Home > Walk Me Home

Walk Me Home
Catherine Ryan Hyde

PART ONE

Right Now

NEW MEXICO

May 1

They creep along, walking their bikes past the big house in the pitch dark. There are no lights on inside. But Carly can’t help thinking there will be. Suddenly. If they’re not quiet enough.

Too much depends on this moment. Everything.

Carly hears the clicking of the spokes of Jen’s bicycle wheels. She reaches over and slaps her hand down on Jen’s handlebars to stop the bike—and her sister—in their tracks.

“We have to carry the bikes till we get past the house,” she hisses in Jen’s ear.

“Easy for you to say. Yours is light.”

Carly sighs and trades bikes with Jen. Jen’s bike is a heavy old beach cruiser. And it has no headlight. So Carly duct-taped a flashlight to the handlebars.

The driveway is uphill, and Carly struggles for breath as she trots for the freedom of the road. It’s a long driveway, and her chest is beginning to ache. She feels she can’t keep going. But she does anyway. Because she has to.

Any minute now, a light might come on in the house. And Wade’s brother might appear in the window. Then it will all be over.

But it doesn’t. No light comes on.

Suddenly they’re on the road and free.

Carly trades bikes again with her sister.

As they straddle the bikes, prepared to launch down the hill into the night, Jen switches on the flashlight.

Carly reaches over and slaps her hand over the light.

“Turn it off!”

“But I thought—”

“Not till we’re farther away. Not till we can’t be seen from the house.”

“Carly…”

“What?”

“I have to tell you something.”

“Oh, my God, Jen. Not now.”

“Has to be now.”

“Jen. Listen.” Carly grabs Jen’s bike and shakes once, hard. To stop all foolishness once and for all. “Listen to me. We have to get out of here. Now. And you have to stop acting like we have all kinds of options. We have Teddy. He’s the only option we’ve got. Now I hate to pull rank, but I’m older. And I’m in charge of the family now. What’s left of it. And we’re going. Now come on.”

They’re making incredible time. And they don’t even have to pedal.

They coast down the mountain, a few scattered lights in the valley below. The thin beams of light reveal the road in front of their bike tires. Carly can faintly see the headlights of cars on a two-lane highway below. Headed west. Well, headed both ways. But she focuses on the traffic headed west. The direction of Teddy and home.

The only challenge of the downhill run is applying the brakes just right, and just frequently enough, to keep the bikes from speeding out of control.

No car has come down the road for ages. So they ride side by side in the traffic lane. The edge of the road is too scary. Just a drop-off. Not enough light to see where that would take you. But Carly can pretty much figure it wouldn’t take you any place good.

“What’s that noise?” Carly asks. “Is that your brakes?”

“Yeah. I think the pads are low.”

“Well, stay off them as much as you can.”

“I’ll try.”

Jen begins to pick up speed. Carly eases off the brakes to catch up with her, but it scares her to go that fast. Too many curves. Too little shoulder. Not much margin for error.

“Maybe you need to slow down,” she calls to Jen.

Carly hears a ghastly metal-on-metal noise.

“Oh, shit!” Jen shouts as she flies over the handlebars and disappears into the darkness off the side of the road.

Carly steers her bike to the spot where Jen disappeared and jumps off, dropping the bike on the narrow shoulder.

“Jen! You OK?”

“I think so.”

“Keep talking so I can find you.”

“I’m right here,” she says, tugging at Carly’s jeans. “Where’s my bike?”

“We should be able to see the light from the flashlight.”

“It must’ve broken.”

“I’ll get my bike, and we’ll shine a light down there.”

Carly carefully walks her bike a few steps down the hill. In the thin beam of the headlight, they see Jen’s bike crashed up against the side of a squat, gnarled tree.

Jen scrambles down the hill to retrieve it.

“Oh, this is messed up,” she calls back up to Carly. “I think the frame is bent. Yeah. I can’t even roll it.”

“Well…just leave it then. Just sit on my handlebars, and we’ll keep going. We can’t afford to slow down.”

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