The story so far ... after pocketing a $100 bill from the restaurant that should have been a $10 bill, Ben and his mom stop at the mall to give lunch money to Ben's brother Conner. Mom asks Ben for the $10 change from lunch. Ben is caught in more lies, both to his mom and brother because he doesn't have the $10 bill.
Written by Frances Milburn
Illustrated by Liv Aanrud
Silence hung between us. I felt really bad about the money in my pocket. There was only one person who could help me figure out what to do, and she was sitting next to me. I hesitated looking over at her. She was humming some old country western song of hers.
"Mom?" I bit my lip, getting ready to confess.
"What is it?" She asked, her eyes on the road.
But then suddenly, all the things that 100 dollars could buy floated across my window. I really wanted a new soccer ball or an I-pod Touch. "Nothing," I added quickly. "I just want to get home so Nate can come over. I told him after school yesterday that we'd get together today. And now it's already afternoon."
"Ok, ok." She stepped on the gas, continuing toward our house, seven miles north of town. I liked living in the country. We had a huge yard, a bike trail, and a creek down back. But it was hard when most kids lived in town. Sometimes, I got bored. Thank goodness Nate lived close. We spent a lot of time together, especially on the weekends.
I decided to talk to Nate about the money. We always shared important stuff and helped each other out. He'd have some ideas about what I should do with the hundred dollar bill.
Mom's cell began to sing. "Ben, grab my phone out of my purse from the back seat and see who's calling."
While reaching around, I saw the red lights of a police car quickly approaching from behind. "Mom, there's a cop right behind you!"
"Oh no!" She checked her speed while quickly braking, and then she pulled over. The police parked behind her. "Just my rotten luck today. No point in saving money on that dresser. This will make up for it and then some. I just wasn't paying attention to my speed. I wonder how much I was over?"
The policeman, or should I say policewoman slowly approached the car. "Ma'am, may I see your license, please?"
Mom dug in her purse and gave the officer her license. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to speed. It was just that we'd been out running errands all morning, and I was anxious to get back home..."
Without a word, the policewoman went back to her car. Mom continued to mutter about her bad luck. The minutes passed slowly. As time dragged on, I got restless. By now, Nate probably found something else to do or got a ride into town. It just wasn't fair.
I felt in my pocket. The hundred dollar bill was folded and resting against my leg. I just wanted to put it away in my box in the closet. "How long does this take?" I asked impatiently.
She looked back over her shoulder at the police car. "I have no idea."
The officer returned to our car. "I hope I wasn't too much over the speed." Mom looked miserable. "I'm usually very careful when I drive."
A slight smile appeared on the policewoman's face. "Mrs. Manchester, you were not speeding. I noticed that your brake lights weren't working back a ways. I thought you'd notice me following you without turning on my red lights. But you didn't, so I had to get your attention."
I could see the look of surprise on Mom's face.
"That could be a dangerous situation and must be fixed," the officer continued. "I've written up an equipment repair notice." She handed Mom a paper. "You have five days to get it fixed, and then you must bring the receipt into the police station. Do you understand?"
Relief spread across Mom's face. "Yes, ma'am. I'll take care of it first thing Monday. Thank you."
Mom pulled away at a snail's pace. "Why did you tell the police lady you were speeding, Mom?" I asked. "She thought you were nuts."
"Stop it! I feel foolish enough already. I'm just glad it wasn't a speeding ticket."
We turned onto Walker Road. There were farms on both sides, a beef ranch on the east and a dairy farm across. A couple new houses were squeezed in between. Cornstalks in the field were gold. The long narrow leaves seeming to wave at me as we drove past. Further along, a big green tractor pulling a mower was crawling across the field cutting the hay. It was probably the final cut for the season. In a day or two, the farmer would rake and bale it. We were almost home, and I couldn't wait.
Mom was switching radio stations. I saw a cat up ahead on the side of the road with its tail in the air. As we drew closer, the cat suddenly darted into the road.
"Watch out!" I screamed, as our car raced toward the cat. Just then, I felt a soft thump.
"Oh no!" Mom cried, slowing down. "I hope I didn't hit that cat."
I turned around and looked out the rear window. I saw the cat lying in the road. It wasn't moving.
"Stop!" I yelled. "You did hit it!"
Mom, still moving slowly along, looked out her rearview mirror. "It's obviously dead. No point in stopping."
"We can't just leave him!" I looked at her in shock. "Maybe he's alive and needs help." I opened my car door. Mom pulled to the side and stopped. I jumped out and ran back toward the cat.
"Wait!" she called out. But I continued as fast as I could run.
- Frances Milburn, a resident of Watertown, has been a teacher in middle and elementary school for 26 years. Amherst Junction native Liv Aanrud now lives in Los Angeles.