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The wild wilderness of the mountains sprang to life in the morning sun. Clara often went camping in the mountains with her best friend Linda when she needed to clear her head. It was a pastime Clara used to do with her mother before she died. Clara could hear birds singing in the open forest around her. Their chirpy tune accompanied her and Linda as they cleared an unruly campsite. 

“So,” Linda said while packing up their tent, “are you really going to do this college thing?”

“Hell no,” Clara said louder than she expected. 

“Good. So when are you going to tell your father?”

Clara closed her eyes and let the wind hit her face. She breathed in the scent of the forest, earthy and untamed. I don’t want to leave this place. “Soon.” 

Her father was a doctor. He was well-known in the medical field with a reputation of being the best in California-and he expected Clara to follow in his footsteps. Clara checked the site one more time, making sure everything was clean. She spotted a couple more beer bottles from the night before and tossed them in the trash. Grabbing her rucksack, she took one more deep breath of the crisp mountain air, “Ready to go?”

“Yep,” Linda said, closing the tailgate of her muddy truck. “I think that’s it.” They both hopped into the vehicle and began the long journey back to the city.  “So,” Linda said an hour into the drive home, “when do you want to go drinking in the mountains again?”

Clara’s eyes were fixed on the forest as it got smaller and smaller. “As soon as possible. This is one of the few freedoms I still have. Plus, it reminds me of Mom.” She hugged herself as memories of her mother flooded her mind: birthdays, Christmases, and endless words of wisdom. You were my north star

“I know camping was you and your mom’s thing. I hope our trips bring you closer to her.”

“They do, but I still miss her every day. She always taught me to pursue the life I wanted.” 

“Then do it.”

Then do it. The words resonated in Clara’s mind as silence ensued the rest of the drive. Linda dropped Clara off at home. The three story house set in the hills of Los Angeles loomed over her. Clara cracked opened the front double doors and peeked in, checking for movement. None. Her father was probably back in his study working. She took another deep breath, this one filled with the stench of her father’s favorite incense: white sage. He burned it all the time, filling the house with his stink. Slowly, she tiptoed through the door and started creeping up the spiraling marble staircase to the concealment of her room. 

“Welcome home!” their live-out butler, Peter, said with a bright face.

Clara stopped in the middle of the staircase, “Shhh Peter!” she whispered and listened for footsteps in the house.

“Oh! I’m sorry.” He hushed his voice to match her volume, “are you hiding from your dad again?”


“Well he’s in the study, as usual. I won’t tell him you’re here.” 

With a nod, Clara finished her trek up to her room and closed the door. She leaned against its heavy wooden and sighed. The smell of incense even reached her room. Her father was always around her at home. Clara set her rucksack down and started unpacking from the trip. Someone knocked on the door. 

“Open up!” came her father’s voice. “I know you’re in there!” 

Clara scanned her room searching for an escape from her life. The window caught her eye. Falling from the third story room would mean certain death, but she still considered it for half a second. That’s one way to get freedom. Clara was a prisoner in her father’s house. He ruled her life. Her shoulders sank and she opened the door to find Dad glaring at her. 

“You should’ve been home yesterday,” her father said with a raised voice. “You have orientation for college tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry I’m late. I needed some time away.”

“Unacceptable.” He pointed his finger in her face. “You’re not allowed to go camping anymore.”

Clara’s jaw dropped. “Why? I have done everything you’ve asked of me. I have perfect grades, made valedictorian, and became president of my class.”

“You’re late and nothing can get in the way of your future.”

“You mean your future? I never wanted to be a doctor.” Clara bunched her hands into fists, “I’m not going to college.”

Her father continued to glare at her, his face red. “You ungrateful little bitch.” He inched into the room. “I have given you everything in life and this is how you treat me?”

  Clara didn’t move as her dad crept even closer to her. “Have you ever thought about what I wanted to do with my life? Mom would be on my side.” 

“Your mother was a fool,” he spat. “I should have left you at the car accident with her. Your opinion doesn’t matter. You will become a doctor. I will not have my reputation tarnished by some little twerp.”

Clara’s nostrils flared. He was now only a hair away from her face. She could feel his pungent breath on her skin. Clara straightened up as tall as she could, “My mother was a better person that you’ll ever be,” she said through clenched teeth. “Don’t you ever speak about her like that again. You care more about your reputation than your own daughter.” 

He slapped her across the face. 

Her eyes never left his as the stinging spread over her cheek. 

“Tomorrow morning at seven o’clock,” he said. “Be ready. I am taking you to that orientation myself.” He turned around and slammed the door. 

Clara sat on the windowsill. Her hand caressed her cheek while tears started flowing freely. His control over her life was getting worse. Mom would never let this happen. Clara spotted the mountains in the distance. Closing her eyes, she remembered the feel of the wind on her face. She remembered the birds singing in her ears. A picture of the forest came to her mind: wild, clean, and free. Linda’s words echoed in her head: Then do it. “I will,” she said, taking a long look at the window. 

The next day the sun peeked over the horizon as seven o’clock came. Sunlight stretched over the three story house. A police officer was busy finishing up a report in the living room. “Looks like a suicide,” he told Clara. “There will still be an investigation, just proper protocol. You were asleep when it happened?”

“Yes. The shatter of the window woke me up. I went to his room, saw his body out on the lawn, and called you.” Clara said through tears.

“I’m sorry for your loss. We’ll get the body out of here.”

“Thank you.” The police officer headed out the door. Clara walked into the study and put out the white sage incense for the last time. This is my house now. A grin spread across her lips.


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