Eddie watched his daughter while she packed the last few items she was taking with her in a box. He was proud of her and all of her accomplishments. Now it was time for him to let go. She glanced up and smiled “why such a long face daddy?” she asked bouncing to her feet.
“I miss you already,” he told her. He took a deep breath promising himself he wouldn’t cry in front of her. He’d save the tears until after she was gone.
“Daddy it’s going to be alright,” she threw her arms around him “I’ll be home for holiday’s and most weekends.” She knew she was going to miss her parents as much if not more than they would miss her. She just wanted the freedom to skip a weekend every so often to hang with friends or whatever.
“I know sweetie,” Eddie squeezed her back fighting back the inevitable tears “are you sure you don’t want your dad and I to help you move?”
“I’ve got it covered,” glancing at the time “Ryan will be here in about five minutes to load the last of my things into the truck.” She smiled sweetly up at him “don’t worry daddy I’ll be alright. I can take care of myself.”
His heart broke a little inside. Where had the years gone? Why couldn’t she have stayed a little girl forever? Too choked up to speak Eddie nodded pulling her close. Kissed her cheek murmuring “I love you.”
“Love you too daddy,” she stepped away tears shimmering in her green eyes “I need to tell dad good-bye.” She rushed to the door afraid if she lingered she’d burst into tears and together they’d have a flood.
Looking up from the magazine he’d spent the last several minutes flipping through pages without seeing one of them, Rory stood letting it slide to the floor. “All set?” he asked as Hannah approached him.
Nodding she hurried across the room throwing her arms around him “I’m going to miss you so so much.”
Smoothing her long blond hair Rory kissed the top of her head “I’ll miss you too.” He took a deep breath as his chest tightened. No matter how long he knew this day was coming he still wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to watch his little girl walk out the door a young woman.”I love you so much sweetheart.” He hugged her tight wishing he could keep her with him just a little longer.
A knock at the door announced the arrival of her ride. “That will be Ryan,” she said pulling away from him. Turning she dabbed at her eyes fighting for control.
“Uncle Eddie,” Ryan said as he came inside the kitchen “is Hannah ready to go?”
“She’s just saying goodbye to Rory,” Eddie told him trying to muster up a smile “she has a few more boxes in her room.” He led the way to her room.
Whistling softly Ryan shook his head “where is she planning to put all this stuff?”
“Knowing her she’ll be storing some of it in your room,” Eddie told him eliciting a groan from his nephew.
“I kind of figured that but she could at least ask,” Ryan groaned picking up the first box “what does she have in here? Rocks?”
Eddie stood beside Rory waving as their daughter drove away to start her own adventure without them. “Hey,” Rory said softly turning to Eddie noticing the silent tears as they coursed down his cheeks “she’ll be back.”
“I know. It’ll just not be the same,” Eddie tried to walk away. Before he could do so Rory’s strong arms pulled him close holding him tight.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” Rory asked his voice soft undemanding. He knew there was more to it than just missing their daughter. It wasn’t what people liked to call empty nest syndrome either. Something serious was bothering his husband. He had spent too many years married to the man not to recognize the signs.
“College. She’s going to college.” There it was out in the open. The problem. The worry. The past. The memories. The turmoil. The upset. The end of normality. The start of a nightmare that had taken years for him to come to grips with. “What if?” he choked on the words unable to give voice to his fears.
Words failed him. What could he say? That nothing bad would happen to their little girl? He couldn’t. Life was too unpredictable. Rory wrapped his arms around Eddie holding him tight. He could feel the tremor run through his husband’s body. He longed for something he could say or do to ease his pain and fears. There just weren’t words. No platitudes that could ease Eddie’s fears and Rory didn’t want to give empty promises. “Whatever happens in the future,” Rory said finally finding the words “we’ll be there for our daughter. She’ll never be alone. She has good friends. People who won’t abandon her. Who will look out for her.”
Eddie sniffed listening to Rory’s soothing words letting them calm his fears, his worries. He rested his head on Rory’s chest listening to the steady beat of his heart. Thump, thump, thump rhythmic, soothing. As long as he had this man by his side he could do anything. “Thank you,” he murmured “you’re right. I was letting my imagination runaway with me.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Rory tilted Eddie’s chin up “I love you.” It still came as a shock to him how easy it was to say those three little words and mean them. It was hard to imagine how close he had come to never knowing this feeling. Never knowing what it meant to love and be loved. He had almost lost it all.
He looked longingly into Eddie’s deep brown eyes. The same eyes he had looked into twenty years ago and lost his heart. This time was no different. “Eddie you have no idea how much I love and adore you.” He brought his mouth down to tenderly kiss his husband’s soft lips that yielded to him.
Leaning weakly against him Eddie ran his fingers up and down Rory’s back “I have a pretty good idea” he said pressing his body closer to Rory’s.
Moaning Rory pulled him closer as if he wanted merge their bodies together. “You know I think I have the same effect on you,” Rory smiled cheekily down at him.
“Let’s go inside and do something about it,” Eddie replied as Rory lifted him up. Eddie wrapped his legs around his husbands waist. As Rory fumbled for the door Eddie pressed his mouth against Rory’s his tongue exploring, tasting insistent until the door closed behind them and they fell to the floor.
Charity glanced around her room one last time. Her mind on all the fun times she had within those four walls. The various transformations her room had gone through over the years. From baby pink to deep purple with tones of black to the current relaxing blue. She was going to miss it. Her dads. The islands. Her friends the few she had here.
Closing the door she found her parents waiting for her. Zane smiled holding his arms out wide. She giggled as she ran to him and he lifted her up into a bear hug. “I love you daddy” she said kissing his cheek.
“I love you too sweetie,” Zane told her with an easy smile.
Turning to Graham she could see the sadness in his eyes despite the smile he had plastered on his face. “I’m going to miss you too,” she told him squeezing him tight.
Graham’s arms curled around her small frame holding her tight. If he could he’d never let her go. Breathing in deeply he released her “love you baby girl.”
Standing on her toes she stretched to kiss his cheek “love you to dad.”
Clearing his throat Graham asked “you have everything?”
“I think so,” she shrugged “if I’ve forgotten anything I’ll get it next time I’m home.” Her breath caught in her throat it was going to be months before she saw them again. The thought made her heart ache. She had never been separated from them for more than a few hours a day for school.
“If we don’t hurry you’ll miss your flight,” Graham said turning to practicalities.
“She could always take a later flight,” Zane pointed out a little too hopeful to have a few extra hours with his daughter before she left on the plane.
Despite Zane’s proposal to the contrary Graham hustled them from the house to the airport. “Let us know when you arrive,” he told her.
“I will” she promised looking down at her boarding tickets. This was it. It was really happening. She was no longer a little girl. She was a full-grown adult. A college student. Glancing towards her parents. Zane’s woebegone face made her almost regret not signing up for classes at the local college.
She might have done just that if Graham hadn’t sat her down and made her admit what she wanted to accomplish with her life. It led her to choosing a school on the mainland that offered the classes that would help her accomplish her goals. It would be harder. In the end the reward would be something she and her parents would both be proud of.
She walked a few steps towards the long queue to get through security. She stopped and turned waving to her parents. The two most important men in her life. They had loved her. Molded her into the person she was today. She didn’t know how she could stand to be away from them for so long.
She ran back to them throwing her arms around them both “I can’t do this.” she cried.
Kissing her forehead Graham peered into her eyes “of course you can. Your dad and I are so proud of you and everything you have accomplished so far. Now go follow your dreams.”
Nodding she walked backwards a few steps loathe to lose sight of them. She bumped into someone, turning to apologize she lost track of them. She turned scanning the crowd but couldn’t find them. With a heavy heart she joined the line through security.
It wasn’t until she was seated on the plane, forehead resting on the window that she felt the first pangs of homesickness. As the island disappeared below her the first tears trickled down her nose. This was really happening she thought. She was on her own now.
Donovan scowled out the window. His duffel bag clutched in his lap to keep it safe from being trampled. An overweight middle-aged man with a receding hairline snored like a jet engine beside him. There was no way he was ever going to be able to sleep with all that noise. If he had to go to college why couldn’t he have gone to the one in his home town? Why had his mother insisted upon this particular one?
The obese man turned in his sleep, his head lolling on Donovan’s shoulder. He couldn’t keep the disgust he felt from showing on his face. With effort he kept from shoving the man way from him. He promised his mom he’d stay out of trouble. He squirmed trying to find a better position in his cramped seat. Pushing against the boulder beside him he groaned. If only his mom hadn’t found out about his computer hacking. He would have had enough funds for a plane ticket.
He let his mind wander for a moment to the luxury of a first class ticket. Room to spread out, to stretch his legs. OMG what is that stench he thought bringing a hand to pinch his nose closed wishing he could burn his nasal passages from ever having to smell again. He coughed as another wave of noxious fumes enveloped him. Eyes watering he tried to crawl over the immobile blockade in his path. No matter what he tried he couldn’t get past the man.
People in the surrounding seats began to stir complaining of the stench assaulting their nostrils. A strange gurgling sound emanated from the sleeping man as more fumes engulfed them. Gagging Donovan couldn’t keep the bile down anymore as he heaved all over the man next to him.
To Donovan’s astonishment and relief. The people around him applauded as the large man woke up in a huff and lumbered to the front of the bus. Leaving behind a trail of vomit in his wake.
A grandmotherly type older woman came up beside Donovan and helped him clean up the seat asking him “are you ok young man?”
“I’m fine ma’am,” he couldn’t hide his grin “I’m just sensitive to strong scents.”
She giggled “he was rather odoriferous.”
He chuckled feeling better now he had the seat to himself even if it reeked of vomit. It was still better than toxic gas. He leaned his head against the window wondering what college would be like. If he’d meet anyone interesting there. Mostly he wondered if he’d be able to keep his promise to his mom. Would he be able to resist the urge to continue his computer “activism”. He felt he was doing some good giving money back to the people treated the worst by unfair business practices. Did he really want to stop?
Waylon sighed laying back on the bed he’d chosen in the room he was assigned in the dorm. He stared up at the ceiling wondering why anyone would go through the effort to texture it. It seemed to be an awful waste of time and effort for something most people never noticed. His stomach churned as his mind started to wonder who he’d be sharing the room with and the rest of the dormitory. He started to have doubts about coming here altogether. He should’ve have just gone to the local college in his hometown.
He could still have lived with his Uncle and Aunt as they had tried to convince him to do. He could have helped them on the farm, taken a few classes. They just didn’t understand why he wanted to be so far away from them. It wasn’t them but the tragedy that haunted him. All he could think about were all the unanswered questions. Why did his dad start the fire that killed all his family? Why had he been spared? He hated the pity in the neighbor’s eyes as they looked at him. The kids all stayed away from him. He was different. Cursed. His Aunt and Uncle tried but they couldn’t fill the void when his heart had disappeared into it.
If only he had answers to the whys in his life he might be able to move on. A part of him died that night. A part of him still belonged in that fire. He felt like cold ash surrounded by smoldering embers. The embers of that night still burned within him keeping the nightmare fresh and alive.
Growing restless he left his room hoping a little exercise would silence his inner voice. He changed into comfortable workout attire and set to work. Sweat poured off his body as he pushed his limits and his muscles began to burn from the exertion. He could hear voices filtering up from downstairs as others started to arrive. Happy, carefree voices from the sounds of them that both excited him and filled him with dread. Breathing hard he gathered his things and headed towards the showers stalling for time before he had to meet any of these people he would be living with.
He let the hot water massage his tired muscles soothing and relaxing them. He could pretend he was the only person there until the unmistakable sound of the bathroom door opening and a stall door opened and shut. He couldn’t escape the fact that he wasn’t alone any longer. As much as he wanted to avoid it he knew he had to go out there and meet his roommate.
He waited until he was alone in the bathroom before getting out of the shower to get dressed. He finger combed his wet hair and left. Walked downstairs to his room. As he approached his door it sounded like everyone was inside his room. Great his roommate was the popular type.
He hesitated outside the door debating whether or not to go inside. Taking a deep breath he opened the door to find the room filled with girls and boys all laughing and talking. A girl with dark reddish hair turned with a smile to greet him “you must be the roommate.”
“Err,” he mumbled unsure what to say. He moved to put his things away when he stopped stunned. A gorgeous blond was sitting casually on his bed. Waylon felt his pulse quicken like he was still working out. For the first time since he got there he hoped he’d be accepted and make friends.