"Where are we going?"
Silence.
"Mom?"
"I don't know, Crysti. I don't know where I'm going."
"We. Where we are going…"
"Where we're going."


Crysti awoke with a start. In a panic, she fumbled for her lamp. Her hands hit brick wall. Sitting up, her eyes adjusted to the darkness surrounding her, and she remembered. She wasn't home anymore.
Wiping the sweat from her brow, she dug a flashlight out of her backpack. The sphere of light swept the corner of the alley Crysti had claimed as hers a month ago. The wall of boxes she'd used to shield herself from the rest of the alley's patrons had been disturbed to where she could spy the firelight cast from neighboring runaways.
But she wasn't a runaway. She'd never wanted to come here. Her life was half a country away. She hadn't wanted to leave… but she'd had no choice. Her mother, Janelle, was leaving, and she'd have had no problem leaving Crysti to provide for herself. And after a month on the road… the result as the same. They came to a stop in a little town in Massachusetts for breakfast. The diner was small and dirty, but it was cheap. Filling herself up on eggs and sausage, Crysti was directed to watch the food while Janelle went to the bathroom. An hour later, Crysti was forced to accept that her mother had left her.
Janelle had left Crysti's two bags, and generously stuffed the pocket of one with twenty dollars. Crysti had sat outside the diner for two more hours, hoping her mom would come back. When realization settled, Crysti began walking. She didn't know where she was going, or what was going to happen. She didn't even think about it. She just walked until the sun lowered and her body ached.
She'd settled for the night in a hammock. It wasn't until morning that Crysti learned a valuable lesson: Every hammock belongs to someone. And some of them are equipped with huge dogs.
She bought a burger from the McDonalds dollar menu, and continued her trek. For the next four days she repeated this process- eat, walk, sleep on someone's front porch or tree house. She'd wash herself in gas station bathrooms, and alternate her two pairs of outfits every day. For five dollars she bought three pairs of underwear, a new pair of socks, toothpaste and a bottle of water to fend away dehydration.
With only ten dollars left, Crysti stole away in an alley, longing for a rest from the aches and pain. She ignored the people in the alley, people she'd once considered beneath her. For hours, she worked on the corner of the alley, building her wall, laying old, grimy towels over every inch of the dirt floor. She used her teddy bear, the one she'd carried for the fourteen years of her life, as a pillow, and used her hoodie as a blanket. Once, she'd woken up to find a blue blanket over her. She'd thrown it off her, and then thought better of it as the cold seeped into her.
In the day, she read her worn copy of "Where The Heart Is" by Billie Letts, struck by the irony of her life, now very similar to Novalee's life. When hunger tore at her stomach, Crysti ventured out of her haven to take the food the others offered at her. She somewhat admired the unity of this alley- homeless people ranging from age ten to age- well, Crysti hadn't asked, but there were some wrinkles walking around. But age just didn't seem to be a factor here. They shared what they had, and each night, they would create a huge bonfire in the middle of the alley and have dinner. It usually wasn't much- stolen canned goods, ramen noodles, food from dumpsters outside of fast food diners. No, it wasn't much- but it was enough to get them by. And they never had a problem sharing with the girl that never talked to any of them. The girl with perfect teeth, and dirty but none the less name brand clothes. They all had stories about her, a different fairy tale each night how she might have fallen from grace.
Crysti was the only one who knew the truth. Every night, in the moments between being awake and being asleep, she let herself think about it. How Janelle had left her. How, no matter what grades she'd gotten or how good her manners were, Crysti just wasn't good enough. When it came to Janelle, nothing ever was. Her mom would work and work until she'd reach the standards of perfection she'd set, and then set new ones. That's why she was always moving, always changing her hair and make-up, always reinventing herself.
But no matter how hard she worked to change herself, the kid she carried around with her reminded her that she was still Janelle Baker at the end of the day. She could change her name every hour, but she still carried the same scars, the same womb, the same past.
Crysti shook her head and turned the flashlight off, then returned it to her backpack. In a few minutes, she would be sleeping again, unaware of the world changing around her.