Roam
C.H. Armstrong


Seventeen year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha but, thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave what little they had behind for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager—fitting into school, buoyed by dreams of a boyfriend, college and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.

Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they're sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.

As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her friends let her down the same way they did back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?



Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

My stepdad, Nick, drives down the main street of Rochester, pulling even with a car filled with teenagers. I stare at them, thankful for the van’s tinted windows that keep my gaze from catching their attention. The driver is a girl about my age, and the car is a fire-engine red sports car with temporary tags. She and her passengers dance in their seats, singing to the blaring music.

I hate this town already. Everywhere I look screams wealth and privilege—from the carefully manicured lawns to the kids in the car next to us. The cost of their clothing alone would probably eat up Nick’s whole paycheck if he still had one. But he doesn’t, and neither does Mom.

I wonder about the kids in the sports car. Are they as perfect as they appear, or are their lives secretly as screwed up as mine? Maybe the driver’s dad is embezzling money from his company. He’ll get caught next week, the scandal will hit the newspapers, and the whole family will be ruined. Or the guy in the passenger seat: maybe he’s about to discover his parents are really his grandparents, and his “older sister” is really his mom. Everybody’s hiding something. We all have secrets. It can’t just be my family.

Angry tears threaten. The kids pull ahead, so Nick holds back allowing them to pass. What would they think if they knew our secrets? Anger flows like hot lava as I imagine them laughing at our ratty old van with the rusted out fender on the driver’s side. Next to them, we look homeless.

Manic laughter erupts from my belly. I smother it, but not before Mom hears from the front seat. She turns around and shoots me a smile that says, “Tell me what’s so funny”—but I ignore her, turning away and staring out my window. I should feel bad for ignoring Mom but she’s pretty much ruined our lives, so I’d call us even.

Seated next to me, my little sister, Amber, taps my arm. “What’s so funny, Sister?”

“Nothing.” I smile, taking the edge off my short reply.

The sports car disappears around a corner into a residential neighborhood. At the next stoplight, Nick turns into a Wal-Mart parking lot, then rolls the windows down about two inches before turning off the engine.

“We’ll park it here for tonight,” he says. “With so many other cars, nobody will notice an extra van in the lot.”

“Is it safe?” Mom scans the parking lot, her expression skeptical.

“Pretty much. The doors’ll be locked, so we should be okay.”

“I miss BooBoo Bunny,” Amber cries.

At six, everything in the last two days has been confusing to her. She’s asked endless questions for which none of us have answers—at least not answers you can give a first grader.

Why can’t we go home?

Why do we have to sleep in the van?

Why can’t I bring my bicycle?

My patience is short and, before I can stop myself, angry words spew out. “None of us like it. Deal with it.”

Mom spins in her seat. “Abby, you’ve made it clear how much you hate this situation, but there’s no need to snap at your sister.”

I open my mouth to snipe back, but Nick turns and catches my eye. His expression says, “Leave it, Abby. Please.” For Nick’s sake, I do. I shut my mouth because, deep down, I’m terrified he’ll leave us. Because without Nick, this shit-show our lives have become would be even worse. He’s the one who keeps us going—the one who keeps me from strangling Mom—and he’s the only one who can help us out of this mess.

Be nice. Be nice. The words scream inside my head like a mantra. I take a breath and try for a more agreeable tone. “So what do we do now?”

Nick smiles his thanks. “Tomorrow, we get you two started in school, then your mom and I will see what the Salvation Army has to offer.” His face flushes. “I hate to ask, but can you help us out?”

I lift an eyebrow. “Sure. What do you need?”

“Can you check out the newspaper office one day this week? If you got a job delivering papers, you could take Amber with you and it’d be a huge help.”

“Sure.”

Nick’s smile is sad—embarrassed, maybe. Asking my help must be a blow to his pride.

“Mommy?” Amber asks. “How’re we gonna sleep in the van?”

“It’ll be fun.” Mom’s chipper voice grates on my nerves. “Like camping. We have pillows and blankets, and we’ve already folded down the rear seats.”

“Will we all fit?”

“We should.”

Amber frowns. “What if someone sees us?”