Driving late at night—empty streets, neon lights, and crisp air—is the only way I can calm my mind. Ever since I got a ticket for speeding my parents only let me drive to work and school, but my friends are having a party and I can't miss it. It's my childhood best friend, Dylan, seventeenth birthday and I promised I would be there.
It started at 10:30 but these kinds of parties run late anyway, so I quietly open my window, place my foot on the nearby tree, and before I start to climb down it, I close my window so there’s only a sliver of space left for me to open it when I get back. No harm no foul. Once I’m in my car I unzip my brown jacket, revealing black, baggy pants and a forest green long sleeve.
The drive to Dylan's house is one I’ve driven a thousand times and it's not long. That's the only perk when you live in a small town—you know where everyone lives and nothing is too far a drive.
“Hey! You made it!!” Dylan picks me up in a hug, spilling his drink all over me. I don't necessarily mind, that’s why I brought extra clothes to sneak back in the house with me. Once he puts me down I smile at him, “I promised I would be here didn’t I?”
“I didn’t think Mr. and Mrs. Driving School would let you anywhere near a party after you were caught going sixty in a forty-five.” He wasn't wrong about that, but I didn't want him to feel bad when there's a ninety percent chance of me getting in even more trouble when I get home. “Yeah, well, who could say no to me?” I shrug my shoulders and flash my best shit-eating grin at him.
“That’s why I love you.” He puts his arm around me, pulling me closer to him as we start to make our way through the crowd, “We need to get you something to drink.” He’s shouting in my ear which just makes me giggle because it's not even that loud in here. He must be drunker than I thought.
“Okay, but no mixing shit or you’ll never make it to your eighteenth birthday.” I shout back at him. Now it's his turn to flash me a shit-eating grin of his own, “Who? Me? Never.”
After I take the drink he made me and taste it to make sure he wasn't being a dumbass, I grab his hand and we clumsily walk to the dance floor. The crowd of people erupted in cheer for Dylan when a giant circle was formed around him. Of course, he was going to show off his dancing skills. And when I say dancing skills, I mean he attempted the worm but gave up once he realized how sticky the floor was and resorted to the robot, a classic.
The circle closes in and he finds me again. We dance together like were nine again—awkwardly and not sure if we can touch each other. Once we get over it he pulls me close enough he can whisper in my ear.
I can feel his hairbrush against my eyebrows, “Were you serious about me not making it to eighteen?” He pulls away and gives me a fake worried look while looking at my drink. I laugh, pull him back into me, and say “I don't know Dylan, was I?”
After three hours of dancing, helping Dylan to the toilet, and sobering up, I decided it was time for me to go home. I make sure Dylan is safe and sound in his bed before zipping my baggy jacket on and walking to my car. The drive home is normal, nothing different, same streets and same buildings. I count the houses I pass in my neighborhood— eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Number thirteen, unlucky, I think as I slowly pull into the driveway. I turn off my lights so I don't wake my parents or startle my dog.
I’m almost to the top of the tree when I notice I can't see my window anymore. It's so dark outside I must be in the wrong tree. It’s dark, but not so dark that I would be looking in the wrong direction, but when I look around I realize that, no, this has to be the right one. Did I drink more than I thought I did?
Instead of accidentally falling out of a tree, I decided to take the risk and go through the front door. I punch in the code and push past the door, quietly shutting it behind me. Walking up the stairs is a little more difficult as I have to sidestep all the parts that creak. Once I’m at the top I think I did it, I successfully snuck out without anyone knowing. That's when I notice my doors missing.
There's just a wall. What? No this is where my room is. Before I can start freaking out, my dog starts barking at me. “Hey shhh, it's okay.” I put my hands out in front of me, trying to calm her down, “It’s me, be quiet or you’re going to wake up mom and dad.
I hear their door open. Shit. It's too late. I stand up straight ready to explain where I was all night, I mean they know it was Dylan’s birthday, they had to have known I would—
“Who are you?” My mother screams, “Did you break in? Are you lost?” Before I can ask her what the hell she's talking about she calls for my dad.
He comes racing down the hallway, wiping the sleep from his eyes, “You need to get out of here immediately or I’ll call the police.”
“Dad? It’s me.” I plead, confusion making tears start to form in my eyes.
“I don't know what game you’re playing, but I swear young lady, you’re either very lost or very cruel.”
“Mom, tell him. It’s me, Mac.” Real tears are falling down my cheeks when I see the look on her face. I don't know what's happening, but the way my mom is looking at me right now, I realize. She has no idea who I am.
I race down the stairs, almost tripping, and hop in my car while they stand at the doorway, my father with the phone in his hand. I don't know where I’m driving to, but I can't be here anymore. I count the houses—twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight. The streets are the same. The buildings are the same. What is going on? This has to just be some cold-hearted punishment for sneaking out. It has to be.
I go to the police station because where else should I go? I’m staring at the brick building, cop cars lined out front, sitting in my car, and I feel like I'm in a dream. I don't know how it started but I’m halfway to the front doors when I stop. I can’t do this. What am I going to tell them? Oh hey officer, my parents don't know who I am, could you possibly go to my house and introduce us for me.
Before anxiety can really take over my body I hear a voice from my left. “It's not worth it, they won't believe you either.” I snap my head to see a tall man, dark hair, leaning against his car. He looks like any other guy, but the way he's looking at me, it’s like he knows me.
No matter how hard I try, words are not something I can conjure right now so I resort to staring at him like a lost girl in the toy aisle. He laughs a little to himself before walking over to me.
“Don't worry, I’m not gonna hurt you.” He puts his hands out in front of him, reminding me of how I did the same when my dog starting barking at me. I knew she was confused and I wanted to show her I meant no harm and she didn't need to be afraid. “It’s just, well, no one remembered me either.”
I freeze at that statement but am finally able to say words.
Well, one word. “What?”