* * Wednesday* *
“Liz, get up,” her mother said as she opened the blinds to bathe the room in sunlight, causing Liz to flinch and pull the weighted blanket over her head. “You have to be at your check-up in an hour.”
Liz tried to focus on the comfort and warmth of the weighted blanket covering her, but she could feel her mother’s presence in the door to her room and pictured her standing there with her hands on her hips. She stifled a groan and slowly pulled the covers back and muttered, “Okay.”
“I shouldn’t have to wake you up. You are leaving for college in less than a week. You need to be able to manage your own time.”
“I know, mom. You’ve told me. I set an alarm,” she replied groggily, gesturing to her phone sitting on the bedside table.
“Well, clearly you didn’t set it early enough. It takes you forever to get moving in the morning and you need to get to the appointment 15 minutes early. You probably won’t have time to eat before you go!”
“I’m not hungry anyway,” she muttered after her mother’s retreating figure. As she stood and stretched, her alarm went off and she silenced it before shuffling to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
* * Thursday * *
“Liz, get over it,” her best friend Savannah said the next day as they video chatted.
Liz had been sharing some of her fears with her friend. She had always wanted to move to the south and had chosen her college with the intention that it be close enough so they could drive to move in and out, but far enough that she would truly be on her own. But with quarantine, her family had been all she had and now she was terrified to leave them. What if she needed them? What if they needed her?
“That’s easy for you to say,” Liz retorted. “You aren’t leaving home until spring semester at the earliest.”
“Which sucks,” Savannah said shortly. “Do you think I want to spend my college days in my house? College is supposed to be the best time in your life. I want to go out, meet some hot guys, and party. The closest I am getting to any of that is Vinny.”
Liz laughed. Vinny, Savannah’s 14 year old brother who suffered from acne, was obviously not an acceptable substitute.
“I’m sure he isn’t thrilled either. Wasn’t he hoping to move into your room?”
“He was, but that isn’t going to happen. I told my parents I wasn’t staying in his closet of a room during breaks.”
“So he should suffer all days so you don’t have to suffer a few?” Liz said sarcastically.
“Typical Savannah,” Liz laughed. She knew her friend was being ridiculous to distract her from the weight of her doubts, but Liz wasn’t the type to hide from her problems. “But seriously, which college do you think is doing the right thing - yours or mine?”
Savannah sighed. “No one knows. Sure, my college is making sure I will be safe, but your college is making sure you can get the full experience, or at least most of it.”
“But safety is more important.”
“Yes, if you are in danger. But if you are smart, which we both know you are, will you be in danger?”
“I don’t know.”
“No one does. Now I think you need to stop wallowing and get packing. I’ll talk to you later!”
“I know,” Liz grumbled, picking up a notebook and tossing it into a box.
“Liz,” Savannah said, her tone uncharacteristically serious, causing Liz to look up from her packing and meet her friend’s brown eyes, “you are going to be great. You’ll be smart and take the necessary precautions. You will make friends and excel in your classes. You are going to rule that school, just like we ruled ours. Just don’t forget about me, okay?”
“I could never forget about you,” Liz promised, wishing she could give her best friend a warm hug to reassure both of them.
* * Friday * *
“Liz, grab some more wipes,” her mother directed as they shopped for the last minute essentials. The cart was full and the wheels squeaked, objecting to the weight placed upon them.
“Mom, we don’t need more wipes, I have more soap and wipes than I have clothes,” Liz protested.
“Perhaps, but the clothes can be reused and the wipes cannot. Get more.”
Liz rolled her eyes and grabbed a container from the shelf.
“I saw that,” her mother snapped, grabbing two more. “I know you think I am being neurotic, but you need to promise me you will be careful.”
“Yes, mom, I will.”
“And you need to make sure your roommate is careful too.”
“I’m sure she will be, mom.”
“Make sure she washes her hands with warm water every time she returns to the dorm.”
“Mom, I am sure she will,” Liz said, cringing at the relationship she would likely develop with her roommate if she attempted to follow her mother’s directions. What college freshman doesn’t want to be oppressively parented by their roommate. Oh? All of them? Right.
* * Saturday * *
“Liz, help me!” Savannah yelled to her, her red hair flashing in the sun as she attempted to defend herself.
“Yeah, Liz, come save her,” their friends Keith and Matt laughed splashing Savannah. Liz lounged in her chair poolside, watching and chatting with another friend, Jen. When she reached the right degree of toasty, she would join them, but right now she liked the warm feeling. And she wanted to remember her friends this way.
“I’m glad Keith’s parents let us get together here,” Jen said, as she got up to get a bottle of water from a cooler they had placed by the back door.
“Me too,” Liz said, looking at her and getting caught up in nostalgia. They five of them had gone to school together since kindergarten. It had been that long since she had gone to a school where she did not know anyone.
“Are you nervous about Monday?” Jen asked.
“Is it that obvious?” Liz laughed.
“Nah, you’ve always had a good poker face,” Matt said, climbing out of the pool and wrapping a towel around his waist.
“I’m nervous,” Jen admitted. “And I’m not even going far. But I am going to miss everyone. And I’m nervous about making new friends.”
Liz nodded. She was nervous about that too.
“You know what bothers me?” Matt asked. Liz looked at him in surprise. He was usually the jokester of the group.
“High school didn’t end right. That graduation last month - half our class wasn’t there. The teachers weren’t there.”
“We didn’t get our yearbook signing,” Jen added.
“Or senior prom,” Liz said. She had bought her prom dress right before they had gone into quarantine and every time she saw it, it was a reminder of the things they had missed. The last time she had seen it, she had buried it in the back of her closet.
“No senior trip,” Keith complained from the float he was lounging on in the pool.
“And no senior prank,” Matt added, the corners of his eyes crinkling, a dead giveaway that he was up to no good. “I had a good one in the works. I might have to enlist some of the rising seniors to fulfill my legacy.”
Liz laughed with the rest of them. She could only imagine what Matt would have done and the trouble he likely would have gotten into. Perhaps it had been for the best, at least for Matt. She looked around at her friends and knew that even though they would be miles apart in a few days, that they would always be there for each other. Covid had forced them to be physically distant for months, yet their friendships had endured. They would make it through this too. And with that, Liz felt that degree of warmth she had been waiting for. It was time to jump in.
“Well, as Mr. Miller would say, I am opening a new chapter on Monday. I need to end this one climactically,” Liz said as she used her weight to push Matt back into the pool before cannonballing in herself.
* * Sunday * *
“Liz, don’t forget to get your laundry out of the dryer,” her mother said as she bustled around the kitchen. That was one thing Liz had learned over the summer in preparation for college. Doing laundry wasn’t hard, just tedious. Liz had decided she was no longer purchasing anything that needed to be ironed. With a sigh, she headed to the laundry room and pulled out the pile of warm clothes. The basket was surprisingly heavy in her arms as she trudged up the steps.
Back in her room, she dumped the basket on her bed and started sorting. She looked up at the sound of a knock on her open door.
“Mind if I come in?” her dad asked.
“Of course, dad.”
“All packed up?” he asked, sitting on the edge of her bed, next to her.
“Just a few last minute things,” she replied, gesturing to the pile.
“How are you doing?”
“I know you are nervous, but you don’t have to be,” he said. “And don’t let your mom get you too worked up. Just be smart.”
“I will,” she promised, meeting his gaze.
“I know you will,” he agreed. “And I want you to keep me updated about this elementary symbolic logic class you are taking. I think you are going to excel in it. And it will prepare you for law school.”
“Dad, you know I don’t know whether I want to be a teacher or a lawyer.”
“I know, but you will be a great lawyer. Call it a hunch.”
“Thanks, dad,” he nodded and got up to leave. At the door he turned around and returned to gather her into a warm embrace. Liz blinked back tears and returned his uncharacteristic expression of emotion.
* * Monday * *
“Liz, there is one last box in the car, grab it. I’ll get your bed made and your father will unpack your electronics,” her mother directed. Liz stifled the groan - just barely. She had been exhausted by the long drive to campus and it felt like they had spent hours moving in. Liz tried to convince herself that it hadn’t been that long, but she had been too busy to check. She walked down the stairs and out the door to where her mom’s minivan was parked with the trunk open. She was surrounded by other families experiencing the same life-altering event, but looking at that box in the trunk she suddenly felt so alone. When she took that box inside, her parents’ role in this move would come to an end. She knew they would stall for a few minutes, but they had a long drive home, they wouldn’t stay long. She didn’t want to pick up that box. She wasn’t ready. But she knew she wouldn’t ever be ready, not really. She had to jump in, whether she had that warm feeling or not. She took a deep breath, grabbed the box, and closed the trunk and that chapter of her life. Turning, she struggled with the weight of both the box in her arms and the future that was now in her hands. One step at a time, she told herself and she started moving forward.