Previously: Sarah Jane runs home from her father’s funeral and packs her clothes and leaves town.
THE BANDBOX HAT
Three hours later, I gripped the steering wheel and pulled a deep breath. The Los Angeles basin stretched before me. Scrubby brown hills still surrounded the freeway, but Interstate 5 snaked down and ahead. As far as I could see were roads and buildings and billboards, then more of the same.
I gave my head a shake and accelerated. Best pay attention. Traffic flowed around me on both sides. I’d been to LA several times, but always as a passenger. Well, if I was going to make a new start and a new life, learning to drive in LA was the logical first step.
After a quick glance over my shoulder, I changed lanes and prepared to follow one arm of the tangled octopus in front of me.
In another half hour my heart was thumping and drowning out the radio. Cars still darted around me, exiting and entering the freeway. I seemed to be going either too slow or too fast for the others, garnering honks and glares. I’d missed a sign and was inadvertently on a freeway called 134 and apparently about to enter the city of Glendale. I’d already been through half a dozen other towns. I thought this area was all Los Angeles but I was wrong.
An exit loomed and I made a sudden decision to take it, earning one last honk. One right turn and I was on a charming street with storefronts and trees and bricks and cars parked in front of shops. A familiar green circle logo at the end of the block caught my eye and when I reached Starbucks, there was a parking spot right in front. Who says parking in LA is a hassle?
I strode into the coffee shop and in ten minutes I had a cup of strong, black coffee just the way I like it and a local newspaper. One good thing about living at home for years was that I had a healthy savings account. Even though I took off with no real plan, I knew I had funds that would give me a place to stay.
I turned the newspaper pages, scanning articles about the economy and the current scandals in the sports and political worlds.
The barista pointed across the street when I asked about a hotel. The place looked nice, really nice, but I decided for my first night on my new life I should splurge. Tomorrow I’d move to a more reasonable place while I looked for an apartment and a job.
As quickly as panic rose in my throat, it subsided again. There were only a few weeks left of school and I had enough sick leave accrued to cover that. I fished in my messenger bag for my phone. Pain sliced my finger and I snatched my hand out of the pocket. A paper cut oozed blood on the pad of my index finger. I pressed a napkin against it before pulling out the papers and setting them on the table.
Roseanna Lopez’s book report on The Violet Flash. A memory teased my brain. I’d been grading this when I got the call from Anna to come home. Dad was being rushed to the hospital and I’d ignored the summons because I thought Anna was crying Wolf! again.
Grief welled up and threatened to spill down my cheeks. I blotted my eyes and crumpled up the napkin.
I’d send the report to Roseanna. She’d done a good job on it and she deserved to know. I started to stuff the pages into my bag when I spied the numbers written on the back of the last page. A phone number. Jesse’s. The rest of that afternoon flooded back. I’d called the Hofer house to get Rachael’s number from Jesse but he’d left. His mom gave me his number instead.
I stared at the digits. Did my new start actually mean going back to my past?