She took a bus across the country. It was the only transportation she could afford. They probably would have paid for a plane ticket, if she had bothered telling them that she was leaving. They hadn't kicked her out. Yet. She knew it was coming. No amount of shared history could supersede the fact that she was different now.
She left on her own. She left without telling anyone where she was going. She didn't bother sneaking out. She didn't bother leaving under the cover of night. She walked out of the mansion at noon with an old duffel bag. They didn't notice. With her 'blades hung over her shoulder, she thumbed a ride to the bus station. She bought a one way ticket.
On the bus, she watched the scenery slide by, blurring and morphing. When she transferred in Columbus, she gave her cell phone to a homeless woman. During the layover in St. Louis, she ate pancakes and drank Cherry Coke at the bus station diner and read a wrinkled copy of The Fountainhead. Changing busses in Albuquerque, she was almost mugged. Her attacker was young. He clumsily slashed at her with a jackknife. Her body bowed backward like water falling over a cliff, moving away from him like a slinky. She slept for the rest of the trip.
When she arrived it was late afternoon. She walked down to the boardwalk. The air was warm and salty. She breathed deeply. Her hair flipped in the breeze. It was much longer than it had been the last time she was there. The sun had already started to set. She dropped her duffel bag and let her blades slide off of her shoulder. She slipped her messenger bag over her head and let it fall at her feet. She pulled her track jacket off and threw it on the ground, exposing a tight, bright pink tank top and a lot of toned, pale golden skin. She stood in the sand in her big, black boots and her low-slung, oversized cargo shorts. Somewhere on the boardwalk, a vendor was playing the Beach Boys. She kind of liked the cliché. To her right, there was a guy doing Tai Chi. She knew enough about Tai Chi to know that he was doing it wrong. There was a drum circle to her left, a hundred hippies pounding and wiggling. She knew enough about hippies to know that the smoke she smelled wasn't tobacco.
She felt a hand on her bicep and warm breath on her neck. She smiled. She didn't look over her shoulder. She knew it was him. She leaned back into his chest. He wasn't very much taller than she. She relaxed into the warmth of his body and let her head loll into the crook of his neck. She let the rhythm of his breathing carry her like the current. She stood there until the last sliver of the sun disappeared beyond the horizon and the glow of afternoon was swallowed into the waves.
"You ready, girl?" Shane Shooter asked her, his breath tickling her ear. She looked down at the jacket at her feet. The red-circled X on the sleeve was partially obscured by soft, light sand.
"Abso-fucking-lutely," she said.
She left the jacket behind.