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Romance

Sandy’s thoughts were nearly louder than the hip hop music she was blasting on her speakers. It was doing a poor job of distracting her, regardless of the volume, and it was making the drivers beside her glare into her side window. She flicked it off. The silence was worse, though. On came her favorite podcast. Then the weather forecast, the traffic update, and the news- but nothing was working. Thoughts of Liam flooded her on every bump of the interstate, every glimpse of periwinkle ocean dotted with cargo ships, every exit sign and every silver car she spotted alongside her because Liam’s dad used to have a silver Toyota. She knew this because he had told her so in his letter. His fourth letter, to be precise. It was chicken-scrawled across the back of a slightly stained math sheet, like he couldn’t care less that it was due the next day, like he was so excited to write a response that he had flipped over the very homework assignment he was in middle of to answer her. She hoped that this was true, at least. That’s what she had done every time she received mail with his name stamped across the back in proud lettering. Not sabotage her work, though, she just ran for her stationary box and pulled out another crisp pale blue paper bordered by tiny little rosebuds. Sandy could remember the day her teacher had handed out everyone’s pen pal’s names. While her eighth grade class chattered on around her, she looked at the small white slip that said in black print Liam Sangster, with his address printed underneath. He was from Florida, it said. Their first few exchanged letters were over five weeks. Sandy would write long and informative ones with all her hobbies, favorite songs, family members, classmates and every other thing she could think of to fill the lines. Liam’s were short but funny and to the point. It was at the fifth letter that things seemed to change between them. Most of her classmates had already stopped writing out of lack of things to discuss with their partner, and Sandy felt like they were nearing that point when Liam wrote something that changed everything.                                  ‘I honestly don’t know why I’m telling you this,’ he wrote. ‘I haven’t told anyone else, I guess writing it to someone I barely know makes it easier?? I don’t know. But basically my mom and dad are getting divorced and they’re both trying to win me over so they could have full custody over me. But I don’t know what to do because I don’t really want to live with either of them and they’re constantly fighting about it. Do you know what I should do because I’m kinda desperate… God, I’m so gonna regret asking you this.’ Turned out Sandy did know what he should do, because it was what her friend Sophie had done when she was in the same terrible situation. Sophie had moved in with her grandparents for a few months until her parents stopped acting like two immature children and quit fighting over her like she was the favorite toy in the nursery. There was a problem though- Liam’s grandparents didn’t live anywhere near him. This was better, Sandy argued. It would show them how much their bickering affected him and how stupid they were being. Split custody was always the way to go, she believed, when both sides were mentally stable. Liam said that they were. He moved in with his Grandma in Georgia for the summer, and even though the letters her writing teacher Mr. Harrison assigned were for the duration of his classes, they continued corresponding throughout the school break and into the next year. Sandy felt good helping this boy she was getting to know but couldn’t even picture. They had decided a rule- no sending each other photos of themselves. It would only take away from the magic of writing to someone so foreign, so mysterious, yet so well known. After just a year, Sandy knew more about Liam than even her old friend Sophie. Liam wasn’t very academic but he liked history and art. He could draw anything- a plane, a dragon, a young boy- she knew this because sometimes he sketched in the margins. He had a temper, but it only peeked through when he talked about the chaos his home was in. And when she needed help telling her parents that she’d failed math in the first semester of ninth grade, he said he had lots of experience and told her exactly what, how, and when to break the news to her education-obsessed dad. They wrote every week for two years. They swapped stories, jokes, and random life occurrences. They told each other what to do in teenage crisis such as being caught cheating on an exam or how to make easy pocket money. Liam’s parents did get split custody, and he bounced from his mom’s house to his dad’s apartment every week. It was hard, he told her, but better than them yelling at each other and throwing things. Sandy’s dad freaked out way less about her grades and interest in journalism school. Her sister Fiona was still a brat, and yet Liam’s jokes made her seem ridiculous and not worth a moment of extra thought. But in the summer before being a sophomore, Liam suddenly stopped replying. No explanation, no reasoning, just three months of radio silence. Then one day, she received a letter that explained his absence. He had been in a rehab center. Liam had overdosed on drugs one Saturday night and spent weeks at a remote clinic in the mountains where he wasn’t allowed to contact anyone outside of immediate family. He also admitted that it hadn’t exactly been a mistake. It was a failed suicide attempt, he told her, one that failed miserably and cost his divorced parents a bloody fortune. He regretted it, he wrote, and was now on antidepressants. He was feeling a million times better, happier, and calmer. He reassured her so many times over the next few weeks that she was finally convinced he was fine. But he wasn’t. Four weeks later, he was back in the center for the same reason. And the next letter she got was after eight weeks. A loud honk suddenly jostled Sandy out of her trip down memory lane. A giant truck with the words Hillside Food Distribution stenciled on it’s side in red barreled past her. She swore loudly at the monster on wheels and righted her car back into the middle lane where it had swerved from. One hundred miles later, she was in South Carolina. She was more than halfway there. More than half the way to finally meet the boy she’d revealed more to than her own family. It was not the main reason she was making the trip from her hometown in Connecticut down to Florida, though. Sandy was going to check out a college that her friend a year older was at and recommended strongly for the career she had in mind. Seeing what happened to Liam Sangster after two years was worth the extra hour drive to his home. She replayed a million scenarios in her head- he would open the door, as handsome as she’d always imagined, and she would introduce herself because he wouldn’t know who she was. Then they would fall into each others’ arms. But the real fear niggling in her head was the possibility that the witty, cocky, yet broken boy that she had gotten to know through scraps of paper and dried ink was no longer alive. This was a terrifying thought to her, but Sandy had always been honest with herself. She knew he’d been depressed and had tried leaving his pain behind three times already. And the last time she’d heard from him was a drunken rant he’d written on the inside of an old envelope, one that he’d ripped open and taped back together and mailed because he couldn’t find a proper paper in his house. The envelope could have been a poor analogy for Liam’s heart, she thought. Torn apart then patched together, never the same again, all because there was no one for him at home. The letter had been short and angry. It was three of the four nasty and last exchanges they had traded. Sandy didn’t even think it was possible to fight with someone over paper, or that a paper could make her so upset, but it was and it could. They had grown so close then they’d violently separated. There was nothing from him since. The fights were stupid, starting with her saying something well-intended, something along the lines that he was wasting his life away drinking, his were biting retorts that she should keep her mouth shut, she was immature and didn’t know anything about pain, she was an idiot, she should never talk to him again. A tear slid from Sandy’s eye and trailed down her face. It was swiped away before it dripped onto her lap. God, she hated crying. And she needed gas now, the dashboard was telling her that, so she kept an eye out for the next station. Sandy did not know what awaited her at the end of the I-95. But onwards she drove towards the boy she never met, one that gave her happiness, laughs and advice in her lowest moments, one that was a little intense, a little crazy, blunt, damaged- oh, she could think of a million words to describe him- but he was a boy that was clever and talented and whip-smart, and one that she loved in an inexplicable way regardless of it all.


Liam’s truck was shuddering in the weirdest way. He had just started his trip and already the six-wheeler was doing this insane thing where it would vibrate noisily like it was trying to shake off it’s exhaust pipe, then stumble over an invisible bump on the street. Yeah, it was twenty years old, but that didn’t give it an excuse. Liam didn’t need Kanye West to keep him pumped through the monotonous ride- he had his own frustrated voice cursing at his vehicle in a way that would have his elderly grandma in a fit of rage. He was heading to New York to look for an apartment near the college he was starting at this fall. As Liam glanced at his phone screen for a moment at a red light, he quickly swiped up the screen to see how long his route was and noticed something that made him freeze for a moment. New York was right next to Connecticut. Connecticut- that was where Sandy lived. An onslaught of memories and regrets hit him like a sledgehammer. No, he thought- they hit him like a freight train carrying elephants. Sandy Turner. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about her and their fight for months afterwards; their fight had felt almost like a breakup, which made him feel stupid because they’d never even dated. He just felt he knew her better than anyone he had dated. Sandy was brilliant and concise, she loved to edit stories and write short poems, she was sometimes painfully honest but almost always right. She liked animals but hated mess, loved sundresses but hated skirts, and wanted to be a journalist when she grew up. And they’d shared a love for rap music, which Liam thought was so uncharacteristic of her that it was cool. Ahead, the light turned green. A cacophony of honking horns made him turn around and shout “Shut up!” at the rear window. He continued driving and merged onto the I-95. Sandy Turner. When he thought of her name, he thought of the rough patch he’d scraped through during his high school years and how incredibly grateful he was for those letters. Maybe he should have told her, but those letters were truly one of the only things keeping him alive. His pride had always been his greatest weakness. Of course he still knew her address, even though he had every envelope tucked away in a shoebox in his grandma’s attic to remind him. Her address was almost like a mantra to him. A motto. A lifeline. The portal to another human being who actually cared about him. That’s how it seemed, anyways, until she’d lectured him on his choices. That had seemed like a betrayal of the worst kind. After that was all an agonizing haze of drinking hard and hurting harder. His mom threatened to kick him out if he didn’t stop getting drunk in the house, and she made good of her threat. His dad didn’t want him either, and the rejections were so unlike the parents who had constantly taken him out to get ice cream to win his affection just a few years back that the loneliness was unbearable. He moved permanently away from both of his parents and lived with his grandmother. Eventually he pulled himself out of it, by the thinnest rope out there, and made it to the other side. He came back to school full time and immersed himself in his work. He made new friends and graduated with high hopes for his future. By then, he was too ashamed to write back or apologize to Sandy. Well, now he would do exactly that- he imagined driving up to that small yellow house she had described, and she would be as beautiful as he always imagined. Liam would tell her who he was and they would hug, crying over years apart and years they lost. A glance at his dashboard told him he was almost out of gas. He cursed and slapped the steering wheel. This truck ate it’s gas like Cookie Monster ate his chocolate chip cookies. When he pulled into the nearest gas station a mile later, there was only one other car there. It was a small black Lexus with a pretty girl pumping gas into it. Liam slid out from his truck and started filling up, tapping his foot impatiently. He felt someone watching him and looked up to meet the girl at the pump nearby’s clear blue eyes. Something hitched in his throat for some unfathomable reason. His feet felt rooted to the cold concrete and he couldn’t look away. There was just something so eerily familiar about her. Then a group of teens were exiting the Seven Eleven behind them, laughing loudly and sipping their Slurpies, and the moment was broken. The girl blinked hard and shook her head slightly as if to clear it, then slid into her car. Liam watched her back out onto the street again. He took a deep breath, climbed into his damned truck, and continued on his way to New York. To new opportunities and fresh starts. To right old wrongs and pave new paths. To Sandy. Far behind him, a girl in a black car was listening to her favorite rap song again.  

August 13, 2020 16:23

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4 comments

Katina Foster
21:57 Aug 19, 2020

I really like this take on the prompt! It's more about an almost meeting, but it has the sweetness of a reunion. I really enjoyed this line: "This truck ate it’s gas like Cookie Monster ate his chocolate chip cookies." My only suggestion would be to break up the text a bit with paragraphs between chunks of thought or actions. Good work! Excited to read more from you!

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Layla Donovan
02:13 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you for your feedback! I’d love if you’d read my new story, The Doors of Giving and Taking.

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Taylor Arbuckle
17:21 Aug 16, 2020

This is an absolutely lovely story, well-written, too. I really liked how the point of view changed in the middle and we got to see Liam's side. The close call at the gas station was so frustrating; if you've ever seen the movie Monte Carlo, the feeling I got watching that movie is the same feeling I got reading this. I want to see more from these two. One editorial note: big blocks of text will turn most readers away. You made up for it with good writing, but I would recommend you space out your story. Start a new paragraph with each new...

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Layla Donovan
02:20 Jul 09, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback! I’d love if you’d read my new story, The Doors of Giving and Taking. (I listened to your advice about paragraphs!)

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