I tilt my head as I stare in the candy store window. Should I get the chocolate bar or the colorful gummy bears?
I press my nose against the cold glass and narrow my eyes as I take a closer look at the contents behind the window.
I have never tasted the chocolate bar before, so it is tempting to purchase that one. But it is a pound more expensive than the gummy bears, and I do rather enjoy the delightful chew that comes with snacking on a gummy bear.
I peer into my small sack of money. I grab two coins and finger them in my gloved hands. Some snowflakes are caught on the golden gleam of the coins and the snow turns to water droplets.
I tighten my scarf, nod slightly to myself as I make my decision, and walk into the candy store.
There is a cheerful warmth inside the candy store. The man behind the counter wears a candy cane striped apron and dons gray hair and a small moustache. I have seen this man before. He smiles at me.
"Hello, Dorothy," he says in a pleasant tone. "Where is your Momma?"
I shrug in response. I feel bad not saying anything to return his question, but I have no words to describe what occurred.
The old man seems to understand, because he simply nods.
"What will you be buying today?" He asks me.
"A chocolate bar," I say sharply, almost defiantly. I must say it quick before I change my mind.
The man looks a little surprised, but nods. He reaches into the chocolate bar display and pulls out a large bar with shiny purple wrapping. He sets it down on the counter.
"That will be two pounds." He says.
I frown. That does not seem right.
The old man must notice, because he explains, "Sales tax."
I bite my lip. I forgot.
I reach into my money pouch and pull out two more coins. I hand all four of the coins to the man, who smiles and hands me the chocolate bar.
"Thank you," I say politely.
"Here," the old man says suddenly, catching me by surprise. He hands me back one of my coins. "I think you'll need this more than I will."
I have no words to express my gratitude. I say nothing, but simply nod and give the man a grateful smile. He smiles back.
I exit the shop, carefully unwrapping my candy bar. As I peel back the purple wrapping, I see the chocolate underneath it.
It is a pretty brown color, with small squares and a slight shine.
I take a bite.
My body fills with warmth as the chocolate melts in my mouth, and I sigh. Why have I never tasted this Heaven before?
I am pulled back to reality as I realize the answer.
At some times, I feel sad for leaving her. She was a kind woman. She was just following the rules.
But at another point, I am glad that I have fled. I have gotten what I have long wished for. And Momma knows.
She knows that I am gone. And she knows I do not want her to come after me. Therefore, she will not come after me.
She is a good mother like that.
That might be, perhaps, the reason that I left her.
There are two laws here: The Law of Decisiveness and the Law of Parentage.
The Law of Decisiveness states that no child within a household is permitted to make a decision of their own unless consulted by their birth parent.
The Law of Parentage states that parents may only have one child.
Momma followed the Law of Decisiveness as best she could. It was made a law because our ancestors felt that nobody not qualified to make decisions should be making them- in other words, no one under the age of twenty-three and without a college graduation could make a single decision.
That is why I had never tried a chocolate bar in my life.
My mother always made the decision for me.
And she always chose gummy bears.
I take another bite out of my chocolate bar and feel the tasty sweetness against my tongue. I gulp the melted chocolate down, glad that I have finally tasted the candy that has taunted me all thirteen years of my life. The chocolate bar always sits right next to the gummy bears in that store window.
It has always been so close.
The snow falls harder, and I tighten my cap around my head and walk over to the frozen fountain in the middle of the square. I sit on the smooth, round stone surrounding it and bite into my candy bar once more.
The Law of Parentage. Momma rarely talked about that law. I used to wonder why that was.
But now I know. And that is part of... mostly the reason I fled.
My mother defied the Law of Parentage. I discovered she had had two children.
And I was her second.
After I had figured it out, I cornered my mother in the corner of the kitchen and demanded she explain to me what had happened.
The fight was another reason I had left.
Momma had told me that she had a boy before me, who she quickly sent away to our great-aunt in shame. She had not been married when she had that boy. She was shamed, shamed, shamed.
Then my momma had met Poppa, and she had given birth to me. But that is illegal.
But the rangers will never know that. Because Momma had carefully covered up her tracks when she had the baby boy.
And that is why Poppa had suddenly disappeared that night. He had left Momma in rage after discovering her secret, just as I had upon discovering the same secret.
The secret that has torn Momma apart.
I lose my train of thought and look down. My chocolate bar is almost finished.
I tuck the rest of it into my backpack, hoping to save some of it for later, when I might really need it.
I bring my knees to my chest and try to keep as much heat in as possible as I sit next to the fountain. I have no place to go in this cold winter. I could stay at the inn, but that would probably cost me most of the money I have. Maybe--
A man’s rough voice interrupts my thought. I look up. It is a ranger, dressed in blue, running at me in his tall, shiny, black boots.
I stand up quickly and break into a run.
The ranger sprints after me, and I run so hard my legs burn. I weave throughout the town, hoping, hoping I can lose him before he catches me.
If the ranger catches me, he will surely realize that I am without a parent. He will realize I have broken the first Law of Decisiveness.
I run over towards the lake, where maybe I can hide in one of the fishing boats. I am halfway there when I feel someone grab my shoulders and push me to the ground.
I cough as snow fills my mouth. I can feel my cheeks and nose turning red. The ranger turns me over so I am lying on my back. I frown.
The ranger has a small brown moustache and mousy brown hair under his cap. Behind him, snow is falling from the gray sky. What a pretty sight.
“Little girl, what is your name?” The ranger demands.
I shake my head.
He shakes me. “What is your name?!” he says again, louder this time.
I am frightened, but still, I shake my head.
“Speak to me!” he spits. “Or I’ll take you down to the station, and that place is not meant for little girls like you!”
Tears well in my eyes as I shake my head once more. The man's face contorts in a red fury, and he pulls me to my feet.
“Come here!” He yells, grabbing me by one of my braids and dragging me towards the town. I walk with him, silently, wondering if I will be able to break free from his grip on my hair. It would surely hurt, but it is a risk I am willing to take.
I suddenly step to the side, and my braid goes flying out of his black gloved hands. I sprint again, but this time, he is onto me in no time. He grabs me by the waist and picks me up. I kick and scream, but no one comes to my rescue.
The ranger carries me all the way to the station, where he sits me down in a black chair and handcuffs me to the armrest.
“For safety precautions,” he mutters. “You seem like one who would run away in an instant.”
I pout as he walks away and I am left alone in the room. How will I explain my being alone?
Later, the ranger walks in with another ranger. She is blond, like me, but with kinder features.
“What is this?” The male ranger questions angrily, showing me my backpack. I say nothing. He unzips it and flips it over. The contents come out and land on the floor in a clatter.
The lady ranger bends down and sorts through my stuff. It has my pouch of money, a map, a blanket, and my almost-finished chocolate bar.
“We have a runaway,” the man murmurs, looking at me with a glare.
“Let me,” the female ranger says quietly, politely ushering the man out. He does not put up a fight.
“Dorothy?” The ranger asks once the man leaves.
My eyes widen. How does this stranger know my name?
The ranger points at my blanket, and my shoulders slump. It is embroidered with my name and last name.
“Yes,” I say in barely a whisper. The woman nods kindly.
“‘Dorothy Hansen,’” the ranger reads aloud. “Hansen. Hmm. I think I’ll look through the phone book and call your parents.”
I shake my head fiercely. “No!” I say, my voice raspy.
“Why did you run away?” the ranger asks.
I do not answer.
But she knows the answer already.
“The Law of Decisiveness,” the woman says, sighing. She glances at me, and her brown eyes meet mine, and I see something I cannot quite comprehend in her eyes.
She raises her chin. Then, seemingly without thinking, the ranger reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small pouch, similar to mine. It jingles with coins.
The ranger puts my belongings back in my backpack and hands it to me.
Before I grab it, she also drops her bag of coins into my backpack.
She smiles. “There is an exit right there.” She points to a door on the opposite end of the room and she inserts a key into my handcuffs. They come off.
“Be brave, Dorothy,” the ranger whispers softly. “There are lots of people that do not have the courage to run away from their families and the law as you do. But they should. Especially if it means more freedom for them.”
I continue to stare, openmouthed.
The ranger gives my back a small push. “Hurry,” she says, softly but urgently. “The other ranger will be back soon. If you catch the ten o’clock train to Germany, you should get there within the hour.”
I stand up and turn to the woman, not knowing how to thank her. Why- why would she do this?
“Go,” she says.
I throw my hands around her shoulders. “Thank you,” I whisper in her ear, a small tear trickling down my cheek.
I let go and run out the door and into the snowy woods.
How could people be so kind?
I ponder this as I run to the train station.
I buy a ticket, and the ticket man gives me a funny look, but says nothing.
Nothing about being alone in the dead of night. Nothing about making my own decisions.
The train comes, and I board it. In Germany there is no Law of Parentage. In Germany there is no Law of Decisiveness.
In Germany, there is just hope. Hope for me. And hope for all of the kind people who helped me on the way.
“Thank you,” I whisper softly as snow flies in my face and the train starts down the tracks.