I'm still thinking about the lack of emails in my inbox by the time that Ella and I make it to the beach. The sun is bright and hot on my legs as we search out a spot to sit on. Ella is wearing a large pair of sunglasses and her arm is loosely looped through mine. She's been talking about school and some of the other teenagers since the moment we left my house. The idea of Dylan and I in her head is either gone, or well hidden.
"So," she says, pulling me down beside where she is now sitting. There is barely anyone around, save for a man jogging down the shoreline and a boy and girl playing catch with their golden retriever. "What are you going to do?"
I watch a large pelican flying over the water and try to think of reasons as to why my mom hasn't emailed me. The pelican drops from the sky in a steep dive before catching a fish in its massive beak. When my line of sight, following the bird, meets Ella's eyes I realize that she's asked me a question.
Ella smiles knowingly. She crosses her legs and her loose, black hair softly ripples in the morning breeze. "About Dylan, what are you going to do?"
My eyebrows rise and I look down at the sand between us. I sigh and pass my fingers through the sand, making tiny spirals. "I don't know," I look up at the water, the sun's already strong light reflecting off of it and creating the appearance of brilliant twinkles of light across the ocean. "Maybe I should just stay away from him." I squint my eyes against the sun. "I'm not doing anyone a favor by throwing myself in front of him."
There's a silence between us before Ella's voice comes out in a giggle. "I remember when I first got here," she says, looking over at me quickly before turning back to the bright ocean ahead, "I was so scared. I mean, I came from another small town in California, but this place is just so..."
"Close," I conclude. Ella looks at me again, her eyes searching me over.
"Yeah," she nods slowly, keeping her eyes on me. "So I get why he's hurting." She looks away again and I can't help but remember Dylan's coldness as he walked away from me. "If you were as close as you say you were, then it's gotta hurt."
"I'm hurting too," I whisper.
"What happened anyway?" Ella asks, watching a woman with a little girl walking on the shore. Every few steps they stop so that the little blond girl can pick up a shell or a rock.
"It's complicated," I respond and Ella snorts. "And long."
"I've got all day," Ella pulls a long strand of black hair from her face and places it behind her ear.
I think back to the day that my mom came back from a friend's house. She looked desperate. Her hair was a mess and she'd gotten thinner over the past few weeks. She and dad had been fighting a lot; more than usual. Somehow I remember thinking that maybe her nervous behavior was because she decided that fighting wasn't any good anymore.
I could tell that my mom hadn't slept in days because of the bags under her eyes. I always used to see mom putting on makeup and pretty dresses to go out with dad before dropping me off at Dylan's house, where his mom would take care of the both of us. The woman who walked through the front door that day didn't look like my mom. This woman looked tired, defeated, and scared.
"Mommy?" I called out to her from the living room. When she didn't answer, I left my dolls and met her in the kitchen, where she was crying. "Mommy?"
Her back stiffened as I walked up behind her and I heard a few sniffs. She passed her hands quickly over her face, before taking in a deep breath.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Mom turned around and I saw that her eyes were red from crying. Her nose, like mine, gets pink when she cries so I knew that no matter what she did, she could never hide her sadness from me.
"I'm fine, baby," she said before going down on her knees in front of me. "I need you to do something for me, okay?"
I watched her, waiting for her orders.
"I need you to go to your room and pack some of your things," she looked at me and for a split moment I could see my mom through those desperate eyes. "Okay baby? Go do that quickly."
"What about daddy?" I asked, balling up my hands into fists. "When is daddy coming home?"
My mom's face twitched and she came closer to me. "He's gone baby," she said, kissing me on the forehead. "He left us. Now please, go get your things."
I remember crying as I packed away some of my books and my clothes. I remember looking at the picture of me and my dad at the beach. Even at the age of ten I knew that this was wrong. How could my dad, the man that I looked up to, the one who put me to sleep at night with stories and silly lullabies, leave us?
"Good baby," mom said, grabbing my backpack and Barbie suitcase when I'd finally gone downstairs. "Now get in the car, we have to go."
"But mommy," I said, still confused with the idea of dad leaving. "What about Dyl?"
Mom stared at me and she smiled weakly. "I'm sorry," she said before getting me into the car.
I cried so hard that my eyes burned and my nose was too full to breathe. I yelled so loud and for so long that my voice went hoarse. "Dyl," I cried, silently begging mom to stop the car so I could at least say goodbye, but she only kept saying, "I'm sorry," and I could see that she was.
I wasn't the only one crying in that car as we left Pueblo and everything else behind.