The water slammed against my skin as it seeped between my lips, filling my lungs with its weight. I sank slowly, unable to fight back against the power of the water. There were flashes of a life cherished, a life that was falling from my reach. With each sinking moment, I felt a sense of calm take over. Death wasn’t that bad. It was peaceful, the calm after the storm.
I welcomed the water now, allowing the cold to engulf my body.
A sense of tranquility overtook me.
There was nothing to run from anymore.
I opened my lips slightly, allowing the water to rush in now. I was sinking like a stone, slowly fading away. My body wasn’t a match against the water. Jeremy, I thought. In my own bout of selfishness, I’d forgotten about the brother who wanted to protect me. He’d be upset that I’d given up, but I hoped he could understand my reasoning. If I did manage to survive this, I wouldn’t be able to return home.
They’d be waiting for me, wanting to finish what they’d started.
I wasn’t sure what brought this on, why it was that I was drowning in a river. I didn’t know who was responsible or what I’d done to deserve this. I didn’t remember much of anything, to be honest, other than the chill that took a hold of my body as I hit the river’s unforgiving waters.
As I reached the bottom of the river, my head slammed against a rock, forcing a shock throughout my body. I could feel the warm blood filling the water around me. If the water didn’t take me soon, the head wound would.
Picturing Jeremy, I began to fight back against the river, trying to escape its hold.
I pushed and I pushed until I couldn’t push anymore.
I had managed to make it to the surface, but it was too late now.
I drifted towards the nearby brush, trying to free myself of the river’s hold, and then everything went black as the life left within me was lost. There was no fight left within me. I had lost.
I’m sorry, Jeremy.
“Don’t you think we should get going?” Jeremy asked, gently nudging me in the side.
It was going on 7:00 a.m. If we were going to be on time for class, we’d need to leave now. Not that I cared, to be honest.
“Calm your horses.” I didn’t bother to turn and face him.
We’d been attending Gatson High School for the past few weeks. We had just moved to Florida two months ago. The students and teachers were far from welcoming. Although, I think part of their reasoning for disliking me was due to the fact that I wasn't the easiest of people to get along with. Listening wasn’t my strong point, I was told.
“Savannah, come on!” Jeremy was pulling my arm now, trying to force me up from the couch. I could hear my mother’s footsteps coming down the hall, her heels clanking against the wood, sending a loud noise throughout the house. Crap, time to go! Jeremy started to laugh when he noticed my sudden urgency to leave. To say our mother was strict would be putting it easy. She was more like a drill instructor; at least, she was when she managed to remain sober. We still had a curfew, a set dinner time, and we were to finish our homework before going to bed. Children. She treated us like children still.
Grabbing a hold of Jeremy’s hand, I grabbed my bag, which was still on the hook beside my mother’s writing desk. I shrugged it on my shoulder and headed for the front door, not bothering to see if she noticed we were running late. I reached for the handle, flinging the door open. Jeremy slammed it shut as he followed behind me. Yes, I smiled. We managed to make it out before she could even utter a word.
“How long do we have until the first bell?” I asked, trying to regain control of my breathing.
“Well, we may have already missed that.” Jeremy laughed, looking down at his watch.
Oh, joy. Yet another thing for my mother to yell about.
“Do you think Ms. Martin is going to send me to see the principal, again?” I asked, hiding a chuckle. If there was one teacher who had it in for me, it was my English teacher, Ms. Martin. It was probably my fault, though. I mean I wasn’t exactly a star student. I hardly made it to class on time, and when I did, it was seldom that I actually came prepared. I did my best to hide it from my mother. But eventually she began calling the school daily to check in on me. And that was when Ms. Martin and my mother formed some sort of friendship. It was like watching a nightmare come to life before my very eyes.
Outside of the house, my mother acted as a high-class socialite. She was always well dressed and friendly towards everyone, but the facade seemed to have run its course by the time she arrived home. She’d throw her purse on the metal table beside the front door, which held a bowl where she kept her keys and a vase full of fake flowers, and marched into the kitchen in search of her wine. Of course, my mother’s friends and co-workers never saw this side of her. She was skilled at hiding it from everyone but us.
“Well if you actually made an effort to get to school on time, maybe she wouldn’t be so hard on you.” Jeremy was laughing. His golden hair radiated under the sun; his green eyes were captivating. Below his eyes were deep, dark circles, allowing a sort of roughness to appear on his otherwise childlike face. He was sixteen years old, a year younger than me, although at times more mature. Okay. Maybe a lot more mature.
We didn’t look related. My skin was olive, my hair a rich black, and my eyes a honey brown. Next to Jeremy and my mother, I was practically an outcast. He was the child my mother had hoped for. Me, on the other hand, I was the child she never wanted. It certainly didn’t help that I was untamable in her eyes. Jeremy was practically a model student. Sure, he was late often. Although to be honest, it was usually…er, always my fault, but otherwise he was an angel. Good grades, advanced courses, and respect for his elders (regardless of whether they were drunken slobs). In other words, Jeremy was the complete opposite of me.
Even though we were different, I was glad to have him as my brother. He helped to balance me, to remind me that I needed to think of the consequences occasionally.
“Well now, where’s the fun in that?” I replied, sticking my tongue out at him.
As we walked down the street, passing the palm trees and houses aligning the road, I felt out of place. To me, Florida wasn’t my home. This was where my mother grew up, though. After my father passed away, she decided it would be best to start fresh, to move as far away from Washington as possible. I understood her reasoning, but at the same time, I didn’t agree. I had a life in Washington, a life that was cut short when she dragged us here.
“Do you ever miss it - home, I mean?” I stared up at the sky, wondering if my father was watching over us. I wasn’t into the whole religion thing, but I tried to believe that he was still here, somehow.
“Sav,” he whispered, pulling on the strap of his backpack. “Look, we’re almost late.”
He started to speed up, creating a gap between the two of us. I should’ve known better than to bring up dad, especially now. He was still dealing with his death. And yet, here I stood, tearing open his wound as if it were nothing.
I peered down at my watch and noticed that the second bell would be ringing in a minute. We only lived two minutes from the school. But neither of us was in a hurry. Our house was only a block away, close enough that mother would be able to keep an eye on us. “Come on, Sav.” As the words left his lips, the second bell rang. And we were late again.
We were just about to cross the street when a security guard on a golf cart approached us. “You do know the bell has rung, correct? May I ask why you’re not in school?” Both Jeremy and I looked at him as though he were crazy. We were directly across from the school, clearly headed towards the gate. Did he seriously think we were trying to skip?
“We’re just running a bit late. We were on our way,” I replied, yanking on my bag strap.
“Really? I doubt that, hop on.”
This could not be happening. We were right across the street, staring into the hallway by the parking lot. Was he actually going to take us to IS for being a few minutes late?
“Crap,” I whispered, hoping the security officer wouldn’t hear me. But of course that didn’t work.
“Let’s go. I don’t have all day,” he moaned.
Jeremy stared at me, reaching for my hand. Let’s go, he mouthed. Before I could argue, he was pulling me onto the golf cart with him. Guess we’d be getting another lecture from mother tonight. I hopped on the back of the golf cart, Jeremy taking a seat beside me. On the plus side, at least I wouldn’t have to hear Ms. Martin moan about me being late. I’d be in IS all day. Not too bad. I chuckled to myself.
The golf cart pulled up in front of the school. The security officer stepped off and asked for us to follow him. I almost felt as though I was in prison. Prison for being late to school? Ha. But that was what it felt like. He stood there, his leg shaking anxiously, as he waited for Jeremy and me to jump off the back of the golf cart. Jeremy jumped off first, turning around to lend me his hand. “We should probably hurry. I don’t want to see this guy’s bad side.” His eyes shot over towards the impatient security guard.
“You’re probably right,” I said as he pulled me from the back. We walked quickly over to where the security guard stood and remained silent. He opened the door to the front office, forcing us in ahead of him.
“Hello, Gary, how can I help you this morning?” the lady at the front desk asked. She looked to be in her fifties. Her hair, which was reddish orange, glimmered under the fluorescent lighting. Her pale blue eyes looked at Jeremy and me with a hint of sadness. “I see you’re both back,” she said, staring directly at the two of us.
“I take it they are frequent visitors, then?” asked Gary, the security guard.
“Well, Susan, they’re all yours. I have to get back out there and make sure there aren’t any other lingering students.” He laughed and turned to make his way back out the door.
Susan was a friendly old lady, but she had the capability to make me feel bad. She was excellent with guilt trips. What could I say? Maybe even better than my mother. Assuming that was even possible. “Savannah and Jeremy, how many times do I have to tell you both I don’t like seeing you in here? I adore the both of you, but you’re good kids. You have no business being here.”
As soon as she finished talking, another security guard came walking to the front desk. Mr. Simpson, my favorite security guard. Not. “Let’s go.” He waved at Susan and turned out of the front office, down a nearby hallway. Jeremy and I remained quiet. Mr. Simpson was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He already had an issue with the two of us, mainly because we were in IS every other day it seemed. “Jeremy, per usual you’ll be able to go to your second class. Savannah, you, on the other hand, will spend the day in internal suspension.”
Jeremy sighed while I stared ahead, not wanting to say a thing out of fear.
Mr. Simpson only kept Jeremy in internal suspension for a full day once. He knew Jeremy. He knew that his grades were good and that he didn’t get into trouble, unless I was around. Which was exactly why he kept me in IS all day. I was the bad influence, he said, the trouble-maker.
And maybe I was. I didn’t actually care anymore.
I just wanted to go home.
“I’m sorry, Sav,” Jeremy whispered.
“Don’t be. It’s my fault.”
We stopped in front of two red doors. Mr. Simpson pulled a key from his pocket and opened the right door, motioning for us to head inside. The room was quiet, though overflowing with students. No nonsense. Talking wasn’t allowed. We were to sit quietly until the end of the day. For most of the students in internal suspension, it was torture, but I loved it. It gave me time to relax, to think. But it also gave me time to be studied without notice. I never felt his eyes on me, but I should’ve. I should’ve known something was wrong. But I didn’t.
Again, I need to state that the ending to "No Place Like Home" is an open ending. What this means is that, although you find out who is responsible for Savannah's death, you won't get to see the repercussions of that action. You won't see that person go to jail, and you won't see how the reveal touches those involved. Why did I write the story like this? Well, I wanted the readers to imagine what would happen next. If you're a fan of Law & Order or even Criminal Minds, you'll understand what I mean by this. Those shows don't answer every question and I love that. So I decided to do that with this novella. I'm aware that not everyone is going to like this, but to me, it works for this story.