Billy woke up and knew what he had to do.
It was clear in his mind the way things never were immediately after waking. It was a mountain river rushing for a waterfall. It was clear. It had direction. And it was sweeping him away.
He pulled his clothes on, wincing when he had to lift his arm to get his shirt on. The bruise was an ugly purple, turning green at the edges. The last bruise. At least, the last from his shithead stepfather. There would be more. Billy had no illusions. Life was not about to get easier. It was just going to have a Carl-shaped hole in it, and that would be enough. It had to be.
Cash was hidden all around the room, nearly two grand. Billy had learned the hard way if the money was all together, Carl would find it and take it. He had to put it in little bits. Ten bucks under the lamp. Twenties taped to the back of his Metallica poster. Bills slipped into every album, under the mattress, lining the bottom of his sock drawer. And then the dummy stash. The cookie jar that had belonged to his equally worthless dad, shaped like an elephant. Carl stole from it regularly and thought Billy still didn’t notice. There was fifty bucks in there this morning, Carl must have been planning to take it later for drinking money. It was paycheck Friday, after all.
Money gathered, shoes on, he stopped at the door to his bedroom. He’d lived there his entire life. Played with his building blocks on the floor. Changed the posters as he discovered new music. The first instant he knew he loved Lacy was right at the window, watching her walk away down the street and steal glances back up at him. He knew he should want to take something. The cookie jar. Some of his albums. His bass. Billy didn’t want any of it. Even standing there at the doorway there already seemed to be some kind of film between him and his room, like he was staring at a picture. All of this was already in the past, and that was where it had to stay.
Carl was sleeping it off in their bedroom. Billy could see him through the door, neatly tucked in under the blanket. He knew for a fact his mother had done that. Carl never fell asleep, he only passed out, usually on top of the blankets and with at least one boot on. Now his boots were sitting neatly at the foot of the bed and Carl was under a pile of blankets, snoring. The door was closed halfway, blocking Billy from seeing his mother on the other side. Perhaps that was for the best.
He rushed down the stairs as fast as he dared, skipping the steps that creaked. All he had to do was pick up his keys from the front table and walk out the door. Parked at the far end of the driveway was his truck – his truck, paid for with his cash, title in his name sitting in a lockbox in the bank so Carl couldn’t change it. The bank was one of two stops this morning. And then he’d never see this town again.
A small sound from the kitchen stopped him. Small, but immediately identifiable. Spoon in a coffee cup. He’d only assumed Mom was still asleep. He almost went to her. Maybe he could explain himself. Maybe she would listen, and understand. Maybe she would give him her blessing, a twenty from her wallet, and only ask for a promise he would call.
Billy knew better. He knew if he went back there he’d never leave. Guilt hung around her like a shawl. No, more like a fucking gas leak. Intoxicating him. Infecting him, wearing him down. It was her choice to marry Carl and her choice to stay, but somehow it was all Billy’s fault. Standing here, in the hall, with her safely out of sight, he knew it wasn’t true. He remembered how many times he’d tried to help her, and the bruises he had gotten as thanks. But if he saw her those memories would fall apart, and he would be left with only the idea that he was her protector. And he would stay.
The spoon hit the coffee cup again and he turned and ran for his life.
Outside it was a beautiful summer morning. The chill from night was quickly fading and he left prints in the dewy grass as he crossed the yard. If she heard him open and close the front door he wouldn’t know. He couldn’t know. He didn’t turn around. He kept walking. The sky was blue and the sun was rising. Today was a good day to escape.
He put the truck in neutral and pushed it halfway down the street before starting it up. The house was behind. Carl. Mom. The streets he drove down were the streets he grew up on, but this morning they looked different. New, like he’d never seen them before. No, they weren’t different. He was. The urgency was still there, pushing his right foot down on the gas pedal and making his fingers tap on the steering wheel. But the fear was gone. He’d left it back at the house. He wasn’t going back for either. He’d never see his house again.
Two stops, and he’d never see this town again, either.
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