15

Madison stared at the sky as night overtook twilight and the drone of the warehouse alarm finally stopped. She had caught her breath but wasn’t sure how to proceed. She knew the guard at the gatehouse would be on high alert, so going out the way she came in wasn’t an option. She crept to the outer perimeter fence. It was completely dark now, so she felt comfortable walking normally. Going away from the gatehouse would be a much longer walk but definitely safer. She stumbled a bit when her foot hit a swale in the terrain. She instinctively reached for her phone to use the flashlight and momentarily panicked when she found her pocket empty. After patting her other pocket and the one in her coat, it dawned on her that her phone was sitting in that warehouse, under a shelf, with her license and debit card stuffed in the back of the case. Madison had never lost someone close, not even a pet, as her mother never let her have one. But she imagined this must be what it was like. The feeling of loss and the concomitant anxiety in the pit of her stomach was overwhelming.

She continued walking along the fence, watching her feet to make sure she didn’t trip again. When she reached the corner of the fence, she decided to try climbing it. The trip to the top was surprisingly easy. But the fencing that poked above the horizontal pipe at the top was rough-cut and sharp. She puzzled how to get over it.

On the other side, Madison sat on the ground and surveyed the damage done by her trip over the fence. Her slacks were torn and she was bleeding from a shallow cut on her shin. She was also bleeding a little at the wrist and her ankle hurt from the landing after she gave up trying to climb down and had dead-dropped the remaining few feet. She steeled herself for the pain and got to her feet. She proceeded along the fence, eventually moving away from it but not all the way to the road, which was several hundred feet away.

As she limped slowly, continuing to look at the ground directly in front of her, she could hear a mix of crickets and industrial noises—mostly trucks. Her visit had not slowed the operation at all, it seemed. She rounded the last corner and started scanning the road for her car. She spotted the silhouette as another vehicle flew by at high speed. She wanted to jog but thought better of it and continued her slow walk. Her ankle was feeling a little better now.

Safely ensconced in her car, she found the keys in the center console where she had left them and started the engine. The road was empty and she pulled a hard U-turn back toward the city. She called out “Hey Siri, call Bryce” and then rolled her eyes at herself and shook her head. That’s when the tears started.

Unable to see clearly, Madison pulled off the road and left her car idling while she experienced her first-ever panic attack.

It was terrifying. She felt nausea and couldn’t catch her breath. She wanted to get out of the car for air but was also terrified of getting out of the car. She felt trapped. She lowered the window and that helped a little. She closed her eyes and put her head against the cool steering wheel. She tried and failed to stop the crying. Minutes passed, but it felt like hours. Then the panic ended, as quickly as it had started. The tears stopped, the fear let up. She was able to breathe normally again. What the actual fuck? she thought.

She wiped her eyes and pulled back onto the rural highway heading toward the city. As she drove, she thought about how to explain the loss of her phone—not to mention the condition of her clothes—to her mother. Saying she lost it was out of the question. That would turn into a whole thing because she was sure her mom’s “Find my…” app would show exactly where it was. That damn phone was worth more than her car, probably. There was no way her mother would accept it being lost. Stolen could work. She could say someone took it and ran. But then her mother would want to file a police report. And that “Find my…” app would still be in play. No, there had to be a better lie she could use.

Madison pulled into her driveway and turned off her car. She shook the leaves out of her hair and tried to make herself not look so much like a homeless person. She walked into the house where her mother was doing the dishes.

“Where have you been?” Jenny asked. “I was worried. Your plate is in the refrigerator.”

“I’m sorry mom,” Madison replied. “I had to go to the phone place. My phone was acting weird. They’re looking at it.”

“So you don’t have a phone?” her mother replied.

“Right. Hopefully just for a few days.”

“What happened to your pants?”

Madison looked down at the tear in her slacks. “There was a display with a nail sticking out the back, and I didn’t see it. I think I can fix them. Where is the sewing kit?”

“Take them off,” Jenny commanded. “I’ll fix them. You should eat.”

Madison started to cry. Jenny pulled her into her arms. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Madison mumbled. “Maybe it’s my period or something. I’m just super emotional. Thank you for fixing my pants.”

Jenny laughed. “It’s a mom thing. You may be almost an adult, but I still get to sew up the hole in your slacks.”

Madison laughed between her sobs.

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