She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the blue light of her phone screen glaring back at her. Her extra-large t-shirt clung to her spine with sweat. It was almost summer, that’s for sure; like someone flipped the switch when she had her back turned. Fumbling in the dark for her glasses, she took another look to see who the hell wanted to talk at 2:13 in the morning. When she saw the name illuminated in the missed caller list, she felt stupid she even wondered. Frankie. She rolled over with a groan, muffling the sound in piles of pillows and comforters. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a jolt of something like adrenaline rush through. Cursing herself all the while, she sat up and called back.
“Get your ass in the car and meet me at the field in 7 minutes,” Frankie hissed in an attempted whisper.
“Good morning to you, too. Beautiful weather we’re having, eh?”
“Liv, shut your damn mouth and get dressed. Don’t get caught,” she replied, and hung up the phone. Staring at the wall in bewildered amusement, Liv got out of bed with a suppressed smile. She knew she should tell her parents, but sneaking was half the thrill. She waltzed through the hallway and down the stairs, masterfully avoiding the creaky steps to keep her family asleep. Not bothering to lace up her mud-stained Converse, she opened the door of her dented Subaru and drove away.
“SHEEEAA…ARE YOU AWAKE?!”
“No, I’m fast asleep. Leave me alone,” she said to Liv, head dangling out the second-story window. Of course, Liv couldn’t have texted or called, even knocking on the front door would be better. No, Liv had to throw tiny pebbles at her bedroom window until it was too obnoxious to ignore.
“I don’t like your sass, young lady,” Liv replied.
“Are you gonna tell me what we’re doing, or just keep standing there like Romeo?”
“Get in the car smartass, we’re leaving,” she said, turned on her heel, and walked away. Drama queen. Shea rolled her eyes but threw on a hoodie and sandals despite herself. She was awake before Liv got there, studying for her exams, or at least that’s what she was telling herself. In reality, she was doing something, anything to drown out the feelings that threatened to take over. Distracting herself. Using Snapchat, mindlessly talking to people she didn’t care about. At least… at least there she could pretend to be happy. Pretend to be fine. But this… Liv waiting in her trashed car, blasting Green Day so loud her neighbor’s lights flicked on, guitar in the backseat. Frankie on her bike to meet them, backpack full of sliced fruit and Lucky Charms… This she could handle. This was real. This wasn’t fake friendships and pictures of ceiling fans. Yeah, it was stupid, and she’d never say it out loud, but it was real, definitely real. And maybe, that would be enough to get her through.
Pulling a pen out of the junk drawer, she scribbled on a sticky note and stuck it to the fridge. Not like her mom would even notice her gone, but just in case. Maybe it was more for herself than anything… She pushed the thought out of her head and snapped the lid shut on the Tupperware of apples. Her phone vibrated in her pocket. From Shea: On the way. She threw the snacks into her bag, slung it over her shoulders, and was out the door without a second look.
Bum, bum, bum, bum. The familiar cadence of her feet going round and round the pedals, one after the next, always steady, always the same. Just like the days that kept coming and going; a rhythm, a loop of endless hours. C’mon Frankie. Quit being overdramatic. Her mom’s voice echoed and bounced off the walls of her head. Inhale, exhale. Not here, not now. The growing pit of empty needs to stay hidden, stay concealed under the facade she’d gotten so used to keeping up. Breathe. It’s not like there’s anyone to talk to, no, she could never ask for help. Liv and Shea, maybe. They used to be the only people she could open up to. But now, this… it was too much. She’d painted herself at school, online, even in her own mind. Frankie is confident, radiant, wild, fun, happy. Lies. Shake it off. She flipped her tumble of curls back and forth in the dark breeze that washed across her body as she rode. Rode, on and on and on. How did she let this happen to herself? How did no one notice, her friends, her family… her mom–no. No. Breathe, Frankie. These nights used to be her solace, her escape. Escape from staring at the ceiling, drowning herself in a whirlpool of thoughts, spinning down, down, down. Out of control. She’d trained herself to snap out of it long enough to pick up the phone, to call Liv.
Then it was fine, right?
Then she had a purpose. Stand up. Socks. Shoes. Walk. Bike. Pedal. Pedal, pedal, pedal. To the field. Flip the switch. Stupid and wild and crazy and reckless, the person, the girl, the friend, she had twisted herself to become. Time to go. Say goodbye. Bike. Pedal. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Home–could she even call that place a home if she couldn’t feel like herself inside it? Frankie, stop it. They are waiting for you.
No. She couldn’t go, not now, not like this. She knew if she saw her friend’s faces it would all be over. She would break.
Bike. Pedal. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Past the field. Past the field she’d never passed before. That was their place. Bonfires, board games, truth or dare, music, food, stars, secrets. But… she couldn’t stop here, not tonight. Past the field. Past Liv and Shea unfolding blankets and singing Disney songs. Past, past, past it all. Into the night.
What the hell? Where was she? Her bike was gone. The sun was coming up. Sitting on the front steps to Frankie’s house, they silently watched it rise higher and higher, brighter and brighter, bathing it all in a golden summer dawn. Birds were singing. Dew sparkled on the lawn. It was perfect. Too perfect. Unfair. Unfair for the world to be this beautiful when everything was so wrong.
Liv glanced over and saw tears trailing down Shea’s sunburnt cheeks.
“Shit,” she spat out, standing up with a jolt. Pacing back and forth across the gravel driveway. Kicking pebbles with a hot temper she didn’t fully understand. Frankie never let them come over to her place, and they never questioned why. It was easier to ignore it all, pretend like it was all sunshine and rainbows. It was easier that way. Let loose. Have fun. Push the darkness aside, for a moment, a day, a night. For each other.
It was straight out of some edgy, teen, coming-of-age movie. In a burst, Liv was on the porch steps, hauling Shea up by the shoulder. Thud, thud, thud. Her footsteps drummed on beneath her, landing at the front door. She was balancing somewhere in between vomiting, crying, and smashing the door open as she raised a trembling hand to knock. But it was Shea’s fist, steady despite her tears, that pounded on the wood entryway in front of them.
On the other side, the twist and click of locks being turned.
The door creaked open.
“Who the hell are you?”