“I can’t believe this is really happening!”
Elle wraps her arms around my waist, compressing the air out of my lungs, like receiving the world’s deadliest hug from a Boa Constrictor. However, the twinge of pain shooting through my ribcage was a welcomed distraction from the hollow ache inside my chest that I had felt for the past few months.
We were relocating. Again.
“Facetime me every night, Eva,” Elle warns with her hands pushing back my shoulders as she searched my face for a form of defiance that she wouldn’t find.
I attempt to speak, peeling my tongue from the roof of my mouth, but it comes away from my palate like sticky bare legs from a leather sofa on a hot day.
“Lily, you’ll make sure it is every night, right?” she shouts over to my Mom, who is loading our grey Ford with the few boxes containing our life here in Brooklyn —of which only one pitiful box was my own.
We hear an ‘uh-huh’ followed by a series of curses and grunts come from within the car as my Mom struggles to maneuver one of the larger boxes into the trunk.
With a sigh, I climb into the rear passenger side and lower one of the back seats to help wiggle some furniture free.
You would think that after the number of times I have moved from place to place that I would be a pro at telling people goodbye, but the truth is, I never connected with anyone before moving to Brooklyn. Elle was the first friend I had ever made, and right now, I couldn’t find the right words to say goodbye.
I had less words than a mime artist at this point.
Elle’s wooly black hair appears between the front seats as she helps move some furniture around to allow space for our last box inside the car. Finally, the box makes a satisfying clank as it slots into place, my Mom releasing a sigh of relief as she clambers back out the trunk.
Elle’s pixie-like face stares at me as she raises a sassy eyebrow expectantly.
“My phone has a reminder set; seven o’clock tonight, Elle,” I snicker as I suppress a laugh by rolling my upper lip under my teeth and release an amused chuff through my nose.
I was a glass-half-empty kind of girl, but Elle always managed to bring color into my monochrome existence.
We met only five years ago when I first arrived here on Bedford Avenue, and I remember meeting her like it was yesterday.
The street was alive, bustling twenty-four-seven with rumbling engines and the constant chatter of people continuing on with their hectic lives. Halfway up, the graffiti scattered red brick buildings sat our apartment 18-G. Plant pots sat on each of the black paned windows bringing color to the front of the building with black double doors and a black metal fence wrapping around the red brickwork.
Upon the front entrance steps sat a young teenaged girl with a soft complexion resembling that of mahogany wood, utterly absorbed in her own little world.
Elle sat, balancing a crossword on one knee as her dangling foot bounced to the music rattling in one of her earphones. She wore denim dungarees, which sat over a rainbow-striped tee, so colorful and bright in contrast to the dull street, that I struggled to drag my stare away from her.
“Destined to happen, hmm...” she pondered aloud with a pen poised thoughtfully against her lips.
As I climbed the steps with a box in my arms, I caught a glimpse of her necklace and instinctively read aloud the word engraved upon its golden plate, “Fate.”
To this day, that gold chain sat upon her mustard knitted jumper. The same gold chain that she was now removing from her neck and holding out for me to take.
“Oh my god, Elle, no, I can’t take that!” I gasp.
“Oh, would you stop buggin′ and just take it!” she chastises with her thick New Yorker accent and a sassy eye roll before dropping her eyebrows over her twinkly chocolates and for added ′Elle effect,′ she pouts out her bottom lip exposing the rosy flesh as she whines, “It’d make me feel better knowing a little part of me was with you all the way over there.”
Elle King; my best friend and the mistress of manipulation —dang her!
With a groan, I throw my head back, knowing full well I couldn’t say no to her, the only person on this God-forsaken lump of rock that I ever connected with on a spiritual level.
Elle was my soul sister.
My hands reach out, taking her necklace, and I feel my eyes begin to sting. I throw my head back again; only this time, I let the tears well in my eyes and refuse to let them escape.
“Oh, c’mon Diva, please don’t; you’ll start me!” Elle squeals before leaping into hugging me again, but I was prepared for her freakishly muscular arms this time.
I squeeze my arms around her so tight that my shoulders pop in my ears, but I don’t let her go as she lets out a mouse squeak and instead bury my face into her shoulder, scared to have to inevitably let her go.
However, just then, the bounce of chestnut waves steals my attention as my Mom comes into view and wraps her arms around Elle and me. She ducks her face between us both before crying out, “Oh girls, I feel like the wicked witch having to split you both up!”
“You should Ms. Q; this is literally The Parent Trap!” Elle retorts, causing my Mom to pull back and raise a questioning eyebrow at her. Elle mirrors my Mom’s facial expression with a challenge before the two break out into fits of laughter.
I can’t help but join them, even if I feel the bittersweet sting of moments like these where my Mom and Elle bantered, coming to a sad end.
I can see my Mom’s neck get emotional red blotches up the side of it, signaling that she was upset and failing to suppress her emotions.
Lily Quinn, my Mom, was good at many things: running three blocks in high heels, downing a full glass of wine in one go, and single-handedly raising a child while being a full time working Mom that still had the energy to watch Jeopardy with her daughter at night. However, suppressing her emotions was not one of those things —something she and I shared in common.
“Ready to go when you are, Ma’am! If you can, just check, confirm, and sign, please,” according to his name badge, a pudgy short man called ‘Tom,’ instructs my Mom, handing her a clipboard and allowing his eyes to wander over her hourglass figure.
Freaking creeper! Eyes off the merch, dude!
My oblivious Mom is too busy checking over the details before elegantly signing her name and handing him back the clipboard.
A tall skinny man dressed in a blue uniform appears from my peripheral as he jumps out of the back of the moving truck and slams the shutter door down with a loud metallic rumble and crash.
This was it, the symbolic moment I had been dreading as my chapter here in Brooklyn comes to a close.
“Hey, c’mon Boo, we’ll see each other soon! We still have your eighteenth birthday to celebrate next month, remember?” Elle reminds me, breaking me from my defeated stare at the back of the moving truck.
I turn to her and give a weak nod of my head as she gives me an encouraging smile. “Yeah, we can go to the cinema and boo at couples making out,” I give her a melancholic scoff as I recall her throwing popcorn at a couple in front of us and shake my head at the memory.
She sticks her tongue out and pops her finger inside her mouth as she pretends to gag, “Omigod! Do you remember those smoochers, though?!” —her big eyes are blown out wide as she gasps and joins in on my laughter— “Like get a room, homie!”
Our giggling comes to a slow stop before she hugs me again, a real hug, one that warms me through to my aching soul.
“Be safe, though, okay?” Elle says into the side of my neck, squeezing me just that little bit tighter, and I nod against her side, committing the feel of her arms around me and her happy citrusy scent to memory.
“I will. Be careful too. I love you, Elly-Belly,” I return her squeeze, choking back the dry lump in my throat of all the words I had to say that I couldn’t.
“Love you too, Eva-Diva,” she sniffs and finally pulls back, nodding her head towards my Mom’s car as if to say ′it’s okay; I’ll be fine, you can go now.′
“Stay in touch, Hon, we’re not so far away, only a couple of hours,” my Mom tells Elle; however, any distance away from your soul sister felt like living across the world from them, especially when your best friend felt like a key part of your little family.
We say our last goodbyes, and finally, I walk around the car and climb into the passenger seat. My back slumps defeatedly against the seat, and I release a sigh, momentarily dropping my guard and allowing myself a brief moment to feel crap about this entire situation.
My Mom joins me, sliding into the driver’s seat as she takes my hand and gives it a small reassuring squeeze. I offer her a toothless smile before she drops my hand and starts the engine’s purr. With a quick toot of her horn, we pull out onto the Brooklyn traffic, the moving truck creeping out in front of us.
I watch as Elle appears in the side mirror, standing there lonely on the sidewalk with her arms wrapped around her self and giving us a meek wave. My eyes fixate on the mirror, watching as Elle gets smaller and smaller the further we drive away until finally, she and life as I knew it disappeared from view.
After a couple of hours tailing the white moving truck, my Mom and I had exhausted all possible ‘would you rather’ questions, and silence fell upon the inside of the car.
I stared outside the window onto the highway, watching the trees whizz past us in a burnt hazy blur. Autumn was my favorite season; I loved the chunky scarves, the knitted cardigans, wooly hats, and hot beverages.
The further we drove from the city, the more it felt like we were creeping onto the edge of wilderness, and it held a captivating beauty to it that made it difficult to take your eyes off of. When you were so used to your concrete jungle, the moment you saw real nature, it felt like you stepped into a whole new world.
I had to think of the silver linings for this move. It did occur that it was probably the only time we’d relocated to somewhere that wasn’t so far away from the last place.
I’m originally from Detroit, where I spent the first five years of my life —not that I can remember much from that period. We then moved around a bit, from Detroit to Ohio, Ohio to Washington, and then finally ended up in Brooklyn, my favorite place so far to live. We usually never spent any more than four to five years in the one place since that was when my Mom’s work contracts tended to run out.
My Mom is an Anthropologist, the study into human history. She collects and studies ancient artifacts of Christian theology, the study of humanity as it relates to God. It may sound rather dull, but when she presents ancient scriptures of when humans believed in having souls, and otherworldly ‘beings’ roamed the Earth, then you have to admit it was weirdly fascinating.
I could understand her obsession with it. I have never met anyone as driven in their career like my Mom is.
Usually, after a few years, the grant for her research runs out when she hits a dead end, and we’d pack up our lives into the same cardboard boxes and move.
Her newest post is at the community college of New Hope, and her contract doesn’t run out for seven years at this one.
It dawns on me that this will be the most extended amount of time we’ve stayed anywhere. As happy as I am for my Mom to find a healthy contract, I can’t say I am as thrilled about staying in a quiet town, too far away from Elle.
“You’re awfully quiet, Hon, everything okay?” my Mom’s voice catches me, pulling me from my deep chain of thought as I turn to her and let out a wistful sigh.
“Yeah, just thinking of all the places we’ve been,” I mumble while playing with a loose peach colored thread on my sweater’s arm before looking up at her from under my lashes.
“Me too, Hon. I promise you if things go well here, we won’t move as far away next time,”
Oh, joy... confirmation that there will definitely be a ‘next time.’
“I hate having to move you around as much. I know it must be so hard for you, Hon.” She takes her eyes off the road to take worried glances in my direction every few seconds as she speaks.
The twist of guilt contracts my stomach as I drop my eyes to my lap again. She must have felt like she was depriving me of something when, in reality, she was the one who sacrificed everything by raising me all by herself since Jo bailed before I was even born.
Jo was the name of my father, not that he deserved such a title.
My Mom did everything herself like the wonder woman she was: she paid the rent on time every month, she kept my belly full, brought up a teenage daughter, and still followed her dream job. She had no family to help her; it was just us and always had been. Well, up until Elle.
“Oh, no, Mom! Honestly, it’s fine! I don’t mind moving around a lot; it’s cool getting to see so many places, it’s just that...” I trail off, pulling my bottom lip into my mouth and focus my attention on the window. I’m reluctant to finish that sentence, fearing she may take it the wrong way or that I’d show any sign of ungratefulness.
“Just what, Hon?” she asks, briefly turning to look at me with her eyebrows raised expectantly.
′Well, it’s just that sometimes, like with Elle, for instance, it sucked having to say goodbye when she felt like my home. I feel terrified to get used to calling somewhere home and feel like there is no point in getting attached to anything, especially anyone when we just keep moving around.’—was what I didn’t want to say.
Clearing my throat, I turn to look at her and give her a meek smile as I reply, “It’s just that it’s my final senior year at a new school next week, and I’m super worried that I’m starting it without Elle there for moral support.”
It was a half-truth.
My Mom’s lips pull inwards on each other, her forehead wrinkling with concern and perhaps a little bit of guilt as she steals another glance in my direction. “I know, Eva. But I promise you will make new friends in this town”—she must see the cynical twinkle to my eyes because then her lips pull into her pearly grin, her hand waving around as she declares optimistically—“Your senior year is going to be the most epic one of all!”
I scoff slightly but let her off the hook by giving her a grateful smile and nod in agreement.
The highway eventually came to an end as we joined a narrow road leading into a small town north of New Hope.
Where the hell were all the people my age?
In the distance, I could have sworn I saw the ocean despite knowing we were inland, but then I see it. At first, I couldn’t make out what the twisted green structure was, but I soon realized I had indeed seen water, just not the ocean. The steel structure of the green bridge looked weathered but sturdy as we crossed over it, the tires of the car vibrating throughout my seat. I blinked a couple of times, looking down the Delaware River.
Man, it was crazy beautiful.
Ruddy, luscious trees lined either side of the river, which was so calm it acted as a mirror against the bright blue sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the window, watching joggers run over the bridge, wondering if they too were enjoying this sight or if they were used to it by now.
A large white worn sign finally came into view as we crossed the precipice into our new adventure:
WELCOME TO THE TOWN OF NEW HOPE!