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I heard her parents’ are drug dealers and they give her some for free. I heard she killed her little sister and sacrificed her to the Devil. I heard she slept with every guy in her last town. I heard her parents make blood sacrifices to Satan. I heard her Mama didn’t teach her nothing about the Lord and all his glory—only about what good Satan can do. I heard she’ll burn if we throw holy water on her.

Those were only a few things whispered as Kylee Leman trudged down the hallways. Just because she was different. Just because she wasn’t into all this holier-than-thou-believe-in-the-Lord garbage Southern people lived on. Her parents didn’t teach her two things about God when she was growing up, so why were they trying to change her now that she was here in Mississippi? She was perfectly happy in Spain. Hell, she was perfectly happy in New York, where she was born and raised until she was eight. She knew that the kids here had no right to talk about her Mama that way—they had no right to talk that way at all. But did she stop them? Did she turn around and kick or punch them the way she would’ve done in New York? Did she scream a string of curse words at them and spit at their feet the way she would in Spain? No. Kylee let them push her down with their words. She let them cut her open with insults as sharp as knives—but she stopped the blood before they could see it.

She was quiet, as always, as she gripped the handle of her Mama’s station wagon door. She was quiet as she sat down in the plush seat, setting her school books down in her lap. She glanced out the window as her Mama tried asking her how her day was, again failing to get an answer. “Kylee,” she prompted, “we enrolled you for Sunday School. Won’t that be nice?”

Kylee turned to her mother, a scowl on her face. “I’m not going, Mama. You can’t make me.” As if turned off by a switch, she fell silent again, feeling triumphant as her mother quit asking questions, but feeling bad as she saw the hurt look cross her Mama’s face. When the car pulled into the gravel drive, Kylee bolted out of the car into their trailer home. Spain was better. Their cramped apartment in New York was better. Anything was better than the trailer home in the middle of nowhere that somehow made all their clothes smell of cat urine.

It was a daily routine. Kylee always threw her books on the kitchen counter, kicking off her shoes at the same time, and opening a cabinet to eat whatever snack was sugary and not stale. She would grab her laptop and walk down the hall to her tiny room, flopping on the bed and answering IMs and e-mails.

Kylee! We all miss you down her in NY. Come and visit soon? We haven’t seen you since last year, Caleb’s really bumming! ;)

She laughed as she read the IM from one of her New York friends. She remembered last year, when she flew out to visit them all. Caleb, her best guy friend since she could remember, had finally worked up the nerve to tell Kylee he had the hots for her. They shared a kiss, nothing long or too involved, but it was sweet, oh-so sweet, and she wanted to see him again.

Hey! Te echamos de menos aquí en España! ¡Vuelve pronto! Necesitamos más lecciones para perfeccionar nuestro Inglés!

She shook her head at the e-mail from her Spanish friend, Maria. Maria was asking for lessons to perfect her English. She could barely speak her own language, let alone English. Kylee closed her laptop, stretching out on the bed. Her parents had bought her a cell phone for here in America, but no one wanted to be her friend. She had been here in America for three months, and no one said a word to her. All those insults were said behind her back. They were too afraid to even insult her to her face.

Kylee snuck out of her room. She slid on her sneakers, quietly opening the front door and sprinting up the long gravel drive, stumbling a few times, and ran as if she was in a marathon to a hidden wood, tucked away at the end of her street. She pushed branches and leaves out of her way, carefully stepping around poison ivy and oak. Finally, Kylee thought, sitting down in a patch of soft moss. This clearing, this secret clearing, was hers. She had found it. And if anyone—

“Hey, I didn’t know you knew about this.” Beautiful. God-like. Flawless. Kyle didn’t know any other way to describe this angel that had arrived in the clearing. “I’m Levi.”

Kylee couldn’t find her voice. He was perfect. Those big chocolate brown eyes, innocent yet mischievous at the same time. His short clipped in the back, long in the front light brown hair. Those muscles.

“I’m Kylee.”

•••

Kylee. She was perfect. Her long golden hair fell down to her waist, pooling around her as she sat. Her crystal blue eyes shone when she looked at me, her perfect pink lips forming into a small smile. She told me her name, her accent not quite American. I hadn’t seen her around… how did I miss her?

“I guess I’ll see you ‘round.” Everything she said was perfect. I nodded in reply, flicking my head so as to get my hair out of my eyes. She smiled again, gracefully bounding out of the clearing, hair swaying. “And,” she called back, “it was nice meeting you!” She continued on, leaving me standing in the woods, a place that I thought only I knew about, but was glad someone had found it, too.

•••

She casually walked back into the trailer, ready to say she had just walked up the drive. But no one questioned her. For once, she felt warm inside, fuzzy, happy. She twirled onto the couch, flopping down with a sigh. Levi.

“Dinner’s ready.” Her mother’s voice was soft, hurt even. Weird…

Kylee entered the kitchen, confused at her parents’ solemn faces. What was going on?

“Kylee.” Her father was crying… what? Where was her Mama’s wedding band?

“Yeah?” She sat at the table, afraid of what was to come. Were they pulling something over on her?

“Y-your father and I… we have some news…” Her Mama glared at her Pa, stiffening when he rested a hand on top of hers. She pulled it away quickly, walking over to Kylee, bending down in front of her. “We’re divorcing.”

Two words. Two simple words. Put together in a sentence, those simple words ruined Kylee Leman’s life. Her eyes glazed over. Her mind went blank. She couldn’t speak a full sentence, she couldn’t speak at all. She stands up, the plate of spaghetti in front of her untouched. Kylee didn’t walk to her room. She didn’t walk to the bathroom, the living room, or any room. She walked straight out the front door, ignoring her mother’s screams to come back, to please come back. She walked straight down the road to the clearing, having no intention of going back, of ever going back.



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