Whenever she could, Annie did something dangerous. At nighttime, she liked to wander down the sketchiest alleyways, the ones where all the windows were shattered, where the street lamps were always too broken to give out more than the dimmest yellow flickers, if even that. Other times, on the rainiest, windiest days, she’d go outside, close her eyes, and dash into the middle of the street, easily ignoring the cars that angrily honked and skidded.
No matter what she did, no matter how reckless she was, somehow, nothing awful ever happened to her because of it. Even the time she went swimming in the big thunderstorm, and swam further out than she’d ever been before, she emerged from the ocean covered in seaweed and more than alive. She liked that day. She liked all of those days. In a way, she figured, they made her basically invincible, and proved everyone who tried to lecture her wrong. Sometimes, though, it made her sort of disappointed. If nothing ever happened to her, she thought, then where was her proof that she’d just done something spectacular? She worried about that; she wanted-- needed, she thought-- there to be proof that she led a different sort of life from everyone else. That idea was everything to her.
Normal life both bored and terrified Annie. Just living wasn’t enough to make her happy, wasn’t enough to keep her feeling alive, not really. In a weird way, she didn’t even feel safe when she tried to live normally. And it’d been like this for as long as she could remember. It started, she thought, when she was little, back when she used to purposely get lost in the mall. She would sneak away from her parents and just run through isles and isles of dresses, sweaters, nightgowns, letting the warm wools and cool silks breeze past her tiny hands, and imagine that she must be some sort of brave adventurer, forcing her way through uncharted land. She pictured herself getting captured, or kidnapped, fighting to get free, and was thrilled. For years, that sort of adventuring mostly satisfied her. As she got older, she would sneak away at night, instead, but the rest of everything stayed almost the same. But, then, just like that, it wasn’t enough.
When she turned thirteen, she tried something new; she stopped eating. Not for the usual reasons most girls give, but just to see what would happen. To see who would notice, to see what would change. As it was, she only lasted four and a half days before she cracked and feasted on Oreos and macaroni n’ cheese. But, no one noticed, and nothing changed. The world didn’t collapse, and it didn’t get any better. She still didn’t feel whole. If anything, it all just made her feel emptier, fragmented. Helpless. It made her hands shake, as if her arms were controlled by some furious puppeteer. She never tried that again.
Now, though, she was seventeen and figuring out how the world worked, and how it didn’t work. She was figuring out how she worked, too, more and more, and she thought she had a pretty good grasp on both. She was pretty sure she knew how she needed to live. She sighed and flipped onto her back, lounging on the roof of her house and watching the sun set bright pink and tangerine. Beneath her, in the living room, someone on TV said something clever and started to laugh. Next door, the neighbors were grilling hamburgers. They talked loudly about when their kids were kids, and the best way to properly grill anything. Across the street, a baby squealed happily. More voices echoed it. Annie twirled a long strand of hair and thought about what she would do next. What she would do that night. It would be big. It would mean something. Maybe, she hoped, as she hoped every night, it would make her what she knew she was meant to be. And if it didn’t, well, there were worse things.