Paradise is a hell-colored flame sky.
Ailsa Aleese, 15, Malibu, California
Gillian's smile is addicting.
"It's four AM," she breathes into my ear.
I shift in my silky powder blue nightshirt. "And?"
I can see the whites of her eyes in the moonlight as she rolls them. "You said you'd be ready by four."
"But I'm so tired," I whine.
Gillian huffs, moving from my bed to my window seat, gazing out at the waves lapping the powdery sand. "Well, hurry up. We have to be at the train station by five." She sighs, fumbling in her front jean pocket and grabbing a cigarette from her pack. I watch her silhouette as there's a spark, a small gleam of red, and finally a thin trail of glimmering smoke trail up from her pouty lips. I myself didn't smoke, but I found it fascinating and exciting that she did.
I pull myself out of the cocoon of blankets wistfully, glancing back with a sigh. I start to slide off my pajama shorts, pulling on a pair of faded jeans in their place. "It's gonna take forever to pack."
She shoots me a glare brimming with acid. "You haven't even packed yet?"
"It's such a chore." I huff, throwing on a white and cerulean striped top. "I was surfing till nine last night and after that I just ate pizza on the deck until I wandered up here and crashed. I wasn't really that bothered. What did you pack?"
"A couple sweatshirts, extra underwear, some protein bars, cigarettes, cash, my phone, a lighter, just random stuff. Wasn't such a chore to me, just threw some stuff in a bag and off I went. Now hurry up!"
I dramatically fling myself across the room, making sure my feet don't clatter on the floor as to not wake up my family, and retrieve my sea blue backpack from my closet. What to pack? I tap my chin a few times before grabbing a tube of deodorant and my hairbrush. Those were obvious. They're followed by a few cans of Pringles and a box of granola bars. My eyes drift to a shelf, where my earbuds dangle haphazardly from a jewelry tree. Tangled, but still usable. I tuck those in a pocket.
"Hurry up, you idiot," Gillian whines softly from the windowseat. "If we wanted to leave before your parents woke up, we're not making much progress."
"Who was the one who wanted to leave here in the first place?" I snap back at her. "We're only gonna be gone a couple days, probably. A week, tops. Just enough to do your lovely mommy a frighten." My hands brush across my favorite cardigan, and I fold that neatly before tucking it in. "You're just ever so lucky that you have a supportive best friend who would throw herself in the flaming pits of hell for you."
"I will forever worship you," Gillian gags falsely, although I know that underneath her careless attitude, there's a girl who really does appreciate my gesture, wouldn't be leaving if it weren't for me by my side. "Now, ready to go?"
"Hang on," I sigh. My fingers flex at my sides, unready. It seemed as if I had everything I'd need, but just in case… a picture of my family. Not that I'd need it or anything.
"I guess I'm ready now."
"Good," she says, throwing her half-used cigarette out the window. I watch it plop into the fountain in the yard. "Time to go, right?"
Checking the time – 4:20, hardee har har – I tuck my phone into my back pocket. "Yep."
Neither Gillian and I had our own cars – her family didn't have the funds to afford a car for each of their children, and I'd wasted my prize money on a new surfboard and two flashy wetsuits – but the train station was just a fifteen minute walk from my place. The morning air was cold, and I could make out goosebumps on Gillian's bare legs. I bet she was regretting not packing sweatpants.
"I wonder if anyone else we know will be going," I muse aloud.
"Probably not." I can see Gillian's frown as a car's headlights flash onto her face. "I mean, if I barely missed the ad in the paper, who else would see it? Hell, who even reads the paper aside from me?"
"Damn it." I'd had visions of waltzing into the station fashionably and seeing dozens upon dozens of our peers, sleepy-eyed and eager. Like a big adventure with all my friends. Apparently this wouldn't be the case.
"Why do you even care?" she snorts. "Oh, wait, the great Ailsa Aleese, not caring what people think? Legendary. Novel idea. Someone write a movie about this!"
"Oh, shut up." I roll my eyes. It's true, I did care too much about what people thought, but she didn't have the right to make fun of me for it. I didn't make fun of her issues and quirks. Then again, it didn't bother me that much, either; I really couldn't be bothered.
There's silence for another good ten minutes, until the train station comes into view. People flooding in and out of the escalators, cars honking, the surge of controlled chaos even in the infant hours of the morning. Malibu was full of energy, and I was glad to be a part of it.
Would Detroit be noisier? More lowkey? Packed with more adventure than even my own hometown? What opportunities lie in store? For me? For Gillian?
With a sideways glance to my best friend's grinning face, I decide that I can't wait to find out.
Antonio Chavitas, 15, New London, Connecticut
The black ground of the track makes me feel like I'm flying.
"One more lap, Harrison, Chavitas, Andrews, Li, hurry it up. You're at five minutes, fifty seconds."
The three boys that surround me are panting hard. Jack Harrison, Nathaniel Andrews, Heejun Li. My friends. My track buddies. Ever since seventh grade, we've been an unstoppable force in West New London. The best in our class, they say. The trophies proudly displayed in the cases lining the halls to the gym prove that. So do the smiles that the parents get whenever we come jogging off the bus at meets. The cheers. The applause. The glory.
It's all a boy like me could want.
But it's not what I want. I want more than just little New London, scraping along with just about twenty-five thousand people. The victories that we win are sweet, and it's nice to see the school at our meets. But I don't just want that. I want people from all over to see my face and know who I am. I want people to look at me and tell me that I've done something for them, that I've been a role model for them.
Because when I was little, all I needed was a role model, really. Daddy dearest never provided that for me. Even a high-schooler with big dreams of running track for a profession and good intentions would have been better than a man who skidded in and out of jobs at fast food restaurants and picked up a new girl every week.
We finish the lap too early, in just about a minute and a half. Even though my thighs burn and my calves are weak, I look at the track longingly, shoulders sagging slightly as I reach for my water bottle. I could run forever.
"Good run, boys." Coach Jefferson beams up at us. Though he's short and stocky, he encourages us, yells at us, scolds us, brings us oranges to each practice. He's sentimental and he's dictatorial, and everything about him makes him incredibly important to me. "Hit the locker room and be out of the gym by five. Can't have you running around while baseball practice is going on."
The four of us, always the last to leave the track after practice, tread silently to the locker room. I'm greeted with the sickly sweet and pungent smell of sweat and deodorant when we arrive.
Jack, Nate, and Heejun babble on about our upcoming track meet and Nate's recent lack of a girlfriend, but I can't concentrate. Not like it's anything new. I'm just too focused on something else. My mind is too hazy. Life feels like a blur at the moment, and it's not just because of how fast I run.
"Hey, Antonio, see you tomorrow at practice, bitch," Jack hollers after me after I almost walk out without saying goodbye.
I poke my head back in, flash a grin, and nod my head. "See you, too, jackass."
But I won't see him tomorrow. I won't see anyone from here tomorrow, actually.
Because I'm leaving tonight.
It was a few weeks ago when I was on a school computer, no less, looking up information on the El Salvador civil war for a paper. I had been sifting through sketchy-looking websites when I saw it – a tiny internet ad, hidden under a big paragraph of text.
I don't know why it intrigued me, or why I felt the need to look at it in private, but I took a quick picture of the little ad on my phone and took a closer crack at it that night, in the privacy of my room. I don't know what I had expected, but that wasn't it. The bolded words announced a game. Not just any game, but a game for kids like myself. Kids who felt lost, who felt like their talents and abilities weren't being acknowledged. Those who wanted to escape. Those who needed to escape.
My stomach feels tight as I approach my house ten minutes later. Our lawn is freshly cut; a little sloppy, but what can you expect from the nine-year-old boy who I give ten dollars to mow it every two weeks? The blinds are drawn. My dad's car is parked crookedly in our drive.
By the time I slide the key in the lock, there's a cold sweat breaking out on my head, even though I feel like I should know what to expect by now.
I swing the door open. The room reeks of cigarettes and drugstore perfume. There's a noise, like a can being knocked over.
My gaze swivels to the kitchen automatically, and I hear my dad take in a breath. Eyes widening, I take in my nearly naked father, clad in boxers only. Then I stare at the bruised girl on the counter, hardly older than twenty-five. She has lipstick on her tits.
"Antonio," my father bellows.
"You can fuck off," I shriek before he has a chance to come after me. Disgust bubbles up in my stomach like acid. There's no reason he has to yell at me, not when I've walked in on him like this so many times. He's horny for young women, and for some reason, they like him right back. It's sick. It's perverted. It's wrong, and I don't want to be anything like my father.
I run past the horrid sight in the kitchen to my small room, slamming the door. I'd wanted to pack tonight. I'd wanted to plan things out. Not anymore. It had never even crossed my mind that my father would be on one of his 'ventures' tonight. More importantly, I'd never thought it would be on the place I had planned on eating dinner.
But this does it. Screw waiting until my father was asleep. Why would he even try and stop me?
Swinging my backpack off my shoulder, I empty it of my school supplies, folders and notebooks and stray pencils tumbling to the floor. My eyes flicker across my room, searching for things I might need. A half-empty box of strawberry Poptarts. A toothbrush. A second hoodie with our school logo on it, in case Detroit was cold. A few bottles of grape Gatorade. The last card my mom ever sent me and my varsity track award. A charger for my phone.
I don't think there's a single ounce of regret in my body when I stride past my father and the girl in the kitchen, backpack held tight to my chest, slamming the door behind me.
I'm finally free. I'm finally out of the hell that I used to call home.
I couldn't be more ready for Detroit.
Chase Kennedy, 15, Lafayette, Louisiana
"I don't have anywhere else to stay!"
"Why not stay with your boyfriend? Or should I say, 'baby daddy'?" my mother sneers down at me, looking much higher than five foot six from her perch on top of the stairs. Her eyes are full of venom, her nostrils flared. "I can't believe you, Chase. You're Catholic. You're on the honor roll. And yet you let this happen."
"I created an issue, so I created a solution!" I retort, resisting the urge to stamp my foot.
My mother snorts, her voice high-pitched. Shrill. "Get out. Get out. Wait till your father hears about this. Congressman for Louisiana, big house, perfect family, except for you."
"I didn't fucking mean for it to happen!" I yell.
"But it did!" she clenches the banister. "I told you, get out. Go away. I need to clear my head. I need to wrap my head around this. I need to tell… your father…"
I make to go up the stairs.
"Where do you think you're going?" she sneers.
I smile dryly, just about ready to spit at her. "My phone is up there, Mommy."
"Your phone?!" she nearly screams. "You think you're getting your phone back after all this has happened? So you can dial up your varsity-league boyfriend and have some more intercourse?"
"Oh, please." I swallow an insult and glare. "So guess I'm not even getting my phone to call up one of my friends to see if I can spend the night?"
My mother's ferocious glower tells me I'm correct.
"Fine." The fake smile returns, and I shrug like I'm not seething both inwardly and outwardly. I pull my denim jacket closer to my skin and shrug. "I'll just leave, then. Get out of your way, since clearly your thoughts are more important than your own flesh and blood."
"You always were so dramatic, Chase." My mother's lips curve downward into a haughty frown. Past tense, like I'm already gone.
I turn away, facing into the kitchen as I hear her footsteps trail off somewhere upstairs; my room, presumably, to snatch up my phone and to read all the juicy sexts she's assumed I send to my boyfriend, no matter how many times I've told her otherwise. Oh, how I love my mother's ability to trust!
My soccer drawstring bag lies in a heap at the front door, my running shoes and soccer ball already inside it. If I'm leaving for real, might as well keep my prized possessions and keep my itinerary to a minimum. My thoughts feel robotic as I move around the downstairs, gathering my things. My iPod, on the desk, earbuds wrapped around it. My rosary beads, dangling off the counter. Anything more? What more could you need?
My gaze flits to the closed door of my parents' room.
I'm a good person. I go to church every Sunday. I try my best to make decent decisions, I really do.
But will God punish me if my own mother kicks me out? I mean, I know that there's a commandment that says you shouldn't go against your parents, and yeah, rules about stealing, but what if the circumstances weren't in your favor?
My hand flies to the doorknob, turns it softly, so there's no noise, and I slide into the dark room. I'm drawn to the cupboard, to the cookie tin where I know my mother keeps emergency money. She doesn't know I know, but spying isn't a sin.
I crack it open, eyes scanning the stacks of twenties. There's so many, hoarding just a couple for my own use won't matter. I slide a handful into the pocket of my jacket, maybe about one hundred sixty dollars.
That's all I need, isn't it? Cash and rosary beads and my soccer stuff. Ball is life, right?
The sidewalk seems foreign to me as I walk along it. I don't have my own car – I'm only fifteen. Ryan's parents didn't even know about the abortion, and yeah, neither did he until the morning of. They still think I'm that good girl that their son dates, the one who shows up to church in a pretty dress and Converse.
Which I am. I'm such a good person, and that's not sarcasm.
There's a payphone in front of the donut shop a few streets down, and that's where I head. Fishing a quarter out of the bottom of my bag where I keep assorted change, I dial Ryan's cell.
He picks up after a couple rings, his voice groggy. "H'llo?"
"It's me." I exhale. "Chase."
"Hey, baby." He isn't so groggy anymore, more so tense, as he's been ever since that doctor's appointment. "What's up?"
"Well…" I suck in a breath. "I kinda just got kicked out."
"It's very nineteen-ninety television, I know…" I shift from one foot to the other, aware of the glances I'm getting as people walk past. "But yeah, Mom's been on my case for days and she just snapped."
"You're gonna ask if you can crash here." His voice shows no signs of laxness.
"Can I, babe?"
He sucks in a breath. "The thing is, Ma still doesn't know about-"
"I can't stay, I get it, no need to explain it to me." My heart drops suddenly, and all the energy that I usually have pent up inside of me dwindles just a bit. "That's fine. Fine."
"I can stay with Becca or Caroline or someone." I feel a fake smile creeping onto my face, even if there's no one watching me. "It'll be good. I'll be good."
"You're a good person, Ryan," I whisper into the phone. "And so am I. I'll see you at school tomorrow."
The pay phone makes a very satisfying clatter when I slam it back into place.
The curdling in my stomach doesn't diminish after the call, though. My boyfriend is sweet, he's religious, he's got a wicked sense of humor, but he's a mama's boy, and he plays by the rules. That's the one thing I've never liked about him; he never really loosened up.
My shoulders slump and I scratch against a sticker on the pay phone box dejectedly, peeling off a corner. All of a sudden, I don't know why, but the italic letters catch my eye.
Come to Detroit.
A/N: Angels Forever, Forever Angels by Lana del Rey.
Starting this story off right, 3 POV's a chapter, hope it was decent. I'm kinda new to this whole AU thing, I guess.
Anywayssss, I don't have much of an author's note. School's out soon, as is my sport schedule, maybe I'll update before that, maybe not. Time will tell. Thanks for all the great blog reviews, by the way, I appreciate everyone making an effort to support their tribute and this story! :-)
Thoughts on each POV?
Who are you excited to see?