They All Fall Down - Roxanne St. Claire

Roxanne St. Claire - They All Fall Down

They All Fall Down
Roxanne St. Claire

young adult/mystery/thriller/romance


I run away from home in a downpour.

Guilt wends its way through my belly, knotting things up before catapulting into my throat, making it impossible to swallow or breathe. But I have to breathe. I have to exhale the taste of those words my mother and I just slung at each other.

You can’t go, Kenzie. It’s dangerous! You could die.

It’s a freaking bus to Philadelphia, Mom, not a rocket to the moon!

Buses crash! There are no seat belts! What if the driver is drinking?

You’re suffocating me! I hate you! Hate!

My parting word had cracked like a gunshot, punctuated by the slam of the front door behind me. But she’d followed, calling my name in breathless desperation—Mackenzie Grace Summerall! Don’t you dare drive in this weather!

I ignored the order, the rain drowning out her last whimper as I vaulted into the front seat. Even then, I refused to turn to get a glimpse of her.

I don’t really hate my mother. But I loathe that haunted, sad, scared, pained look that turns Libby Summerall’s gray eyes into two burned-out pieces of charcoal. What I hate is her fear. I don’t want to fear life—I want to live it.

The echoes of the fight fill the car and I don’t try to erase them with music, letting the pounding rain on the roof do the job. I never yell back at her—tonight was an exception. Usually I just simmer under the pressure of her protection, understanding it enough to accept the weight of it, only throwing off the heavy blanket whenever I have to escape.

I squeeze the steering wheel and work my way through the darkened streets of my western Pennsylvania neighborhood until I can turn onto Route 1, grateful for the lights of a strip mall and a few traffic signals to guide me through the blinding rain. Not many cars, though. Not on a night like this.

I press the accelerator and barrel into the left lane, that lane of peril my mother wouldn’t let me venture into for the year I had my learner’s permit. But I have a license and freedom now, and a car I bought with tutoring money and some help from Dad. Now I pretty much live in the left lane.

I pick up a little speed despite the rain, the tires sloshing through puddles and potholes, the eleven-year-old Accord feeling all of her 140,000 miles. The light ahead is green, so I give it some gas, hydroplaning for a split second, enough to send a flash of panic through me.

That’s not calming me down. I need happy, soothing thoughts. I need something I understand, something absolute to relax me.

Between the swipes of my windshield wipers, I go to that more comfortable side of my brain, away from guilt and worry and arguments I can’t win. I decline the Latin word for “strong.”

Fortis, fortis, forti, fortem, forte …

The language grounds me, almost instantly. The rules might be complex, but they make sense. I love things that make sense, that are exactly as they should be time after time. No surprises, no random twists, no pieces that don’t fit. Latin makes sense in a way that my world rarely does; it rolls off my tongue so smoothly I sometimes wonder if I didn’t live in ancient Rome in a previous life.

Which is why, if only I could get a damn bus to Philadelphia for the Latin competition, I could be number one in grammar in the entire state. But no … that would make too much sense.

The reminder of what started our fight makes me mad at Mom all over again. She wouldn’t even read the parental release, let alone sign it and have it notarized. So I’ll miss state competitions.

Because my leaving home has become Mom’s worst nightmare. Well, one of them. There’s also driving alone, taking a shower in a storm, crossing the street, using a knife, going on a date, or … living. Basically, my mother is terrified of life because … accidentia eveniunt.

In other words, shit happens, and that could be my mother’s motto. Except she is bound and determined to stop any accidents from happening. Ever again.

A wisp of a memory curls through my chest, a frustrating and elusive clip of Conner’s voice. I can still remember a lot of things about him, but I can’t quite capture his voice. I try for anything—the sound of his laughter, the way he said