Avery is quiet as Treat
pushes her old Corolla up 65 like a fugitive. The speed
doesn’t worry her; the cornfields stretch out a dull white
both east and west, but the interstate is clear. She wonders if a fleet
of Lafayette Police cars will pull up behind them at any moment, she
wonders if what she’s doing is what’s called
“harboring” on the TV shows her mother watches, she
even wonders what she’s missing in World Civ. There
wasn’t a test scheduled, so she’s safe on that
front. A glance in the side mirror shows no police, only two shrinking
semis. She swipes off her pink toboggan and unbuttons her pea coat,
getting comfortable with helping Treat run from the law, the idea that
made her hesitate back at her father’s.
Treat had been staying at Avery’s father’s house
since Thursday night. Her mother was working late, so Avery had taken
her retriever/shepherd mix, Peyton, to her father’s so she
could walk him around Columbian Park after dark. Peyton was born with
cerebellar hypoplasia; with no motor skills, his paws chop the air as
he skates down the street, tumbling forward and backward like
he’s on ice. People can’t help commenting on his
jerky gait: “What’s wrong with him?” When
a young mother pushing a stroller had said, “That’s
the strangest dog
I’ve ever seen,” Avery told the woman she had the ugliest baby
she’d ever seen, and since then she walks Peyton only at
night. Thursday night, Peyton had tugged⎯as best he
the sidewalk and through the playground toward a boy slumped in a
swing. She recognized the boy from his thick red curls: Treat Miller.
In first period study hall that morning, she’d smelled liquor
Treat scratched behind Peyton’s ears. His nails were too long
and seemed to glow. He’d never seen Avery’s dog
before, and that he didn’t ask about his flopping around in
the snow helped Avery overcome her disgust for him. It even made her
like him a little.
“I suppose Katelyn told you everything?” he asked.
“Yeah. Don’t worry. She made me promise not to tell
Avery’s best friend, Katelyn, had done it with Treat; Avery
was still a virgin, but Treat was not Katelyn’s first.
Katelyn said Treat was rough, gripping too tight, letting those long
nails scratch. She almost asked him to stop. When he came, he hit her
in the side. Avery didn’t know about it until a dozen
cheerleaders and Katelyn’s coach had seen the bruise, and the
story that she’d gotten it in some guy’s bed had
seeped through the halls of Tipp County High. Even Avery’s
father, a drunk who phoned in his English lessons, had heard. When
Katelyn finally told Avery the story, she swore her to secrecy; she
wanted all the talking to stop, and thought turning in Treat would make
things worse. Now this sicko was hiding in Columbian Park, cozying up
to Avery’s dog.
“I’m not a monster,” Treat said.
Avery gave Peyton’s leash a gentle tug: Time to go.
When the dog’s ears were out of his grip, Treat’s
face flopped into his hands, his fingers digging in his curls.
“He’ll kill me,” he said.
“I said don’t worry. Katelyn’s not
telling her parents, so no one’s going to kill you.”
Treat looked up. Tears shimmered on his cheeks.
“I’m not talking about that,” he said.
“He’s going to kill me because I got caught drunk
at school. If he finds out about Katelyn, he’ll find a way to
kill me again.”
To Avery, Treat was the worst kind of jock: the kind that
doesn’t actually play any sports, but acts like a star in
pickup games, talks too loud, and thinks so little of women that when
he finally gets one (what was Katelyn doing with him, anyway?) he
thinks he can rough her up. But she found herself pitying him. What
would happen if she turned him away? He couldn’t hide out in
the park or on the street⎯it was
January. If he went home, what would his father do? Hit him? Grab him
by his curls and throw him to the floor? Her father would know what to
Treat followed Avery and Peyton the two blocks from the park to
Avery’s father’s house. Avery’s father
was on the couch watching the Boilermakers lose to the Buckeyes. His
sweats stretched across his belly and he was cradling a bourbon and
Coke. He said Treat was welcome to stay in Avery’s room until
Mr. Miller cooled off. When Treat had gone to bed, Avery’s
father explained to Avery why he’d taken the kid in: When
he’d done ninety meetings in ninety days the summer before
the divorce, Mr. Miller had shown up once toward the end. “He
left a bad taste in my mouth,” Avery’s father said.
“I knew he wouldn’t get the help he needed, not
that time. And I knew his family would pay for it.” Avery
thought: Like us, Daddy, just like us. To
soften the harshness of the barb, she revised: Not just like us. You never
lay a hand on us.
Avery spent the weekend at her father’s, sprawled on her bed
reading World Civ and Advanced Chem, while Treat watched basketball
with her father. In the evenings, rather than go out to
Desario’s or China Buffet and risk being seen with their
refugee, they ordered pizza. Treat went with Avery and Peyton on their
nightly walks, telling Avery how hard his home life was: If his father
had a lousy day at the Dodge dealership, he laid into his family with
cruelty. When Treat’s little brother prattled on about High
School Musical, his father called him “my good
lady.” His father once stared across the dinner table at his
mother and said, “If you insist on being frigid, you could at
least learn to cook.” Each night, he hoped the climax would
arrive sooner: When his father slapped his mother’s cheek or
pushed him into the wall, he felt a great wave of relief⎯it was
over for now. Treat’s a loudmouth, and he hurt and humiliated
could he know any better? There was more Avery could do besides hide
him. Sunday night in the park, when they’d grown silent and
the only sound was the flurry of Peyton’s nails scratching
the sidewalk, Avery turned to Treat and kissed him, their mouths
Monday is when things go really wrong. Treat had stayed home from
school, blaming a bad feeling in his stomach. Avery wonders now if it
was a premonition or just luck, because during the break between sixth
and seventh periods Avery’s father asked her into his
classroom and told her that Katelyn (who hasn’t been to
school since last Monday) broke down this afternoon and told her
parents the name of the boy who hurt her. When he put his hand on her
shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, but it was
Treat,” she couldn’t fake surprise, but offered her
blankest face. He didn’t ask, to be sure, if she knew. He
said Katelyn’s parents had notified the school, and he was
obliged to meet the police at home to hand over the boy.
When the tone sounded for the start of seventh period, Avery was at her
locker, grabbing her coat and toboggan. She sprinted to the student
lot, started her car, and sped to her father’s house.
They’d escaped: Treat answering her banging on the back door,
she shaking him and giving him the situation, he grabbing his coat and
jumping into the driver’s side. They’d only paused
when she stood outside the car, not sure if she was supposed to go with
him or just give him the car. But then his “Come
on!” muffled by the driver’s window settled it.
Their cells fluttered in their coat pockets, echoing their racing
hearts, calls from their fathers that they shut off. Treat said
something about Chicago⎯he has a
cousin in Chicago. Dominic. Then they were on State Road 26, mercifully
empty, and then they were pulling onto 65 north.
Treat feels comfortable enough to call his cousin.
“I’m on my way up to Chicago. I was hoping you
could put me up for the night.” Avery hears
Dominic’s miniaturized laugh coming through. “I got
into some trouble with a girl and need a place to lay low for a
while.” More laughter. Treat listens to Dominic give him
directions to his apartment. Then he says to Avery,
sky is too close. It doesn’t give Avery the
impression of distance that it does on clear days; the gray seems to
hang just on the other side of the windshield. In this sobering light,
she knows she’s not running away with Treat. She
doesn’t even think Treat will stay on the run. Maybe he will.
But if she doesn’t come back, for one thing Peyton will die.
Her mother thought they ought to put him down when the specialist at
the Purdue vet school diagnosed him when he was puppy. Her father would
make an effort, but not enough, as the dog needs constant attention.
For another thing, Avery graduates in June. Her heart’s set
on Cornell; maybe she’ll double major in psychology and
English. It’s just a matter of how long this will last.
Dominic will keep them tonight, maybe longer. Avery glances over at
Treat, whose eyes are squinted and tired, and sees a husband driving
the last stretch of a long trip. If she’s given him a measure
of comfort, time to breathe before his mistakes, which seem to float
harmlessly in the past, are put on paper and fed into computers and
he’s made accountable, she’ll consider all this a
The gray sky darkens and gives them room as they get on 90 west. They
haven’t stopped, though the tank’s getting low, and
their stomachs rumble.
“We going to make it?” Avery asks.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Avery points to the gauge. Treat thinks they’re close to
Dominic’s village. He pulls off the Kennedy Expressway and
drags them down a one-way street of red-brick row houses. They
can’t pick out the numbers, but when Treat thinks
they’re close, he parallel parks. He bumps the CRV behind
Dominic’s second-floor apartment puts Avery at ease, not
because it’s her element, but because it’s
Treat’s. Dominic’s head is shaved, though a blue
horseshoe pattern shows. He’s wearing a blue shirt,
unbuttoned, and black wool pants, but he must have been home for hours.
He hugs Treat, thumping him on the back. His apartment is cavernous:
big rooms for boys to spread out and thump each other, little in the
way of furniture, only a matching leatherish couch and chair facing a
flat-screen TV, under which DVDs are crammed into a stand. Avery shifts
on her feet, crunching dirt into the hardwood floors. Dominic looks
mid-twenties. A bachelor pad. The only feminine touch is a vase of red
carnations on the dining table. A girl’s been here recently.
Dominic introduces himself to Avery with a gentle handshake.
“Make yourself at home, Avery,” he says, gesturing
toward the living room. “Can I get either of you a
Treat says yes, so Avery says yes too. They are safe for now; they
ought to relax before their next move. Avery flinches as the
beer’s bitterness washes over her tongue.
When all three are settled, Treat and Avery on the couch, their coats
thrown over the back, and Dominic in the chair, Dominic says to Treat,
“You didn’t tell me you were bringing the
“Sorry,” Treat says.
“No, it’s okay. It’s a nice
surprise.” Dominic winks at Avery. “What kind of
trouble are you two in, anyway?”
“She’s not the one,” Treat says.
Dominic asks Avery, “Are you in some other kind of
“No,” she says. “I’m just here
“So you’ve got one girl helping you run from
another one?” Dominic laughs. “I had no idea my
little cousin was such a player.”
Treat, not drinking his Heineken, just stares at his feet. Even Dominic
can tell he ought to stop grilling him. “I can understand if
you don’t want to talk about it,” he says.
“I’ve got just the thing we all need.”
He goes to his bedroom and returns with a cigar box and squeezes
between his guests. He opens the box to reveal a bag of pot and rolling
papers. When he licks the paper to seal the first joint, his tongue
looks too pink.
“Ladies first,” he says, handing the joint to
Avery. She’s smoked pot once, with her ex, Johnny, and some
of his friends. It was one of the moments that pushed her to break up
with him; he was too busy goofing with the others to take care of her,
to see that she was doing it right. She’s not sure she did.
When she sucks this time, Dominic coaches her. “Hold on to
it. Let it go down.” When she can no longer take the tickling
and burning, she lets go with a rumble of coughs. “Good
After her next hit, but before she’s sure she’s
feeling the drug work, she says, “Oh my God, I just
remembered I was starving.”
“Damn,” Dominic says, “You get the
munchies quick, girl.”
He puts a frozen pizza in the oven for them and grabs them each another
beer. It’s working, Avery thinks, Treat is free, breathing
easy between hits, feeling invincible. She’s given him this.
Dominic turns on his stereo: rap music, which Avery usually
can’t stand (it’s all the niggas and bitches she
can’t take), but digs right now. An angry black man stands
between them and their pursuers. Even if they got past this smooth
monster, the wall of thumping bass would overwhelm them. Dominic juts
his elbows out, dancing. In his wool pants and with his work shirt
swinging open, he looks like a total douche bag,
something Avery has never called anyone. But she’s loving him
anyway, right now; he’s given them a safe place to stay,
food, and gotten them high. Beacons of light surround her:
Dominic’s glossy forehead, their green bottles, the tip of
the joint in Treat’s lips.
Treat sits up and says to Dominic, “Sorry I wasn’t
being cool earlier. You’re really helping us out.”
“No problem, little cousin. One dance with your girl is
payment enough.” Dominic takes Avery’s hand and
pulls her up to dance with him. She obliges. She dances so close to him
that they keep brushing each other, little strikes of his crotch
against her hip, her boobs against his torso. She’s sweating,
so she pulls off her sweater, and⎯fuck it⎯her tee
shirt too, so she’s down to a white tank top that rides up to
reveal a sliver of midriff.
Treat goes on: “But this has been a fucking crazy day.
I’m wanted by the cops, the fucking cops, and here I am,
stoned as a motherfucker.”
Dominic laughs. Maybe he thinks it’s a joke. He’s
struck dumb by Avery, anyway. He tosses his shirt away. Avery
can’t help but run her fingers over his thick shoulders. He
puts his hands on her sides, his pinkies penetrating the slice of skin
between her tank top and jeans. She doesn’t know how long
they’ve been at it, she can’t tell when one track
ends and the next begins, but she’s burning up, her Secret
deodorant sweetening the skunky pot smell. And she’s actually
on by this corporate douche bag ex-jock⎯so not her
type. She dates boys from Academic Team; her husband will have a PhD.
She guesses there’s a Nerf basketball hoop on
Dominic’s bedroom door. But it still turns her on that an
older guy with a career and his own place⎯and this
flirting with her.
She has to pee and asks for the bathroom, and Dominic takes her through
the bedroom. The light is too bright, so she flips it off and cracks
the door enough to see by the bedroom lamp Dominic had switched on.
On her way back, she surveys the bedroom. It’s clean: bed
made, dresser top covered only in a couple picture frames
(it’s too dark to see but she imagines his parents smiling
out of them), a creased copy of The Da
Vinci Code on the night
stand. No feminine touches. She wonders if that means he’s
not serious with the carnation girl. And there’s no hoop on
Out in the living room a jangling noise invades them. It’s an
unfamiliar cell ring⎯Dominic’s
phone. The stereo goes mute, and in this quiet, Avery feels their
safety threatened. It seems Treat’s father is in the hall,
about to knock down the door. She sits on the bed to steady herself and
“Hey, Pop,” Dominic says. “Have I heard
from Treat? Why would I have heard from Treat?” There are the
sounds of him cracking a window for the smoke; he’s making
the place presentable for some unexpected visit. “The police?
Really.” More talking from the other end. Avery strains to
hear him, cowed by Pop, giving them up. “I didn’t
have any idea, Pop. Yeah, I’ll keep them here.”
As soon as he flips his cell shut, Treat is off the couch and in his
“What the fuck, man! Why’d you tell your dad I was
“You didn’t tell me you were wanted by the police
“Yes, I did.”
“What kind of shit did you pull, anyway? He said you
assaulted a girl.”
There’s a pause in which Treat must think he’s
lost. That space Avery had bought for him to breathe in has closed.
“A police car’s coming to pick you two
Avery freezes when she hears this; it now seems inevitable that
she’s going back to Lafayette tonight, and the difficulties
of her return frighten her. Will it be in a cop’s car? Or is
her father on his way to Chicago? Please, God, let it be that.
Don’t let her mother be with him. Let him bring Peyton.
“No,” Treat says. “No fucking
“What do you mean, no?”
“I’ll run. I’ll go to a hotel.”
There will be no keeping Treat here short of physical restraint, and
while Dominic has the strength he may lack the will. Dominic steps into
the bedroom and closes the door behind him. Avery stands, holds herself.
“I don’t know what’s going on between you
two,” Dominic says, “but I think it would be for
the best if you stayed right here.”
“I can’t leave him.”
Dominic puts his arms around Avery, and she leans into his body for a
bit of comfort before she leaves. Because maybe by leaving they can buy
Treat a little more time.
Dominic whispers: “He’s trouble. That
family’s trouble. You’re safe here. I’ll
take care of you.”
His hands creep up her sides now, his fingertips digging under her
tank, alarmingly close to the edge of her bra. She tries breaking away
from him, but he buries his face in her neck, that pink tongue flicking
in her hair.
Avery tries to cry out, but the cry gets choked off, and instead she
throws a tantrum, arms flailing and feet stomping. This loosens
something in her, and the cry gets free of the bottleneck and opens up
like a baby’s wail. Dominic emerges from her neck and kisses
her mouth, trapping the wail. The effort weakens his hold on her and
she falls onto the bed. The spot where he licked her neck burns.
“Cocktease,” he says.
She gets up and runs to the living room, where Treat stands looking
caught, unaware of what’s happened in the bedroom.
“Let’s go,” he says.
She gets into her coat and grabs her tee shirt and sweater, and they
are out the door and down the stairs and inside her car before they can
speak. Treat wants to get out of the village, back onto the Kennedy and
then a cheap hotel. But he doesn’t want to stop for gas,
“What were you doing back there?” he asks.
“What was I doing? What were you doing?
That creep was about to rape me and you were just standing
“He left his wallet in the kitchen. I got all the cash from
it. Count this.” He hands her a folded stack of bills.
“And I took the rest of his weed.”
soon as they’re inside the room,
Avery sinks to one of the beds and begins sobbing. She can still feel
Dominic’s hands on her skin. She’d held herself
together in the car, which jerked and wheezed for fuel as they pulled
into the hotel lot, and put on a tired smile to match that of the old
Hispanic woman in the hotel office. Treat had said to pay for the room
with Dominic’s money, but Avery shoved it in her pocket and
pulled from her wallet the emergency MasterCard her mother had given
her. She pressed the card to her lips. If she left a paper trail, they
could be found. But wouldn’t that be the same as calling the
police and turning Treat in? The woman, waiting on the credit card,
asked if everything was okay. Avery nodded and slid the card to the
woman. It is not exactly the same.
She was buying him more time this way. But she hoped it
wouldn’t be too much longer.
Since the spell of Dominic’s place had been broken by that
phone call, Avery wants only for her father to show up and take her
home. And Treat can’t run forever.
Treat works all the locks on the door. Then he sits by Avery and holds
her, tries to stifle her sobs. To get the awful film of Dominic off
her, Avery kisses Treat. It’s not like last night’s
kiss, a hot little star in the cold night, it’s sloppy and
fills the room with its smacking and sucking. Treat’s hands
reach inside her coat and crawl up her back, and she pulls him closer.
His mouth works its way down her chin to her neck and to the firm spot
just above the rim of her tank top. But it fails to wash Dominic away;
instead it seems to seal him to her.
“Wait,” she says. “I feel like taking a
Treat smiles. “Together?”
Treat’s smile takes on the stuck look of the hotel
“I’m sorry,” Avery says. “I
just feel like cleaning up.”
She shuts the bathroom door and turns on the shower before taking off
her clothes. She shouldn’t have made out with Treat.
He’s probably expecting her to have sex with him now. That
would make him comfortable, but she must think of herself here, and
this isn’t how she wants to lose her virginity. She lingers
in the shower, prolonging the moment she’ll have to face his
expectation. Then another fear grips her: What if he
comes in here and tries to rape me like his cousin did? She turns
off the water and nearly slips hurrying to get one of the coarse towels
around her body.
She comes out in her jeans and tank top, barefoot and with her towel
wrapped around her hair. Treat is rolling another joint. The TV
provides the only light in the room.
“Up in Smoke,”
he says, pointing at the screen. “Can you believe our
He lights the joint and takes a hit, then offers it to Avery.
“No thanks,” she says. “I just want to
She crawls on the bed next to Treat, but doesn’t get under
the covers. Treat must’ve turned on the heat while she was in
the shower. Her skin begins to itch from the room’s dryness.
“Can you turn that down?” she asks.
When he reaches for the TV remote wired to the nightstand, she says
that she meant the heat. He obliges, and she turns to face the wall,
where the TV’s lights grow and shrink and play, finally
lulling her to sleep.
wakes up to hard knocking and a mildewy smell. The
smell is her towel, which has fallen away from her head. The knocking
is at the door.
Treat bounces off the bed and rushes to the bathroom. Flushing. Avery
looks in on him. The pot, of course. Through Dominic and the
MasterCard, the police have tracked them down to this hotel and come to
take them back to Lafayette. Is her father on the other side of the
door? It’s time to lose the drugs. She has an impulse to
flush Dominic’s cash too, but doesn’t want Treat to
know she didn’t use it for the room. Treat tells her to
answer the door. All she can say here at the end is,
“It’s going to be okay.” How lame.
She undoes the locks and opens the door, disappointed to see
it’s only the clerk. “Someone complained about a
smell,” the clerk says. That stuck-on smile has been replaced
by a hard, dry mouth.
“I haven’t smelled anything,” Avery says.
The clerk pokes her nose into the room and sniffs.
“This is a no-smoking room. And I don’t like what I
smell. If I have to come back, you’ll have to
Avery promises the clerk she won’t have to come back. When
the clerk’s gone, Treat comes out of the bathroom and clicks
off the TV, leaving them in darkness, but not quiet. The hum of another
room’s TV, the ghost of theirs.
“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Avery says.
She lies down on the bed and Treat lies next to her. The pot gone down
the toilet, he might make his move on her now. But instead he says,
“What‘s our plan?” Avery says nothing.
“We ought to move to another hotel tomorrow. But
where’re we going to get the cash?”
What’s he thinking of? Picking pockets? Snatching purses? He
could get killed. Or maybe he’s thinking of finding the kind
of work where no one asks many questions, but that probably
doesn’t exist anymore, and that loss saddens her, and not
just for him. She wishes she could say something in earnest, give him
hope, because the police aren’t coming tonight,
they’re not going to trace them to this room, she’s
been dragged into too many detective shows with her mother. Tomorrow,
she’ll tell Treat she’s got to go back.
He’ll understand she wants to go back to her father and
“Get out of the city,” she says. “Head
for big open spaces.”
As soon as she’s said it, she’s afraid Treat will
ask if she means they should get out of the city together. He answers
only with deep breaths. As her eyes adjust to the dark, his face comes
into soft focus. He’s drifted off, maybe into dreams of
hitchhiking out west, landing a job on a ranch, playing pickup games
with the other cowhands under a rusted backboard, not talking so loud
She’s given him peace. She wants to keep up this vigil, but
she’s exhausted and drifts in and out of sleep. She
doesn’t know if it’s hours or only minutes when she
Knocking again. Avery straightens and moves to the door, ready to tell
the clerk she’s made a mistake this time. But when she undoes
the locks and swings open the door, two cops wait on the other side.
The closer one is fiftyish, his features clumped on his face like clay,
with a gut, an uglier version of her father. His wide belt of glossy
black compartments comes almost to her nose.
“Avery?” he says.
She had wished for them earlier, but since their absence had granted
her and Treat the peace they were now interrupting, she’s
angry, and all she can say to them is a dry, “What took you
Treat is not fully out of his western reverie when the other cop enters
the room for him.
The first cop says to Avery, “Your parents are really worried
about you.” This brings her around. She wants to be back
home: Her room at her mother’s, her room at her
father’s, the children at Columbian Park who don’t
know any better and their parents who should know better than to ask
about Peyton, World Civ and Advanced Chem. She collapses into this
man’s arms and cries out for all of it.