I had no idea opening an email would be so terrifying. I was trembling, and my finger lingered over the touchpad, scared of clicking the button. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then tapped. I hesitated for a moment, then opened my eyes... Only to see nothing. My finger had moved the arrow, and I had clicked on nothing.
My anxiety faltered, and I scoffed. “Let’s try this again,” I whispered to myself.
This time, I didn’t close my eyes. Instead, I clicked on the email and read the first line. I started crying.
“Mom!” I yelled as I ran down the stairs, tears streaming down my face. “Mom!”
My mother appeared in the hallway with a worried look stamped on her face. She saw my tears and surged forward, her arms parted to hug me. “Callie, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” she asked.
“I got accepted!” I told her, sobbing happily. “I got into USC!”
Her expression shifted from worry to shock, then quickly into joy. She hugged me tightly, and soon I heard her weeping. We hugged for what seemed like hours, both crying like babies. Finally, we broke apart, dabbing at our eyes.
“I can’t believe this,” I whispered to myself.
“Well, you should believe it,” my mother said, still holding me by my shoulders. “You deserve this more than anyone, sweetie. I’m so proud of you. And I’m sure your father would have felt the same way, Callie.”
I looked at my mother, smiling. “Thanks, mom.”
During the next few weeks, all my friends and even a few teachers congratulated me on my achievement. On the other hand, I also had to praise many people. It was currently April, so colleges were sending out acceptance letters all around, and most of my closest friends got into their first choices.
The sad part? My boyfriend also got into his first choice. Duke University. Only two-thousand, five-hundred and twenty-one miles from my future college, the University of Southern California. We both knew what that meant.
“Hey, babe,” I said to him one Saturday as he appeared. I had called him and asked him to meet me in the park, in a secluded corner where people wouldn’t overhear our conversation. He was wearing jeans and his Harvard sweater, one of his favorites. His glasses perched atop his small nose, and his blond eyebrows scrunched together as he detected my somber tone.
“Hey, Callie, what’s up? Are you okay?” he asked me, a hint of worry in his tone. He sat next to me and placed one of his hands on my leg.
“Not really,” I answered, shifting so that we weren’t touching anymore. “Look, Oliver, the year is almost over, and we’re going to different universities on different sides of the country –”
“Callie.” Oliver grabbed my hands. “Do you really want to do this now? Here?” he asked. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t want to postpone it any longer.
“I’m sorry, Oliver,” I told him while looking at our intertwined hands. “I hate this as much as you do, but I don’t think we have any other option.”
“Yes, we do,” Oliver insisted, tightening his grip on my hands. “We still have all summer. Why do you want to end this now? We could still have a few months together. Don’t you want that?”
I considered it. Oliver was an amazing boyfriend, and I would have loved to spend the last few months with him. We may even have time to take that next step into our relationship – sex. We had decided to wait for a while, and only do it when we were both sure. But even when we were, we were both filled with so much homework and so many exams that we barely had time to talk to each other for more than ten minutes.
“It would be great, I know that,” I told him. “But I also know I’ll always be thinking about how little time we have left and that we’ll have to break up eventually.” I met his gaze. “I’ll feel sad every time I look at you, knowing that I won’t get to see you for months, maybe even years.” I looked back down at our hands. “This is already so hard for me, I’m afraid that if we don’t break up now, we won’t do it at all, and when one of us cheats on the other, we’ll both feel horrible.”
“I won’t cheat on you,” Oliver said simply.
“How do you know that?” I asked. “What if the first day at Duke, you meet a beautiful girl that loved archeology, that collects coins, and that loves watching scary movies?” I asked. “What if you find your soulmate?”
Oliver was silent for a long time. He squeezed my hands, then brought them to his lips and gave them a soft kiss. He looked me in the eyes and slid one of his hands behind my neck. He pulled me close and kissed me gently on the lips, lingering for a moment. I let him.
When he pulled back, tears were welling up in my eyes, and I wiped at my face. I sniffled as Oliver let go of my hands.
“I’ll miss you,” he said quietly.
“I’ll miss you too,” I answered.
I noticed he clenched his jaw and realized he was trying hard not to cry. “Bye, Callie.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked away, leaving me alone and miserable.
“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this,” I repeated into the fabric.
“Callie, get your face out of that pillow if you want me to understand what you’re saying,” my mother scolded.
I groaned and turned over, revealing my tired face and sunken eyes. I had been crying all day, and my mother was trying to console me with a nice dinner: fried chicken with mashed potatoes and peas. I could smell the food from the living room, but it barely got me up from the couch.
I approached the table and sat down in my usual seat. I started munching on my food, and I couldn’t help but groan in pleasure as the food slipped into my mouth. “Mom, this is delicious.”
“Thank you, sweetie,” she said.
“You’ll have to give me the recipe for when I move out. I don’t know if I’ll be able to live without your cooking,” I joked, enjoying the feeling of a smile on my face. My mother chuckled, then walked to the table and sat down. She started eating, and only after she’d taken a few bites did she speak again. “Speaking of moving out, do you have a place in mind already?”
“Well, actually, I was thinking about renting a room,” I told her. “I don’t know how comfortable I would be in a dorm. And I could even find myself a roommate, so that would split the costs.”
My mother smiled. “That sounds lovely.” She took another bite of food. “Have you started looking?”
“A little,” I answered. “But I haven’t found anything I like yet. Next weekend I’ll do all the research and find myself an apartment.”
My mom took a deep breath. “Look, Callie, I know you’re growing up, and you need space and all, but...” She hesitated. “Wouldn’t you want to stay here?”
I looked at her intently and realized how strongly my leaving was hitting her. I mean, I knew she would be sad about it, maybe even cry, but it never occurred to me that she would be losing one of the only things she really cared about.
“I would love to, mom,” I told her. I leaned over the table and grabbed hold of her hand. “But I have to do this. I want to be independent and self-sufficient, and I don’t want to rely on you for everything. Plus, the school is half an hour away by car, which you’ll be needing for work, so I have no way of going to school.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, mom.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” she said gently as she placed her other hand on top of mine. “I know you have to do this, and I am nothing but supportive.”
“Thanks, mom,” I said, pulling our hands apart. After a few seconds of silence, I thought of something else. “And mom, I’ll be in college. I doubt you’ll be okay with me bringing home guys in the middle of the night.”
My mother’s eyes widened, and she exclaimed, “Hey! Callie, don’t say stuff like that!”
I laughed wholeheartedly, and for a second, I felt like myself again.