Pretend She's Here(5)

“On a train, fine, but not in a car. He just got his license,” my mother had said.

“He’s a good driver.”

“He might be a great driver, Emily, but he’s brand new. I-95 is brutal, and Boston streets are hard to figure out unless you’re really familiar with them.”

“He is! His brother goes to Emerson! He visits him all the time! And that’s all we’re going to do, a bunch of us, we’re going to meet up with his brother Henry and check out the theater department.”

“That’s fine. Take the train,” my mother said.

“We’re driving.”

“Emily, I know you like him,” Mom had said. “He texts you, and you practically launch out of your seat. You cast him in your play, fantastic. I realize you have a crush, and that can turn your mind around. But you’re not driving on the highway with him till he’s had his license for longer than two weeks.”

I could feel she meant it, and I felt sliced by her words. Did I really jump out of my seat when he texted? And the way she said I know you like him—as if he didn’t like me back. Probably what hurt worst was that I wondered about that very thing.

“You just don’t want me in a car because of what you used to do,” I’d snapped. “Because you used to drive drunk!”

“I’ll never stop being sorry for that, but it was a long time ago,” she said calmly, as if I hadn’t just verbally slapped her.

“Dan’s not going to do that,” I said. “He would never drink and drive.”

“That may be. But he’s not going to drive you at all,” she said. “Not to Boston.”

I just walked away.

“See you after school,” she called.

“See you never,” I muttered under my breath.

A tidal wave of panic hit me now—had my mom heard me say those words? Could she possibly think I’d run away? That I hadn’t come home because I’d said I’d see her never? She might. There’d been that other time.

She had been sober over a year now. Since the last horrible fight that had sent her to rehab, it was rare to hear raised voices in our house. The fact was, Mom and I had both changed during that time. She had quit drinking. And I’d had to deal with my best friend’s death.

In the weeks after Lizzie died, I’d heard the words depressed and withdrawn, shocked and mourning coming from my parents. They sent me to a therapist. I saw Dr. Ferry pretty regularly. What helped me most was writing. My most recent work, since losing Lizzie, was about death. That might sound morbid, but it wasn’t. It had made me feel better.

I needed my mother—my whole family—so badly in that moment, I wanted to cry. But then I took that emotion and turned it around. We were the Lonergan family, close and tough, all for one and one for all. We had dealt with my mother’s alcoholism. We had rallied around her during early sobriety, attended AA meetings with her, even gone to Al-Anon with our dad. My family would work nonstop until they found me. I was sure. They would pull out all the stops. That’s how we rolled.

We even had a motto: Faugh a Ballagh. Fighting Irish for “Clear the way.”

I took three deep breaths of cold air. The Porters’ voices had drifted away and the forest became silent. I didn’t hear footsteps or voices anymore, and I decided to count to one hundred before moving again. Just like playing hide-and-seek. But instead of one Mississippi, two Mississippi, I silently said the full names of my family: my parents and my siblings, in order of oldest to youngest. There were so many names—first, middle, confirmation—for nine people, I figured that was almost the same as counting slowly to a hundred.

Dad—Thomas Francis Aquinas Lonergan

Mom—Mary Elizabeth Rose Lonergan

Tommy—Thomas Francis Aquinas Lonergan, Jr.

Mick—Michael Joseph Aloysius Lonergan

Anne—Anne Agatha Anastasia Lonergan

Iggy—Ignatius Loyola Lonergan

Pat—Patrick Benedict Leo Lonergan

Bea—Beatrice Felicity Michael Lonergan

And me—Emily Magdalene Bartholomea Lonergan

Just thinking the names filled me with power and strength. When I was done, the only sounds I heard were wind in the trees and the occasional rush of a passing car or truck. Instead of running, I crept away.

I kept wrenching my wrists against the sharp, tight bonds, trying to free my hands. The plastic edges cut into my skin. It hurt, and my wrists were bleeding, but I didn’t care. My phone was so close, but the ties refused to loosen, and I couldn’t get my fingers into my pocket. When I had more distance between me and the Porters, I would find a sharp rock and saw the ties off, and then I would call.

Pine boughs hung low. I ducked beneath them. Needles tickled my face and the top of my head. I heard blood rushing in my ears, my heart beating so hard. The taste of poison was in my throat. I didn’t want to circle back to the highway right away, in case the Porters were close by and still looking for me. They probably were.

Had they driven away yet? Or were they waiting at the minivan, thinking I’d get scared or tired in the woods and give up? I nearly snorted. No member of the Lonergan family gives up. Thinking of my clan again gave me even more courage, so I started to run, sure of my feet and overflowing with confidence and fire.

“Emily.” The voice was quiet.

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