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The Laws of Gravity
“Ally, please. Come back home.”
I snap my phone shut and slip it back into my pocket. The fabric of my jeans hugs my skin, keeping me warm as I cradle my knees against my chest. I’m tucked away in an olive green chair that it propped in the very corner of a small Starbucks, a cappuccino wedged in between my fingers. It smells like cinnamon, and I close my eyes.
If I don’t answer my phone, I don’t think the police can track me. If they’re even trying, of course. Mom probably has them running all over town trying to find me. She should know that they aren’t going to.
My phone has been on silent for a week now; every time I pull it out, I have at least one new voicemail. Mostly from Mom. Dad has a few, too. Grandma called me once, even—and she’s the technologically challenged one who has trouble just dialing the numbers.
I hear my mother’s voice ringing loud and clear inside my head, cracking as she whispers, “Ally, please. Come back home.”
I couldn’t believe she had the audacity to request that. Why would she ask me to return, when she knew that was the last place I wanted to be? I loved her, and Dad, and my friends and relatives but even they couldn’t balance out the pain from the isolation I’d been living in for the past decade.
I try to get that last voicemail out of my head.
You know, I never wanted to live there in the first place. We moved to Cardinal Hallow when I was only six years old, but the population of six hundred and eighty-seven seemed more like a constraint than a number. It felt like a barricade, suffocating me, compressing me in. I was bigger than Cardinal Hallow. I’d always wanted to be on Broadway since the moment my mom took me to see Phantom of the Opera. I was too young to understand the plotline but seeing how beautiful the girls looked with their voices that were larger than life and talents that were deeper than the Pacific… I wanted to be a star.
Moving to Cardinal Hallow was like taking five steps back. For the love of God, there was only one choir class, consisting of twenty-two people. What was I supposed to do with that?
My best friend, Alice, said that I still had a chance. She played the piano for me and I would sing so hard it felt like my soul was going to explode from my throat, and I would shoot up into the sky like a firework. She could dance better than anyone in the town as well, and we’d spend long hours burning calories in the studio.
But even I knew that the storyline I wanted for me was only possible in the movies.
The closest I ever got to that fairytale was through my friendship with Elijah Bloomington. He was always the charmer with his icy blue eyes and thick, dark hair, and soft, baby skin. His wardrobe consisted primarily of dark-wash jeans, pastel colored collar shirts and an array of sweater vests. He looked like a college boy, and had the wits of one, too, but had simply a mere seventeen years to my sixteen.
I believed—I still do—that Eli was the only other person who wanted to break free from that cage of a town, which was what drew us together. While everyone else my age was dating each other, planning marriage right after high school, Eli and I wanted to make a story for ourselves. We wanted to live.
One night over the summer, we laid out on my back patio together, watching fireflies flicker around us as they brought a whole new galaxy to my backyard. I asked him if he wanted to run away with me one day.
“We could go to New York, or Los Angeles, or Tampa… anywhere.”
He promised me that he would.
We were only friends at the time, sure, but it wasn’t a secret that I felt more for him than our title would allow. And I didn’t doubt for one second that he loved me back. But it almost felt like a relationship would feed the town, as if it were a monster, making it harder to fly away.
One winter night, as we crowded ourselves around the fireplace in my empty house, he wrapped his arms around me and told me that, wherever I went, he would follow.
“Ally, you’re such a free spirit. You’re wild, you’re naïve, and you’re the only person I know who’s not afraid to follow your heart,” he told me. And then he kissed me, and for the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t being suffocated. I swear, my feet weren’t even touching the floor.
And I knew I would never be alone.
Yet… somehow, that’s how I ended up. I landed myself here, at a Starbucks nearly one thousand miles away from my home. Hundreds of people crowd around me, and yet, I’ve never felt so alone.
I take my coffee and exit the store, ducking out into the pouring rain. All around me are theatres that line Broadway street. I’ve always imagined this moment to be more magical, but now that I’m here, the only thing I’m feeling is pellets of rain pattering against my skull like liquid bullets as I shiver, clinging to my cappuccino as my only source of heat.
Suddenly, above the roar of rushing crowds as canopy of umbrellas slice through the rain, I hear my name.
In a city as humungous as New York, New York, the name “Ally” probably belongs to a good hundred people within the square mile. Yet, I couldn’t help but turn with curiosity to the source of the sound.
And there, standing under a cherry red umbrella, is a boy with dark hair and bright blue eyes, wearing a sweater vest underneath a black overcoat.
He cuts through the heavy downpour to get to me, lending me half of his umbrella. My hair is dripping, and he’s slightly wet. But I’m not focusing on that. I can’t believe my eyes.
“How did you find me?” I ask him, my teeth chattering.
“I should’ve known you’d be here, all along. This is always where you wanted to end up. So it was the first place to look.”
“You shouldn’t have left Cardinal Hallow.” I fold my arms over my chest, trying to warm myself. I’m soaked. “You shouldn’t have come looking for me.”
“I never should’ve let you go in the first place,” he fights, and his icy eyes shimmer.
It was too late to change what he’d done. “Eli, you made up your mind a week ago. You said you didn’t want to leave with me. You chose the town over me.”
He shakes his head, and wraps his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer so my whole body is sheltered under his umbrella. I can feel his body heat radiating in between us. “I did. I was afraid, Ally. Cardinal Hallow was all I ever knew, and when you spontaneously asked me to run away with you I freaked out. And I chose what I thought I was more comfortable with. But it was the biggest mistake of my life.”
I still couldn’t believe that he came all this way for me. It was unreal to have Eli standing right before me, in a city over one thousand miles away from where I’d left him.
“You said you wanted to run away with me last summer. What changed?”
“We changed,” he replied immediately. “We were just friends, Ally. It didn’t matter if we took a risk back then. But I was afraid of taking a chance because I didn’t want to lose you.”
I gazed up at him for what could have been years as nameless faces pushed past us in the crowd. The whole world seemed to be spinning around us. Yet we remained still.
“Don’t ask me to come back home, like everyone else. I’m not coming back.”
“I would never ask you to go back there. I know that’s the last thing you want. I didn’t come here to bring you back. I came to find you so I could tell you that I changed my mind, and if you’ll let me, I’ll stick to my promise: I will follow you to wherever this road takes you. Because, Ally?”
His blue irises illuminated, lighting up the entire world around me. “I love you.”