“Mom?” Manny called from the kitchen, listening for her to answer from somewhere in their expansive home.
“In my office,” she answered from down one hall. Manny headed in that direction.
The kitchen sat in the middle of the main house like the hub of a wheel. Hallways travelling out like spokes seemed to reach into the forest ending in a suite of rooms, each with three or four sides of windows, plus windows along the hallways.
“Mom, where do you keep my birth certificate?” Manny asked without preamble or explanation. She barely glanced up from her desk.
“In the fireproof lockbox in the mudroom off the garage.” There was no hesitation in her voice until suddenly there was, and she narrowed her eyes. “Why?”
“I need it for something.” Manny turned to walk away then hesitated. “Is there a key or combination or something?”
“Emanuel, why do you need your birth certificate?” She swiveled in her office chair and folded her arms across her chest.
“Would it be okay if I answered that question in a couple of days?” He bit his lip and held his breath, turning to meet his mom’s gaze with a confidence he was trying to pull from his nervous stomach.
“What are you hiding from your mother?”
“Mom, I’m a nineteen-year-old-guy. Sometimes nineteen-year-old-guys need to do things that they’re not comfortable telling their mom about ahead of time. Please, just, give me a day or two, okay?”
“Which branch of the military are you enlisting?”
“What makes you think I’m going into the military?” He wasn’t sure if she’d be more upset about him enlisting, or if she found out the truth.
“There are only a few reasons why a person needs their birth certificate at your age, and since you don’t have a girlfriend, I’m assuming you’re not getting married.”
Manny coughed, more like choked, and covered his mouth with his fist. After calming his coughing fit, he said, “That’s a reasonable assumption.”
“So which branch?”
“Please can we save this conversation for a couple of days? I promise I’ll tell you everything. But please don’t force me to explain my decision right now.”
“The key is on a blue keychain in the top drawer of your father’s desk.”
“Thank you for understanding.” Manny turned to walk away from his mom.
“I don’t understand,” his mom mumbled. “But I respect your privacy.”
Manny stopped but didn’t turn around. “I appreciate that, mom.” He hesitated a second more, then continued down the hall to the kitchen and common room. He turned down the hallway to his father’s office where he strode to his desk and opened the top drawer. A false bottom lay under a stack of file folders and he lifted them off and found the blue keychain. He replaced the files, closed the drawer and re-traced his steps.
The entrance to the garage was adjacent to the kitchen in the center of the house and Manny paused, panic crushing his chest and his hopes. How would he discretely sneak Aloise back out of his suite and into his Jeep? He’d think of something. First, he had to find his birth certificate.
The key fit easily in the lock and within seconds he found the file folder that was labeled, “Birth Certificates.” Much simpler than what Aloise had to do sneaking behind her parents’ backs and searching for ten minutes.
“Are you in some sort of trouble?” His mom stood by the entrance to the mud room and Manny jumped, dropping the keys and the most valuable document in his world.
“You startled me.” He pressed his hand to his chest and leaned down to grab the items he’d dropped. He stood and turned to face his mom. “No, I’m not in any trouble. Please trust me.”
“Okay,” she whispered.
“Would you do me a huge favor?” Manny handed his mom the blue keychain. “Would you return this to dad’s desk for me?”
She opened her hand without a word and her lips shook with unshed tears in her eyes.
“Mom”—Manny pulled her into a quick hug— “Trust me.” Before she could say anything else, he turned and grabbed the extra set of keys to his Jeep from the hook by the door and strode to his truck.
He backed out of the garage, not looking at the door to the mudroom, and pulled into the grass, driving carefully around to his wing of the house. He parked in a way that his mom would be able to see the back end of the truck through the living room windows, but not the passenger side door to the cab.
Coming around the car, he knocked lightly on the outside door and called softly, “Aloise, it’s Manny, let me in.”
Aloise opened the door and Manny grabbed his compound bow from just inside.
“Come sneak into the Jeep while I load some hunting equipment into the back end of the truck.”
“Why are you going hunting?” Aloise asked, grabbing her small backpack purse, and walking out the door.
“My mom’s suspicious. I just need her to think I’m going hunting.”
Manny lowered the tailgate and loaded the compound bow into the bed of his truck then went inside and grabbed a few other random hunting items and loaded them in as well. Checking to make sure the back door to his suite was unlocked, he made his way around to the driver’s side and climbed into the Jeep. “You ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.” She giggled.
“Alright, crouch down in your seat while I drive past the house. I’d lay wagers my mom is watching from the window.”
Aloise crouched down so as not to be seen and Manny waved lightly toward the house to say goodbye to his mom, just in case she was watching.