Sadie pedaled off into the night

on

The world was still and dark — her bike’s headlights bouncing around
the sidewalk. There were no streetlights visible through the fog, which was
a comfort. If she had to be in a spot for fifteen minutes, she could leave
the bike by the bins. It would help her stay invisible. As she pedaled down the
avenue, she listened to her parents and brothers’ distant snores — the first
sound she’d heard in days.

She could barely see the bike’s beam, but she knew the route. The houses
along the street were old — the walls had weathered the damp. She turned
into the backyard, pulled the chain, and the bike’s headlight lit the path.
She pedaled faster, her feet pounding the pedals.

The second she heard the front gate open, Sadie slowed to a wobble. She could
just make out the glow of the kitchen light and the muffled sound her father
was making. Sadie slowed her pedal to a walk, then stopped. Her heart pounded.
What was he doing?

The bike’s headlight hit the fence, illuminating the wooden planks. With a
final clunk, she pedaled off, pulling the gate open. At the foot of the garden
she pulled her bike through the gate and swung by her parents’ door, kicking
it shut behind her. She’d be in and out in five minutes, tops. She jacked her
bike’s headlight back on, clicked it off, and sat on the front steps of her
house.

Sadie pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. Her heart was pounding —
it sounded as though it was pounding right inside her body. She unfolded the
paper and stared into the yellowing pages, reading the brief words that would
fill them over the coming months.

This is a note to my children — to help me become the kindest, bravest, most
proud person I can be.

She folded the paper and shoved it into a tube, which she placed in her bag.
She was ready to go. She closed her eyes as she pedaled off into the night,
and heard the gate slide closed to her right. She turned around to catch sight
of the house.

And her eyes were opened.

The beam of her bike’s headlight illuminated the front path, the house, everything.
She pedaled faster, her feet pounding the pedals faster.

Sadie was out the gate in seconds — fifteen — thirty — forty. She kept the
beams from cutting through the fog, and she didn’t look up until she caught
the reflection of her bike’s headlight on the house. She took the footpath,
glancing out at the street — past the houses the last few blocks still
dazzling in the last of the sun’s light — then turned the corner into the
garden.

She pedaled faster, the beam of her bike’s headlight cutting through the
night.

As she rounded the corner, she could see her parents’ back. She slowed to a
slow trot and pulled the chain. Her bike’s headlights cut through the yellow
fog and the house came into view.

The porch light came on before her and Sadie froze. She wasn’t sure which
was more horrifying — being seen by her parents or being seen by them. She
glanced at the gate, debating whether to step through it and let herself into
the house for a few minutes. What would happen if she did? Who would know
that she was even there?

But then, if she didn’t go, someone else would. She could just imagine what
it was like for her parents. They wouldn’t know this was her — they would
think this was an intrusion, and they would get angry. They would have questions
about how the light was on, who was in the house, and why. They would expect
to see her, and they would wonder why she wasn’t on their porch. They would
talk back and forth between themselves, back and forth about what time it was
and how the street was and how late it was. They would start with their usual
questions, get angry, and then they’d stop.

Sadie jacked the bike’s headlight on, and kept pedaling. She clicked it off
as she reached the edge of the yard. The headlight glowed for a second, then
snapped off. Sadie pedaled at a slow, steady pace as she approached the gate
and took the footpath to the house. She pulled the gate open and stepped
through it as fast as she could, leaving the bike in the yard. The gate closed
with a click and she pedaled hard, faster. At the steps, she stopped. She was
too late.

The back of her neck prickled. Her parents were there — but they weren’t
alone. There was another figure on the step. A man with his back to her.

Sadie pedaled harder, her feet pounding the pedals. The man turned around,
blinding her with his expression.

If it hadn’t been for the bike’s headlight illuminating the back of her
neck, she would have thought he was her father. He was so much like her
father — she couldn’t even begin to begin to describe it. There was the
deep-set eyes, the chiseled features, and the thinning, dark blond hair.

Sadie stepped on the pedals. She pedaled as hard as she could, racing down
the steps. The man stood still as she reached the porch, and she pulled the
chain. The bike’s headlight flared on, cutting through the fog, and she pedaled
fast, then faster still. At the railing she stopped.

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