Seasons of the Storm by Elle Cosimano


Wintergreen, Virginia

December 21, 1988


There’s something inherently wrong with any home that’s easy to get into and hard to break out of. The Winter Ridge Academy for Boys is both. I’ve cleared four of the five pins in the lock already, and I can practically taste the air outside, cold and sweet, seeping through the crack under the door.

My hallmates roughhouse behind me, their blood buzzing on cheap contraband rum, all of us high on the promise of one night outside these walls and the risk of getting caught.

We won’t. I’ve been planning this for a month—timing the shift changes of the security guards, mapping their patrol routes every night after lights out, figuring out how to get us all back inside before morning head count. If anyone deserves a few hours of freedom, it’s us.

We’re the ones left behind—the worst of the screwups, whose parents didn’t want us home for the holidays. The last bed check of the night was an hour ago. The teachers have all taken off for Christmas, and security’s been whittled down to a skeleton crew. If I can get us out past the reach of the security lights, no one should come looking for us.

“Hurry up, Sullivan. What’s taking so long?”

“Keep it down. I’m almost done.”

They’re like puppies, all quiet barks and rough whispers and stifled laughs as they scuffle in their puffy coats behind me. One of them knocks into me and I swear. But as I pitch forward into the door, the last pin slides home.

The lock opens.

The boys untangle themselves and huddle over my shoulder, their breath ripe with booze as the door creaks open, carving an angel’s wing in the snow. I hold them back, craning my neck out. The hushed woods absorb every sound.

The exits in this place are equipped with cameras and alarms, except this one. Half hidden in the back of an old boiler room layered in dust, the dimpled door and rusted padlock hardly put up a fight. Tucked close to the woods, this corner of the dormitory isn’t visible from the rest of campus. During the summers, it’s overgrown with weeds, the patchy, neglected grass shaded by the dense, low limbs of the towering oaks and chestnut trees that surround the school, as if the staff’s forgotten this door exists. The security guards don’t even bother patrolling it. In the mornings, when we’re released for outside recreation, it’s the only pristine stretch of snow on the grounds.

“Go,” I whisper, holding the door open for the others. I drag on my ski jacket and cap. The snow’s thick, making it easy to follow their moonlit tracks. I run after them, the cold stinging my cheeks, a grin splitting my face so wide it’s almost painful, as the lights of the school fade behind me.

My lungs burn and my heart’s on fire. It feels like the first full breath I’ve tasted in years, since I first got dumped here. I’m tempted to turn away from the rest of the group and just keep running, but I’ve only got six months left in this place to satisfy the terms of my probation.

And then what? After graduation, where the hell will I go?

I dig in my pocket for the smuggled whiskey I brought, but it’s gone. Ahead, the empty bottle catches the moonlight, dangling from someone’s glove.

My roommate tosses me a can of cheap beer and I catch it against the front of my coat. It’s still warm from whoever’s dorm room it was hidden in, and now it’s completely shaken up.

“Happy birthday, Jack,” I mutter.

I crack it open and pound it before the froth spills out. It’s been hours since dinner. The beer goes straight to my head, and my stomach still feels hollow, even after I knock back a second one.

We walk until my face is numb. Until we reach the high chain-link perimeter fence separating us from the ski resort on the other side.

“This is it,” I tell them. A month ago, I sketched a map to this spot. My roommate’s older brother works at the ski rental counter during his college breaks, and someone said he’d been saving money to buy a car. I convinced the boys in my hall to chip in for a bribe, wrote all our boot sizes on a slip of paper, and passed it to the guy’s brother along with the money and the map when he was here during Sunday visitation two weeks ago. The opportunity to ski these slopes—slopes some of us can see from our dorm room windows but never get the chance to touch—was too good to pass up.

The boulder’s tucked tightly against a copse of pine, its nose poking out of the snow, exactly where I marked it on the map.