“Sweetheart, are you up?” My father’s voice came through the closed door, followed by a soft knock.
“I’m up, Dad,” I answered.
Of course, I was up. I didn’t get much sleep last night because of the wild adrenaline that was coursing through my body the entire night. It was almost sickening. My mind was racing, anticipating the big day today, and after countless times of tossing and turning, I eventually gave up trying to sleep and pulled out my computer to watch a few episodes of my all-time favorite TV series, Friends. But Dad doesn’t need to know I was up all night. He’s been sad and worried sick these past few weeks leading up to today and the last thing I want is to make him worry even more.
I took a deep breath, “I’m going to take a quick shower and be down in thirty.”
“Okay, sweetheart. Just take…” there was a pause and he cleared his throat, “Take as much time as you need, okay? There’s no rush.” I could hear his footsteps on the old wooden floor as he walked away. My heart clenched and a lump formed in my throat just at the thought of leaving him.
My dad is the best in the world. Maybe I’m biased because he’s my dad, but he truly is the best. I couldn’t be more grateful or ask for more. He used to be the warden at the district prison but quit his job two months after my Mom’s death, saying he needed to spend more time with his children and now stays at home and writes books. But we all know he only chose to do that to distract himself and stop his mind from always thinking about that day, about what he could’ve done.
I walked into my small adjoining bathroom and looked in the mirror. I was a mess. I had dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep last night. “Are you kidding me right now? This is just great.” I said with a dry laugh, then sighed as I took my clothes off and stepped into the shower.
I stood and let the cold running water wash all over me, waking every nerve in my body. Last night, I had a long bath where I scrubbed my entire body clean and shampooed my hair so I didn’t bother doing anything other than just letting the water wash all over me. I stood there for an extra few minutes until I was freezing and started to shiver, then I turned the shower off, stepped out, and wrapped a towel tightly around myself. Brushing my teeth quickly, I stepped out into my bedroom.
I pulled on a pair of jeans and put on a soft grey sweatshirt. Going back into the bathroom, quickly ran my fingers through my thick curls before pulling them into a messy bun on top of my head. A sigh escaped my lips as I applied a bit of concealer over the dark circles under my eyes.
“At least now I look half decent,” I said, staring at myself in the mirror before shrugging and walking out. After putting on my shoes, I stood up and glance around my room one last time. How I was going to miss the familiarity of this room. With a sad smile, I grabbed my phone as I walked out of the room and made my way downstairs.
Dad was looking out the window in the living room when I came downstairs, his gaze fixed on something I couldn’t see. Something far away. He was zoning out. I quietly came up behind him and lightly tapped him on the back, “Dad?” He quickly turned to face me, “Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Oh hey, sweetheart.” He gave a strained smile. “I already loaded your things into the car. You look great. Are you ready?” He started moving towards the kitchen. “Are you hungry? Do you want me to make you something to eat before we go? I can make pancakes just the way you like if you want. Or I can… I can m-make yo…” He was stuttering, the entire time not looking at me and avoiding eye contact. My heart ached to see him like that.
“Oh Dad,” I ran into his arms and gave him a tight hug. It took him a few seconds before he hugged me back. I could hear him taking in shallow breaths. “I’ll be fine, Dad. Really. And you’re going to be all right too.” I said, pulling away and looking up at him, giving him a small reassuring smile. More for his sake than mine.
“You’re so grown up, kiddo. I can’t believe you’re off to college now. I’m so proud of you.” He beamed at me. “I want you to take every opportunity that comes your way while you’re out there. Make mistakes. You’ll learn a lot from them. But not the kind of mistake that gets you pregnant,” he added with a wink as I rolled my eyes. “You’re the last one leaving the nest and I’m excited about what’s out there for you.” He chuckled. But I could tell he was nervous.
“Dad, stop. You’re being sappy. You’re going to make me cry and I’ll ruin my makeup.” I stuck my lip out and pout, earning a laugh from him. “It’s just college, Dad. I’ll be home for the holidays. It’s not like I have anywhere else to go. Plus, Don and Jax will be there. So, you don’t have to worry about me.”
“Right. Let’s get going then, shall we?” He chuckled, as he started heading towards the door and holding it open for me.
We drove in silence, only saying a few words here and there. I never liked small talk so Dad didn’t push it, which I was super grateful for. College was four hours away. I checked my phone for the time and saw it was seven thirty-eight a.m. Sighing, I leaned back against the seat and looked out the window, staring at the landscape that was passing by in a blur as we continue speeding down the highway.
We rounded a bend and from the distance I could make out the university; Westbrook University. That was where my parents went to. They met when Dad was a sophomore and Mum was a freshman. That’s also where my twin brothers, Adonis and Jax, go to. And now I was on my way to join them. We were legacies so fitting in wouldn’t be a problem, or at least that’s what Dad said.
Dad pulled into an empty parking slot and a young man, who looked to be no older than eighteen, with brown hair that was neatly brushed back walked towards us with a smile. He had on a blue t-shirt with bold writing which read Student Services Volunteer.
“Hi, I’m Alan. And I’d like to officially welcome you to the prestigious Westbrook University. I will be more than happy to show you to the Student Services block where you will get your dorm keys and get settled in your dorm room.” He said, almost too cheerful.
Dad removed my stuff from the trunk and passed them to Alan, who placed them in a trolley, except for one suitcase, which seemed too big to fit into the trolley. Yeah, I know. I’m a hoarder, I like to carry a lot of extra stuff around. Don’t judge me.
Dad and I bid our goodbyes while Alan stood awkwardly on the sidewalk waiting. He insisted on helping me get settled in but I convinced him Alan would help me. He would drive another four hours to get home, and I didn’t want to delay him.
I turned to walk in the direction of the Student Services block with Alan pushing my trolley in front and leading the way when I saw him. He was leaning against the rail on a flight of stairs leading up to the main Administration building, his eyes glued to his phone. He lifted a free hand to run his fingers through his hair in an attempt to push it back but it kept falling back onto his forehead. As if he knew I was looking at him he looked up, his eyes instantly meeting mine. The sunlight hit his face, making his eyes glint in the sunlight and it was a deep shade of brown; like pools of honey. My breath got caught in my throat. Then his lips curled up and he smirked at me. Shit.