I begged the week to go by quickly or for someone to do something
more catastrophic and humiliating so Evan, Drew and I would be
dropped from the headlines. Then Katie returned to school, and I
wished I hadn’t thought that. Everyone stared, whispered and pointed,
avoiding her like she carried a contagion. I knew pity wasn’t what she
needed, but I didn’t know what else to offer. If my secret were released
to the masses, I’d want to drop off the planet. So, whether it was the
right decision or not, I left her alone. I didn’t avoid her, but I didn’t go
out of my way to make her feel better either. My ambivalence could’ve
been considered cowardice. Yes, it probably was. I found Katie crying
in the girls’ room on Friday, and slipped out before she knew I was
“Things are going to change around here,” the foreboding voice
yanked me back from my thoughts.
I stood in the halway motionless, with my backpack over my shoulder
and duffle bag in my hand. I had just returned from my weekend in
New York with Evan and Sara. Carol met me with a hardened glare. I
hadn’t heard her hateful voice in so long; I’d forgotten how debilitating
it could be.
“No more Friday nights at the McKinley’s. You got away with it for too
long and sleazed out of your responsibilities too often. You’re not getting
away with your shit anymore. You should be shoved in a box,
My pulse quickened in anticipation of what she’d say next.
“…your uncle seems to think it would help with the tension in the
house if we had one day to ourselves. It’s not worth arguing over. You
are never worth arguing over. So, tel Sara she can pick you up at noon
on Saturday’s, however you wil be in this house by nine o’clock on
“But, not this weekend. You’re staying here to rake my backyard and
my mother’s on Sunday. Speaking of Sundays…”
Please don’t say it.
“… you’l only be alowed to go to the library, nowhere else. If I find out
that you’re anywhere other than where you say you are, you will be living
in a box until you graduate.” My stomach twisted. I remained
frozen, hoping she’d slither away without leaving a mark. Not so lucky.
“Am I making myself clear?” she growled, grabbing my ear, making
me twist my head to folow the tugging.
“Yes,” I whimpered, straining my neck.
I stood in the hal with my hand over my throbbing ear, watching my
freedom disappear with her. I threw my bags on my bed upon entering
my room and began pacing furiously. Why was she doing this to me?
Why couldn’t she have left me alone like she had for the past three
months? What was the sudden interest in where I was? She hated me.
Why would she want me home?
My chest tightened as I fumed at the thought of having to be with her
al weekend. And knowing that I wasn’t going to see Evan this weekend
was more upsetting than spending it with her. Wel…
Unbeknownst to me, Evan and Sara decided to split my pickups and
drop offs, so I wasn’t expecting to see his BMW
waiting for me when I walked down the driveway on Monday morning.
But I was too distracted by next weekend’s impending doom to be as
thriled as I should’ve been.
“Good morning,” he greeted warmly when I closed the door.
“Hi,” I responded, unable to smile in return.
“Are you ever in a good mood in the morning?”
“What?” His question distracted me from my brooding thoughts. “Oh,
sorry. I’m just angry with my aunt right now.”
“What happened?” His voice was heavy with concern, more than it
needed to be.
“Nothing that bad,” I assured, trying to put him at ease. “She’s making
me stay home this weekend, and I’m pissed. Sorry; I don’t mean to be
“Are you going to the library on Sunday?”
“No, I’m going to her mother’s to rake her yard,” I grumbled.
“So…” he said without needing to say any more.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “I’m trying to figure out when we’l be able to see each
“There’s always next weekend,” he consoled.
“You’re giving up that easy?” I shot back, questioning his resolve.
“No,” Evan replied with a light laugh. “But what other choice do we
have, besides you sneaking out of your house?”
A flash of cold nerves streaked through my stomach at the thought of
trying to climb out of my window without being heard. But then I was
overcome with a spike of adrenaline. Could I realy do this?
“That may be an option.”
Evan shot me a sideways glance. “You want to sneak out of your
house?” he confirmed in astonishment.
“I can do this,” I declared out loud, trying to convince myself more
The repercussions of getting caught sent a wave of nausea through me,
but the thril of getting away with it convinced me that it was worth it. I
wasn’t going to alow her to control my life any longer. It was more important
for me to try, than to not have the chance at al. Where had I
heard that before?
“You are insane!” Sara exclaimed, when I told her what I was planning
to do. “If you get caught, we wil never see you again!”
“But Sara,” I argued, “aren’t you the one who said that it was better to
try and fail, than to never have the experience?”
“That’s not quite what I said,” she corrected. “Em, this is so much different
than having a date with a guy I may never see again. You could
I looked down at my uneaten lunch, understanding her concern. If I
were the same person I’d been six months ago, we’d never be having
this conversation. Too much had happened, and I wasn’t ready to go
“Sara,” I explained lowly, “what do I realy have? If it weren’t for you
and Evan, I wouldn’t even exist, or I might as wel not exist. I need
more than school and sports to keep me wanting to move forward. I
can’t be that person anymore, not now that I know the difference.”
Sara sat silently, breaking off pieces of her cookie without eating them.
“Are you sure there isn’t a way for you to move out of their house?” she
finaly questioned. “If you get caught…” She couldn’t look me in the
“I won’t get caught,” I assured her. We sat in silence for a moment,
picking at our food.
“Are you going to the award ceremony tomorrow night?” Sara asked,
changing the subject.
“I put it on the calendar, and they didn’t say anything, so I think so.”
“Are you staying at school, or should my parents and I pick you up at
“I’l probably stay here. I have to work on the newspaper and my History
paper, so there’s no point in going home.” There was never a point
in going home, but it was unavoidable, no matter how much I delayed
the return. I didn’t have any other choice.
“Congratulations,” she offered as Sara and I walked into the cool
I approached her but not with the shock of our first encounter. I
wasn’t surprised to see her, but I was surprised by her sobriety. My
mother appeared uncomfortably nervous standing on the sidewalk.
She had her hands in her jacket pockets, glancing from the ground to
my face, awaiting my reaction.
Sara didn’t continue to the parking lot but waited a short distance
away to give us room to talk. I walked closer to the frail woman who I
barely resembled except for her dark brown hair and the almond
shape of her eyes.
“I am so proud of you,” she said gently, glancing up at me.
“Captain next year, that’s great, Emily.”
“Co-captain,” I corrected. She smiled lightly as she held my gaze with
her sparkling eyes.
“I saw you play.” She smiled bigger.
“I know,” I answered quietly. “I heard you yeling in the stands.” My
mother’s belows were unmistakable since she was the only one yeling
“Emily” amongst the cheering crowd.
“I’ve decided to stop drinking,” she declared proudly. “I haven’t had
anything to drink since December.” I could only nod, uncertain if I believed
her words. I had no proof of the aleged truth other than her current
“I got a new job too,” she continued. “I’m an executive assistant at an
engineering firm a couple towns over.”
“You moved to Connecticut?” I questioned, shocked by this revelation.
“I wanted to be closer to you,” she told me with an eager expression. “I
was hoping we could see each other… if you wanted to.”
My shoulders puled back at this request. “We’l see,” I replied, unable
to commit. She nodded with her shoulder slumped in disappointment.
“I understand,” she whispered, looking at the ground. “Are you okay?”
She looked up at me again, searching for more than the three words
“I’m okay,” I assured her with a tight smile. Her concerned eyes didn’t
release their scrutiny.
“Would you mind if I went to some of your track meets? I know they’re
usualy during the week, but if you have a weekend meet, would it be al
I shrugged. “If you want.” I realy wanted to tel her not to come - that I
preferred not to see her again. But I couldn’t look into her desperate
eyes and reject her so blatantly.
“I need to go,” I told her, nodding towards Sara.
“Hi.” My mother acknowledged Sara with her charming smile.
“I’m Emily’s mother, Rachel.”
“Hi,” Sara responded with a kind smile of her own. “I’m Sara. It’s nice
to meet you.”
“Wel, you girls be careful driving home,” she told us. My eyebrows
puled together in reaction to her words. The concern sounded strange
coming from her mouth.
“I’m so proud of you, baby,” my mother offered with weling eyes. I
couldn’t stand to see the sentiment - it contradicted everything I knew
of her. She was the one who didn’t want me. Why should she care
“Thanks,” I said and quickly turned away, striding toward Sara’s car.
Sara was a few quick steps behind me, not expecting my sudden
“Are you al right?” she asked when we neared her car. “Did she say
something wrong that I missed?”
“Everything she said was wrong,” I declared, slipping into the passenger
Sara studied me carefuly before puling out of the spot. I knew she
wanted to understand, but she couldn’t find the words to ask me to explain.
So I didn’t.
“Do you want to come over to my house for a little while, or do you
think they’re expecting you home?” Sara asked. “My parents left from
here to go to a dinner for my dad’s company, so they won’t be home.”
“I should go home,” I decided quietly, looking out the window.
“She’s acting strange again, and I don’t need her saying anything to me
tonight. I don’t think I could let her get away with it.”
I ignored Sara’s shocked expression and continued to stare out the
“So what’s the plan?” Evan asked during our walk to the Art room.
“There’s a park a few streets away from my house,” I explained, having
dweled on the details al week. “Meet me there at ten o’clock.”
“Wil they be in bed by then?” I heard the unease in his voice.
“No, but if we wait that long it wil be so late.” I exhaled slowly, recognizing
the risk of trying to slip out with them in the next room watching
television. But I also knew that they never came into my room at
night, so I was fairly confident they wouldn’t check on me while I was
gone. “It’l be fine.”
“We don’t have to do this,” Evan offered.
“Are you backing out?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I just don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I assured with forced confidence.
“Okay.” He released a heavy breath before kissing me on the top of my
With a promise of texting Sara on Sunday as proof that I stil existed, I
exited her car to begin my gut wrenching weekend with Carol. The
only thing that kept me from festering in fury was the thought of
sneaking out to see Evan the next night.
I spent Saturday in the yard raking while the kids jumped in the piles
of leaves. Carol was nowhere to be seen, so being outside, surrounded
by their laughter actualy made the day enjoyable. George arrived home
soon after I was done bagging the last pile. For such a smal yard, it was
astonishing how many leaves sat under the snow al winter. While I
was out there, I moved the trash cans on the side of the house so I had
a clear spot to drop from under my window. I figured I could use the
metal trash can to climb back through the window when I returned, as
long as I remembered to stand on the rims of the can. I was also concerned
about moving the heavy can without it making noise. My stomach
turned just thinking about it. Of course we were the only family in
America who stil owned metal trash cans – just my luck.
I had no appetite for dinner. I forced each bite of the lasagna into my
mouth. It wasn’t horrible since it was one of the few dishes Carol could
handle without disastrous results. Not wanting to draw any unnecessary
attention, I finished the food on my plate. I gently puled down my
sleeve, reminded of what Carol’s attention felt like. Was it possible
that I’d forgotten what she was capable of?
The enflamed skin along my forearm was a brand, a reminder of her
seething affection. Carol played off my contact with the searing
lasagna pan as an accident, but I saw her eyes dance when I jumped
back with a quick, pained inhale. Did I realy dare to test the limits of
her loathing by sneaking out my window?
My stomach turned anxiously as I stared at the painted sky while
washing dishes. I only had a few more hours to decide if I was capable
of doing this. I thought of Evan and whether I could disappoint him. I
knew he’d understand if I backed out. Then I thought of how disappointed
I would be, and whether I could live with that. I absently
rinsed the dishes and placed them in the dishwasher, the movement of
my shirt irritating the raw bubbling skin.
I slipped into my room after taking out the trash, checking the can
placement once again. I considered burying myself in homework to
persuade time to pass quickly. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to
I opted to lie on my bed and drown my nausea with music – it didn’t
help. A thousand incoherent thoughts raced through my head as I
stared at the ceiling. I’d start to visualize my escape route and then get
worked up about the potential disasters. Could I drop the distance
from the window to the ground without making a sound?
Would one of the neighbors see me and say something? What would I
say if they discovered I was missing or caught me outside?
My stomach turned and my palms dampened.
I picked up my phone to text Evan that I wasn’t going to meet him. I
had the words displayed on the screen and started puling at my lower
lip. Could I do this? I wanted to see him so much. I couldn’t force myself
to hit Send. I dug my teeth into my lip and hit Cancel. I stil had an
hour and a half to decide.
The seconds ticked away like minutes – I couldn’t keep stil. I tapped
my foot rapidly in the air, contemplating my choices. Should I give in
to what I wanted to do or to what I should do? But why shouldn’t I get
to see Evan? Why was I letting them decide what was right for me? It’s
not like I was sneaking off to get drunk or get into any real trouble.
They never had to know. I swalowed hard and bit my lip again.
The last forty-five minutes were the worst. I thought the heat in my
stomach was going to burn through my skin. I shut off the music and
listened to the low talking coming from the TV through the wal. Eventualy,
I slid off my bed and walked breathlessly to my closet with deliberate
steps. I removed the stuffed duffle bag from the closet, placed it
on my bed, and folded my comforter over it. I knew it didn’t look
much like a body, but I couldn’t bear the thought of having my bed
completely flat in my absence. I examined the façade for a minute, almost
panting with anxiety. I ran through the plan in my head one
more time and inhaled quickly, biting my lip. Should I leave the window
open or wil the cool air be noticed if they walked by my door to go
to the bathroom? How would I close it? I’d have to stand on a trash
can. I clenched my teeth and held my breath in agony just thinking
about moving it while they were a window away. I removed the phone
from my pocket and lingered over the buttons ready to cancel once
Didn’t George just throw away an empty milk crate that used to have
paint cans in it? That would be high enough for me to reach the window
to close it. I put the phone back in my pocket. I shut off my light
with twenty minutes left to wait. I sat on the floor with my knees
drawn into me, staring up at the window. I watched the stars blink
through our neighbor’s swaying trees, alowing the last few minutes to
tick away. I could do this - I had to believe that. I took a breath to calm
the pounding in my chest.
My hands shook as I placed my thumb and finger under the ridge of
the wooden frame along the cold pane of glass. I held my breath, giving
it a forceful, but restrained, push. The frame gave way slightly, and
the first gust of cool spring air blew against my legs. I stopped to
listen, with my pulse beating in my ears. I could faintly hear the voices
from the TV continuing to play in the background but couldn’t sense
I held my breath again and pushed the window up further. I continued
inching it up until it was completely open. With my heartbeat in my
throat, I slid a leg out the window and laid my chest forward to slide
my other leg through. I held on to the wooden frame to drop to the
ground. I nearly yeled out when I felt the hands around my waist.
“Shhh,” he whispered in my ear, lowering me to the ground. I leaned
my back against the house, afraid I was going to colapse from heart
failure. I stared up at Evan with huge eyes, my hands covering my
“Sorry,” he whispered. I covered his mouth, silently begging him not to
make any noise.
I searched around for the milk crate. It was difficult to find in the smal
dark path between the house and the fence, but I finaly located the
square shape along the fence and placed it under the window. Evan
realized what I was doing and touched my arm to indicate that he’d do
it. He stood on the crate to lower the window. I pressed my lips together,
barely breathing as I watched him ease it into place.
He grabbed my hand after he stepped down, and we slowly made our
way along the side of the house until we reached the corner. I heard
the television through the closed window above our heads and
stiffened. Evan nodded his head, encouraging me to folow him. I
hugged the front of the house, under the large glowing glass that
peered into the living room. I knew how close they were and held my
Just then, a flood light lit up across the street, exposing us in the shadows
of the house. Evan grabbed my arm and puled me against him in
the dark corner that connected with the wal of the front foyer. I heard
his quickened breath, or maybe it was mine. I bit my lip, inhaling
quickly when Carol peeked through the curtain to investigate. She let
the curtain fal, uninterested when she saw the neighbor getting into
Evan released me when the car drove down the street, out of sight. I
let out a smal burst of air. He smiled. I widened my eyes, shocked by
his reaction. He pushed his lips together to keep from laughing. I hit
his arm in frustration.
Evan grabbed my hand again and rushed across the front yard. We
jogged past a few houses before slowing to a walk. I jumped when I
heard his voice.
“You thought we were going to get caught, didn’t you?”
“No,” I snapped. “But I can’t believe you thought that was funny.”
“I wouldn’t say it was funny,” he stated. “Wel… maybe it was. I’ve never
had to sneak out before so I did find it…
I was stil trying to convince myself that I’d made it out safely. I wasn’t
as amused. Evan put his arm around my shoulder, puling me toward
him. I looked up at his calm grinning face and my anxiety melted
away. I released a smal smile and leaned my head onto his shoulder.
“It’s been too long since you’ve been exposed to something new,” Evan
noted, sitting across from me on the top of the twisted climbing structure
in the park.
“This was something new. I’ve never snuck out before. I guess your
bad influence over me hasn’t changed.”
The whites of Evan’s teeth reflected in the subtle light.
“I stil can’t believe you snuck out of your house,” he said with a
“What other choice did I have?” I defended, stil not as amused as
“You didn’t have to see me.”
“Yes I did.”
He leaned forward to kiss me, and my heart skipped in anticipation of
the touch of his lips. I leaned in to meet him. Before I could reach him,
my legs slipped through the hole that they were dangling in. I fel to the
ground, landing on my feet with a thud. I groaned in frustration.
“Are you okay?” Evan smiled, looking down at me.
“Yes,” I huffed. He slid down, landing in front of me. Stil grinning, he
put his arms around my waist and playfuly rocked my hips from side
“That was pretty funny.” He casualy bent down to kiss me.
“Great,” I grunted, turning my head away. It was impossible to remain
frustrated with his teasing when I felt the warmth of his kiss on my
neck. I inhaled as he puled me closer, and I wrapped my hands around
the backs of his firm arms.
The fluttering rushed from my stomach and through my head as I
turned to intercept his lips. They delicately slid across mine, inching
with a slow sensual pace, causing a warmth to spread through my
chest. I slid my arms around to grip his back and puled myself closer.
His hands ran into my hair as his pace quickened with my breath.
When he slipped away, I kept my eyes closed, resting my head against
him while stil holding him tightly. His chest moved beneath me as he
attempted to catch his breath.
“What should we do next Sunday?” I asked, releasing my grasp and
jogging over to the swings. My sudden departure must have caught
him off guard, because he wasn’t behind me when I turned around to
sit on the plastic seat.
“Um…” he considered, walking toward me. “Let me think about it.”
Evan sat on the swing next to mine with a contemplative smirk.
“I wouldn’t mind going back to the batting cages,” I suggested.
“But I’m sure you don’t want to do that since you play basebal al
“I’l come up with something,” he promised. “Speaking of going back, I
think we’re good enough friends now for you to tel me who your first
My heart skipped a beat.
“You stil want to know?” I questioned.
“He doesn’t go to our school, right?” Evan inquired, answering my
question with his.
“No.” I shook my head. “I met him last summer, when I went to Maine
with Sara. He doesn’t even know where I realy live.”
“Nice,” he declared with a smile. “You’re first kiss is a guy who knows
nothing about you.”
“Wel, I didn’t lie about everything,” I defended.
“Poor guy.” Evan laughed. “But you just kissed him, right?” I recognized
the concern wrapped in his question.
“You know that answer,” I replied. “But, what about you? I mean, I
know you didn’t do anything with Haley, but you never said…”
I couldn’t come right out and directly ask him if he’d had sex. Did I
realy want to know? That question left me torn – part of me was curious,
while the other couldn’t imagine him being with someone else.
Evan was quiet for a moment. I almost asked him not to answer – to
forget I’d asked.
“She was my best friend in San Francisco,” he confessed before I could
withdraw my question. My heart tightened, not prepared for his answer.
“We were realy great friends for over a year before deciding to
date. We trusted each other, and it eventualy happened last summer.
But it was never the same after. We should have just stayed friends,
and both of us knew it - but it was too late.”
“Beth?” I whispered, recaling him mentioning her the night I met his
“Oh,” I replied, looking down, unable to say anything else.
“Does that bother you?” he asked cautiously.
I shrugged. “I didn’t know you, and…” I hesitated. “I guess it’s stil hard
to think of you being with another girl.”
“I know,” he replied, relating to my discomfort. A twinge of guilt shot
“Do you stil care about her? I mean… did you see her when you went
back?” The anticipation of his answer caused my stomach to knot up.
Evan stopped his subtle swaying on his swing and turned toward me
with a calm, stil face.
“I’ve never felt like I do for you… for anyone,” he vowed.
“Beth and I were friends. I cared about her, but I didn’t… It’s not even
remotely the same.”
I swalowed hard, unable to speak.
“She moved to Japan with her family in December, so no, I didn’t see
her.” The silence that folowed was more uncomfortable than I could
“I have an idea,” I declared a little too loudly, as I shot out of my
swing. Evan sat up straight in response to my sudden burst of energy.
“Is your car parked here?” I asked, looking toward the street that ran
along the park.
“Yeah, it’s over there.” He pointed to the silhouette of the sports car.
“Do you have a blanket or something?”
“I have a sleeping bag in the trunk,” he offered suspiciously.
“Can you please get it?” I requested with a smirk. Without inquiring
further, Evan ran to get the sleeping bag. I took it from him and
walked to the outfield of the basebal field to open it on the ground.
Evan watched curiously.
“I know you’re going to think this is strange. Sara and I used to do this
al the time, and I love doing it, especialy when the stars are so bright.”
I stood a few steps away from the sleeping bag and looked up at the
“You focus on a single star,” I explained, as I searched for my spot.
“Then you spin around, staring at that one star, until you can’t stand
anymore.” I started spinning to demonstrate. “Then you lie down to
watch the stars spinning above you while your star remains stil.”
I stopped, catching my step, searching for Evan. He observed my
demonstration with an amused smirk.
“You don’t want to try?”
“No, but you can go ahead,” he encouraged with a smal laugh. He sat
down on the sprawled sleeping back to witness my ridiculousness.
After spinning, I lay next to him to watch the stars circling above me.
“You’re missing out,” I told him, as the earth swayed beneath my stil
body. He laughed.
My view of the streaking lights became obstructed when he leaned
over me. The earth remained whirling beneath me, but it had nothing
to do with spinning in circles.
I walked along my dark street, having left Evan a few houses back. The
grin on my face felt permanent. The buzz stil lingered from our night
in the park. I slowly looked around, recognizing I was only a house
away from mine. I took a deep breath in attempt to sober up.
The dark windows reduced the fear of being detected as I crept along
the shadows to the side of the house where the trash cans awaited me.
I held my breath and grabbed the handles on either side of the metal
cylinder, lifting it with more force than was necessary. The empty can
gave way easily, causing me to stumble backwards.
I recovered before bumping into the bags ful of leaves set along the
fence. I gently placed it under my window and used the milk crate to
step on top of the can. In my post-Evan delirium, I neglected to place
my feet on the edges - the metal lid popped under my weight. The deep
echo rang loudly in the night. I tensed, holding on to the window sil,
After a prolonged ear numbing silence, I pushed the window up. My
heart stopped. It wouldn’t move. I swalowed. My stomach was in my
throat. I pushed it again as hard as I could. I nearly fel from the can
when the window gave way and slid up. I grabbed the ledge to steady
myself. With my hands on the windowsil, I lifted myself and tilted
head first through the open window. I walked my hands along the
floor then slowly lowered each leg from the sil. I lay on the floor of my
room, panting in relief. After a moment of listening for a stir upstairs,
I moved to close the window. I removed the duffle bag from my bed
and set it gently on the floor of my closet. I hung my coat on the back
of the chair at the desk and slipped my shoes off. I crawled onto the
bed, sinking into the mattress with an exhausted sigh and a smile, easily
drifting to sleep.
“Let’s go,” Carol declared loudly.
I shot up in my bed, dazed and disoriented.
“Did you sleep in your clothes?” she observed.
It took a moment to fight through the lingering sleep to realize that
she was standing at the end of my bed with the door open behind her.
I lifted the comforter to examine my attire.
“Oh, uh,” I stumbled. “I must have falen asleep reading.”
She eyed me suspiciously and glanced around my room. I held my
breath, fearing she saw through my lie.
“Wel, you missed out on your shower,” she announced.
“We’re leaving in ten minutes. You’d better be ready.” She walked out
of my room, closing the door behind her. I sat in my bed for half a
minute, releasing the pressure in my lungs. Then I recaled my night
with Evan, and the smile resurfaced on my face.