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I am free, finally free. The air comforts me in a way so unfamiliar that it’s almost frightening. Not the type of comforting you get from parents, or from knowing you have done something right. Ma or Pa never offered me any comforting, only work. Working out in the fields, I’d have ticks tangled in the laces of my boots and in my hair by the time the sun went down. No, they don’t know I’ve left. Probably still hollering about why the cows haven’t been milked. That was my 5 a.m. job. They’re probably just realizing the truck is gone. Naw, I ain’t legal yet, but this darn good-looking boy, Sid, taught me when I was 13. He used to live over the hill by the bridge, but not anymore. I don’t know how old that bridge is, but every time one of them fancy trucks from the city goes over it creaks enough to make city folk scared.
The houses here are closer together and I haven’t seen an outhouse in 50 miles. Sid says they don’t need them because they have indoor plumbing. He’s got so much knowledge even though we went through the same schooling. Maybe that’s because he’s 18. Maybe when you turn 18, you get all your smarts together. I only got three more years till I get my smarts together. My hand glides through the air like it’s flying. Sid smiles and laughs. I wonder if he thinks I’m stupid for doing that. I pull my hand back into the car. I don’t want Sid to regret having taken me along. I still don’t know why he asked me.
A couple nights ago I was in the backyard trying to tune out my parents’ yelling and hitting by watching the trees light up with fireflies. Then Sid swaggers up with a grin on his face. He says he’s headin’ out to travel the country, all he needs is a pretty gal like me beside him and my father’s truck.
“Well,” I say, “I can’t leave my parents.”
He barreled back, “What? Those good for nuthin’ parents you got in there who don’t give a lick about you? You wanna stay with them, be my guest, but you gonna regret staying when they take a break from beating on each other and start on you.” So, that’s how I ended up sittin’ next to Sid on my way to who-knows-where.
The crickets are putting on a symphony for us by the time night falls. Their chirping travels through the humid air like a lullaby. My eyelids are falling, falling.
I’m awake before Sid so I can take a good look at him. On his perfect face there are little angel kisses across the bridge of his nose and his lips are parted. Shaggy hair shades his eyes from the morning sun shining through the window. How could someone be so darn good lookin’?
“Well, good mornin’, beautiful,” he says with morning breath. I blush, hoping he hadn’t noticed me examining him. The inside of the car is dewy and I feel chilled. My bed at home has a warm quilt Grandmamma made for my mom when she was a kid. The cold leather freezes the backs of my thighs. I slide up next to Sid to steal some of his warmth. He lets me snuggle into his side as he revs the engine and we’re off. Nothing but sky and road ahead of us.
He has his arm around me. I try to pull away when I get uncomfortable, but he just pulls me tighter. His arm weighs on my shoulder after a couple of hours driving. Pretty quickly, the landscape begins to repeat, field after field. Sid looks sweaty and dirty. We haven’t bathed in days. His freckles mix with the grime so he looks muddy. Forcefully, he pulls me in tighter. His brown hair is stringy and that grin on his face from the night he asked me to come with him has transformed into a sneer. Maybe it’s the same grin, but I’m seeing it differently. He reaches over and pecks me on the cheek. Suddenly, he pulls my face toward his and kisses me on the lips. I feel dirty now, too. I can’t stop him because he’s holding me so tight, but I don’t try to because a part of me thinks this is love.
When I was little, Mamma and I used to make soap with the mint from the garden. I want to scrub myself clean with that. Scrub my face clean of Sid and his dirty lips. The tears start falling and I can’t, I just can’t, stop them. I’ve cried before, but not like this. I hate Sid, I love him; my parents deserted me when I was younger, I deserted them; my house is full of hate, I miss my home. Where am I? Where am I? I’m lonely and Sid just stares at me.
“I thought this is what you wanted!” he yells. He swerves off the road and reaches over me, and I scream thinking this is when it is going to happen, this is when he’s going to ruin me. But he just opens the door and shoves me out. My eyes sting from the dust when the truck races off. There is a general store a little ways up and I see kids my age playing cards out front. I don’t know where I am, but I know I am safe.