On the night before she and her father would depart for Baltimore, Isobel stared into her empty suitcase.

She had put off pretending to pack for nearly the entire day. Now that the sun had sunk into the horizon, it remained the last task left to perform.

But there was something daunting about the futile act of collecting and tucking away things she knew she wouldn’t need, especially when she had already done the real packing the afternoon before.

The previous day, as soon as Gwen had dropped her off from school, Isobel had gone straight to her room and emptied out her backpack. She’d refilled it with the essentials: a pack of granola bars swiped from the pantry, two water bottles, a black hoodie, and a pair of hiking boots.

Her backpack sat underneath her bed now, hiding in the shadows, waiting.

Inside it, sitting on top of everything else and folded with care, lay Varen’s green mechanic’s jacket. He would need it when they came back, she thought. After all, Baltimore would be cold.

Isobel turned from the bag and made her way to her dresser, opening the top drawer. Without looking, she pulled free a stack of T-shirts. Returning to the suitcase, she tossed them onto her bed instead.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t pretend anymore. Grabbing one of the big pillows from her bed, she stuffed it inside the bag, then closed the flap and zipped the sides.


At least this way, it would shorten the guesswork on her parents’ part. It would leave them with no doubts that she’d tricked them and used them, that she’d planned her escape right from the start.

Maybe knowing would somehow lessen their pain.


“Packing a little light, aren’t we?”

Isobel glanced over her shoulder to find Danny standing in her doorway. Arms folded, he leaned against the frame. His usual smirk seemed to be in hiding, plastered over by an uncharacteristic look of solemnity.

He nodded toward her suitcase. “Generally speaking, I think hotels stock those.”

Scowling, Isobel grabbed the handle of her suitcase and picked it up, shrugging in the same motion. As she made her way to the door, she had to wonder how long he’d been standing there, watching.

“I like my own,” she said, setting the bag upright and flush with the wall.

“Yeah,” he said. “I bet you also like your own underwear, but I didn’t see anything like that go in there either.”

She sighed, hands going to her hips. “Don’t you have anything better to do than spy on me? What do you want?”

His eyes drifted to the carpeted floor. “I dunno.” He kicked the doorjamb with the toe of one sneaker, then lifted his shoulders all the way to his ears in a shrug before letting them drop.

“I mean, I was going to go nuclear on you about the scuff marks I found on my bike, but I know it won’t do any good. You won’t tell me why you took it. Or where you took it. Or what made you decide to drag it behind you instead of, y’know, riding it.”

Turning, Isobel went to her closet to fish out her parka. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Are you running away for good?”

She stopped. Looking over her shoulder at him again, she scanned her brain for a prepared answer, realizing too late that she didn’t have one.

Her brother stared at her in blatant accusation, like a lawyer who’d just asked his obviously guilty client, “Did you do it?” There was something else there too, hidden beneath. It was something she hadn’t seen in her brother’s face since he was very small. Vulnerability.

She had to wonder how long he’d seen this coming. Apparently long enough at least for him to have had the opportunity to tell someone. Their mom or dad or even a school counselor. But for some reason, Danny, Snitch King of America, had kept his observations to himself. Then she remembered that if not for him and his special powers of persuasion, their father might never have gotten her the plane tickets to begin with.

Could it be that Danny had guessed her plans from the very beginning?

Regardless, Isobel knew it would be useless, not to mention cruel, to evade his candid question. If he’d wanted to blow the whistle on her, he’d have done so already.

“No,” she said. “It’s just . . . there’s something I’ve got to do is all.”

Taking the shift in her attitude as an invitation to come in, Danny strolled across the threshold and into Isobel’s room. Wandering over to her dresser, he said, “Like, Luke Skywalker leaves Dagobah to save Han and Leia gotta do, or Dick Grayson stops being Robin to go to Blüdhaven and become Nightwing gotta do?”

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