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I crouched down onto the floor and wrapped my arms around my knees. My chest was so tight. The room spun around me, books on the shelf blended together in a line. It was then I finally realized something. Maybe my panic wasn’t about being alone in the dark.

Maybe it was just about being alone.

The only person I felt any sort of connection with in this new/old life was Sammy, and I’d only seen him for a matter of minutes. And with the way Tanner and I had left things¸ I didn’t know when I would be able to see Sammy again.

Maybe never.

I could’ve said the same thing about King.

Suddenly I felt like breathing the air in that house, in that room, was like inhaling poison. The more I breathed it in, the more I felt like I was going to die right then and there on the bedroom floor I didn’t remember.

I was going to suffocate.

I had to get the fuck out.

I didn’t bother with shoes. Still in the shorts and tank top I wore to bed, I stepped up onto the window seat and pushed open the window. I shuffled until my legs were dangling over the edge like Tanner had done. There was nothing but darkness beneath my feet. Holding onto the window frame with one arm, I stretched out the other and felt around for the tree branch I knew was there. The second my hand touched it a sense of familiarity encompassed me. The tree and I had long been acquaintances, I was sure of it. I may have not known where to look or what to hold onto, but my body knew. Without a single misstep, I managed to lower myself onto the tree branch and with a second nature type precision, I found a branch to grab and ridges for my footing, without much thought at all. At one point, without knowing exactly how far down the ground was beneath my feet, I felt the urge to jump.

So I did.

Sharp blades of thick grass stung the soles of my feet on impact. I crouched down to brace myself as I landed. When I stood up and a motion light buzzed to life, its soft hum breaking into the quiet of the night like a freight train barreling down the tracks at full speed. Tanner must have known where to step without turning the light on.

And then I ran.

Darting off across the yard, kicking up water, grass, and mud onto the backs of my calves I sprinted as fast as I could make my short legs move.

The short iron fence around the property stopped at the line of bushes that defined the back yard. The natural foliage acting as its own kind of fence. I ran directly for a small tunnel like opening in the bushes, barley slowing down as I ducked down into it, maneuvering through like I’d done it a thousand times before. Leaves and thorns both licked and stung my elbows, pulling at my hair as I passed through, but I continued on until I emerged on the other side of the path onto a small beach.

The clouds took turns slowly passing over the moon; the light reflected off the still water looked as if someone were playing with a dimmer on a light switch. I followed the shoreline, the cool water lapping over my feet, the mushy sand pushed up between my toes with each step.

When I came across overgrown mangroves in my path that were growing from the ‘fence’ of the backyard out across the water several feet, I didn’t give what I was about to do a second thought. I turned and waded into the dark water. It had felt only mildly cool on my feet when I was walking but as the water inched up higher and higher on my legs, it was downright cold.

When the water rose over my waist, I shivered.

I pushed through water, sinking into the soft earth, sending little waves crashing against the base of the trees. Something darted out into the water in front of me. At first I thought it was a snake, the way it slithered from side to side making an S shape in the water. I waded out further to avoid it, but when it slithered right by me, I realized that it wasn’t a snake at all, but a large lizard. It hissed as it passed, like an angry driver giving me the finger.

Once I cleared the trees I sloshed back up to the shore on the other side. My shorts hung heavily off of my hips, clinging to my thighs.

I found myself in a small alcove with an old weathered dock that connected to an even older and more weathered pier. Tethered to the pier was a dilapidated houseboat that was decades over its expiration date. The tethering was entirely unnecessary as the boat was mostly on the beach, resting at an angle that told me it had probably been that way for a long time. As I approached the strong odor of mildew, mixed with the salt air, grew stronger and stronger. Much to my surprise I inhaled deeply and unlike the extreme sense of panic I’d experienced in the house, an eerie sense of calm washed over me.

I smiled. I knew this place. I loved this place.

I didn’t know or understand the how’s and why’s, I just needed to be closer to it.

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