Category Archives: Valencia

valencia // breakdown

“You don’t have to do this,” James said, as I came back to the bed with a wet cloth. He lowered the ice and gently I pressed the cloth to his face, wiping the blood from his skin.

“I don’t mind,” I said, smiling gently. He returned the smile and I found it hard to resist his charm. He must have mastered the art – with his good looks and strong jaw… and his body. We still hadn’t figured out why he was lying in Sophie’s bed in his underwear and why he didn’t have any clothes lying around but I didn’t mind at all. He was sexy. I’d been in a serious relationship since I was sixteen and still a virgin. I’d only slept with one person. No wonder this sexy, rough, and bloody stranger made me feel so hot. I was free from my boyfriend for the first time in seven years. Who cares if he hypothetically belonged to Sophie? I barely knew her. What did I care?

Darcy stormed back into the hotel room from the balcony.

“I need a fucking cigarette,” she said. “V?”

I looked over my shoulder at her, feeling James’ eyes on me as I turned away from him. “I’m out,” I told her. “Sorry, Darce.”

“Fuck,” she said, looking at James. “You? You have any?”

“I don’t smoke,” he said. “Sorry.”

“God damn it. You’re useless,” Darcy said, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “I hope that naked man in my bed has more than just condoms in his pockets. V, wait here for Sophie and… hopefully Karen.”

“Sure,” I nodded, as she hurried out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her. I turned back to James, bringing the cloth back to his face. He was still smiling.

“How do you girls know Sophie?” he asked, shifting his weight and coming in closer to me.

“We don’t really,” I confessed. He laughed. “Sophie was with Darcy and Karen. I met them last night. They needed a ride and I needed help paying for a hotel room. Voila. Problem solved.”

“You’re all sharing a hotel room and you don’t know anything about each other?” he asked.

“Worse things could have happened,” I said, wiping the last of the blood off of his face. “It seems like you’re the one who should be questioning your involvement with Sophie. We aren’t the ones who got punched in the face.”

He laughed again and shook his head. “Well, I deserved what I got,” he said. “I am, however, slightly concerned that she might have drugged me or something and who knows what she did once I was out. You don’t remember seeing me here last night?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Sorry.” I smiled at him. “I wish I remembered you.”

He smiled and reached up, gently brushing his fingers under my chin.

“A pretty girl like you,” he said. “You should be more careful in a city like this.”

Oh my God, my head just dropped right to my crotch. His eyes were absolutely…


Broken from my trance by the sound of her voice, I whipped my head to the right to see that Sophie had just stepped into the room. Right behind her stood my boyfriend, Caleb, who I hadn’t seen since my graduation party a few days before. In his hand he held a leash which was attached to the dog that I’d completely forgotten about and had apparently misplaced.

“Look who I found in the hallway,” she said. “I recognized the dog but not the boy. Turns out that they know each other. Weird.”

I pushed away from James and came to my feet, making eye contact with Caleb. He was angry, I could see it in his eyes. I didn’t blame him. Not only had I disappeared from San Francisco without an explanation but he’d called me for an answer and I’d just hung up on him and now he walked into a hotel room in Las Vegas to find me in a bed with my face six inches away from a sexy naked man.

“Caleb…” I said, stepping towards him. “How…”

“Not here, Cia,” he said, nodding to James and Sophie, who had walked across the room to set a box of donuts and four coffees on the table beside the window.

“Okay,” I nodded. “Sophie, I’ll just…”

“Sure thing, Cia,” she said, nodding. “Do what you need to do.”

I stepped forward and gently touched Caleb’s forearm to lead him out of the room. He pulled away from me and it tore my heart in two. As we stepped into the hallway, it sounded as if Sophie might have punched James in the face again but I couldn’t concern myself with that anymore. I shut the door and looked up to my boyfriend. I’d been away from him for so long and had put my mind on so many different things, that I’d allowed myself to forget how much I loved him. Just seeing his face again made me feel safe. His messy hair, his brown eyes, the lips that I loved kissing. Tears came to my eyes as I realized how badly I had treated him over the past few days.

“Cia, don’t,” he said. “Don’t even start. After what you did to me, and to your aunt and your sister… that’s not fair. Don’t give me that.”

“Caleb, I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I don’t even know what I was thinking…”

“Damn right, you don’t!” he cried, dropping the loop of Charlie’s leash around the door knob of Sophie’s room. “What the hell are you doing, Cia? What are you trying to prove? Look at you! You look like shit… like a two dollar hooker. And who the hell was that guy?”

“He’s no one! I just met him, I was just…”

“You’re throwing our relationship away over no one?!” he cried.

“No, Caleb… I’m not…” I started but I lost my breath as a sob overtook my composure. I inhaled sharply and looked up at him through my tears. “I’m going through something… and I don’t… I don’t…” I covered my face with my hands as I started sobbing again. I couldn’t find my words or the explanation that I needed to give him. I wasn’t so sure that I even had one. Although I’d had a purpose when I first headed towards Las Vegas, it seemed like I’d let the night get away from me and I’d lost my way.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Cia. After you called me from a bar in Oregon and then hung up on me, I spent the whole night worrying about you. And then at 4 o’clock this morning I get a call from a hotel manager in Las Vegas because my dog has been found wandering the halls alone. They were going to throw him in the pound so thank God that he had my phone number on his tags because who the hell knows what kind of state you were in to have lost him in the first place. What choice did I have but to get on a plane and come rescue him from whatever shit storm you’d created?” he yelled.

“Caleb, I’m sorry! I can’t say that again. I’m just… I’m looking for my mom. I need to find her,” I said. “This is what this has been about and I just… I met these friends and… it felt good to let go a little bit and stop thinking about it for just one night.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at me. “And you couldn’t come to me for that, Cia? I know more about your relationship with your mom than anyone else and you couldn’t trust me enough to talk to me about this?”

I sighed softly and wiped my eyes again. I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Caleb,” I said. “But our whole relationship is framed around my mom’s illness and I just…” I sighed deeply and looked at my boyfriend, unable to stop myself from crying. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here. Why do you keep going through this with me? I’m just like her.”

Caleb sighed and reached for me. “Cia… I’m here because I love you,” he said. “Okay? You’re not making any sense right now but you’re not anything like your mother. Look at me.” He hooked his finger underneath my chin, just like James had done just ten minutes earlier. The difference this time was that the eyes looking into mine were genuine. Caleb was everything that I had, he was my past and my future, my forever. I had put him through all of this and for what? I was chasing a ghost through the desert. My mother wasn’t dead but she was nothing more than a memory to me. It’d been so long since I’d seen her. What was I looking for?

“You’re stronger than she ever was, Cia,” he said, brushing his fingers against my cheek. He was saving me from myself again, just like he always did. He’d been saving me since I was sixteen years old. He pulled me into his arms and he kissed my forehead gently. “And because of that, you’re going to get yourself out of this mess and finish whatever it is that you’ve started here, okay?”

I nodded, burying my face into the comfort of his t-shirt. He smelled like home. Safe and familiar.

“Okay,” I said.

“I booked a room on the first floor,” he said. “148. When you’ve said good bye to your… friends… and after you get your shit together, I’ll be downstairs with Charlie waiting for you.” He was still frustrated with me, I could hear it in his voice but at least he was holding me. At least I still had that.


valencia / what happens in vegas, stays in vegas

In one single second, consciousness took hold of me and brought me back to earth. I don’t even know what it was that brought me back. Vibrations. An angry buzzing. My cell phone. I couldn’t find it. Where was it? Somewhere outside of me. I could feel it. It clattered against the floor, knocking itself into a cacophony of insistence. Was it the floor? Was I lying on the floor? No.

“Stop,” I muttered, as if I could will the thing to stop with just a simple command. I didn’t want to open my eyes. It didn’t stop. I forced myself to move. Something moved beside me. Someone groaned. I lifted my head and opened my eyes.

Darcy. She was lying in the bed next to me wearing nothing but a lacy black thong. To the right of her, was a naked black man with a ridiculous amount of morning wood. I looked down at myself. I was still dressed. Had I crawled into bed with them? What had happened?

Fucking Las Vegas.

I turned and reached for my cell phone. It was on the floor beside the bed. Last night’s alcohol consumption surged straight to my skull and pounded mercilessly. I groaned in misery as I tried to turn off the alarm on my cell phone and tried to figure out what it was for.

KAREN, it said.

“What? Karen…. shit,” I sighed, having no recollection as to why I would set an alarm named after a girl that I’d just met barely twelve hours earlier. And if Darcy was with me… where was Sophie? I looked around the room. It didn’t belong to us. It wasn’t our room.

Somehow, I managed to stumble from the bed to the door. I didn’t have my shoes. What the fuck?

My phone started vibrating again as I reached for the door of the hotel suite. The Karen alarm.

“Yeah, I get it,” I grumbled as I silenced it. But I looked again. This wasn’t my phone. I glanced back to the bed. Darcy had shifted and was now draped over her black lover whose erection was growing steadily larger. I didn’t think it was possible. I had to get out of here before I witnessed something that I didn’t need to see. I threw her phone into the sheets of the bed just as the black man roused. My head pounded angrily as I navigated my way back to the room that I’d shared with the three other girls. I reached into my bra and pulled out the key card. At least we were still on the same floor of the hotel.

I opened the door and stumbled inside, hoping Karen and/or Sophie would be fast asleep in one of the double beds. But what I found waiting for me was not what I had expected at all. Now, remembering the night before and finding Karen and Sophie were the least of my worries. This was bad. Really bad.

valencia / highway run

I watched it happen as if it were a slow motion movie playing in my rearview mirror. I couldn’t even be sure where the car came from or how it had managed to come so close to mine in such a short amount of unidentified time but there it was. I expected the impact to be worse but it wasn’t much more than a jolt. My seatbelt locked keeping me safe but poor Charlie lurched from the backseat and crumpled to the floor, still half asleep and hardly responsive. As soon as he realized what had happened, he jumped back onto the seat and began barking maliciously at the great steel invader that had connected itself to my back bumper like an Erector set.

“Charlie, SHUT UP!” I cried, reaching behind me and swatting his backside. He retracted and sat back on the seat, letting out an indignant sigh. I realized then that my cigarette was still clutched between my two fingers and I pressed it between my lips as I fumbled with my seat belt.

Outside the car, past the steaming engine of a now-useless Honda I was pleasantly surprised to find three girls about my age, all wearing different expressions and each one assessing the situation in their own unique way. The first girl, who I assumed was the driver, was a bit rough around the edges – her eyes slightly bloodshot and struggling to find focus. Maybe she’d been asleep. Or maybe she’s just high out of her mind. Either one would explain the accident. But she smiled at me so that was a good sign. The second girl seemed a little high strung, pacing pack and forth and muttering under her breath as if her anxious incantations would bring the car back to life or, perhaps, magically summon a Triple A crew. The third girl was eerily quiet, hidden behind the shadows, but her tattered dress and disheveled demeanor invoked the most interest. These three girls couldn’t be any different from one another. What the hell were they doing going to Vegas together?

I looked between the driver and our tangled vehicles.

“Well, ha. Where you headed?” she asked me.


“Funny thing,” she responded. “So are we.”

It was then that I let out a heavy sigh which turned into a breathy laugh. This was too good. I half expected a psychopathic inbred farmer to come running across the desert in our direction. I realized quickly that I was still clutching my cigarette and I suddenly felt an extreme need for nicotine. My lighter was somewhere on the passenger seat, hidden beneath layers of Taco Bell wrappers and directions to a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Vegas.

“Got a light?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

The edgy girl produced a lighter out of her pocket and stepped forward. She lit it effortlessly and offered it to me. I pulled in a drag and then exhaled, handing her the cigarette in turn. She looked like she could use it.

“Do you have a cell phone we could use?” the antsy girl asked me. She looked worse for wear – in fact, all of them did.

“Karen, who are we going to call?” the edgy girl asked, looking back at her friend. “We’re in the middle of the fucking desert.”

“There’s no reception out here, anyway,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I haven’t had any bars for about two hours now.”

“Wonderful,” Karen groaned and she pushed past her friend and circled the two cars, surveying the damage for herself.

“Don’t mind her. She’s going through a quarter-life crisis and she needs to get laid. Horrible combination if you ask me,” the edgy girl said to me. She extended her hand. “I’m Darcy. This is Sophie.” She jabbed her thumb in the direction of the shadows.

“Cia,” I smiled and shook her hand and then nodded to Sophie. “Hey.” She offered me a small smile but I could tell that she was trying to decide if she trusts me or not. I have a feeling she does. “You guys want a ride into the city? You can get a tow truck once we’re there.”

“We run into your car and you offer us a ride?” Darcy asked, eyebrow raised.

“Honestly, I’d love the company. There are only so many hours that can pass before I start expecting my dog to talk back to me,” I smiled. “Plus, I could really use a split on a hotel room. You in?”

Surprisingly, Karen is the one who responds first. “We’re in,” she said, reappearing at her friend’s side, her demeanor a little less rabid than it was a minute ago. “And thank you. It’s really nice of you to do this.”

“No problem. I’m a big fan of karma.” I said, giving them a collective smile. “Now you three figure out how to get your car to the side of the road and I’ll figure out where I’m going to put you. I hope you don’t mind a little unconditional love and some overwhelming enthusiasm because someone’s riding double with my dog.”

valencia / bright lights



A girl stands alone, leaned against the hood of her beat-up car, a cigarette perched lazily between her two lips. Her arms are crossed over her chest and her eyes are turned to the ground. She stares listlessly, her eyes without hope, her forlorn expression a recognition of defeat.

Why had I done this to myself? In one fleeting moment of restless indecision I had walked away from my life – a good and safe and stable life that I’d spent the last eight years constructing with painstaking sanity. Sometimes I worried that I was more like my mother than I’d first believed and the thought scared me.

I shivered against the cold night and pulled my cigarette from my lips and tossed it to the ground.

“Charlie!” I called, turning in the direction that my dog had last disappeared. “Come!” He bounded out from behind a bush and met me at the car his tail wagging. At least I know I could never do wrong by my dog. I scratched him behind the ears before letting him in the car and then I climbed in behind him. He sat in the passenger seat and looked at me with an eager expression.

“To the city?” I asked him. “We need some bright lights and a little bit of a distraction, don’t you think?” If I’m going to run away from my life and responsibilities, I might as well make the most of it, huh?” He wagged his tail in response, effectively trusting me with his life.

I was still unsure of how I’d made it all the way into Nevada. I’d left San Francisco days earlier and had made it to my childhood hometown near Newport, Oregon after one night’s stay and two stretches of five hour driving. But when nothing went according to my plan – when I couldn’t find my father and after I’d discovered that my mother had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas at my estranged sisters request, I had to readjust my plans.

After twelve straight hours of driving, I found myself stopped for Charlie’s pee break in the middle of fucking nowhere – a ghost town called Coaldale with a population of about, oh… zero. Four hours ahead of me lay the bright lights of Vegas and, hopefully, answers to the questions that had been running through my head all day. Like why my sister, who had nearly died from suffocation at the hands of our deranged, mentally ill mother would sign for her to be moved to a hospital in the same city where, coincidentally, she herself had been a resident for the last five years.

Four hours and maybe a casino, a few Mai Tais, and a buffet bar or two from now, I would find out what was going on.

valencia / lost

I can’t get a hold of my sister. I can’t even find her. I have no fucking idea where she is. And then when I finally arrive in this God forsaken town, without a plan or a single clue as to what I need to do, I drive to the house where I thought my father lived, only to find that it’s been replaced by a community swimming pool with a double barrel slide. I called Hadley crying and for the first time in our entire lives together, my perfect, loving, angel of a sister tells me, “I told you so.” So I hung up on her and threw my phone at my windshield. It broke into five different pieces. I couldn’t call Caleb to ask for forgiveness, to give up, to run back home to him.

What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Why did I come here?

I can’t even remember my reasons.

valencia / disconnect

“Paula, you can’t just take the girls away on fantasy vacations whenever you feel like it. Do you understand? They have to go to school and live a normal life. This is your reality. You are their mother not their god damned travel agent!”

My father’s voice drifted effortlessly above the clamor of my Nickelodeon lineup. My parents were fighting again. It seemed that they were always yelling about something now. I propped myself up on my elbows and turned my head towards their argument. Now that my sisters and I had been mentioned, it became much more interesting than the latest episode of CatDog. Hadley and June weren’t home tonight. I was alone, free to eavesdrop without either of my sisters ushering me into my bedroom to keep me from hearing.

“They need to go on adventures, David. They have the rest of their lives to go to school,” she responded.

“No, Paula, they don’t. Their childhood will be over before you know it and what are you doing? Risking their lives for an adventure to the fucking beach?”

“The beach is not a hazard for children their age, David. Don’t be so dramatic,” my mother answered, her voice surprisingly calm. I pulled myself into a sitting position and crossed my arms over the back of the couch. At the top of the stairs, light from their bedroom door spilled into the hallway.

“No, it’s not. You’re absolutely right… but swerving into oncoming traffic on an interstate that is nearly two hours away is most definitely a hazard, Paula. Hadley called me from a stranger’s cell phone on the side of the road, crying to me that you were – and let me quote her – ‘freaking out!’”

My mind flashed back to the afternoon before. My mother had pulled us out of school, promising us a trip to the beach. She’d taken us on adventures before and they’d always been exciting in the past. Train rides to the city and day trips to the circus, an amusement park, a movie theater. My sisters seemed a bit skeptical this time – they were older now – but I’d rather be anywhere else than at school. It had started out as the best day ever and had ended as the worst.

We didn’t make it to the beach. Instead we ended up on the side of an unfamiliar road with a flat fire and whiplash. I could clearly remember the moment that I thought my life was about to end, too. My mother was crying hysterically behind her hands and the car was veering towards oncoming traffic. We didn’t know why she’d started crying or what had caused the sudden onslaught of emotion but we knew that it was bad. Hadley had grabbed the wheel and turned us into a ditch on the side of the road. Someone stopped and let us use their cell phone because my mother had locked us out of the car. Our father picked us up two hours later and a word hadn’t been said about the incident until now.

“This is reckless behavior, Paula, and it has to stop. I feel like I’ve been having this argument with you for three years. Why does this keep happening?”

“This house is so small and it’s suffocating them! Don’t you see that?” she cried, her voice finally breaking. There was a pause in their conversation. I strained to hear my father’s response. She didn’t make any sense. We had a big, spacious, wonderful house. It was perfect.

“What I see… is that I’m the only one here who’s asphyxiating, Paula.”

* * *


I pulled myself back to the present and glanced up at the waitress who was standing nearby with eyebrows raised and a pot of coffee hovering over my empty cup. I smiled gently and nodded.

“Yeah, sorry. Please,” I nodded and she smiled tersely before pouring me a fresh cup of coffee.

“Anything else I can get for you?” she asked. “Dessert menu?”

“Oh… no, thank you,” I said, glancing at my plate of French fries and a half eaten club sandwich. I thought of Charlie, waiting for me back in my hotel room across the street, and then dog food that I’d forgotten at my apartment. I smiled at the waitress. “Can I get a box, please? And the check. Thank you.”

“Sure.” She nodded and hurried away from my table and I sipped gingerly at the lukewarm coffee.

This was the third stop I’d made since leaving San Francisco. I hadn’t intended to stop but I didn’t have a choice. My focus on the road was continuously compromised by memories I couldn’t seem to control. They were coming often to me now and it was hard not to drift back into the years that led up to my family’s personal doomsday. The closer that I got to the place of impact, the less control I had of remaining in present consciousness. My driving had become reckless and Charlie was constantly on edge, restless and whimpering in the backseat. When your dog starts worrying about your driving abilities, that’s when you know it’s time to turn in for the night.

The motel that I’d checked into reminded me of Psycho, a fitting choice given my family history. I half expected Norman Bates to be waiting at the counter when I stepped into the lobby but it was only a pimply, greasy haired teenager with braces and a Coheed and Cambria t-shirt. There was a bar next door and as soon as I dropped off my cold dinner for the dog and took him on a walk, I acquainted myself with a bar stool and opened a tab.

Halfway through my third Jack and Coke, my cell phone vibrated from the pocket of my jeans. I was drunk enough not to look first at who was calling and I immediately regretted that decision as soon as Caleb’s voice assaulted me.

“Cia, have you lost your mind?” he shouted.

“It seems so,” I said, taking another drink.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“In a bar,” I said, finishing the drink. I pushed the empty glass across the counter and signaled to the bartender for another. He didn’t judge me, just did his job and refilled.

“Where? Are you drunk?”

“Somewhere near the Oregon border and yes, I think I am.” I smiled as he set the drink in front of me. “Thank you, kind sir.” The bartender winked.

“Baby… are you going to come home? This is ridiculous, whatever you’re doing.”

Cue dramatic sigh and exaggerated eye rolling now.

“I’m not and it isn’t,” I said and I pulled my phone away from my ear and snapped it shut. I stared at it in hesitance and a small part of me wanted to call him back, to apologize, to beg him to meet me at this shitty bar and take me home. I’d never treated him this way before. We were good, even at our worst, and I loved him. I’d been with Caleb for almost six years and he’d been my savior so many times, I couldn’t event count. He was safe. He was a desirable future. But the bigger part of me realized that this wasn’t something I wanted saving from. I’d been running from my past for eight years. My sister and my aunt had been pulling me away from my mother since I was fifteen. I needed to face it head on if I ever hoped to understand it. I had to go back to the past and find closure if I ever wanted my future to mean anything to me at all.

I knew what I needed to do. I finished my last drink quickly, paid the bartender with a generous tip, and stumbled out of the bar. Fortunately, my motel room was close because it took me three tries to straighten myself completely and walk across the parking lot without falling over. Charlie danced at my feet when I pushed through the door and I struggled to push him away. There was only one person who never drew the veil over my eyes when it came to my mother’s sickness. My sister June was the only person I knew who would truly understand why I had to go back and I needed her to come home with me.

I sat down on the bed and tried to collect myself. This was going to be a call that required composure. Then again June might actually find something that she liked within my drunken slurs. It might hit her close enough to home to make her sympathize with me.

I found her phone number and poised my finger over the send button. Charlie looked up at me and barked.

“Shh, Charlie!” I hissed at him. “This is really… a really important phone call and you hafta be silent. Abso…lutely… silent.” I pressed my finger to my lips and looked at him with wide eyes. He cocked his head to the side as if to question me.

“SILENT!” I mouthed at him as I pushed send and brought the phone to my ear. He let out a dramatic dog sigh and laid down at my feet, his brown Beagle eyes looking up at me with  a sort of painful impatience.

We’re sorry. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and try your call again.”

“God damn it, June! Again?” I growled and hung up, tossing my phone onto the floor.

Sometimes I wished I’d never been born into this family.

valencia / the long way home

When I was fifteen, I lost my mother to a psychiatric hospital and shortly thereafter, started reimagining the scenes of my life that I didn’t particularly like as a way to cope. I often feel compelled to narrate my reality as if it were a screenplay, the script to a movie that nobody came to see, in order to make life seem less like reality and much easier to control. It helps with the anxiety attacks that overwhelm me every time something isn’t going the way I want it to.



The pretentious elite mill about the perfectly manicured garden lawn; rich sixty-something old women and their ugly, hairy husbands speak haughtily of the event that they have gathered to celebrate. Shadows disguise the unimpressed expression of the celebrated graduate, VALENCIA SPENCER, 23.


She’s such a wonderful young woman. Isn’t she?

(sipping her champagne)
Ellis, you’ve brought up such a lady.

And smart! She’s graduated with honors you know.
Magna-something-or-other. And in psychology, no less.

Oh, yes. Such a lovely girl. And with what she’s been through in her life,
you’d think she would have given up a long time ago. She’s come so far.

You must be so proud.
As if she were my own.

Valencia scoffs and pivots quickly, exiting stage left.

Away from the suffocating pressure of their lofty expectations and my Aunt Ellis’ ridiculous façade of pseudo-parenthood, I am able to see straight and my life becomes reality, no longer a screenplay in my head. I’m in attendance at my college graduation party and I don’t know anyone. My aunt has invited her friends but where are mine? Getting wasted on Long Island ice tea and jello shots at The Rose and Crown, most likely. My boyfriend, Caleb, he’s here somewhere but I haven’t seen him in over an hour. He wanted to go downtown but I told him to wait it out, we could leave soon. Maybe he left without me.

This party doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be. These people aren’t my friends. These women speak of me as if I am heir to some golden fortune of opportunity but it all feels so unfinished. It feels wrong without my mother here. I can’t be proud of anything that I’ve done if she’s not here to validate me. My aunt is trying to take all the credit for my proper upbringing. She’s such a fake. This is all such a joke.

My older sister, Hadley, finds me seething, my knuckles white as I grip the edge of the island in Ellis’ designer kitchen.

“Cia? What’s wrong?” I feel her hand against my back, a gentle pressure. She comes in close to me, her red hair falling over her shoulder and onto mine. She’s comforting to me and her swollen, pregnant stomach proves that someone in our family has turned out normal. She leans in close to me, brushing my hair from my eyes. Hadley, sweet perfect Hadley. Always the true mother to me. Her scent is reminiscent of a memory I’d long forgotten; Hadley cradling me in her arms, my face buried in her sweater, our sister, June, crying out from somewhere in the house, my mother howling hysterically behind the locked bathroom door.

“I need to get out of here,” I say, my cheeks burning. I look up at her. Her blue eyes are piercing into mine. She’s always trying to figure me out. This time, I don’t think she can.

“Cia, this is your graduation party,” she reminds me.

“I’m going to meet my friends downtown,” I tell her, pulling away from her. “And Caleb. I’ll go meet Caleb.”

“Cia, Caleb is downstairs watching the game with Sam,” she says, raising her eyebrows. My head starts to pound.

“I’m going without him,” I say, brushing past her. She reaches out for me but she grasps thin air.

“You can’t go, Cia,” she says.

“Watch me,” I say, as I reach the foyer and grab my purse. I fumble for my keys, my hands shaking.

“What is going on, Cia? What happened?” she asks, exasperated as she watches me open the door and barrel down the front steps.

“I just need to get away. This is all wrong,” I tell her, as I cross the lawn.

I can feel her eyes on me, waiting for me to give up my charade and return to her. But I’m not going to. I don’t.

One hour, forty-three minutes, and four cigarettes later, I am stopped at a diner just outside of our small coastal town and I’m dialing Hadley’s cell phone number as I sip from a mug of lukewarm coffee. My entire life savings is shoved inside the glove box of my car, there’s a full suitcase in my front seat, and my dog, Charlie, stares anxiously from the driver’s side, wondering where I’ve gone and if there’s something in it for him.

“Cia!” Hadley cries, answering on the first ring. “Where are you?”

“I’m going home, Hadley,” I tell her. She hesitates and I can tell that she’s confused.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m going back to where we started. Back to mom.”

“Cia… you can’t go back there. She’s… You have nowhere to stay. What is wrong with you? This is ridiculous.”

“I’ll find some old friends. I’ll call dad. It’s been eight years since we left. Someone will remember me, Haddie.”

“What about Caleb?” she asks.

Oh yeah. Caleb. “Will you break up with him for me, Haddie?” I ask her.

I hear her sigh but she doesn’t answer me.

“I’ll call you when I get there,” I tell her.

I don’t wait for her response; I hang up and take a deep breath. Right about then, I’m sure that my sister’s contemplating my sanity and my aunt is probably taking back all of the nice things that she said about me. But as I lay a five dollar bill on the table and head towards the door, I realize that I don’t give a shit what either of them thinks. I have to go back.

Valencia opens her car door, nudges the dog to the backseat, climbs inside, and slams the car door shut. She turns on the ignition and reverses from the parking lot. The blazing red tail lights of her Rav4 recede into the dark night.