You knock nervously on the door of your friend's house. Already, your bag feels heavy, and the strap is digging into your hand. Your friend comes to the door. He's surprised to see you."I'm running away," you tell him. "Can I stay here?"

"You're running away? Whoa!" He looks more nervous than excited. "Come in."

He sneaks you to his room. He turns up the radio so his parents won't hear you talking.

"I wish I could run away like you," he says.

"Why don't you? That would be so cool. We could run away together. You should do it." Wouldn't that be perfect?

You feel better already. It would be fun if you ran away with somebody.

"Come on" you tell him, "we'll do it tonight. I'll help you pack"

"No way. Where would we sleep?"

"We'll find a place."

"What do you mean, 'We'll find a place?' When you needed a place, you came here. If we leave here, where are we going to go? To whose house?"

"We don't need to go to a house," you insist with a broad wave of the arm. "We'll sleep out there somewhere."

"Hey! It's cold out there."

"We'll camp out," you say. "It'll be fun."

"For how long? For years? How are we going to eat?"

"We'll steal food. We'll sneak back into our own houses during the day while nobody is here."

You think you're being convincing. But it also occurs to you that you're really trying to convince yourself.

"Listen," he says. "I want to help you, but I'm not going to go along with you. Let's go ask my mom if you can stay over here tonight. We'll tell her we're working on a school project and that your mom knows."

That works. You barely see his parents again the whole night. Meanwhile, you stomp him repeatedly at the MegaGame video game Warrior's Circle II.

After one particularly bloody defeat, he pauses the game and asks, "What do you think your folks are going to say when they find out?"

You're not sure.

"They'll probably be mad," he says. "Or scared. Or both ? mad because you scared them. Aren't you nervous"

"Naw,"; you lie.

"Do you think they'll wish they'd been nicer to you?" he asks. "Do you think they blame themselves for you running away, or just see you as a brat for doing this?" Later, as you try to sleep, these questions come back to you. How will your folks feel?

In the morning, you walk to the bus stop with him. "Sneak me into your room tonight?" you ask hopefully.

"Listen," he says, "I could get in a lot of trouble. Can't you stay at somebody else's house?"

Three more friends, three more days. Same story at each house: "Only a night," or "Only a couple of nights. I'll get in trouble."

Then it happens. You wake up at a friend's house, grab your bag and go down to breakfast with his family.

"How'd the project go, boys?" his mom asks.

You're about to answer, and the phone rings. She picks it up, says hello and looks at you. "Uh huh. I see," she says. Now she's staring at you. "He's right here."

It's your folks. You're nailed.

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