She walked down the twenty-two steps to the street and turned left. Don’t look back, she thought. She smiled and walked faster; her old sneakers already starting to soak up the rain puddles that she stepped in on purpose. Headstrong was what her grandmother called her when neither she nor her mother thought she could hear. “But she's a little girl!” her mother would answer.
Little girl indeed, she was fifteen, almost sixteen and knew how to take care of herself. It took only about twenty minutes to walk to her friend Susan's house, so she wouldn’t be too wet when she got there. She had to step to the side of the narrow road a couple of times when cars came by and one of them splashed her jeans with water and mud. She yelled after the car, swearing just to hear herself swear. She walked faster, her arms crossed over her chest to keep herself warm as she went.
Finally she arrived at Susan's house, knocking at the door and waiting for a response. It seemed like forever, but finally Susan came to the door.
"Oh, I was waiting for you," she said. "My cousin and her baby are over and my mom said I can't have any company after my deficiency in math. Sorry."
She had walked all the way from home in the damn rain, and she couldn't go in?
"Oh, Ok, I'll just go home then,” she said, smiling a fake smile.
"You're getting wet you know," Susan said, looking at her meaningfully, her brows knit.
She only grimaced as the door closed; some friend, she thought as she turned away, see if I help her with homework again.
For a moment she stood under the cover of the porch, out of the increasing drizzle. She didn't want to go home and admit to her mother that she had made a mistake. Where could she go? Cassie lived another six blocks away. Cassie lived with her grandmother and they were always home in the evening. Dark was coming quickly and the wind was now picking up. If she was going to be going anywhere else she had better get going.
Arms still wrapped tightly about her she made her way down another street, then down some steep, slippery steps to the next street and down another three blocks to the old one story frame house Cassie shared with her grandmother. There were no lights and the old beat up Datsun that her grandmother drove was not in the driveway. She knocked hard and long, but no one was there. Trying the door she opened it a little.
The sound of the loud, angry dog was right there in her face and she barely closed the door before it got out. She thought she had screamed a little, too, but was not sure. Boomer was Cassie's father's dog and did not like strangers. It particularly did not like strangers who entered the house when the owner was not there. She had completely forgotten about the dog, which Cassie and her grandmother were taking care of. Her heart was beating hard now, pounding in her chest and she felt like crying. Where the heck was she, anyway, she wondered, looking up and down the darkening street for any sign of her. Now she was most of a mile away from home, and the rain had soaked her shirt completely through. Her pants were sopping wet half way to her knees and her shoes squished when she walked.
Home suddenly felt very good. But, could she just walk home like this? She had to, she decided, setting off up the hill, then turning onto the long set of steps. Halfway up was a dark patch of rain-soaked wood. In the dimming light she could not see very well at all and stepped on it wrong, twisting her ankle. As she tried to regain her balance she fell against the railing and it broke, sending her falling in the wet, prickly bushes, her knee hitting a rock under them as she landed. It was not a long fall, but it scared her, and her knee exploded in pain. She started to cry as she laid there, the rain now coming down harder. Her ankle was twisted, she would feel it. Painfully, still crying, she examined herself and decided nothing important had been broken. It hurt, though, to put weight on her ankle and she had a hard time climbing out of the wet, slippery weeds onto the walkway. She looked down at herself and found that she was covered with dirt and bits of vegetation. Tears now ran freely, mixing with the dirt and rain on her face.
Pulling herself together as well as she could she stumbled up the walkway toward the street she needed to reach, each step painful. She was not making the kind of time she had on the way down and now it was raining harder and the wind was whipping past her, driving the rain into her face. It seemed like forever before she made it to her street, her legs trembling and her body shaking from the cold and frustration of the last half an hour.
As she turned onto the street a large, over sized pickup drove by, going too fast, hitting the large mud puddle that had gathered there at the foot of the street where the drain always clogged, splashing her from head to toe with the muddy, dirty water. The truck did not even slow down as she wailed after it in the rain. She sat on the curb then and sobbed, wanting nothing more than her mother at that moment, the warm house and her room that she always said was too small.
With an effort she stood and started up the street. One foot moved in front of another, water now running down her back and into her wet, sagging jeans, so wet they threatened to slide off her narrow hips from the weight. She tugged at them and continued. It was nearly full dark now and lights were coming on. There, fifty yards ahead, was the light of their living room, with the curtains open to reveal the light above her mother's chair. She stumbled and nearly fell as She started again, her dragging pants leg tripping her.
The steps seemed a hundred feet tall as she climbed them and finally reached the door and safety. She turned the knob and stopped. Locked; her mother had locked the door. That was it, the final straw in this terrible evening and she began to sob and pound listlessly on the door. It was no more than a moment, but seemed a century for the wet, soggy girl when it opened and her mother appeared, her face a picture of worry and then shock as she saw the state he daughter had returned in.
"Oh, my God! What has happened to you?"
"I.. I'm sorry mama.. I… I fell."
"Oh dear, come in here and get out of those clothes."
She was inside then and her mother had her undressed in seconds, wrapped in a blanket and into the bathroom where she drew a hot bath. Every scrape and bump had to be examined and treated; her hair washed and brushed by her mother. She sniffled and snuffled through it all, not saying a word, and for some reason her mother knew that she wanted to just be quiet for a while. Finally she was in her nightgown and a robe and ensconced on the couch with a cup of tea, a fire burning in the fireplace.
Her mother sat there, looking at her, worry and love in her eyes. She almost winced at the pain she saw their. It hurt her more than any scrape she had received.
"Can you tell me what happened?'
"I was stupid. I thought it would be better somewhere else. I walked to Susan's and she couldn't let me in… Cassie wasn't home and her dog scared me and I fell on the steps and then in the weeds and a truck almost hit me…" Her voice trailed off and she sniffled a little, frowning.
Her mother smiled a little at her grimace.
"You know, home isn’t so bad after all," she finally said, looking at her mother as though she had been gone a long time.
"Welcome home dear," her mother said, tears in her eyes, as the rain pattered against the window pane and the firelight flickered.