A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard street just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old fashion, tend to overact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. "I hate you" she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has menatlly rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. BecauseNewspapers in Traverse City report in luird detail the gangs. drugs and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concluded that is probably the last place her parents would look for her. California, maybe or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she's ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better then she's ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides her parents were keeping her from all the fun.
The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car-she calls him"Boss"-teaches her a few things that men like. Since she is underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penhouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about her folks back home, but their lives seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe that she grew up there.
She has a brief scare when she sees her picture on the back of a milk container with the Headlines "Have you seen this child?" But by now she had blonde hair and make-up and with all the body piercing jewlery she wears no one would mistake her for a child. Besides most of her friends were runaways and no one rats on anyone.
After a year the first sallow of illness appears, and it amazes her how the Boss turns mean. "Theses days we can not mess around", He growled. And before she knew it she was out on the streets without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don't pay much and it goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself out on the grate in front of a Department Store sleeping. Sleeping is the wrong word-teenagers girls in Detroit can never relax their guard. Dark bands circle her eyes, her cough worsens.
One night as she lies awake listening for footprints,all of a sudden everything about her life seems different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world, she feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and freezing city. Her pockets are empty and she's hungry. She needs a fix.She pulls her legs tightly underneath herself, as she shivers under the newspapers she piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees blooming at once, with her Goldern Retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossom trees in a chase of a tennis ball.
"God Why did I leave?" she said to herself and pain stabbed at her heart. My dog back home eats better then I do now. She is now sobbing and knows more then anything else she wanted to go home. Three straight phone calls, three straight conections to an answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times but the third time she leaves a message "Dad, Mom it's me, I was wondering maybe about coming home?" I'm catching a bus up your way and It will get there about midnight tomorrow. If you are not there, well, I guess I'll stay on the bus until it hits Canada.
It takes about 7 hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realized the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and missed the message? Shouldn't she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they were home, they probably wrote her off as dead a long time ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. "Dad, can you forgive me?" She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she reherses them. She hasn't apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt streams. She's forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the milleage to Travers City. Oh, God....
When the bus finally rolls into the station, the air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, Fifteen minutes folks. That's all we have here. Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks a the tobacco stains on her fingertips and wonders if her parents will notice. if they are there...
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that had played in her mind prepared her for what she saw. There in the cononcrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs-bus-terminal in Traverse City Michaigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and aunts and Uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great Grandfather to boot. They're all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that read "Welcome Home!"
Out of the crowd of well wishers breaks her Dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized words "Dad I'm sorry, I knew....."
He interupted her, "Hush, child." We got no time for that. You will be late for the party. A banquet's waiting for you at home."