She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers dreaming ‘bout the day when you wake up and find what you’re looking for has been here the whole time…
Taylor Swift’s voice blasts through my earphones and I tap my finger matching the rhythm on my knee. I lean my head back on the headrest, suddenly glad my sister called shotgun. Glancing over to her, I see that mom is talking her ears off about how unhealthy the lunch she ate yesterday was, but of course that doesn’t include the side salad she had. Which had low fat dressing, by the way!
I smile and peep out the window, watching the trees zoom past and make a clearing for upcoming streetlights. It’s a beautiful sight, almost as if nature itself is welcoming me into my new future. New York University has been my top priority since my freshman year of high school. Years of perfecting my writing skills, making them NYU material, editing and writing for my school yearbook, all leading up to this moment. As I watch the last bit of my hometown in Pennsylvania slip away into the trees, I feel my heart take a leap of utter excitement in my chest.
I turn back to the tunes of Taylor Swift with more appreciation than before when the car starts buffering. What the—? I pause my music and freeze. Perhaps it was a momentary hallucination? Not likely. The car is jerking ferociously now, and mom begins to pullover to the nearest parking lot. There’s a small diner on the corner of the street we’re on and the car has just enough energy to make it in a parking space. We jerk to a stop and I rip out my earphones. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with the car?” I ask, unbuckling and scooching up to see the issue.
“Looks like we are out of gas. Oops.” Mom gives an embarrassed smile and I smack a palm to my head.
“You didn’t think to check the gas before we left? There’s not a gas station for another 10 miles! There’s no way I’m getting to the freshman orientation for NYU now!” I let out a frustrated groan and my little sister giggles.
“Looks like your grouchiness finally bit you in the butt!” I shoot her a nasty glare as she giggles and mom rebukes her for saying butt.
“What are we going to do?” I ask turning my attention back to mom and hold back an eye roll.
“Alright, everyone out of the car. Let’s head into the diner and see if anyone can help us. We’ll be here thirty minutes, tops. Including the call for a tow truck.” My sister eagerly jumps out of the car, knowing there is an opportunity for food, and I slowly make my way out. “I’ll try my best to get the car running again and you’ll be at NYU in no time.” My mom consoles me but I still pout and bite my lip at the thought of being late.
I nod remorsefully and follow my sister and mom into the rundown diner. It’s strange to see people not in rush, given this is the outskirts of New York. On any other day, I would find the sight of families and couples enjoying a day out together. Now I just find it agitating.
“I’m going to find the manager and try to get a tow truck here. You two go find a booth and I’ll just be a minute,” Mom says nudging us towards a booth at the back. “Cheer up.” She adds these last words quietly, drilling those mom eyes into my head. It’s definitely not words of encouragement, but rather a threat.
My sister slides into the booth as if it’s a slip-n-slide while I slouch down across from her. I check my phone for the third time to see if my friends have sent me any updates on the orientation, but there’s still nothing. A whine escapes my throat and my gravity overcomes my head, letting it fall with a thud to the table. “This can’t be happening. “I’m never going to make it to that orientation, let alone set up my dorm like we were supposed to.”
“Oh, stop it, you grouch. It’s really annoying to hear you gripe and complain.” I lift my head an inch at my sister’s scold.
I arch an eyebrow at her. “Okay one, what’s with the sass? And two, how on earth did you learn the word gripe?”
She attempts to roll her eyes like a grown up, head rolling dramatically with her, but given she’s only ten it looks funny. “I’m just saying can’t you spend one more minute with us? With…me?” Her voice becomes a whisper with the last words.
I sit up fully to look at her and cross my arms with concern. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She looks down and I notice barely there tears beginning to form. “Hey,” I reach over and take her hand. “What’s wrong?”
“I—” She stutters, voice trembling the tiniest bit. She swallows, collecting herself as she always does and speaks again. “I just don’t want you to go away, okay? You’ve lived here, with me, all your life, why can’t you just stay now? Why do you have to leave me?”
I’m taken aback by her sudden outburst. I never knew she was so angry with me leaving. She would always tease about getting my room when I left and stealing my stuff; I had no clue she was going to miss me so much. “I am never, never, going to leave you, sis. This is just something I have to do. But you will always be in my heart and I will always be in yours.”
She nods, squeezing my hand, just as mom returns to the table. “We won’t be able to get anywhere for another hour, so—what’s wrong?” She asks, seeing our faces.
“How about we get a round of milkshakes over here?” I yell to the waitress. My sister looks at me with a toothy grin.
“Honey,” My mom looks at me with slight caution. “What about your orientation?”
“Eh, what’s one more day with you guys? I’ll just have my friends’ video it or something. I’m in no rush.” I smile even though I realize I don’t have a plan for this, but maybe that’s okay. I am going to be gone for four years without my family. What’s one more day with them going to hurt?
“Okay…” My mom says slowly and matches our smiles. “Three milkshakes it is.” Suddenly, I’m glad I’m not at college just yet. Right now, family is so much more important than rushing into college.