Runner up in the English Language and Literature Division Creative Writing Competition - Creative Nonfiction

“But I’ll make it out.” That’s what Blaire told me, her fine cheek bones alight in the dusk.

I was young—nine, ten?—but I knew that she would. And I knew that she couldn’t take me.

She turned up the radio, the song about a girl who gets up and gone with some boy, a handsome boy, a wicked boy, any boy. Any one with a job and a house, one who could set her free.      Blaire had a Tracker, which is open like a Jeep. It was a garish mustard color that somehow worked for Blaire as she handled the stick shift as a violinist pivots her bow. Gliding.

My walking cane was sitting propped between my legs, and I rested my chin on its handle, considering her.

Today, the sun had been golden in its power, in its bake. We’d been on the back roads, Blaire my guide to my own city. She knew all its crevices of eccentricity—the hideout down a mile-long dirt path through the forest. The remains of a burned-out mansion twenty minutes outside of town.

Just a few months after that day, she came for me when a house caught fire in the neighborhood where she and I lived.

I woke up to her shaking my shoulder. “Your mom sent me for you,” she said, handing me the cane.

We stood outside and watched the house burn down, waiting while my mom helped our now-homeless neighbors. Blaire’s mom was out with the guys, with a chip on her shoulder. With a bottle of something strong.

Fire light played across all of us neighbors, mirroring us in shadow as something fell into nothing. Firemen killing the flames and the last of the house with it. I grasped Blair’s hand and thought yes, she will make it out ahead of the fire, she will find air beyond the smoke.

Soon, Mom came and found us. We waited along with everyone else, as if in some uncertain vigil for the house. As if to watch for some last ghost of home that it would give up.

Blaire glanced at us, knowing that she should go back to her own home soon. But grasping my hand more tightly instead. Don’t send me away, I imagined her saying.

How bad must it be, I wondered, to prefer standing outside a smoldering house with your kid neighbor over going back home.

Even then I wondered at how two girls could be so similar but have such different moms. Blaire’s with her need for fighting almost as much as for the alcohol. Her empty rages that went only dormant, never out.

My mom and her…waiting. Waiting all those times when the physical therapist would lead me across the room, when I’d curse him for asking me to even move. But Mom would say again, “Oh, I really think you’re walking better today.”

I watched Blair steel herself, breathing measured and shoulders set. “I need to leave,” she said and let go. “Mom doesn’t like coming home to a messy house.”

She spared me a half-grin. “I’ll see you later.”

I waved and wondered who was supposed to wake her in the night and hold her hand against the flame.

That person’s name was Peter.

“Eighteen is too young to get married. Don’t be idiots,” everyone told her. Everyone is usually right about that. But Blaire had survived living with a drunk, had run the household, and been working all that time. She’d already lived a lifetime before this.

We watched their first dance, her swirl of ivory and beading. The flash of his eyes against the blue decorations that Blaire had chosen just to match them. Any boy. Freedom she’d have.

The music faded, changed shape into something more casual. The couple broke apart; they’d pair off with someone from the audience.

Peter scanned the crowd. Stopped on me. Heaven help me.

I looked down, not at the floor but at my leg brace. It kept my ankle rigid, my steps clumsy and dense. Would he have me limp across the floor? In front of them all? His hand was out now, reaching.

Don’t make me, I tried to say with a look.

Don’t let me stand here alone, he seemed to answer.

And thump…thump…thump went the little cyborg girl.

We fell into a timid box-step. “Thank you,” he whispered. I started to reply, but he cut in.

“Look at her—she’s so much better at this.” I watched Peter as he watched my Blaire how she’d always deserved to be seen. This one, I thought. He knows how to handle broken things. I no longer needed to worry about her.

The sound of other feet getting on the dance floor covered up my thumping, until there was just music and my humming along. Maybe I didn’t need to worry over Me anymore either.