Before I Go

There’s something I have to do before I go. I cleaned out my locker and turned in all my work at school yesterday. I returned all the half-read library books I’ll never get to finish. I packed my bags and picked out a set of clothes to wear tomorrow when they come to get me. I cleaned my room like mom always nags me to do so that she’ll think good of me. I put the rest of the music on my iPod and charged it up along with my cell phone and computer. I don’t know when I’ll be near an electrical outlet again. Dad took me to the grocery store today and bought me protein bars. I fed the dogs one last time and wrote Cate a note to water the plants. I’ve thought of everything, but there will always be one last thing I have to do.

Last night I dreamed Clara came back to us. She was moving through the street festival crowd on Main Street, her wavy brown hair dyed the same deep purple of the rain coat she had when we were kids. She turned to see me and weaved between the bodies until she got reached me but there was still something blocking us. She parted her lips to call out to me, and then I woke up.

The going away party was mom’s idea. She rented one of the clubs downtown, all gilded brass edges and curlicue arches. Everyone’s dressed in fancy gowns and suits; me, I’m in this long purple affair my mom lent me. It turns to beads around my ankles, and makes a rattling sound like a maraca when I walk. Dorian and his whole family are here, mom said. She and his mom are good friends so he’s always at parties. I’m looking for him, or his sister, or one of his brothers, or his dad, but there’s no sign of him. No sign he ever even existed. We haven’t spoken since our fight last week, when I was told they were taking me.

“You’re leaving.” He said the words like they’re a betrayal; like it was my fault my name was called. I tried to be like everyone else and think this was a cause for celebration, now that I can finally get out of town to the bright future everyone is sure I have. So I nodded and smiled, but he didn’t play along. “First Thomasine, then Mel, then Baxter and Ira and Claire, now you.

“I don’t have a choice. I didn’t ask to get taken.”

“I don’t want you to leave!” He was practically screaming, making a scene as we sat in the cafeteria corner, all alone since everyone else was gone. “What about me? What do I do?”

“You’re just mad because I got picked before you.” It was meant to be teasing but it came out nasty and bitter, as if I was mad at him.

“I am not,” but I could tell by the red flush on his cheeks that he was lying. “You’re just mad because I get to stay here. I get to be a kid a little longer, to have this life that you want. You’d stay if you could; you’d live a boring, pointless life if you could, because that’s easier!” I wanted to slap him, I wanted to hurt him, I wanted to push him in front of a bus. But we were in the middle of the crowd of people and violence would get their attention. Instead, I just left him sitting there, feeling like I should cry, but I couldn’t. He was right, and I hated it but Dorian was right.

I’ve paced the club so many times but I can’t find Dorian anywhere. His sister Olivia is leaning against a crowd of girls laughing too loud. I catch her on the arm, right above the green flame tattoo she got to spite her parents. “Have you seen Dorian?” For a second, I’m sure he didn’t come; that would be so like him, staying at home sulking instead of saying good-bye.

“I think he went out to get some fresh air,” she tells me in passing, as if I’m some random kid and not the reason for this party. I weave through the crowd, stepping on a few shoes and giving hurried apologies. I get lost in the wrong hallway but find the door out on the second try. The hat stand marks the exit. I grab my suit jacket, the one I wore everywhere after I first got it from my aunt last year, but have left in the closet since April when the good weather came.

Dorian’s easy to spot; he didn’t dress up, and just leans against the gate staring at the grass. I don’t blame him; it’s some of the weirdest grass I’ve seen, ruby colored curls scattered throughout the green. I start to speak his name but it tastes like ash in my mouth; meaningless. Like the name of an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in years. Someone forgotten. I wonder, when I leave, if I’ll forget him. If he’ll become just another name in the collection. Instead I say: “Aren’t you having fun.”

“No. I hate fancy parties; you know that.” I’ve been to one fancy party with Dorian, where the men had canes and the waiters handed out dance cards. That’s how I met him; his mother made him sign mine. We danced clumsily, one of the weird dances they’d taught us in school. We were only eight years old and we thought it was funny; his hands were in these gloves that reminded me of a story I read, where the murderer leaves a white glove on the body of each of his victims. We didn’t see each other for a year after that and he looked so different, his hair grown out and his clothes ratty hand-me-downs from his brothers.

“I want you to do me a favor; think of it as one last kindness before I leave.”

“I’m sorry.” For a moment I think he’s refusing, before I understand this is for earlier. For pissing me off.

“I don’t care. I want you to take me downtown. I want to go there one last time before they take me.”

“Why me?”

“There’s no one else left.” That’s a lie, but he believes it; I see it in his eyes. He envies me; I get to go to where everyone we know is, to a life of independence, to a future of success. But I’d gladly stay behind, in a carefree world of memories. “Please.” It is one word, one small little word, but it makes all the difference. I don’t want to leave without saying good-bye.

“Okay.” One little word but it means everything’s going to be all right.

The day I found out Claire was leaving we were riding the metro into town. I stared out the windows at the advertisements glossed against the sides of the tunnel. They promoted concerts and plays too far away from town for us to go. We were all trapped in our own little worlds. She’d already told me she was leaving and my eyes were burning. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to cry, why it was affecting me like this. Plenty of other people were taken and I was fine because I knew I’d see them again. I could have even stopped Mel from leaving but I didn’t. I’m starting to think that was wrong. I thought of reasons it was good for Claire to leave; I imagined rats in the shadows of the tunnel and how rubbish our town was, how hideous. How now Claire would get to take photographs for some famous magazine like she’d always wanted. She’d go to better parties, see better concerts, eat better food, have a better life. How once they took me I’d have someone waiting. No matter how many times I repeated this over and over in my head, I didn’t feel any better. I just felt like I’m going to be sick.

No one will notice we’re gone. We start off by the side of the road walking to Parkinson Field, where they have concerts during the summer. “It’s going to be cool to see everyone again,” says Dorian, who’s only talking to fill the silence. “Have them email me.”

“Can I tell you something?” He looks at me and nods. This is it, here goes. This may be the only chance I have, but my words choke me before they can be spoken. No matter what else changes, I will always be a coward. But that’s not the only secret I have. “Mel wasn’t taken.”

“But she’s gone. She left two weeks after Anthony.”

“That’s a lie. Her parents only said that so it wouldn’t sound so bad. She ran away.”

Dorian just stares at me. He’s stopped walking, and looks as if he’s just been told his entire life has been a delusion. “Why would she do that?” His voice breaks like a falling mirror.

“She was looking for Anthony. He didn’t respond to her emails of her voice mails. Like he disappeared.” I can’t imagine what it would be like, for Cate to vanish like that, and when I tell Dorian I know he’s imagining losing one of his brothers or Olivia. Just because they don’t get along doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.

“She emailed me, the day she left. She was convinced Anthony had been taken by imposters who were going to do something terrible with him. She sounded like she’d lost her mind. I don’t know why she told me, maybe because I was the only one who could stop her.”

She lived ten minutes away from me, I know her parents cell phone numbers. I could have called them or gone to talk some sense into her but I didn’t. I didn’t because I’m a fool. When I was little I used to imagine I’d wake up and find all my life was a detailed dream. It was how I used to scare myself. Only once have I ever wished it was true, once I would have given up anything to make it go away. The day Mel sent me that email. The day she ran.

We’d seen black limos with tinted windows before as they rolled through the town, giving the schools names of the kids to be taken. When Anthony was driven away was the only time we saw how they could swallow people up, like man-eating blobs in old B-movies. Except scarier. Anthony was the minimum age to get taken, just barely a freshman. I think he wanted to finish high school but he was all excited when he got picked. I’d never seen him so happy. It was so early in the school year that it was still warm and sunny; I walked up to their house in shorts. Their mom brought us lemonade with curly straws like tiny water slides while we waited for the limo. The men in the car had friendly smiles but devilish, pit black eyes. I didn’t like the way they looked at Anthony, motioned for him to get in the car. As they drove off I turned to Mel, about to say how lucky she was to get to be the only kid in her house. She was crying.

“We named this tree once,” says Dorian as if he’s stating the date of George Washington’s birthday. “Me and Claire.” I was there too, and we named the tree Maxwell, but no one ever noticed me much back then. I watch Dorian scramble up the tree like one of those islander kids you see in photographs, shimmying up for coconuts. Dorian and I would see pictures like that when we used to sit around with his dad’s travel magazines, listing all the places we’d go when we got our passports. We dreamed about going where the weather was pretty and it was always sunny. We dreamed about leaving.

This was where we used to come during street festivals when the music was too loud. It was always peaceful, and no one bothered us. Sometimes we’d sit on the hill and wave to the people going past. They thought we were crazy. One day we ordered pizza and they delivered it right to the gates. It was great pizza, all melting cheese and thin crust. I used to come here with Thomasine; she came back to visit a couple months after they took her. That was the last time I saw her.

I was sitting in a tree with a lot of girls I didn’t know. They were Thomasine’s friends, who met up with her at the street festival by the origami tent. We were passing around the soda I bought that tasted like a liquid cherry tootsie pop. The sugar count on it had to be ridiculous. Claire and Dorian were off in the bushes, making out or just talking, like in the cheesiest romance novel you can imagine. I was trying to not to think about it.

“I wish the world was a musical,” Thomasine told me. She was sitting on the branch above me, her rainbow Chuck Taylor’s dangling in my face.

“Yeah, and what song would be appropriate for now?” I looked up at her face, framed by shaggy dark hair she kept forgetting to cut. This was one of those moments that defy definition.

She shrugged and just started to sing Yellow Submarine. The other girls joined in and we sung as loud as we could. The adults that passed us looked at us funny, but we just didn’t care. We sang We Will Rock You, and Small Town Girl, and the chorus of Won’t Get Fooled Again. We sang a couple of songs I could only hum along to. For our big finale we sang Can’t Buy Me Love. Ever since then, singing that has set my spirit free.

Dorian doesn’t look twice at the Hall. For him, the Hall’s just a monument at the corner of Main Street that no one ever goes into. He never came to any of the parties there; they were too wild, too racy for his taste. This is ironic, because he’s been to crazier parties than me. He’s been to parties at hookah bars and bars where college kids binge drink shots of vodka. He watches me funny when I go right up to the bay window, remembering when it was plastered with newspaper. I used to think parties at the Hall were the best part of growing up.

The music still rung in my ears when we left the van, which was carpeted floor to ceiling with shaggy purple carpet. My throat was hoarse from singing along to Ballroom Blitz too loudly, so I thanked the driver in a scratchy voice. A heavy wind hit as I pulled m black coat around myself and listened to the rhythmic click off my boot heels on the sidewalk. Claire came out after me, followed by a friend of hers with pigtails and the twins, identical with their blouses, ties, plaid skirts, blonde curls, and blue eyes. They were pretty in a boring kind of way, but no one cared in the Hall. A man in a sinister suit opened the door for us, bellowing a welcome in a deep, merry voice. I was shaking a little, but from the heels or the cold or the excitement I couldn’t tell.

Inside, the strobe lights were flashing and the partiers spun in wild costumes. I caught sight of two geishas, a boy in a kilt, two dozen Pokémon characters, plenty of street clothes kids, and some people is mock suits like me. Someone took my coat and I realized I was never getting it back. I didn’t want it anyways. Some guy in rocker clothes, not too much older than me, with blonde hair and a ridiculous smile dragged me onto the dance floor. It was the craziest kind of chaos as he spun me right into Claire, who spun me into a girl in a long black dress. Here there was no right and wrong, only the beat of the music, which I inexplicably knew the lyrics to so I started to sing along. There was a pattern in this dance that I saw if I didn’t look carefully, and I started to catch on. We all fit together like clockwork gears, and we were moving the world in our dance.

“Do you want to stop for ice cream?” Dorian asks. I remember the summer he lived off ice cream and Indian food. That summer when we were eleven and there were street fairs every week.

“Are you crazy? It’s freezing.” I draw my jacket around me for emphasis.

The bright green banner for the Italy Chill, will sells Italian ice and soft serve, flutters in the nighttime wind. There’s a closed sign on the door, which makes sense. No one wants ice cream this time of night. I kind of want to go in now, steal some watermelon ice with pale pink chunks of actual fruit – that was always my favorite flavor. I remember the first time I tried it, during one of the Parkinson concerts.

“Do you see that weird thing walking around down there?” I asked, waving a flier at the blob of green fabric wandering around by the gates. I was handing out invites to Cate’s drama camp production with Dorian, but he wasn’t being any help. He leaned against a tree eating lime chips and singing along when he wasn’t chewing. He tossed the now empty bag into the trash can and squinted into the distance while I offered a flier to little girl with blonde pigtails.

“I think that’s supposed to be an ice cream cup,” he said, hardly believing.

I tossed the rest of the fliers by the picnic basket and ran up. Yeah, it was an ice cream cup with a creepy smiley face and Italy Chill written in happy letters on the front. He was handing out something too. Seeing Dorian and me giving it funny glances, the mascot came towards us and stuffed a coupon into my hand.

“One half price Italian ice at Italy Chill. Celebrate the grand opening,” I read. The coupon was shiny plastic, nearly as thick as a credit card and bore pictures of brightly colored ice. “You hungry?”

I bought the watermelon ice for half price since I was almost out of money after buying my mom earrings for her birthday. Dorian bought blue raspberry that turned his mouth and teeth a bright turquoise. He was laughing, maybe the happiest I’d ever seen him. It’s times like those when it think maybe I love him.

After the Palm Tree Bar started letting underage kids in until ten o’clock, I saw their logo, two palm trees bent to form an x, everywhere. Kids had t-shirts, baseball caps, key chains. It was the place to be Saturday nights, when up and coming bands played twenty minute slots. We’d stand in the back by the gumball machines with Mel and Claire, eating M&M’s and playing pinball. We’d lean in to whisper into each other’s ear so we could be heard. Sometimes if the place was empty enough, Claire and Dorian would try to dance, while Mel and I made fun. A lot of the time, the guy who was supposed to introduce the next band went off on a tangent about politics or music history or drugs. If the audience had enough to drink, they’d heckle him, and if we were brave enough we would too. Our parents used to complain that we didn’t have any good role models; no one was showing us how to behave. But we learned a valuable skill at the Palm Tree Bar; keep your speeches short. Maybe it’ll come in useful when they take me.

I’m starting to think how this is all the last time. The last time I go into the Palm Tree Bar, the last time I look in the Hall windows, the last time I walk down Main Street. We open the door to the Palm Tree and the man at the door draws x’s on the back of our hands with a Sharpie, even though I don’t think anyone will think we’re over twenty-one. We sit at the bar and Dorian buys me a Sprite, and a Dr. Pepper for himself. It’s weird to be at the Palm Tree when there’s no music playing. I want to soak it all in, staring at the pool tables, the hunting games no one ever plays, the flashing lights. All this stuff that used to piss me off because it was so distracting. Mel used to joke that it would give her a seizure. The man with the service dog, a beautiful golden retriever that he let us pet and Dorian nearly tripped over a couple of times, isn’t here. I would have liked to say good-bye to them as well. All this stuff you don’t think you’ll miss, and then you do. It hurts almost too much to bear.

We walk another block until we reach the Greek restaurant I used to eat lunch at all the time. They have these killer chicken kabobs for just five dollars, and the service is fast. I’ve eaten there more times than I can count. We pause outside the door while Dorian ties his shoe, and I take a deep breath, wondering if they have fried food where they’re taking me.

Dorian’s family has this thing where they give me food. Whenever I’m at their house they end up buying me dinner; mostly pizza. When my mom hosts parties they bring me brownies and granola bars and grape juice we pretend is white wine. I remember we used to sit around their bonfire roasting marshmallows and drinking cane sugar soda, back when I was young enough to think ghost stories were scary.

All of us, all three of Dorian’s brothers, Olivia, his parents, and I ordered root beer that came in bottles, everyone except for Dorian. He got a Dr. Pepper. I was munching a chicken kabob too spicy to eat by itself so I tore off pieces and slathered them in cucumber dip; they left little golden dots of oil on my fingers. Dorian’s dad stole a slice of my pita bread. His oldest brother, Michael, blew across the top of his soda. It made a whooshing sound, sort of like a flute. I tried it too, and so did the parents, the other brothers, and Olivia. We were a root beer bottle orchestra, trying to play Carol of the Bells but just sounding like a bunch of beginner woodwind players tuning up. Dorian had nothing else to do so he took my kabob stick and wove it around maniacally. He was our conductor.

“Don’t you think it’s funny there’s a hookah bar below the Republican headquarters?” Dorian asks as we pass beneath the elephant flag and cross the street.

“Just a little bit,” I laugh as we pass the café. Once, Claire and I came to get a drink here right after Christmas when she was staying at our house. I bought this incredible hot chocolate and she bought a disgustingly bitter espresso, which was pretty funny. She poured a bit of my drink into hers and said it tasted better but I thought it tasted even worse. Too sweet and not sweet enough at the same time. She dumped it in the garbage on our way out. I spent most of the time staring over her head out the window, where the tattered Republican flag was beautifully tangled in the breeze. They never fixed it, in all this time. It’s nearly split down the middle. I wish I’d get to be here when it finally breaks in two.

“Where are we going?” Dorian asks. I think I know.

“You’ll see,” I tell him, and we round a corner to the bakery. I used to have breakfast there on Sundays; they served the best crepes, perfectly warm with whipped cream and the sweetest, reddest strawberries I think I’ll ever see. They won’t have crepes as good where they’re taking me, and they probably won’t have hot chocolate as good as the café. The smoothies won’t be as good either, or the coffee, or the pizza. But they’ll probably have better root beer.

It was freezing cold, the middle of December, six ‘o’clock on a Friday evening. I was with Ira, Carah and the twins. Carah was the daughter of Mitchell Bellmore, who traveled the country making award winning documentaries about different communities. Carah made movies of her own too, except they were fictional. This one was a murder mystery, and Ira played the victim. She spent the last half hour lying on asphalt covered in fake blood. The folks at the bakery, bless them, ignored the fact her shirt was drenched in red and sold us coffee and scones anyway. We were eating like we hadn’t had a decent meal in months.

Carah went to get us cream for our coffee and came back looking like she’d taken the bakery’s entire supply. Instead of putting it in her coffee she drank the cream like shots, one after the other. She was acting as drunk as if they were booze too. I was starting to realize why she was so eccentric. She was in towns for such a short while she had to act like a lunatic in order to leave a lasting impression. As the cream trickled down her chin and one of the twins stared at her as if she was in love, I was thinking that it worked.

I lead Dorian to the theatre that’s been standing since the twenties. The comedy and tragedy masks leer down at us, and the marquee announces the latest movie is a remake of North by Northwest, dumbest idea I’ve ever head. The door swings open even though there’s no one inside; a friend of Cate’s closes and he always forgets to lock doors. I can’t count the number of times stuff has been stolen from his car.

“Do you remember when your mom took us to see cartoons here? And we shared a thing of popcorn and sat in front of everyone?” I say.

“Sure. And we jaywalked to the car singing the theme song. I remember.”

We go sit in the balcony, right in the front row. I haven’t been up here since Mel, Anthony and I saw a Harry Potter movie here and my cell phone went off. Just thinking about them makes me feel ill. “I always wanted to take you to one of those Hitchcock movies they show in the summer. Vertigo or Shadow of a Doubt or Rear Window. I love Hitchcock.” Tell him. I want to tell him. This is literally the last chance I may ever have, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“What are you going to miss most?” I knew he was going to as that; it’s a tradition, asking the people who are about to be taken. Then you’re supposed to ask what they’re looking forward to but I know he won’t ask. I don’t know how I’d answer that.

I had it all planned out. I knew exactly what I would say and that he’d understand, but I find I’m saying something different. “I’ll miss that sad feeling I get when I pass by the empty store where Bobby Carmichael used to sell mannequin heads. I’m going to miss trading in books at the corner store with the British man who always wore ties with beat up jeans. I’m going to miss disaster movie night with my aunts, and watching the X-Files with my dad. I’m going to miss loitering on the top floor of the parking garage that’s also the roof, and wondering around the gardens. I’m going to miss shows at the Opera House and parties at the Hall. I’m going to miss stealing my mom’s clothes and playing tennis at the gym and eating cupcakes at the bookstore by my house. I’m going to miss going to market with my mom and buying old Stephen King books at the Y. I’m going to miss my life”

There was something I had to do before I go. I wanted to say good-bye to him, wanted to tell him I loved him. But that was a lie. What I wanted to do was say good-bye to home, and I wanted him to be there with me. So I’ll be ready when they come to take me.





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