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A lot can happen in a year...

I packed up everything the day before, left a note for my dad, and carried everything that I had brought there to school. There was so little to bring that I was able to dump it all in my locker. I hadn’t expected anything when I got back- certainly not Jeremee tattling on me. I mean, who tattles anymore at our age?

Mr. Browne and my mom were in the living room when I got home from school. I acknowledged them with quick nods and would have walked away, but he sternly ordered. “Sit,” and I obeyed.

“Would you like to tell us where you have been, Alex?” he inquired, sounding as if he already knew. I wondered vaguely now how.

I tried to speak, but the words clung to my throat, and I couldn’t. Instead, I shook my head. Mr. Browne seemed prepared for this. “You can’t talk, can you?” he coldly asked me. I bit my lip and nodded. He smiled maliciously. “A little friend of yours followed you home from school. He told me that you snuck over to your dad’s house and that you weren’t speaking.” He removed his sunglasses, his eyes hard. “Are those accusations true?”

I forced a nod, and he set his sunglasses down on a table. I fidgeted, wondering what he was going to say. He seemed to be thinking the exact same thing- he’s never been real hard to figure out. But I was still nervous.

“Talk to me, Alex.” He seemed to have discovered my weakness. “Confess your crime and I won’t send you back to the streets ever again. All you have to do is speak.”

I was mute. I absolutely could not speak. I opened my mouth, but I could only make pathetic noises. I squeaked in surprise, sounding more mouse than human, and cowered under Mr. Browne’s stony gaze. Speak? For the first time in exactly a year? How? The tumultuous emotions rose within me, and I gulped. Anything was better than returning to the streets- even this. I absolutely refused to be bombarded by those painful memories. What choice did I have? There was no other option.

“I happened to walk to Dad’s house. They told me to stay as long as I needed to.”

“Why couldn’t you speak?”

I sighed. “It doesn’t matter- I can talk now.”

But it wasn’t that okay. My voice, as I had feared, had become absolutely monotonal. I had changed. I was cocky, self-centered, and had my little façade of self-confidence. I was fine as long as no one looked inside me- now that I expected anyone to.



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