Authors: Kody Keplinger
BECAUSE THERE’S NO ONE ELSE
I COULD DEDICATE THIS STORY TO.
I LOVE YOU.
I’m waiting for the sirens.
I know it don’t make much sense. The police ain’t coming for me—not yet, anyway—but I already feel like a fugitive.
My flip-flops slap against the muddy ground, and soggy leaves cling to my bare legs. Tree limbs catch and tangle and snap in my hair. I should’ve put it up before I left. But I’d barely had time to pack, let alone think about my damn hair.
“Slow down, stupid dog.” Utah’s leash cuts into my fingers. She’s running faster than I can, her tail swishing back and forth, like this is some kinda game.
By the time we reach the edge of the woods, I’m panting harder than the dog is. My chest hurts and my lungs feel like they’re screaming for air, but I ain’t got time to catch my breath.
She’s waiting for me, standing there behind her parents’ garage. In the moonlight, she looks like some sorta ghost. Her skin is so white it seems to glow, and her long black hair is darker than the night around her. She looks beautiful, and I look feral. Not that she can see me or anything else right now.
“Agnes,” I whisper so as not to scare her. My voice is ragged. I swallow and say her name again. “Agnes.”
I’m about to reach out for her when Utah decides she’s got first dibs. Agnes squeals, startled, as my dog jumps up and licks her right on the nose.
“Shh!” I yank Utah back, and Agnes covers her mouth.
Neither of us move for a minute. We stand, frozen, listening. But the only sounds are the crickets and a few loudmouthed bullfrogs down by the Putnams’ pond.
Slowly, Agnes lowers her hand. “You brought the dog? Really, Bo?”
“Sure as hell ain’t gonna leave her,” I say. “Did you get the keys?”
She nods and reaches into the front pocket of her jeans. She holds them out about a foot to my left. I don’t say nothing, though. I take a quick step to the side and wrap my hand around two cold keys, their jagged edges digging into my palm.
“Come on.” I take her arm and loop it through mine, then guide her around the side of the detached garage. Utah trots along on my left, while Agnes’s cane makes quiet thuds in the grass to my right. “Which key?” I ask when we get to the side door.
“Neither. They never lock the garage.”
“Nothing’s been stolen before.”
“I’m not sure this counts as stealing.”
But I’m pretty damn sure it does.
I turn the knob and push open the door. Agnes lets go of my arm and slides her hand along the wall until she finds the light switch. A fluorescent light flickers on above us, revealing two cars parked side by side. One is the Atwoods’ regular car, a white Toyota. But the other is an old silver Chevy I ain’t seen before.
“My sister’s car,” Agnes says, like she’s reading my mind. “She’s still at college, so nobody’s using it.”
“Won’t she be home for summer soon, though?”
Agnes shrugs. “We need it more than she does.”
I can’t argue with that. Agnes and I toss our stuff in the back. Neither of our bags are heavy. We just packed what we absolutely needed. “Hop in, Utah,” I say, patting the backseat. She climbs in and licks the side of my face before I shut the door.
Agnes gets into the passenger’s seat, and I run to turn off the garage light before I slide behind the wheel. Above my head, attached to the visor, is an automatic garage door opener.
“Will your parents hear?”
“No,” Agnes says. “They sleep like rocks.”
My heart is pounding and my hands are slick with sweat as I shove one of the keys into the ignition. It takes me a few tries to get it to turn over, and the revving is so loud it makes me flinch. Her parents had better sleep like the dead, or else we ain’t even getting out of the driveway. The clock on the dashboard lights up and tells me it’s just past 3:00 a.m.
“Agnes,” I say, choking on her name. “You sure you wanna do this?”
“No.” She turns her head, and this time she’s looking right at me. “But I’m doing it anyway.”
I almost start to cry, right then and there, but I blink back the tears. My fingers fumble with the garage door opener, and a second later the groaning and creaking starts. I watch the gap between the door and ground get wider and wider. It’s been open a good minute before I shift the car into gear, and Agnes’s hand reaches out to cover mine.
“Love you, Bo,” she says.
“Love you, too.”
Every small town has that family. You hear their last name and you just shake your head because you know the whole lot of them are trouble. Not one will make it to their twenty-first birthday without being arrested at least once. Maybe it’s in their blood, or maybe it’s just how they’re raised. It’s hard to say. All you can do is steer clear because nothing good can come of getting mixed up with that bunch.
In Mursey, that family was the Dickinsons.
“They’re no good,” I grew up hearing my grandmother say every time we’d pass the double-wide where a few of them lived, on our way to church. “They’re dirty drunks and thieves. And godless, too. None of them have stepped foot in a church in generations. Probably get struck by lightning if they did.”
“Mama, please,” Daddy would say. “Don’t fill Agnes’s head with all that. There’s a Dickinson girl in her class.”
“That’s why she ought to find out now,” Grandma said. “Don’t want her getting too friendly with that girl. She’ll grow up just like the rest of them, and I don’t want Agnes to be dragged down with her.”
My parents did their best to teach me the Golden Rule—treating others the way you want to be treated and all—but it was hard to argue with Grandma when the whole town seemed to agree. The Dickinsons were a bad lot; it was a reputation they’d earned nearly a hundred years back, if town legend was correct, and it was a reputation they wouldn’t be shaking anytime soon.
You couldn’t miss a Dickinson, either. They all had lots of wavy strawberry-blond hair and eyes the color of sweet tea. At least, that’s what I’d been told. I wasn’t able to make out the color of their eyes or anybody else’s. Those little details escaped my vision. I’d been told most of the family had freckles, too, but that was something else I’d just have to take everyone’s word for.
Bo Dickinson looked just like the rest of the family. Her hair—the one feature I could really notice—was a wavy mane of gold with hints of red. Sometimes she wore it in a sloppy ponytail, but most of the time it was loose and unkempt, a mess of tangled curls and unbrushed waves. Seemed fitting, really. Her hair was as wild as she was.
Assuming the stories were right, that is. We were in the same grade, though I’d never spoken more than two words to her. But if even half the gossip was true, Bo Dickinson was wild.
“She’s a slut, that’s what she is.”
“Christy,” I hissed.
We were standing on the front steps of the Mursey Baptist Church, where we met every week before Sunday school. The minute I’d arrived this morning, Christy had grabbed my arm, pulled me aside, and said, “You won’t believe what Bo Dickinson did.” But five minutes had passed, and Christy still hadn’t gotten to whatever Bo had done. Instead, she’d spent the time recapping a whole bunch of old gossip, just in case I’d forgotten.
Bo Dickinson’s life was like a novel the whole town was working on. A collaboration that had been going on for sixteen years. You couldn’t start a new chapter without looking back on what had been written before.
“It just feels wrong,” I said. “Saying the word
“Why? God thinks she’s a slut, too. And besides, we’re not in the church yet. And I haven’t even gotten to what she did Friday night.”
“All right, well, what?”
Christy gripped my arm and squeezed. It was a thing she always did when she was excited about something. Or mad about something. “Sarah told me she heard Perry Schaffer telling his friends that Bo”—she leaned in closer and lowered her voice—“that Bo went down on him in the hayloft at Andrew’s party Friday night.”
“Doesn’t Perry have a girlfriend?”
“Yeah. Layla Masters. And she was at the party, too. I saw her.”
“Wait … You went to Andrew’s party Friday?”
Andrew was her on-and-off-again boyfriend. And as of Friday morning, at school, they’d been off.
Christy took a step back and adjusted her short auburn ponytail. “Yeah. Sorry, Agnes. I would have taken you with me, but Andrew wanted to talk, and I knew it would be too dark in his barn for you to see real well. I didn’t want to be guiding you around all night. You understand, right?”
“And Andrew and I worked things out.”
“But Bo! Can you believe it? Something is wrong with that girl.”
“And Layla is gonna freak out. I bet they’ll get in a fight in the cafeteria. Hair pulling and everything.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you.”
I didn’t know the voice at first. I hadn’t heard it enough to connect a person with it. That’s how I recognized people most of the time. Faces were just a jumble of blurred features to me, but everyone had a different voice. A different rhythm to their speech. If I knew a voice well enough, I could pick it out of a crowd, just like everybody else spotted a face.