“Liam was shocked. The Jacksons were mean, but they had been decent enough to let him eat. “CHILD ABUSE!” he shouted. He ran to the kitchen and dialed 911.”
Liam was sitting in the living room playing video games one bright summer afternoon.
“Liam,” called his mom, “time for dinner!”
Liam hurried over to potatoes and hamburger.
Liam’s dad came in looking grim.
“What’s wrong, Leo?” Liam’s mom asked.
“I lost my job,” he replied. “I’ll look for another but I might not find one.”
Liam felt terrible. He wished he could do something to help.
After a week, Liam’s dad sighed, “I don’t think I’ll ever find one. What if we lose our house?”
“We’ll think of something,” said Liam’s mom. Suddenly, she had an idea. “I met a woman in Chicago last month and she said she needs a helper. Maybe Liam could go live with her and send us fifteen bucks a month.”
Liam considered it at first, then nodded. He’d do anything to help his parents.
Chapter 2. Trouble
Liam’s mom and Liam got off the train in Chicago. They waited for his taxi. Soon it arrived.
“Bye Mom,” Liam said.
“Bye honey,” she sniffed.
Liam thought about how nice it would be to live with another family. But Liam was wrong.
The taxi dropped Liam off at this house — no, mansion. Trust me. It was really big. A man, a woman, and two boys (one was fifteen and the other was eleven like Liam) came out. The woman shook Liam’s hand.
“I’m Anna Jackson,” she said. Then she said fiercely, “Start cleaning the kitchen right now! Or else!”
Whoa! Liam could not believe how bossy she was.
The 11-year-old stepped forward.
“Mom?” he said. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to boss him around like that?”
“Shut up, Joel,” snapped Mr. Jackson. He turned to Liam. “If you don’t start working soon, I’ll have to whip you!”
Liam could tell right away they weren’t a very nice family. Well…Joel might be a little nice. Liam did a lot of chores that afternoon, from carpentry to cooking burgers.
At nine o’clock, Mr. Jackson showed Liam his room. “Here it is.” He showed him a walk-in closet with a straw bed and a spiky blanket.
Liam sighed. He could tell right away that he was in for a bad story.
“May this just be a first impression, because I don’t think I’ll survive,” he prayed. And with that, he fell fast asleep.
Chapter 3. A New Friend
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a first impression like Liam had hoped. In fact, he thought his life would make a good movie, “Child-Abused Boy.” He had to do awful things like hunt animals and plunge toilets. When he didn’t have a job, Liam’s bosses held his legs in rings and locked him in handcuffs up in the air. Heights were his worst fear. If he got a job wrong, he’d get whipped. Once they even made him sleep in a freezing shed filled with ice which was a shock since it was the beginning of August.
One day Liam was making a huge statue of Mr. Jackson — yes, the Jacksons were arrogant as well as mean –nwhen Joel came over.
“Want some help, Liam?”
“Sure!” Liam said.
Joel turned out to be very good at building. Soon they’d made a tall statue of Mr. Jackson.
“We already have tons of statues of Mom, Dad, and Henry.”
“What about you?”
“My parents said I was too short and wasn’t awesome enough,” said Joel. “Whenever I ask, ‘Why isn’t there one of me,’ they say, ‘Because you’re so unsuccessful and untalented and are not good at anything.’”
Liam was shocked. “What a horrible thing for a mom to say to her son!” he exclaimed. “At least you’re the nicest person in the family.”
Joel nodded. “Sorry they haven’t been nice to you.” He changed the subject. “What’s your favorite baseball team?”
“Tigers,” Liam said. “Yours?”
“Yankees!” said Joel.
The boys continued chatting all afternoon.
That evening Liam thought of how nice Joel was. He was the only good thing that happened since Liam’s dad lost his job.
Chapter 4. A Letter from Mom
After another week, a letter came for Liam.
“It’s from Mom.” He smiled. He went inside. “Mrs. Jackson, my mother gave me a letter. Can I read it?”
“Not now!” snapped Mrs. Jackson.
“But,” Liam protested.
“Or I’ll whip you!”
Right away Liam went to cooking pasta.
That night, Liam got a flashlight. He and Joel read the letter.
How’s life? Are the Jacksons nice? When are you going to send money? Yesterday Ruby Baxter’s baby was born. We all had a big party. I wished you could have been there.
Liam grabbed a paper and a pencil. He wrote that he would send money at the end of August and then felt nervous. “She asked how life was,” he whispered. “But I don’t want to lie or tattle.”
“Just write and tell her that we’ve become friends.”
Liam nodded and finished the letter.
“The truth will get out eventually,” Joel said.
“I hope!” Liam murmured. Suddenly he had a thought. “Do you think it will be out tomorrow?”
“Perhaps,” said Joel.
Chapter 5. Caught!
For the next few weeks, Liam was working with the Jacksons on tons of bad things, like taking care of their pet tiger kitten who was old enough to hurt people. Sometimes Joel helped him with his chores. One day, the boys were in the woods chopping down trees. Mr. Jackson wanted six.
“I only have one to go, Joel. You?” Liam asked.
“I’ve finished,” said Joel. “How big do you think the Cubs’ chances are of winning the series?”
“They haven’t won for a while,” said Liam. “But they’re doing really well.”
“I believe in miracles,” said Joel.
Suddenly a voice called out, “Joel, what do you think you’re doing?”
A group of teenage boys came over, holding guns. Henry was one of them.
“That’s Henry’s hunting club,” Joel explained to Liam. “They love murdering animals for fun.”
“That’s terrible!” said Liam.
“Joel!” said Henry. “You are helping our servant! That’s wrong.”
“Not as wrong as hunting,” began Liam, but Henry cut him off.
“You’ve been helping him all along, right?”
“Um,” stammered Joel.
“You’re a traitor! I’m telling Mom!” hollered Henry.
“You wouldn’t dare,” gasped Joel.
“Yes I would!” Henry snapped.
He and his friends ran off. Joel looked really upset, and Liam gave him a hug.
“Mom’s probably going to throw me on the street for a week. That’s what she did the last time I befriended a person working with us.”
Liam sighed. “Joel, I’m really sorry you risked this much just to help me.”
“It’s okay, man. I just wish we weren’t caught.” Suddenly he looked like he had an idea. “Henry!” he called.
Henry turned around. “Yeah?” he asked. “If you don’t tell Mom, I’ll give you my candy for a week. Deal?”
Henry nodded and the boys shook hands.
Once Liam and Joel had finished, they walked back. Liam said, “Do you think Henry will keep his word, Joel?”
“I hope,” said Joel. “I hope.”
Liam was sitting in the living room, working on making a lovely skirt for Mrs. Jackson, when he heard her yell, “Liam, can you come in?”
That’s funny, he thought. What had he done wrong? He came into the kitchen.
“Y-Yesss, Mrs. Jackson?” he stammered.
“Just so you know, tomorrow night, we’ll be having friends from Henry’s school over.”
Liam nodded. “What about Joel?” he asked eagerly, feeling excited to meet Joel’s friends.
Mrs. Jackson shook her head. “We don’t let other losers in the house,” she said, looking insulted. “Anyway, since you’re not family or guest, we guess you won’t have dinner.”
Liam was shocked. The Jacksons were mean, but they had been decent enough to let him eat. “CHILD ABUSE!” he shouted. He ran to the kitchen and dialed 911.
“911, can we help you?”
Liam said, “Hi, I’m working for this family, who’s treat—”
Mrs. Jackson suddenly came in. “Sorry, just my son. He’s lost his memory and thinks it’s April 1, even though it’s August 23. Have a good day.” She hung up and scowled at Liam. “How dare you spread rumors about us. You’re going in the Ice House tonight.”
The next day, Henry’s hunting club came. There were so many of Liam’s favorite foods: Pizza, waffles, candy bars. Liam longed for some of it.
He set the table, brought out the delicious food, and went upstairs. He was starving. He felt so hungry he did not think he could sleep. He’d never felt so sad.
Liam opened the door. It was Joel.
“Here.” Joel handed Liam a pizza slice.
“Thanks,” Liam mumbled and gobbled it down. “G’night, Joel.”
“‘Night, Liam.” Joel closed the door.
Liam felt he appreciated Joel more and more.
Soon it was the last day of August, and Liam was counting the money he had earned. 82 cents… a dollar 75… 2.75… 4.24…5.40… 6.23… 7.20… 8.17… 8.44… 9.39… 9.97… Soon he had finished. He had 39 dollars and 8 cents. He sent 30 dollars to his house, and an idea for the leftover 9.80.
He ran into the kitchen. “Liam, what is it?!” asked Mrs. Jackson.
“I sent my first 30 dollars and have 9 dollars left plus 8 cents. And I’m giving them to you for a free night. Okay?”
“Well…” stammered Mrs. Jackson. Then she said, “Oookay, on September 5.”
“Thanks,” said Liam. He had an idea.
He ran to Joel’s room. “Joel?”
Joel looked up from his Hardy Boys. “Yeah?”
“I spent an extra 9 dollars on a free night. And guess what it is? September 5.”
“When the Cubs play in the final of the series, against the Yankees?”
Liam nodded. “And I thought we could watch together. So would you—“
“Yes!” said Joel. They high-fived. Liam felt very excited.
Soon it was the free night. Joel had gotten Liam some M&Ms, and some popcorn for himself. The two of them sat down and Joel turned the channel to baseball.
The Yankee were up first. Alex Rodriguez was first up to bat. He hit the ball and ran to first, to second, to third, and home He had hit a HOME RUN!! “1-0 Yankees,” the scoreboard read, and Joel groaned.
“Darnit,” Joel began, but then Henry barged in.
“Hi! May I join you?”
Joel shook his head. “Sorry, but there’s no room on the sofa.”
“That’s okay, I’ll just get a another seat!” He climbed onto the TV, his legs blocking the screen.
“Henry, get down at once!” demanded Joel.
“No way,” he sneered, sticking out his tongue. Liam and Joel exchanged a glance.
“Should we knock the TV down?” asked Liam.
“No. Henry will be off but we’ll probably break the TV.”
An hour later the boys still hadn’t gotten Henry off the TV. Joel said, “Henry, if you get off, I’ll give you some cookies from my dinner. Deal?”
“Deal,” Henry said and got off just as the TV said, “The Cubs win the Series!” The boys were happy the Cubs had won, but were angry that Henry had made them miss the whole game. They were so mad they could have spit.
The next day while the boys were cleaning the living room, they talked about how to teach Henry a lesson. Joel said, “We could put bugs in his bed.”
“We don’t have time,” said Liam. “Unless you want to do it yourself.”
“How about we play a rock’n’roll CD in his room and wake him up?”
Joel shook his head. “He hates sleeping. He’ll appreciate it. I know! Have you ever watched ‘Paddington’?”
“Once. My friend, Jordan, invited friends to watch it for his birthday.”
“You know how he causes a flood? Well, Henry was nervous since watching that somebody would do that in our house. We’ll do it when everyone’s asleep. You turn on the kitchen sink, and downstairs bathroom sink. I’ll turn on the upstairs bathroom sink and the tub.”
Liam snickered. “Good idea!”
That night they got to work. They also flushed the toilets so many times that they went through downstairs. Soon the water was a foot deep. They put on their swimsuits for safety. Suddenly, Liam saw the bed carrying Henry down the stairs.
“AUGH!” he yelled as he fell off. Then he saw the water. “A flood!” he yelled, causing his parents to wake up to ¼ of their bed. By the time they realized what had happened, the water was up to Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s hips and several pieces of furniture had moved. The tub was in Mr. Jackson’s office, the fridge was in the living room, the upstairs toilet was blocking the stairs, the oven was in the middle of the hallway, the mirror in Mrs. Jackson’s fashion studio was in the mudroom, Henry’s shoes were in the basement, the sofa was in Joel’s bedroom, and Henry’s bed was next to the TV.
“Who did this?!” screeched Mrs. Jackson. Liam and Joel exchanged a sheepish glance. “Did you do this, boys?!” shouted Mr. Jackson.
“Er…yeah,” both boys stammered.
“I’m going to give you both a punishment!” said Mrs. Jackson. “Joel, you will do Liam’s chores.”
“Fine,” said Joel.
“And Liam, you will be kicked out of the house…and into the sky.”
“What do you mean?” Liam asked.
“Just what I said,” she snapped.
But Liam was still puzzled.
By the next day, the house was back to normal. But the Jacksons were still angry. The next day, Mr. Jackson bought a bunch of balloons. He put 50 aquamarine balloons on Liam’s left leg. 50 chartreuse balloons on his right. 50 magenta on his left arm, and 50 purple on his right. Suddenly, he started floating into the air. The rest of the family came out. “See you around,” sneered Henry. “Or not!”
“Liam!” screamed Joel. He jumped up but Liam was too high to reach him. He was soon in the clouds. Tears were pouring from his eyes. So many terrible things had happened.
His dad had lost his job! Liam was working for a family that treated him like hell. Henry had spoiled his only free night. And now he was in the sky and would probably die soon.
He was hit by three airplanes which burst 150 balloons and he landed on the ground with an “Oof,” in Indiana, in a backyard.
A woman came out and sat beneath a tree. Suddenly she saw Liam. “Hello?” she said, “Who are you?”
“I’m Liam Cross,” he replied. “Who are you?”
“I’m Samantha Matthews,” the woman said. Suddenly she got stern. “What are you doing in my yard??”
Liam told her everything — his dad losing his job, getting sent to work at the Jacksons, how abusive they were except Joel, Henry spoiling Liam’s free night, flooding the house, and being sent into the sky by a bunch of balloons.
Samantha was sympathetic. “How about you live with me instead?” she offered. “I’ve wanted a son since my son got married.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” said Liam.
Liam thought about it for a long time. If he lived with Samantha, he’d at least be escaping the Jacksons. On the other hand, the reason he worked there was to make money for his family: what if the Cross’s lost their home? The very thought of what would happen next was too terrible. Liam would rather live with Samantha but he knew what he had to do. “I’d rather live with you, but I’m gonna go back to the Jacksons for my family’s sake.”
She smiled. “That’s very kind of you,” she said. “You should spend the night and we’ll take the train tomorrow to Chicago. Okay?”
That night, Samantha gave Liam a sandwich, carrots, and a hot dog for dinner. Then they played checkers. Liam won five rounds and Samantha won seven. She had him sleep on a comfy sofa with a blanket. It felt like heaven compared to his bed with the Jacksons. Then he had waffles for breakfast, and then they were off on the train.
“You know, your name sounds familiar,” Liam remarked.
“Oh yeah, I know your mom, Nina Cross. We’ve been pen pals since we were ten. She told me about you and your sister, Maya.”
Liam said, “In your next letter, please don’t tell Mom and Dad about the Jacksons.”
“I won’t.” Samantha gave Liam a hug.
They reached Chicago. “Bye, Samantha,” said Liam.
Liam ran to the Jacksons’ house and rang the doorbell. Joel answered. “Liam!” he yelled. “You came back.”
“Hi, Joel,” said Liam. The rest of the Jacksons came, looking horrified to see him.
“Well…” stammered Mrs. Jackson. “Go sweep the floor!”
Liam went to work. Back to doing awful chores.
That evening, Joel came in. “Good night, Liam,” he said.
“Good night, Joel!”
Joel left the room and Liam smiled for a minute. Things will get better, he told himself. And he fell asleep.