CHAPTER 11

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"Where on earth have you been?" pleaded her mother's voice from down the hall. JC peeled damp outerwear off her already-tired frame, letting it litter the entry. She scurried to her room. Her mother held a blouse aloft between pinched fingers and thumbs.

"Agh. Mom. No way," she said, snatching it from her mother's hands. It landed in a heap on the bed. "What're you doin' anyway?"

"I started...I already..." Her mother looked like a mannequin pointing to the neatly folded stack of pants and tops.

"No," moaned JC.

"But the officer said..."

"I'll do it!" JC grabbed her mother's shoulders and pushed her to the door.

"I've worked myself to a sliver for you and this is the thanks I get?"

"Yes." JC slammed her bedroom door.

"That officer called back. Your passport's ready. JC?" She heard the needy edge in her mother's voice. The need to be a part of the excitement. Of something bigger than this shoebox life they lived.

JC glanced at the pile. Geesh. Actually, the selection wasn't bad. Not that blouse though. JC added two pairs of jeans, socks, underwear and a stretched T-shirt to sleep in. A couple of days, DeeDee had said. She slid everything into her ragged backpack. Scooped the charger for her cell phone for pictures. She eased open her bedroom door. From the bathroom, she retrieved toothbrush, bath and hair products. Her mother must have heard the creak of floorboards in the hallway. With a pinched face, gleaming eyes and a pitiful smile, she peered around from the kitchen holding a plate of spaghetti. Gourmet to her mother was noodles doused in jarred sauce. JC's stomach rumbled and twisted with hunger.

"Be there in a minute," JC called, extending a finger.

JC endured her mother perched across from her, arms folded, chin dipped eager for any morsel of news. JC kept her eyes on the plate. As she wiped her chin with a paper towel, her mother whispered, "I never dreamed..."

"Me neither, Mom."

Her mother reached out to pat her hand and when she gave it a squeeze, JC let her.

"You're all I got," said her mother in a strained voice as she shook a cigarette from the crumpled package. Her hands trembled. The lighter failed. The doorbell rang.

"Bio break," muttered JC, ready to sprint to the bathroom one last time. Her mother dropped the cigarette and lighter on the table. As she stood, she smoothed across her limp cardigan and down polyester-clad legs. Sad. The bell rang again.

JC rounded the hallway to see GG blustering – trench thrown wide, melon-coloured pashmina over one shoulder, tailored blazer perfectly matched to her champagne Mercedes. JC's mother drew her head back, chin tucked as if from bad weather. She unwrapped her fold arms in order to give JC a cautious hug.

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