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Never Look Back
Salt caked my skin. I was laying down, gazing up at the stars, my hair a wet briny mess. The lights of the roller coasters lit up the sky behind me, and the air was rent with children's screams and gales of laughter as they went soaring through the air. I turned and looked at Daniel. He appeared to be asleep. Our fingers were interlaced, hands resting on the sand, still warm from the sun. Waves gently licked our toes, calling to us to go for a swim. My shoes lay some twelve feet away from us, in danger of being washed away. The water was slowly creeping farther up my legs. I slipped my hand out of Daniel's as gently as I could, trying not to wake him. It was a gusty night, still smokey from the fire works, and the smell of hot dogs and popcorn drifted down to us from the board walk, begging to be bought. Standing up, I looked around. We were the only ones there.
Shivering slightly, I pulled my sweatshirt over my head. The salty wind whipped my hair around, refusing to let it lie still, swirling around and around my face. I began to spin with it, my skirt flying up around me, exposing my bare legs to the frosty air. The lights were a blur, merely streaks of light imprinting on my eyes as I spun faster, faster, faster, until I fell, laughing. The moist sand cradled my legs, sticking when I tried to move them. The stars overhead were spinning, refusing to stay still, and the bitter air stained my tongue as I gasped for breath. Everything was perfect.
I don't know how long I laid there. I might have fallen asleep, staring in to the heavens. But when Daniel knelt beside me, telling me it was time to go, it was pitch black. Not even the roller coaster lights were still on. His face was a mere silhouette against the inky sky, beckoning me to stand and go home. I took one last long look at the horizon where I knew the sun would be coming up in a few hours, and slowly began to walk, shoes in hand, up, up, up, until my feet hit the unforgiving wood, cold and hard, of the boardwalk, now deserted.
“Where have you been?” My mother's voice slithered venomously into the living room as I entered the apartment.
“Out,” I said, not wanting to go into details.
“Out? It's one a.m. Your curfew is eleven. Where were you?”
“Just... out. It's none of your business.” I began to make my way across the room to the dimly lit hallway, thinking longingly of my bed awaiting me. My mother got up from her seat in the dark kitchen, moving to stand in front of me.
“It's my business if I say it is,” she paused, taking a deep breath. “Now, tell me, where were you, and with whom?”
“Why do you always have to be so nosy? I was just out, okay?” I could feel my cheeks beginning to flush. “I wasn't doing anything illegal, so can I just go to bed?” I prayed that the strong smell of the peppermint gum was enough to cover the stench of beer.
“No. Not until you tell me where the hell you were at one a.m.!” My mother's voice was starting to rise, the calm before the storm coming to an end.
“I was with Daniel.”
“You were WHAT?” She had finally broken, her voice echoing around the apartment.
“Look, I don't care what you think, or what you say, I'm not going to stop hanging out with him! He's not a bad influence on me! I make my own decisions!” It was true. He didn't condone any of the things I had been doing.
“Oh please. All this breaking curfew, everything, it all started when you started dating that... that kid!”
“It did not! It started when you cheated on Dad! Daniel was there to comfort me, he made me feel better about everything, all while you were making it out to be my fault that everything was happening! For the last time, I DIDN'T TELL DAD!” I felt as though steam was about to come out of my ears, I was so incensed. My mother took yet another deep breath, and apparently decided to overlook the last part of my statement.
“Where were you? Daniel's house?” She said it with a sincere note of scorn in her voice, not troubling to hide it from me.
“Yes,” I said, but the tiny trail of sand I was leaving on the black carpet threatened to betray me.
“I don't believe you. We never had this kind of trouble with your brothers!” She glared at me, face bright red, standing like an incensed bull, blocking the way to my room. The light overhead flickered on the pale green walls.
“Well then, go and get them from dad's house, have them move back in, and we can all be big happy family again!” Now I was shouting too. “Oh wait, WE NEVER WERE ONE.” I turned on my heel, grabbing my sweater from the hook my the door, and stormed out, barefoot not waiting to hear her reply. I fled down the hall, pummeled the button for the service elevator, fighting back tears. I glanced back to see if my mother was following me, but the hallway stayed dark and silent. The elevator doors opened with much creaking, and once inside, I collapsed, tears streaming down my face, and pulled out my cell phone.
“Hello?” I said, my voice cracking. I tried to compose my self. I hoped he was still awake.
“Hey... What's up? Are you okay?”
“I hate her Daniel... I really hate her. I miss my dad.”
“I know... Do you want me to come get you?” His voice was soft and comforting, reminding me of all the times he had held me in his arms when I needed to escape the hell hole that was my house. I nodded into the phone before realizing that he couldn't see me. I sniffed.
“Of course. I'll be there in ten minutes. Wait outside.” I closed the phone, dissolving into tears again and buried my head into my sweater, inhaling the tangy smell of the ocean. Anywhere, even here, in the dingy service elevator, sitting on the ice cold floor, was better than being in my mother's apartment. I thought longingly of the warm, musty interior of Daniel's car. I allowed myself a few more minutes of sobbing, then took a few deep breaths, and pushed the button for the lobby. The elevator clattered to life, descending, snail like, down the thirteen floors. I stood up, wiped my eyes on my sweatshirt, and took another deep breath as the doors opened, ready to escape for the second time that night. I walked out, around the corner, and was about to open the doors to freedom when I heard slippered footsteps behind me.
“Come back here. Now.” The deadly calm in my mother's voice was back.
I turned slowly around, one hand on the door knob, the other clenched in a fist at my side. I could see Daniel's car parked outside in the shadow of the bus stop. I weighed my options. Run for it, and get in even more trouble than I already was, or turn around, and walk back to my mother, waiting for me at the foot of the stairs. I glanced one more time at the car, standing there so invitingly, then took a deep breath. It was time to settle this, once and for all. I turned around and strode boldly up to my mother, slipping slightly on the smooth stone floor. The harsh lighting of the lobby didn't quite reach my mother, standing in the shadows of the doorway to the stairs, making her face look sunken and gaunt.
“That's right. Just turn around, and come back here. You are in so much trouble. You will never see daylight again, do you hear me?” My mother was glaring at me, hands on her hips, hair frizzing out around her. She looked quite deranged. I was fed up.
“Listen. I'm sixteen. I am a fine judge of what I can do, and what I can't do. And frankly, I don't care if you don't think so. I can do what ever the hell I want.” I glared right back at her. It was like staring down a bull. I waited with bated breath for the blow to fall.
“Well, frankly,” said my mother in a mocking voice, “I don't care what you think you can or can't do. Right now, I'm telling you that you need to get your a** upstairs. Right now. I'm not giving you a choice, I'm not suggesting it. I'm telling you.”
“MOTHER. STOP. I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU TELL ME, I'M NOT GOING TO LISTEN.” My head was spinning with the injustice of this whole situation. “God, I wish I'd gone to live with Dad when I had the chance! But no, I figured you needed comforting. I figured you loved me. But no. Apparently, YOU'RE JUST AS MUCH OF A HEARTLESS B**** AS DAD MADE YOU OUT TO BE!” I was breathing heavily, the dry air conditioning assaulting my nose. Outside, as though in a distant universe, a car horn honked. I knew that horn well... Daniel was probably getting impatient. But he was a whole world away right now. I was finally getting everything that had been bugging me in the months after the divorce off my chest.
“How... How dare you? After all these years... I nurtured you when you were sick, took care of you when Sam broke you heart... Comforted you after the divorce... And this is what I get?” She looked stricken. I couldn't care less. I threw her a look of pure loathing, turned on my heel, and stormed out of the building. I paused at the door again, one foot outside already. I could see the headlights of Daniel's car flicker into existence as he started up the car. I turned back to look at my mother one more time.
“You never cared for me. You blamed me, I know you did. I hoped you'd change, I really did. I hoped I could change you. But no. I don't know if you just don't want to change, or if you really are incapable of any human feelings. But I've had enough, and I'm leaving. Don't expect to hear from me again, because I'm done.” The door closed behind me with a certain finality, the lock clicking into place. It hit me then, that I didn't have a key... I had no way back in.
I stormed down the sidewalk and into Daniel's car. He looked at me quizzically, but I just said, “Drive. Just drive. I'll explain later.” The engine roared to life, and we whizzed away from my prison. I could just make out the shadow of my mother standing in the doorway, watching us drive away. My stomach did a backflip.
She wiped away a tear.