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by Jodi Monster

You wake up in the morning, wash your face, brush your teeth. You put on the jeans your mother gave you, the hand-me-downs she says you deserve. You wear these as far as the hiding place, where you change into your new jeans. The ones you earned, although you hate to think of it that way.

You hide your old jeans in the rain barrel and go to school. You get a D+ on your book report — the D because your spelling and grammar are all wrong, the plus because you got the main idea. After school you don’t go to softball practice; you don’t have a glove. Instead, you go to your stepfather’s shop. You wash hair. You endure.

You go home, pull your old jeans out of the rain barrel and put them on. You cook dinner and clean up. Your mother comes home. Even now, you don’t know if someone told her or if somehow she just knew. She pours a drink and then she hits you. She slams your head up against the wall, so hard that your scalp opens, you throw up and see stars. I cry when you tell me this, but you say that it’s just history and you’re all done with tears. You tell me your brother stood guard outside your bedroom door while, inside, you packed your bags. You say the sky was inky and full of stars when you climbed out onto the roof, and that your brother ran out into the yard. He caught your bags when you threw them down, and then he caught you.

He walked you to the bus stop and waited by your side; there were things you hadn’t told him, but you’re pretty sure he knew. You wanted him to come with you — you had the money for his fare — and still sometimes you wonder what it might have changed had you grabbed him when the bus pulled up and made him climb inside. I say “but you were just fourteen” and you nod and say that’s true. There are no answers, this you know, and it’s here you start to cry. It’s the starlight, you tell me as I gently wipe your eyes — how anything can happen as it streaks across sky; how you cannot be certain, that on a different night, you would have seen so clearly that it was time for you to leave.

Jodi Monster is a first-year MFA student at Temple University in Philadelphia, simultaneously at work on a novel and a few stories. Her writing has appeared online in Cleaver Magazine.