I kept quiet. Maybe I was ashamed of being fooled. I hoped that was it.

But an inkling in the back of my mind told me that there was something else. Despite being hurt and furious, I didn’t want Bliss to think badly of him.

Man, how fucking crazy was that?

I should tear him to pieces, rake him over the coals, and let Bliss join in. That’s what I should have done.

Bliss said, “You know what you need to do, don’t you Kelsey?”

“Try to outrun my troubles through a dozen different countries?”

It hadn’t been working so far, but maybe twelve was the magic number.

“I think you know how well that’s been working.”

It’s one thing to know something for yourself. It’s worse when everyone else knows it, too.

“Abysmally. What’s your point?”

“You’ve got to face your parents.”


“No. No, Bliss.” The laptop suddenly burned too hot against my legs, and the closet felt too small. “I can’t. I can’t go back there. Not now. Things are . . . complicated.”

I didn’t know who I was more angry with . . . Hunt or my father. But I couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing either of them.

“You don’t have to go back. But you spent too long accepting their lies as truth. You need to tell them how wrong they were.”

My heart was beating too fast. I hated that I was so scared of this.

“It won’t change anything. You don’t know my parents.”

“You’re not doing it to change them.”

Damn it. Goddamn it. When the fuck did Bliss’s ramblings start making so much sense?

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

“Kelsey, you have to. You can’t hide from it anymore.”

I banged my head against the wall behind me a few more times, furious that she was so right.

“Fine. I guess I don’t have anything to lose anyway. At the very least, it will feel really good to tell them off.”

“You don’t have anything to lose?”

“Not really. I, uh, went a little crazy a few weeks back. Might have given my credit card to a stranger and told him to have at it.”

“Oh my God, Kels. Your dad is going to go ballistic.”

Good. At least then, we could both be pissed.

“I’m sure Dad had the account frozen in no time.”

“But what are you doing for money? Where are you staying?”

“Chillax, babe. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I got a decent chunk of change before ditching all daddy-related items. And my Eurail pass is good through the end of the month.”

Don’t ask me what I was doing at the end of the month. No. Fucking. Clue.

“Then what?” She just had to ask. “How will you get home?”

I’d really grown to despise that word, but for a language as vast and repetitive as English, I’d yet to find a synonym that held the same immeasurable meaning.

“I’m staying here, Bliss. At least for now. I’ve been looking for jobs—”

“You don’t have to do that. Let me talk to Garrick. Between the two of us, we could probably manage to cover a decent portion of your ticket.”

“I can’t—”

“You can stay with us here in Philly for as long as you need. Our apartment is small, but we have a couch that folds out into a bed. It might smell a little mothy. We got it from a used furniture place, but it—”

“Thank you, but no.” I could almost picture her jaw snapping shut to form a frown. “Money isn’t why I’m staying. You were right. There are some things I need to work out, including talking to my parents. Until I do, it won’t matter where I go. My issues will follow. Spain seems like as good a place as any to put my life back together. All matadors and bulls and red capes. Should be good inspiration to face things head-on.”

I sounded twice as confident as I actually felt. I wondered if I would ever be able to stop pretending. This was how it started last time. First, you pretend for others, then you pretend for yourself. Then you pretend because everything is a lie, and you have to keep the cycle going.

Bliss said, “Speaking of matadors . . . any dangerously sexy Spanish men I should know about?”

“I’m taking a break from that, too.”

I couldn’t even think about sex right now. It just . . . it wasn’t what it used to be for me, like a word with a new definition.

Silence took up the other end of the phone.

“I think that’s smart, Kels. You’re going to get through this. You’re bold and brave and strong. You’ll be fine.”

“You’re obligated as my best friend to say things like that.”

“It’s the truth. The only reason I’m as happy as I am now is because one night in a bar, I borrowed your bravery. Have I ever thanked you for that, by the way?”

“You have, and you’re welcome. But I’m not nearly as brave as I pretend to be.”

“Bull-massive-shit. Do you realize how much courage you had to have to tell me about all this? It took me until senior year to even admit to you that I was a virgin.”

I gave an almost laugh. “Oh, those were the days.”

“Feel free to relive my moments of awkwardness if it cheers you up.”

I smiled, small but real. “Thanks for the pep talk. And for listening.”

“Of course. I love you.”

“Like family,” I answered. The only one that mattered to me now.

“Call me again soon!”

“I will. Bye, Bliss.”

Hunt was many things, many of them not good. But in this what instance, he’d been dead right.

Because even as the cold concrete floor kissed my skin, and the stringent smell of cleaner dulled my senses, I excavated a full smile. It had been brief—like a too-short touch— but I had felt it.

Just a whisper of home.


After months of wandering and wanting with no direction, it was good to finally have a tangible thing at which to direct my energies.

A job. Money. A place to stay.

I could handle that.

As it turned out, there was a high demand in Madrid for English-speakers to teach or assist in classrooms in bilingual programs. I’d never been a teacher, but I had a degree. And Hunt’s mention of the career had stuck with me. After growing up in Texas, I had enough basic Spanish skills to get around. When I saw the ad in an English-language newspaper in my hostel, and it said no teaching experience was necessary, I knew it was perfect. Like when you find the perfect dress that somehow makes you feel better for having slipped it on.

I applied for a work visa and contacted the Ministry of Education. By the end of the month, I had a job as a Language and Culture Assistant. Well . . . two jobs, technically: one working part-time with teenagers and the other working with younger kids. Plus about four private lessons a week to help make ends meet.

New Life Realization #1:

Being an adult is hard work. I know people tell you this growing up, but it doesn’t really sink in until you’re living it, waist deep in the swamps of no-free-time and not-enough-money.

New Life Realization #2:

It’s worth it.

It was a new kind of satisfaction, being on my own and being okay. More than okay, I was good.

I had a job. Okay, lots of them. I had an apartment, too. And I’d sent a letter to my parents.

I’d poured out every bitter hurt and vulnerable thought I’d ever suppressed and sealed a slice of my heart inside an envelope. It wasn’t the bravest way to face them, but the words were brave, and that was enough for now.

Predictably, I didn’t hear back. I hadn’t expected to either. Answering would acknowledge that there was a problem, and they much preferred to pretend those didn’t exist. Even now they were probably telling some atrocious lie about why I wasn’t around.

I was surprised by how little that bothered me. I wondered if everyone experienced a moment like this—a moment where you realize you’ve outgrown your own parents. Not just because I didn’t need them anymore, but because I’d finally realized that they were as stuck as I had been. I saw them with a kind of clarity that it’s impossible to see when you’re a kid, and when you’re parents are the end all and be all of your life.

A reply did come eventually, but not from my parents.

“Carlos? What is this?”

Carlos was nine, and had the biggest attitude in class by far. That’s probably why I adored him.

“My homework, Miss Summers.”

“Not that, I mean this.” I held up the sealed envelope he’d turned in with his work.

He smiled, a heartbreaker smirk in the making. “That’s for you, Miss.”

“And what is it?”

He shrugged in that way that kids do when they don’t know or care about the answer.

“Where did you get it?”

“A man.”

“What man?”

“I don’t know. Americano.”

Señora Alvez, the lead teacher, shushed him. “English only, Carlos.”

I didn’t ask any more questions because I didn’t want to get him in trouble. But when Señora Alvez began her lesson, I slipped my finger under the lip of the envelope and pried it open as quietly as possible.

I’d never really seen Hunt’s handwriting, but I recognized it anyway. It just . . . looked like him. Strong. Meticulous. Aggravating.

I couldn’t read the words. I wouldn’t. But I counted one, two, three pages, and a sketch. The playground. The one from Prague.

My heart seized up, ice cold, frost spreading over the prison of my rib cage and piercing my lungs. My hands trembling, I shoved the papers back in the envelope and stood. Señora Alvez stared at me, and my blood roared in my ears.

“I have to—I need to—” God. All I wanted to do was scream obscenities, but I was in a classroom full of children. “I have to go.”

I didn’t give an explanation as I bolted for the door. Let them think I was sick. Because I was. To my very bones.

I signed out in the office, this time lying about not feeling well. Then I left for home. I had the strangest instinct to run as I walked the blocks to my apartment. I wasn’t ready for this. I’d pieced together the other parts of my life, but this . . . this was still so raw. And the body’s instinct when wounded was to jerk away when touched, to run to prevent more injury.

Running wouldn’t have done any good, though, because there was another letter waiting at my apartment. I picked it up from where it had been dropped outside my door. I didn’t know whether to crush it or tear it or hold it tight.

I settled for ignoring it.

But they kept coming. There was another slid under the classroom door when I arrived on Wednesday morning. They came through the mail. My landlord brought me another.

I threw them on my desk unopened, but every time I entered my apartment, they called to me.

A week after the first letter appeared, I came home from work to find the tenth letter on my doorstep. Rather than adding it to a pile, I fished a marker out of my purse. (My God, I kept markers in my purse. I was such a teacher.)

Across the back I wrote, “Still following me? Still not okay.”

Then I left it on my porch where he would presumably find it the next day.

The next letter came from Carlos. He dropped it off at my desk the one day without the pretext of homework this time.

“The American man said to read them, and he’ll stop following you.”

“Carlos, I don’t want you to talk to that man again, okay? If he comes up to you, just walk away. Don’t take any more letters from him.”

I thought maybe that had worked, that he’d finally taken the hint because I didn’t see another letter for a week.

I was relieved for the first day or two. But then I started to look for them. I started to wonder why they were missing, why he’d stopped now. And more than anything . . . I wondered what they said.

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