Hi, Brother! Hi, Sister!

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With Billy Stone at the wheel, five foster siblings who don't know each other go on a car trip to the big city of Boston. Number one topic: their real mom. Not having the heart to tell his four younger siblings the truth about her, Billy lies. She loves you, he tells them.
  George Pollock State KidIssue 60 Hi, Brother, Hi, Sister! Sunday, reunion day, dawned bright and warm with a soft summer wind. It was a goodday for five sundered siblings to hit the big, fabled city of Boston, which they had heardabout and seen pictures of -- but had never dared hope for any more than that.Driving David Weatherall's car, Billy headed out with a map marked with four big X's.Having just gotten his license, unsure at the wheel, foggy about where he was going, he proceeded timidly -- and got the horn twice in the first ten minutes he was on the road.He was collecting them oldest to youngest, Mary first and Raymond last, with timesstaggered to allow for church and still have them all in the car by one o'clock. After manywrong turns, unlovely maneuvers, and angry looks from other drivers, he lurched to astop outside Mary's foster home. It was a decent place in a decent neighborhood, whichsurprised him.He sat in the car for a while, just looking at the house. He thought, What's the worst thing that could happen? She could slam the door in my face. But it won't kill    me .  I'll just driveaway and come up with a better idea. He went up and knocked on the door, and the foster mother opened it, just enough to peer out. Billy blurted his name and why he was there, as if she didn't know.“Come in. I'll get her,” she said, opening the door.The foster mother disappeared and came back holding the hand of a timorous girl with a pretty face, light brown bangs, and mournful eyes. Mary was dressed for church, eventhough they were all supposed to wear everyday clothes. Billy glanced down at hissweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers.  Damn!  He pasted on a smile and made small talk with the foster mother. All the while, Maryclung to her while scrutinizing the slob come to take her away in a car.“Hi, Mary. I'm Billy.”She ducked behind the foster mother.“She's a little shy. But she's a good girl and smart. She does very well in school.”Thefoster mother cast a disapproving eye over Billy's attire. “I'm so used to seeing you in asuit on TV. I expected you to show up in one. Silly me.” So, bad choice of wardrobe. This does not have to be fatal  .“I was trying to dress like a kid. Silly me.”Somehow, Billy managed to coax Mary out of the house. Declining his invitation to sitwith him in front, she sat in back, ramrod straight, arms tight at her side, eyes straightahead, lips glued shut.  Billy started the car and put it in gear. It jumped forward and stalled. He pumped the gas pedal and then pressed it to the floor. The engine varoomed to life and, with Billy grimlygripping the wheel with both hands, the car took off squealing.They were off to pick up Rebecca. Struggling to remain calm, the foster mother forced alittle wave and bravely watched them out of sight.Billy got the vehicle under reasonable control. Looking at his sister in the rearviewmirror, he said, “I thought we could have a picnic on the Boston Common, walk around,sightsee, and just enjoy the city. Perfect day for it. What do you think of that?”“It's okay.”Billy tried again.“Adults split us up, so I thought: Why don't we put us back together? So here we aredoing it.” No reply.“Mary?”“She never comes. She says she is going to come, but she never does.”“Mother?”“Yes. Why doesn't she come?”“Well, she has many problems.”“But why doesn't she come? Doesn't she care about me?”“She does care about you, Mary. She loves you.”“She does?”“Yes, very much.”“How do you know?”“She told me.”“She comes to see you?”“Well, not exactly. It's a long story. I'll tell you all about it later when we're all together, promise. Did you see me on TV?”“Yes.”“What did you think?”“You were someone on TV.”Billy thrust his hand into the back seat. “Feel it. It's flesh and blood. I'm real.”Mary poked at his outstretched hand with an index finger, quickly retracting it, as if shehad touched something crawly.***They arrived at Rebecca's foster home, which like Mary's was middle-class and neat.   Nice neighborhood. Pays to stay out of trouble .“Want to go in with me?”“No.”Billy went up alone. It was a near replay of Mary's extraction: Chitchat with the foster mother, who also seemed nice, despite a disapproving look at his attire; Rebecca, alldressed up in Sunday best, wary, needing to be told by the foster mother that it was okay.Seeing Rebecca up close, Billy stared at the creature before him with dirty-blond curlsand big almond eyes.“Hi, Rebecca. I'm Billy.”She nodded, barely.On their way out, Billy reached for Rebecca's hand and she pulled it away. Down thefront steps and the long front walk, Rebecca walked as far as she could from the stranger and, lest he reach for her hand again, kept her arms stiffly by her side. Given a choice of sitting in front or in back, she unhesitatingly climbed in back with Mary.“Hi,” Rebecca said.“Hi,” Mary said.Billy pulled away, waving at a second gravely concerned foster mother. Given his failurethus far to spark conversation, Billy thought he would try another approach: keeping hismouth shut.That didn't work either. Mary and Rebecca both stared at the back of the head of thestranger at the wheel without saying a word. The three rode in silence.Finally, Rebecca said to Mary, “Have you seen her?”“Our mother?”“Yes.”“No.”“How come she never comes?”“I don't know.”***As he drove, Billy kept looking down at the map in his lap, trying to figure out the way toVincent's house. Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of them.“You don't know how to drive,” Mary said. “We're all going to get killed!”“What if all five of us end up squished on the highway?” Rebecca said.“What a lousy end to a lousy life,” Mary said.In the rearview mirror, Billy's and Mary's eyes met. The car behind them passed themwith horn blaring and the driver glaring at Billy.The eyes of brother and sister met again. Billy made a crazy face, eyes wild, mouth wide  open, tongue out the side of his mouth. A tiny crack of a smile appeared on Mary's face.And then, fighting not to, she giggled.It spread to the others and all three began laughing.***Billy pulled up to Vincent's house. This time, he did not have to go in alone. Mary andRebecca walked up with him, three of them making crazy faces and in tears fromlaughing so hard. The foster mother opened the door to three siblings having silly fits.Mary said, “We're here to pick up Vincent ... for the last day of his life.” She pointed atBilly. “He can't drive.”“And we're going to Boston,” Rebecca said. She looked at Billy.“Have you ever driven toBoston?”“No.”“We're going to end up like this,” Mary said, contorting herself into the mangled form of a car accident victim. Rebecca assumed an even more horrible depiction of highwaydeath.Vincent, ten years old and dressed for church in a white shirt and tie, looked scared. Hemoved closer to the foster mother. Mary asked him, “Are you in a state of grace?”“Yes. I went to communion this morning.”“Good. You'll go straight to heaven.”“Let's make it!” Rebecca said.The two sisters dragged a bewildered Vincent out of the house and down the steps to thecar, as if this were something they did every day. Billy followed, waving and smilingreassuringly at the horrified foster mother.***Vincent climbed into the back seat with Mary and Rebecca. All the way to Raymond's,there was a conversational dam burst, with the four of them sometimes all talking at once.Before they knew it, with even all the wrong turns, they were at Raymond's. Vincent'sfears had turned to joy. Nine-year-old Raymond, who had been put into foster care at age three months, foundhimself descended upon by a strange delegation of four older siblings with rampant funny bones. The foster mother's first thought was of an emergency call to DSS.“Are you in a state of grace?” Vincent asked his younger brother by a year.“No.”“Too bad. Some time today, you're going to hell.”“Hell?”“That's right,” Vincent said. He pointed at Billy. “He can't drive. And we're going toBoston. We're all going to die.”“Don't worry, just a big joke,” Billy said to the foster mother, who was not amused. “It'sall DSS-approved. They wouldn't approve anything that wasn't perfectly safe. We'll be
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