Excerpt

“En Route”

What was she thinking?

Escape.

The bus ride from Savannah to Parris Island was silent except for the low hum of the engine. The driver kept his eyes on the road and didn’t acknowledge the presence of the forty-or-so disheveled teenagers on his bus. Most of the stale-smelling and wrinkled travelers were too tired or too scared to speak. The air was thick with the musky scents of the Savannah paper plant, the Beaufort County marshes, body odor, and the hint of rain that wanted to fall but had not been granted permission. Apparently air conditioning was a comfort they didn’t deserve. Even though it was past midnight, the early-August breeze was hot and humid. The handful of open windows offered just enough draft to keep her skin from sticking to her clothes, but she could feel the sweat as it formed and pooled in the open spaces beneath her bra. She ignored the sweat inching its way toward her belly button; she sat motionless with her head pressed against the window.

There were long stretches of darkness on the route from the airport to the island. She looked up hoping to see stars, but the sky was as black as the asphalt. For the first time in two months, the ice storm in her heart had thawed in bearable degrees, but now she could feel the ache in her chest—the pain that accompanies loss. She had finally done something that felt right, and it had upset everyone she loved.

It was strange how one night could change everything.

She could see how her actions had seemed rash.

“You did what?” Her mother’s shriek was intensified by the clatter of breaking glass against the kitchen tile floor.

Molly had moved quickly to pick up the pieces; her mother had stood still.

“Molly, stand up and look at me,” she’d said.

Molly had obeyed but had trouble meeting her eyes. Instead, she had focused on the small red dot that had begun forming a squiggly line down her mother’s left ankle. “Ma, you’re cut.”

“What happened to our plans, your plans, for college?”

Molly shrugged her shoulders.

“Didn’t you think I might deserve consultation in a decision like this?

Molly nodded her head “yes.”

“So what were you thinking?”

Escape.

“Answer me!”

Molly closed her eyes against the tears. She couldn’t answer.

“You do realize our country is at war, don’t you?”

“But the recruiter said…”

“The recruiter will tell you whatever he has to so you’ll sign your life away!” She had shouted and begun crying so hard she could no longer speak. She slumped into a kitchen chair, her anger apparently traded for despair.

Molly sat in the chair next to her, hands in her lap, legs crossed at the ankles, her head bowed as if she were praying. She waited for her mother to calm down.

“What’s going on with you, Molly? You haven’t seen any of your friends since graduation—and Beth? Have you spoken to Beth yet?”

Molly shook her head “no.”

“You need to talk to her, Molly. She is your best friend, no matter what happened between Nick and her.”

“I don’t have time, Ma. I ship tomorrow.”

Molly had kissed her mother on the cheek and run out of the kitchen. She could hear her telling her to “come back here right now” as she ran up the stairs. But she kept going and locked herself in her room. She simply had not known how to have that kind of conversation with her mother.

The bus stopped. A big red sign, bordered by palm trees, greeted the newcomers; it announced the entrance to Parris Island. The driver opened the doors, and a military policeman spoke in hushed tones with him as another one boarded the bus. He walked the aisle from the front to the back and then to the front again, studying each of them as if they were criminals. The Marine didn’t speak. Then he got off the bus; the driver closed the doors, and they resumed speed.

There was one road onto the island, and as they crossed the bridge, Molly could tell that the tide was out. She could see that there was only silt where she had expected to see water. The smell of the mud was overbearing.

Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and she was long accustomed to the weight of humid air in her lungs. And it occurred to her then: she hadn’t really been trying to escape a place. It was her own skin she needed to crawl out of.

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