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Part II (Part I here)

After arriving at the police station, I remember standing alone in a room the size of an office cubicle, with three men in dark uniforms inspecting me from behind a glass window. The walls were close. My head felt too heavy, and I kept jerking it to try to hold it up. I was in a sort of daze, teetering in a narrow space between two dented, muddy orange-colored doors on either side. On my left, I noticed the teenage guy from the police car peering in through a small, double-paned window at the top of the locked door. On my right, there was an identical door, but as far as I could tell there was no one on the other side. I could kind of see a dim hallway beyond it, and I assumed it led to the next place they’d put me.

“Take off your shoes!” The men were yelling at me. “Take off your shoes!” It sounded louder and clearer this time. I glanced down at the floor and could see why I felt so wobbly. My ankles were crossed and I was squeezing my thighs together, balancing on the edges of my feet. My shoes? Reaching out to the wall behind me, I steadied myself. I bent down to remove my left shoe, and then as I was taking off the right, I started listening to the men in earnest. They had stopped shouting. I guess because I was finally acknowledging them and complying with their orders, they no longer needed to act openly hostile toward me.

Now, though, I could hear them talking about me and laughing. One said, “She’s probably pregnant and that kid out there’s the father.” Then they all cracked up. “Maybe they were planning to get married,” added another. Again, the cackling. I probably blushed a little before I quickly shifted to thinking about how sexist they were.

In fact, I had barely looked at that boy, and I had not uttered a word to anyone. Why couldn’t I have my own reasons for running away?

I don’t blame the boy for being confused. A couple of months before, we had met in Las Vegas while I was on a summer trip out West with a bunch of other kids. He had wanted a break from visiting with family, and we were looking for something age-appropriate to do in a casino. Our chaperones insisted that we not go too far, so we all hung out near his car in the parking lot behind the building. For the afternoon and most of the evening, we had loitered and flirted. When we parted, the boy and I had exchanged addresses and kissed good-bye. Still, I had felt certain I would never see him again because we lived on opposite sides of the country.

I guess he saw things differently. He wrote to me several times, even though I never replied. I liked getting romantic letters from an older boy, but I mostly read them out of curiosity and then stuffed them in a drawer.

Then I got a letter inviting me to come visit him in Long Beach whenever I wanted. It didn’t matter when, he wrote, because he and his 24-year-old brother lived alone. He promised his brother would be “cool about the whole thing.” The invitation to go to a place where there would be no parents to tell me how I had messed up, embarrassed them, or made them furious was the most exciting thing that I had ever seen. It seemed like a safe way out.

A few weeks later, without any warning or explanation, I had shown up on his doorstep carrying a large suitcase. When he opened his apartment door, though, I could see policemen hovering behind him. Just like that, my one shot at getting away disintegrated. Then in kind of a chain reaction, every sense in my body began shutting down. With my ears ringing, my eyes glazing over, and my voice muted, my mind felt like a blank video screen snowing and crackling with static.

I have no idea what the police and that poor guy discussed while I stood there feeling empty. All I know is that I could not participate in their conversation. If I had not been out of it and speechless, I would have told the boy not to get in the police car with me. If I had been able to communicate, I could have explained that I had traveled all this way not because I wanted to be with him, but because I wanted to escape.

Now, as I glanced at him lingering behind the thick metal door at the police station, furrowing his eyebrows with concern, I really did feel guilty. I wanted to tell him that I was sorry and that it was not his fault that I didn’t have feelings for him. I didn’t know him, and if he thought he knew me, it was only a fantasy.

I couldn’t handle any more made-up stories. The pretending was what had made me feel so crazy. I wasn’t crazy, though. I was a 14-year-old girl who was scared and tired of living with stories that had never been true. So I had packed my things and stolen my mother’s credit card and some money to pay for food, a hotel room, and transportation to take me as far from home as possible.

(Part III here)

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