"3 A.M., and I'm going to keep on down this road. Even if it kills me." That was the only thought that was racing through my brain while I walked. It had been three hours since I first left at midnight sharp. Three hours of constant, non-stop walking that has started to turn into trudging. Even if I'm tired, I'm not going back, I won't go back. Three hours of walking. I ran for a little bit until I got to the highway heading out of town, and I have forty-eight miles until I get to the next town. I think I've covered at the most twelve miles, if I'm lucky. The cold night air didn't feel that bad at first, but now there's a wind. I'm sweating with cold chills that make me feel even more worn out. The wind doesn't help. It keeps blowing my curly mess of hair into my face, leaving a stinging sensation that makes my eyes water. I tried to wear my warmest clothes, but I also had to choose something that was lightweight so I wouldn't get tired as fast. I wish I thought about this a little more. I wish I thought all of this through a little more.
Earlier, I woke up and had only one thing on my mind, graduation. Today was the day that I was going to finally graduate. I wasn't going to throw a party, or have a get together, or make any fuss over it. I just wanted to get it over with. Oliver is having his graduation party with some friends from the team at his house. I bet this would be the first time any of his friends have ever seen where he actually lives. I'm his only friend who's ever been over to his house. His parents will probably be cleaning and setting up for it all day to make things look better so he won't be too embarrassed. Good thing my dad is working tonight. He would throw a fit over all of the noise that would come from his house.
Just like any other day: I took a shower, put on my comfy bedtime shorts and a tank top, brushed and dried my hair, and ate breakfast. No one is going to be able to see what I'm wearing under my gown, so I'll just stay in what I'm wearing now. I guess I spent a little more time on my hair to make sure it wasn't frizzy, or looked horrible. Even if I don't care that much, I don't want to look like a slob on my graduation day. Especially since I know Oliver's parents will be there, and they'll want to take hundreds of pictures of us. I don't want all of his pictures to look bad just because I do. This day is more important to Oliver than it is to me. At least he has plans for after graduation. He got his basketball scholarship and he's smart enough to make it all the way through college. Then there's me, no scholarship, didn't even apply to any colleges. I don't have the money or any help to pay for it. I'm going to be stuck in this dump of a town for the rest of my life. Unless, I actually go through with it tonight.
A little time goes by, the graduation ceremony is done and over with. Thank God for that. And just like I thought, Oliver's parents got tons of pictures of me and him together. Good thing my dad forgot and didn't show up. Probably would've been drunk and made a scene. Who knows what Oliver would have done then in that situation. Would he have instinctively gone to me and held me like he always does? Even in front of all these people, our class mates? Oliver and I have never shown how close we really are in public, especially at school. We'd say hi to each other every now and then when we passed by each other in the halls, but that's it. He had his circle of friends, the jocks. Of course there were the beautiful, popular girls who strung themselves all over him too. Me, I had no one. I kept to myself all these years, I was a loner. I didn't need any other friends besides Oliver anyways. Plus, I preferred things this way. The only times anyone could've been able to tell that we were close would be when he drives me home (since we're neighbors), but people mostly thought that was him being his kind, charitable, genuine self. Then there was the time after he first found out he got a basketball scholarship to the state college. He walked right up to me with a big smile on his face. I was expecting him to keep smiling and keep on walking by, but he just lifted me up, hugged me, and said, "I did it." I knew exactly what he meant from that. He got his ticket out of this town.
"Umm, Oliver. People are staring." I said it just loud enough to shock him out of his moment of happiness. After he set me back down, he realized people around us had stopped to stare at us. He could have waited until after school, later tonight, when it would just be the two of us. But he chose now. Maybe he was overly excited, or maybe he really didn't care if people saw us together in public. I was truly happy for him, but this meant we wouldn't be together anymore. The best friends since childhood, would finally be split apart. The realization and reality of this struck me hard. I put on my best smile for him, but I think he could tell what I was feeling. That night, I didn't let him come over. I didn't want him seeing how much I was going to cry because this hurt me more than anything else, even more than the day She left.
Back to reality. By now, I would have expected Oliver to have caught up to me in his car, trying to convince me to come back with him. I know I would, if he asked me to. He hasn't shown up yet. Maybe it's because of the things I said in my goodbye letter. Reading about how I'm running away, how we wouldn't ever see each other again, how I hid this secret from him all this time. Reading those last words that I regret ever writing now. It was so easy to write them too. They flowed from my hand, through the pen and onto the paper, like water flowing in a stream. Those words that seemed like poetry when I added his name to the end of them. 'I'm in love with you Oliver.' Maybe he just doesn't care, or thinks that things are better this way because I'm in love with him. Maybe he doesn't feel the same way, but still cares like usual, so he won't come after me because he understands. I decided to sit down because now I feel exhausted in every way possible. There was a part of a broken fence still standing that I leaned against. This felt better than good, but probably only because I had been walking non-stop for so long. Relaxed, I went back to thinking. Either way, I don't even expect him to chase after me. Life has never been a fairytale and it surely isn't like any romance movie, or novel. I felt my eyes getting heavy. I know I shouldn't fall asleep here, but I'm just so tired.
"Emms. Psst. Open up." Oliver was tapping on my window trying to get me to open it so he could come in. This could be the last time I might see him so, I might as well let him in. Hopefully he won't be long because I'm leaving soon, and he has a party to get back to. I walked over to my window and let him in.
"Why did you run away earlier when I tried to talk to you?" he asked me. "We tell each other everything, but now you're hiding something." I couldn't look at him. I just sat on my bed crisscross applesauce, staring at the floor. I remember, we were driving home after graduation and I was about to tell him my plan to run away, but I stopped myself. He knew something was wrong and tried to get it out of me, to talk about it. Instead, I got out of the car as soon as we stopped at a stop sign and ran the rest of the way home. He came and sat next to me, put his arms around me, and held me. This is how he always gets things out of me. He knows it works, I know it works. Not tonight though. I can't say everything to his face. I started crying quietly, trying to make sure he wouldn't notice, but I knew he already did. He can always tell. So he just holds me tighter. I pulled away from him because he needs to know. I got up and solemnly walked over to my dresser and pulled out the letter.
"You have to go, after I give you this." My head was down. I couldn't look at him. My hair just fell down around my face, like a curtain guarding me from him seeing me cry. "Promise me you won't open it until midnight."
"I promise. What is this?" Confusion rattled his voice.
"You'll see. Just go now." I opened up the window again. Times like these are when I really like my long, curly hair. Always there to guard me when I don't want to look at everyone else, when I don't want them to see me, or when I don't have Oliver to protect me. It took me a minute before I realized he'd left. He was so quiet, but that doesn't surprise me when he's done this hundreds of times before. That was the last time I saw Oliver, before I left.
A feeling of pain or guilt woke me up, and I started really thinking about how much I wish he were here right now. He could hold me the way he always does. His arms would be strong, kind, and warm against this cold night. I would probably be warmer right now if I didn't stop walking. I'm just still too tired to keep walking. Walking for hours was a lot of hard work on my feet. I really wish someone would drive by and see me. Maybe they would pick me up and take me anywhere but back. I could rest for a little longer I guess.
First memory. "Don't let go Oliver." I said through hushed sobs.
"I promise I won't." He tightened his arms around me. We could hear my dad throwing empty beer bottles around the room. He came home drunk again. He's such an angry drunk that Oliver can hear him from next door when he's at his house. That's how he always knows to come over through my window. I trembled as my dad shouted curse words and knocked things over. Oliver just tightened again and kept muttering, "I won't let go."
Everything fades to black and a new memory fades in. This time, we're much younger. We're in my yard playing, running around. I think we're five years old. We're trying to be louder than the yelling coming from inside the house. The front door flies open, we stop dead in our tracks, and She is running out with a bag in her hand and the car keys in the other.
"Mommy!" Now I'm running after her with tears streaming down my face. Oliver catches the back of my shirt and I can't get away from his grip. My dad comes out of the house yelling things after her. Cussing, spitting, throwing empty beer bottles. One barely misses me. Oliver and I fall over onto the ground from me trying to pull away, and him not budging. I'm crying uncontrollably, body shaking, trying to find breaths in between all the screams. This was the first time he ever did something like this. He sat by me, pulled me in, and wrapped his arms around me, trying to also cover my ears from all the shouting. That's how he got into this habit. For every time my dad was drunk and mad, he was there to guard me, protect me. I'd always feel safe.
I could see the faint light through my eyelids and it woke me up. Now that I'm up and my eyes are open, the lights are even brighter. A car! I got up and ran to the side of the road as fast as I could to wave them down. I almost thought they wouldn't stop, but they did and pulled up some feet away from me. I ran to the driver's side of the window to talk to the driver. It was a man; middle aged, kind of on the heavier side, and I could tell he was a scrub. I was about to thank him for stopping and ask him if he could take me to the next town when I smelt the alcohol on his breath. I backed up a little bit and began to apologize because I changed my mind.
"I'm sorry, this was a mistake. I don't need any help. You can keep going on your way. Sorry to have bothered you." I was rushing through my words. The faster, the better so I can get away. I don't want to deal with anymore drunks.
"Now there little girly, there's no reason to be scared of a stranger who's about to help you out." he started off. He opened the car door and stepped out. Standing with his thumbs resting on his belt buckle, he had to be at least six foot. "Perhaps though, you could do a little something for me in return for my kindness to help you out."
"It's fine. I didn't need any help. Honestly. It was a mistake." I was starting to panic now. I know he could hear the trembling in my voice.
"Well ain't that rude to flag me down and make me stop for no reason. Now you get in this car!" He was almost shouting, and I could tell his temper was rising fast. Another angry drunk, but he sounds more dangerous than one who would throw empty beer bottles around a room. I don't know what he could do to me, but I need to get away fast. I turned around to walk away and I heard him starting to move too. I began to run, but he caught me by my hair and spun me around.
"Owwwwee!" I grabbed my hair where he was pulling. Trying to pull it back, out of his hands.
"I told you to get in that car girl." He was gritting his teeth and talking right in my ear.
"No!" My teeth were clenched because of the pain and I was crying now.
"What, you gonna cry like a little girl now? Huh? You thought you were just gonna walk away and turn your back on a nice stranger like myself. Trying to offer you a ride and a good time. I'm gonna teach you a lesson. Give you a reason to cry." I was struggling more than ever now. Trying to turn around so I could punch him or something, anything. The way he had a grip on my hair made it painful to struggle. Then he grabbed my right arm and pinned it behind my back. He dragged me over to the hood of his car and slammed my head down onto the hood. Holding it there. My head got knocked so hard, everything went black, fuzzy, and it was like I couldn't hear anything but ringing sounds. His body pressing mine against the front of the car, making it impossible for me to move. I couldn't even see the new pair of headlights coming up fast, hear the car screech to a stop, or see the person who ran out of the car. All I knew was I was being saved.
I could feel the man getting pulled off of me and I sunk to the ground, down the hood of the car. Crawling, I found the fence I was leaning on before. I sat there in a fetal position until my senses came back. I saw the man get up off the road, jump back into his car, and peel away fast. Then I noticed that the other person's headlights were pointed in my direction, shining in my face. I felt blinded from the brightness. I tried to look for my rescuer, but he was standing in the middle of the two blinding lights. As he walked closer to me, his body blocked more and more of the light that had rendered me blind. Why is he being so ominous? I crossed my arms in front of my face as if to shield it from any blows. When he was right in front me, standing right at my feet, I finally saw who it was.
"Oliver!" I was sobbing again. As he reached out his hand to help me up, I jumped up and flung my arms around his neck. He put his arms around me and held me tight. I could hear him sniffling and when he pulled back, I could see tears in his eyes.
"You're so stupid," he paused, "but I love you." I didn't know whether to feel bad because I could hear the anger in his voice when he called me stupid, or be happy because he loves me. I just put my arms around his neck again, held onto him, and got close to his ear.
"I love you Oliver." I whispered.
"Let's go.' He grabbed my hand and walked me over to the passenger door side of his car. He opened the door for me and then walked over to the driver's side of the car. After he got in, it was silent for a minute and then he started talking. "Which way do you want to go? I could take you back to town with me, or I can go with you wherever you are going. No matter where you go, I'm not leaving you Emms. I'll go wherever you will go."
"That way then." I smiled and pointed. He smiled back and put out his right hand for me to hold while he steered with his left. I held that hand so tightly.
"You know, I've always loved you since we were little. You never had to doubt or question that. Even when I was going to leave for college, I would've taken you with me anyways. I wouldn't have left you behind." He spoke in a way that made it sound like it was obvious that he's always loved me and wasn't going to leave me behind. Then I realized, I never had to run away. If I had told him my plans earlier, he would've gone along with it and been together this whole time.
"What took you so long to come after me?"
"I had to go to the bank and get some money, pack my things, and then I went over to your place house to get some clothes for you. Plus, it was easy enough to find you. Even though you didn't let me know where you were going, or what road you were going to be on. You're just lucky I'm psychic and knew you wanted me to come after you."
"Hey! You should have known that it's what I wanted. But I'm sorry."
"Yeah. Well its okay because I did know, like a gut feeling. I just had to be prepared for whatever you would choose though." I laughed a little. He's always thinking ahead. "The only thing I regret is not coming after you fast enough. Anyways, are you sure you want to go this way?" he continued. I smiled and nodded in reply. Neither of us talked now, and we stared down the road.