Mom pokes her head in my room. "Leanne, you should wait this out. The crowd's bigger than last year."

I shove my feet into a pair of loafers, my school shoes. "Just ... distract them. I can't miss my history final."

Our house phone rings and Mom hurries to answer. While she's occupied, I race down the stairs, toward the back door. I shoulder my backpack and pry the door open with my fingers. So far, the visitors have stayed in the front of my house, held back by the temporary fence. The back yard is still empty and a line of pine trees shields me from the view of the crowd.

The blare of a siren approaches, signaling the arrival of someone important. Hopefully someone who's willing to talk to the reporters congregating on the lawn.

I fill my lungs with a deep breath, then take off, sprinting through our neighbors' backyards.

The warmth of a late spring breeze sticks to my skin, weighing me down. At the end of the block, I dart around Mrs. Catterwaller's garage just as a white news van screeches through the crosswalk and brakes into a whiplash-inducing stop. A tall, thin lady wearing clicky heels jumps out. How did she see me? She can't possibly recognize—

"Leanne Strong!"

I duck behind Mrs. C.'s white Cadillac, my pulse pounding.

"She's here! Roll film."

Like a lion circling its prey, the reporter stalks closer, holding the mic out in front of her. Trapped between the Cadillac and Mrs. Catterwaller's garage door, my hands start to shake. The reporter waves her mic in front of my face. "Can you give us a few words, Leanne?"

Pieces of wind-blown hair whip out of my ponytail, falling over my face, though the reporter's blond blow-out looks fossilized. She's older than my mom, but with fewer wrinkles and a heck of a lot more makeup.

I sling my backpack around and hold it in front of my face. "No comment."

Before she presses for an answer, I lunge past her, into the street, running in front of the news van and squeezing between two houses.

"Come back, Leanne! You've inspired so many! We want you to tell the story in your own words."

"Please leave me alone. I was a baby," I call over my shoulder. "I don't remember anything." Desperation kicks in, propelling me up and over the Murrays' split rail fence.

Overhead, the blades of a helicopter gnaw at the blue sky. Breathing heavily, I veer around the back of the Murrays' house, my heavy shoes clomping over the grass, heading for the safety of the woods. Helicopters can't fly through trees. Reporters won't find me in the twisted maze of dirt trails.

The familiar sign for the Spring River Nature Park appears, a welcome sight to anyone seeking refuge from the multitudes on Chestnut Street. In the distance, a voice speaks my name, amplified by a megaphone. I glance back and stumble, catching my foot on an exposed root. My ankle twists and I throw my hands out to break my fall. The sharp edge of a stone cuts my palm and a fallen branch scrapes my knee. I end up flat on the grass, whimpering.

I would've been home free if Mr. and Mrs. Murray bothered to take care of their yard.

Thwack.

Fear strikes me like an arrow piercing dead center through my heart. I push up from the ground and brush a leaf off my grass-stained uniform shirt.

Thwack.

Slowly, I turn, holding my backpack like a shield, and find an unfamiliar boy watching me, his brown eyes blazing under lowered brows. The breeze ruffles his hair, messing up what's already a haphazard style, at best. He's taller than me, with broad shoulders that look slightly misplaced on his thin frame.

Also: he's not a Murray.

Head tilted, he squints in the bright morning sun.

I raise one finger to hold him until I catch my breath. "You never saw me," I gasp.

He flips a baseball into the glove on his right hand. I flinch at the loud thwack.

"Are you the reason for the helicopter search?" He flips the ball again. Thwack.

Letting my backpack drop to the ground, I bend forward and place my hands on my knees, still heaving from a combination of overexertion and anxiety. "Possibly," I manage to say.

"Cool. What'd you do? Rob a bank?" Thwack.

He doesn't know who I am. Finally, something works in my favor.

Lifting a shoulder, I assume a look of innocence. "Don't worry about it. I mean, I'm not a criminal."

Another glance my way, followed by a scowl. "Sure you're not." Thwack.

Out on the street, blue and red lights flash as the sheriff's car zooms by. A trumpet blasts in the distance and a loud chorus of amens rises like a plume of smoke above the treetops. Sweat rolls from the nape of my neck, down my spine.

Keeping my eyes on the scowling boy, I tighten the strap on my backpack and turn back toward the woods. "I'd explain everything, but I really need to go. If Sheriff Wilson asks about me, you can tell him I left for school."

With a quick wave, I dart into the forest. 

Miracle GirlWhere stories live. Discover now