The Subway Away
Winner, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Short Story Contest
Bethesda, 5:34 p.m.
Just a reminder, dinner at seven, Ellery typed. Can’t wait to see you.
She sent the text. No way of knowing when it was received, but in all probability it would be, and though a response was unlikely, she knew Quinn would be on time.
Looking around, Ellery was, as always, amazed by how normal everyone seemed. The people surrounding her on the Metro—mostly suits, with a couple of weary mothers and elderly volunteer types for variety—all appeared whole, healthy, wholesome. Mature and grown-up.
Growing up, Ellery thought. Worst mistake I ever made.
Adulthood meant a job. It meant work. It meant 9-to-5 every day, business suits, coffee; memos she didn’t want to read, which were usually not worth the time anyway; maturity in the face of complete and utter disaster. Complete, utter disaster. What a disaster.
Ellery closed her eyes. It had been a long day.
Friendship Heights, 5:37 p.m.
Briefly, she considered getting off. Though the Metro station itself was dank and dirty—Metro stations in general always reminded her of the river Styx, with trains instead of boats to help people get to whatever hell they were destined for, be it office, bar or lonely apartment—above ground lay shops, restaurants and frozen yogurt: all a person needed to take her mind off things.
And maybe she’d do some poking around. Tiffany’s was nearby, Ellery knew; maybe some jewelry? Or flowers—surely there were flowers. Quinn had always loved flowers.
Yesterday, a red rose had nestled perfectly in her dark hair, matching her lipstick and accentuating her pale skin. Ellery had marveled at it the way she always marveled at Quinn, at her coordination and grace and elegance and ability to go an entire day without a hair out of place. Even if she was furious and yelling and repaying every cruel word Ellery shot at her with a perfectly aimed missile of her own.
Not a hair out of place. Jesus. Ellery closed her eyes. There was no way flowers would be enough to fix this.
Tenleytown-AU, 5:39 p.m.
She tried her best not to think about it. After all, there was nothing she could do at the moment. She’d already texted Quinn several times, plus left a couple voice mails, apologizing. The ball was in Quinn’s court now.
For some reason, Tenleytown had always reminded Ellery of California, or at least of how she imagined California to be. As a New England teenager, growing up in cold, rural towns with grim gas stations and streets and people, she’d pictured the West Coast as an oasis of sunshine and brightly colored storefronts, with everyone wearing sunglasses and a smile, and a handshake ready for every stranger. Though she’d only been to Tenleytown once, its sprawl and width and sprinkled trees seemed a similar vision. Ellery had wandered through its neighborhoods for hours. The escape had been perfect: a quick getaway to an unknown place where she herself was nothing.
Ellery opened her eyes and stared out the window, although all she could see was a dismal gray wall.
What if Ellery and Quinn could go? What if they could just be gone?
Van Ness-UDC, 5:41 p.m.
It wasn’t as crazy as it sounded, Ellery knew. In fact, to Quinn it would sound positively tame.
They’d shared a thirst for adventure, made up in large part, Ellery thought, by a desire to leave. Though Ellery had moved from Massachusetts to D.C., she couldn’t bear the thought of settling there, and wanted desperately to be on the road again. Quinn had lived her whole life riding these same rails, first around Eastern Market, then from Takoma.
Frequently, Ellery imagined her as a little girl, sitting in an orange seat, impatiently kicking her heels back and forth. Her long-suffering mother, Ellery knew, had braided Quinn’s dark, curly hair into pigtails every day until Quinn turned 10 and declared that the only birthday present she would accept was the right to do what she pleased with her hair. Her wish granted, she promptly cut her ringlets off, resulting in a feathery, boyish cut that was surprisingly versatile: a good combing made it formal; a bandana or headband kept it out of her eyes; some gel and hairpins let her spike it in whatever fashion she chose. Even then, Quinn had been fashionable. Quinn, Ellery knew, had been looking forward to a new life, one where she could be whatever she wanted to be, go wherever she wanted to go. Then, she’d never doubted her ability to get there.
Quinn as a little girl, Ellery knew, had been a much happier person.
A text—unexpected, surprising, exciting, just like Quinn—arrived.
Cleveland Park, 5:43 p.m.
Not exactly the text she was expecting, though: too bad, Quinn had written.
Woodley Park, 5:46 p.m.
Unexpected, surprising, exciting. Just like Quinn.
Ellery supposed it wasn’t too shocking, though. Quinn was angry. Truth be told, she was, too. Though they didn’t fight often, their fights, when they happened, were drawn out and excruciating. After the initial blowout, which could take hours, silence reigned for days. They were stubborn people, and their shared ability to hold a grudge overwhelmed the small apartment.
This time, however, Ellery’s temper was no match for her excitement. What were they waiting for? They had enough money for airplane tickets, for a first month of rent. Everything else would follow. Normally she wasn’t the impulsive one—she tried to leave that to Quinn—but this, this she was ready for. On her phone, she opened Safari and Googled plane trips. From here, going anywhere. She bought two tickets to the first one out of the country.
No, really, Ellery typed. I have a surprise.
Dupont Circle, 5:48 p.m.
Again, from Quinn: too bad.
C’mon, babe, Ellery typed. I’m cooking.
Farragut North, 5:50 p.m.
Another text. A different one this time. But worse: doesn’t matter. i’m not staying any longer.
Metro Center, 5:52 p.m.
Ellery closed her eyes, trying to keep the panic inside. It had been a long day, a long week, for both of them. But they loved each other. That had to count for something.
From Quinn: remember when we first met?
Of course she did. She would never forget. The party, the lights, the empty streets they walked together. They had felt so free, so ready.
Duh, Ellery wrote back, hoping to keep the mood light. Maybe if she didn’t react to the text, just calmly assured Quinn that she’d be waiting for her, she would come back. Quinn’s mother had employed the same tactic. How could I forget?
Gallery Place-Chinatown, 5:54 p.m.
The first time Ellery saw her, Quinn was drinking red wine out of a sippy cup. The friend who had brought her to the party nudged her, giggling, and Ellery laughed with her, more out of amazement than anything else. Then, Quinn had been such a novelty. Now, Ellery could list Quinn’s quirks like her own name: quickly and without thinking about it. Her ability to twist apples in half with her bare hands. Her need to apply ample mascara before leaving the house, even just to get the mail. Her habit of bringing a hula hoop to the beach, along with a book about high crime. God, she was obsessed with outlaws.
From Quinn, moments later: i said we were like bonnie and clyde
Quinn, Ellery wrote. She’d given her that book last Christmas. Clearly, it was a mistake.
you said they’d never catch us alive
Where are you? Ellery typed. The panic was emerging in a shock of adrenaline, shivering through her whole body. She felt light-headed.
& i believed you