I’ll Be Home Soon
I’ll Be Home Soon
- July 2012
- ISBN 978-1-55380-180-1
- ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-181-8
- 5-1/4″ x 7-5/8″ Trade Paperback, 200 pp
- Young Adult Novel
In I’ll Be Home Soon, Luanne Armstrong takes the reader on a tension-filled ride as Regan, a young girl living in the inner city, searches for her mother who has mysteriously disappeared. Homeless but by no means hapless, Regan is on her own much of the time but also receives help from a wide diversity of people: a young homeless boy like herself, her kung fu teacher, a university researcher, her grandmother, and a group of people who survive as bottle pickers. On the street, she must learn who it is she can truly trust, and it is not always those whom she (and the reader) might expect. Through her search for her mother, and in her connections with the people who truly help and care for her, Regan discovers her own inner strength and independence. In this fast-paced and sensitive story, Armstrong draws us into the shadowy and difficult side of inner-city life to show us both the dark and the compassionate sides of the people who survive in its midst.
REGAN CHECKED THE street behind her to make sure no one was looking at her. She ran into the alley, stopped at the fallen gate, picked her way through a backyard littered with bags of trash, twisted pieces of bicycles, rusty grocery carts, and broken glass. Blackberry vines and white-ﬂowered morning
glory were slowly eating it all up.
She climbed through a broken window into the abandoned house, picked her way past the lumps of human waste on the old wooden ﬂoor, up a broken staircase and out another window. Then she squatted on the roof of the porch, in the shadows, just under the overhang of the roof to watch the
She was watching for her mother. Watching relieved the ache for a bit. Someday very soon, her mother would walk down this street and Regan would see her. The front door to their apartment building was across the street. Regan hated their stuffy small apartment, with its smell of mouldy car-
pets. It didn’t feel like home at all without her mother there. It was easier to sit here, where she could see everyone but no one could see her.
She knew just how it would be. She would see her mother coming; she would come down off the roof and run across the street. Her mother would throw her arms around Regan.
“Baby,” she would say, laughing, “I missed you too much.”
And then they would go for ﬁsh and chips or fried chicken and her mother would explain everything and the world would be right-side-up again.
Three weeks ago her mother said, “Wait for me, I’ve got a chance to make some real money. I’ll be home soon, back in two, three days. There’s food for that long. Don’t skip school.” She had dressed in her best clothes, with her red high-heeled shoes. She had pinned up her long red hair and put on some
silver earrings. And left, in a cloud of perfume and scent from her hairspray. And then she hadn’t come back.
Regan had waited and gone to school and watched the street until she ran out of money for food. Then she began scrounging for food. She got up and dressed and went to school every day and came home and tried not to panic. She pretended everything was ﬁne. Her mother had left before.
And she had always come back with a story and a purse full of money.
So this afternoon, yet again, Regan watched the street. She didn’t have anything else to do. It was a grey Sunday and she sat far enough under the overhang of the roof to stay dry if it rained. Two grey squirrels fought in the huge maple tree beside the house; they ran up and down, over the branches, leaping from branch to branch.
She had been here many times before, but today when she had come in the alley, the trees had orange fencing around them. She knew what this meant. Very soon, bulldozers would push the house over.Enormous trucks would back up; everything, splintered and broken would be dumped, crashed and smashed into the back of those trucks, and then a new building would rise on this spot and no one would remember this house at all.
Except her. Once, Regan thought, the house must have been beautiful. Once it had housed a family. She could tell by what was left of it, by the sheen of the wood ﬂoors under the dung and ratturds, by the carved ornate banisters on the broken staircase, and by the air of dignity that still clung to the house despite its age and disrepair. She wished she could write an essay for English class about it.She would like to imagine a story about the house and about the life in it, a life with a family that had a mother and a father and a lot of food, food that was rich and warm and cooked in a house that smelled of love. Even a dog. A dog that had a lot of food as well. She had wanted to try sleeping in the house but she
knew it wasn’t safe, couldn’t be made safe, and so, she didn’t.
Down on the street, cars and people continued to pass in a steady stream. Men wheeled jangling, clinking shopping carts full of cans and bottles to the depot on the next block. Most of the men she had seen before. Old Annie went by with her own cart heaped with blankets and garbage bags stuffed with her treasures. She was on her way to the church for dinner, and this reminded Regan of her own hunger.
Hunger she lived with. Some days she could push it away, keep moving but today wasn’t one of those days. She was hungry enough—almost—to stand in line at the church with Annie, to accept a bowl of soup and a bun and a little packet of crackers. If she stood with Annie, Annie would talk to her, pretend they were together and no one would question her age. They would give her food.
But then Annie would start muttering to herself and people would look at Regan, and she wouldn’t be able to eat her soup and dry bun fast enough and get out of there. No, she couldn’t face it today. She could go up the hill to the grocery store that left food out at night, the store that didn’t lock its
dumpsters. She’d have to wait until dark, but then she could bring food back to the apartment and eat it all by herself.
That’s what she would do.
Or she could just wait here. Go on waiting for her mother. When her mother came, Regan would tell her about waiting.
And her mother would be pleased that Regan had been so enterprising and independent and hadn’t asked for a handout or help from anyone. Her mother believed in independence. Eventually Regan even slept a little, crouched on the roof, her arms wrapped around her knees. She had stayed awake, reading, late into last night, in order to keep the silence of the dark apartment at bay.
She woke with a start. It was really raining now and getting dark. It would take her an hour to walk up the hill to the dumpster with food and then an hour back and she would be soaked when she got home. But she was hungry enough that it would be worthwhile. She started to stand up, and then stopped. Two people were yelling out in the alley. They were behind a tree and she couldn’t see them, but she could
tell it was a man and a woman. She didn’t want to get caught in anyone else’s argument; she’d seen enough of those. There was always something going on in the street and she knew enough to stay far away from that kind of violence.
Eventually the man grabbed the woman by the arm and pulled her, still screaming, down the alley and out to the street. In a few minutes, a police cruiser went by. When everything was quiet, Regan climbed off the roof, went out through the yard and trudged up the street on her way to get some food.
The next morning, she woke early in the dark cold apartment. She could hear that it was still raining. She curled under the covers, still cold. It had taken hours for her to get warm after she had made it home and wolfed down some bread and cheese and yogurt. Should she go to school? Should she even bother? The problem was, the more school she missed, the harder it got to relate to whatever the teacher was droning on about. The other kids had started making fun of her. She needed a lot of things like better shoes and clean clothes. She had no coins for the laundromat. Mostly, she needed her
mother to come back.
She sighed and sat up. She stood for a long time under the hot shower, got dressed as fast as she could, pulling on layer after layer of her least dirty clothes. She gulped down some more bread and cheese and headed for school. But outside she stopped and stood, staring at the pavement.
What she wanted was for her mother to come back and deal with everything for her. And what she also needed, right now, was a way to ﬁgure out what to do, where to look for her. She’d been thinking about this for days but she needed an idea of where to start. She needed someone to hash things over with, someone who knew the streets, who would make sense and tell her what to do and where to look. Was there
such a person?
But she also knew she couldn’t stand the thought of going to school in her damp clothes, sitting all day and coming home alone to a dark cold apartment. She had to do something. Sitting on a roof waiting for her mother wasn’t working.
Oh no, she thought. Not this person.
“Hi Sarah,” she said, and forced a smile. Of all the people to run into, it was the street youth worker, the last person she wanted to see. Because if Sarah knew Regan’s mother was gone, she’d call a social worker. And that would mean trouble.
“How’s it going? Everything okay?”
Sarah was tall with curly black hair. She had a round strong brown face and right now she was beaming kindness and care at Regan.
“How’s your mom?”
Sarah studied Regan with a practised eye. “You on your way to school? How are you liking grade eight? Want me to walk you a ways? Or I could buy you breakfast.”
Breakfast. What she wouldn’t give for a hot breakfast. And she had kung fu tonight for which she would need all her strength …and they hadn’t paid Sifu for the last two months either.
“Naw, that’s okay, I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“Right, that’s why you were standing here studying the sidewalk so hard.”
Regan sighed. “I gotta go, Sarah, okay?”
“Aw c’mon, big, hot breakfast. You can be late for school for once,hey?”
Regan hesitated. The bread and cheese she had eaten at the apartment hadn’t ﬁlled the hole in her belly. She could lie enough to Sarah to get through breakfast, although normally she hated lying. She nodded.
Sarah led the way to a grubby diner with steamed-up windows. Once inside, she ordered coffee while Regan ordered the largest breakfast special they had. They sat in uncomfortable silence until the food came, and then Regan stuffed her mouth as fast as she could. Even when she was done, she was still hungry.
“Want some more?” Sarah waved at the waitress. “Two pieces of apple pie with ice cream, please.”
Regan kept her head down. The warmth and the food were making her weak. She could feel the tears just behind her eyes.
“Regan, I gotta ask. You keep an eye out around here, yeah?”
“You know there’s some serious stuff going down. I hear all kinds of weird rumours . . . people disappearing, gangs, crap like that. Worse than usual, although this is always a harsh place for women and kids. But I guess you know that already, huh?”
Regan stared at her. She knew Sarah wouldn’t miss the ﬂash of fear on her face and she didn’t. She shook her head.
“You know them Dunster kids over on Main. They go to school with you, right?”
“Their mom has disappeared. I’m on my way over there now to pick them up, take them somewhere safe. Listen, you hear anything weird or unusual, or you have any trouble with anything, you let me know, huh.”
Regan nodded. She stared out the window. In spite of herself, one tear rolled out of her eye and slid down her cheek.
“Okay, whoa, what do you know? What aren’t you telling me? Is it your mom? Is everything okay? What’s up, kiddo?”
“I gotta go,” Regan said. She gritted her teeth and slid out of the booth. “I’m late for school.”
“Hey, your aura is looking pretty dull,” Sarah called after her. “Want me to read the runes for you?”
Regan just shook her head, turned and left. If Sarah liked to pretend she had psychic powers, that was up to her. Regan had more important things to attend to.
Sarah didn’t say anything more. Regan paused at the door and looked back. Sarah was still watching her. Regan knew Sarah wouldn’t give up. She’d come by the apartment later, maybe talk to the landlord. She’d ﬁgure out that Regan’s mom had gone, and the next thing, Regan would be shut up in some crappy group home. No way, she thought. If she needed to disappear, that’s what she would do. But then how
would her mom ﬁnd her when she did come home? Oh no, she thought. Mom, come home. Save me.
Also by Luanne Armstrong:
“Realistic and tightly plotted, I’ll be Home Soon is a modern thriller that contains all the hallmarks of a teen novel, with tempered violence and language that suits it perfectly to ‘tweens and young teens.”
— Canadian Review of Materials
“Luanne Armstrong writes perceptive, beautifully narrated stories.”
— Vancouver Sun
“Luanne Armstrong does an incredible job of leading the reader from subplot to subplot, looking for resolution, never setting up simple answers, whether it be the rescue of Regan’s mom or a perfect happy ending for Mike and Regan.”
— Can Lit for Little Canadians