As if the pain of her parents’ divorce wasn’t enough, Misty’s mother allowed the new boyfriend to live with them. She hated the boyfriend; he was nothing like her father, although she supposed that was the point.
Days and weeks passed, her mother and the boyfriend getting closer and more comfortable with each other. It was, to say the least, revolting.
Late at night, after she told her mother she was going to bed, she quietly began to pack her belongings by candlelight. She had just enough space in her luggage to accommodate her clothes, and a couple of purses held the rest of her necessities. She didn’t know how long her phone would have service after she left, and she didn’t want her mother seeing who she called and come there to get her. She left her phone, first writing down the numbers of people most important to her and then deleting the entire phone book. She brought her iPod Touch, knowing that she could use it to message those of her friends with iPhones, wherever she could get Wi-Fi.
Carefully raising the blinds, she opened her window, knocked out the screen, and set her luggage down in the front yard. At the moment, she really hated that the front yard was landscaped with rocks instead of grass– it was that much harder for her to sneak out, but she managed to get her luggage safely set on the driveway without making too much noise.
She made sure she had packed everything she needed and began to take the comforter off her bed and fold it carefully, along with two other blankets. She paused, realizing that she could have used the blankets as a makeshift carpet over the rocks to soften the sound of her footsteps on the way to the driveway.
She put her pillow on top of the blanket pile and went to the garage to pick up the laundry she had been washing, even though she had already told her mother goodnight. It didn’t matter anyway- she frequently did laundry at night and her mother was softly snoring in her recliner as Lucille Ball rushed to hide the chocolates she was supposed to wrap on the television.
On her way to her room, she got a few towels and sheet sets from the linen closet to add to her pile. Unfolding a comforter, she set everything in it and tied it up to use it as a bag.
She saw that her iPod was fully charged and unplugged it, stashing the power cord in her blanket bag along with her headphones. It wasn’t long before she heard her mother shuffle to her room and crawl into bed, the worn out springs creaking under the added weight.
She only had about an hour before the boyfriend returned so she had to move quickly. Managing to get her blanket bag out the window quietly, she carefully chose her steps to make the least amount of noise. Packing the car went quickly.
She was thankful that she had thought to keep the car in the driveway. Without turning her headlights on until she was free of her block, she sped away, not knowing where to go for the night. First stopping at an ATM, she removed every dollar from her account, totaling about nine thousand dollars, thanks to her high paying summer office job.
She drove until she reached a hotel on the outskirts of town where she could get Wi-Fi to send her friends messages. She filled up her gas tank and went inside, asking if she could get a room on the interior of the complex, wanting to hide her car from being seen from the main roads.
Using iMessage, she sent messages to the few friends she had who owned iPhones, telling them her situation. Two hit her right back, to her surprise, and said she could stay with them. She replied, telling them she didn’t want to stay in the city for fear of seeing her mother or someone who would tell her mother where she was.
One of them offered to move out of the city with her if she could stay at the hotel long enough for him to pack his things.
She heard when her daughter came back out to the living room and went into the garage. Even with the thick padded carpet she had in the house, footsteps made noise. She pretended to be asleep, but inside she was laughing at Lucille Ball trying to wrap the chocolate candies in the factory on television. Her daughter was gathering the laundry– she could hear the dryer door open and close from where she was sitting.
She had noticed that things in her daughter’s room were becoming neater and that things were disappearing. Her daughter had also brought down the only two suitcases and the duffel bag she owned from the closet.
All of a sudden, she wanted to cry. She didn’t want her daughter to move out just because she had started dating again after the divorce. It had only been a few months, and she could understand why Misty was upset about it.
She didn’t want Misty to be upset. But she also didn’t want to stop dating. She was finally happy! She had wasted too much time on her ex-husband and she deserved to be happy!
She debated whether to say something when Misty came in from the garage or simply to let her go in silence. The garage door opened… and she quickly let her head fall back on the recliner, letting her mouth fall open as always happens in sleep.
She should have said something when she heard her pause before she got to the hallway. But instead she decided to keep up the sleeping act. After all, Misty was sixteen now. She was a young woman, no longer a child.
Misty was a tough girl. She could handle it. She wouldn’t miss her ornery old mom. Still, tears stung her eyes and one escaped, falling onto the arm of the recliner. She decided to turn everything off in the living room and go to bed. Twenty minutes later, she heard Misty’s car engine turn over and drive away. Her daughter was gone, likely forever.
Lying in her bed, her mind wandered. Maybe Misty would call every once in a while, maybe a card here and there. But honestly, she felt that she hadn’t treated her daughter well enough to deserve any correspondence. She had barely met the requirements of being a mother; she had provided food and shelter, clothing and relative safety, and all kinds of technological gadgets on top of that. But she guessed she had never really been very supportive as her daughter was growing up. Misty was always much closer to her father. And when she started dating other men to fill the void in her own heart, she supposed Misty felt pushed away.
Should she attempt to get her daughter back? She knew who Misty’s friends were and where they lived, but she was sure she would answer her phone. She would try tomorrow, and if that didn’t work, surely her friends would know how to reach her.
Why was it that you didn’t realize what truly brings you joy in life until it leaves you?
Glen got to the hotel an hour and a half after he offered to stay with her. He texted her when he got there, and she replied with the room number she was in. He found her car in a corner space and parked in the space next to it, to protect it from others who might park too close and hit her doors with their own. Her room was up the set of stairs closest to the car, and he was grateful for that. Who knows what kind of riffraff would be hanging around her door at night if she was on the ground floor? When he reached the door, he knocked softly, hoping not to startle her. He thought she might have fallen asleep when she didn’t immediately answer, but then he heard movement and the door opened.
“Is that all you have?” she asked when he set down his one suitcase at the bottom of the little closet.
“I’m a guy, remember? I don’t have millions of outfits like you do,” he teased as he set his car keys on the nightstand on one side of the bed. When he sat down on the edge of the bed, she jumped up and folded her legs, landing square on her bottom on the soft mattress across from him.
“But you’re nineteen, shouldn’t you have more things?”
“Nah, girl. I don’t need all that much.”
There was an easy but sad silence. Misty was the one to break it. “Thank you for offering to stay with me. I honestly don’t know what I would do alone. I don’t exactly have the best feeling about this.”
“Of course you don’t. There’s not a whole lot you can do on your own at sixteen, no offense. What are you going to do when the registration on your car expires? Things that someone over eighteen needs to do?”
“I don’t know. But that’s not what I was talking about. I mean like the bad feelings I get right before something bad happens.”
He stared at her, leaning forward and tilting his head to try to catch her attention when she turned her head and stared at the carpet to her right. She met his gaze when he reached his hand out to her and without thinking about it, she launched herself into his arms. He didn’t push her away. Instead, he put his hands on her hips and moved her with him so he wasn’t about to fall off the edge of the bed and turned her so she was sitting on his lap with her knees around his hips. He reconsidered, afraid she might think he was trying to make a sexual move, but she draped herself over his left shoulder, hugging him and covering her face when she started to cry.
They sat that way for a long while, until her breaths became deeper and more regular. He softly called her name and when she didn’t answer, he picked her up and set her on the bed, pulling the comforter over her so she could sleep the rest of the night comfortably. Those denim shorts she was wearing probably weren’t comfortable, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to remove them from those slender hips. He unfolded one of her blankets and draped it over himself when he lay on the bed next to her and switched off the light.
Misty checked the time on her phone yet again. It seemed like no matter how many times she looked at it, the time didn’t register in her brain. Finally, she made a comment about the time to try to solidify it in her brain.
“It’s six –thirty-three. He said he would be here at six-thirty. Maybe the traffic is bad,” she said to herself.
The mountain road had several picnic areas, and she had chosen one that overlooked the city, and she sat on the concrete barrier that kept vehicles from tumbling down the steep side of the mountain into deep crevices, beyond the capability of a wrecker or a crane. As hard as she tried to focus on the sun setting on the horizon, backlighting the buildings, her eyes drifted back to the cemetery time and time again. She could almost pinpoint where those two headstones lay next to each other, bearing the names of her father and her mother. Her shoulders shook, partly because of the chill of the breeze that teased her blonde hair into her face and partly because of the emotion that overwhelmed her. She knew the feeling well; it was as if she could not progress in her stages of grief despite having been an orphan for two years.
“It really doesn’t matter how old you are,” she thought, “when both of your parents are gone, you’re still an orphan, missing a piece of your very essence.”
She sat in silence, shivering as if the cool breeze was instead from the Arctic Circle, now focusing on that green lawn pitted with markers of the remains of people who used to live and breathe and love just like her. After what felt like an eternity, she checked the time on her phone again. Nine minutes after seven. She resolved to wait until seven-thirty before she gave up on waiting. A few minutes later, she took notice of a truck pulling into the picnic area, drenching her in light and then leaving her back in darkness. She didn’t turn around to look at the driver. She knew it was her date, and she was not happy about how late he was.
He parked the truck and turned it off, almost running toward her, clambering over the concrete barrier, running his mouth already. “Misty, I’m so sorry, I fell asleep after—“
She cut him off quickly, her voice rough and demanding, “Stop.”
He immediately shut his mouth, hanging his head but looking up at her with sad eyes. She knew he was truly sorry for being late. She could almost feel the emotion tightening up his chest, and she shifted her shoulders as if his sadness was tangibly pushing her.
“Aaron. It might have occurred to you to message me when you did wake up, to tell me what happened. If we had met at a restaurant, I would have ordered to go, paid, and left by now. Why didn’t you keep me informed?”
“I didn’t want to waste—“
She cut him off again, “Waste time. It doesn’t take that long to type a quick message.”
“I realize that now. I’m really sorry, Misty. Are you really that mad at me? I honestly didn’t plan to fall asleep…” His voice trailed off and she got that feeling again, as if his deeper sadness was pushing her again, harder this time.
“No, Aaron. I’m not angry. I would just like you to know that it’s courteous to let someone know when you’re going to be late.”
“Of course, I promise I won’t do it again.” He moved in front of her, looking her straight in the eyes. “Your eyes are almost glowing right now, they’re so green. Are you okay?”
She knew what her eyes must look like. Whenever she cried, the whites of her eyes became red from the blood vessels expanding, which emphasized the green of her irises.
“Meeting here was a bad idea. Do you see that cemetery?” She pointed.
Aaron nodded his head, eager to hear what she had to say next.
“My parents were murdered two years ago. Two years and three months. I had to identify the bodies. Their deaths were as far from natural as you can get.”
He stood there in front of her for what seemed like years, not even opening his mouth to say anything. There was so much emotion in his eyes; she looked up at him and saw pain and anger and disbelief all at the same time.
“You don’t have to say anything. It’s not like meeting here was your idea. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, considering we’ve only met a handful of times. I think I just needed to say it out loud. I’ve never actually admitted that to anyone outside the family.”
He nodded, stepping closer to her and extending his arms to hug her, but she put her hand up to stop him. “I’ve got my tears under control. If you hug me at all, or say anything to try to comfort me, I’m not going to be able to hold back.”
“But it’s always good to cry. I mean, not that I’ve ever been through anything even near what you just told me, but I know that when my girlfriend broke up with me last year, I cried. And it helped,” he said, moving even closer and bringing her into his arms.
He was so much bigger than she was, standing at six feet four inches, almost dwarfing her five feet three inch frame. And he was packed with muscle. If he so chose, he could strangle her with a small shift of his arm and a flex of his bicep around her neck. His easy-going personality so contradicted that powerful body. He was always so shy. He wore spicy cologne, the scent filling her nose as she took deep breaths to try to control her emotions.
He comforted her, telling her it was okay to cry and that he would rather her have a shoulder to cry on than her crying alone. The more he spoke to her and the more he stroked her hair and softly massaged her shoulders, the harder it was for her to contain herself. The more deep breaths she tried to take, the more they turned into short, powerful sobs. Her body tensed and her face morphed into a grimace of sheer emotional torture. She tried to bring her hands to her face so she wouldn’t soak the front of his hoodie, but he just held her closer, and she couldn’t help but reach around and grab fistfuls of the soft cotton at his back.
They stood there wrapped up in each other’s arms, he whispering to her in a soft, low voice, she fighting a losing battle to control herself. Her sobs became shorter and shorter, and after several minutes there were no longer tears escaping her eyes and she started to hyperventilate.
Aaron noticed the change and pulled her away from him, placing his hands on her shoulders and hunching over so he could make level eye contact with her. “Hey, alright, let’s take some deeper breaths now okay? Think about it. Just take some deep breaths with me.”
She did what she was told, making a conscious effort to take deeper breaths. Her heart was pounding from the energy she had let go, and she felt embarrassed that she had, indeed, soaked the front of his hoodie with her tears. She managed a small smile and then bowed her head, reaching up to wipe the dampness from her face and clear the mascara from her cheeks that no doubt made her resemble a raccoon and a cheetah at the same time.
She stared up at him, unable to look away or even manage a smile. She was unable to do much of anything, after that episode. Her heart slowed, her breathing slowed, and the breeze got cooler and cooler as the moon became brighter and the sun was only a memory. He stared back at her, smiling softly as if he wanted to say she didn’t have anything to be worried about.
“Well, what was supposed to be a nice date on a mountainside turned into me making a fool of myself, telling an acquaintance something my best friend doesn’t even know.”
“Maybe that’s a sign that I’m meant to be someone important in your life,” he said with a wink.
That made her laugh. “Well, I’m definitely more comfortable with you than any other guy I’ve been with. With anyone else, I would have excused myself right after I told you about my parents. Whether you turn out to become my next boyfriend or both of us become comfortable with keeping things at the ‘friends’ level, I’m glad we met. I’m also glad you were willing to just hold me during that crying session. To be honest, I haven’t cried since my parents’ death. I’ve been in the grieving process since then, but I haven’t been able to heal because I haven’t truly come to terms that…” her breath caught in her throat. “That my parents are truly never coming back.” Another tear escaped and slid down her cheek, this time getting caught in the fabric of her shirt.
An involuntary wince passed over her face when his hand came up to wipe the tear from her cheek, and he frowned. “I’d think after just letting you cry and holding you that you couldn’t possibly think I would ever hit you…”
“I lost myself for a minute. Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction. I know you wouldn’t hurt me,” she said, adding, under her breath, “like he did.”
“Someone hurt you?” He squared his shoulders, tensed his muscles and made fists as if he was ready to find whoever it was and avenge her. His words came out in a deeper voice than his normal speaking voice, and they had an edge to them that almost resembled a wolf’s growl.
She didn’t think he had heard her, but seeing his reaction made it very clear that he had. She wasn’t sure whether to calm him or to tell him about her mother’s boyfriend and tell him where the bastard was and let them fight. It was obvious who would win, and seeing a man want to go all hero for her was actually pretty sexy.
“It’s an insanely long story and it’s already getting late. But can I ask you for a favor?” she said, dreading the thought of going home alone again.
“Anything you want or need and it’s done.”
“I’ve been feeling bad things at night at the house recently, for the past couple of weeks. Can you go with me and make sure no one is waiting for me?”