I’ve been standing at the bottom of my driveway for over an hour now, looking at the street. I’m freezing, and I check my watch. It’ll be midnight soon. I take another drag on my cigarette and stuff my hands in my pocket.
I look back at the house. It’s still dark, as dark as I left it when I came out to say goodbye to my parents. But I know it won’t stay that way for long. And that’s what scares me. It’s cold for the south. So cold I can see my breath. Very weird weather for this time of year. Just another sign that my parents refused to acknowledge while they packed to go on their annual kids-free vacation.
“It’s fucking freezing out now, and yesterday it was 70 degrees,” I say.
“Watch your language.” My mom’s favorite statement.
“You’re telling me that this, along with the fact that all of a sudden both David and Jenna get to stay with friends I’m stuck here alone, that this doesn’t feel funny to you?” She keeps packing up the car. “Mom.”
“Gracie.” Mom looks up at me, her frizzy brown hair combed out of her face so I can see her green eyes. Her annoyed green eyes. “For the last time. There is nothing in the house. Aren’t you too old to be thinking there’s an old man in your closet?”
I sigh. Inside, I’m screaming. But I hold it in. I’m trying to make sense.
“First of all, I don’t think. I know,” I say as she heads to the front of the Ford Escort to put her bag in the passenger seat. Dad’s stuff is already packed and waiting. I know she’s just entertaining me until he gets out of the bathroom, so I move fast. “Second of all, he’s not an old man. He’s in his late thirties-“
Mom gives up on me and calls into the house for my father. They’re going to be late.
“Mom. I am telling you that something bad will happen if you leave.”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” she says, calling again for my dad. “You’ll be fine.”
“What’s going on? Gracie?” My dad appears in the door, skying over both me and Mom. “Still with the guy in your closet?”
Both my parents laugh.
“It’s not funny,” I say. “Dad—“
“I’ve been through every inch of that closet, honey. There’s nothing there,” he says. He ruffles my hair, and I duck him. He grins. “You are sixteen years old. Time to let go of the fairytales.”
“It’s not a fairytale.” I fold my arms. I know I’m acting like a kid, but I can’t help it. “Why do David and Jenna get to stay with friends and I have to stay here alone?”
“Because your brother and sister are younger than you are, and someone has to look after the dogs,” Mom says, getting into the car. “You’ll be fine Gracie.”
“You have the numbers for the police department, the fire department, and the neighbors. We’ve asked the Carlsons and the Stephniks to check in on you, okay? This is a perfectly safe neighborhood, Squirrel.” I hate it when he calls me that, but I know I’ve lost, so I smile. “Be good.”
Inside, I’m kicking myself for coming out here to say goodbye to my parents without a sweater - or pants. I’m still dressed in my soccer practice clothes, a tank top and shorts. I even rolled my socks all the way up to my shins, but it doesn’t really make a difference.
I’m still cold.
Over the lawn, lights start coming on in the house. I watch them, one by one, flicker on, then off, then back on again. First the living room, then the family room, the kitchen, the garage, the stairs, David’s room, the bathroom, the attic, and Jenna’s room. These are all the rooms that face the street. And the lights are all on.
Except for my room.
I don’t have to turn around to be able to tell that my room is the only one not lit up. I know, just like I know that the second I turn around, the light will come on in my room.
“Face it, Grace,” I say to myself. And I do.
It takes five seconds for the light in my room, on the second floor of my house, to flicker on, then flicker off. I wait. It stays off. I let out the breath that I’ve been holding in my chest. I even laugh at myself a bit, because what the hell, parents can be right. Maybe I was just imagining- -
And then it flickers back on.