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Escorting Mr. Colburn
“Taxi. Taxi,” Justine yelled as she ran along the side of the street with her 12-year-old brother, Sam, in tow. Feeling hopeless as she had already spilled her coffee, burned her forehead with her straightener, and slipped on one of Sam’s model cars, Justine was sure catching a taxi was the least of her worries.
“Justine! We’re going to be late!” Sam reminded her, for the fifth time.
“I know, Sam. I’m trying.” Justine’s exhausted look turned to a smile knowing that finally, a taxi had stopped. “Jump in!” She told him.
“Where to, Miss?” The cab driver asked.
“Prescott Middle, please,” Justine replied. She and Sam made themselves comfy for the ride.
Justine loved the city. The smells weren’t always pleasant, but she loved the rush. The busyness of Manhattan. There was always someone going somewhere and doing something in this big city. Looking out the window, she admired the tall buildings that she had grown up around. Thinking of these buildings and her childhood made her think of her parents. She missed them. She knew Sam missed them too. She thought about the way her mother always gave her the best hugs. She thought about how her father always made sure she was up-to-par on her swing. She remembered life the way it was. A tear fell from her eye, but as fast as it fell, she wiped it away. Sam was looking out his window too. Justine supposed he was nervous.
“Are you okay?” Justine asked.
“Seventh grade won’t be so bad.” She reassured him.
“I guess not. At least I get to go to my school and not a different one.”
“You let me worry about that, Sam. Are you excited to meet your teacher?”
“Mr. Sizemore? He coached me in pee-wee football, don’t you remember?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t.” She told him. But my mother would have, she thought to herself.
“How much longer, Amir?” Justine asked the cab driver. Amir was a cab driver that Justine had ridden with many times. He is Indian, but he loves it here in The States. He immigrated from India as a young boy, with his parents. Justine loves to ride with Amir because of his accent and his stories.
“I’d say about 10 minutes if this light would ever change, Miss Justine,” Amir replied.
“Do you have any good stories today?” Sam asked Amir.
“Why, sure I do. Did you ever hear about the Indian woman who ate the cow?” He joked.
“Nope,” Sam said.
“She became a God. That’s why we’re not allowed to eat our special cows. HA HA HA!”
Sam and Justine didn’t understand Amir’s culture but made a slight laugh of the dry humor anyway. Their mother and father rode with Amir quite often, too. Amir knew just how to put a smile on their mother’s face.
“You know, a cow almost took my leg one time. I was walking the street and slipped on a pot and my leg fell into the cow’s mouth. Luckily, the cow was asleep and didn’t even wake up!” Amir giggled.
“That was a good one, Amir,” Justine said.
“Here you are, Miss,” Amir announced.
Justine opened the door, paid Amir, and waited for Sam to exit the car. Prescott Middle School was a large private school on the other end of Manhattan. Kids and their parents were flooding the school. Today is the day the students get to meet their teachers, receive their class schedules, and their supply lists for each class. Justine knew Sam was excited about seeing his friends again. A lot had happened over the summer. Luckily, with Sam going back to school, Justine could find a job and start bringing in income. The only thing that suffered in Justine’s life was her college experience. She dropped out when her parents passed away a few months ago. It was impossible for her to make funeral arrangements, take care of her brother, and manage her parents’ estate.
Sam ran by Justine to greet some of his friends.
“I’m going to find Mr. Sizemore. I’ll call you when I’m finished.” Justine told Sam. He nodded, as he was too busy to talk to his sister now. He had some much needed catching up to do with his friends.
Justine walked through the tall automatic doors. It felt, to her, as if she was entering a mall. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. She walked into the front office to get directions from the office secretary.
“Can I help you?” The secretary asked.
Justine looked down at the name tag on the secretary’s desk. It read Jackie Bryant.
“Mrs. Bryant, Could you tell me where Mr. Sizemore’s office is?” Justine asked.
“Sure. He’s in room 223, down the hall and to the right. If you reach the stairs, you’ve gone too far.” Mrs. Bryant replied.
“Thank you,” Justine replied and set off to find Mr. Sizemore’s classroom. The halls were wide and seemed like they went on forever. Justine turned the corner and saw the stairs. Immediately to the right was Mr. Sizemore standing in the doorway to his classroom.
“Hey, Justine. How are you? He asked.
“Just the person I wanted to see. I’m doing great. Sam is in your class this year.”
“I noticed. How is he holding up?”
“He’s okay,” Justine said. “He’s excited to get back into school. He missed his friends over the summer, which felt like an eternity.”
“I’m sure it did.” Mr. Sizemore said. “Here is his class schedule and his supply list. I don’t require much for my students, but if you need help with anything, just let me know. I know how hard it can be to do it all on your own.”
Justine felt as though Mr. Sizemore was referring to their “situation”. Everyone knew Sam was living with Justine in an apartment, in a complex. That was no secret. Everyone also knew that she was his legal guardian now. Justine sometimes felt like everyone was just waiting for her to fail. However, letting her brother enter the foster care system was not going to happen.
“There is one more thing.” Mr. Sizemore interrupted. “Mrs. Bryant requests to see you in the office before you leave.”
Justine nodded, “Thank you. Keep me updated on Sam, please.”
“I sure will.” Mr. Sizemore stated and nodded Justine off to the front office. Sam was standing in the hall waiting for Justine when she walked out.
“What did Mr. Sizemore say?” Sam asked.
“Nothing. He just gave me your schedule and told me to visit the front office. Why?” Justine interrogated.
“Everyone’s been asking about mom and dad. I just tell them there was an accident. I don’t know what else to say.” Sam said as he stopped with his back to the lockers that lined the wall.
“You don’t have to tell them anything you don’t want to tell them, Sam.” Justine put her hand on Sam’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. She reminded him, “Everything’s going to be okay. I can feel it.” Sam nodded, and Justine gave him a tight hug. Then they made their way to the office.
As they walked into the office, Justine looked at the secretary and said, “Mrs. Bryant” and before she could get the rest out, Mrs. Bryant interrupted her.
“Oh, Justine. Please call me Jackie.”
Justine nodded. “Mr. Sizemore said you wanted to see me?”
“Yes. Please, step into my office.” Jackie said. Justine nodded and motioned for Sam to sit in one of the chairs in the front of the office. She had a feeling this was a more important matter from the look on Jackie’s sun-kissed face.
Jackie reminded Justine of an 80’s workout video instructor. She had the frizzy blonde hair, blue eye shadow, and bright pink lips. All that was missing was the tight blue workout suit and the bright pink leg warmers. Jackie’s office was very well-organized. A large window let an ambiance of light in that felt like the light beaming through the windows of a church.
“Justine. How are you holding up?”
Justine looked offended by Jackie’s question. Obviously, she was alive and surviving. Instead of replying back the way she wanted to, because she was so tired of being asked that question, Justine replied, “I’m doing good.”
“I’m glad. Listen, Justine, I’m sorry about what happened and I’m sorry about what I’m about to say. But…. Your parents. They didn’t pay for your brother’s tuition this fall before, you know…” Jackie was trying to find the words before Justine interrupted.
“Yes. I’m sorry, Justine. If Sam’s tuition isn’t paid by Labor Day, the principal will be forced to expel him.” Jackie looked as if she wanted to say something else but the look on Justine’s face stopped all thought. Justine thought that her parents’ lawyer settled everything when the wills were read and the accounts were settled.
“How much?” Justine asked.
“Your parents paid $1000 over the amount of tuition due last year. So, that leaves $4,200 due this year.” Jackie exclaimed.
Justine sank into her chair for a moment. How could her parents do this to her? How could they do this to Sam? She knew Sam would be heartbroken if he didn’t get to go to his school and hang out with his friends.
“There are programs that I can submit his application to. Although, they won’t cover the entire balance, they could help. With your permission, of course.” Jackie stated, waiting for an answer.
Justine came out of her stupor for a moment to say, “Sure. Thanks. Is there anything else?”
“That’s all” Jackie replied.
Justine took the account statement off of Jackie’s desk and headed out the door. Sam was sitting in the chair Justine asked him to sit in, in the main office.
“Let’s go,” Justine said as she motioned Sam out of the large automatic doors.
“What was that all about?” Sam asked.
Trying to make up something, Justine replied, “She just wanted to check on us. It was nothing.”
Justine called for a cab. Luckily, there was one already dropping off a student and their parents. Justine hurried to the cab and hopped in, with Sam right behind her.
“Rockridge Apartments, please.” Justine blurted as her head reeled. Sam was quiet. Justine was quiet. Even the cab driver was quiet. Justine didn’t know what to say to Sam. She didn’t know what to think. As she stared out the window of the cab, she watched the flood of people walking down the street. The cab came slowly to a stop.
The cab driver stated, “It’s an accident ma’am. It’s going to be a minute.”
Justine didn’t respond. She was trying to find anything to get her mind off of the fact that she had a little over a month to come up with $4,500. As she peered out the window, she noticed two young children, a girl and a boy, with their parents. They were walking out of an ice cream shop, the one her parents had taken her and her brother to many times before. How did they do it, she thought to herself. Who knew it was such a big responsibility taking care of a 12-year-old, let alone two small children. Justine felt angry and sad all at once. She still had some money left from her parent’s estate settlement to live on, but it wasn’t enough to pay for Sam’s tuition. Eventually, she knew she would have to find a job because the estate money wouldn’t last forever. She just never thought it would be this soon and the weight of the world would fall onto her shoulders this hard.
When Justine and Sam got home that afternoon, Justine told her brother she was going to lay down for a bit. Sam went into his room and began to play his his games. Justine crawled under her covers and rested her head on her pillow. Her mind was so full that she could only stare out the window to her bedroom. She was at a loss. A few moments later, she fell asleep.
When Justine awoke, she was on the bus with her parents. It was a bright, beautiful sunny day. The bus was packed with students and their college professors. Justine was in the very back of the bus but could see her parents a few rows up. They were laughing and joking with their students. Other students were singing road-trip songs. Out of nowhere, there was a loud bang that sent the bus careening over the bridge. As the bus fell, her parents began helping students open their windows. When the bus hit the water, it was the loudest crash Justine had ever heard. She saw her parents open the emergency escape on the bus. They began forcing students out of the escape hatch one-by-one. As Justine watched, she noticed her parents running out of air and saw panic in their eyes. As they ushered the last student out of the hatch, the student’s foot closed the emergency hatch as he launched himself to survival. Justine panicked as she watched her parents struggle to open the hatch once more. They even tried to fit out of the windows but, by this time, they were out of air. While still holding her breath, Justine saw her father reach for her mother and fade first. As Justine’s mother held onto her husband, she began to fade also. Justine let out a scream as air bubbles came from her mouth.
“Wake up! Wake up, Justine! Breathe!” Sam said as he tried to wake his sister. “You were turning blue!”
“Sorry. Bad dream.” Justine hinted as she sat up in the bed.
“You think? You should get checked out. That’s the third time this week.” Sam urged.
“I’m fine, Sam!” She looked out the window. She saw it was now evening.
“What do you want for supper?” She asked.
“Definitely not what you had for breakfast.” Sam joked.
“Haha, funny. How does pizza sound?”
“Good,” Sam replied, as he exited the room.
Justine grabbed the local paper. There was a new pizza place just a block away that delivered. She thought she saw their number in the advertisements section, but couldn’t remember it. Looking through the ads, Justine sorted through the “Wanted” section, the “Pets” section, and finally made it to the “services” section. She knew the ad had a picture of a pizza on it. As she browsed through the ads, she noticed people offered services for many things. There was a group of guys who offered leaf-raking services at “low prices,” florists who advertised, artists, and services for walking pets. Finally, Justine found the number and made the call. They promised the lowest prices on this side of the city, which was a plus for Justine. As soon as Justine put the phone down, there was a bang on the door. Her neighbor, Wanda Garrett, was demanding to be let in. Justine’s heart fell to her stomach wondering what could be wrong with Wanda today.
As Justine opened the door, Wanda burst through with a baseball bat in her hand.
“Who’s in here? I won’t ask you to show yourself twice!” Wanda shouted as she looked for an intruder. Wanda was an African American middle-aged bank teller with no children. She has a southern accent and dresses like she’s always ready for a close-up. Justine always refers to her as Wanda Sykes because she looks and acts just like her. There’s never a dull moment when Wanda is around.
“Wanda, geeze. Calm down.” Justine blurted. “There’s no one else here but Sam and myself. What are you doing?”
“I came to whoop up on anyone that tried to hurt you babies. I heard screaming and yelling coming from above, and I knew it wasn’t the Lord because even he’s not that loud.” Wanda stated.
“Well, thank you for your concern, but we’re fine here. It was just a bad dream.” Justine announced.
“Well,” Wanda mocked. “I’m certainly glad you all are fine. Isn’t that the third time this week, sugar?”
Justine gave Wanda a look as if to say, “How do you know?”
Wanda smiled. She’s been looking after Justine and Sam ever since they moved into the apartment above her. Justine always reiterates that they are fine, but Wanda insists. Frankly, Justine likes Wanda. It gives her someone close by that she knows and can trust. Wanda has kept an eye on Sam several times while Justine was handling their parent’s affairs. She also has made food for Justine and her brother on many occasions. Justine thinks of Wanda as the crazy aunt she never had.
“When you live above me, there’s not much I miss. Come here, baby. Do you need to talk?” Wanda asked.
“I’m fine.” Justine insisted.
Wanda knew she wasn’t fine. Wanda had seen this look in her eye before. She knew something was wrong but couldn’t tell what.
“Okay. I guess I’ll waltz back down to my lonely, cold, dark apartment, eating what crumbs I had left from breakfast yesterday… until… you… tell… me…”
“Okay!” Justine interrupted, staring at Wanda from the door of the apartment. “I’ll tell you. But Sam cannot know. Come to my room.”
Wanda hurried back up the steps where she had just made a dramatic exit to beg for information. As they entered Justine’s room, a cool breeze blew through Justine’s window. Her hot pink curtains waved in the breeze. To the left of the room were Justine’s closet and dresser with a mirror on top. Straight ahead was her bed under her window. To the right was her night stand with a matching hot pink lamp shade. Justine and Wanda sat on her bed.
“It was the accident, again,” Justine admitted.
“Oh, poor baby. What was it like this time?” Wanda replied.
“Just like all of the other ones. I was on the bus with them. The bus ran off the bridge. They helped everyone off the bus. In the end, they couldn’t help themselves.” Justine held it all in as she was just about to break. “And on top of all of that. I have to pay $4,200 to Sam’s school before Labor Day, or he will have to go to public school.”
“You need to calm down,” Wanda said as she held Justine. “Lord knows, baby, none of us have a choice in the hand we’re dealt. But, it’s how we handle that hand that defines us, and our life.”
“What do I do?” Justine asked. I can’t come up with that kind of money in a month unless I…”
“Don’t even go there!” Wanda interrupted. “No one ever got ahead in the world by sacrificing their dignity. There are lots of things you can do. Are you good at anything?”
“What kind of question is that!?” Justine sarcastically replied.
“I mean, do you have a hobby? Is there something you can make and sell? Is there a job that pays well, that you’re qualified for?” Wanda interrogated.
“No. I only have a high school diploma. I promised my parents I would finish college this year, but with everything that happened, I dropped out. And I’m not crafty if that’s what you mean. I had never even washed my own clothes, till..” Justine faded as she spoke.
Wiping a tear from her eye, Wanda assured her.
“Oh, sweetie. Just think about it tonight. Taking one day to yourself won’t hurt. I promise.” Wanda exclaimed.
Just then the doorbell rang. Justine told Wanda it was the pizza delivery. As they made their way into the kitchen, Wanda grabbed her baseball bat to take back with her to her apartment.
“Are you sure you don’t want this?” Wanda asked.
“I’m good. I promise.” Justine said with a giggle.
Wanda opened the door to find the delivery boy in a panic. She forgot she was holding her baseball bat in the air. She smiled and quickly hid it behind her back and slid by the delivery boy yelling goodbye to Sam and Justine. Justine paid the delivery guy for her pizza and quickly shut the door.
“That Wanda is something else, isn’t she?” Sam stated, with his mouth full of pizza.
Justine took a good look at her brother as he was sitting across from her. His blonde “bowl cut” reminded her of when he played pee-wee football as a child. She admired how his “baby teeth” were replaced by large adult teeth that looked too big for his mouth. His freckles and blue eyes also weren’t hard to miss. Justine was always jealous of the natural tan her brother had acquired from their father. She thought about how differently she was forced to look at her brother. Before the accident, she and Sam had the typical brother-sister relationship. She would yell at him when he messed with things in her room. He would yell at her when she would hog the television. Back then, he was this annoying brat her parents forced her to live with. Now that her parents are gone, Justine felt as though the relationship between her and Sam had become friendlier. Although they do have their arguments, it’s different now.
“That she is. I don’t know what we would do without her, though.” Justine replied.
“I don’t know what I would do without her cherry cobbler.” Sam grinned.
After supper, Sam took a shower and went into his room to play his games. Then Justine took a shower, told Sam good night and crawled back into bed. After going through her head about the possible ways to earn money, Justine decided to pick up the sales paper again to see if there were any “help wanted” or “get rich quick” ads. After flipping again through the ads, she saw that office jobs were paying minimum wage. At that rate, she could have enough to match what she has saved in a few months, but that wasn’t good enough. There was an ad searching for experienced sales representatives. Justine thought to herself, If I had gone to college, as my parents advised me to, I could do this. Feeling discouraged, she swore to look at only one more page before turning off the light on her nightstand. She sifted through items that people were looking for, items people had for sale, and “buyer beware” posts. Just as she was about to set down the paper, she saw an advertisement for visitors. It read:
Manhattan Travel Escort Agency
Have you ever wanted to visit New York City with someone who knows this city like the back of their hand? Look no further! The Manhattan Travel Escort Agency has been serving the New York City area for more than ten years. Not only do we organize an itinerary for your stay, but we also accompany you to all of your destinations! We’re like your own personal tour guide for the city. We have deluxe packages starting at $3,000 for four days. Contact us for more information at 1-800-Man-Hatn or visit our website for specific pricing and extensive details.
Astonished, Justine dropped the paper on her lap. She thought to herself, people pay this kind of money for someone to follow them around the city? You’ve got to be kidding me. Looking for more information, Justine pulled up the site on her laptop. Part of her didn’t believe it. And another part of her hoped it was true. As she scrolled through the site, she read the reviews. There were thousands upon thousands of comments stating how much this agency helped them. Justine thought to herself again, I’ve lived here all my life. I could show some tourists around for half as much as this company offers. Excited, she pulls up the ads section online, to add her own ad. Biting her nails, nervous about if she really wanted to “put herself out there” like that, she began to type.
If you’re visiting New York City, or want to learn more about our beloved city, make sure you have me by your side! I will set up an itinerary tailored to fit your needs and accompany you to all of your scheduled destinations. Best rates in the city! Call 842-745-8888 to schedule today, or email me at JustWilson@yahoo.com.
Justine read over her ad and contemplated submitting it. She thought, What if I’m kidnapped? What if it’s a setup and I end up dead? What if… In the tornado of thoughts that circled her mind, she quickly clicked “submit”.
Thank you for taking the time to read this excerpt from the book. Please remember, this is the final draft, but is subject to subtle changes before it is published.