I sat by the window waiting for Matt to come again.
I still knew that I couldn't go with him to New York City but part of me worried weather or not he would leave without me. His fire had always been stronger and if he made up his mind, I could never stop him.
The more time went on, the more I got the feeling my family didn't like Matt. I stopped mentioning him around my parents because they always seemed happier on days when I didn't. I didn't see why everyone didn't like Matt around town but it was undeniable. People would call the police on Matt all the time for reasons I thought they were making up.
I guess everyone in town suspecting Matt to grow up to be a serial killer could contribute to his urgency to leave town, but I was almost certain it was entirely about pursuing his dream about getting out of here.
I couldn't focus on seemingly anything so I decided to take a walk to clear my head.
I walked for awhile and finally came to the big black gate. It was the sign that you were leaving town. They were cold and steel, making me shiver as I ran my hand down one of the bars. This is where I usually went on walks, just daydreaming about the day that I would get to pass those gates and never look back. I shivered again and put up the hood of my sweater, trying to keep warm.
I turned around and was surprised to see Matt standing behind me.
He smiled and looked past me at the gate. He had his hood up so it was hard to see past the shadows on his face to see what expression he was wearing.
"I don't understand why if you wanna leave town so bad why you won't come with me."
He stepped closer to the gate and leaned his back against it.
"I know I said I understood, Maria. But I don't."
He sounded so sincerely broken and at that moment I almost just said yes.
"I can't just run away to New York City. What would I tell my family?"
Matt looked away from me and paused for a moment.
What I hadn't realized until now is that when he said that he wanted to "run away to New York City" he really wanted to run away. I wasn't supposed to tell my parents, I was just supposed to run.
"... Are you kidding me?"
He still wouldn't look at me, making me feel suddenly cold and shut out.
"You're almost 17. You don't have to be on a leash anymore."
I understood that I didn't know anything about his family situation, but if he thought that being a daughter meant being on your parents leash then he must not have known a lot. But in some ways it was more true than I was willing to admit.
"... I haven't even graduated high school yet."
He finally looked back at me and something jumped out at me. My eyes widened.
He had a bruise slightly below his eye that looked like the result of being punched. I let him slide on most of the mysterious happenings that I noticed aftermath of on him, but not this one. I was worried about him and I would no longer tell myself that I didn't have that right. He was always worrying about me if anything bad happened to me. I needed to turn the tables today.
"Matt, how did you get that bruise?"
A moment of silence passed and I reached out and gently fingered the bruised area. Whoever did it wasn't shy about leaving a mark.
I was stunned silent.
My dad? I didn't he hated Matt enough to punch him that hard. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. Not my dad.
He sighed. I knew he didn't want to turn me against my dad but he knew me well enough to know I would keep insisting he tell me. I hated things unfinished. If you started telling me a story, you had to finish it.
"When I came to your house to ask you to come with me to New York City. When I got down from the window, he was already outside. He asked me what I was doing sneaking into your bedroom. I told him that I wasn't doing anything wrong but he didn't believe me."
"And he punched you?!"
"... And said he'd call the police if I didn't leave."
I just stood there completely without words. Finally I hugged him mostly in sympathy and partly because it was so cold. I had no idea why all these bad things kept happening to him. I couldn't figure out why bored police officers would just park on the street and watch him, waiting for him to cause trouble. Or why my dad hit him for coming to see me. But they kept happening anyway and it broke him down nevertheless.
He hugged me close to him and a wave of comfort washed over me. What was great was that he wasn't one of those guys who would pretend to be all tough and macho when awful things happened but he wasn't one of those guys who just ran away from their problems.
No matter how warm and safe that moment felt, I needed to go talk to my dad.
When I got home, my dad was just sitting at the kitchen table completely normally. He looked so relaxed, I almost lost the nerve to talk to him but the clarity of the picture of my dad punching Matt was so clear, I couldn't stop myself.
"Why did you punch Matt?"
My dad looked over at me and all his relaxation turned to tension.
"I thought we had a deal."
"He said he wouldn't tell you."
My dad was actually making deals with Matt so I wouldn't find out.
"What the hell, dad? You can't just punch my friends-"
"He got into your room through the window. What was I supposed to do?"
He had to be kidding.
"Talk to me or something! You didn't have to hit him!"
He folded his hands on the table. He seemed unnervingly calm.
"You don't really talk to us anymore, Maria. Matt's a bad influence on you."
"Matt's the only person I talk to because he's the only one who listens."
"That's not true."
But it was. My parents never listened to me. They always smiled and nodded but they were only hearing what they wanted to, I was sure of it.
"I want to be a singer."
"I want to be a singer. Bet you didn't know that."
"Only because you never told me."
"No, it's because you never listened. You never cared. Only when it comes to Matt. All you wanna do is destroy him because you get a bad feeling about him."
He stood up but I couldn't tell why. Did he want to hug me to get me to shut up and tell me none of it was true? Or did he want to hit me like he hit Matt? I didn't care. I wasn't standing down.
"Matt's just a kid! Leave him alone! In fact, stop caring about him! Just like how you stopped caring about me!"
A ran upstairs before my father had a chance to respond. I closed and locked my bedroom door and sat against it. I never thought my dad was one of those people. He had actually abused a kid only a few months older than me. I didn't know who to trust anymore. I felt abandoned and betrayed. Even though it wasn't me, for all I knew I could be me next.
I hated acting like the defenseless girl waiting for her prince to come and sweep her off her feet. But I couldn't help it. I started crying into my hands and I could feel my hands trembling. Only I wasn't waiting for some mystical prince. I wasn't even waiting for Matt. I was just waiting for my stronger self to come back to me.
I reached into my pocket and took out my phone. Hands shaking, I dialed Matt's number and impatiently listened to it ring.
I'd made up my mind. I needed to get out. Matt was right, I needed to break off the leash and feel solid ground for the first time.
Matt answered the phone.
My voice was shaking, everything inside of me felt broken. I will never forget that moment.
"I'm coming with you, Matt. We're going to New York City."