Criscrosses of lacerations snaked against my heel; the blisters popped in the sweltering sun. Each cut scraped like glass against skin. Ribbons of blood unspooled onto the dirt road. I blinked heavily, and the mascara pooled underneath my eye as thick as tar. I left home showered, powdered, a princess in a pair of silver stilettos and jean cutoffs, a halter top tugging tight against my breasts. Now, my make-up muddied my face, my brown hair brittled in the August heat. My lips chapped, my skin roughened with sun burn, and the halter top was saturated with sweat.
I kicked off the stilettos and shoved them into the suticase crammed with clothes and knickknacks of my pathetic life. I had packed a cheap journal with a broken padlock and photos of friends, boys with pizza breath and kisses as awkward as braces and acne, girls who would share a stick of gum with you but never answer the 2 a.m. phone calls. Kids who cried into news cameras that Becca Mae wasn’t coming home, and nobody knew where she was. The very same kids who called themselves my friends but wouldn’t be bothered to form a search party.
Even Ruth wouldn’t have been bothered to form a search party. The last time I saw her, my throat was burnt raw from screaming at her, and her eyes were bleary as she swung a bottle at me, whiskey sloshing around inside the brown glass. The glass had shattered against the faded wallpaper, its contents trickled down. I told her I was leaving and walked out the door without turning back. I heard her stumbling around the kitchen, the clatter of coffee mugs falling from the cabinets, and then listened as she hurled them at the door I had shut behind me.
I tugged my suitcase down the path leading away from my house
I half-expected Paul to pick me up, but when I showed up at his house, my hands still clenched in fists, he had turned me away. “I’m only seventeen.” He had said. “What do you expect me to do?” I punched him in the gut as hard as I could. I may only be sixteen, and I wasn’t blessed with a psychic gift, but I knew where this happily ever fairy tale end was going. I stood on his porch, and I brushed the tears out of my eyes before he could see me cry. For the second time that day, I marched away. My pride was wounded, but I still held onto scraps of it. I half-expected him to call me back, to summon me as though I were a princess he was on the verge of losing. Instead, he sagged against a railing and watched me leave as though he had deflated.
I had shouted something like, “Don’t bother calling me,” but this was all days ago, and my memory is fuzzy. I haven’t eaten but the frozen burrito I ate before I left home. I can hear flies buzzing near my halo of frizzy hair; I think they’re hoping to catch a lick of sweat, but I keep batting them away and wiping the sweat off. I’ve been walking for three days, and I’m already on the outskirts of the city. I slept in the woods, if you could call it sleeping. I hardly slept a wink because of all the animal cries. The noises coupled with the mosquitos and the itchiness of the grass tickling my backside meant little rest for Becca Mae.
I walked along a dusty path in the forest, and through a clearing, I could see a caravan unloading tents. Several tents had popped up, and several more were in the process of being put up. I watched in amazement. The people’s faces looked a bit haggard, not much unlike mine at this point I imagined, yet friendly. Their clothes appeared a bit ragged, but again, the smiles on their faces and the songs they sang out more than made up for their disheveled appearances.
I emerged from the woods, listening to their rich, clear voices, and before I knew it, I was drawn to the individuals I saw. Without being fully aware of what I was doing, I approached them. The community was filled with men and women, children, and babies; it appeared to be a roaming village. All the people had dark hair and light eyes as far as I could see, so I immediately felt like an outsider with my straw-colored hair and hazel eyes. The first woman I saw smiled upon seeing me. “Child,” she called, “where are your shoes?”
I gnawed on my lip as I glanced down. “Me?” I managed to say. She nodded and gestured for me to draw nearer. I was scared, but her kindness and concern seemed genuine.