"Since you're all here we wanted to make an announcement… We're having a baby!"
The words resonated in my brain as I pedaled past the familiar houses and farmland. I pushed myself to go faster as if the clean summer wind would whip the thoughts out of my mind. But they kept coming back. Throbbing like the type of headache even the strongest of drugs couldn't knock out.
"We're having a baby."
"A baby... Four months along..."
Tears stung my eyes but I held them back, causing a lump in my throat that made it hard to breathe.
"A baby... A baby boy..."
My lungs burned. Fire raced through my veins as I gasped, not wanting to stop, not wanting to give into the weakness in my body. I wanted to do anything to distract from the words circling in my brain.
The baby was mine. I knew it even before I did the math. The look she gave me told me everything I needed to know. I could feel it in the intensity of her stare, down through my muscles and my bone to the very core of my being. She had gotten what she wanted. She had won.
A curb came out of nowhere, wrenching the wheel to the right, and toppling me off my bike. Crying out, I curled up into a ball on the side of the road, the black hole in my stomach growing to encompass me.
"Why God? Why would you do this to me!" I had lost everything. My mother, my virginity, my friends, my girlfriend. There was nothing left, no safe haven for me to hide in, no place where she couldn’t get me.
"Please... Please just make this go away.” I sobbed. She had to pick my birthday to tell me, waiting until we were all seated at my grandmother’s table, cake being doled out as the remnants of our dinner weighed down our stomachs. It wasn't so the family was there; she couldn't care less about them. It was her way of telling me that it was her gift to me. Her perfect little scene in the delusion she had created about us.
"It'll be a physical representation of our love." Her voice whispered.
"Oh God no." I moaned into my knees, trying to stave off the feeling of her fingers tracing symbols on my chest. But the flashback rolled over me anyways, whisking me away to Hell.
"Do you think it'll be a boy or a girl?"
Whimper. A plea to leave me alone. Trying to roll away.
"Don't be like that, pretty boy. You did fine." Tugging on my shoulder. Squeezing my eyes shut as she pulled me over. "I'm sure it'll take. And in nine months we'll have a child."
"What about my dad?" I asked, my voice wavering, scratched and raw from the screaming, the crying… The pleading.
"Oh, I'll tell him it's his." Nibbling the bottom of my lip. I pull away. Scared. Disgusted. "He wants another one, so he'll believe it." Cuddling into my side instead. Flinch away. Whispers for her to go away. Leave me alone. She ignores it. "And it's only two years until you're eighteen. Then we can elope together, taking our child with us."
"No." I whined as reality came back to me. It was dark now, the sun now dipping beyond the horizon. Slowly, blearily, I looked up at the sign in front of the school. My eyes were blurred and sticky from crying so I rubbed them against my arm and looked again.
Three hours had passed... Worse than normal. And the only thing there was to go back to was that woman and—
No, I couldn’t…
Shaking my head, I refused to go back to that thought. I needed a plan. A plan would help me calm down and focus and not think of... Everything.
But what? What could I do? I was sixteen. I couldn't get an apartment; I couldn't live off of what I had saved up. Plus, staying in one place... She could find me. She would find me. Steadying myself on the wall behind me, I stood up and ran a hand through my hair. My stomach was trying to draw the rest of me inside, guts churning like a whirlpool. I didn't want to exist, but what else could I do? There was no other option. I would just have to run. Run, and hope for the best. Anything was better than living with her, her waiting for the house to be empty, just the two of us and—
I couldn't think of that. Picking up my bike, I wheeled it to the street before getting on. She wouldn't be awake when I got back. She'd be asleep, curled next to my father, playing her part to pull the wool over his eyes. I wish she realized that they deserved each other; selfishness and lies always did fit together.
The thought almost toppled me off my bike again, and the jolt brought me back to my productive thoughts. I had time to get ready and leave before anyone noticed. I needed to grab necessities. Water bottles, non-perishable food, clothing... A lighter maybe? I couldn't think about anything else but forming this plan, the details whisking away every other thought. I needed to take out all my money, throw my credit card away, my ID needed to stay at home. She couldn't find me. I couldn't leave any traces.
Just breathe, breathe Layton. I had watched the movies, the TV shows. I wasn't hiding from the F.B.I., I could do this. She was just one woman. One horrible, evil, manipulating, Hell-worthy woman, but just a woman all the same.
The ghost of her fingers ran up my back to my shoulders causing shivers of fear to run up my spine, but I shook them off. She wouldn't find me. I would do anything to make sure she didn't find me.
I slowed down as I reached my house, leaning to turn into my driveway. The windows were dark; the only light was a flickering glow of the TV silently playing crappy MTV shows in Ali's room. Dumping my bike, I slipped through the door, taking the extra time and care to make no sound. Dad's wallet rested on the counter next to his keys where it usually sat. Tempted, I stopped but… No. I couldn't steal. I was a bigger person than that. I had enough to start on. Refusing to look around, I headed upstairs. I couldn't get sentimental. I needed to leave, just go and never look back.
As I reached my room, I stopped again, picturing her lying there, waiting for me.
"Come here, pretty boy, let's celebrate."
"No." I whispered, my voice raw. "Never again." I pushed the door open, and headed straight for my school backpack. Dumping the books on my bed and scaring my cat, Flower, off my pillow, I started to rummage through my drawers, grabbing anything I thought would last me. T-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, socks, underwear, I fit as many as I could into one pocket before grabbing my wallet and going back downstairs, avoiding the creaky sides of the steps as best I could. It was something I had learned to do since I was fourteen and was decent at it, but not perfect. Each time I'd miss and a squeak would issue from the old wood, I froze and listened to the silence of the house, praying no one would wake up. Thankfully, everything stayed quiet and I safely made my way to the first floor.
I went back into the kitchen, stooping to grab one of Shannon's many refillable water bottles. She wouldn't miss it. Filling it from the tap, I screwed the lid shut and fit it into the water bottle pouch on my backpack.
Food... I needed food... Avoiding the half-eaten birthday cake with a wince, I headed to the cupboard with the canned food. Nothing I needed to cook. Fruit cocktail and canned corn was all I could find, so I moved down a cupboard to find beef jerky, some dried apples, and nuts. Good. This would be good for a while. I could buy more once I was on the road.
Shoving those into my bag as well, I went to feel on top of the fridge for the box of matches and the lighter. Both of them were easily misplaced and replaced in my family; no one would miss either.
Flower rubbed up against my leg, purring, and I looked down at her, the sadness I was keeping at bay hitting me like a brick. Silently I sank to the floor and pet her, letting all of my sorrow pour into my loving her. She looked up at me, almost knowingly, my sorrow reflecting in her eyes. I couldn't bring her with me but I wanted to, to take comfort and bring a little bit of home along to wherever I was going to end up. I couldn't imagine never seeing this place again, but it was going to be part of my memories and I had to let it be that way.
Kissing my cat on the forehead I got up, allowed myself one last mental picture of my home; taking in the corkboard of photos, the TV older than all of us kids, the hand knitted afghan on the couch in the living room, the beat up rug on the otherwise hardwood floor, my mother's old chair...
I needed to leave. If I stayed any longer, I wouldn't make it out the door. It was too easy to just stay and deal with the horrible known, than to get out and face the unknown. The unknown could be literally anything, and anything had a good chance of being more terrifying. But anything could also be something a lot better than what I was stuck with. So I had to make myself go. And five steps was all I needed, I was that close.
Take a deep breath, Layt. You can do this.
I would be leaving my sisters behind, my friends. They would never forgive me. Even if I were lucky enough to see them again they wouldn’t want to talk to me. They’d never understand.
Just breathe. Don't think about that.
She would probably just find me anyways. They'd call the cops. Drag me home, make me stay. If they can find serial killers, they can find me. I wouldn't get outta the town, let alone the state.
Don't do this. You won't know until you try Layton. Do you want to get out of here?
Yes, yes I do.
Then do it.
My foot hit the threshold. A spark ran up from the doorframe, through my feet, to my heart and I was off. Running to God knows where. The cans jingled in my backpack, making enough noise to wake the neighborhood, but I didn't care. I was out. If I made it I was going to be free. Free from her and her touches and whispers of I love you. That idea would've made me giddy if I wasn't so focused on actually being not there, on the feeling of escape, and the power of my limbs working to take me away.
A car tuned the corner of my street, startling me. Swerving off the road, I ran into the brush, refusing to stop moving. Just keep going. You will get out of this. Everything will be fine if you just get away. Running, keep running. Don't be seen, but keep on moving.
My feet hit pavement, shocking me. No, roads were bad. People passed by them. Police used them. Once they found out I was truly gone, they'd come looking for me. And if they were looking for me, being on the road would make it easier for them. I couldn't let that happen. Cross the street, back into the brush. Try to stay out of the sight of people in houses. Keep running. My lungs burned, my legs shaking from me pushing myself to go faster. The faster the better I kept on reminding myself. I'll get away if I just move and move quickly.
Dogs barking. Panic. I run even faster if that's possible, turning into a field, rushing between corn stalks. I need to be out of the fields by morning though. Don't wanna get shot. If I get shot, they'll take me to the hospital, and I'll be back there. That'd be the worst. Worse than dying. But the farmers don't like killing. They just want to protect their crops from thieves. So I'd live. So I just need to be free of them when they get up. I can do this. I can do this.
Behind the field was a small outcropping of trees. Dashing into them, and making sure no one would be able to see me from their windows I allowed myself a breather. I didn't know how far I had gotten; I didn't want to know. I just needed to keep on going. But as I caught my breath, my legs started to scream in pain. I tried to walk a few steps, but wobbled and almost fell over.
Sighing, I sat down on the ground, leaning against a trunk of a tree. I would only stay for a bit, let my muscles rest, before traveling again. Only a couple minutes... Like five or so. Just enough to give me energy...