Alice cupped her ear to the door inside her bedroom. She could hear her parents down the hall, arguing in the living room. It was her fault. It was always her fault when they argued. Even if they said it wasn’t—it was.
She hadn’t seen her dad in almost a week. It was her fault that he was always leaving. He didn’t blame her for Kristen. But, Kristen was her fault too. They were told not to go into the pool. They went anyway. Since then, nothing had been the same. Especially with her mother. Her mother blamed her dad, but she blamed herself. Before the day at the pool, they would play dolls and brush each other’s hair, Mommy, Kristen, and Alice. But since the day at the pool they hadn’t brushed each other’s hair once. That was almost two years ago. Alice was getting ready to go into the fourth grade. She missed Kristen. And she missed playing dolls and brushing hair. Her dad tried. But he didn’t brush the same. And besides. He was always leaving to make money, or her mother was making her leave, and he never had enough time.
Alice listened to the muffled words still sharp enough to pierce through the door. They were words she was not allowed to say. Her mother was mad. She was the one who kicked him out of the house and then was mad that he stayed away. Alice knew where he was. He was at the horse track, trying to make money for everyone. He was always at the horse track. That’s where he bought her the wooden puppet of Black Stallion. He brought it back for her the last time he disappeared for a week. It was her favorite. Kristen had Shae Shae. But Alice had Black Stallion. One time her dad took her to the track and they bet on a black horse and it won, and her mother was so happy that she cooked a roast and made brownies for dinner. But, by the way, her mother was yelling today, it sounded like he might’ve lost. He usually lost. But he tried. Alice loved that about her dad. No matter what, he tried.
Alice took her ear from the door and walked over to her bed. She reached under it and pulled out a note pad and pencil. On the pad was the beginning of a note. It started:
I know you don’t love me anymore. I know it’s all my fault. I know you want me to be gone. I won’t stay here anymore. Goodbye. Please stop making Daddy leave. I know you love him. So I will leave. I don’t want anyone to…
Alice stared at her own words, choking back tears, trying to read them in her head louder than the words coming from the living room. The arguing was becoming unbearable. Maybe if she brought this letter out to them, they would see how much they were hurting her, and they would stop fighting, and they would try to be a family again. She kept writing.
…try and stop me or follow me. Everyone will be much happier once I am gone.
With love and crying,
Alice folded the letter in half and put it on the little nightstand in her room. High above her desk was the Black Stallion on the shelf where she kept it. She climbed the desk to get it down. Under her bed was a bright red backpack, already packed with clothes. It had been packed from the last time she was in her room listening to her mother and dad fight. She unzipped it and carefully put Black Stallion inside. This was it. Every other time it wasn’t. But this was the time. Nothing was going to get better. She’d find a place in Raoul Wallenberg Forest to make a home, and eat berries and maybe learn how to hunt for food. There was a big bush by the crooked tree she could use to make a tent for the first couple of nights, and then figure it out from there.
And once she was gone awhile, things would go back to happy. Kristen would never have wanted this. Kristen would’ve wanted happy. She was sure.
Alice took one last look at her room and then opened her bedroom window. She hadn’t noticed the arguing had stopped. There was a knock at her door.
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