Authors: Anna Kyss
Other Books by Anna Kyss
Wings of Shadow
(The Underground Trilogy, Book 1)
Wings of Memory
(The Underground Trilogy, Book 2)
cell phone rings, I ignore it and pull the covers over my head. If Robbie were still around, I would jump to answer my phone. Now, I prefer to burrow under my comforter and block everyone out.
The ding of a voicemail competes against the pounding at my door. I can’t imagine who would be bothering me. My friends haven’t come around in weeks.
“Abby, I know you’re inside,” Nicole, the residence advisor for our floor, calls. “We need to talk.”
Great, what does she want?
It can’t be good news.
I stumble out of bed and open the door. Nicole scrutinizes me from head to toe. Her gaze lingers on my mussed hair and wrinkled pajamas before shifting to the growing pile of soiled clothes on the floor.
“How long has it been since you left your room?” she asks.
I sigh. “Why does it matter?”
“You haven’t even collected your mail.” She deposits a pile of letters and pamphlets into my hands. After I set them down, she hands me an official-looking envelope. “This one must be opened immediately. Dean’s orders.”
The Dean. Oh no. I thought if I hid away up here, I could escape everyone’s notice, but that theory didn’t work. I slowly tear open the envelope.
Notice of Academic Dismissal.
The large, bolded words are impossible to ignore. I quickly scan the letter.
Poor attendance. Missing assignments in all classes. Unexcused absences during mid-term testing. Low grade point average.
I can’t think of grades and assignments when Robbie’s gone. Most days, I don’t want to function without him.
The final line catches my attention.
Must vacate premises within the month.
“Nicole, what does this mean?”
She presses her lips together before glancing around my messy room. “You’ve been kicked out.”
I breathe in once, twice, three times, before asking, “Isn’t there any kind of appeal? I can’t move home.”
Nicole holds out her hands, exasperated. “If you had responded to the first three letters that were sent, you could have appealed. It’s too late, Abby.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard those two words. They, like nearly everything else, remind me of Robbie.
She heads out the door. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Good luck finding new housing.”
I lock the door and crumple to the floor.
How am I possibly going to explain this to my parents?
My father’s already been hounding me for weeks. When I check the missed call, it lists Home. Reluctantly, I listen to the message.
“Abigail, it’s your father. Since you never seem to pick up your phone anymore, I’ll have to communicate my concerns via voicemail. I’m still waiting for you to forward your midterm grades to me. I can’t emphasize the importance of keeping your GPA as high as possible this year. Graduate schools consider all four years and if you slip up, well… we’ve had this conversation before. Call your mother. She misses hearing your voice. I hope this lack of communication is due to diligent studying, rather than stewing about that boy.”
That boy. I delete the rest of his message and throw down my phone.
How could he possibly refer to Robbie as “that boy?”
After everything I’ve been through.
My tidy desk stands out against the backdrop of dirty laundry, old food, and trash. Its wooden surface contains only four things: notebook paper, a supply of pens, and two neat stacks of purple envelopes.
I settle at the desk, take out a fresh piece of paper, and place my pen to the page.
Dear Robbie, I need you more than ever.
For the next fifteen minutes, I pour out my agitation, worries, and fears on the page. With each new sentence, my body calms. When I’ve leaked every last drop of emotion onto the paper, I seal it into one of the purple envelopes. I kiss the envelope and place it atop the stack of other sealed ones. Even if I never send them, the orderly purple pile brings me comfort.
I can’t return home. I would never survive the lectures and the shaming. I’m barely enduring already.
I slide back into bed but send the pile of mail soaring across my comforter. A pamphlet lands near my pillow, and the letters catch my eye. WWOOF.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The pamphlet describes how the organization is recruiting volunteers for small, organic farms around the world. Lodging and meals are complimentary. More importantly, they have immediate openings.
After doing some research online, I settle on the most remote farm I can find. Australia. I have a passport, so that’s not an issue. When I check my spending account balance, it has barely moved this semester, not surprising since I never go out. One of the benefits of self-isolation, I suppose. I have enough money for a round-trip ticket and a little extra for spending expenses.
Maybe flying halfway round the world is exactly what I need. I can isolate to my heart’s desire, and no one will ask me about my past. If I run far enough, maybe I can outdistance the things that haunt me.
I stand at the motorboat’s bow, briny water covers me in a light mist. Salty droplets crystallize on my nose and cheeks in the hot summer sun. Even my denim shorts and sunshine yellow tank don’t take away the incongruity of summer in December. I should be bundled up in sweaters, a scarf, and mittens, rather than letting my body soak in the delicious warmth. December is the time to gather with family, build snowmen with my herd of nieces and nephews, cozy under a blanket for a movie with…
Which is exactly why I’m here and not back home in Ohio; too many memories. I can’t bear to watch my family laugh and love when my happiness is gone. December is the month of memories, and all I want is to escape the destruction of mine.
The blurred shore comes into focus, and I study each detail. A single trail leads from the dock up the wooded hillside. Lush vegetation, rather than houses or buildings, covers the land, which is exactly how I want it. Isolation sounds lovely.
Then I spot a guy resting upon the dock. His bronzed skin stands out from the pale winter flesh I just left behind.
Looking at the muscles swelling beneath that golden skin, I try to guess his age. He appears more mature than the boys in my dorm do, but there’s something youthful about him, too. Maybe it’s the way he sits along the edge of the dock, a smile on his face and his feet in the water.
His bare feet make little ripples as they splash around in the bay. His rolled-up jeans dip daringly close to the water but remain dry. He raises one foot out of the water, points it in my direction, and waves.
I lift my gaze past his jeans, past his bare chest, to his face. His smile widens and he waves again, using his hand this time. I slide to the bottom of the boat then slump against the side so it hides my entire body. I cannot believe he caught me staring—no, ogling, him.
What’s even harder to believe is that I
looking, and I actually enjoyed what I saw. The guilt serves as a cool pail of water dumped over my flaming cheeks. It damps the fires of embarrassment.
More waves threaten to come unless I find my notebook. Frantically, I search my backpack for it. My trusty pen is woven in the metal looping. I place it against the fresh page and sigh as the words pour out:
I never imagined I would be here, halfway across the world, without you. It doesn’t feel fair I have the freedom to explore, while you are…
Why couldn’t we travel through Australia hand-in-hand? Of course, if we could be together, I wouldn’t be here to begin with. Funny thing I’m learning, though. No matter how far you run, you can’t outdistance your problems.
I miss you, Robbie.
I carefully tear out my letter before folding it and placing it into a small purple envelope. As the envelope joins the others, my heart slows, my muscles calm, and my mind relaxes. Finally in control, I slip on my backpack and stand up, only to find myself staring in the eyes of Mr. Bronze.
“You must be the new volunteer.” He doesn’t speak with any of the exotic Australian dialects I was expecting.