This story is one of the August Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The strap of my backpack is rough between my sweaty fingers, and it feels like someone added bricks to my luggage instead of just some clothes and my passport. I can feel my sister’s worried gaze upon me as she says, “Are you sure about this?” Her eyes are filled with tears, but I know she is trying to hold them back until I’m gone. Those beautiful brown eyes. I don’t know a time when they weren’t in my life. Don’t know a time when she wasn’t in my life. My eyes travel back to the house, the small, one-family house in this street full of small, one-family homes, with a front yard that looks exactly like every single one around it. The house I grew up in. The house I’ve always lived in. The house where my parents are peacefully sleeping in their bedroom on the first floor, not knowing what their eldest daughter is about to do.
Out of instinct, my gaze travels to the end of the road. The streetlight, where he waited for me to sneak out of the house so many nights. I can almost see him, one arm hooked around the pole, the other in the pocket of his jeans. The smile on his lips, reaching all the way to his eyes when he saw me climbing down the gutter. Now my eyes are the ones that are full of tears. Him.
My reason to stay. My reason to leave. I breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and grab my bag a little tighter. With the other hand, I take the car keys from my sister’s hand. “Yes. I’m sure.” My voice is stronger than expected as I hug her. One last time, I take in her smell, the feeling of her arms around me. Then I open the front door and throw my bag onto the passenger seat.
“Wait,” she says as I’m about to start the engine. I roll down the window, and she leans in a little. “You have to promise me something, alright?”
“No, let me speak!” she says vigorously. My little sister, suddenly not so little anymore. When did she grow up? How did I not notice how much older she seems now? “Just promise, you will survive, okay? Not for me. Not for them. Not for him. Not for anyone. Just promise me you’ll survive for yourself. Promise you’ll live for yourself.” I swallow my tears and hook my pinkie finger around hers. “I promise.”
Four hours later, I find myself on the highway, the radio on full volume, the window down, the wind roughing up my hair. My fingers are restlessly tapping on the steering wheel, and I can’t seem to get rid of the feeling that I’ve made a huge mistake. I started planning this thing years ago, long before he stepped into my life.
When we met, these plans suddenly seemed like a stupid idea, made up by a little, clueless girl that just wasn’t quite happy with her family. So I forgot about them. He made me forget. I didn’t even want to leave because it would’ve meant leaving him. But looking back now, I realize what a mistake that was. When you’re falling in love, everything seems great. The person you’re in love with seems perfect. It’s like the world is covered in pink fog that makes all your problems seem smaller and less important than they were before. But after a while, that fog clears. You are no longer captured in a dream full of love and perfection.
You wake up. You look at the person sleeping next to you, and you pray they are still as great as you thought. And sometimes they are. He wasn’t. He was far from it. But still…. My head is filled with what ifs, with possibilities, with regrets, with doubts. But then the highway makes a turn, and suddenly the sea is next to me, and the singer in the radio sings of hope. He sings of love, and he sings of not giving up. I know he sings to the one he loves, but as I start tapping the rhythm with my fingers and repeating the chorus, I sing to myself. The sun is starting to warm up the car and shining on the sea. Slowly, the highway fills up with more and more cars, but I don’t pay them any notice. I sing at the top of my lungs, and for the first time in years, I feel alive. My pinkie finger taps on the steering wheel. “I promise.”