wreck my plans / that's my man
taylor swift, 'willow'
Save for the waitress leaning against the countertop, Duke's Diner is almost completely devoid of life. This is the first place she's passed for miles that is still open; her burning, tired eyes blink furiously against the harsh overhead fluorescents as she enters, nose wrinkling at the smell of burnt coffee and frying onions in the air—the kind of smell she knows is going to cling to her clothes long after she leaves, making her feel ten times more disgusting and unkempt than she already does after spending nearly twelve straight hours in a car.
She doesn't even know where she is. She's driven six-hundred-and-something miles, stopping for only gas and bathroom breaks (which is probably less than strictly legal, but it's not like anyone's going to rat her out to Charlie—her stepfather, and the only cop she'll ever listen to). Safe to say, she's completely dead on her feet.
Leah groans as she drops into a booth, already half-asleep by the time the waitress shuffles over to her, looking just about as tired as she feels.
"What can I get you?"
A pillow and a blanket will do nicely, she thinks—she'll sleep anywhere except the car she's been cooped up in for half a day; hell, even this table is looking appealing—but Leah forces herself to open her eyes and murmur something that hopefully translates to something like "Coffee, please."
Mercifully, the waitress disappears quickly, seeming to understand both Leah's order and the mood she's in. She doesn't need or want the sort of lingering, chatty service she has long since grown accustomed to back home. It's infinitely refreshing to be left alone so she can let her head fall back onto her arms and just . . . be.
She has no idea where she is, no idea what she's doing or where she's going, and she's sure the consequences of her sudden disappearing act will catch up with her eventually (whatever they may be), but for now, all that matters is that there's enough distance between her and Washington—between her and everything she has crossed state lines to get away from.
Still, she can't escape them forever. Not even for a measly twelve hours, it seems—there's a slew of notifications on her cell, but she knows if she doesn't check in with at least her mother or Seth and let them know she's alive then they'll go to the cops as soon as the suggested twenty-hour wait period is up. Unless, of course, Charlie pulls some strings . . .
And there's a real chance that he already has.
Instead of allowing herself to dwell on that realisation, Leah begins to scroll through her baby brother's thirty-eight texts. At a glance, he sounds more enthusiastic about choosing a good picture for the milk carton (she thumb emojis her old senior picture as the winner) and speculating on potential alibis (she is especially partial to the classic gone out to buy milk). And as the texts go on, and on, it becomes apparent that he's attempting to manage Mom's increasing panic, which Leah guesses is probably easier for him than processing his actual brotherly feelings about her taking off without warning.
Seth Clearwater (21:22)
Emily is here. Worried about you. Sam's waiting at your place in case you go home
Seth Clearwater (21:49)
Been thinking. Do you have a life insurance policy
Seth Clearwater (21:49)
Or a will
Seth Clearwater (21:50)
By which I really mean has Sam killed you so he can cash in
Seth Clearwater (22:17)
Serious talk, what did you leave me in your will
Seth Clearwater (23:01)
Don't know how much longer I can hold Mom off
Seth Clearwater (23:26)
IF YOU DON'T REPLY BY MIDNIGHT THEN SHE'S CALLING THE COPS.
Her eyes quickly dart to the top of the screen to check the time, relief coursing through her when she realises she's made it with only a few minutes to spare. She fires off a single reply.
Leah Clearwater (23:58)
Safe. Call u tomo.
Just as she's about to shut off her cell, it begins to vibrate. She expects it to be Seth, whose own cell is all-but surgically attached to his right hand, but the dread blooms in her belly, raw as ever and gnawing hard when she sees Sam's name flashing across the screen, accompanied by his contact picture—a snap of them at her college graduation, courtesy of Emily—and Leah stares at it, starting to wonder.
What if, even back then . . . ?
She buries that train of thought before it can gain any traction, before the weight of it can steamroll her entirely—because she knows that as soon as she falls into that rabbit hole, she'll never stop. And knowing herself, she'll end up driving all the way home again to find the answers to questions that she has—so far—tried so very hard not to grant any airtime.
There's also the slightest chance that if she goes home, she'll kill someone. Honest-to-God bona fide homicide, the sort that not even Charlie could pardon.
There's that to consider.
Her phone finally stops vibrating. Sam's picture disappears, and Leah manages to switch the damn thing off without dialing into her voicemail.
It's the little wins.