It was nothing like how the movies described it. The day was nice, and sunny, about 75 degrees and beautiful out. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. All the people around were going about their day, relaxed like nothing had happened. And for most of them, nothing had happened.
I wasn’t one of them.
The car ride was silent. I couldn’t even hear the sound of the wind, or the honking of other cars. Didn’t notice the bumps, or the twists and turns in the road. I didn’t notice anything. And yet, today was a day I would never forget.
The car finally stopped and we got out, making our way to the service. Still no one made a sound. The smell of the freshly cut grass filled my nose. It was perfectly green and wet from the morning dew. The soft morning breeze touched my face as I made my way to my seat, follow by my parents. We were the last ones here. I could feel all eyes on us as we made our way up the isle, and when we took our seats, the pastor stood up to speak.
I was on autopilot, today was so surreal. I couldn’t hear a word the pastor was saying, even if I wanted to. How could I be here right now? I shouldn’t be here right now. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Thinking back to the last few days, I couldn’t see how we got here. How I got here. I could still smell the scent of inferno burning, I could still hear the shrieking in the distance, and feel the overwhelming sense of trepidation.
The sound of my name broke me out of my stupor. I turned to see my mothers eyes staring at me. “Iris, are you ready? Iris?”
“Iris. Iris?” I was pulled from my daze, this time by Addy. “Iris, are you ready? Let’s get going!” Addy was jumping up and down, trying to get my attention. “We’re going to be late!”
Bringing me back to the present, Addy had the keys in her hand and was halfway out the door. I got up and walked out after her, grabbing the last of my things and tossing them into the trunk.
“Now don’t forget to call! I know you’re going to be busy with classes, but you’re never to busy to call your mom.” I nodded my head as I shut the trunk, and pulled my mom into a hug. I had been waiting for this day for a long time, beyond happy to get out of this town, but I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to leave my parents. They were the only thing keeping me here.
“I won’t, mom. I’m sure you’ll get sick and tired of hearing from me, because I’m calling so much,” I joked.
My mom just shook her head. “Not possible.” I could see water in her eyes.
“And besides, by the time you’re happy to have the house to yourselves, I’ll be back home for the holidays!” I quipped, making my dad laugh.
“I wanted to turn your room into a bowling alley, but your mom wouldn’t let me.” He rolled he eyes, as my mom elbowed him in the chest. “I mean - I would never do that,” He sighed, making me snicker.
“I’m sure, dad!” I pulled them both in for one last hug, “I’ll call you when we get there. Don’t worry about us.” I know what we had been through, that trying not to worry was near impossible for my parents.
They hugged me tight back, not wanting to let me go but knowing they had to. We said our final farewells, as I hopped in the passenger seat and closed the door.
“Cya, Mr. and Mrs. Woods!”Addy exclaimed. I shushed her, giving her a “it’s 5AM! people are still sleeping” look. She shrugged, not letting it phase her as she started the car, waved once last time and drove away. Addy already had our road trip playlist playing through the speakers, and rolled all the windows down as we headed for the highway. Living in Echo Lake, Washington meant it would be a short while before we actually got there. It would take us a whole day to get to our destination, University of California Irvine near Huntington Beach, and we were planning on taking our time. This was our first year of college, as both Addy and I would be freshmen in the Comparative Literature Studies program.
Having just graduated high school a few months ago, Addy and I couldn’t wait to get out of Echo Lake, though admittedly we had different reasons. Addy wanted to see the world, explore, have adventures. She wanted to have late nights, and sleep in. She wanted to meet new people and live life to it’s fullest. I just wanted to be anywhere but here.
I had wanted to disappear from Echo Lake so desperately that I had graduated a year early. Even though Addy was a year older than me, we have grown up together as kids and have been near inseparable. Despite the fact that our personalities were nothing alike, we did have a few things in common. Our love of books, for one and our love of movies for two. Addy was a very social bird, while I kept tried to keep more to myself. And I say try, because more often than not, Addy wouldn’t let me just curl up in a book on a Friday night.
“So we should get in around noon on Wednesday. That should give us enough time to find our room, unload our things, and grab a bite to eat.” Addy was half talking to me, half talking to herself, running through our plan for the day. I covered my mouth trying to conceal my yawn. I may be an early bird, but not a 5AM early bird. “Asher will be meeting us for dinner around six, so that should leave us plenty of time.”
My ears perked up at the mention of Asher, though I tried to hide my reaction from Addy. Asher was Addy’s older brother. He too graduated early from high school 4 years before me, and was starting his first year as a med student at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.
From what I remember of Asher, he was relatively quiet, though we had gotten to know one another pretty well since I practically lived at their house. He was tall, lanky but toned. His skin was pale, and his eyes were a gorgeous deep green. His velvet voice was soft and melodic, and my favorite song to listen to whenever he played the piano. He didn’t really perform for anyone, but once in a while when I was at their house I could hear in from Addy’s room, playing the family grand piano.
“I think he’s bringing a few of his roommates. I can’t remember their names…” Addy prattled on, not needing my input. Asher had been living down there for a few years now, so I hadn’t seen him in a long while. He usually came home for the holidays, but these past few years had to stay during the break to study.
Addy and I planned to stop twice on our way down. Once in Coos Bay, Oregon and then in San Francisco before making it to Irvine. We had been planning this road trip for a long time.
“Rose will be there too, right. I wonder how she’s been?” She asked. Roslyn was in the same grade as Addy, but moved away her Sophomore year. Though she and Addy were close, Roslyn moved away before we really got to know one another. The two of them kept in contact over the years, and Addy just found out Roslyn was going to the University of California, too. She wouldn’t stop bouncing off the walls when she found out.
I shrugged, resting my head against the cool window. Unable to keep my sleep from my eyes. Addy continued to talk to herself, only taking a break from talking to sing along with the music. I could feel the stress radiating from my body, and not wanting Addy to feel it I let myself drift off to sleep, thinking about melodic songs and gorgeous green eyes.
Just before we hit Cannon Beach, Oregon four hours had past. Mid morning, with the sun on my face I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and took in the view. US 101 South was gorgeous. Addy tacked on an extra 8 hours onto this trip for the sole reason of driving the entire way down scenic coastal highway. Addy knew I has never really been anywhere outside of Washington, so she wanted to make this trip an adventure.
Growing up in Echo Lake, with a stay at home mom, and a dad bringing in a small town Sheriffs salary, it let little room for vacations. My parents did the best with what they had, and we never went without. I really didn’t mind though. I knew someday I would get to travel, but for the time being I had dreamt of travel and read about other’s adventures in books.
Addy wanted to stop at the Ecola State Park and stretch our legs while looking for a place to sit and snack along the beach. Though it was still shorts weather, being the Pacific Northwest in August, it wasn’t like you could play out in the waves. With the sun shinning down on us, we were warm enough in our jean shorts and short sleeve shorts, but when the sun was hiding and the wind blowing, I was thankful I grabbed my jacket.
“So have you talked to Owen?” Addy inquires, looking out onto the waves, trying to be nonchalant.
I shiver at the mention of his name. “No, not since graduation.” Owen is my high school sweetheart, or was my high school sweetheart. That is up until last summer when…
“You know we broke up, right?” I reminded her, trying to hide my annoyance. And guilt.
“Yeah, I know.” Addy takes a big bite of her sandwich - well a normal human sized bite, which compared to Addy’s stature, was big - and chews it down before finishing. “I just didn’t expect him to let you leave that way.”
She knows Owen too well. Last night, while I was laying in bed trying to catch some much needed sleep, I heard a tap against my window. At first I just thought it was the wind and trees outside, but then I heard it again. And again. I sighed and got up, quietly gliding to the window. I knew if I didn’t open it soon, the sounds out get more frequent and louder, possibly waking my parents. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened. As I open the window and looked down into the starlit grass, I can make out the shape of Owen down below and our little spot off into the distance.
“What are you doing here, Owen?”
Even though he tried to muffle it, I could hear his booming laughter from two stories up. “Did you really think I would let you move across the country without a fight?”
No, I thought, but I had hoped.
I rolled my eyes, grabbed my cardigan and made my way downstairs, not caring the I was still in my pjs. It wouldn’t be the first time Owen would see me in my pajamas. I quietly snuck out the door, more so to keep from waking up the house than out of worry of my parents finding Owen here. They loved Owen like he was their own son. My parents were heartbroken when we broke up. It was almost like they were in the relationship, not us.
Please misjudge me, it wasn’t that I didn’t still love Owen, or care for him. To be honest, this little gesture had my heart beating fast and skipping a few beats. Owen had that effect on me. He was my best friend and had been for many years, even before we started dating in my Sophomore year. I can remember the first time he visited me like this before. When everyone else was asleep, I heard the soft melodic sounds of our favorite song “Better Together” playing from nowhere. When I went to investigate, I found Owen was sitting in my backyard on the hill with a blanket and a picnic basket, surrounded by candles.
Under the stars, that was the night I fell in love with him.
As I walked out into the yard and made my way down the hill, I could tell he was trying to re-create that magical night. Everything was set up as it was that night my sophomore year. I could hear Jack Johnson playing softly in the background, almost in tune with the crickets and other creatures of the night. When I reached our spot, Owen stepped towards me and engulfed me in his arms. I tried to pull back gently, but Owen either wasn’t having any of it, or was too strong to notice my weak attempts to break his embrace.
“I missed you,” he breathed into my hair.
I took a deep breath, taking in his woodsy scent. “What are you doing here?” I repeated.
“Hugging you.” He stated, matter-of-factly. When I didn’t hug him back, or move at all he took a step back and looked at me. “You’re leaving tomorrow, and we haven’t had a real chance to talk since…” His voice trailed off, eyes breaking contact with mine.
“There’s nothing left to say.” I tried to keep my voice strong and confident, but it broke a little at the end. “We were over then, and we’re over now.” I stopped. “I’m sorry, Owen.”
I started to walk back to the house when he grabbed my hand to stop me. Though his hand was strong and firm around mine, it was also gentle, loving. I knew I was hurting Owen. It was all I seemed to be doing lately, and I couldn’t stand it. It was a big part of the reason why I knew I had to end it with us. I loved Owen. He was my sun, my warmth. When I was with him I felt at home. Which was why I couldn’t keep hurting him anymore.
“Iris, I love you! You know that! You have to know that. You can’t honestly believe that this is the end of us.” His voice was pleading, all confidence wiped away.
I gently pulled my hand out of Owens grip and turned toward him. I couldn’t look him in the eyes. I couldn’t see the pain in his eyes that I put there. “Owen, I want you to be happy. I need you to be happy.” I took a deep breath. “Of course, I love you. You’re my best friend. Always have been. But I can’t be with you anymore, Owen. I’m leaving tomorrow. We’ll be 1200 miles apart. I’m starting college and you’re going on to your senior year…” I was just sputtering out excuses, hoping he would hang on to one of them.
But that wasn’t Owen. “That doesn’t matter to me, Iris. You know that-”
I cut him off before we could change my mind. “Owen, no. I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore. I love you, but I can’t be with you.” I mustered up what courage I had left and looked him dead in the eyes, hoping my voice sounded confident as I told my lies. “I’m not in love with you anymore. Tomorrow when I leave, I’m starting a whole new life.” I paused and placed my hand on his shoulder. “You should, too.”
His eyes were burning but he didn’t say anything. I took his silence as acceptance and made my way back to my house before he thought of something else to change my mind. I recounted our time together to Addy, leaving out how it ended. I wasn’t quite ready to tell that to anyone, not even Addy. She knew there was more to the story, but she didn’t press me, knowing I would tell her in my own time. As heart broken as Owen was that night, it didn’t compare to the disintegrated mess inside my chest.