-Cross the border to Mexico
-If anyone finds out, go to Cuba
-If anyone finds out, go south”
When Tim looked back on it, he didn’t know when it started. Was it when Spud did the unspeakable, or was it when when his mother Leanne died seven years ago? No, he thought. It had started on his 12th birthday.
Sarah was in for the day. Sarah was his older sister, who was 18 and in college. Even Dad was in a good mood. Sarah had given him a scrapbook, and Dad was just cutting his cake (which was lemon, his favorite), when he paused.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” Tim asked.
“Sarah will you get the present.”
Just then, Sarah walked out with the strangest dog Tim had ever seen. It was brown and gold-specked with a long pink tongue hanging out of its mouth.
“He’s all yours,” Tim’s dad said. Tim looked at the dog and it pounced on him.
“Down, Spud!” Tim tried to pull his dog down. He sighed and gave up. Then, the ice cream came. Maggie O’Connor, the kid of the rich couple next door, was nice, but her parents spoiled her. She wasn’t that bratty, but her parents would do anything for her.
Maggie taunted Spud with her ice cream. Then, he broke free of his leash and jumped on her. Now, Spud was a pouncy dog, but this was too much.
“The blood!” Tim’s dad yelled.
The hospital monitor bleeped. Tim stepped into the room. Maggie was lying on the bed, her blonde curls spread out. Tim wished that she would be okay and that her green eyes would open again.
Her mother sat with her head in her hands while her father sat reading the Bible. No one looked up.
“Um… ” Tim began. “I’m sorry about Maggie.”
Mr. O’Connor looked up. “That is enough, Timothy,” he said.
“Okay, well, bye,” Tim said awkwardly. He went home.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” Dad said.
“What?” asked Tim.
“The O’Connors are filing a lawsuit against us. I don’t want to have to pay for this. We have to get out of the country, Tim.”
Tim packed some clothes, a picture of his family, some school supplies, a flashlight, and three tubes of toothpaste.
Then they left with Spud, of course. They climbed into Dad’s gray Porsche, and Tim smelled his old home one last time. Tim clutched the photo and the car drove off.
They drove on into the sunset, never stopping. Dad drove all night, or at least Tim thought he did. He fell asleep against his best efforts at 9:45. When he woke up, the sky was brightening again. It was almost as if the sunset was sinking again. His dad threw something in the backseat.
“Um, what is this?” asked Tim. He read the label:
SUPA-Cinnamon! Cinnamon rolls: three per pack. Microwavable. SUPA_YUMMY!
EW! Tim thought. He tore it open and ate it because he was hungry. It did not taste good — at all. It probably would have tasted even worse when it was heated. He saved one for Dad and gave the other to Spud, who ate it hungrily. He stared ahead and took out his math book. He made a solemn promise in his head to do three hours of schoolwork every day, except for weekends, and got to work on fractions.
A few hours later, Tim said, “Dad, I’m hungry.”
“Wait until dinner. No lunch on the road. We’ve only got 13,489 more miles to go.”
Tim wasn’t very good at math, but he knew this would take a while.
The road was dull. It was hot, and Tim was bored. Three weeks had passed, Dad stopping at delis at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Tim had been the proud digger of seven holes because of some bad sandwiches from delis.
Just then, they came to a big gate. A man was standing in front of it, looking bored. Dad drove up to him. To Tim, he hissed, “Say ‘YES!’” Tim had no idea what he was talking about. Dad handed the man two passports.
“Liam McKinley, history professor doing research on the social aspects on Mexicans?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Dad.
“Your son Adam McKinley is coming with you because his mother lives there?”
“Yes… ?” said Tim.
“Could you have been more obvious?” Dad asked.
“Dad, what was that all about?”
“We did it. We’re in Mexico!”
They still had a while to go, and Dad stopped in a pub, promising he’d bring Tim back something.
Tim waited. At 1:55 a.m., Dad came.
“Dad!” said Tim, but stopped when he saw his dad. He was as drunk, but Tim did not know.
“Gotta go. Gave it away, stupid,” he slurred.
“Dad, you can’t drive.” Tim grabbed the keys, but his father grabbed them back. He looked at Tim with a fire in his eyes Tim had never seen before.
“GIVE THEM TO ME, YOU USELESS #%$@!” Tim leaned back, tears pricking his eyes.
He doesn’t mean it, Tim thought. But he wasn’t sure.
Dad drove a lurching five miles before he hit a sign and the car flipped over. Dad passed out, so drunk he didn’t even know what was going on. Tim helped flip back the car. No one was hurt. No one saw; no one was around for miles. Spud was in the grass. Tim knew what he had to do. He grabbed his dad’s phone out of his pocket. He went into contacts and saw the name Leanne next to a heart. Leanne was his mother’s name. Tim pressed Sarah, which was next to it. The phone rung. Please pick up, Tim thought. It rung again. Please, Sarah.
She picked it up and said, “Hello?”
“Sarah, it’s Tim. Dad is drunk, we’re in Mexico illegally, and the car is messed up. Come, Sarah, PLEASE come.”
“OH MY GOD, Tim, I had no idea. What town are you in?” Tim looked at the sign.
“Ironic,” she said.
“I love you. Mom would never have wanted this.” The phone went dead. Tim slipped it back into his dad’s pocket and tried to think of a plan.
He didn’t need to. Dad was so hungover, they stayed in the car for two days, and then a taxi drove up. Sarah came out, Tim came out, and they hugged.
“Whassat? Dad said.
“Dad, we need to talk,” said Sarah.
“Tim, get in the car,” said Sarah. Tim got in the car and plugged in his iPod. He could still hear Dad and Sarah shouting at each other.
“HOW DARE YOU COME IN HERE INSULTING MY FAMILY?”
“HOW DARE YOU NOT TELL ME YOU WERE MOVING TO MEXICO?”
And on and on, just like that. Dad stomped off to the pub, and Sarah climbed into the car with Tim. Sarah took Tim’s hand.
“Timmy, how would you like to live with me?”
“You know, Tim, maybe you should, while I… get back on my feet,” TIm’s dad said.
They took a plane to Sarah’s house in California. Tim had convinced Sarah to let Spud come too.
“Well, we’re home,” said Sarah. “Here’s your room.”
Tim loved the blue room, which was perfect for a 12-year-old boy.
The school was also great. The kids were nice and they accepted him and Spud, who had mellowed down after seeing the neighbors’ dog, Felicia.
Maggie was fine, and so was her family. But one night, Tim couldn’t sleep. He went downstairs.
“Sarah,” he said.
She looked up. Her wispy blonde hair was in her face and her glasses were on the end of her nose. “Tim?”
“Is Dad okay?”
The words came tumbling out. It was not what Tim was going to say, but somehow he knew it was right.
“Oh, Tim,” said Sarah, hugging him. He hadn’t realized how stiff his body had been. “Dad is okay, he just needs to get a better life. He’s going somewhere where people will help him. I think he misses Mom.”
“I miss her too,” said Tim, “and I don’t even remember her.”
“I was only 11, but I miss her every day. But I see her in you, Tim, in your smile, in your laugh. Tim, Dad misses her, but it’s going to be ok. For all of us.” The siblings cried together until Sarah said, “I’m going to medical school to cure people with the disease Mom had.
Tim didn’t say anything, for he was asleep, and then Sarah lay down her head and slept with him.