CHAPTER FIVE

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I ran until my breath came in short gasps. Just as my legs were mutating into Jell-o, I collapsed on a wooden bench, the first one I had seen. The local park must be close; there were sidewalks everywhere now. I was still in town, but I'd veered away from the main highway in favor of winding through random neighborhoods. It would have been easier to stick to the streets, but I'd cut through yards and hopped fences when need be. There was no rhyme or reason to it; just move, and don't move predictably.

Because eventually my family would come looking for me. That had been my first coherent thought in the aftermath of my spontaneous departure from the church parking lot. And I didn't want to be found, not yet.

I'd find my own way home when I was ready.

A splinter snagged on my trousers as I shifted on the bench. My bare feet were numb and looking awfully purple; I pulled them into my lap one at a time to inspect them, and both were cut up at the bottom, bleeding in multiple places, but I couldn't feel any of it. My lungs burned, even though I was resting, and I'd probably never longed so much for a drink of water.

But I was miles from the church by now. A glance up at the sun, which had finally made its long-awaited appearance, told me it was mid-afternoon. Sweat poured down my face, neck, and back, and although the air was still cold, it had warmed up considerably.

My cell phone had been going crazy the first hour I was running, so I'd turned it to Airplane Mode. I reached into the pocket of my coat now, retrieving it to check the proper time: 3:34 PM.

Crap. No wonder I was so exhausted! Even as a recreational runner, I hadn't plowed on for this long in months.

For just a moment, I thought about texting Carene, asking her what was going on with my parents. Was my dad okay? Was it really as bad as it had looked? Did they have to take him to ER? How much trouble was I in? Could she tell him I was sorry?

But then I remembered Carene's face, the look of indignant betrayal as I'd run away, even after she'd face-planted trying to chase me down.

I crammed the phone back in my pocket.

As the minutes ticked on, the warm sun beating down on me, my thirst became impossible to ignore. I was also starving, and now that my adrenaline had faded, I was beginning to feel all the pains of my long run, of my fight with Dad.

My eyes were swollen and crusty and felt tight, like the skin around them had been pulled back and it stayed there. Eye makeup came back on my hands every time I wiped sweat or tears from my face; I must look like a true runaway. My knuckles were sore and cracked open, caked with dried blood ― some mine, some my dad's. There were a few scratches on my chest under my collarbone, probably where either Carene or my dad had manhandled me out of necessity. My coat was all dirty and smelly, and the poor heather gray blouse Carene had lent me was stretched out at the bottom where someone had yanked it and the hem had busted. My throat was raw from screaming and crying and running, and I wasn't sure I could have spoken if I wanted to. Even my palms were tender, one more so than the other ― undoubtedly the one I'd used to slap Taylor Fasulo.

Man. I'd had a busy day.

Pushing such troubles from my mind, I breathed deeply and rose from the bench to stretch the stiffness out of my tired muscles. They begged me for a longer rest, but it was a bad idea to sit for too long; my energy would dwindle, and then I'd not want to move for the rest of the day. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped, to have to call Carene or my parents to come get me. My pride couldn't handle so much as the thought of it at the moment.

Now that I had my bearings, I knew exactly where I was and forced myself into a jog, feet pounding the smooth sidewalk as I turned in the direction of the park. Chilled water dripped from the overhanging tree branches above the sidewalk as the sun melted what had been a frozen wonderland this morning; I came to a halt under a particularly strong drizzle and let the droplets splash onto my tongue, and although they tasted a bit dirty, even these meager gulps were better than nothing.

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