They’re following her, forcing her to run toward the darkest part of the field, where the puddles are, where no one from the Turnpike can see her. One of the men is fat, and he’s fallen behind. He’s cursing at her, but why should she listen? Her long legs are worth something to her now. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the lights of the shopping center, and she knows if she keeps on going in the direction she’s headed now, the one who’s still after her will get her. That’s what he’s been telling her, and when he gets her, he’s going to fuck her brains out. He’s going to make certain she never runs away from anyone again. He’s going to take care of that little pussy of hers, and she won’t ever forget it.
He’s been calling out horrible things to her all along, but suddenly he stops talking, he’s dead silent, and Kylie knows this is it. He’s running really fast, she can feel him; he’s going to get her now, or he’s not going to get her at all. Kylie’s breathing is shallow and panicky, but she takes a single deep breath, and then she turns. She turns quickly, she’s almost running to him, and he sticks his arms out, to catch her, but she loops around, toward the Turnpike. Her legs are so long she could sidestep ponds and lakes. With one good leap she could be up there where there are stars, where it’s cold and clear and constant, and things like this never, ever happen.
By the time he’s close enough to reach out and grab her shirt, Kylie has made it to the Turnpike. A man walking his golden retriever is just down the street. At the corner, a gang of sixteen-year-old boys is heading home from the town pool after swim team practice. They would surely hear Kylie if she screamed, but she doesn’t have to. The man who’s been following her stays where he is, then retreats, back into the weeds. He’ll never get her now, because Kylie is still running. She runs through the traffic, and along the opposite side of the street; she runs past the tavern and the supermarket. She doesn’t feel she can stop, or even slow down, until she’s inside the ice cream parlor and the bell over the door jingles to signify that the door has opened and is now closed tight behind her.
She has mud all over her legs, and her breathing is so shallow that each time she inhales she wheezes in some strangled way, like rabbits when they pick up the scent of a coyote or a dog. An elderly couple sharing a sundae look up and blink. The four divorced women at the table by the window appraise what a mess Kylie is, then think of the difficulties they’ve been having with their own children, and decide, all at once, that they’d better set out for home.
Antonia hasn’t been paying much attention to the customers. She’s smiling and leaning her elbows on the counter, the better to gaze into Scott Morrison’s eyes as he explains the difference between nihilism and pessimism. He’s here every night, eating rocky road ice cream and falling more deeply in love. They have spent hours making out in the front and back seats of Scott’s mother’s car, kissing until their lips are fevered and bruised, getting their hands into each other’s pants, wanting each other so much that they’re not thinking of anything else. In the past week, Scott and Antonia have both had incidents where they crossed the street without looking both ways and were frightened back to the sidewalk by a blaring horn. They’re in their own world, a place so dreamy and complete they don’t have to pay attention to traffic, or even to the fact that other human beings exist.
Tonight, it takes a while for Antonia to realize it’s her sister standing there, dripping mud and weeds onto the linoleum floor that Antonia is responsible for keeping clean.
“Kylie?” she says, just to make certain.
Scott turns to look and then understands that the weird noise he’s been hearing behind him, which he thought was the rattling air conditioner, is someone’s ragged breathing. The scratches along Kylie’s legs have begun to bleed. Chocolate frosting is smeared over her shirt and her hands.
“Jesus,” Scott says. He’s been thinking on and off about med school, but, when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t like the surprises human beings can throw at you. Pure science is more his speed. It’s a whole lot safer and more exact.
Antonia comes out from behind the counter. Kylie just stares at her, and in that instant, Antonia knows exactly what’s happened.
“Come on.” She grabs Kylie’s hand and pulls her toward the back room, where the cans of syrup and the mops and brooms are kept. Scott is following.
“Maybe we’d better take her over to the emergency room,” he says.
“Why don’t you go behind the counter?” Antonia suggests. “Just in case there are any customers.”