If you're just tuning in - Liz has run away from home (bullying at school and unsympathetic parents). She met a girl named Cherry yesterday who gave her some good advice and Liz is trying to figure out what her plan is until she can meet up with Cherry again later this week.
On the third day, there is Zac.
Now that I’ve made roughly twenty-four hours in my foray to freedom, the fun has really started to wear off.
I’ve spent almost half of my money because I’m a complete idiot. I’ve had to pee for the last few hours and I don’t know where to use the bathroom because way too many places don’t have public bathrooms unless you’re a paying customer. I’m really freaking cold because it’s Denver and it’s still technically winter. Even though I have a handful of things to wear, it’s not enough.
I’m so tired, I’m on the verge of delirium. I didn’t know where to sleep last night, so I sort of didn’t. I kept walking around, trying to keep myself awake.
So now I’m annoyed, mostly at myself.
This was probably a stupid idea in the first place. Did I think this would be easy? That all of my problems would magically go away once I got away from my house? Did I really think a job and a place to sleep would just fall into my lap? I’ve made it one day. How am I possibly going to survive like this?
Maybe I should go home, tail between my legs, accepting defeat. The school year is almost over. I can probably survive, right? Maybe I’ll be able to convince my parents to let me transfer for my senior year.
I imagine how nice it would feel to sink into my warm, comfortable bed at home and sleep for twelve hours. The parental fallout from my disappearing act would be substantial, but maybe it woke them up and they’d take the time to listen to me.
Through my wandering, I manage to find a decent-sized park. I remember Cherry saying parks can be okay places to sleep. I can’t quite picture myself settling down on a park bench. I’m not a derelict and I’m not homeless, I’m just figuring out my next step.
I would love to play piano right now. I’m lost both figuratively and literally, and it’s the only thing I know how to do when I don’t know what to do. While I do find an open bathroom that only sort of smells like death, this park unfortunately doesn’t have a baby grand waiting for me so I have to work with the next best thing.
I sit down under a tree far away from the playground and where I assume the real homeless people would sleep if homeless people even sleep in this park, and pull my iPod out of my bag. I scroll through until I find a symphony I like. I’m hoping to unwind enough to be able to create some sort of plan. A power nap wouldn’t hurt either.
As the familiar melody starts to play, I feel my muscles begin to relax and my swirling mind starts to quiet. No matter what happens, music will never fail me. If this is my one constant in life, so be it.
I rest my head against the tree and close my eyes. Maybe I’ll just do this forever.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting like that, quiet, finally in a state of peace, when it’s ruined. Because it always has to be ruined.
Someone taps me on the shoulder and says, “You know you’re wanted, right?”
My eyes fly open, fearing the cops, or some creepy guy. Was I really stupid enough to fall asleep in a freaking park? It’s daylight now, and my eyes strain in the sunlight.
It’s not a cop, and it’s not a creepy guy. It’s a boy.
Trust me, I’ve read all of the sappy romance novels where the guy is described like he’s ingredients for a cookbook with colorful adjectives no sane human being would use in real life. But all I really need to say is that this guy is hot - light brown skin, dark hair, dark eyes, white teeth, amazing bone structure.
I can’t let him know I find him attractive because then I’ll lose what little power I have right now, so I decide to play coy. “You know that’s the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard, right?”
He laughs and shows off those nice teeth. “I didn’t mean for it to be a pick-up line, it’s the truth. Mind if I sit?”
I pause my music and shrug. Can’t look too overeager at the prospect of having some human interaction with a very attractive stranger.
He sits down across from me. “Are you aware that your parents are looking for you?”
That gets my attention. “What are you talking about? How do you know that?”
“I check all of the missing person sites every few days. I saw your picture up yesterday afternoon. You haven’t been gone for very long.”
Oh great. “You’re not going to turn me in or something, are you?”
He lifts an eyebrow. “Do you want me to?”
I stare at him, challenging him. “People that run away usually don’t want to be found.”
He sits back a little. “So you ran away.”
I can’t tell if he’s impressed or if he thinks I’m stupid. I just nod.
“I hate my parents.” That’s at least part of the reason.
He sighs. “Don’t we all.”
“Did you run away, too?” I wasn’t expecting to have this in common.
“Me? Nah. My parents decided they didn’t want me anymore.” He says it so plainly, so calm, like it’s nothing to him. But he avoids my eyes like maybe there’s something deeper there.
“They kicked you out?” I clarify.
“That’s one way to put it.”
“How long have you been out here?”
“A month or so.”
I’m intrigued. I can’t pretend I’m not attracted to him, but for the first time in my life I’m going to refrain from throwing myself at a guy just because I find him attractive. All bets are off right now and I’m not trying to make any more mistakes.
“I’m Liz,” I stick out my hand to shake.
He shakes my hand but gives me a funny look. “Liz,” He repeats. “The name I saw was different. The picture looks exactly like you, though.”
My mouth drops open. “They didn’t,” I say under my breath. Leave it to my parents to continue to be the absolute worst even after I leave.”
He cracks a smile. “Didn’t what?”
I roll my eyes. “Okay, my parents are complete idiots, let me start there. Their first act as parents was to give me the stupidest name they could possible think of.”
He laughs. “I probably have you beat, but go ahead.”
I sigh and close my eyes for a second. “My ridiculous legal name is…Alizsondra Marguerite. Like Alexandra or even Alessandra weren’t quite good enough for them, so they had to come up with their own stupid variation. And then Marguerite. I don’t even have a clue how they came up with that one.”
“That’s pretty bad, but I promise I have you beat.”
I raise my eyebrows, accepting this bad name challenge.
“You ready?” He waits. “My parents chose to inflict me with…Zacchaeus Ishmael.”
“I go by Zac.”
“I can see why! Did they even bother explaining their thought process on that one?”
“Both are names from the Bible. I have a brother named Josiah Thomas and twin sisters named Faith and Esther.”
“Well those aren’t as bad! Why’d you get stuck with the doozy?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Alizsondra.” He cracks another grin.
Usually, anyone that uses my dreaded legal name is dead to me, but for some reason this Zacchaeus guy using it bothers me slightly less. Maybe it’s his own unfortunate legal name situation, or maybe it’s that painfully cute grin he’s got going on.
“So what brings you here? Is there a reason why you’re lurking around parks, looking for missing people at whatever the hell time it is?” I joke.
He laughs. “It’s eleven AM, my dear. Did you not notice the sunshine and joggers and the after-church crowd?”
Not at all.
“And I wasn’t looking for you, I just happened to find you. I have a thing for parks.”
“A thing for parks,” I repeat. “You realize that makes you sound like a pedophile or something, right?”
I’m being sarcastic and I expect another laugh because he seems to understand my humor, but this time a laugh doesn’t come.
“It’s how I like to spend my time. There are hundreds of parks in Denver and the surrounding area, and my goal is to go to all of them.”
Interesting past-time. I lift an eyebrow. “Why parks?”
He shrugs. “I spent a lot of time inside when I was a kid. I can do whatever I want now, so I want to be outside.”
“Fair enough,” I shrug, too. “How many have you been to?”
“This is my twentieth. I started in City Park because that’s the one I knew the most about and from there I’m working in a counter-clockwise fashion around the city.”
“And this just happened to be your park of the day?”
“I don’t go to a park a day. It all depends. But yes, Lincoln Park just happened to be the winner today.”
I crack a smile. “Lucky me.”
“Lucky you,” He returns the smile. “Do you have any kind of plan yet, or are you just enjoying sitting under trees in parks, or what?”
I laugh. “Yeah, now that I’m free from my parents, my main goal is to sit under trees in parks and hope I run into good-looking guys to talk to.”
“Oh, so I’m a good-looking guy?” He lifts an eyebrow.
“Don’t pretend like this is news to you.”
“My pick-up line must have worked then.”
“That lame, ‘you know you’re wanted’ trick? Ha! As if. And you already said that was about my parents looking for me.”
“I’ll never tell,” He winks.
Somehow all of this is working for me. I’ve known this guy for ten seconds and I’m into him. Awesome.
“To be honest, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not sure if hunger or boredom will kill me first,” I admit.
He turns up one corner of his mouth. “Can I help?”
“Good question,” I challenge.
“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself. It’s not safe. Do you want to come with me?”
I’m about to say sure. The word is half-way out of my mouth when I remember what a little cherry blossom told me only yesterday - people will try to take advantage of you because you’re young and pretty. If someone tells you you’re too pretty to be out here all alone let me help you, it’s usually a trap. Most guys that offer you a place to stay will end up being your worst nightmare.
I can’t believe that I nearly got ahead of myself, yet again, and could be about to walk into an unsavory situation. I can almost hear Cherry’s over-eager voice in my ear telling me to run away.
Is Zac attractive? Yes. Am I intrigued by him and maybe into him even though I’ve known him for ten seconds? Yes. Could this entire conversation have been his way of buttering me up and lowering my defenses so he could swoop in take advantage of me? I don’t want to think so, but maybe, and right now I can’t afford any more bad decisions.
I’m meeting Cherry again the day after tomorrow. Surely I can survive that long, right? I don’t need this guy. I might want this guy, but for the first time in my life I need to refrain from jumping at the next available guy. He’s probably bad news. Why else would he be talking to me?
I stand up and grab my backpack. He stands too, probably assuming I’m getting ready to ride off into the sunset with him.
“Um,” I mumble. “I need to get going.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting someone soon, I don’t want to be late,” I lie. I start to walk away but he follows me of course.
“Where are you meeting them?”
Oh wouldn’t you like to know. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Wait!” He grabs my arm and I shake it off. My heart starts to pound - what if he doesn’t let me escape? “Did I do something wrong? I thought we were hitting it off there for a second. I really can help you if you’d just let me.”
That’s probably what they all say. “No really, I’m fine.” I walk away again. “Thanks though.”
He follows me again. “Seriously Liz, it’s not safe for you to wander around on your own.”
“Well like I said, I’m meeting a friend, and I really am fine. I’ve made it this far haven’t, I?” We stare at each other for a second. “It was nice meeting you Zac.”
“You really don’t want my help.”
“I’m fine.” I’m not fine. I think he knows that.
He doesn’t follow me this time when I walk away. I think he knows I’m lying, but his opinion isn’t really my problem. It sucks to walk away from him because in another world I would have liked him and maybe we could have been something. But in this world, I have to be smart and I have to think ahead. Cherry was right. I shouldn’t trust anyone out here, no matter how cute and funny they may be.