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Chapter 26: The S.L.F.

Day Staff

Publication: The Day

Published August 17. 2009 4:00AM   Updated August 17. 2009 4:30PM

"Frimhaus, you're a genius! A genuine, 100 percent genius! It's brilliant! It's beautiful! It's truly inspired!"

We sat on my bed, the book open before us. Minerva kicked out her long legs and, stretching her arms above her head, fell back and grinned at the ceiling.

This is it, I thought. No turning back. I felt my stomach tighten.

"I thought for sure you were gonna chicken out. Boy, was I wrong!"

I smiled a sickly smile.

"Well, let's go!" She leaped up and rubbed her hands together. "We've got work to do."

For the next week, we worked in my garage. We bought heavy brown wrapping paper, and cut and pasted. We bought wicks and lamp oil and made the wick ball. We bought candles and thin colored paper and made the lanterns. And with wood and canvas, we built two ramps, like ambulance stretchers, to get the seals over the wall.

We decided we should wear old clothes we would throw away after the breakout, so no one could identify us by what we wore. We would wear our swimsuits underneath, so we could change quickly. And Minerva dug up a couple of nylon stockings to wear over our heads.

We tested the balloon in my garage, and found the best way to fill it quickly was with a propane torch borrowed from my father's work bench.

I made sure Peter Ratcliffe's dad still kept his rowboat tied up near the marsh, and Minerva said she would borrow her cousin's truck. I was relieved. At least she wasn't planning to steal one.

Finally, we were ready. We sat on the floor of my garage, our fingers sticky with glue and paraffin, and surveyed our equipment.

"Tomorrow night," Minerva said. "Sunday night is Rescue Night."

I shuddered. For the past week I had pushed my fears to the back of my mind, concentrating on getting ready instead of what we were getting ready for.

"You know," she said. "We should have a name, like one of those radical groups. We should leave behind a note that says 'Compliments of the Seal Liberation Front.' How's that? The S.L.F." She grinned at me.

"Minerva," I heard myself say. "Can I tell you something?"

"Sure."

I swallowed. It was now or never.

"I'm scared."

Her smile faded, and her forehead furrowed.

"Me too," she said.

"What? Then why are we doing this?"

She looked down at her lap, where she knotted her hands.

"I've never told anybody this. Never." Her wide eyes locked into mine. "W., I'm adopted. I was in an orphanage in Houston until I was six years old. People would come and stare at me like I was a vegetable in the supermarket. Some would even squeeze me, like they were trying to tell if I was ripe."

She smiled weakly.

I tried to smile back, but my face was stuck in shock.

"That's how I know how they must feel, and that's why we have to get them out. You know what I wanted when I was in there, more than anything in the world?"

"No," I gulped.

"I wanted someone to rescue me."

"But your, uh, foster parents did," I said.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." she said. "But they hadn't come to rescue me; they had come to rescue THEM. They thought I would 'save' their marriage. They thought if they had a kid, it would keep them together. But I didn't rescue them at all. When my father left last year, I knew it was because I didn't ... "

She covered her face with her hands.

"He just left," she said. "He didn't even leave a note."

Her hands fell away from her face. Her eyes were wet with tears.

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and said, "Maybe he'll come back."

Minerva sighed. "You know what I think sometimes? I think, if I got in trouble, I mean really got in trouble, he would."

She picked up a rag and blew her nose. "Well," she said, standing up. "I gotta go."

I felt a great yawning emptiness open up inside of me. I wanted to hold her, to comfort her. But ... would she want me to? Oh, why was I always afraid? Oh, Minerva, I wish ... I wish I knew how ... I wish I could rescue you!

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