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Rays of golden light shone down on the empty park from the afternoon sun hovering in the west. Hues of reds, oranges, and browns settled at the base of the nearly bare trees surrounding the outer edge of the park. Some of the leaves scattered across the playground, carried by the wind. Sarah scanned the area. She wasn’t sure why she was there. She’d just been running, with no particular destination in mind. Her only desire had been to get away.
Of course I would end up here, she thought wryly to her, before whispering softly, “Then again, I should’ve been here days ago.” This was true; otherwise it never would’ve happened. I shouldn’t have been so tempted! “Why was I so tempted?” She shouted, suddenly feeling angry, before aiming a kick at one of the trees, then cursing loudly from the pain in her throbbing foot. But then again I deserve the pain, don’t I? I should’ve just taken him here! She felt her fury rising and she lashed out, kicking the trunk a second time, then a third, four, and fifth. “Why?” As soon as the scream left her lips, she collapsed to her knees, wrapping her arms around her waist. Slowly she rocked back and forth, her whole body trembling as she repeated the word over and over again. “Why? Why? Why? Why?”
One of the remaining leaves fell from the tree, slowly floating down to add to the pile on the cold, hard ground. A chilly breeze whipped her face, blowing her raven locks of hair and ruffling the soft material of her black dress. Sarah shivered rubbing her bare arms as the cold seeped through the fabric of her clothes, chilling her bones. Her thoughts reeled back five days, replaying the incident over and over again in her mind.
Sarah watched from the window as her parent’s car pulled out of the driveway, and disappeared down the street. “Yes!” Her voice was filled with excitement and relief. Her parents would be at some event for her father’s job and wouldn’t return until after midnight. “Most likely we’ll be late since it’s such a long drive,” Her mother had said. Sarah grinned pulling out her cell phone, as she hastily dialed her friend Tory’s phone number. “I’m going!” she squealed as soon as Tory answered her phone.
“Really?” Tory replied in an astonished voice.
“Yes! Can you believe my luck? There’s no one to stop me. My parents are gone.” She responded enthusiastically, doing a little victory dance, and adding, “I’ll pick you up at seven since it’s kind of a long drive. You can just spend the night afterward.”
“Sarah.” Her younger brother, Aaron’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts. “Are we going to go yet? You said you’d take me to the park, and it’ll be dark by seven.” He complained and she sighed. Sarah had completely forgotten. She muttered an excuse to her avidly chattering friend and ended the call.
Sarah bit her lip. What now? Aaron stared at her waiting for a reply. “Well?” he questioned when she remained silent. “Sorry, but I have to leave in an hour so I can pick Tory up because we’re going out.” He started to argue so she added, “I’ll take you to the park tomorrow, and we’ll go get ice cream too.”
He was quiet for a moment, just looking at his feet before his head snapped up. He stared at her with his pale blue eyes and responded, “Well, fine, but you can’t just leave me here all night. I’m only eight years old.”
He brought up a valid point, but she’d figure something out. “Don’t worry about it.” She told him. “I’ll take care of everything. Now, I need to go get ready. Remember, we’re leaving in an hour.”
An hour later Sarah found herself parked in a friend’s driveway. She turned around in her seat. “Travis is going to watch you for a while. I’ll pick you up when I’m on my way home.” Aaron nodded. After Sarah walked him to the door and listened to Travis remind her repeatedly that she owed him, she departed.
She was late when she picked up Tory. “Sorry. I had to drop my brother off, and by the way you’re driving back home. I did last time so it’s my turn to have fun and not worry.” She told her friend.
“No problem and fine. I guess that’s only fair,” Tory responded . With that said they took off.
“Meet me back at that car at midnight.” Sarah reminded Tory when they finally made it to the party. She then headed inside to find her boyfriend and get a drink.
Music blared through every room in the house, drowning out all other sounds. It was a wonder how, after two hours, her ears hadn’t begun to bleed from the deafening noise. Thankfully I put my phone on vibrate. Sarah thought pulling it out of her pocket. The name read “Mom” and she swore before stumbling out to the furthest corner of the back yard, trying to put as much distance between the loud house and herself as she could. She then hit “answer”. “Hey mom” she said enthusiastically leaning back against the tree beside her.
“Hey, honey. The event ended a lot sooner than we thought it would. We’re already halfway home so we’ll be there in a little over an hour, okay? Oh, and make sure Aaron’s asleep because it’s past his bed time.” Sarah told her mother it was no problem and assured her that Aaron was sound asleep.
She groaned watching the leaves falling from the branches hanging above, and being swept away by the chilly November breeze. It was only ten o’clock. She sprinted inside searching for Tory, shoving her way through the crowd of people.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around to find her friend Gavin. “Hey, Tory told me to tell you that she went to drive someone home because she’d been drinking. She said not to worry. She’d catch a ride back up here and be back before twelve.” then seeing the color drain from her face, he added, “Are you feeling okay?”
He can’t be serious, she thought to herself. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Sarah lied. Her voice seemed distant. The only clear sound was her rapid heartbeat, drowning out the music and chatter surrounding her. This can’t be happening. She took a deep breath trying to calm herself before continuing. “It’s just that she was supposed to drive home and, uh… never mind.” I can’t call my mom and tell her the truth. That’s not an option. Whatever, I’ll be fine. The important thing is getting home first. “Just, um, tell Tory that she might need to get a ride from somebody else.”
It was ten forty-five by the time Sarah reached Travis’s house to pick up Aaron. She’d have to hurry if she wanted to make it home in time.
“Your breath smells bad.” Aaron commented as they drove home. Sarah simply shrugged and replied, “Well I was drinking a bit at the party.”
He tilted his head and studied her, his dark hair falling into his eyes. “But I thought you were too young. Didn’t you get in trouble last time? I didn’t think you were supposed to drive after that.”
She paused, thinking of how to explain. “Well I didn’t drink that much, so it’s fine and we don’t need to tell Mom and Dad about this. There’s no point in getting busted if nothing bad happens, right?” She couldn’t get caught again. Her parents would never trust her. He tried to argue but Sarah cut him off. “Aaron it’s perfectly fine.” He looked at her doubtfully. “It’s fine.” She repeated as she speed off to beat her parents’ home.
Now, sitting at the base of the old oak tree in the park she wanted to go back in time. How could she have fooled herself into thinking it was alright? She should’ve just waited for Tory to return. How was she supposed to live with this? Her brother was gone just because she went to a party, just because she didn’t want to get caught.
“It was my fault.” She whispered to herself as another leaf fell from the tree. “My brother...my fault.” Two more leaves fell as the light faded from the sky. She watched the sun slipping below the treetops as the day slowly came to a close. It’s the end. It’s over.
An icy breeze blew across the park, the cold air stinging her eyes. It’s almost winter; the time when so many things lose lives to the harsh unforgiving cold. The last red leaf fell from the tree, settling on the ground next to her. Winter was here.