I'm already in a foul mood and it doesn't help any when I'm called into the office first thing Tuesday morning. I sit there for over thirty minutes as our principal, Mr. Burns, lectures me about maintaining my GPA and how skipping school yesterday has now officially made me ineligible for valedictorian next year but maybe if I keep squeaky clean some scholarship committees will still look at me. He actually told me how I should be thinking long term. I had to hold back my laughter. It was sound advice really, but not for me. I don't need bells and whistles like being valedictorian; I just need to make it past October of next year. That'll be my graduation. I nod in all the right places and give him the appropriate answers but I must not be selling it because he still ends up scheduling another meeting for next week to check in on my progress before letting me go back to class.
"My interest is in the future; as I'm going to be spending the rest of my life there. Do you know who said that Ms. Blackwell?"
"Charles Kettering." I mumble as I slowly get up. He looks surprised and I'm sure I'm the only one of his student who understands the reference to the late inventor, yet I'm the one being punished. If only he understood that I'm not planning to live my life for the future; I have little interest in it. My life is now, in the present. It's all I'm guaranteed.
The hallways are empty since everyone's in class. I try to quiet my footsteps as they create an echo through the halls. I almost don't see her out of the corner of my eye but when I do, I stop immediately. She's at her locker and all alone for the first time today. I silently approach her, half of me afraid she's going to run like a skittish animal.
"Caroline." Startled, she looks up and grows instantly uncertain when she sees me. Her face is awash with guilt.
"Oh. Hi." I start to bristle.
"Oh hi? That's it? Caroline you just disappeared last night. We didn't even get to talk."
"I didn't think you'd want to talk to me at all after yesterday," she admits shamefully.
"Don't be stupid." I slide down the lockers and sit on the floor by her feet. She shuts her locker and joins me letting out a repentant sigh.
"I am so sorry Ellie." She turns her head and looks at me and I can see the penance in her eyes. "I screwed up everything. It's becoming a pattern lately, making bad choices." Suddenly I wonder if we're talking about more than her just her impulsive behavior yesterday.
"What happened last night Caroline?" She takes a breath.
"I panicked. Derrick told me what happened between the you two, how you said no." She suppresses a smile, obviously approving of that. "Then you didn't show up at school. I tried calling and calling, but there was no answer. I found out through friends that Jared never showed up at school either. I called him but he didn't answer and then I started to worry. I thought maybe you'd runaway with him, like you did before with Jackson." We did run away, but just for the day. She pauses for a breath but doesn't look at me as she continues; her voice is on automatic pilot, like she's speaking from a script. "And then I went to your house. Coco and I found your cellphone and backpack. Jared's dad called and I didn't know what to say so I told him you were probably together. Then he came over to your house and that made Coco frantic. She started to really believe that you actually had run away and that's when she called the police. I tried to talk her out of it but you know how she can be. I am so sorry Ellie. I really messed things up." How can I be mad at her for worrying about me? I put my arm around her.
"It's okay. I know you only did what you thought was best, but Caroline if I had left, runaway, you know it wouldn't have been because of you."
"Are you planning on running away again like before?" I shrug. I actually hadn't thought about it this time. I've run away in the past but it never helped. I'm always found.
"I'm not sure, but if I do you have to be able to let me go. You out of all people know why I'd be running." She closes her eyes and drops her head into her hands.
"I just thought you'd left without even saying anything, not even goodbye. I realized how much I needed you and I panicked."