Eliza opened her bedroom door a crack and looked through the small slit into the tan-carpeted hallway. It was deserted. Eliza breathed a sigh of relief. She stuck her head out and listened for any noises that would signify that she was not the only person up. To the left, her little sister Emily’s room was silent. Eliza cocked her head the other way to listen for her parents. Nothing. She was the only person awake in the whole house.
That made sense, though, because it was five-thirty in the morning.
The house was dark; only one long beam of moonlight lit the staircase, leaving the rest of the house in pure and complete darkness.
Eliza left her room, a light jacket slung over her shoulder, fully dressed in summer shorts and her T-shirt with the blue-and-white stripes. She crept across the black hallway, clutching at her jacket. Feeling her pocket, she made sure that the note she had written yesterday was still there. Just to check it and make sure it was the right one, she took it out for a second and the words Dear Mom, Pop, and Emily shone across the top for a moment in the moonlight, but then she quickly folded it up again and roughly shoved it back into her pocket.
Eliza started down the carpeted stairs, holding tightly to the banister as she went.
Emily watched through band-aided fingers and her slightly open door as Eliza crept through the silent house. The second- to-last stair creaked as she stepped on it, and the banister shook as she tried to take all of her weight off of the steps.
You miscounted, Emily thought gleefully, giggling softly to herself. I never step on the creaky stair. This, of course, was not true. Emily had made a horrible racket as she had come up the stairs just the night before, stepping on that creaky step, and the third one down, which was much, much worse, but of course, her five-year-old mind had already forgotten that.
Eliza’s head whipped around, hearing Emily’s giggle. “Emily!” she hissed, but Emily didn’t catch the harshness in her tone.
“Hi, Liza,” she whispered, though it was so loud that Eliza hurried back up the stairs, counting right this time so that none of the steps creaked and complained, and hurried into her little sister’s room so they could talk quietly and not wake up their parents.
“Shh, Emmy,” she said, gently now. “Don’t want to wake Mom and Pop.”
“Pop.” Emily giggled at Eliza’s name for her father. To Emily he was always Daddy “Pop,” she said again. “Pop. Pop. Poppoppoppoppop.”
“Emily!” Eliza hurriedly covered her sister’s mouth with her hand. Emily strained to see Eliza’s painted nails, which were a deep red right now, and had always fascinated the little girl. “You’ve got to be quiet, ‘K?” Eliza looked into her little sister’s brown eyes and repeated her demand. “Quiet.”
Emily nodded and Eliza’s hand retreated from her face.
“Where was you goin’, Liza?” Emily asked immediately, but, true to her word, she was very quiet this time.
Eliza looked at her little sister. She thought about when she had been born. She thought about all the times that she had kept the whole family up all night with her relentless wails. She thought about how cute she had been as a toddler, and how much fun she was to play baby games with. And how annoying she was when she cried when she lost. And when she didn’t get just what she wanted right when she wanted it.
Eliza thought about the green duffel bag that was hidden under the bushes by the mailbox. She thought about the red train tickets that were safely hidden away in the inside pocket. And she thought about the hulking black train that was waiting for her at the station across town.
She thought about her little sister, and all of the times that she had wished that she was somewhere far, far away, and all of the good times that she would miss when she was gone. She thought about how her parents loved Emily more than they loved her, and then she remembered the fantastic birthday party they had thrown her when she turned thirteen.
She thought about how Emily’s present had been a hug and a kiss, and how that had meant much, much more to her than all of her other presents combined. And she thought about Emily right now, standing there in front of her, waiting with bated breath for an answer from her favorite person in the entire world.
“Where was I going?” Eliza repeated.
“Yeah, Liza, where?”
“Nowhere, Emmy, I’m staying right here.”
Emily never questioned the answer that her sister gave. She leaned forward and hugged her tightly. “Good, Liza. That’s super good.”
Eliza smiled and hugged her tightly back.