e set the alarm on his phone for 5:30 in the morning, earlier than he’d ever woken up before. It was still pitch black outside, but the birds were tweeting, he could hear, and if he listened really hard, he could make out the sound of the delivery trucks pulling up to the old Piggly Wiggly.
His mom was still asleep. Sleeping in, she would call it. Before, she’d always been awake at this hour. Studying, cleaning the house, getting ready for work. But the new reformed mom slept until it was time to get him up for school, to cook him a waffle, to kiss him goodbye and wait for him to come home.
He dressed quickly in the black tee shirt and dark jeans he’d picked out the night before, and then as quietly as he could brewed a pot of coffee, reassured by her snores from the other room.
“Mom.” He shook her awake. Her room was the smaller one, barely space enough for him to crouch in, beside her single bed. “Come on, I made you some coffee.”
“What?” she said, confused, her eyes cloudy, her breath foul with sleep. “Why?”
“I have the SATs this morning. Don’t you remember?”
He could tell she was searching her mind, more ashamed at her forgetfulness than argumentative.
“It’s all right,” he reassured her. “There’s been a lot going on. Drink up. We gotta hurry.”
He bustled around the apartment then, avoiding her, while she drank her coffee and brushed her teeth and got dressed. The best would be if she just went along with him without question and then, once they were already there, he could spring the truth on her. And she’d have no choice but to go ahead.
But damn if she wasn’t exactly like Juliette, always with the questions, always with her own ideas about what was happening, and what should be.
‘Darrell Antonio Jones,” she said, stopping stock still at the top of the stairs. “Something’s not right here. I would not have forgotten something as important as your SATs. Exactly what is going on here?”
“You’re right,” he said. “Just wait here a second, and I’ll show you.”
If there was one thing he’d learned that night in the woods, it was that you always had to have a Plan B. He ripped off a length of masking tape, grabbed the pillowcase from where it was folded neatly on his dresser.
It was almost too easy, coming up behind her, wrapping the tape around her mouth, throwing the pillowcase over her head, lifting her tight in his arms. He just hated to do it this way, but he was prepared, had thought the whole thing through. The rest of the building was still asleep, it was still dark outside, the car was waiting, parked in front of the house.
He put her in the trunk — that part killed him, but the alternative was either tying her up or risking her attacking him as he drove. The road was windy and he found himself trembling and sweating, more nervous than even he’d been hiding under the bed at the cabin, coming out of the grass to stop the police car. He could hear her back there, thrashing and thumping, and a thousand times he thought of pulling over and letting her out.
And then she stopped thumping. When he realized he hadn’t heard anything from the trunk for a minute or two, his heart jumped into his mouth. He was in Arkadelphia already, where the test would be given, the sun over the horizon now, the sky morphing from gray to blue.
He pulled into the parking lot, still the first one there, and rushed to the trunk to let her out. When she leapt at him as he opened the trunk, he was almost relieved. He let her rant and rave and carry on for as long as she wanted, which was until another car — the first of what he knew would be many — pulled into the lot.
“I’m beginning to think Dwayne was right and that you need to be sent to military school,” she hissed. “Or maybe something’s happened to your mind.”
“Nothing’s wrong with me, Mama, I swear to you,” he said, the first words he’d spoken. “Don’t you know where we are? Haven’t you guessed why we’re here? You’re going to take your medical school exam today.”