Susannah ran. She didn’t know where she was going, but she had to get as far away as possible. The crisp wind nipped at her face, wiping her tears for her as she blinked them away furiously, trying not to trip over her own feet as she ran through the streets, glowing orange and purple in the dim light of the setting sun.
She ran, and ran, and ran until she thought her legs might fall off. The sun had disappeared under the horizon, leaving the small town draped in darkness. Susannah finally collapsed near the edge of the woods, in a large, overgrown field.
She knew this field. It was used for recreation during the day, people came to play frisbee or soccer or just run around with their children. She didn’t come here often, but the town was so small that it was practically impossible to not know about a place this big and public. Given how late it was, Susannah wasn’t surprised to see that the field was completely empty.
Susannah sat and laid herself down on the ground, not caring that it was damp and uncomfortable. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried her best not to think about home. Home, where she’d lost hope and tried to end it all. Home, where Susannah’s own father had tried to drag her to a mental hospital because of it. Home, that wasn’t even really home anymore, considering that her gut reaction was to run and never look back.
God, where was she gonna go? She didn’t even take anything with her. The only things that belonged to her that she could recover (other than the small phone tucked in her pocket) were the things she had at school: her ukulele, the spare bag of clothes that she kept in her locker, and any food or snacks she could buy from the cafeteria before her father inevitably terminated her account.
Shit, school. How was she supposed to keep going to school if the teachers and Miss Asp would still be trying to contact her parents? Her father would surely try to pull her out and hunt her down. Or he’d just ignore Susannah’s existence and refuse to pay for anything anymore, but leave her in school. She couldn’t decide which was worse.
Susannah absentmindedly gripped the bandage around her wrist.
No. Stop thinking about school and dad and what comes next. Don’t spiral.
She forced the thoughts out of her mind, and opened her eyes. Susannah was met with a frankly beautiful image. The town was fairly good at regulating pollution, and there were no clouds out tonight, so the stars shone bright and plentiful above her. Susannah never learned any constellations, but she occupied her mind for the time being by making up shapes of her own.
“Hmm,” she hummed to herself. “That one looks sort of like a cat. But not a regular house cat… closer to something like a leopard. But the face still looks so small and sweet…” She trailed off in thought.
“What looks like a cat?” Susannah jumped at the voice, sitting bolt upright and swiveling around so fast she might’ve broken her neck if she wasn’t careful. She visibly relaxed when she saw the signature leather jacket and eyebrows raised in amusement.
“Goodness, Sheila, you scared me.” Sheila took a step closer, glancing up at the stars rather than looking Susannah in the eye.
“Sorry, didn’t think anyone would be out here.” There was a pause where neither of them spoke. Sheila looked back down at Susannah, who diverted her attention to the ground, taking a blade of grass between her fingers and bending it back and forth. “What’re you doing out so late?”
Susannah had a bit of an internal conflict over how to answer the question. She trusted Sheila, it would be so easy to tell her what had really happened. On the other hand, Sheila was barely an acquaintance. They’d met at an afterschool event a few months ago, and only talked a few times since, though Susannah couldn’t deny that she wished they were closer. There was really no reason for her to spill all her mental problems to Sheila, and who knows what she’d think of Susannah afterward. She didn’t want to ruin their already tentative friendship.
Against her will, she blurted out, “I ran away from home.” Sheila was quiet. Susannah turned to look at Sheila when she heard some movement next to her, seeing Sheila moving to sit down on the grass beside Susannah.
“Would it be alright if I asked why?” Contrary to what Susannah expected, her face was soft and her voice was quiet, leaving the choice up to her and not forcing any information or sneering in disgust. Susannah took a deep breath. This was probably not smart, but she felt safe around Sheila somehow. She felt like she could trust this girl, who had an infamous reputation around school and looked like she had almost certainly broken the law on multiple occasions. And yet…
Susannah told her. Starting all the way from the beginning, how she’d been homeschooled for most of her life, but her parents wanted Susannah out of the house and sent her to real school for freshman year of high school. Told Sheila about how much harder things got from there, being bullied and shoved into a box of expectations by not only her parents, but now her teachers and peers as well. Told Sheila about Francis, the ex who had manipulated her for his own gain. Told Sheila about how her grandmother died, and she spiraled into a depression slump that may or may not have even been related to the loss. Told Sheila about how she took some pills to try and relieve the pain. Told Sheila everything, right up until the end, where she refused the idea of a mental hospital and ran.
And Sheila listened, never once interrupting Susannah, never once laughing at her story or calling her a weirdo like Francis had when she’d tried opening up to him. No, she sat and listened, nodding and gently taking Susannah’s hand when a few tears started to slip out again.
Once she finished, Sheila spoke up again. “You know, you’re not alone.” She pulled aside the collar of her jacket to show Susannah the rough scar across her neck. “I was a freshman too. Lied to Judith about it. Nobody else knows.”
Oh. That explained why Sheila didn’t run away. Honestly, it was comforting to know that she wasn’t the only one, that even someone who was so very different from her could share an experience like this. She wiped her face with the hand that wasn’t still in Sheila’s grasp, sniffling and breathing slowly to try and gather herself. She must look like a mess right now. Sweaty, exhausted, and ugly crying in the middle of an empty field late at night. But Sheila still looked at her with so much compassion and empathy in her eyes.
Nope. Susannah’s mind jolted back into reality.
“What is it?” Sheila’s voice was laced with badly hidden concern.
“No, nothing, I just- I just remembered school. I couldn’t possibly go back home, and my dad’s probably gonna try to pull me out of school. Either that or he’ll just leave me, but then I’d have to lie to my teachers and Miss Asp and I wouldn’t be able to get parental permission for anything and when they call him he wouldn’t answer or he would and he’d tell them everything and-”
“Woah, woah, woah,” Sheila interrupted her rambling. “Breathe.” She took a deep breath in, gesturing for Susannah to do the same. She did, and they sat like that for a few minutes, until Susannah calmed down again. “You know, we’re pretty similar.”
Susannah raised an eyebrow and laughed. Sheila smiled.
“No, really! We both got so close to the edge that we almost died by our own hands. Runaways, disconnected from our parents. I’d say we’re in the same boat, but that’s not really right. I think I read somewhere that people aren’t in the same boat, but rather in the same storm with different boats. Your boat looks a bit rickety, wanna hop on ours?”
“Yeah, me and the other girls. You know the group: Judith, Dorothy, Kitty, Rat, Ya-Ya. Most of us are homeless, or at the very least don’t like our families. Judith and I discovered an old abandoned cabin in the woods right over there a few years ago," She gestured to the trees over her shoulder, "and we’ve turned it into a home. We all spend most of our time there, it’s like a little haven for us. You could come stay with us too. And don’t worry about school, I do forgeries and Dorothy does impersonations. We’ll tell Miss Asp that your dad changed his number and reassign it as one of Dorothy’s. If you have a recording of his voice, she can use that, but if not, no worries, she does pretty well off description too.” Susannah gaped in awe. That sounded perfect. A group of girls just like her… They could keep her in school and alive until she could get herself a job and become more independent. “So? What do you think?”
“I think… that sounds incredible. I’d love to.” Sheila smiled, not breaking eye contact with Susannah. This was so crazy. She’d spilled her life story to Sheila Nail, of all people. The second toughest kid in their high school - and certainly the most attractive, though Susannah would never let herself think that. Sheila absentmindedly stroked the back of Susannah’s hand with her thumb, and it made Susannah’s insides tumble over themselves. She ducked her head, hoping Sheila wouldn’t see her face go red, despite the darkness.
Sheila nudged her shoulder to get her to look up again, and she did, only to find that Sheila wasn’t looking at her, but rather gazing up at the stars.
“Was ‘ocelot’ the animal you were looking for?” Susannah paused, remembering talking to herself about the constellations before Sheila showed up. Sheila turned to meet her eyes, and there was a moment of silence before they both dissolved into laughter, Susannah dropping her head onto Sheila’s shoulder.
Maybe things would work out for her.