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As it turns out, I鈥檓 pretty good at lying. On paper, there鈥檚 nothing about me that says I鈥檇 be a great liar. I follow whatever obscure rules have been set by fake authority figures鈥擭o running near the pool! Turn off your phone in the theater! I won鈥檛 even jaywalk. I was shoved into Christian youth groups for most of my upbringing, and, well, the Bible is pretty clear on what happens to liars. But maybe that鈥檚 why I鈥檓 so good at it. I鈥檓 incognito. Why would Marty possibly lie? The answer, ofMegan鈥檚 right. I was trying to escape. And I freaking did it. Well, it was almost a clean escape. Megan just drove off, her hair flying out the window (and she calls me melodramatic?), and I鈥檓 standing here just inside the Columbus airport, trying to mentally prepare myself for everything to come: Being lost in this behemoth of a building. Maneuvering around this building while also being lost. Going through security. Waiting in lines. Emptying my pockets. Taking out my toiletries and laptop. Triple-checking that I鈥檝e followed every rule. Inevitably ending up leaving a full water bottle in my bag somewhere. Finding my gate and flying off to an entirely new life in a new country. What I did not account for is that standing between me and security right now are my mom, my dad, and my grandma. For a moment, I鈥檓 stricken with the kind of fear that grips your lungs and sends shocks through your whole body, because the downside to lying is that at some point you鈥檒l probably get found out. And I was really hoping to not get found out until sometime after I touched down on UK soil. (Preferably not until I turn eighteen in a few months and there鈥檚 even less they can do about it.) course, is simple: I鈥檓 gay, and I鈥檓 suffocating. I came to a realization about the former a long time ago, but the suffocating? That crept slowly into my chest, shortening my breaths until I realized I wasn鈥檛 breathing at all. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e being melodramatic.鈥 Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, Megan flips her long hair out the car window so strands sway and tangle in the wind. She has a habit of doing that. The hair flip and the dismissal. Like my worries don鈥檛 matter. Like my looming international trip is nothing.鈥淢y flight leaves in five hours. I don鈥檛 have a return ticket. My parents don鈥檛 know I don鈥檛 have a return ticket.鈥 I grip the oh-shit handle harder. 鈥淚鈥檓 freaked.鈥 鈥淚 can tell. You鈥檙e panting louder than when we did that hot yoga class.鈥 鈥淕od, don鈥檛 remind me.鈥 鈥淵ou鈥檝e got to believe me when I say this. You know how I hate giving compliments, but this is just fact. You are the most competent seventeen-year-old on the planet.鈥 Her voice puts me at ease. It鈥檚 a suspended chord鈥攗nsettling at first, both soft and harsh, followed by a clear resolution that feels like home. I lift my double chocolate Oreo milkshake out of the cup holder and wipe the French fry crumbs off the bottom of the cup, these now-ancient reminders of all the fast-food adventures we鈥檝e gone through in this car. Megan in the driver鈥檚 seat. Me, the passenger. Always the passenger. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 know how I could have prepared so much, yet still feel so unprepared,鈥 I say. 鈥淚t defies logic.鈥 I know it鈥檚 partly because of Megan. We鈥檝e got this yin-yang thing going on. She鈥檚 so chill it鈥檚 like she鈥檚 constantly high on pot, and I鈥檓 about as high-strung as Hilary Hahn. (Because she鈥檚 a violinist. And violins are high-pitched and have strings. High-strung? Okay, never mind.) 鈥淵ou graduated early,鈥 she says. 鈥淵ou saved money working at that shit diner all year. You performed in about every ensemble in the tristate area to beef up yourresume. You figured out your dual citizenship and visa process in the middle of Brexit.鈥 She lowers her voice to a whisper, the wind in the car taking away the words as soon as they leave her mouth. 鈥淵ou鈥檝e been trying to escape Avery for years. You鈥檙e more than prepared for it, Marty.鈥 Her words sting and soothe at the same time. Is she bitter that I鈥檓 abandoning her? My best of two friends鈥攏o offense to Skye. But a lot of history is there. It took me ten years to meet her, five years to stop hating her, and two years of hanging out near constantly to get where we鈥檙e at now. 鈥淚鈥檓 not escaping.鈥 Of course I鈥檓 not escaping. 鈥淔inish your milkshake,鈥 she says. I do. 鈥淲e鈥檝e got two more ice cream stops before I roll you into the airport.鈥 My gaze drifts out my window at the glory that is I-75 just before rush hour. The evidence of downtown Cincinnati evaporates from the exit signs, and we鈥檙e left with the suburbs鈥擜rlington Heights, Lockland, Evendale. 鈥淢aybe we should abandon the milkshake plan. 275 will take us right there, and I鈥檒l have extra time.鈥 She sighs. I knew she鈥檇 sigh. 鈥淎nd what, exactly, would you do with this extra time?鈥 鈥淩ead?鈥 鈥淚f by 鈥榬ead鈥 you mean get to the gate and stare at the screen, freaking about delays that aren鈥檛 going to happen, then鈥斺 Now I sigh. It鈥檚 like a steam engine in here. 鈥淚 get it. Carry on. What鈥檚 next?鈥濃淵oung鈥檚 Jersey Dairy. We can feed the goats there. This is going to be an experience.鈥 I appreciate Megan鈥檚 need to make even the most mundane drives to the airport into an adventure, but I can鈥檛 let it go this time. In just a few hours I鈥檒l be up in the air. Away from Avery, Kentucky. Away from the shitheads at my school and the shittier shitheads who ate at the diner where I waited tables. Away from my parents. 鈥淢aybe I feel bad for lying to them,鈥 I say. 鈥淭he Bible-thumpers?鈥 鈥淵es, that鈥檚 their official name.鈥 I roll my eyes. 鈥淭hough I call them Mom and Dad.鈥 Megan hasn鈥檛 said two words to my parents since everything went down last year in London. Not like she was even there, but she got the full story. And, well, she is not one for nuance. 鈥淵ou know how I feel about them.鈥 Her voice softens and I soak it up. 鈥淏ut I get that this is hard for you, Mart. Really I do. When do you think you鈥檒l tell them you鈥檙e not coming back?鈥 The planner in me wins out this time, and a confidence rises along with my chest. 鈥淭he summer program lasts three months, which means I have plenty of time to get a paying gig. Maybe that鈥檚 what I鈥檒l do. Once one of these auditions works out, I can announce it. They鈥檒l be so happy their son got a spot in the London Philharmonic, they won鈥檛 be mad that I鈥檓鈥斺 Megan butts in. 鈥溾攏ever seeing them again?鈥 鈥淥kay, now who鈥檚 being melodramatic?鈥漈hree months. That鈥檚 plenty of time鈥攁nd it鈥檚 not like I鈥檓 super picky. It doesn鈥檛 have to be the London Phil. It could be the Royal Opera House, or a regional theatre like the open-air one in Regent鈥檚 Park, or 鈥 well, we鈥檒l see. 鈥淚t would have been a lot less complicated if I actually got into that summer program.鈥 I鈥檓 kind of rambling, but what else do you do when you鈥檙e nervous? Make sense? Not a chance. 鈥淏ut I think it鈥檚 a good thing. Because otherwise, I鈥檇 be wasting so much time in class and not out there booking gigs.鈥 The program is at the Knightsbridge Academy of Music. According to what I told my parents, I auditioned last year and got accepted. I even have a letter to prove it. But that鈥檚 not the truth. Unbeknownst to my parents, I flopped at the audition after the whole London Pride meltdown. Hell, technically, that program started a couple of weeks ago. Thank god no one researches everything to the extent I do. After everything happened last year, it didn鈥檛 take me long to realize how much I actually needed this London thing to work out. How much I needed to get away from them. Get out of that tiny place. And all it would take was a forged letter, some time to ease my mom into the idea of going back to that sinful place, plus a little help from my cousin Shane. Long story short, I was able to convince them to let me go this year. Fully on my own dime. I鈥檓 going to London, but I鈥檓 not attending the academy. I鈥檝e got my own plan, and I鈥檓 not coming back.But then I see Mom鈥檚 holding one of those shiny metallic balloons, helium shortage be damned, in the shape of a rectangle with the Union Jack on it. 鈥淢om?鈥 I ask. She鈥檚 scurrying toward me with an emotion that鈥檚 half panic, half grief, and hands me the balloon before wrapping her arms around me. I drape an arm around her in response, still kind of dumbstruck. 鈥淣ana wanted to say goodbye,鈥 Dad explains, 鈥渁nd we thought with all your planned milkshake detours we could beat you here.鈥 Grandma insists on being called Nana, but she鈥檚 never really struck me as the nana type. She鈥檚 so fit she moves faster than I do half the time, which is not bad for someone who just turned seventy a few weeks ago. Mom takes my rolling suitcase from me as I greet them. Mom鈥檚 family is spread throughout Europe, but Dad鈥檚 side never left Avery. Long as the census goes back, really. The four of us exchange oddly formal pleasantries, like they didn鈥檛 drive an hour and a half just to pop up and say one last goodbye, and I feel way too many emotions churning in my stomach along with the ice cream. It doesn鈥檛 feel great. 鈥淲e really should let you go,鈥 Mom says, after a lull in the conversation. 鈥淟ooks like everything鈥檚 still on time. We鈥檒l follow your flight on that tracker. Once you get your SIM card set back up, just send us a text so we know you鈥檙e okay.鈥 鈥淭hree months,鈥 Dad says. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 not so long.鈥 I鈥檓 lying to you.鈥淚 made sure Pastor Todd added you to the prayer chain at church,鈥 Mom says. Even if I get a good gig, after finding a place to live and rehearsals and performances, there鈥檚 no way I鈥檒l be able to come back. 鈥淣ot long at all,鈥 my grandma says. 鈥淭ake lots of pictures for your nana, and send me a postcard if you have a chance.鈥 I force a smile and walk toward airport security. I鈥檓 making my big escape, and everyone I love is watching me do it, completely unaware. My parents were shitty to me before, I know that, but is this any better? What am I doing? What have I done? They鈥檒l never forgive me for this.

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