Her bony fingers stroked the six strings while her left hand slid along the neck of the glossy acoustic.
The world was quite literally at her fingertips.
Lilah felt no remorse for running away. It wasn’t like she saw herself as a role model for her 16-year-old sister Becca, anyway.
She hated high school. She couldn’t understand how anyone could find the appeal in being chained to a desk for hours, listening to boring teachers shove pointless theories down her throat, and brainwashing students into what success was supposed to be.
The only class she looked forward to was fifth period choir. A room full of self-proclaimed divas, goths, goody-two-shoes, and the in-betweens, who worked their ass off together in preparation for seasonal concerts. Despite the awkward clash of social status, most of the choir students got along.
Becca loved seeing Lilah sing on stage, but concealed the adoration when a tinge of jealousy and insecurity rose, aware of her musical and artistic deficiencies. She was more like their father in that way, which was why Lilah couldn’t stand the thought of living under his roof. He had full custody of both girls after filing for divorce from their ever-absent mother.
Lilah could see her father falling apart way before divorce even became a discussion. Still, she was turning to her guitar and Jeremy for comfort.
The music of his fingers gliding down her spine, opening her legs insistently, blanketed her from the atrocities of life at age seventeen, while showing her what being seventeen supposedly meant.
Greeting him at his front door late at night became a numbing routine. He would invite her inside with a half-empty bottle of vodka. Lilah stopped taking the guitar with her to his house.
Tangled in his sheets, Lilah so badly wanted him to give her more than pleasure. At the same time, she was too afraid of feeling anything more than lust for him.
Playing the guitar against the antique shop, Lilah remembered every curve of Jeremy’s muscular body, heard every moan emanating from his lips as she strummed harder and harder.
Lilah’s thin arms pounded against the instrument. Her weight had gone down with the loss of appetite and alcohol consumption.
When Lilah stumbled into her dad’s house at 6:30 a.m. that morning with smeared make-up across her face, Becca was sitting judgmentally on the living room couch.
“You forgot your guitar,” Becca said coldly in the thick darkness. She had propped her sister’s acoustic against the couch, the glossy wooden neck sticking up like a massive middle finger.
“Whatever,” Lilah said snatching her instrument. “Don’t touch my stuff.” She walked to their room and slammed their bedroom door. Lilah crawled into bed, still tipsy.
Eventually, she woke up that evening. After throwing on clean underwear, Lilah packed the necessities: a toothbrush, soap, a bag of bread, a jar of peanut butter, socks, loose cash, and a case of new guitar picks her mother had bought her for her birthday.
Music was really the only thing she had in common with her mom. She was hardly ever in the picture; she was hardly ever in the state of California, for that matter. Her mother was an owner of a large music label company in New York, and she traveled across the country on countless business trips.
Lilah gave up asking where her mother was when her father stopped knowing the answers.
She finished her packing, and this time, she sure as hell didn’t forget her guitar.
She didn’t know where she would go, but she would figure it out at the bus station. Lilah made up her mind to call Jeremy on a pay phone from wherever she ended up- Santa Monica, maybe?- and beg him to run away with her.
Then she could live… then, she would be free.
Carrying her guitar became tiresome after walking. She paused on University, outside the antique shop and rested. The sun was setting and a cool breeze wafted through the bustling streets, tall silhouette palm trees swaying in the distance.
Lilah lounged against the cool wall of the shop before removing her guitar from its black leather case. Unlatching the exterior felt like opening a treasure chest. Dust seemed to puff out of the velvet case as if the guitar was taking a breath of relief.
She pulled out the instrument and laid it on her lap. In a disruptive singular thought, she recalled Becca in the living room. You forgot your guitar.
Her throat closed up and tears poured from her hazel eyes, a stream of mascara trailing down her cheeks, dripping onto her torn jeans. She reached for one of the new picks her mother had bought her, thinking that a song would stop the water works.
It had been months since she played. Muscle memory, however, brought back precious melodies of time; a time last year when her father and sister saw her sing on stage at school.
She could feel her mother’s hug at the memory of the previous birthday they had briefly spent together.
The memory of Jeremy making love to her… she played to these melodies of time.
People gathered as she hummed along to her guitar, closing her drenched eyes. Humming transformed into howling lyrics she dug up from the pit of her soul.
Lilah opened her eyes and saw coins, dollar bills, and even some random pieces of candy in her guitar case. People were listening, hypnotized.
She sang louder and strummed faster from her very core. Farther and farther down, she dug.
During the chorus, Lilah locked eyes with Becca and her father. They stared down at her, perplexed. She played softer but raised her voice.
Tears surfaced again in the final note.
The crowd, mesmerized, applauded. Her fingers finally let go of the strings.
Taking a deep breath, Lilah bowed her head and wiped away her stained face. She turned her eyes to her sibling as she said, “Thank you.”