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Authors: Norah McClintock

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Norah McClintock

orca soundings

Copyright © 2009 Norah McClintock

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

McClintock, Norah
Back / Norah McClintock.

(Orca soundings)
ISBN 978-1-55143-991-4 (bound).--ISBN 978-1-55143-989-1(pbk.)

I. Title. II. Series: Orca soundings

PS8575.C62B33 2009       jC813'.54      C2008-908027-0

Summary:
After serving time for a violent crime, Jojo returns to the neighborhood and tries to take his life back.

First published in the United States, 2009
Library of Congress Control Number:
2008943122

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design by Teresa Bubela

Cover photography by Getty Images

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www.orcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.

12 11 10 09 • 4 3 2 1

To my dear friend Frieda Wishinsky.

Chapter One

It's summer and I'm sidelined with a broken ankle. I'm thinking I'm in for the most boring summer of my life until the word gets around that Jojo Benn is coming back home to live with his mother. Everyone knows he's coming back a few days before he actually shows up because his mother tells Megan Dalia's mom. Megan's mom immediately tells everyone else, even though she says she doesn't blame Jojo's mother for what he did. My mother has a different opinion. She says
Jojo's mother was always too soft on him. She says Jojo would have turned out differently if he had been taken in hand.

Jojo is twenty when he comes back. While we wait, we all wonder if he will show up in a taxi or if maybe one of his old friends, who haven't been around much while Jojo has been away, will drive him up to his mother's front door.

But he doesn't arrive in a taxi or a car. Instead, a city bus slides to a stop at the end of the street, and Jojo gets off. He's carrying a suitcase. He's taller than anyone remembers. He's bulkier too. Some people say it's from all the bad food he probably ate while he was locked up. Other people say they heard that guys work out in there, and sure enough, when Jojo walks past my house carrying his suitcase, I see muscles on his arms that I never saw before.

Jojo doesn't look at anyone, but everyone sure looks at him. He walks up to the front door of his mother's house and rings the bell. Someone opens the door, and he goes inside. After that—only after that—people
come off their porches and into the street and start talking.

There are a lot of people who can't believe that Jojo has had the nerve to come back to our neighborhood. There are more people who don't want him around. Things haven't exactly been peaceful since he went away. Things are never peaceful in my neighborhood. But at least people haven't worried about Jojo for the past two years.

I know Jojo, but I don't know him well. He lives in the same row of houses that I live in. His mother is our next-door neighbor. Jojo is nearly four years older than me, so we never hung out together. But I used to see him out in his backyard sometimes when the weather was nice, making some food on the barbecue or sitting in the sun or fooling around with some of his friends. Sometimes he would be talking to his mother who, it would surprise a lot of people to know, he always talked nice to. Because I saw him like that and other people didn't, I could see that sometimes he seemed like just a regular person. But then he'd get out on the street
with his friends, and he'd do bad things—hurt people or humiliate them or take their stuff. Everyone was glad when he went away. Everyone except his mother.

Now he's back, and people are tense and afraid. They wonder if his friends will start showing up again. They wonder if they'll be walking down the street one day and they'll run into Jojo and he will give them attitude or shove them around, just for fun. They wonder if he'll show up in their stores or their restaurants and take stuff and tell them,
Go ahead, call the cops
, which a lot of them are afraid to do (Jojo always seems to know which ones are afraid) because Jojo's friends have a way of making it hard—really hard—on people who decide to press charges against Jojo. Those people just wish Jojo would go away and never come back.

Then there are the people who have hate in their hearts. Those people wish something bad would happen to Jojo. Something really bad.

Ardell Withrow is one of those people.

Chapter Two

Ardell Withrow's brother Eden is the reason Jojo got sent away. Eden is one year older than Ardell. He is—
was
—an okay guy. He graduated high school and was about to do something that no one else in his family had ever done. He was about to go to college. Then he pissed off Jojo. I didn't see it, but I heard what happened.

Jojo used to go with a girl named Shana, right up until he got Shana pregnant. He wanted Shana to get rid of the baby. Shana
refused. She told Jojo she was going to have it and raise it and if he didn't like it, that was his problem. Jojo didn't like that. He didn't like anyone making a decision about
his
kid, never mind that he didn't want the kid in the first place. He didn't like Shana, or anyone else for that matter, telling him no when he wanted to hear yes. He particularly didn't like Shana telling him that what she did with her body was none of his business.

So Jojo did what he always did when he didn't care for someone's attitude—he made life hard for Shana. He called her names— slut and whore and worse—whenever he saw her. He talked about her to his friends. He told them personal stuff about what he and Shana used to do when they were together. He muscled her and, one time, grabbed her breast right out there in the street. When Shana slapped his face for that, he slapped her back five times harder.

Then, one day, while Shana was on the way down the street past his house to get to her own house half a block away, Jojo and his friends surrounded her. There must have
been six or seven of them. They boxed her in, and Jojo started calling her names and saying how miserable the baby's life was going to be with her for its mother. The whole time, Shana didn't say a word. That only made Jojo angrier. Finally he shoved her off the curb. Shana had a big belly by then. The baby was only one month away from being born.

Shana would have fallen and hurt herself, and maybe the baby, if it hadn't been for Eden Withrow. Eden was watching Jojo from across the street. When he saw Jojo and his friends circle Shana, he started to cross the street. He got there just in time to grab Shana's arm so that she didn't get knocked to the ground.

Jojo didn't like that either. He jumped Eden in an alley that night and beat him good with a crowbar. Eden was rushed by ambulance to the hospital emergency room. Then he was rushed into an operating room. From there he went to intensive care. He's still in the hospital—a different one now, one where they look after people who are never going to be able to make it on their own.

My mother, who knows Ardell's mother, says that people used to talk to Ardell's mother about Eden all the time. Then, when they found out that he would probably never wake up from the coma he was in, everyone stopped talking about him. But they're talking about him again now, and they all say the same thing. They all say that it's not right that Jojo only got five years, out in two, for taking away from Eden everything that makes a life worth living.

Ardell has been saying the same thing a lot, ever since we got word that Jojo was coming back. Another thing Ardell has been saying a lot: he's not afraid of Jojo. And I bet he isn't. First of all, Ardell has hate in his heart, and hate takes the fear out of people and replaces it with a thirst for vengeance. Second, Ardell hasn't been wasting his time. While everyone else has been breathing easier and probably hoping never to set eyes on Jojo again, Ardell has been applying himself to the study of martial arts. He's been bulking up too. His muscles are bigger than Jojo's.

It's almost as if Ardell has been wishing the opposite of everyone else. Everyone else wants peace and quiet, which means no Jojo. Ardell, though, he's hungry. He wants Jojo. He wants him bad, and now that he's back, Ardell is watching him. Everyone else is steering clear. They're wondering who Jojo will go after. They keep their eyes down, the way people do when they come across a big dog they don't know. They won't look that dog in the eye because they know the dog will see that as a challenge, and then, before they can even think of backing away, they'll be in a fight they can't win.

For a couple of days, everyone holds their breath. For the same couple of days, Jojo doesn't make a move. Then, I guess, Ardell decides he can't wait any longer.

Chapter Three

Ardell is following in his brother's footsteps. In the fall, he will become the first person in his family to go to college. He was supposed to be away this summer, working at the same camp for kids that he worked at last summer. But the camp burned down, and now Ardell doesn't have a job. He's been looking for one, but it's tough this year. Most of the summer jobs have already been taken. So mostly Ardell sits around on his porch and hangs out with his friends who don't have jobs or who are between shifts.

Ardell is a good guy, like his brother. Everyone says so. But the look in Ardell's eyes the first couple of days that Jojo is home is not the look you usually see in a good guy's eyes.

For the first couple of days, Jojo stays mostly in his mother's house. The people on my street tense up the second day when some of Jojo's old friends show up. But they stay in the house with Jojo. They don't go out onto the street. And after they leave, they don't come back again. Nobody knows why.

Finally, three days after Jojo gets back, his front door opens. It's the middle of July. It's hot. A lot of people are out on their porches. Other people are down on the sidewalk, talking, while they water their postage-stamp-sized front yards and the plants and flowers in their flowerbeds or in baskets hanging from their porch railings.

Ardell is out on his porch. He's just sitting there on a chair, watching Jojo's mother's house. When Jojo comes outside, Ardell stands up. When Jojo goes down his front walk to the sidewalk, Ardell crosses to his
porch steps. When Jojo walks past Ardell's house, heading for the stores on the corner, Ardell comes down his walk. People all up and down the street turn to watch as Ardell swings onto the sidewalk and falls into step behind Jojo. You can practically hear people suck in their breath, like they're afraid of what's going to happen next.

But nothing happens.

Jojo is wearing sneakers that make no noise when he walks. Ardell is wearing boots, even in the summer heat. He sounds like the entire Russian army marching in step behind Jojo. But Jojo doesn't even turn around. He walks straight to the ice-cream store and goes inside.

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