It was Friday night when it happened again. The banging and the shouts echoed throughout the house. The sounds crept along the walls like blood rushing through veins and filled the silence. The rooms swarmed with angry voices that were unrelenting, bitter pain resonated down the hall, making the fine hair on the girl’s arms stand on edge. A shiver slid down her spine and formed a knot in her stomach. A tear escaped from her tightly shut eyes, slid down her face and fell onto her sheets. Her hands clamped at her ears in an attempt to block out and forget all she’s heard.

But nothing helped. Nothing made the noises stop or the banging cease. It was like she was stuck on a carousel that continued to go around and around and never stopped. You couldn’t get off the ride. You were stuck with no way to escape… or could you?

Another deafening shout filled her ears and her eyes flew open, unable to control the flood of emotions that were bursting at her seams, she let the tears release. She sat up and the only thing she could think was that she needed to get out. She needed to escape. Outside her window, she could hear the wind calling, whispering that there was somewhere she could go. A place where she could finally be free of all the noise and enjoy the silence. A place where she would be comforted, to slow the overcrowding thoughts.

She swung her legs from under the covers and slowly let her toes graze the floor. An electric feeling tingled the bottom of her feet as if she were walking among the dark clouds outside. She could practically taste the fresh air and freedom that awaited.

Tip-toeing, she made her way to her bedroom door with a jacket in hand. She walked along the hall, being careful not to step where the boards would moan from the pressure. Down the steps she went, her hand brushed against the smooth railing, then grabbed a pair of boots from the floor. She reached for the cold door handle, unlocked it and pulled it open. It squeaked loudly, but the noises from down the hall masked its cries of warning. The girl slipped outside and seamlessly closed the door behind her.

The sun was an orange ball floating low over the trees in the distance, setting the world ablaze and brightening even the storm clouds overhead. The light illuminated her face to reveal her caramel eyes purposefully watching everything around her and taking in the breathtaking view. The angry voices from within the house were no longer heard and for a couple of moments, she stood there silently to marvel at the gift of silence that she was given. She exhaled deeply, releasing all her pent-up resentment and anger.

She brushed her hair from her eyes and began to walk down the street. She headed to the one spot where she could feel her mother the most. Her feet led her across town, knowing the exact route by heart. She could feel the energy change around her as she got closer.

By the time she reached her destination, the sky was a purplish-blue as the remnants of the sun fell beneath the horizon and shadows lengthened in the park. She looked up at the huge weeping willow that elegantly curved upwards and hung down with such grace. A steady wind made its large branches sway in tune, its leaves shimmered in the remaining twilight. It radiated warmth and safety, like a preserved memory.

The girl continued to walk closer until she parted the branches and stepped within. From the inside, the green branches encompassed and concealed her from the outside world. Then she began to climb. Her hands and feet led with ease, knowing exactly where to hold onto. The familiarity came back to her like she hadn’t stayed away for as long as she had. Higher and higher she went and with each increase in height, she began to feel more like herself again. Three-quarters of the way up she finally stopped and pulled herself onto one of the largest branches. She felt the comforting trunk on her back, a prickling sensation appeared to flow through the tree and down her spine. She stroked the branch for what she knew to be hidden there. Her fingers brushed against its scratchy bark, searching for the carving. When she found it, she exhaled sharply and smiled. The small heart indented into the tree’s layered texture was exactly where she had put it eight years ago. She sighed with relief, then closed her eyes. The tree seemed to breathe with her. In and out, in and out…

◆◆◆

Hours passed as she slept in the comfort of the weeping willow’s arms. It was only when the blades of morning light began to slice across her face that she opened her eyes. The brightness of the park around her startled her, a panicked expression painted her face. She slid easily down the tree limbs and gently landed at its trunk. Her feet led her home in a sprint.

When she reached her street she could see two police cars parked out front. Her speed slowed as she imagined what kind of trouble she would get into this time. She was used to the punishments, they seemed to come every other week. She made her way up the driveway and to the front door. It was unlocked, so she pushed it open and went inside, closing it behind her, trying to be as quiet as possible.

The house wasn’t what she expected. It was quiet. No sounds radiated off the walls, no yelling, no arguing, just…silence. She continued down the hall peering into each room for any sign of life. Then she walked by the doorway to the living room and saw her dad and Stephanie sitting on the couch with two police officers opposite them. The younger officer, with a name tag saying “Michaels,” was scribbling on a notepad as her dad spoke softly to them. None of them noticed she was there. Her back pressed against the wall, melting into the plaster as if she wasn’t there at all. She could hear the officer’s pencil scratching, see her dad’s knee bouncing rhythmically and she could feel the fear that hung on every word he said. The conversation repeated in her head.

“What’s her name?”

“Isobel Marie Harrison,” he choked out.

“How old is she?”

“Sixteen.”

“Is it possible that she could have run away?”

“Never.”

He said it with conviction, but his face reflected small traces of doubt. A tear escaped and he didn’t even make an effort to wipe it away. He sat up straighter, as if to keep from falling apart. His hair was streaked with grey and his eyes looked glossy and wild. Isobel had never seen her father so distraught before. He was always so put together and stoic. His mask was breaking, shattering before her very eyes.

The officers exchanged a sideways glance. The older of the two, called “Peters,” spoke slowly. “Isn’t it true that Isobel has been in her fair share of trouble with the law these last couple of years?” she asked.

“Yes. You see, she’s just been acting out since, well… since…”

It was Stephanie that came to his rescue. Her voice was calm and clear like always. She was still in her work clothes, although her hair was held up in a messy bun like it was when she worked a tough case. She reached over and placed her hand in his.

“Since her mother died,” she finished. “Two years ago, in a car accident.”

Her dad looked up, tears streaming down his face.

“Can you help us find her?”

Standing concealed in the shadows, Isobel realized that she was crying too. She began to walk backwards, away from the conversation in the living room. She had to leave, she couldn’t listen to any more. She took a couple of steps until she reached the stairs. She could still hear the quiet voices as she began to climb.

Then the wooden board beneath her foot screeched like an untuned guitar. The room where her dad, stepmom and the officers were sitting instantly went silent.

“Isobel? Is that you?” she heard her dad call.

Turning around she made her way back down the stairs and into the hall. From the living room ran her father in the lead and Stephanie right behind him. Without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly.

“Oh, God, I was so worried,” he whispered. “I’m glad you’re safe.”

For a moment Isobel stood there with her arms at her sides. She could see Stephanie watching from down the hall. The two officers walked past her, nodding politely before disappearing out the front door.

She thought of all the times, including last night when her dad and Stephanie argued over what to do with her, how to contain her. She pictured his broken face, crumbling like it was made of clay, falling apart in a burst of tears. Finally, she wrapped her arms around her dad and the world felt right again. He held her in his arms for a long while, afraid to ever let go.

“I’m sorry,” Isobel whispered and she meant it.

“I’m sorry, too.”

And those words said everything that needed to be said, everything that they wished they had talked about over the past two years. They started to heal the wounds that had festered for years and stitch their lives back together. The pain of the past that had held them down for so long was not as heavy, so long as they could carry the burden together.