1. New Beginnings
My car tires crunch on the leaves as I round yet another curve on the one-lane road. The window of my twenty-five-year-old Mazda, which previously served its purpose as a family car, is rolled down to leave a gap. As I drive, picking up speed after the corner, the perilous wind finds its way inside, bringing the smell of wood and melancholy.
Bridgevale is a small town in Idaho. It has a population of fewer than one thousand people—nine hundred and seventy-three, to be precise—I looked it up last night. The town is known for its mountainous landscapes and secluded lakes. It'll be my home for the next three years.
I pull up to the immense house, letting out a heavy breath. It looks the same as in the pictures—a gray square building with a pitched roof. I'd resigned myself to the fact that my last-minute choice to attend university would result in a dull living situation, but now that I'm here, it doesn't look half bad.
It was my dad who persuaded me to get out of our town and start over. Easier said than done. But we both know that I will never stop blaming myself for the accident if I continue to stay at home.
I do my best to block out the raw and agonizing memories, but I still find myself silently crying into my pillow every now and then—more often than not. The last two years of my life have been an onerous blur of events.
I have applied to universities in advance, however, I wasn't sure if I'd be attending. It wasn't until a week ago that I have finally agreed with my dad about getting out of the house.
Given that classes start on Monday, I couldn't to get a dorm on campus with such short notice. I also can't afford to rent a place on my own. I looked at ads on the university Facebook page and found this place right away.
Walking up to the door, I hope this will be a much-needed fresh start. A new beginning—as lousy as that sounds.
Now that I'm in front of it, the house stretches wider, taller. I knock on the wooden, olive green door. I don't take my bags, in case this is the wrong house, but I'm sure it isn't.
A petite girl wearing a bright yellow sundress and cream ballet flats answers the door; I recognize her immediately as Olivia. We've been texting for a few days, and I stalked her Facebook profile before agreeing to this. I'm secretly praying this isn't some sort of sorority house.
"You're Carlotta, right?" she asks with a smile. I shudder at the sound of my full name. It's not that I dislike it—it's that the only person who had ever used it, is now dead. So, I guess you can say I prefer not to hear it. I sent Olivia a photo of my driver's license, and since she has never used my name over messages, I haven't been able to correct her yet.
"Calla." I force a smile, so I don't seem rude.
"Cool. Call me Liv," she says, her curls bouncing on her shoulders with every word. "Do you need help with your bags?"
"Yeah, sure. Thanks," I say. From what Liv has already mentioned about the house through text messages, I know to find my bedroom upstairs, across the hall from hers. Luckily, the room is already furnished with the basics: a bed, a desk, etc. Courtesy of the landlord. I brought my books and clothes to last me the first year.
"Zach!" Liv calls, and a blond boy appears behind her. He's half a foot taller than her, his brown eyes sparkling brighter from the warm color of autumn encompassing us.
He plants a kiss on Liv's cheek, and she giggles. "This is my boyfriend Zach," she introduces. He beams at me. "Zach, this our new housemate, Calla. Be nice."
He rolls his eyes at her warning. "I am always nice; who do you take me for?" he jokes. "It's nice to meet you, Calla." He extends his hand like a gentleman.
I take it, and he gives me a light, friendly squeeze before returning his attention to Liv.
Zach wraps his arm around her waist, and she leans into him. My mind goes to Nate. Nate, who broke up with me a few months ago in anticipation of a carefree, single life at the same university I have only just decided to attend. I don't condemn him, but there's still a part of me that wishes things were different.
Nate is one of the few people who was there for me after the accident. Despite what he said about wanting to enjoy university, the accident played a substantial part in why we broke up.
I pushed everyone away—I wanted to be alone, all the time, like isolating myself would somehow rehabilitate me. In reality, I was punishing myself, but that made me want to isolate myself more.
Carrying in a box from the car, I let my eyes wander. Inside, the vast space swallows me up; at least I don't have to worry about the house being too small. The floors are wooden and dark gray under my boots—I hope this place has heating.
At first glance, the place summarizes what I imagined a college house to look like. It's shabby and full of hard edges. The only compromise to comfort is the old shaggy rug, which fills the living room and has seen better days. By the stairs, a green plant rests in a large pot. How has it survived this long?
"Is it just you two? The ad said three housemates?" I ask. A hint of vanilla and citrus brushes against my skin when Liv stands next to me.
"There's Ace as well. He won't be here until Monday, though," Liv says. "He usually keeps to himself. His room is down here." She gestures, pointing to the door in the corner, away from everything.
"Anyways, I'm so glad you're here! I was worried about living with just boys." She shudders, scrunching her nose in disgust.
After they help me carry my stuff to my room, I get a key and a brief explanation of the house rules. There's a bathroom across the hall from my room, which I'll be sharing with them—Ace has his own bathroom in his room.
I can also bring anyone over so long as it isn't a guy from their rival, Ashworth University. Apparently, there's been a feud between them since anyone can remember. I agree with the terms—needless to say, I'm not interested in bringing guys here or anywhere.
Liv leaves to let me settle in, reminding me to let her know if I need anything. She glides out of my room, her gentle curls bouncing behind her.
My room is bigger than I expected and makes me glad I found this place. My housemates seem normal and might even make good friends.
I unpack my clothes, hanging mostly everything in the closet and putting the rest in the small dresser by the pale green wall. I stack my books on the ground near the desk and sigh. Biting my nails, I realize I have no idea what university is going to be like.
I glance out the window. Why would anyone choose to rent this to students? This is more of a vacation house. It's hidden in a secluded area, away from the university share houses, and it took me longer than anticipated to find the street that leads here.
The view from my room is magical. I've always appreciated fall—that is one of the few things in my life that still hasn't changed. The air is crisp, just how I like it, and the trees are on fire with color. I smile at the inferno near my window, remembering how my mom always scolded me for bringing leaves into the house.
I would do anything to hear her voice again—to see her. My mother had always put everyone else before herself. She was kind-hearted, and passionate for a breath of life. She didn't deserve what happened to her—and it was all my fault.
My eyes stare out the window, not really looking at anything in particular; however, a lake in the distance captures my attention. It peers at me with tranquility and invitation—the stillness of it forming a glass mirror with golden orange hues of the scenery around.
I make a mental note to take a walk in that direction during the week. I might even bring my journal and write. Even though it used to be my favorite thing to do, I haven't written anything in two years—perhaps a new beginning will mend that.
I decide to call my dad to let him know I arrived and that no, I don't want him to get one of his many cop friends to check up on me. That's the last thing I need.
I dial his number, and he picks up on the first ring.
"Hey, Cals, I was getting worried. Did you get there okay?" he asks.
"Yeah, sorry. I was just unpacking," I say, sitting on the pink blanket on my bed.
"How is it? Do they seem nice? You know, if you don't like it, I can give you more money to get your own place," he says in a rush. He means well, but we both know he already struggles with the bills. There's no way he would be able to afford it.
"It's good. They're nice," I assure him.
"Don't just say that, Cals. If I find out there's some funny business going on, I will bring a whole damn SWAT team," my dad barks, and I sigh, knowing it isn't a joke.
Even though he's the one who encouraged me to pursue my dreams, a sense of guilt gnaws at me for leaving him all alone in that house.
My heart has always been set on becoming a journalist—on writing stories and building a voice for those who don't have one. Perhaps, no matter how cliché it sounds, I want to believe that I can change the world in a way that no one else can.
After reassuring my dad that I'm okay and there is no need for him to check up on me, I finally end the call. I'm surprised he didn't lecture me on boys and parties—he must be relieved I'm finally out of that house.
Lying back on my bed, I turn to gaze towards the lake, the mountains, the quiescence of time.
Eventually, I drift off to sleep. The first day of university will probably be an absolute disaster—from the possible run-in with Nate and not knowing many people, to being in a foreign place. I need all the rest I can get.