Stepping out of the vehicle, I let myself take a deep breath and bask in the feeling of the new adventure I'm about to start. I'm a mixture of fear and excitement alike as I look around campus and let my eyes take in as many details as they can.
I notice the entrance of the building, the huge amount of students rushing in and out of it, most of them looking as worried as I am. Because we're all here to start a new chapter of our lives, and we all hope that it carries more good than it does bad.
My eyes scan my surroundings over and over, refusing to blink, as if they're somehow afraid if they do this might turn out to be nothing but a dream, one I've had for too many nights.
For years, I never dared to think this would actually happen. Having my freedom, going to college and being normal were all things I longed for with almost no hope of ever seeing them become true.
Yet now, as I stand here and watch my mother take my suitcases out of the trunk with a huge, proud grin on her face, I know for certain that this is my reality. That I'm no longer dreaming. That I finally made it.
And all of that would've never happened if it weren't for that one anonymous phonecall that changed everything. One phonecall was all it took to set me and my mother free. One phonecall was all it took to have the demon banished out of our home and back to hell, where he belonged, wasting away day by day in a prison cell that suited him.
For years, my mother and I were stuck in a life we never wanted, never expected, and fought harder than ever to escape. And what broke the lock on that cage was one phonecall from a person I wish I know who so I could thank them with all I have, because they cared.
When no one else bothered, when people chose to hate me and my mother and turn a blind eye to all the signs we couldn't loudly confirm, there was only one person who cared enough to help, and they called the police to inform them of the nightmare my mother and I were imprisoned in.
And I vow to never stop looking for that person, to always remember that there is still goodness out there in this world, and that kindness is always rewarded with kindness. No matter how long it takes, I will never give up on trying to find the person who gave me my wings and opened the cage to set me free. I promise to keep searching until I find the person who saved me and my mother.
And I will throw myself at them, cry my eyes out, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for doing what no one else cared to do. And if that person ever needs my help with anything, anything at all, I will pay them back for their kindness, and I will help with all my might, because they deserve nothing less. Because they gave me a chance.
"No tears, Nelly." My mother's soft voice makes me blink through my blurry vision and focus on her. Her light blond hair sways with the summer breeze and I smile at her. "We promised, no tears, my darling."
"Tell me you'll be okay, Mom." Sniffling, I watch the bright green eyes I've inherited shine with amusement, the sadness I was used to long gone by now.
"I should be the one saying that." Mom laughs, shaking her head. "Don't you worry about me, Nelly. It's time we both live a little, don't you think?"
I couldn't agree more. Because even after the monster was gone, his minions were still lurking around, taunting us, fighting his battle for him. It took three long years to finally get here, free of him and his darkness that he stuffed into our life.
"Speaking of living a little," I give her a sly smile, narrowing my eyes. "A piece of advice, Mom, next time you see Mark, ask him out on a date."
My mother blushes bright red, and she looks around, embarrassed. "That's not nice of you, young lady."
Laughing, I playfully elbow her. "Don't fool yourself, now. I see the way you look at him, and I know for certain that he too is quite smitten by you. Don't let what happened keep you from finding happiness. Promise me."
Her eyes meet mine again, and they soften before me, because we have been holding on to that same promise for years and years now, reciting it every time either of us felt like giving up. "I love you, my dear girl. And I'm so proud of you. And, yes, I promise to flirt a little, but that's all I'm willing to do for now. We'll see where it goes from there."
"Alright." I nod my understanding. "Don't forget to remind him of my request, okay?"
Mom sighs, but nods anyway. "You've reminded him enough, Nelly. But I promise to do so anyway. I know how important it is for you to find the person who called the police, and trust me, I want to find them too. But I don't want you to be disappointment if we reach another dead end, okay? Mark's partner heard the phonecall himself. They left no clue to who they were, he said."
Shutting my eyes, I shake my head and refuse to lose hope. "He promised he'll listen to it himself. He said he might be able to make me hear it too. Maybe we can figure something out."
Mom frowns a little, and I know that look. She thinks I'm obsessed. I'm not. I just need to find them. I can't just let it go.
"Maybe." She gives me a careful nod, before smiling at me again. "I'll remind him. Now, go. Live, Nelly. Live, and love, and be free, my precious girl."
My chin trembles, and I bite my lip because I did promise her I wouldn't cry.
But how can I not when I actually have the opportunity to do everything she just said? How can I not cry when I'm about to fly away after years of having my wings clipped down by evil?
"I will." I vow. "And I'll call you everyday, okay?"
Mom pulls me in a hug, sealing our promises and saying a silent goodbye. "I love you, more than anything. You're ready for this."
"I love you just the same." I squeeze her as tightly as I can, breathing in her sweet cinnamon scent that has always been my sanctuary, admitting it to memory, because even though she lives only a couple of hours away from campus, It's gonna be a while before I can see her again, before I can muster enough courage to actually go back to the place that has been my own personal hell.
What makes this so much harder is that my mother and I have no one else. It has always been the two of us. We stood up to him together, fought for our freedom together, begged him to stop together, and cried while tending to each other's wounds. To her, I'm the only reason why she held on long enough to survive, never giving up. To me, she's my anchor, my strength and the only source of love and protection I've ever known.
And now we have to be apart for the first time in my nineteen years of age.
But we both know this has to happen. Despite knowing that we will always remember how we found salvation in one another, we have to break apart now, to be able to live.
My therapist told me that I have to let her go in order to learn how to find myself and grow as a person. He said that I would never love her less, but I still needed to let life teach me how to stop being so dependent on her. And that terrifies me, because life has already taught me a very important lesson in the cruelest of ways. I'm scared I might never learn how to be okay without the only person who ever cared enough to make sure I was.
But as I pull back from her warm embrace and see the pride her eyes shine with and the excitement her grin carries for me, I know that I'm ready to try.
"Text me when you make it back safely, okay?" I wait until she nods with another laugh. "And be careful out there."
"And you be careful out here." She raises an eyebrow, her eyes fixed on mine in a silent warning. "Not all charming boys are good ones, Nelly. Remember that."
I playfully roll my eyes at her, but nod my head anyway. She takes a deep breath and tilts her head to the modern looking building on my right, a silent order for me to go.
Giving her a quick peck on the cheek, I turn around and start making my way into my new home, allowing my lungs to be filled with the air that is full with possibilities.
I'm free now, and this is my time to live.