Table of Contents

1. At Last! Summer Freedom 1
2. Trainwreck 6
3. Helping Sara 11
4. Home Alone 15
5. Midnight Fear 18
6. This Homeless Kid 21
7. Jose’s Story 27
8. Forming The Plan 33
9. Rescuing Pedro 38
10. Bullwhip Big Dee 43
11. Sara’s Spectacular Moment 48
12. Pedro’s Story 51
13. My First Lie 56
14. Outta Here! 60
15. Lost Money, Found Money 63
16. A Perfect Wednesday 67
17. Flying Chunks 73
18. Wacko 79
19. Jail Cell Smell 84
20. Owning It 87
21. Forgiveness 91
22. Goodbye Savings 94
23. A Dressing Down 99
24. Danny’s News 103
25. Stop Talking About It 106
26. What About That Money? 112
27. Purple 115
28. It Was Always Good 118
29. Brothers 123
30. Whose Money Is It? 128
31. Terrified 133
32. Fish Fry 137

The deafening explosion jolted Jose out of a deep sleep. His brother
Pedro yanked on his arm so hard it felt as if it was separating from
its socket.

“Get out! Get out! GET OUT NOW!” Pedro screamed, dragging Jose
toward the ripped metal opening, a gaping crater in the center of the

Jose turned to snatch the heavy leather shoulder pouches that sat
between them. No way was he leaving these bags! For the first time, they
had money. Freedom money. In that split second, Pedro’s grip slipped.
His arm slipped out of Pedro’s. In a split second Jose lost sight of his
older brother in the shadows of the dim freight car. Panicked circus
performers tried to flee, knocking Jose backward onto the filthy, greasy

The derailed train lurched to a screeching standstill. Circus performers
were thrown around like matchsticks. As Jose struggled to get up,
others shoved him farther back into the dark, deathtrap boxcar. Pushing
to escape, everybody crowded toward and through the jagged metal
hole that had split wide open from the blast.

The suffocating smell of propane warned him of immediate danger—
the air so thick he could taste it. Jose didn’t want to die from the next
explosion. An explosion he knew would happen any moment. Where
was Pedro? At fourteen, Jose knew he couldn’t live without Pedro … the
only family he still had. A second explosion ripped through the air from
behind. It propelled him forward and out of the car.

He landed face first on the ground. The sharp rocks next to the train
tracks scraped deep into his forehead and temple. Another blast, then
another… punctuated by human shrieks, sobs, and moans. Hot metal
landed on his open hand, piercing deep into it. A stinging, burning
sensation spread throughout his palm. Blood oozed onto the gravel. Was
it his?

He must keep going. If he didn’t, they would capture him. Where
had Pedro gone? Once law enforcement identified either of them, they’d
send them back to that Miami foster care group home. His stomach
knotted, and he became dizzy and nauseous.

Pushing down the sour tasting bile in his throat, Jose yelled, “Pedro! Pedro!” Which way would Pedro run? Everyone else was running
toward the lighted area of the town square. Pedro would run in the
opposite direction. Away from the authorities.

Gasping for fresh air, Jose pushed himself to his feet with his good
arm. He grabbed the straps of the pouches and ran alongside the tracks.
Away from the flames, away from the desperate shrieks, into the gloom.
“Pedro! Pedro!”

He stumbled and fell, landing on top of a warm body. Mama Faye!
Her mangled face was just inches from his. Her ever-present scent of
patchouli wafted up, instantly bringing up the memory of her warm and
toothy smile. Her body was spread across the tracks, and her legs lay
at an unnatural angle.

Jose whispered her name, pressing his ear to her
heart. Dead. He went completely still. His mind went blank. Was this
really happening? He pulled himself up, ran into the weeds, and threw up.

What now? He couldn’t leave her here. Mama Faye, so kind, always
making sure they had food, if only those rank smelling hot dogs that had
been rolling for hours on the warming machine at the circus concession
stand. Hot tears wet his cheeks as Jose quickly gathered low-hanging
palm fronds. He cobbled together a soft bed in the forest, away from
the tracks.

Constantly looking over his shoulder for anyone who might
spot him, he dragged Mama Faye to the bed with his good hand.
His tears wet both their faces as he cradled her head in his arms. Pain
exploded again in his injured hand as he pushed himself up to go. It was
nothing compared to the pain in his heart. Sear, sweet Faye. A mother
to him and Pedro after their own mother had been killed.

He glanced at the blue and red flashing lights of the police cars
and ambulances in the distance. Sirens were blaring, hurting his ears.
Shouting people with flashlights bouncing in the blackness were quickly
moving in his direction.

Now what? What would his mother do? Jose
mumbled a verse she had taught him, “For it is by grace you have been
saved through faith.” It fit Mama Faye. 􀀻he was always telling them that
their faith would bring them through this tough time with the traveling
circus. That God had wonderful plans for them.

Barking dogs were getting louder, closer. Jose straightened Mama
Faye’s legs, then crossed her arms over her chest. Sobbing, he picked
up his bags, turned and followed the rails into the musty smelling palm
forest. The ear-splitting explosions continued to rip through the night
air, lighting his path as he ran. Huge sobs shook his fourteen-year-old
malnourished frame. Mama Faye was dead. Pedro was gone. He was

He shouted his brother’s name once more. Many minutes later he
slowed to a stop, his legs refusing to move. Crouching behind a small
hut near the tracks, he held his injured hand close. In the distance one
last blast lit up the sky.
Then a chilling silence.

At Last! Summer Freedom
“Listen to this.” Dad double taps his screen and reads aloud, “A
severed hand, bits of human scalp and a heap of gravel were
found in the shattered dessert case at Ali’s Bakery on Main Street. While
coming through town early this morning, a boxcar attached to the 4:00
AM train exploded, causing loss of lives and extensive damage to the
downtown Boca Raton City Center.”

He continues, “The explosions were caused by propane tanks stored
inside the last boxcar. Circus performers had been traveling illegally in
the boxcar just ahead of the one with the tanks that were filled with
the highly explosive gas.” He reads to himself, sipping his
coffee at the breakfast counter in the kitchen. Mom, Sara, and I sit with
him, waiting to hear the details.

“Are there any pictures?” I ask. He scans the pages, shaking his head.

“Wow!” he exclaims. “Jake at the barber shop reported that human
body parts, pieces of luggage, and gravel are strewn up and down Dixie
Highway, Federal Highway, and Mizner Boulevard. Did you guys hear
the blast this morning?” He looks up at Mom, my twin Sara, and me. I
shake my head.

“The article goes on to say the boxcar full of circus performers was
traveling upstate. Apparently, the circus folk hook their boxcars onto
the tails of larger freight trains late at night, afer breaking down the
tents. This practice is illegal, but in that way, the circus boxcars are not
subject to strict inspections by the authorities. What a mess! I’m glad
we’re leaving town for a couple of weeks. Are you two sure you don’t
want to go fishing with us? Lake George is a beautiful spot.” Dad looks
at us. “Luke? Sara?”

“Nope.” I pinch the Bluetooth switch on my headset, and hang it
around my neck. Sara, in the middle of texting, shakes her head.
Mom and Dad grin at each other. “Well, okay then. Your mom and I
will have lots of time alone on our vacation. Maybe we’ll make a second
set of twins who won’t ignore us at the breakfast table!” Dad winks at

“Gross!” Sara says, never looking up from her phone.
“Don’t forget to check in with Jonas and Katie every morning and
night. They’re a phone call away and so are we.” Mom is doing that
pinching her skin at her throat thing again. “Chief Howell is right next
door. I gave him your cell numbers in case of emergency. He has ours
too.” She dumps a bag of Tootsie Pops into a bowl and sets it on the
counter, smiling at me, knowing they’re my favorites. I take a red cherry
one and put it in my pocket.

“Thanks, Mom. Quit worrying. We’ll be great. Fish fry when you get
back? I can smell those river perch sizzling on the grill now. A brother
would be perfect, just not another set of twins, okay?” I grab a second
red Tootsie Pop and bend to give one last tug on my shoelaces.

“Of course. Luke, I’d like your room to be totally cleaned and organized when we return. You can’t enjoy living in that mess!” She gives me a look that sets me off instantly.
Okay, enough with the never ending, last minute orders. That makes
three. Cracking my knuckles, I bite my lower lip to keep quiet. Just have
a stress free goodbye and get on with summer vacation. But the words
spill out anyway.

“What’s it to you, Mom? Seriously! You don’t even have
to come upstairs to my room. Yours is down here. How do you even
know my room’s a mess? And so what if it is?”

I have to give it to her. She’s quick. “Seriously? Seriously, Luke, I go
up to your room three times a week to put your clean, folded clothes
on you bed. Maybe I should just forget folding them and throw them on
the floor with the rest of the mess. You can sort them out.”

Dad stands up. “Luke. Apologize to your mother. Clean your room.” I

“Sorry, Mom. It’ll be clean when you get home. Bye.” I give her a quuick,
one arm hug, nodding goodbye to dad. I’m outta here.

When I come back from my run, they will be gone. Two weeks of
freedom! I can sleep in as late as I want. Eat pizza, PBJs, and chips for
every meal. And no having to describe in minute detail where I’m going,
or with who, every time I walk out the front door.

“Have fun fishing. Text me when you get to camp. I love you.” Sara
gets up, hugs Mom and Dad, then goes out to the back patio to feed her
parrots, Tinker and Bell. They’re shrieking their loud, annoying morning
song. If you called that noise a song.

Sara’s avoiding me. Whatever room I walk into this morning, she
heads into another. Good! I have her on the run. Of course, she’s
pretending not to notice or care. Does she even know what she did
to tick me off? Demanding that I turn down my “devil music.” As if she’s
the boss of my music. I had to literally bite my bottom lip to keep from
flipping out on her. But if Mom and Dad heard us fighting, they’d force
us both to go fishing with them. No way.

I only get one summer vacation between my junior and senior year.
Sitting in a canoe in one hundred degree heat surrounded by mosquitos
with kamikaze stingers is not the way I plan to spend it. Sara will be
getting plenty more of the same silent treatment, this time without Mom
or Dad running interference for their “darling daughter.”

Game on, sweet Sara, for the next two weeks. I’ll ignore you and play
my music as loud as I want. What other forms of torture will make you
realize I don’t need your approval or permission to be me? Maybe take
Mom’s car out for a midnight ride? Ha! That would be a pretty gutsy
move, even for me, since I only have my learner’s permit.

Walking into the back patio, I greet her in my most formal voice.
“Good morning, Sara.” I make a point of stopping in front of her, meeting
her eyes while putting my earplugs in, and turning up the volume. “Your
bird cage smells rank. I hope you get it cleaned out before I get back.”

“When did you turn into such a jerk, Luke? I’m surprised it took Mom
this long to tell you to clean up your pigpen room. I would’ve thrown all
your clothes out your bedroom window for all the neighbors to see.”

“When did you start judging me, Sara? I don’t care what you think,
little goody two shoes.” I stride off, slamming the sliding door shut. Too
bad Miss …killjoy will still be here when I get back.

I can feel her glaring at my back as I jog around the swimming pool and
out the screen door. Sure, I stung her with my words, and I instantly hate
myself for it. But she’s constantly zinging me with her nasty one liners.
Does she know that she’s always judging me? She’s the one creating the
distance between us and, yeah, it does bother me.

But no way will I give her the satisfaction of knowing that she gets
under my skin. I’m sure not looking forward to helping her set the gym
up for Vacation Bible School at church this morning. So sorry I made
that promise.

Stepping through the fallen and decaying palm fronds that carpet our
tree farm, I make my way through the grow area, and past the abandoned
storage sheds to the railroad tracks that run behind our property.

I bounce, toes on the tracks and heels arching down, stretching the
kinks from my calves before my morning run. Warming up my calves
hurts so good. Morning runs are my kryptonite, necessary to start the
day. Sports and being social are the only things on my agenda till school

Especially surfing. The surfer lifestyle, the salt life. That’s me.
Hanging with my new beach friends. Friends my family have never
met. Friends I can be outrageous with if I want. I clicked with them
the day I showed up with my garage sale surfboard. They took me in
and taught me what I needed to know to have fun out on the waves.
My constant joking and passion for all things ocean created an instant

I haven’t cut my hair since Christmas, and it’s longer than ever before,
way past my ears. Wet hair, flying in the wind when I ride high on a
wave, that “snap” when I flip it back as I surface. That’s the adrenaline rush I get out of bed for. Life is good, and I’m more than ready for
radical changes. I don’t know what they’ll be or where the changes will
take me, but yeah, I’m so, so ready.

My stretch complete, I decide to check out what’s happening in town.
I’ve never seen a trainwreck. Everybody is sure to be there. “Ghouling”
is what Sara would call it. Staring at someone else’s rotten luck to feel
more alive, acting like ghouls.

Maybe so, but a boxcar blown to bits is not an everyday event in Boca Raton, Florida. I need a firsthand look. It’s a drag having the thoughts and opinions of your twin echo in your head. Echo is a good word. I have a thought and then a voicing of her thought instantly follows it, softer than mine but still loud and clear.
Lately, never the same thought. People don’t know the half of what it’s
like to be a twin. It’s as if I’m constantly being judged by Sara. Never mind that!

The whole world is out there, and I need to experience as much as
I can. Growing and changing is kinda what I think flying might be like.
Moving into my future at my own speed, faster or slower. I don’t care
that Sara isn’t involved but wish she’d try to understand. She’d never
guess it, but there are times I miss the closeness we’ve shared from birth.

But hey, we don’t need to be joined at the hip, the way she wants. I need
my freedom and intend to have it now that Mom and Dad are away.
Clearing my head of all things family, I turn south, beginning the
two mile jog to the city center. As I shove off the shiny rail, I slip and
almost fall. Catching myself with my hand on the rail, I glance down.
Why is the track so slippery?


Thick wet brown goo streaks across the track. Animal poo?

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