Blake hauls off and slugs me in the arm.
I shove my chair back and get this huge rush of heat boiling up in my head. I want to get right up in his face and scream at the top of my lungs. My body reacts before I can think, and within two seconds, I’ve got Blake around the throat with one hand, pinning him against his chair, my other fist back and ready to pound the jerk in the face.
Mama screams. “Stop it!”
And that stops me. I look at Blake, his little round face, his usually icy blue eyes now filled with fear, staring back at me. I lower my fist and let go of his neck, shake out my hand.
As soon as I let go, Blake flies out of his chair, nearly wipes out as he runs down the hallway to his room. He slams the door and yells something unintelligible.
I quickly pick up my chair and set it upright, unable to look at Mama. I feel like I let her down. And everybody else just sits there, shocked. I don’t think they’re used to family dinners like this.
Gracie breaks the silence. I can see her eyes tearing up. “That was scary,” she says. Her lip quivers. And then she starts crying.
“He punched me,” I say, defending myself, and I feel like I’m babbling, but I have to say something. I have to explain. “He punched me first, like, totally out of the blue. I didn’t hurt him. I didn’t even laugh at him.” And now I’m scared too. I rub my sore shoulder as Mama and Dad look at each other, silently discussing with their eyes what to do next.
“Stay put,” Dad says calmly. He and Mama get up to go talk privately, leaving their food, and it’s just me and Gracie left at the table.
She looks at me, all blubbery and scared.
“I’m sorry, Gracie. I didn’t hurt him, okay? He startled me when he punched me and I just reacted. I’m sorry you’re scared.”
She just sits there, sad-faced.
A minute later, Blake’s door opens wide and he starts throwing shit out into the hallway. All my stuff—my clothes, my backpack, my shoes. He’s cussing, yelling crazy things.
Gracie covers her ears. And I can hear Dad coming.
I look at Gracie and shake my head, pushing my chair back. “Sorry, kid,” I say. “I gotta go.” And I feel bad. I do.
I slip out to the mudroom, grab my coat and hat, shove my feet in my boots, and I’m out the door.
From the street, I glance up at the big picture window, and there’s Gracie, nose pressed against it, her little hands cupped around her eyes, peering out at me. The snow is coming down hard, and there’s at least six fresh inches on the roads since the last snowplow came through this afternoon. I’m worked up enough to not be freezing quite yet, but I know I won’t make it out here for long.
Not to mention, I still don’t really know my way around. But I do know there’s a gas station nearby. I head that way. Maybe I can hang out there for a while.
My thighs are nearly numb by the time I get there, but I manage to feel the vibration of my cell phone in my pocket. I’m still not used to that. Anyway, I figure it’s Mama. Gracie would have told them by now.
But it’s not Mama.
It’s not Blake, or Dad.
It’s a text from Cami.
What r u doing?
My thumbs are numb. And I’m really slow at this. Plus, the guy at the counter is giving me the hairy eyeball.
nothing just wandering around
It takes me a long minute to type it, and my nose is dripping. I shove the phone back into my pocket and pretend to look at milk in the refrigerator case.
In a ridiculously short amount of time, she replies.
we need 2 talk
I move to the chip aisle, staying in plain sight of the clerk so he doesn’t freak out. I write back:
I’m coming over, k?
And I don’t wait for her reply. I take off out the door, not too fast, so I don’t look suspicious. On the way to Cami’s, working against the snow and wind, my phone buzzes again. It’s Dad. I don’t want to answer, but I know they’ll keep calling. They’re freaking out, I’m sure.
“Ethan, where are you? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I’m just out for a bit. Taking a walk.”
He’s quiet, and I picture him, working his jaw. “Where? We need to know where you are.”
“I’m fine, Dad.” I’m breathing hard, running to get to Cami’s.
“Ethan, come home this instant. Or you’re grounded.”
I’m walking up Cami’s driveway now, and I see her looking out the window, behind the curtains. “Dad, seriously. It’s what, like seven thirty? Are you kidding me?”
“Ethan,” he says, and even with the wind whistling around my head, I can hear his voice change to pleading. “Please come home. Your mother is very worried about you.”
I shake my head and stomp off my boots on Cami’s step. She opens the door. “Tell Mama I’m sixteen, not seven. Gotta go.” I wipe the snow off my coat and hat as much as I can, and then I step inside.
Cami’s not smiling.
Neither am I.
“Hi.” I stand there in her entryway like an idiot.
“I said don’t come over.” Cami folds her arms over her chest.
“Sorry. I was on the phone. I must have missed that. Besides, you were watching out the window for me.”
“Yeah, so I could tell you to leave.”
I take off my hat and gloves. Unzip my coat. “Please don’t make me leave. If I go home now, the terrorists win.”