From that day on, my life changed.
Whenever something bothered me I left. Whenever I was bored I left. Whenever I just wanted to get away from the situation or person, I simply disappeared and showed up on my island. It was my little world, and nobody could get to me there.
I explored the whole island really well. It was small. There was nothing really in the forest, no animals, no bugs. One time, I tried to climb down the rocks to get the narrow strip of sand on the shore. I’d almost slipped and fallen into the crashing waves. After my heart stopped beating a thousand beats per minute, I came up with a plan. Next time I tried it, I took rope with me.
That wasn’t all I took there either. I had a vision of building a little cabin in the clearing by the forest with a bed and kitchen and everything. I’d have my own house. But, let’s be honest, I was only 15 and had no clue how to do anything like that. So I contented myself with the tent my dad had put in the basement and never used. I slept in there sometimes when I didn’t feel like sleeping in my room.
I hated being at home. Since Rachel left, they’d been weird. I kept catching them arguing about finances and dumb stuff like that, and our family dinners were very quiet and not family-like. Even when Rachel came home on the weekends, everything felt tenser than it used to.
I was loving this new change in my life. But everyone else wasn’t. My grades started dropping, because I didn’t really care about studying anymore. Mom and Dad noticed after a while and grounded me until I started getting good grades. That was fine by me.
Then my friends got mad at me for not hanging out with them anymore.
“When are you coming over?” Erin asked me one day at the lunch table.
I’d been busy daydreaming about building a tree house, so I was kind of annoyed when she brought me out of my thoughts. “I don’t know,” I mumbled, picking at the carrot sticks in front of me. I wasn’t hungry.
“What’s wrong with you?” She poked me with her plastic fork.
“Yeah, you never talk to us anymore, you just stare into space like a zombie,” Drew said.
We could hardly understand what he was saying because his mouth was full of his burger.
“Nothing.” I’d just thought of something brilliant. Could it be done…?
“Gra-ace.” Erin waved her hand in front of my eyes. “Are you there?”
“What?” I was starting to get mad.
“Why aren’t you talking to us? Did we do something?”
“No. My parents grounded me until I start doing better in school.” I ate another bite of salad. I could barely taste it. The idea growing in my head was wrong, I knew it, but it would solve so many of my problems.
My friends exchanged glances.
“There is something wrong with her,” I heard Ryan say.
I finally looked up, and all of them were staring at me.
“What is it?” I pushed my ideas out of my head and waited for them to tell me what was going on.
“It’s like you aren’t ever listening,” Erin said.
“Yeah, and you never get bad grades,” Drew added, stuffing the rest of the burger in his mouth.
“You never want to hang out, and I don’t remember the last time you came over.” Erin looked hurt.
I felt bad. I’d never wanted them to think I didn’t like them. “I’m sorry guys. I’ve just been distracted. Maybe we can do something this weekend, if my parents let me.”
That satisfied them for the moment, and I could get back to my plans.
What if… I already knew that I could take things with me to the island. I had been reading and watching tutorials on building that cabin I wanted. It didn’t seem that hard with the right kind of tools. The thing was, I didn’t have them. Dad wasn’t very handy with those kinds of things. I’d already spent most of my money on a sleeping bag, and I didn’t want to make my parents suspicious by asking for more money. So, back to my plan. What if I went to a store, put a tool that I needed into my pocket, and disappeared to the island? I could use it, and when I was done, I could reappear and put it back where it belonged. That wasn’t really stealing, was it?
The next day after school, I walked into a small hardware store a couple blocks from home. My heart pounded way too loudly and everything inside of me told me that what I was about to do was wrong. The cashier smiled at me, but I felt like he was sizing me up, wondering what a teenage girl was doing in a hardware store. I walked down one of the crowded aisles, and bumped into a middle-aged guy looking at drills.
I found the hammers and looked at each one closely. My hands were shaking so much that I thought everyone had to see and know that I was up to no good. I finally took one down. It was heavy. I looked around to make sure the guy had left the aisle, then thought, I wish I wasn’t here.
I appeared on the island with the hammer in my hand. I threw it down and let out an exasperated breath. I’d done it.
But then there was other stuff I hadn’t thought about. I was going to need the hammer for longer than just a few minutes, and I couldn’t reappear in the store hours later and pretend I’d been there the whole time. It would be so much simpler if I just left it on the island and returned it later. So I left it and returned to the store.
I walked out of the store with my head down. Every bone in my body was shaking. I expected someone to stop me at any minute. But they wouldn’t find anything on me anyway.
A few days later, I tried again with nails and sandpaper. Obviously, I knew I wasn’t going to return the nails, and the sandpaper would be ruined when I used it. But it wasn’t technically stealing if I didn’t leave the store with them, right?
Building anything at all was a lot harder than I’d thought. I’d printed off instructions on how to build a cabin from Google, but it looked much easier on paper than in reality. I spent hours trying to cut branches off trees (there was no way I’d be able to cut down a whole tree) before I finally gave up and decided to “borrow” some boards. That project took up all my free time, and even my parents started wondering why I enjoyed being locked in my room all day.
One day, I needed to get more supplies. I walked out of school and told my friends I was going to walk home, but Erin stopped me.
“I’ll walk with you,” she said.
I swallowed. “Why? You don’t even live close.”
“That’s okay, I could use the exercise.” She crossed her arms and gave me her sassy look.
“You really don’t have to come with me.”
“I want to.”
“I can find my way home by myself.” I said, starting to back away.
“So? I just want to spend time with you.” She was getting forceful. I could feel the tension between us. Drew and Ryan just stood there awkwardly, looking between us and the bus.
“I think I’ll take the bus,” Ryan whispered to Erin. She didn’t answer. We were too busy staring each other down.
Drew still stood there.
“I just want to be alone,” I tried.
“Grace, you’re alone all the time. What’s happened to you? Why don’t you like us anymore?”
“You’re so stupid.” I was getting annoyed. “There’s nothing wrong. I just want some alone time when people aren’t bothering me all the time.”
Erin raised her eyebrows at me. “So we’re bothering you. You know what? Maybe I’ll just leave you alone so you won’t be bothered. Have fun all by yourself.” She turned and rushed to the bus that was about to pull out.
“You know what?” I yelled after her. “I will.”
“Good comeback,” Drew said. I’d forgotten that he was still there.
“Go away,” I told him and started walking.
He let me go, but I could feel him watching me. I picked up the pace. They all sucked.
As I got closer to the store, I suddenly didn’t feel like going in. I didn’t want to admit it, but what Erin had said really bothered me. Yeah, I didn’t really hang out with them anymore, but I had better things to do. I had my island to take care of. They just couldn’t understand.
I kind of felt selfish, but Erin was selfish too for wanting me to spend time with her all the time. I remembered when we were best friends and she’d started dating Ryan. I had been happy for her, but suddenly I wasn’t as important to her anymore. I’d felt so left out when they wanted to be alone together, and I remembered talking to her about it. She’d gotten a lot better after that.
Now it was like the roles were reversed. But I didn’t have a boyfriend, and having my own world was a little different.
I don’t want to be here.
I was on the island, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the wind tug on my clothes and hair. I knew if I stayed here for a while I’d feel better.
I turned around to see how my building project was going. I’d given up on making a cool, rustic cabin. It was going to look more like a run-down shack if I’d ever be able to finish it. The boards were crooked, and I couldn’t get the nails all the way in. Then I saw something moving on one of the boards.
I went over for a closer look. I cringed when I saw a sea of beetles crawling in and out of holes in the wood. They were destroying my house! I desperately grabbed for a hammer and started hitting them off the boards.
When I was sure most of them were gone, I flopped down on the ground, wondering where they’d come from. I’d never seen any animals or bugs on this island. It was weird.
I didn’t feel like staying the island much longer. Somehow it didn’t seem as peaceful as before. I went home and lay in my bed, wondering what to do. About my friends, the island, the cabin. Where had those beetles come from?
Erin started ignoring me at school. She even decided to sit at a different table during lunch. Of course, Ryan went with her, so it was just me and Drew most of the time. I was surprised when he didn’t ditch me too, because I’d never apologized to him, and he never brought it up. We ate in silence every day I thought about my island while he did whatever he did.
After a week or two, he must have had enough, because he finally broke the silence.
“I’m really tired of this,” he said to me at our table before I’d even taken my fork out of its plastic wrapper.
“Of what?” I stabbed into my salad and stuffed a forkful into my mouth.
“You giving me the silent treatment. You’ve maybe said 2 words this entire week. It’s kind of boring.”
I looked at Drew who was staring at me, trying to analyze my reaction. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was my job to entertain you.”
“Look,” he leaned in close, almost making me uncomfortable, “you may be able to get rid of Erin, but I don’t get hurt over anything. I just want to know what the heck is wrong with you. Something has to be going on, and I want to know what.”
“You can’t know,” I said before I’d thought through the meaning of those words. Dang it. Now I’d given away that there was something.
“I knew it!” Drew’s eyes lit up. “Tell me. I won’t leave you alone until you do.”
I pretended to ignore him and picked at my salad. My mind spun with ideas of what to tell him so he didn’t get suspicious.
“Come on, Grace. We’re friends. You can tell me anything. You know that.” Drew said.
He was right, usually we could talk about anything, even the embarrassing things I wouldn’t normally tell people. Like the time I peed my pants at school from laughing so much. He’d even given me his jacket to tie around my waist until I got home. But this... He wouldn’t get it. He’d think I was psycho.
I buried my head in my hands. “Not this. There’s no way you’d understand.”
Drew looked hurt. “Why don’t you trust me?”
“I do,” I said and looked at him, begging him with my eyes to understand, “but this is crazy. It doesn’t make any logical sense. I can’t tell anyone.”
“You aren’t going bulimic again, are you?” Drew lifted his hand to my forehead, as if bulimia was a sickness that you could measure with a thermometer. He could be so stupid sometimes.
“No.” I swatted his hand away. “I gotta go. Please leave me alone about this.”
Read part 3 here.