I’ve decided to share my latest book (The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man) with my followers here, free of charge, one chapter at a time. So… Where were we on this read-along… Oh, yes…
Chapter 37: Who Stacked the Quarters?
After more than four hours of uninterrupted standing, my knees became increasingly wobbly beneath me. In that dark hallway, with my face firmly pushed against the cold hard wall, my heart never once slowed. The pressure to tell what only I knew was building. I had to admit my involvement in what had happened if this was ever going to end. It was now 1:51 AM.
I looked over at Eric. I had gotten my brother into this mess. His own face was pressed against the wall just as mine was. His hollow eyes stared back at me with a look of despair. He couldn’t last much longer. I could sense that he was getting close to cracking. What he would tell them if he did, I couldn’t guess. He didn’t know of my involvement, and he had nothing to do with what had happened.
Kneeling between the two of us was Amy, her face pressed into the wall just as ours were. Her legs had gone out long before, and she had slumped into a miserable little pile on the ground between her two older brothers. She had cried several times since we were forced there. Her tears were not resting easily on my conscience.
To Eric’s right was Tomi Ann, the oldest of our sibling group. She had avoided eye contact with all of us for the most part. At one point, an hour earlier, our eyes had locked and I recognized in that one brief moment that she knew it was me. How could she not? It was always me that got us into these messes.
“All you have to do is tell us who did it, and we’ll let you all go,” the voice came from behind us. It was heavy and haunting. I took a deep breath and bit my lip to calm my racing blood. I couldn’t tell them. Not yet. If I held off long enough, we just might all get out of this, unscathed. “Suit yourself,” the voice said once more. The shadow that belonged to the voice disappeared behind its owner and we were left in dark isolation to suffer, and to think as a group.
As soon as we were alone again, all three of my siblings visually drooped. “Who did it? Just tell them so the rest of us can get out of here,” Tomi Ann pleaded. Eric said nothing. Amy began sniffling below us once again.
I replayed my crime over and over in my mind. There was no way I could confess. No possible way. Sure, my siblings would be free, but I would most certainly be dead for what I had done. My gut told me that as long as I held out, this would be as bad as it got. They wouldn’t hold us forever. Of course, one hour had turned to two, two to three, and now here we were, four hours later and there was no end to our suffering in sight.
Finally, when Tomi Ann had stopped her begging, and Eric had dropped to his own knees, and Amy had simply gone silent, I did what I had to do and I threw my little sister under the proverbial bus. I asked her to sacrifice herself, so that I could keep living. They wouldn’t kill her. They would kill me. I hadn’t taken the money. But I had done things with the money that were unforgivable.
“Amy, if you tell them you stacked the quarters, I’ll give you my lunch box,” I whispered. “Then they’ll let us go. You’ll get in less trouble than the rest of us because you’re so little.”
My lunch box seemed a suitable trade for my own life. I was, after all, the one who stacked the quarters that day.
In Dad’s bedroom closet, he kept a large bowl full of loose change. Earlier that afternoon, I had entered his closet to put a pair of his shoes where they belonged as I set about finishing my daily chores. A brand new roll of quarters sat against the edge of the bowl, unopened. In large blue font on each side, it read $10.
I was in second grade at the time. We had just learned in school that there were four quarters in every dollar, and so this roll of quarters utterly fascinated me. I quickly attempted to do the math in my head when I saw the dollar sign. Ten dollars, ten dollars, let’s see, that would be how many quarters? I hadn’t learned my times tables yet, so I decided to see for myself. I ripped open the roll and stacked the quarters into ten perfect stacks on the shelf next to Dad’s bowl of change. Satisfied, I left them all there and went about my business.
Dad found them just before our bed time that night, and that’s when all hell broke loose…