Even with dark stormy clouds above, Ann Harbor is full of life with vibrant colors and a special kind of beauty that helps Lydia to understand her sister’s admiration. She gets a little teary eyed as they walk towards admissions because she can see her sister fitting in well on campus. Allison reaches over to grab Lydia’s hand; she squeezes it gently to anchor her to the moment, to the now, to remind her that she isn’t making this journey alone. Lydia smiles softly back at Allison before shaking off the weight of old memories. Allison speaks up first,
“Let’s see if their physics facilities and engineering labs are even worth your time.”
“Or if the law library where you plan to waste most of your early twenties is nearly as impressive in person as people claim it to be.”
“Oh how I refuse to waste away in a place that is anything less than architecturally stunning.”
“Right? Always have high standards.”
“You know I do.”
Allison adds with a wink and just like that, with their usual banter, Lydia is back to the opinionated and strong woman that people are familiar with interacting with in day to day settings.
The moment the clerk leaves them alone to their room, Lydia races Allison to the bathroom. It has been over four hours since their last rest stop, so both of them are a little desperate for relief. Allison pouts at the closed door in defeat before collapsing onto the bed to wait her turn; her eyes become heavy and she finds herself stifling a yawn when Lydia exits the bathroom. Allison's stomach grumbles loudly as she starts to remove herself from the comfortable bed. She smiles sheepishly at Lydia, whom simply raises an unimpressed eyebrow.
"Well now that you mentioned it. I could go for a snack or a feast... whichever we find first."
"I could feast too right about now. What are you in the mood for?"
"Wings! Definitely wings.”
"Well you are in luck, we happen to be in a huge college town so there is bound to be a wings place near by to satisfy all the drunk cravings."
"If not, we have to completely reconsider our view of this place."
"Absolutely, Princess. Hurry and go to the bathroom! I’ll google for some decent places in the area."
Once they are ready to venture out, it is about 7:30 pm and pouring buckets. They decide to drive to a sports restaurant and bar that is a little far but has a pretty cheap menu with good ratings. When they arrive, it is obvious that their genius idea is a popular one because the restaurant is packed with families, couples, and everything in between. The frazzled hostess asks if they are there to watch the big rival baseball game for which they would have to wait for a table or if they want to eat now, they can sit at the last table that doesn’t have any good views of a television. Allison shrugs at the same time Lydia does which is how they find themselves at a small table near an empty bar that is filling up steadily.
By the time Lydia and Allison have finished their three pounds of wings, a small army, encompassed mainly of UMich baseball players, has gathered around the bar drinking beer and enthralled in the game on the half of a dozen televisions that line the bar. Lydia and Allison glance their way a couple times but when one of the boys with a backwards snap back, smooth dark skin, and sparkling mischievous eyes winks at Lydia, she simply rolls her eyes and turns her attention back to Allison to continue their discussion of their earlier tour.
"While the law library was beautiful, the campus just didn't speak to me. You know? Everyone says that when you step foot on a college campus it should just feel right; it should feel like home. I didn’t get that vibe. What about you?"
"Hmmm... I agree. I think the classes would be too big for me. I need a lot of one on one attention. Plus, the material covered their second year of physics is what I learned last summer. I don't think the program would be challenging enough for me."
Allison nods along to what Lydia is saying, completely understanding her need to be in a rigorous academic environment. Both of them fail to notice the third party listening in on their conversation, a guy, wearing a UMich baseball tshirt with a backwards snap back that reads 'MICHIGAN', from earlier that had winked at Lydia from across the room. He makes a wounded noise and clutches at his heart which averts their attention to him. Even with a childish pout on his face, up close it is hard to deny his attractiveness. Lydia raises an eyebrow in her standard judgmental face,
"Can I help you?"
"Well… first I was going to ask if I could buy you a drink but now I feel like I need to defend the honor of my school and department!"
"You are a physics major?"
Lydia asks without missing a beat; her eyebrows changing slightly from judgemental to curious.
"Um not technically, I am a mechanical engineer but I suffered through plenty of physics classes through the first two years of my death march. These courses are way harder than whatever you've done in your classes, sweetheart."
"Dont call me sweetheart."
Allison chuckles quietly to herself but the guy seems hardly phased. He bats his eyes at Lydia with a small smile that reminds her of the few private smiles Boyd used to share.
"Then what should I call you?"
"I'm Allison and this is Lydia. We just visited UMich today."
"Oh are you thinking of transferring? I’m Zac by the way."
Allison speaks up quickly,
"Yes! From UC San Diego."
"Oh cool! Cali’s cool. If you are looking for a challenge, UMich is the place!"
Lydia's eyes hone in on him, her smile becomes slightly predatory like a lioness stalking its latest prey.
"Really Zac? What was the most challenging topic you covered your freshman year?"
"Well Lydia. It has to be a combination of thermodynamics as a whole, Navier Stokes equation, and harmonic oscillators."
Allison gets up from the table and gestures towards the bathroom to Lydia before waving and heading in that direction.
"So you had a difficult time with derivatives and making assumptions?"
"Hey now thermo is way more than assumptions! But-"
"But-but… since you are defending your school's honor, where’s my drink?"
Allison shakes her head to herself as she hears Zac agree to get a passion fruit mojito before he can continue his rebuttal. Even though Allison can't see her, she knows Lydia sports a triumphant grin on her face because she has found a new toy.
When Allison is returning from the bathroom, she misses an “exciting” play in the baseball game but the next thing she knows she is surrounded by cheering fans. The loud noises and foreign faces disorients her slightly, so when a hand brushes her arm like it is going to grab her, she doesn't hesitate in spinning to turn and grab the stranger's hand and kick her legs out to cause the potential attacker to fall to the ground. She means to run away but she remembers that she in a crowded place where those sort of accidental brushes tend to happen. She immediately feels guilt rush through her, flushing her cheeks pink when she peers down to see an extremely baffled guy with dark brown hair and light blue eyes looking back up at her.
"Holy shit. What just happened?"
"The crowd became overzealous and knocked you over?"
"I know I’ve had a couple of beers but not enough to make a 250 pound guy tople..."
Allison smiles innocently sweet as she offers her hand to help him up.
"I may have thought you were trying to steal my wallet so I could have had a hand in the toppling..."
He smiles warmly back at her as he takes her hand and lets himself be pulled up.
"Well fuck. That is kinda awesome... in a scary way. Any girl that can trip a starting college pitcher deserves a drink..."
"I am not sure..."
Allison says as she looks over to Lydia for some sort of sign but all Allison sees is Lydia calmly drinking while Zac leans over the table, sitting in Allison’s vacated seat, talking vehemently about something with big hand gestures. The baseball pitcher follows Allisons gaze before repeating his offer.
"Please let me buy you a drink. Your friend doesn't look ready to leave just yet... Zac seems to be amusing her just fine. Please?"
"Fine. One drink!"
Allison forgets about time as she enjoys her pint of Blue Moon and learns about Mark, the business major from a small town in New Hampshire that wanted to reinvent himself at a big university. Allison does that too for the moment: she creates a new person for herself. She turns herself into someone that doesn't know the supernatural, hasn't seen death first hand, nor has caused it. It is freeing for the moment to lose the weight of the nightmares she carries and to just be a carefree high school girl that flirts shamelessly and laughs often. As she leans in to kiss Mark, she realizes this type of normalcy is nice, makes her feel safe. Mark and Allison pull apart quickly from their kiss when a cough startles them. Allison’s expression goes from surprised to grinning when she realizes it’s Lydia.
"Hey Lydia! Mark, this is my best friend Lydia. Lydia, this is Mark! He is the starting pitcher for UMich."
"Nice to meet you Lydia. Allison told me about your cross country road trip. It sounds awesome!"
"Thanks. Pleasure is all mine, Mark. Wanna go Allison? It's almost eleven and I want to head to bed soon."
"Oh don’t worry Lydia. She can stay with me a little longer if she wants and I can drop her off wherever you guys are staying..."
Allison raises her eyebrow at Mark, shaking her head slightly, and she speaks as she stands up from her bar stool.
"Thanks but no thanks Mark. We have to be on the road early tomorrow morning but it was nice meeting you."
Allison kisses Mark on the cheek as she prepares to go, she catches Lydia rolling her eyes at the gesture. Mark puts a piece of paper in Allison’s hand with a wink as she leaves.
"It was nice meeting you too, Allison. Call me if you are ever back in the area."
Allison’s smile hasn’t left her lips as she drives back to the motel, still riding the slight buzz from her beer plus the successful evening. After driving for a couple of minutes, she feels a wall of tension that has formed in the car between her and Lydia. Now that she thinks about it, Lydia hasn’t spoken a single word since they left the restaurant but silence often falls between them. Sometimes they don’t feel the need to fill the time or space with empty conversations, happier to sit in comfortable silence. But that kind of silence feels different than the one they are in now, this silence feels forced which sets Allison slightly on edge.
“That was a nice change! I had fun.”
“Well I guess if you consider hanging out with college guys for free drinks fun…”
Lydia’s voice is clipped which causes Allison’s eyebrows to draw forward in confusion, she tries to muffle the annoyed tone in her response to avoid becoming unnecessarily angry at Lydia.
“I didn’t see you complaining.”
“That’s because I didn’t compromise my morals.”
Lydia says as she crosses her arms over her chest; her voice calm and steady. Allison tilts her head slightly in confusion while keeping her eyes on the road, she pauses, clearly at a loss for words at that statement, before answering in a confused tone.
“I didn’t either?”
“So you actually wanted to kiss that Mark guy? Not because he bought you a drink?”
Allison can practically hear the judgement seeping in Lydia’s voice but there is something else there that Allison can’t quite identify. Lydia’s words strike a chord with Allison because never has she judged Lydia for her sexual conquests and activities over the years. The longer their argument drags on, the angrier Allison becomes; her words become louder and harsher as Lydia’s become more flippant.
“Yeah, maybe I did! What does it matter?”
“You can do better than him.”
“What does that even mean? Did any of those guys meet your ‘standards’?”
“No. They were the epitome of a college jock whose only goal is to get in any pretty girl’s pants. It’s just a game to them!”
“That makes no sense. You sleep with guys like that all the time Lydia!”
“That’s different. You aren’t a one night stand kind of girl Allison! So have some standards before you get attached-”
“I could have a one night stand if I wanted!”
“But you aren’t that kind of girl... That isn’t who you are. You should have high standards and live by them!”
“You are being ridiculous. Maybe he did meet my standards.”
Lydia unfolds her arms to toy with the bottom of her shirt, a childish habit that tends to appear when she is rethinking her argument. Allison catches the movement out of the corner of her eye, expecting an apology to tumble from Lydia’s lips at the sheer absurdity of this conversation. Instead, cold words spill from Lydia’s lips while she continues to stare at the road ahead.
“Then maybe you should call him then. Share a bed with him tonight.”
Allison looks over at Lydia in shock and lets a small aggravated sigh fall from her mouth before returning her eyes to the road.
“Maybe I will! I can do whatever I want Lydia, you don’t get to choose who I do or don’t sleep with.”
Lydia turns to Allison sharply with concern etched on her face. Allison glances at Lydia while she drives, her hands grip the steering wheel tightly as Lydia speaks.
“I’m just trying to save you from… from some asshole breaking your heart.”
“Perhaps I want that! Who are you to decide that for me?”
“Just because Scott is talking about a long distance relationship with Kira for college and Isaac didn’t work out the way you wanted doesn’t mean you should throw yourself at any guy that gives you the time of day-”
“Lydia! I am not doing that! God. Why are you suddenly trying to control this?”
Allison’s knuckles turn white as she grips the wheel tighter in annoyance.
“I’m not being controlling... I care and just want the best for you!”
“That’s the whole problem! You aren’t doing that, you are making me feel like shit. God, I bet that is why all your relationships have failed! You are such a control freak; you freak when things don’t go your way. Welcome to the real world Lydia! Not everything can go your way! It’s messy out there… sometimes people hurt you and sometimes you get your heart broken. But you can’t control people to prevent that mess from happening. You can’t control me!”
Lydia falls silent while Allison speaks, her eyes wide and out of focus as if she is only engaging in her sense of hearing. Allison notices out of the corner of her eye that Lydia flinches each time Allison says “freak”, a sick sense of pride runs through her at the thought of knocking Lydia down emotionally to her level. Allison punctuates her last sentence with a hard break into their parking spot at the motel. She parks the car and hastily undoes her seat belt with anger still fueling her actions. Lydia takes her time getting out of the car, her eyes blinking slowly until they are in focus, her face carefully blank. They don’t speak to each other as they prepare for bed, both parties move with their head looking towards the ground as if in deep thought or to avoid eye contact.
While Lydia is in the bathroom, Allison takes a pillow from the bed and a spare blanket from the closet, setting up a bed on the floor. She fall asleep almost immediately, her anger from their fight combined with the long day of traveling drained her energy more than she realized. When Lydia exits the bathroom, she pauses when she sees Allison on the floor but doesn’t say anything about the unnecessariness of Allison’s sleeping arrangements. Lydia crawls into the queen bed by herself and stares at the ceiling until a restless sleep overtakes her.