Chapter 1 - Part 2

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I looked at the lit store windows as we passed the downtown shops. Colored leaves, pumpkins, and corn made them glow orange and yellow. Parents walked their children along the sidewalks, directing them from store to store. The children bounced with happiness as they pointed at the decorations in the windows. My heart ached a little at the sight, so I leaned back and stared at the dashboard of my mother’s van.

It was those quaint storefronts and the river that had made my parents fall in love with East Bank. They had moved here with me, away from friends and family, when I was just two years old. Michael hadn’t even been born yet. My dad had gone through boot camp and been assigned to an army installation that was a little over forty minutes away. It was a long drive every day, but this was the life they both wanted for their children, not the politics of base life.

East Bank was a small city. There were about sixteen thousand permanent locals and three thousand who migrated in every August for classes at the community college. There were two elementary schools, two middle schools, one alternative education school, and one high school. The city had no claim to fame, no celebrity residents to speak of. There were a few private companies on the edge of town that specialized in biomedical manufacturing and testing, but apart from that, there wasn’t much to it.

East Bank had been my home for most of my life, but my high school graduation was in seven months, and the thought of leaving didn’t bring any tears to my eyes. I never really felt like I fit in there, and I had few fond memories of the city itself. Sometimes I imagined leaving for a bigger city where there wasn’t such a strict social hierarchy or that stifling feeling of being trapped in a predetermined role, a place where I could reinvent myself and meet people with interests similar to my own. Whenever actors in movies talked about getting away, they always mentioned New York, a city where it’s easy to blend in, but New York was too big for me. I’d rather see the stars shining in the night sky than the orange glow of streetlights.

My thoughts remained on this until I crawled into bed and fell asleep under the thick flowered comforter.

When I awoke the next morning, the comforter was at my feet, and I was tangled in the sheets. I almost fell out of bed trying to free myself from their clutches. I made my bed, brushed my hair and teeth, and dressed. Then, I stood staring at my bed, feeling the draw of its coziness.

My face hit the soft padding of the comforter as I collapsed across the end of my bed. I watched my alarm clock, promising myself I’d lie there for only a few minutes.

7:05. Whoever decided getting up for school before the sun was even up must have been missing a few genes,I thought.

7:07. I groaned in anticipation of the day. My legs feel like I’m wearing ten-pound ankle weights. Moving them will take way more effort than I can muster.

7:10. But if I don’t appear downstairs in five minutes, Mom will start yelling.

I loved my mother, but I didn’t fancy hearing her disapproving tone that early in the morning, so I pushed myself to my feet and leaned over my dresser to view my reflection in the mirror.

“I don’t want to go to school today.” The truth was I didn’t want to go to school any day. It wasn’t the classes I despised, as I loved learning. I hated how miniscule I felt whenever I walked through the front doors, like I could walk off the edge of a cliff and no one apart from Heather would be the wiser.

“Chin up! Have confidence! Walk with your head high! It’s senior year, and you’re spectacular!” said my reflection in a game-show host voice, with her chest out, hand on her hip, and pale eyes wide with energy. “So spectacular that Steve will fall at your feet like a puddle of rainwater!”

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