Emma crammed the last package of diapers into the back of the bug, wiping the sweat from her brow. The warm Indiana sun beat down on her forehead as she consulted the list. A year ago, she would’ve laughed at anyone who told her she would need one to move. For so long, all she needed was a backpack with the bare essentials. Even when Neal came along, he had even less stuff.
It wasn’t just them anymore, though. Strapped in the cars seat in the backseat was their baby boy Henry. He was sucking on a pair of plastic keys, getting his first few bits of teeth. It was going to make this road trip more interesting for sure.
“Alright little buddy,” she said, giving him a smile and adjusting the bulky eyeglasses that framed her face. “We have your diapers, formula, clothes, toys and your pack and play. That’ll have to do for a crib until we can get you one. Am I missing anything else?”
“Don’t forget me,” a voice came from behind her.
Emma turned around, smiling. “How could we forget you?”
Neal smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist and touching his forehead to hers. Their lips connected for a minute before he pulled away, holding up her keychain that was still attached to the chain she kept it on.
“This was tangled up in the sheets,” he said.
Relief fell over Emma’s face. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without that.”
“Let’s put it back where it belongs.”
Emma lifted up her curls so he could latch the necklace back around her neck. Once again the swan keychain fell above the cleavage that just barely poked out of her tank top. Neal stole one last kiss from Emma and then crouched down so he could be at eye level with his son.
“Tallahassee, baby,” he squealed (Emma had never heard her boyfriend make any noise like that until the little guy came into their lives). “Almost home.” Henry dropped his keys momentarily to giggle over his foot being tickled.
Neal and Emma had been headed to Tallahassee nearly 2 years prior. Then in Jasper, Emma had gotten violently ill. It wasn’t exactly anything new. Their diet consisted of what they could steal or dumpster dive. Even though they had the money from the watches, they were trying to be careful with it. Turned out to be a smart investment, because an upset stomach hadn’t been all that was wrong with her. She revealed that she was late, a few weeks in fact. Two pregnancy tests later and it was confirmed: they were expecting a baby.
Neal had felt a sudden twinge of guilt for ever considering August’s demands. He had almost abandoned not just Emma, but their child. In that moment, he had made a silent vow to never abandon them again.
They decided to get jobs in the small town inside Indiana. Henry came along 9 months later and for the next year they raised him in the cramped studio apartment. All the money that they had gotten from the watches went to him. It took some time to save, but finally they had the money to go where they had always dreamed: Tallahassee. Since they had built roots for once, they had connections and were able to get jobs down there, along with a new apartment.
“The directions Hal printed me say it’ll take us about 10 hours with no stops,” Neal told her, settling into the passenger side.
Emma turned the key. “I have a feeling it’ll take us a bit longer than that, given stinky butt back there.”
Neal let out a laugh. “You’re probably right.” He looked back at his son, his trademark smile never once leaving his face. “Say bye bye to Jasper, bub. Tallahassee, here we come.”
Emma was right, it took them well over 10 hours to get to their destination. Henry fussed for a good majority until whichever adult in the passenger seat would turn around to distract him with a toy or some food. The family ended up sleeping in their bug for what Neal proclaimed would be the last time once they hit Atlanta. After another stop for donuts the next morning, they passed the sign with the eleven letters they had been dreaming of.
The apartment wasn’t exactly a castle, but it actually had a separate bedroom. There was enough room for them to set up a kitchen table and they could have a bed, a real bed, not just a pull-out couch. Emma carried Henry over to the window. She had figured out well before they left that Tallahassee wasn’t exactly near any beaches, but it didn’t matter. There was a bodega on the corner and the diner where Emma would work was just down the street. Neal had been talking about becoming a fireman so he could better provide for their family.
Neal walked over to Emma, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her close. Henry reached up, trying to pull on his growing facial hair. Emma looked up into Neal’s eyes and he winked at her.
“Tallahassee, baby. We’re home.”
“We are,” Emma agreed, softly, their lips connecting until Henry started fussing again. The two pulled apart, laughing. “I think we passed a park on the way, why don’t we take him?” She didn’t have to say that growing up, she had never had a family to go to the park with. He didn’t add that a part of him wished that his father could meet their son. None of that mattered, at least not right then. He leaned over, taking the baby from her arms.
“Come on, let’s go. Unpacking can wait.”