The gas pumped through the hose in a smooth rhythm. I closed my eyes and waited for the soft click. In the front seat the last of the Chex Mix had fallen and settled in the stitching of the rough fabric. I brushed it away before continuing my drive.
Five hours to go. Dad offered to drive with me and fly home after move in, but I didn’t want the tearful goodbye in front of strangers I needed to befriend. I promised myself a new start; a new, independent start.
The highway was a wasteland of billboards and truck stops. My audio jack stopped working a few months ago, so I was stuck listening to whatever played on the radio as I passed through each state. I liked moving through places and hearing the static over the music pick up and fade away.
The sky darkened ahead, signaling rain. I rolled down my window and placed my forearm against the cool metal of the door. The air was thick and wet, electrified by the coming storm.
Dad and I used to stand by the screen door when it rained and count how many lightning strikes we could spot. He usually bested me, and I would whine about how he was taller and older, and it was unfair. When the thunder would pound so hard the doorframe shook, Mom would yell at us to close the door. She didn’t like how stray rain drops would splatter through the screen and dampen the new hardwood floor. Dad would laugh and say alright kiddo, let’s listen to your mother. Behind the closed door I would still stand and watch the water beat against the glass.
The rain was coming down in sheets now, and I could hardly see past my windshield. The lights of the truck in front of me blurred into fuzzy red bulbs. My grip on the steering wheel tightened as I eased my foot off the gas pedal. Traffic was moving slowly and my heart rate was picking up, so I decided to turn off at the nearest rest stop. I found shelter at a Wendy’s inhabited with other refugees of the storm. The smell of fry oil mixed with the metallic scent of the rain.
Dad and I used to go to places like this after my soccer games. In early September, when the summer heat was still waning, he would let me get ice cream with my hamburger. It would drip onto my grass-stained knees, and Dad would laugh at my mess.
After a few minutes the rain let up to a quiet drip. I ventured back to my car and was off once again. When I crossed the border of Massachusetts a wave of anxiety rushed over me. In my head I rehearsed the greeting to my roommate which I had perfected the night before with Dad. He was nervous for me, but thought it a bit silly to practice saying hello.
Ten minutes away from school I pulled off of the highway again and parked outside of a Starbucks. My hands shook against the steering wheel. I reached for my phone in the cupholder and pulled up Dad’s contact. I hesitated to press call, and I couldn’t figure out why. Why I had done this alone, why I thought I didn’t need him anymore. I watched all the movies and saw the protagonists go off on their big adventures, leaving their overbearing families behind. I wanted to be on my own like them. But why did it already feel so lonely?
I pressed call and held the phone to my ear. Two rings later he picked up.
“Hey, kiddo? You at school?” His voice was loud and cheerful. Picturing him on the other side of the phone made me smile, and my stomach ached a little less.
Allison Titus is a recent graduate of Boston College. She writes as much as she can in her free time and loves sharing her work with the people around her.