She had locked the front door behind her and walked down her street. The plan was to head towards the elementary school and take a break there. It was a little over a mile away. She made it there shortly after 4pm. She started to sit on the steps for a minute, but then a teacher walked out to leave for the day. They smiled at one another, but it worried her. What if someone decided she looked lost or out of place and asked what she was doing? How would she answer? What if they called the police or her mother? Better to keep moving. There was a park a couple of blocks away. She would go there. Kids should be playing and soccer teams practicing. Maybe it would be easy to get lost in the mix of everyone else.
It only took a few minutes to get to the park. As expected, there were two teams of little kids playing soccer and a handful of other kids on the playground.. She saw coaches and parents, too. They stood in small groups and laughed and clapped for the kids. They all seemed happy. She didn't feel the same. There was a small, heavy stone in the middle of her stomach. She knew she couldn't stay at the park long without calling attention to herself. And she didn't need that. So she sat at a picnic table and tried to think. Suzanne's house wasn't too far away. She knew because they had walked home a few times back in elementary school. She could go there. It would be ok. But it would also lead to a phone call to her mother and a heated discussion and trouble for her and she didn't want any of that. Best not to involve them any more than she already had.
What about school? Her middle school was farther away. Too far to walk home after school each day, but close enough that she could still walk there today. It was across a pretty busy road, too. But it might be far enough away that no one would look for her there. That seemed like a logical plan, so she adjusted her pack and left the park. The trip took longer than she expected. A lot longer. And crossing the busy road was a little scary. But it was also exciting. She felt a small thrill in monitoring the traffic and watching the lights to ensure a safe passage across the street. When she crossed, she ran as fast as she cold and held her pack tight. She jumped up on the curb and moved away from the street. Her fist pumped in the air as she jogged down the sidewalk.
Eventually she found herself walking up the bus circle of her school. On the way, she determined there would most likely be practice of some sort in the gym. So at least one door should be open. She could hang around outside until the practice was over. Thankfully, she had remembered to pack a couple of books in her bag and some paper, too, so she could find something to pass the time. Then, as the last people left, she could sneak in as they came out Once she was inside, she could stay there over night and not have to worry about being late for school in the morning. That was it. She finally had a foolproof plan. She felt a small flutter in her stomach. It felt like happiness. She made her way around to the front of the school to wait.
Now she was sitting on a concrete bench watching the sun set. The temperature had dropped a little, so she had put on her jacket. She ha eaten an apple, some crackers and had juice box. She stared as the last slivers of color in the sky slipped away. It was a little too dark to read. Plus, when she sat directly under the lights the crickets jumped all over her and got stuck in her hair. They were gross. She checked her watch. The practice would be over soon because she noticed some parents parked in front of the school. Some waited with their lights on, while others left theirs off. They were waiting for their kids to come out. She heard the doors clack open behind her and turned around. Out walked her English teacher, Ms. Madden. Panic struck and she almost vomited on her own feet.
"Well hi there, Sweetheart! You're here awfully late aren't you?"
"I, uhh, I'm just waiting for my ride."
"Have you been here since school let out? Its almost 9. That's a pretty long time. Do you have someone coming for you?"
She stammered and searched for an answer that wasn't a complete lie. "Yes ma'am. I, uh, I think so. I mean, I'm not sure, I guess."
"Well," Ms. Madden eyed her curiously, "Why don't you just come with me. I'll give you a ride home, ok? I'm sure there was just a mix up somehow. We'll get you home before you know it. Come on, honey."
She couldn't say no. If she did, Ms. Madden would probably wait there with her. Then she would have to answer more questions. She had no other choice.
"Um, thank you. I mean, yes, ok. Um thank you." She grabbed her back pack and followed Ms. Madden to her car.
She thanked her teacher for the ride and closed the car door slowly. Fishing her house key out of her bag, she stepped on to the porch. She waved then opened the door. There were lights on down the hallway She paid no attention to them. She went straight to her room. Leaving the lights off, she dropped the backpack in her closet and took off her shoes. She fell onto her bed and began to cry. He would be home soon.