I watched in secret.

From the textured warmth of the coat closet, Joanna could be seen in full. Her long legs, her long arms, her long face; her long hair- kept back with a purple scarf. She faced towards the staircase, with brunette curls lying like seaweed against her back and her jeans loose and patched with color. There was nothing pretentious about what she wore. Jo was never pretentious. Her backpack was the same one she had used in the fourth grade, black and ratty. Stickers and pins mottled it and made it art. A bead swished in her hair. Hanging at her sides, thin, bare-nailed fingers dappled front and back. And, as it often was, her shirt was covered in flowers.

" Nash c'mon!" her voice was a melodic whisper. When used right, that voice was known to be deep and gorgeous as the midnight sea. But even as a whisper it was class-act Joanna...

There was a moment of silence and she waited expectantly- pointed chin sloped with the stairs. When the man appeared, she shook her head, and the bead in her hair tangled with muddy surfer-curls. "C'mon..."

"I am. I am..."

The man was young. His eyes were younger. The color in them was indistinguishable in the dark, but undoubtedly bright, set into a lean, hollow-cheeked face of unkempt wildness. He grinned wide and relaxed, showing off imperfect teeth and making the steel ring in his lip wink and shift. His sweater was old and thin and soft-looking, his jeans in tatters, his hiking boots over-worn and muddied; his shoulders slouched under a massive pack... but it was his haircut that defined him. The dreads were short and slapdash, framing his unique face with sun-sucked brown and off-blondes, squashed under a gray bandanna.

Every movement the two of them made groaned echoes in the sleeping house. As he reached the landing, quiet hands took hold of Jo's waist and she turned, looking at him with soundless poise. He grinned, and the grin reached his loud whisper. "B.C. Baby!" Her finger touched his lips, but her smile looked strangely intuitive. Had her eyes ever really looked that soft before?

"Let's go." Fingers knit: casual, tanned, vegetarian fingers, their chunky hippy-rings clicking intimately. Her hand was swallowed. Jo used to play the piano with those hands. Now the pads of her fingers were scarred. She played the guitar too much. She did everything too much: that's what everyone said. Played too much guitar. Smoked too much pot, laughed too much, slept too much, spent too many nights away from home. And acted too independent for an eighteen-year-old. "Independent" was the word usually used.

"Free" probably would have been more appropriate.

Two pairs of dirty hiking boots padded across the polished hardwood. Hands stayed clasped. Backpacks rustled. They seemed so sure of themselves, the two of them. So unquestioning... Jo especially. At the front door, already open and letting in chilly air, it was the young man who stopped. Not Jo. It should have been Jo. She turned to him as if coming out of a trance.


"You sure we got everything?"

Her thin mouth smiled, but only a little. "Yes...but if we didn't. I don't care."

Dreadlocks moved with a smirk. "You gunna miss it here?"

Pause. "No." The word was thoughtful and hopeful and paired with such an unforgettable smile it hurt the eyes to watch. It should have been tragic. It was anything but. They didn't shut the door behind them as they left, with their backpacks and their boots and the bead in her hair. The sound of the car was cheap and concrete, tearing the silent fabric of the air with gentle apology. The house slowly filled with the pulse of 2-o-clock air. Crisp and wild.

I knew my sister had finally found her freedom.