After tugging the window open, I popped the screen that was too easy to move out—having been popped out many times before. Damp night air had me instantly sweating. The slatted roof scraped against my shoes as I scoot along it to the tree limb that rested on part of it. Debris scattered to the ground once I shimmied onto the thickest branch of the old oak. The rough bark snagged at my clothes as I climbed down the tree to our damp grass.
Running across the perfectly manicured lawn, the trimmed grass squishing beneath my shoes, the moonlight kept me much too exposed. Getting across the entire estate was a mission in stealth and caution, if I wasn’t going to get caught. My heart pounded, my legs and lungs screaming in agony. If only I hadn’t been smoking to spite my parents, and maybe done a few laps around our enormous pool every once in a while, I might have been in better shape. Might have been able to run across those few acres in much less time.
I finally got to the ten-foot tall fence, furthest away from the surveillance gate as possible. Climbing the wrought iron fence was only possible in the one spot, because I had made it so many years before this night. The only reason my parents had never seen the pieces of rope tied to make lattice steps on the fence, was because they didn’t keep the grounds. Our gardener always looked over them, or at least pretended he didn’t see them. I never knew why, but it could have been that he knew how stuffy my life was, how suffocated I was, that he thought I needed a bit of freedom from the estate.
I thumped to the ground on the other side of the fence, steadying myself just before I toppled over. The familiar damp, mucky scent of the creek hit me right before I got to it. My pace didn’t slow even after I ran over the worn log that was my bridge to get across the creek, which was still part of our property, only outside the fence. Then I was off for the highway, leaving the luxurious plantation behind me. No more would I follow their rules. No more would I dress up for mama’s popularity contests. No more would I allow them to decide my fate.
My fate would be my own.
Delia was parked at the edge of our property in her station wagon Volvo, just as she had promised. The Rankin’s Movin’ On was blasting when I opened the door. My heart squeezed in my chest, tears pricking at my eyes. But I shoved all fear away when I climbed in that front seat. Delia had a lit cigarette held out toward me the second I had the door shut.
“Ready, cher?” she asked as I took a long drag of that Joe, nerves and excitement thrumming through my veins.
“Damn right, I’m ready!”
We screamed in excitement when she squealed away from my life trap. “I got an entire album made up for this getaway.” She wagged her dark brows at me, her springy brown hair bouncing as she wiggled to the beat of the song.
We danced and sang, even while a tightness grew in my chest, as the border of the state came closer and closer. All my things were in the back of the car, since this had been planned for weeks. I had slowly moved anything I knew my mother wouldn’t notice, and the housekeepers wouldn’t mention to her, into Delia’s car. Now, we were heading for that state line like a runaway train and there was no turning back.
At least, not for me. Delia had to go back. But her family was easier to live with, easier to love. If I didn’t know my mother would go straight to their house the second she realized I was missing, I would have ran away to Delia’s family. But that’s exactly where she would go first. The plan wouldn’t work if Delia was missing, too. No matter how bad I wanted to take my best friend, my soul sister, on this journey with me, I couldn’t.
The second her car went over that line, in to Mississippi, I felt I could finally breathe. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I whispered, tears trailing down my cheeks.
“You’re freeee, Chloe,” Delia wailed at the top of her lungs, before we joined The Dixie Chicks in their chorus of Wide Open Spaces.