When Jessica’s alarm went off at six o’clock, she smacked the face of her phone. The noise stopped abruptly, right in the middle of Journey singing ‘Faithfully.’ Once, that song had been a favorite. It was her parents’ song, and it used to play throughout the house regularly.
It wasn’t essential to get up so early. She was, after all, still technically free of any responsibilities.
She rolled over and pulled the covers with her. Why did her mother insist on keeping the temperature in the house at sixty-eight degrees? She stretched under the blankets, wiggling her toes, and arching her back. That felt just fine.
Jessica’s feet hit the cold floor, and she knew she’d need slippers to get through the morning. She knew they were at the bottom of her closet, but she had a stop to make on the way.
A large desk calendar hung on the wall next to the window. Across the face was a series of red x’s. Jessica grasped the red Sharpie, hanging from a string, and made a new mark across today’s date.
Pointing her finger at each day, Jessica counted the days left before the large blue circle.
One, two, three, and four. Only four more days of living in this house and being under my parents’ rules. Just ninety-six hours until I’ll feel freedom.
Jessica hugged herself with joy. The arms wrapped around her accomplished two things. She held her happiness within, and the friendly squeeze helped to erase her emotions from last night.
Going over to her dresser, Jessica absent-mindedly grabbed a pair of shorts and a comfy t-shirt. It didn’t matter what she wore anymore. It wasn’t as if anyone would be looking at her. At least not anyone else besides her parents.
And just like that, the voices drifted up from downstairs. The volume of her mother’s voice was rising with each sentence. They were fighting – again.
Now there’s something I’m not going to miss – that’s for sure.
Listening to her parents’ argument took her mind back to the night before. Matt was so mad. But mad or not, it didn’t excuse the things he said.
“You don’t honestly think we can be in a long-distance relationship this year, do you?” Jessica asked.
Matt snarled, “Well, we’ve been going out since freshman year. Why wouldn’t I think that?”
“Because it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not even eighteen yet. And you’re barely there. Do you plan on avoiding all the parties? Am I supposed to sit around waiting for you to call?”
“You have a cell phone, Jess. It’s not as if you’d have to sit in your dorm room by a landline.”
“Matthew, I do love you, and a part of me always will, but we’re both going away to school. I’m heading for the west coast, and you’re going north to the University of Maine.”
“I know that. But I don’t think it would’ve been such a bad idea to go to the same school. Or at least apply. You never gave us a chance.”
“Matthew. I just want to be on my own - finally. I want to have the full college experience and not have to worry about letting anyone but myself down.”
“So, you’re telling me you plan on having sex with other guys?”
“It’s certainly a possibility.”
Matt got up from the log they were sitting on at the beach. He balled his fists and walked stiff-legged down to the water. Jessica watched him fling off his shoes and walk into the surf.
Should I go to him? This isn’t the way I saw this conversation going. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just want this to be a new beginning. I want a clean break from this crappy little town. I want to grow up.
Jessica thought the cold water would’ve calmed Matt, but instead, he returned to the log with his eyes ablaze.
“I think you’re ridiculous, Jessica. If you want to go to college and just live the life of a tramp, I can’t stop you, but I’m telling you right now, you’ll never find anyone who will love you more than I do.”
His last ten or so words brought the pitch of his voice to a feverish state. And then, he let himself fall into the sand at her feet.
“Jess, please don’t do this. I love you so much. I need to know you love me, too. I need to know that when I come home for Christmas break, you’ll want to be with me.”
He laid his head in her lap, and Jessica could feel hot tears on her legs and perceive the slight shaking of his body. It was apparent he was in pain, and she wished she could do what he wanted. But she didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship. She didn’t want to ignore the new guys she’d be meeting.
Is that so bad?
“I’m so sorry, Matt. I wish I wanted the same things as you. But I don’t, and I need to let you know that I’m not coming home over the holiday break.”
“What?” Matt raised his tear-stained face to her. “Are you serious? If you don’t come home, what are you going to do?”
“In the materials that came from the school, there was a sign-up sheet for a trip to the Sierras over the break. The group will get to go skiing or racing snowmobiles. It sounds like so much fun, and I really have no reason to come back here.”
“Of course, you have a reason! You have me. And what about your parents?”
“Matt, if I have to listen to them, argue anymore, I’m going to go crazy. See, it’s because of this constant arguing that I need to move on from you and me. Nothing lasts forever, Matt. And I’d rather move on while I’m young, instead of staying with you and wasting the best years of my life.”
“Wait. You’re saying spending time with me is wasteful?” Jessica watched Matt’s anger boil over. She tried to force some strength to protect herself, but nothing prepared her for the things he’d say.
“You know what, Jess? I think you plan on going to college and becoming the campus pump. Now that we’ve had sex, there’s nothing to hold you back – it’s not like you’re a virgin anymore, is it? Go right ahead. Go and be a whore in California. I wouldn’t want you after you’d been with half the frat boys on campus anyway.”
With her emotions just beneath the surface, Jessica felt her heart constrict at Matt’s words. Worse, she heard her father yelling at her mother.
No, this isn’t how I want my life to be. I need to have fun. College is supposed to be a time when you discover who you are. And I don’t plan to be Mrs. Matthew Dohn at any point in time. Especially now.
Jessica grabbed her bag and slid into her thongs. It was time to leave.
“And where do you think you’re going? I booked a room for tonight.
I thought this would be our last time to be together before we left for school. Don’t you want that, too?”
“No, Matt. I think you’ve said all I want to hear. I’m going to call an Uber and go home.”
“You selfish bitch!”
Jessica closed her eyes on the tears that came to the surface.
“Goodbye, Matt. I will never forget you or spending our high school years together. Thank you for taking me to every dance, and for being my first. But it’s time for me to start my next big adventure.”
Jessica turned and walked toward the parking lot where she could catch an Uber. She listened for his breathing or approach, but he’d finally given up.
The argument downstairs escalated, and Jessica was sure she’d heard something crash against a wall. It sounded like World War III.
On the spot, Jessica decided. She took the new suitcases from her closet and packed the things she’d set aside over the past two weeks.
She and her bags clunked down the stairs. Her parents were too immersed in their drama to see or hear her. She left them a note on the table in the foyer.
Her adventure was beginning. Nothing could hold her back. She’d find the person waiting for her. It wasn’t a boy or even a girl. It was herself.