Wow!” Sally said, looking at the abalone shell and the pictures in a book. God must love the creatures He made, because He takes care of all their needs, she thought. I’m one of His creatures, so He must love me. “I’m going to stay by the ocean forever and learn all its secrets,” she said out loud.
“No, you’re not,” Bob said, coming into Sally’s room. “We have to move again.”
“But why?” Sally wailed. “We’ve been here just a few months. I love it here!”
“No one ever tells us why,” Anita complained, coming into the room and shoving a box at Sally. “Mother said to put your stuff in this box.”
“But my shells and clothes will never fit in this box. I’m not leaving them,” she said, placing her hands on her hips.
“I have some extra space,” Anita said. “You can put your collection in the top of my box.”
“Thanks,” Sally said, wiping a tear from her face.
Father and the older boys packed the boxes into the car, then they sped down the freeway. “Riverside, 90 miles,” a green sign announced.
An hour and a half later Father pulled into a driveway beside a small yellow building that sat on a corner lot. A large concrete slab spread out behind it.
“We’ll just stay here for a short time,” Mother said. “It isn’t much, but we’ll live with it,” she explained, walking to the front door and unlocking it.
Sally peered around the inside of the building. There was a room with a bathroom in one corner, and a double bed stood in another corner. Seven cots sat stacked against a wall.
Sally stepped outside. Nine people can’t live in one room, she thought.
Glenn, Lynn, and Bob stumbled from the room. They stood in a huddle. No one spoke. They watched as Father came out and jumped into the limo. He drove away without saying a word.
The days passed slowly. Sometimes Sally felt so hungry she couldn’t do her schoolwork. She dreamed of the big chocolate cakes Mother used to make every Friday. She could almost taste the rich frosting.
Sally lay in bed at night and imagined the beautiful abalone clasped to the rock as wave after wave splashed it. If the abalone didn’t cling tight, waves could grab it and send it floating out into the deep ocean. She sat quietly for a long time. I must cling to God, even though I don’t know Him that well, she thought. Waves of trouble are washing over me. The idea made her sit upright in her bed.
She looked about the room. I hate this place! she thought. I will never call it home. It will always be “the building.” Sally slumped back down onto the bed and fell into a troubled sleep.
Every day in Sally’s new school passed like a bad dream. She felt so sad that she had no energy to make any friends. One afternoon Sally noticed a large orange tree in the backyard of a house across the street. Hundreds of plump oranges hung on the branches.
The fruit isn’t mine, she thought, crossing the street. I’ll just smell it. She bent forward and sniffed the orange. Slowly her hand reached out and touched the fruit.Suddenly the orange fell to the ground.
“May I help you?” a voice said.
Sally jerked her hand back and turned toward the voice. A frail woman with thin white hair stood in the doorway of the little white house only a few feet away. Her blue eyes danced, and a smile wrinkled her face.
“I’m sorry,” Sally said. “I didn’t mean to touch it.”
“The woman laughed. “It fell because the oranges are ready to be harvested. I can’t pick them. It’s a shame. The tree is loaded this year.”
“I could pick them for you!” Sally blurted. “My brothers can help.”
“That would be wonderful,” replied the woman, smiling. “I can sell them to the market. My name is Mrs. Flanders, by the way.”
A few minutes later Sally ran to “the building” and told the boys about the oranges. Soon they stood under the tree looking at the fruit, with hunger in their eyes.
Mrs. Flanders came out of the house carrying a tray of sandwiches and cookies. “I thought you might need a snack,” she said, looking at the boys.
Four hours later everyone stood back and looked at the beautiful boxes of oranges stacked in the driveway. A short time later a truck came and hauled them away to the market.
“Here’s your pay,” Mrs. Flanders said, handing Glenn $50.
“Thank you,” they all called, crossing the street and running into “the building.”
“We picked oranges for Mrs. Flanders!” Glenn said, handing the money to Mother.
“Why, that’s wonderful!” Mother beamed. “I’ll buy some groceries. She stuffed the money into her purse, walked outside, and hailed a cab.
Several hours later a taxi returned, and Mother climbed out carrying a big chocolate cake. She smiled at the children gathered in the doorway.
“Groceries in the back seat,” she announced. The boys swarmed down the steps and gathered the packages. Mother handed the driver some money. “Thank you,” she said.
“God helped us,” Sally said to Bob when he brought a bag of groceries into “the building.” “He hasn’t solved all our problems yet, but He’s eased our way.”
All that week Sally sensed that something was wrong. No one talked about whatever the problem was, but a tension she didn’t understand increased. No one explained anything. Father took the limo and disappeared every day. When he returned to “the building,” he sat on the bed and stared at the floor.
When the girls at school asked Sally to a birthday party, she made excuses because she had no money to buy a gift. One day Sally and her brothers got off the school bus and came into “the building.”
“Mother and Father went on a short business trip. They’ll be back in a couple of days,” Anita explained. “That’s all I know.”
That night, when Sally sat down on her cot to do her homework, the lights flickered off. Glenn checked the fuse box. “I think the electric company has turned the lights off,” he said, shoulders slumping. “Father probably didn’t pay the bill.”
“Let’s go outside and play games,” Anita suggested. “We can finish our homework in the morning.”
They gathered on the concrete slab and played kick the can. The object of the game was for all but one person to hide, and then try to sneak out and kick the tomato juice can over without being tagged by the person assigned to catch them. They played until late into the night, then arranged their cots and crawled in. Finally everyone fell asleep.
“Where are Mother and Father? Why don’t they come back?” Sally asked Anita two days later. Anita didn’t answer. That night they couldn’t see to do homework so they went to bed as soon as the sun set behind the mountains.
Suddenly sirens screamed in the still night. Sally sat up in bed. She looked out the window and saw red and blue lights flashing in the darkness. Four police officers bolted from the cars and burst into “the building.”
“You’re coming with us,” they commanded, grabbing Alice and Grover from their cots. Glenn, Lynn, and Bob stood up, rubbing their eyes. “W-w-what?” they stuttered.
“What’s happening?” Sally wanted to scream, but the words jammed up inside her throat. A police officer shoved her into his car. She looked through the back window and saw her brothers and Anita in the police car behind them. Through the window of the police car she watched as “the building” shrank in the distance.