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122 APRIL 2009
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Running Away

Sheri McGuinn

An excerpt from the first chapter of the book Running Away by Sheri McGuinn (see bottom of page).

Thursday 1
Maggie Someone who doesn’t even know me noticed before Mom or Lizzie. Chip, the quiet guy who sits next to me in third period, stopped me after class Tuesday and asked if I was okay. I totally fell apart. He took me to the projection booth above the theater. No one was there. Can’t believe I let it all pour out, even pulled down my collar to show him the fingerprints. He asked about a doctor, I told him no. No doctor. No talking to teachers. No making phone calls to anyone. He understood. He’s got a friend. She reported what was happening and she ended up in foster care. Safe, but her mother didn’t believe her and won’t talk to her anymore. Mom won’t believe me. Not after all the crap I pulled trying to break up their engagement. And I can’t live like this ... Chip said he’d help me and he really came thru. we’re gonna pretend I’m camping with his family for the holiday weekend. So I’m out of here. This is my last night in this house.

I drop the pen and slap my diary shut as Lizzie barges into the room. “Hey, why don’t you knock!” I demand.
"It’s my room, too, remember?” Lizzie defends herself.
"I had the door closed for a reason.”
"Yeah, I wanted some privacy. I coulda been changing, ya know.”
“Okay, Maggie,” she sighs, backing off. “I'll knock next time.”
“So close it now, would ya?”
"It’s like being in a box,” she complains, but she shuts the door while I get up, leaving the desk for her.

We never had to share a room at home, but that’s sixty miles away, and Mom sold it. This is Richard's house. I don’t feel like talking. Just toss my diary into the top bunk, climb up, and stretch out facing the wall. He painted this room white over wallpaper. It’s cracked next to my mattress. Picked thru three layers so far. This one’s green. My room in our house was deep-sea blue, with tropical fish my friend Chandra painted and furniture that Mom and me sponge-painted to look like coral ... Lizzie wanted the top bunk, but I got first pick cuz I’m two years older. Well, she can have it once I’m gone. It'll be like I was never here. No. Lizzie’ll miss me.

"Maggie, how do you do this?” She’s pointing to a math problem.
"I always louse those up. You better go ask Mom.”

Can’t pack yet, but while she’s gone, I look around to see what needs to go. There isn’t much of me here. Just my clothes, a few books, my CDs, and the sleeping bag I’m using for a comforter. It’s a summer bag, but it"ll hafta do. All our other camping gear is in storage, 'cept Lizzie used one of the big framed backpacks to move a bunch of her stuff. Maybe it’s still here. No, not in the closet ... Yes! There it is! Under her bunk. Good thing. Don’t know what I’d use for my gear otherwise. It’s too big for a weekend, but I can say I don’t want my school pack to smell like a campfire.

"Mom wants us to clean up and help get dinner on the table,” Lizzie tells me as she puts her math book on the desk. We wash up in our bathroom. Mom doesn’t like people washing their hands in the kitchen sink while she’s cooking. Wonder if I'll eat dinner here tomorrow? I don’t know when they’re coming for me. Wish Richard wasn’t here, if it’s gonna be my last dinner at home.

Mom gives the orders soon as we get to the kitchen. “Lizzie, take care of the place settings. Maggie, help carry the food out, and put out two pads for the hot dishes.”

She’s made this whole big pot roast, with potatoes and carrots – gravy, even. We eat way more meat now she’s cooking for Richard, too. I like salads. We used to make a whole meal of a salad, with nuts and cheese and lotsa different veggies, not just lettuce.

“Smells good,” Richard says to the room when he comes upstairs from his office in the basement. When he washes his hands in the kitchen sink, Mom doesn’t say a word – not to her husband. We all sit down and Richard stops us to say grace. Hypocrite. “Lord, bless this food.” At least he keeps it short.

"Maggie, how much meat do you want?” he asks in his phony sweet voice.
"Just that little piece, please,” I try to sound nice, but it’s hard. I just nod for how many potatoes and carrots. His fingers caress mine as he hands me the plate. I drop it.
“That’s okay,” he says with that smile. “It didn’t break.” I scoop some carrots off the table and put my plate in front of me.

Mom’s rushed to the kitchen and is back with a damp cloth, wiping up my mess. “Maggie, you need to be more careful.”
"Yes, Mom.” My fault. Again. I can feel him watching me, smiling. I hunch over and focus on eating. My plate’s clean while everyone else is only half done. “May I please be excused? I’ve got a lotta homework.”
“Okay,” says Mom, but Richard says “No” at the same time.

I stay put and keep quiet while they sort it out. I don’t want any trouble. Just twenty-four hours to go. “She shouldn’t gobble her food down like that,” he says. “It’s rude. She’ll only learn if she has to stay at the table until everyone is finished.”
"Maggie, Richard is right,” Mom says – no surprise, she always goes along with him. “It’s rude to rush through your meal. But I’m glad you’re so concerned about your grades now, so go study. Just be more polite next time.”

Amazing. Figures. Now I’m leaving, she starts to make her own decisions again. Or she just wants me to study. Alone in the bedroom, I look through my stuff. There’s not much. Gonna sell my CDs. Probably won’t take anything but clothes. And bathroom stuff. Lizzie comes in, so I lie up in my bunk, doing homework. Don’t want any phone calls home tomorrow! Richard walks past our room a couple times. Wish Lizzie would leave the door shut.

“See ya later,” Lizzie’s voice startles me. She’s in her jacket, with her backpack slung over her shoulder. I sit up so fast, my head bumps the ceiling.
“Where ya goin'? Is Mom goin' with ya?” I need Lizzie out of here to get things ready for tomorrow, but I don’t wanna be home alone with him.
“Sitting for Petersons.”
“The people right down the street?” I demand.
"Y-yuh,” she drawls. “What’s got you in a knot?”
"Just wondered. So you’re walking over there?”
She looks at me like I’ve lost it. “Duh ... it’s four doors down.”
"Mom going anywhere?”
"Don’t think so, but it’s not my turn to watch her,” she shakes her head. “You are so bizarre.” She shrugs. “Gotta go. Later.”

She closes the door on her way out. Part of me wants to go make sure Mom’s still here, but that would mean going out where I’d hafta deal with Richard. He might find another excuse to touch me. I open the door a crack. They’re talking, just voices, no words, but Mom’s here. I let my breath out, blowing the air up my face so it catches my bangs, then take another breath and let it out real slow. Learned something from that stupid counselor. Gotta take care of things while Lizzie’s gone. He won’t do much while Mom is here.


More about the book:

This story is told in two voices, those of the teen, who is running away from a secretly abusive step-father, and her mother, who is caught up in her own issues and completely unaware. It will help adults understand young people and their problems but is also an exciting read for teens. The novel would be a useful tool for opening communication within families when working with groups of teens with behavioral problems, particularly if linked to child abuse. Sheri McGuinn is currently working on an update for her website that will include suggestions on how to use the book in that way.

Some review quotes about Running Away:

"Frequently intense and sometimes funny, the story rings true.”
Jessica Gray, librarian

"A powerful story with some compelling characters.”
Victoria Lucas

"A good read. I found it engrossing and wonderfully true to adolescent and family psychology.”
Barbara Prosser Kerr

“The author does not over-generalize about run-away teens; she just tells a gripping story about one.”
Sandra Modell, review at


Running Away is available in our Amazon bookstore:

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It is also available as an e-book at $6 at

and in softcover at $18.95 from

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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