“I don’t expect you to. It’s something all of you are going to have to figure out. It’s going to take some time.”
It’s not what I want to hear. I glare at everyone, making it clear I’m not happy about any of this.
It takes minutes to gather everything we have and take it to Ms. Perry’s car. I ignore Tess when she tries to take my hand, and then her sniffles when she squeezes my hand and lets it go. I glare at Travis’s eyes watching me in the rearview mirror as he settles in the front seat beside Ms. Perry, who sees everything that is going on with her teacher's eyes.
It’s tense and silent, my stomach twisting into knots the closer we are to home. I know that psycho is no longer at large, but Ms. Perry is right. Coming back home, adjusting to our lives-it was all going to take time. I look at Tess, biting her lip, not the least bit trying to hide her fear. Travis, somehow, is convincingly calm. And Ms. Perry still looks like she’s going to cry.
I’m surprised as Ms. Perry pulls into a shopping center. We’re only minutes from home, and I find that I just want to get this over with.
“Anybody hungry? My treat.” Shutting the car off, she turns to look at us, hopeful. I roll my eyes.
“I’m hungry.” Travis plays along. Ms. Perry gives him a grateful smile before looking to Tess, who only offers a small smile and nod. We all get out, and without consulting each other, walk towards the Panera at the corner of the shopping center. Once inside, we are glued to each other. I forget about being angry as I grab Tess’s hand and press myself against Travis. His quick eyes are scanning the busy restaurant.
“Kids?” Ms. Perry says gently, and we turn to the cashier and stutter through our orders. Waiting is agony, and I don’t think any of us can handle sitting down inside and eating in public.
“Let’s go eat in the car”, Ms. Perry suggests. “It’s a little too crowded in here, and I don’t see anywhere to sit.” Still glued together, we follow her out of Panera, ignoring the handful of empty tables we rush past. It’s easier to breathe with each step closer to the car.
Silence surrounds us again as we pick at our food, nobody speaking because we don’t know what to say. If this was how it was going to be from now on, then we were better off on our own. This was worse than before.
“Kids, you know I’m always here for you. I know how you’re feeling. And there’s always the school counselor. We can find better help, too, if that’s what you want. Just give it time, things will get better, I promise.”
“Can I just say-“
Travis and Ms. Perry both turn to look at me so I shut up and sigh. “Nevermind,” I mutter like a brat and stare out my window.
“I don’t want to go home yet,” Tess says, everyone turning to look at her now.
“Let’s go to my house first. My parents will be happy to see all of us.” Travis says, reaching to touch Tess’s hand. She just nods, eyes to the floor. Ms. Perry starts her car, and I still can’t find a place past my anger to comfort Tess or be nice to Travis. So I just ride along, watching the scene outside my window become familiar again.
Each house and shopping center fuels my anger just a little more. I had myself convinced that I would be coming back here. Even under the circumstances, it wasn’t any better. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he could still be out there. Like this was all a trap.
Just before we get to Travis’s street he calls his mom.
“Mom?” A lump fills my throat at his voice. He doesn’t try to hold back any emotion. I wonder what it feels like to have parents like his.
By the time we are pulling into the driveway, there his parents are, waiting. It hits me in a thousand different ways.
Ms. Perry walks ahead while Tess and I hang back. Suddenly I feel like I could easily be blamed for this whole situation. It feels exactly like that day in the police station. It’s so obvious that Tess and I are in no rush to get home, where there won’t be anyone to welcome us as if they actually missed us, much less knew we had disappeared.
I look away from the happy reunion, turning my glare to the sky. I feel like I’ve lost everything. It’s a quick, hard reminder that Travis and I come from worlds that can’t possible exist within each other. Ms. Perry is right in more ways than she knew. The lives we were trying to fit back into just got a lot harder.
I feel Tess beside me, just as quiet. This isn’t fair in so many ways. It’s not fair that this happened to us. That our lives will never be the same. That we had a small taste of paradise, our paradise, only to turn right back around and find the only thing waiting for us is the hell we ran away from. It’s not fair that Travis gets to come back to a different version of paradise, while Tess and I will never know what that’s like.
It’s not fair that I’m still mad at Tess.
“Wanna go raid the liquor cabinet and go to the beach?”
“I’m already there.” Tess doesn’t hesitate to answer. I pull her to me. It’s just like her to be so damn forgiving, even when I most certainly don’t deserve it.
“I hate my life.” I mutter.
“I hate your life, too.” Tess replies, and we both snort.
As we pull apart someone else throws their arms around me, making my body and mind lock.
“You don’t know how worried we were.” I relax at the sound of Travis’s mom acknowledging that we had been missing. She holds me tight, and I tense again, knowing that if I give in, I’ll regret it. “I’m so glad everyone is ok.” She lets me go and holds my face so that I have to look into her kind, concerned eyes.
“I know you’re not ok, but you’ll get there. All of you will help each other.” She kisses my forehead when my eyes fill.
Travis, his dad, and Ms. Perry join me as I watch Travis’s mom gather Tess in her arms, who, unlike me, doesn’t hold back. I feel slightly guilty that I’m not the one comforting her, but I know exactly how she feels when Travis’s mom is around.
She just didn’t try to fight it like I did.