," John said as he picked up a tray of veggies and dip.
"Afternoon, John. Good to see you. Things going well?"
"I'm glad. Marcus, may I speak to you a minute?"
I had picked up the ice and drinks, so I put them down and said, "Sure, Mother. John, I'll be up shortly."
"Marcus, one of my college roommates, Betsy Crandall, whom I haven't seen in several years, called today and invited me to spend a week or more with her in her place in the Florida Keys. What do you think?"
"If you like her and want to go, or even think you might like it, go. By all means go."
"But I feel guilty leaving you here...."
"Ho! Whoa! You are just going to the Florida Keys. It's easy to come back. Seems to me that's no big deal. The big deal was when you left and were still here. You're free now and I want you to enjoy it." It might have been a bit cruel to remind Mother, but she had left me for two or three years, hiding in a bottle. And a trip would probably do her good.
"Thanks, I guess," she laughed. "Thanks. Maybe you could drive me to the airport Saturday week if I decide to go?"
I took the drinks and went upstairs where Justin and Susan had joined John.
AP teachers have copies of old AP tests and from time to time give one, or part of one, to see how well students are doing. See, you get a regular class grade for an AP class which has nothing to do with the AP test. A lot of how well you do on the AP test depends on the teacher and how well she knows the subject and how AP tests work.
Our first such practice test was to be in a week in AP English. All of us were in AP English, so we decided we'd do what was required for homework in all our other classes and spend extra time on AP English.
We worked until 7:30 on regular homework and then took a supper break. We were going to Susan's place for supper. Supper at Susan's was a family affair. She had three younger siblings -- Mary fifteen, Rebekah thirteen and Woody, Woodrow junior, nine. The first time we arrived for supper, Mr. Wilson had said, "Just so you will know, Woody's not an afterthought. We had to have time to work up enough courage to try for a boy after three girls. 'Course, if Woody had been a Woodette, we'd have been happy."
The Wilsons were warm, friendly people. The table conversation was lively and ranged all over the place. They made me realize there were really happy families in the world.
As we were leaving, Susan said, "Dad, I'll be later than usual tonight. We still have to finish regular work and we are spending extra time on AP English."
"I'll take care of her," John said. "I'll fight off the booger bears."
"I'm more worried about the sneaky wolves," Mr. Wilson laughed.
John surprised us by letting out a great howl, then said, "Don't know of any wolves," ending that with another howl.
"Don't worry, Dad," Susan said, "haven't met a wolf yet I can't tame."
John whimpered like a pup and suddenly licked Susan on the cheek. We were all laughing our heads off.
Quiet John, who had spent much of the summer working in Emmaus House in Atlanta, was still Quiet John, maybe even quieter much of the time, but he also had developed a real joy in life, in just being alive. He said one time he had learned how precious life was when one of the young kids he had been working with was shot when a drug deal gone bad resulted in a drive-by shooting. "They only killed the innocent kid. Life's to be savored in joy and in... what? Not sure what to call it. Interior quietness? Maybe."
I had suggested Justin stay at my place whenever we finished up homework late. "You don't want to go home alone," I suggested. At first he was reluctant to stay at all, then only when we went past 10:00. I had offered to share my bed with him again -- hint, hint, maybe -- but he said the pull-out in the living area was fine. Unlike some I had slept on, it actually wasn't bad. By now, if we ran too late or if he was especially tired, he'd sleep over.
The first time he stayed over, I had given him a toothbrush and showed him where everything was for a shower. Now he was pretty much at home, and had been for some time, and was staying over more and more.
Clarisa insisted he have supper with us Friday nights and, after Mother got on the wagon, she asked him why he didn't come over after work Saturdays and have supper and not sit at home alone. He seemed reluctant to stay over Saturday nights, but Mother prevailed and that did not displease me! That meant, of course, he was at my place Sunday morning.
About the second Sunday after he had stayed over Saturday night--back in November, I think--he decided he'd just sleep in. After Clarisa had, literally, dragged him out of bed, she said, "We'll be leaving for St. Paul's in an hour. You want breakfast, it's cold cereal and fruit. You will be ready and you will sit with me this morning."
Justin protested he wasn't dressed for church and Clarisa said, "Child, you ain't dressed period!" Justin, like myself, slept in the altogether and Clarisa had, as it were, put all of him on display. All he could do was say, "Yes, Ma'am."
I'm not sure what he would have done had he realized Clarisa practically has a "reserved" sign on a front pew. He didn't even have me for support as I was serving that Sunday. When I came down the aisle carrying the cross, I saw him there, between Clarisa and Mother. Guess Clarisa had put the voodoo on Mother as well.
After a few Saturday sleepovers, Justin decided since he was going to be up front anyway, he might as well really be up front and joined the next acolyte training class. He was really good at it and looked like a dark angel in his vestments.
Back to the present, Mother kept debating with herself about her roommate's offer, finally deciding to go after I kept insisting. Having been left to my own devises -- and Clarisa's -- a couple or three years, Mother's 'taking care of my baby' could get very old! She meant well, of course, but she was having to learn I was no longer a baby.
Mother left for the Florida Keys and called me when she reached her friend's place. "Marcus, it is so beautiful here. And warm!" Mother is definitely a warm weather person and hated winter. She asked if all was well and I assured her it was, and that was about it. Things rocked along in a very regular routine for a week. Mother called every other day. I'm not sure why. She had hardly known I existed for two to three years and now she was almost hovering.
I was sitting in AP English a week after she left, having just finished our first practice test, when I felt my cell phone vibrate. Very few people had my cell number -- the Clan, our parents and Clarisa. That was it. Ms. Thompson, the AP English teacher, treated us as adults, so if we needed to leave the classroom, we just got up, picked up a hall pass from her desk and left.
I walked to the restroom, took out my cell -- the school still had rules against having them in school, so you didn't use them openly -- yet, after school, at least ninety percent of the students leaving the building had a phone to their ear. When I saw the missed call was from Clarisa, I hit the speed dial and Clarisa answered immediately.
"Marcus, I just got a call from Florida. Your mother is in the ICU, they think she's been food poisoned, but are not sure. Anyway, she's in critical condition. Your father called to say he wasn't going down -- 'We're no longer married, you know,' he said, 'but a supporter has offered his plane to take Marcus down. You need to see he's at the airport as soon as possible.' I have a bag packed already. You need to find someone to drive you by here to pick it up and get you to the airport. I'd do it, but your father said I needed to stay close to the phone."
"Father's not going?" I asked even though Clarisa already said he wasn't.
"I don't think so. Probably would not be a good idea. I have called the office so you can just go and sign out with no problem. Someone is supposed to see that you have a way to pick up your things and get to the airport."
As soon as I hung up, I went to the office where my check out form was ready to sign. "Someone ready to take me home and to the airport?" I asked as I signed the form.
"Not yet," the receptionist, Ms. Swartz said. Students called her Cowgirl after she showed up one casual Friday dressed in her line dancing outfit -- tight, tight jeans, cowboy shirt, leather vest with fringe, cowboy boots, the whole line dancing cowboy outfit. John had wisecracked he'd like to see her mount a horse in her tight jeans and we all got tickled. "I'm working on a teacher who is off a couple periods together."
"Teachers don't have a couple periods off, together or otherwise, this time of day," I replied. How long had she worked as receptionist and didn't know or have a list of teachers and their classes? "Call Justin Smith out of Ms. Thompson's class," I said.
"I can't do that," she responded.
"Weren't you the person who told Clarisa someone would take me? Who can call Justin out of class?"
"Mr. Agnue." Mr. Agnue was the principal.
"Then call him."
"I can't. He's in his office and not to be disturbed."
I had absolutely had it with the dimwit and walked behind the counter, headed for the principal's office.
"You can't be back here."
"Looks like I am," I replied as I reached the principal's door.
I knocked and he said, "Enter."
"Mr. Agnue, I need to get to my place and then the airport. My father is sending a plane for me. I'm going to Florida to be with my mother who has, apparently, been poisoned and is in ICU. Justin Smith is on my car insurance and can take me, but I can't seem to get anyone interested in helping me out."
"Ms. Swartz, call Justin Smith out of class," he called from his office.
Ms. Swartz, flipped her hair and gave me a look that could have killed, but she finally went to the intercom and called Ms. Thompson's room and asked her to send Justin to the office. Justin ran in about two minutes later.
"I have to go home and you're taking me," I said. "I'll explain on the way." As we drove to my place, I explained all I knew about the situation and said, "I don't understand Mother being poisoned, but I guess anyone can get food poisoning. Anyway, I'll keep Clarisa updated. She will know the situation."
"I'll keep in touch," Justin responded.
An hour later I was in a small corporate jet, flying to the Keys. One of the perks for those who cozy up to business -- any business with big money, I guess -- is a corporate jet when you need it. I think I would have had a ball if the situation had been different -- a pleasure trip, with Justin, on a private jet to the Keys. As it was, I was just getting more and more agitated as we headed south. Mother had weathered the New Year's Eve accident very well, amazingly well, but here was a new crisis just weeks later.
When we landed, I was met by a young, tall, muscular African-American who walked toward me as I was stepping out of the plane. When I reached the bottom of the steps, he said, "Welcome to the Florida Keys, Mr. Porcher. I am Antwon, Mrs. Crandall's ... well, houseboy, whatever." He grinned. I was to discover later "whatever" covered a lot of territory.
"If you're the houseboy, I'd really hate to piss off the houseman!" I laughed.
Antwon laughed as well and said, "Yeah, houseboy. 'Boy' in any form is not a term those of us of the darker persuasion like to hear and, actually, Mrs. Crandall doesn't allow it. She calls me her Man Friday -- guess that's better. How was the flight?"
"Perfect," I replied.
Antwon looked at the plane and said, "I guess it would be difficult to have a poor flight in that. Rough maybe, but not poor." I nodded.
One of the plane's crew members sat my bag out and Antwon picked it up and put it in the back of a very elegant Lexus. He then opened the car door for me and I crawled in. This was a lifestyle totally new to me. Guess Mrs. Crandall had struck it rich, one way or another.
Antwon had left the car running to keep the air conditioner going and it was needed. As soon as he got in and started moving, he said, "I suspect you want to see your mother soon."
"Yes. Do you know how she is doing?"
"Mrs. Crandall says she is improving, but still in a serious condition. But that's better than critical which had been the case. Visitors are limited to no more than two at a time and then only for fifteen minutes out of the hour. One of the visiting periods will end in five minutes, so we can't possibly make it. Mrs. Crandall suggested you come by the house, freshen up and be ready for the next visiting period."
"Sounds like a plan," I responded. We rode in silence for the next twenty minutes. I was wondering again how Mother had been poisoned and how she really was. I was lost in my thoughts when Antwon said, "We're home," as he pulled up to a wrought iron gate, which was opening as the car approached. Through the gate, we drove for at least half a mile before I saw a huge house in the Spanish mission style found throughout Florida. I learned later it had been built in the 1920s by some northern industrial tycoon and the Crandall family had purchased it some time ago.
Antwon pulled up in front of the house, stopped, and got out. He opened the door for me, then got my bag from the trunk and we walked up to the front door which immediately opened and a woman Mother's age threw her arms wide and said, "Marcus, mia casa, es su casa."
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