Outside of Boston’s South Station, I could be the anonymous girl-with-the-guitar again, the person I’d been when the streets of Europe had been mine to fill with music. The rounded wood of my guitar rested on my knee, reminding me of its presence even when I paused to check my battered watch. Two hours.
I flexed my fingers and then set them down again on theguitar’s fretboard. The strings fit perfectly against the calloused grooves in my fingertips, forming chords that reaffirmed mydecision to take this day to flee my suburban-Massachusettsexile. Once I got where I was going, no one would want to take my music away.
I misfingered a chord at the sound of my name. My E-string let out a low moan, like it knew we were in trouble. Kyle Bakerstood on the other side of the crosswalk. His Fernsgrove High letterman’s jacket symbolized everything I was running away from. I didn’t plan on sticking around to find out why he’d followed me all the way from Fernsgrove. I was through with that place.
As if fate agreed with me and wanted me to get away, the light turned green before he could cross the street. I dropped to the ground to lay my guitar in its open case and concrete bit into my knees through the holes in my jeans. With the noise of Boston’s heavy downtown traffic buzzing in my ears, I pressed my palm against the bent right clasp on my guitar case until the metal almost broke the skin on my hand. It finally snapped shut, but wouldn’t hold for long. The first thing I’d do in New York would be to buy a new case, since I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about Uncle Rob throwing my guitar against a wall.
I stood, slinging my guitar case over my back. The WALK sign had begun to flash and I could see Kyle approaching, the late-April breeze making his red hair waft out in all directions. Hoping it would blow in his face and slow him down, I grabbed my duffel bag and fled.
Inside the station, I dove for the staircase to the T, Boston’ssubway. I’d ride it as far away as possible and double back in an hour, with plenty of time to get on the train to New York.Kyle would have given up, and I could be on my way.
“Meridian, it’s your cousin. She’s hurt!” Kyle’s voice rose above the noise of shoes and suitcases squeaking across the floor. I stopped midway down the stairs, which caused me to collide with a man’s over-stuffed suitcase. He yanked it to the side, removing my only support. The golden stair-railingsparkled as I failed to grasp it.
“Merde!” I yelled, before I toppled down the stairs. Score one for gravity.
I was met with a sickening crunch when I landed. It wasn’t my spine shattering, at least. My guitar case had broken my fall. Key word: broken. The worn left clasp hadn’t withstood the impact any better than the shattered right one. The case had flown open and my weight had smashed my guitar against the ground. I brushed my blond hair out of my eyes and began piling the shards of guitar into the case so disinterested commuters couldn’t grind them into the dirty concrete.
Kyle knelt next to me. “Are you okay?”
Every fragment I dropped onto the heap of splintered wood represented a European city my mother had dragged me to or a day in Fernsgrove I’d battled through, armed with the promise of the day I’d escape with my guitar. I stared at the finished pile and squeezed my eyes shut, giving the splintered wood time to meld into a whole instrument.
“Come on, Meridian. Can you get up?”
I opened my eyes. No guitar. I fished a single piece of wood out of the case, and then fiddled with the less-broken clasp. It snapped shut, but I had no idea how long it would hold. The smooth mahogany of the piece I’d salvaged felt cold and dead against my fingers
“What happened to Natalie?” I asked.
“She fell at gymnastics.” Kyle tugged my arm. “They called the school looking for you.”
I used the banister to drag myself upright. “Did she sprain her ankle, or something?” Maybe I could still go to New York, but what would I do once I got there? My guitar was my livelihood.
He rolled his green eyes up to the ceiling and shook his head like I just wasn’t getting it. His strong grip tightened on my arm. “I think it must be bad. They didn’t send her toFernsgrove Memorial. She’s here, at Children’s Hospital.”
An image flickered before my eyes; a body in a pool of blood. The only person I loved taken away. Down the platform a train charged in, and I took off for it. The wreckage of my guitar bounced in my useless case. I didn’t realize Kyle had followed me until he slid through the closing doors of the Red-Line train. He didn’t matter. Natalie mattered.
Natalie listened to my music when no one else did.
We burrowed as far into the crowded train as possible. I couldn’t reach the handhold, so Kyle looped his arm around me. My heart pounded against my chest so hard that he must have felt it. There was no way he didn’t, since it was going to pop out of my ribcage at any second.
“How’d you find me?” I asked, realizing that focusing on the horrific images in my mind wouldn’t make the train move any faster.
“All anyone talked about this afternoon was you storming out of French. Then the people from the Y called during my shift in the front office. You always said you’d escape one day to land a record deal. I figured you’d made today the day, and you’d be somewhere between Fernsgrove and New York.”
“You listen to me?” He sat by me in English, and had born the brunt of some of my more infamous rants, but I’d never thought he paid attention.
“Always.” His breath tickled my ear. Then he dropped the debonair tone. “Plus, Lance Ellis told me he dropped you off at the commuter rail station before sixth period.”
“I knew he was a rat.”
Kyle smiled, and a dimple appeared on his left cheek. I cast my eyes down and tried to ignore the way his hips crashed into mine each time the track curved. The train jerked to a stop at Park Street, where we had to change to the Green Line. We flew across the station, but the Green Line train waiting at the platform was a D-train, and we needed the E.
“Merde,” I spat, and then added “Shit,” in English, to emphasize my point. I closed my hand into a fist. The jagged edges of the piece of my guitar pressed into my skin.
“I knew we should have taken my car.”
I whirled around so fast that my duffel bag hit Kyle in the shin. “You have a car? We could have been there by now!”