Wild Child part one


The road extends ahead of her—a cracked and fading ribbon of asphalt winding aimlessly out of sight, into the canopy of trees ahead. The trees pop against the sky, starkly contrasting its crisp blue hue with their vibrant leaves—splashed with shades of emboldened red, fiery orange, and warm yellow. 

It’s a picture fit to be on a calendar, she thinks. An incredibly ironic scene when it’s leveled with what waits at the end of these twisting roads. 

Her 2003 Sedan—in all the glory of its chipping paint and rusted parts—is the only car on the road. It’s not unexpected; no one ever really came to or from the town. No particular reason could be identified as the cause; it was simply that the occupants had little reason to travel outside of the safe bubble they knew, and no one—save the few lost road-trippers pulling off on the first highway exit they saw—had much reason to visit. 

Already, in all this contemplation, the memories are starting to return. She reaches a hand—nails bitten as far as they can go—to the radio, cranking it up to block out the echoes of her earlier years. Repositioning one hand on the wheel, she rolls the window down and hangs her hand out. 

For a moment, she’s caught up in the whirlwind of inexplicable freedom that accompanies driving with the windows down and the music up. But it quickly becomes not enough.

She’s three and jumping into heaping piles of crackling leaves. The laughter around her is enough to propel her up, up, up before she’s momentarily weightless. Then she’s falling down again, collapsing into the pile with a burst of giggles. 

“Careful, Zia!” her mother calls, keeping a watchful eye on the gaggle of children through the screen in the kitchen. 

Their small feet dance across the carpet of leaves. They pounce and fly into the piles, then scramble to recollect the multi-colored scraps, compiling them into massive mounds. 

In the flurry of childlike wonder, an idea sparks. She’s clambering up the thick tree trunk before she can give it a second thought. Her mother’s eyes are on the dish she’s washing for only a brief moment, but it’s enough for havoc to be wreaked. 

From her perch on the swaying branch, the pile below seems so much more daunting, but she’s already there, and jumping seems like the most logical way to get her feet back on the ground. 

With a gleeful, “Wheeeee!” she launches herself off the branch. Her mother’s scream is too late to serve any purpose but a futile reminder of the consequences that await when she hits the ground. 

She wakes up again on the couch, leg bandaged in heavy white gauze. The doctor is by the window, quietly talking to her mother, whose arms are tightly crossed over her chest, lip between her teeth as she anxiously gnaws. 

She seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to her kids, and she prematurely ends the conversation, racing over to her daughter. “Zia, I’m so glad you’re ok.” She wraps her in a tight mom-hug, her soft brown curls smushing into the side of Zia’s face. “Just please, next time, think first.”

She gently strokes her hair, and in the warmth of the embrace, Zia hears her mother murmur, “My little wild child.”

Think first. She’d heard it a million times—from her mother, from her friends, from every exasperated teacher. But she doesn’t want to dwell on that right now—on everything that has gone wrong because she couldn’t just stop and think first. 

She awards her intent focus to the scenery passing by, and the street signs catch her eye. They’re starting to become familiar, ones she’s passed time and time again, on every trip as far away from home as she could get on her bike before becoming tired. The trip grew longer every time, until she outgrew it. Until pretending to be leaving became sadder than anything else. 

She’s seven, and she’s running away. All she has is the bag on her back—stuffed with a few changes of clothes, ten dollars, and a pack of Scooby-Doo fruit snacks—and her bike. That has to be enough to get somewhere, right? 

If not, she guesses she’ll just have to live in the woods and become a wild child for real. She’d been called it enough, why not make it a reality? But her legs are getting tired. And she’s getting hungry—for a warm, homemade dinner, not the plasticy fruit snacks jammed into the depths of her bag. 

Going home means admitting that she lost; it means admitting she is, in fact, trapped in this town. But going home also means a warm dinner, her cozy bed, and her mother’s comforting embrace. 

So she turns her squeaky bike around and pedals back home. By the time her tires hit the gravel of the driveway, she’s ready to collapse. She carefully leans her bike against the side of the house and forces her legs to carry her up the front stoop. 

Her mother is making dinner when she enters the kitchen, and she acknowledges Zia with a mere, “I’m glad you’re back. I missed you.” She maintains a calm and collected facade, but Zia can see past the mask. She can see the cracks where the worry seeps through, threatening to destroy it all. 

“I’m only back because I want to be. It has nothing to do with you.” The words slip out, and she knows they’ll hurt. It’s not that she doesn’t care. It’s that she doesn’t think. And she can’t admit to losing. So the words stay there.

“I’m only back because I want to be.” She tests the words out in the empty silence of the Sedan. Years later, and all she can manage to do is sting people with her venomous words. She refuses to ask the question of herself. Does she even care anymore? 

Through the trees, she sees glimmers of the lake—the town is quickly approaching. Her foot slowly eases off the gas pedal, allowing herself a closer look at the cerulean ripples through the tree branches. 

The memories that color of blue provokes—they’re enough to make her smile, even on her worst days. 

She is thirteen years old, standing in her bathroom, and her hair is blue. Bright blue. Electric blue. The most vivid blue. Underneath that? It’s all bleached. 

She doesn’t hate it. Contrarily, she almost likes it. But it’s finally starting to sink in—the ramifications of this decision. She’s gotten used to disappointing her mother by now. But this? Blue hair? 

Her fingers gently comb through the intense strands, as she further contemplates her predicament in the bated silence. She finally decides to just bite the bullet and tell her.

Her mother is sitting on the couch, reading a book, and leisurely sipping her coffee—the typical proceedings of a Saturday morning. What wasn’t a part of that was the hair, duly noted by the coffee cup now shattered all over the floor. 

“Zia Jane! What did you do?” She doesn’t even bother to pick up the cup or the spilled coffee. Whether she’s expecting Zia to do it or she’s just too shocked to care is unclear. So Zia waits, sheepish, apologetic, not entirely ashamed. 

Her mother gets up and quietly walks over, her hands outstretched for the hair. She gently runs her fingers through it before stepping back agape. “It could be worse,” she murmurs. She walks back over to the couch and opens her book. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” she begins, not even looking up. “You’re going to clean up that mug and coffee, you’re going to get me more, and then we’re going to move on. Are we clear?” 

Zia nods, unsure how else to respond, and gets to work. A few hours later she hears her mother on the phone. “You’ll never guess what my wild child did.” 

The sign says, “Welcome to West Cosmos.” It’s pale yellow with faded blue letters. Little doodles of planets, stars, and other fixtures of the galaxy decorate the sign—graffiti that has been there as long as she’s been alive. She acknowledges, as she has countless times before, that the sign makes the town seem far more interesting than it is. 

She can’t keep going ten miles an hour forever, so she forces herself to push past the sign, officially entering the town. As she glances behind her in the rearview mirror, she can see the letters on the back of the sign, concealed by bushes and the shade of a few towering trees. But despite her partial view, she knows exactly what it says, how could she forget?

She’s seventeen, and she’s pretty sure she’s in love. Maybe it’s only been two weeks, but it’s been the best two weeks of her entire life.

Dancing in the woods as the sunlight casts golden rays through the branches. Swimming at midnight under the eerie, but stunning, glow of the moon. Cuddling beneath every blanket as the TV plays in the background. Sketching their initials into the back of the town sign. 

It’s the only time she’s been happy to be in this town. It’s the only time she hasn’t been desperate to leave; desperate for something, anything, to change. 

In fact, she wants nothing to change. Not when his fingers are intertwined with hers. Not when his smell permeates everything she owns and everything she is. Not when his presence is the only thing she needs to be completely and utterly content. 

She’s sure this is forever. How could it not be? When these two weeks have felt like no time at all. She wraps the blanket tighter around the two of them as they watch the sunset. It’s beautiful, but not as beautiful as the relationship that is now so much a part of her she thinks she might die if it ever ends. 

She wants everything and anything with him. She can conquer the world with him. Nothing could ever be bad when she’s with him. 

Until she’s nineteen and staring at the pregnancy test—and more importantly, the two pink lines—that is going to change everything.