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Fenn
02-12-2013, 08:06 AM
Hi guys. It's been a long time since I posted in this section, but I took a class in Creative Writing recently, and now that its over I wanted to share what I've managed to produce. I'll post my favorite of the two first, and if I get enough feedback (positive or negative) maybe I'll post the other. All criticisms welcome.

(I tried to break it up by paragraphs, hopefully it's not too much of an eyesore)




Hope’s Box of Secrets

Hope slouched in her desk, head in her hand, as she watched her portly, balding math teacher scribble vigorously on an archaic chalkboard. Aside from the rat-a-tatting of the chalk, the only sounds that could be heard in the seventh grade classroom were pencils scratching on crisp notebook paper, the infrequent thuds of feet on the blue and white tiled floor, and the sound of folding paper to Hope’s left.

Folding paper? Hope’s head turned when she heard it. There was Rebecca, the class genius, sitting two seats to the left and one row back from Hope, wearing her circle-rimmed glasses and carrying an extra pencil over her left ear. She was neatly pressing down the edges of a neon yellow slip. Once the girl finished the seam, she tossed it across the room.

The slip landed gracefully on Hope’s desk. Rebecca smiled and gave her a playful shoulder shrug, then immediately straightened and raised her hand to answer the next question.

Hope held the piece of paper under her desk and unfolded it on her lap, being extraordinarily careful not to let anyone else see it. Written in nearly perfect print, in blue ink, were the words “I like Jimmy K.” Hope immediately spun around to face in Rebecca’s direction, put her index finger and thumb to the edge of her lip, and gestured as if sealing her mouth with a zipper. Rebecca mouthed a quick “Thank you,” before returning to her vivacious note taking.

Hope opened the large back pocket of her bulky backpack and pulled out a small wooden box. The outside was stained a deep maroon, and a small gold lock adorned the front. Hope glanced nervously around the classroom, making sure none of her classmates were looking, then took off her necklace. A tiny silver key hung on the end, which she fit into the lock and twisted. The box popped open, and Hope placed the slip of paper inside. She closed the box, locked it firmly, and stuffed it back inside her book-bag. After one more survey of the room, she put her necklace back on, ensuring the key was hidden safely beneath the threads of her sky blue sweater.

She breathed a sigh of relief. All clear, she thought. Yet, as she leaned back up in her chair, another image in her peripheral caught her attention. Peeking up, she found herself staring straight into the chilling gaze of Kara Prescott, who had twisted around in her seat to face Hope. From behind thick strands of oily black hair, Kara glared back, a scowl upon her face. Hope shivered, confused as to why the scrawny but intimidating girl was confronting her.

Kara fixed her eyes on Hope’s backpack, then on Hope’s chest—precisely where the key hung underneath the sweater—and then back at Hope. Finally, she turned her head back to the front, only breaking her stare when her eyes could no longer strain far enough to maintain contact.
Puzzled and slightly disturbed, Hope picked up her pencil and began taking notes intently, trying to forget the unpleasant encounter.

***

Hope watched her house come into view from the front passenger’s seat of her dad’s old white sedan. The lingering filth on the window, which always indicated an overdue car wash, partially obscured the expansive, bright green lawn of the cozy, one-story house Hope called home. Hope’s family lived in a rather rural suburb in southern New Hampshire. Although their brown house, with its simple furnishings and oversized windows, hardly warranted boasting, Hope loved the wide front yard that she frequently played on with her older brother Martin.

Martin was four years older than she was and possessed numerous talents, including impressive athleticism and a knack for all forms of science. Yet Hope was never jealous, since Martin always made sure to share his talents with her. He would help her with her math and science homework, and when he wasn’t out with his friends, the two of them would engage in all sorts of sports, from baseball and soccer to badminton and bocce.

When Hope was in fifth grade, she decided to try out for the soccer team. For several weeks, Martin would return home every day, exhausted from practice with the high school varsity soccer team, and come out for an hour to work with her. They would practice dribbling, shooting, and lots of passing. Hope always looked forward to practicing with her brother, and he would never skip a session, even when his homework load started escalating.

When Hope failed to make the team that fall, Martin came up to her room, where she was sulking alone. He grabbed her shoulders, turned her to face him, and said, “I don’t think I’ve told you, but I really enjoyed our training sessions together. I hope you had as much fun as I did.” Hope could not help but smile and offer her brother a giant hug, which he happily accepted.

Hope opened the front door and was greeted by the pungent scent of Febreze. Judging by the spotlessness of the furniture, the perfect alignment of the chairs in the kitchen on the right, and the duster on the window sill in the living room, Hope concluded her mother had completed one of her famous binge cleaning sessions before picking her up. The car was definitely next. Hope removed her puffy black L.L. Bean jacket and hung it on one of the hooks next to her, then dashed through the house to her room.

Once inside, she closed and locked the door. She opened her backpack and removed the maroon box with the gold lock. Placing it reverently on the bed, as though handling a small puppy, she once again grabbed the key around her neck and opened the box. Inside it was a collection of tiny slips of paper, folded carefully to conceal the messages written on one side. Hope located a white one, obviously torn from the lined pages of a school notebook, and unfolded it.

Inside it, the note read, “I put the mouse in Susan’s purse.” Hope chuckled a bit to herself as she read it. She grabbed another paper and unraveled it. “I kissed Bobby Lange on the bus.” She opened a third. “I still sleep with my teddy bear.” One by one, she studied the notes, at times stifling a laugh, at other times remaining stoic. Here were the most intimate secrets of a dozen or so of her friends and classmates, lying on her bed, entrusted to her for safe keeping. “Hope’s Box of Secrets,” she called it.

A swell of pride washed through Hope, and she turned to look at herself in the mirror. Her light brown skin and somewhat round face were the first features she noticed about herself. She was neither tall nor short, neither hefty nor skinny. Her frizzy brown hair was almost always pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a blue sweater and the usual blue jeans. Underwhelmed by her own physical appearance, Hope began to wonder, for the umpteenth time, why so many people her age would trust her with their deepest secrets.

As always, the answer came back to her clear as day; Hope was, by all accounts, a remarkably good listener. Her best friend Daisy—a fair-skinned, talkative young girl with golden hair and a penchant for gossip—had put it this way: “It’s like you just twist my voice, like a bathtub faucet, and the words just pour out.” Hope liked to think of it as a kind of superpower. She was decidedly introverted, preferring personal, one-on-one conversations with Daisy or her other friends to big group chatter. She possessed both a gentle, welcoming smile and a reputation as a trustworthy student, and preferred hearing others speak over talking. This combination of traits made Hope the ideal sounding board for her peers. Anyone in seventh grade who knew Hope at all acknowledged that she was the best person to go to when one needed to express an intimacy.

Once she had read all the notes, Hope refolded them and returned them to the box. She closed and locked it before placing it on her dresser and leaving the room.

***

A month had passed since Rebecca’s note, and not a single secret had been divulged to Hope since then. She wondered what could be causing the lull; was she losing her approachability? Had someone spread a false rumor about her divulging someone’s secret? Or was it simply a coincidence?

School was preparing to close for winter break in two weeks, and everyone was a just a bit more merry than usual; Mrs. McNally, the school secretary, had been switching between a Santa hat and reindeer antlers each day, and the student body passed through the dim, aging hallways with a bit more spring to its step than usual. Hope was feeling especially cheery; none of her teachers had assigned homework yet, she had managed an eighty on her biology exam, and she had plans with Daisy and their friend Bonnie to go sledding later that day. As she walked down the hall to lunch, it seemed as though nothing could sour her day.

Nothing, that is, except the sight of Kara Prescott skulking towards her down the hall. Kara was a terrible sight, Hope hated to admit. Her jet black hair always sagged from inside the hood of one of her many black sweatshirts, and its glossy texture may very well have been grease accumulated over the past week. Her skin was fairer than anyone else Hope had seen; a pale, almost translucent yellow-white. Her eyes, a faded light blue, offered very few signs of life; when they did, Kara was usually expressing her typical disapproval or frustration with the misfortunate soul interacting with her. Hope had spoken to Kara only once, during an in-class assignment in sixth grade, and Kara’s raspy, sullen voice and judgmental tone made cooperation extremely difficult.

Hope wanted nothing more than to avoid Kara’s ghostly presence, so she focused her eyes on the bulletin board across the hall and picked up her pace. As she passed by Kara, she felt a light impact on her gut. Kara had planted her fist right into Hope’s stomach, and by reaction Hope clutched the hand with both of her own. She felt the fist, dry and bony, open up, as a piece of paper fell into Hope’s left hand. Hope turned to look at Kara, who had stopped beside her, but whose head remained fixed forward and obscured by her hood. Without warning, Kara retracted her hand, muttered what sounded to Hope like, “You tell no one,” and resumed her trudge.

Hope stood frozen in shock, her hands still clasping her gut, the paper resting inside her left palm. It took a gentle nudge from a student behind her before Hope continued to class. When she entered the classroom and took her seat, she slowly opened the paper, both eager and fearful of what it might say.

When she finally read it, she became petrified again. Written in jagged black letters on the crinkled white sheet were four words. “I am running away.”

***

The car ride home was marked by silence. Hope’s mother—a middle-aged woman with full lips, beautiful brown waves that draped across her shoulders and neck, and the same coffee-colored complexion as Hope—made several attempts to get Hope to speak, but all Hope would offer in response to her prodding was “yes,” “no,” or “I’m fine.” When she got home, Hope decided to start homework early to get her mind off of the note, which was locked away safely in the box by now. She ended up sitting at the kitchen table, fidgeting in the stiff wooden seat and feigning to look invested in a geometry worksheet, while she contemplated her current scenario.

Running away? This was serious business. Hope was used to receiving confessions of clandestine love, guilty pleasures, or foolish past deeds, none of which placed any sort of responsibility on her as the secret keeper. All she needed to do was guard her box, and all was well. Fleeing from home, on the other hand, was a major deal. What if Kara got lost and died? Hope had no real affection towards Kara, but the thought of feeling responsible for a classmate’s death was unbearable. Also, if someone, somehow, found out that Hope had known beforehand but failed to speak up, what would they think? She recalled her father telling her once about how if you stand by and allow people to hurt others, then you are also responsible for those actions. Would that also apply to someone hurting themselves? Would Hope go to jail?

Hope felt her cheeks, and realized they were blazing hot. She needed to make a decision. Who could she tell? She had promised herself never to share a single secret in the box—a promise that much of her self-worth depended on. In her mind, Hope had very little that made her stand out from the other kids at school; she was not especially smart or athletic, and did not consider herself as attractive as the more popular girls. Her status among her peers depended almost solely on her loyalty and trustworthiness, she believed. As a result, she would not allow anyone, even Daisy, to so much as hold the box, never mind read its contents.

Only one solution remained: she would talk to Kara. After all, Hope had never made any resolution about discussing a secret with its originator. Maybe she could talk her out of it. With her head a little clearer and her cheeks beginning to dispel their heat, Hope picked up her pencil and attacked the first word problem in front of her.

***

Hope found Kara at lunch the next day, sitting alone in a corner near the trash barrel. The cafeteria’s lights were off, and the late-morning rays creeping through the windows onto the dark grey walls gave off the feeling of a dank cellar or warehouse, rather than the room of a school building. Hope entered the lunch line, watched the crumbling chicken potpie fall onto her tray, and swiped the last chocolate milk before heading towards Kara’s table. Her friends stopped her for a moment, but she gently sidestepped their inquiries, agreeing to explain later. She had no intentions of doing so, of course.

Hope approached Kara cautiously, as though she was afraid the girl had booby trapped the area around the small circular table. “Can I sit with you, Kara?” Hope asked meekly, adding the girl’s name in an attempt to sound more amicable.
“I can’t stop you,” Kara replied.

Hope took the seat to Kara’s right, so that they both overlooked the rest of the cafeteria. For a few minutes, the two ate in silence, their chewing drowned out by the chorus of shouting voices all around them. Hope waited intentionally, wishing Kara would speak up. She preferred responding to people rather than initiating conversation. When it became obvious Kara would not talk, Hope broke the ice.

“Can I talk to you about your secret?”

“You’re not supposed to talk about secrets. You get one, you put it in the box, and you never speak of it again.”

Hope rested one of her hands on her backpack, which sat between her feet under the table, placing her fingers right where she kept the box.

“Well, yes, but, this is your secret. You already know it.”

Kara grunted.

Hope took a deep breath, ran her fingers through her hair anxiously, and said, “I don’t think you should run away. You could put yourself in real danger.”

“Oh look,” Kara said with a snarky laugh, “Advice from the secret keeper.”

Hope blushed. She didn’t mean to come off like a counselor. In a hurried attempt to salvage her stance on the matter, she said, “It’s just, if something happens to you and I know I could have stopped it, I’ll never forgive myself.”

Kara raised one eyebrow threateningly. “I’m still going to do it, and you’re not telling a soul. Because the minute my secret gets out, I’ll make sure the whole school knows you broke your promise. Everyone will find out what you really do with your hidden information, when it benefits you.”

Hope took a swift gulp of air through her nose. Had Kara just threatened to collapse the system Hope was working so hard to maintain? She had no reply, so Kara continued.

“You do as I say, secret keeper. This is my secret, and I decide who gets to know about it, not you.” At this, Kara stood up and grabbed her half-eaten lunch. Hope reclaimed some composure and caught her as she started to turn and leave.

“But why?” she asked, “Why are you running away? What is it that makes you so sad? Can’t we talk about it?

“No.”

Hope’s frustration built. No one had declined her offers to talk it out before. She blundered on, her face turning red with anger.

“Why not? It would help me understand. I can’t see why anyone would be so depressed all the time!”

Kara stiffened up and closed her eyes. Hope knew she had touched a nerve, and cursed herself for being so inconsiderate. Kara put her tray back on the table, reached into her grey backpack, and pulled out a slip of paper and a Sharpie. Shielding the paper from Hope’s eyes with her right shoulder, she wrote hurriedly, clearly upset. She folded it and held it out for Hope, but when Hope tried to take it she would not let go. Hope looked up into the girl’s hollow blue eyes. Kara spoke.

“Take this to your grave. Or else.”

Hope’s insides shuddered as the words pricked and grated her ears. Her trembling turned into a submissive nod. Kara, evidently convinced, released her grip on the note. Picking up her leftovers, she departed for the tray return.

Hope sat unmoving for the remainder of lunch, until a wiry, red-haired teacher tapped her shoulder and told her to pack up and head to her next class. At the tray return, Daisy came up behind her.

“Why on earth were you sitting with creepy Kara?”

“No real reason. I just wanted to…change things up.” Hope replied.

“You know that boy Isaac, who’s in my gym class?” Daisy asked.

“The one who you said wears the facemask during basketball?”

“Yeah, that one. Well, he lives three houses down from Kara, on Arbor Lane.” Daisy spoke feverishly, “Apparently, he saw police cars in front of Kara’s house in October. They were arresting this tall, bearded guy. He said he thinks it was Kara’s dad.”

Hope’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. She rushed off to her next class without a word, ignoring Daisy’s confused babbling behind her. She grabbed a seat at the back of the room before opening Kara’s note.

It read, “I can’t trust anyone.”

That was it. She had no one she could trust, no one to rely on. Hope had no idea what Kara’s family was like, but if Daisy was right, she was starting to imagine it was nothing like her own.

***

Another silent car ride. Another futile attempt to complete her homework. Hope spent most of the day in her room, studying the slips of paper in her box and dreading the thought of school the next day. Tomorrow was Friday; if she didn’t act then, she feared Kara would be long gone by the end of the weekend.

How on Earth could Hope tell anyone now? If she revealed Kara’s secret, it wouldn’t matter whether she ran away. Her last attempt at trusting another person, manipulative and cruel as it was, would fall apart, along with any chance she had of breaking free of her gloomy state. Her fragile heart would be shattered, and Hope would lay the blame on herself.

Not to mention, Kara had threatened to severe not only her trust in Hope, but their classmates as well. Hope’s Box of Secrets, and Hope’s entire social reputation, could crumble in shame. This thought was almost as scary to Hope as the thought of Kara disappearing.

But Hope knew that if she kept this to herself, it would eat away at her. She imagined coming to school and seeing the empty seat in Math class; the little round table by the trash missing its only visitor every lunch; the two slips of paper that would inevitably sit in Hope’s box for eternity, a constant and haunting reminder of her inaction. No way, Hope thought. There is no way I can stay silent.
She knew exactly who she was going to talk to. The only person she could trust to keep confidential anything she told him, no matter how grave. The only person who always knew what to do and what to say to help her through a difficult situation.
The only other person with a key to her box.

***

Hope had received the box as a gift from her grandmother on her tenth birthday. “To guard whatever is most important to you,” her grandmother had whistled through missing teeth as Hope tore off the wrapping paper. The box was wonderfully crafted from natural wood, bore a shiny gold lock and hinges, and measured about nine inches the long way. A few simple floral designs were carved near the corners, which were shaped into forty-five degree slants. It was the most meaningful gift Hope had ever received.

For two year, however, the box remained empty. Hope could find nothing worthy of a spot in the treasured box. She considered storing money, but realized she would always be taking it out to pay for gum at the supermarket or a new skirt at the mall. She had no collections to speak of. For the longest time, the box sat idly on her dresser, staring at her in the mirror across the room as she would get ready for school each morning.

On a lazy December afternoon in sixth grade, Hope was sitting in the living room of her house with Daisy. The two had been chatting the entire school day about a comment their principal, Mr. Arrington, had made. While walking by the teacher’s lounge, Daisy had overheard the principal in the middle a rather nasty remark:

“…sick of Remy’s crap. The man is a disgrace to educators. He’s got until the end of the year, then I’m firing his ass.”

The man being referenced was Mr. Remy Stilton, easily the most despised teacher in Hope’s middle school. Both Hope and Daisy wound up in his Social Studies class that year, and they wanted nothing more than to bid farewell to his absurdly long reading assignments, painfully delayed test grading, and nonsensical essay mark-offs. In a school often heralded as a forerunner in effective, progressive education, Stilton was a gruff, burdensome ball and chain.

The girls were thrilled to hear that his superior shared their disdain. But who could they tell? If word got out about the principal’s comment, he could get into serious trouble, and they figured Stilton could then garner enough sympathy to hold onto his job. And even worse, if anyone identified Daisy as the tattle-tail…oh boy. That would be trouble.

Yet the forbidden knowledge refused to relinquish Daisy’s attention. She whispered possibilities and hypotheticals to Hope all through their classes, all through lunch, and on the entire ride back to Hope’s house. When the girls arrived, they ran into the house, kicked off their shoes, dropped their backpacks in the middle of the doorway as preoccupied middle school children do, and plunged onto the living room couch. There, they considered what could be done. Hope could tell from the looks Daisy was giving her how tempted she was to tell another classmate.

That’s when an idea hit Hope. Without a word, she bolted across the house, into her room, and grabbed her box from on top of her drawer. She rushed back, zipped by the living room, skated on her wool socks across the linoleum kitchen floor, and grabbed a sticky note. She hurried back to Daisy and held out the box.

“A box?” Daisy asked, cocking her head.

“Yes, a box. My box,” Hope replied. “We can write down the secret and put it in the box. Then we’ll agree to stop talking about it. I’ll keep the box safe in my room, and we’ll both know it’s there.”

Daisy rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm, a secret box. I like that idea. Are you sure no one will be able to read it?”

Hope nodded. “The only person who has a key besides me is my brother, and he would never open the box. I told him he can only open it if I’m dead.”

Daisy nodded. “Here, let me see the paper.” She made a few swift motions with the pen, and then held up the paper for Hope to read. “Mr. Arrington thinks Mr. Stilton is an ass.” With a shared laugh, the two girls folded the note and dropped it in the box.

The box succeeded in helping Daisy and Hope forget about the principal’s comment. Unfortunately, Daisy’s fixation on the remark was replaced by a fascination with the box. Although she never disclosed the contents of the note, she began retelling and embellishing Hope’s idea for days, until “Hope’s Box of Secrets” became a hot topic within their friend circles.

Shy little Billy Rolland was the first to approach Hope. He tapped her on the shoulder, handed her a small slip of paper, smiled bashfully as he pushed his oversized Red Sox baseball cap up away from his face, then skittered away. Hope stood confounded for a moment, until she opened the note. It read, “I still wear footie pjs.” A wave of comprehension swept over Hope, and she tucked the note away safely until she got home and added it to her box.

Next came Sandy, then Isabella, then Roger, and before she knew it, Hope had collected a neat little pile of secrets in her box. In a short period of time, “Hope’s Box of Secrets” became popular among the student in Hope’s grade as a way to come to terms with one’s insecurities.

As the box grew in popularity, Hope realized she needed an heir. Two silver keys had come with the gift, both small and silver. Hope had fastened one onto her thin silver necklace. She gave the other to the only person she considered honest and trustworthy enough to access the box. That person was Martin.

“In case I die,” she had told him, “you can read what’s inside.”

***

Dinner on Friday proved to be as silent as the rest of the day. Her dad, a broad-shouldered belly-laugher who usually injected mirth into every suppertime, sat gruffly at the head of the table. Mom’s usual twenty questions had yet to begin. Martin seemed strangely aloof too. Typically he had a story to share about something he’d learned in class, or a funny moment from a teacher or the soccer coach, but he seemed intent on staying quiet and avoiding eye contact with their parents. Adding these to Hope’s continued refrain from speaking caused the meal to pass with hardly a word from anyone.

An advent wreath stood at the center of the table, the flames of the two lit candles flickering upon the faces of the muted family. As the four finished their dessert—store-bought blueberry pie—Hope’s mother looked up at her.

“Hope, would you mind clearing your plate? Your dad and I need to have a conversation.”

Hope nodded silently, and began to collect her plate and utensils. She noticed that, although her mom had addressed dad, she was looking intently at Martin. Martin stopped picking at the lone blueberry on his plate, but did not look up. Feeling the tension building in the room, Hope stepped quickly to the sink, dropped her plate in gingerly, and shuffled out of the kitchen.

Hope was perceptive enough to know that Martin was in trouble, but she was very curious as to what he had done to elicit such coldness from mom and dad. Had he failed a class? Received a detention? Hope felt guilty for her sudden eagerness, but knew there would be few opportunities to witness her seemingly perfect brother falter. Grabbing an assignment and a notebook from her backpack by the doorway, she positioned herself on the section of the couch nearest the kitchen. She wrote her name on the page, and filled in a couple of the blanks to suggest progress had been made. Tilting her head, she began eavesdropping on the conversation.

“So when did this start?” their dad asked, his words sharper than the knife he had used to cut the pie.

“’Bout four months ago. When school started.” Martin mumbled his words, and Hope had to pay close attention to understand what he was saying.

“Mhm…” dad said. “And there were no real practices?”

“Nope.”

For the first time, Hope heard shame in her brother’s voice.

Mom spoke up next, her voice elevated in tone and volume. “I’m astounded. Do you realize how embarrassing it was for us to find out from another parent that you were sneaking out to consume alcohol? Your father and I have put the utmost trust in you, trust that you had earned. And now…”

“Now that trust isn’t going to come so easily,” dad added firmly. “Underage drinking is bad enough, but to lie straight to our faces and tell us the soccer captains were holding optional practices? That’s an unacceptable breach of our trust.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, before we find out from Mrs. Parsons?” mom asked.

After hesitating, Martin said, “That money I asked for, for new team jerseys—”

Dad’s heavy fist slammed onto the dining room table, jingling the plates and forks and cutting Martin off. Between what sounded to Hope like gritted teeth, he growled, “You’re going to pay us back that money. You’re done playing soccer for the year, and you are through spending time with any of those boys from here on out. Do you understand me son?”

Hope’s pencil tip snapped. She had been applying more and more pressure to it as she listened anxiously to the conversation. The sound brought her mind back from the kitchen to the couch.

Lying? Deceit? The revelation that her brother had been drinking did not bother her too greatly; after all, she had heard plenty of wild stories about the older siblings of kids in her grade. The lies were the more terrible realization. Martin had tricked their parents, had concocted a big lie so that he could do what he wanted, and had even stolen money from them. He had destroyed their trust in him and, although he did not yet realize it, he had destroyed Hope’s trust in him as well.

Hope heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. When she looked to her right, Martin was standing there, his head hanging low. He looked over at Hope, and Hope became nervous. She expected to see him angry with her, since she had obviously been listening to the conversation. But he was not mad. Hope saw a look on his face she could hardly recognize, for she had never seen it on him before. It was an expression filled with regret, filled with apology.

Martin was guilty.

***

All night, Hope racked her brain, searching for answers to her dilemma. Talking to Martin was out of the question now. She still loved her brother, but after learning of his secret, she no longer felt she could rely on his advice.

Hope analyzed the possible outcomes again. If she told anyone, Kara’s trust would be lost, and Hope’s reputation soiled. If she never told anyone, Kara would run away and probably end up lost and sick—or worse, dead. From her bed, Hope stared at the box on her dresser. Take this to your grave. Or else. That’s what Kara had told her. Hope clutched the silver key around her neck.

The key. She thought. The other key.

In case I’m dead, she had said to her brother.

Hope sprang out of bed, but quickly stopped. Was she serious? She couldn’t believe the thought had even come to her mind. And yet, here she was standing up in her room in the middle of the night, about to act on this thought as though it were the natural, obvious thing to do.
But she had to.

She might not be able to talk to her brother, but she felt she could still rely on him to open the box under the conditions she had set. And this way, she would still keep her promise to Kara. This was the best solution for everyone.

Hope found a scrap of paper on her desk. With a quivering hand, she wrote on the paper, and when she finished, she folded it several times and placed it in her box. She tiptoed down to the living room. Inside a filing cabinet, she found the town phonebook. She looked up the last name Prescott, and picked out the address she was looking for: 166 Arbor Lane. She memorized the address by repeating it a few times. Satisfied, she snuck back into her room and crawled into bed, but she could not sleep.

**

Kara exited the door to her house, her backpack stuffed with food from the cabinets and refrigerator. In the back pocket of her loose black jeans, she had stuffed twenty dollars, stolen from her mom’s purse the day before. She had found it next to a note which contained a phone number and the name of a man who was not her father. Kara had torn the note into bits.

Her hair was wet, not from grease, but from the shower she had just taken. She figured it was a good idea, since she had no clue when her next shower would be.

The house was small and showed many signs of neglect. The black paint was chipping, the roof had missing shingles, and the lawn was a mess of leaves, dirt, and dying grass. The bleakness of the scene was complemented by the chill of the late autumn wind, which rocked the naked trees to and fro and sliced through Kara’s thick, black winter coat.

There were no cars in the driveway, as Kara’s mother was already at work. She stepped slowly down the pavement towards the street, her head turning from side to side, on the lookout for cars or people. Seeing none, she turned onto the crack-laden sidewalk, walking beside the row of green bushes surrounding her neighbor’s yard.

She had made it to the end of this row when she heard rustling behind her. Turning, she saw Hope stepping out of the bushes onto the sidewalk, her hands clutching the straps of her backpack, which appeared stocked beyond capacity. Caught off guard, Kara threw her a suspicious look.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m coming with you,” Hope replied.

“What? No you’re not. Get lost.”

Hope shook her head. “Yes I am. And you can’t stop me.”

Kara frowned and shot Hope an angry look. “Why are you following me? I don’t need, or want, anyone with me.”

“I can’t stay here holding your secret, letting you go off and get killed. Nuh uh. No way,” Hope declared, putting her hands on her hips and shaking her head. Kara folded her arms, and Hope continued. “Look, I’m keeping your promise. I’m holding onto your secret until the day I die. Considering the fact that we are two seventh graders going who knows where, that probably won’t be much longer.”

“This is ridiculous,” Kara said, “I don’t need you.”

“You need someone to trust,” Hope said, “You can trust me. I promise.”

Upon hearing those last statements, and the adamancy with which they were spoken, Kara lost her words.

She was unprepared for Hope’s sentiment; never before had someone offered a sacrifice like this, for her. The feeling was so novel that she failed to muster any sort of threatening or distancing retort. She simply stood there, confused and conflicted. She couldn’t stop Hope from following her, and for all her darkness, Kara could not accept responsibility for the life of one of her classmates. So she stood there, her feet sinking in a puddle of uncertainty.

Hope approached her delicately. Kara, by reaction, took a step back, and Hope stopped. Without knowing why, Kara brought her foot forward again. Hope opened her arms wide, and Kara fell into them, crying slow, painful tears. Hope embraced Kara, steadying her as the girl melted limply in her arms.

When the sobs subsided, Kara rested in her new friend’s arms for a minute, beginning to calm herself. She managed, between uneven breaths, to speak.

“S-s-so, what do we do n-now?”

Hope clutched Kara’s shoulders and steadied her. They stood face to face.

“Why don’t you come back to my house? I have a couple secrets in my box that I’ll let you tear up if you want. I have a feeling they aren’t true anymore.”