Home > Walk Me Home(4)

Walk Me Home(4)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Open this door or I’m getting the gun,” Carly says.

The light turns green.

Carly pulls the hairbrush out of her pack, careful to keep it behind his head, where he can’t see it in the mirror. She presses the round metal of the end of the handle to the back of his head.

“Do not step on the gas,” she says.

The back door locks click up. A beautiful sound. Jen swings the door wide, and they bolt out of the car. The man drives away with his rear door still open.

“Oh, my God,” Jen says. “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God.”

“Relax, Jen. Calm down. We’re OK.”

“I can’t do this, Carly. We can’t keep doing this.”

“OK. We won’t, then. No more hitchhiking. I promise.”

“So what are we going to do, then?”

“We’ll walk.”

“To California?”

“Not to California. Of course not. Just from one phone booth to the next. And when Teddy picks up the phone, he’ll drive out and get us. Or he’ll wire us money for a bus ticket or something. But the more we walk, the closer we’ll be to home, and the faster he can get us there. And we won’t be in one place long enough for anybody to decide they want to help us by putting us in foster care. We’ll just walk along like we know exactly what we’re doing. And if anybody asks, we’ll just say we’re walking home. That’s true. Right?”

“We’re walking home,” Jen says. As if the story needs rehearsal.

“Right. We’re walking home.”

They walk until dark. About ten hours.

Carly calls Teddy four times that first day. Teddy doesn’t pick up.

NEW MEXICO

May 9

Carly is keeping a close eye on Jen. Maybe even more so than usual. She’s watching Jen walk on the shoulder of this skinny, raggedy little blacktop road, kicking at the scrubby grass and gravel at the edge of their path.

For a time, Carly doesn’t know why she’s keeping such an eagle eye on Jen this morning. In most ways, it’s a morning like any of the last nine. It’s just their new normal.

She looks up ahead to see the black road dip down into a valley. And in this valley is…nothing. Just more scrubby weeds. A line of low mountains at its far end, mountains they will have to walk across in time. In the far distance, a few rock spires in different shapes and sizes, like the classic desert formations she’s seen in old cowboy films. And the clouds are edging the sky in great puffs, dense at the mountains, more sparse above their heads, white on top and copper at their bottoms, unable to crowd together and cover the steely blue sky.

Too bad, Carly thinks. Because they’re fresh out of sunscreen as of yesterday.

The clouds move on the stiff breeze. They scud, Carly thinks. She’s not certain why—or from where—she remembers that odd word, but she’s quite sure the clouds scud.

Jen does another exaggerated kick step, and Carly puts her finger on what she’s been noticing. Where’s all Jen’s energy coming from? They’re both exhausted. Sure, they’ve only been walking for less than an hour so far today. But when you put in the miles they do, day after day after day, you wake up tired. There’s no such thing as rested. There’s no such animal as fresh.

Jen stops and looks all around them, 360 degrees. She’s been doing that all morning. Thoughtfully. As if there were something out here to see.

“Pretty here,” Jen says.

“What’s pretty about it?” Carly asks, clear in her tone that the kid is talking crazy.

“Well,” Jen says, looking all around again. Breathing in a piece of that sky. “There’s that.”

She points at the wind-whittled formations just in front of the mountainous horizon.

“You’re nuts,” Carly says. “It’s rocks.”

“Pretty rocks.”

“No such thing.”

They walk a few steps more, Jen kicking a few more times. The crunch of their footsteps and the click of kicked gravel is the only sound. That and the wind in Carly’s ears.

“The sky,” Jen says.

“We have clouds at home, you know.”

“Not the clouds. The sky.”

Carly stops. Jen walks a couple more steps, then notices and also stops.

“You’re being stupid,” Carly says. “It’s the same sky everywhere.”

“No, it isn’t. I never saw a sky like this one.”

“Don’t they teach you anything in school? The sky is the sky. Each place doesn’t have its own sky.”

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