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Now. Here. This.

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“Everything you’ve been through has brought you here to this day.”

It never feels like a blessing at the time. No… it’s inappropriate to call certain events a blessing. Especially when it all felt very much like a curse.

It had left her hollow, broken. Feeling like she would never survive. She had been so young then. They. They had been so young but at that age when you finally feel old. Old enough. Or invincible and smart which equates to adulthood.

They had met in the dorms. Same floor but they had not been paired as roommates. By the second semester that had changed. The room still looked like her single because the two beds were pushed together.

Then came that first long summer apart. Lots of texting. Occasional sexting. That one dirty picture.

Bravery. Just before school started back up again the courage came. She came out.

And she quickly found herself scrambling, lost, drowning.

She had a life vest then. The scholarship was barely enough and her coaches did what they could not wanting to lose her. They helped so much.

The love of her life? She was like the goddamned coast guard.

On paper she was homeless.

Her name wasn’t on the lease for the one bedroom apartment they lived in that sophomore year. That scholarship wasn’t enough to pay for the dorms and food, so the choice was easy. Besides, she already knew where she would be spending most nights when her love signed the lease. The dorm room would have been for show.

But to show who? The parents who promised to never see her again, unless she decided to change her ways.

They knew that was how it was supposed to be anyway. The two of them in that tiny apartment, sharing their lives, meals, a bed.

Her other had gone for the holidays of course, but Spring Break would be theirs.

A friend in their circle had offered the entire circle to join them at their home. So the gaggle of girls convened on the break in Las Vegas. The friend knew of a few places that really didn’t check identifications.

They also found a chapel that was happy to take money from the couple for a symbolic but not yet legal ceremony.

It didn’t matter though because they would wait until it was, or go up to Canada later because they were together the way it was supposed to be.

A week before finals. Two weeks before summer again. She already planned to stay, a coach helped her find a job. Her goal was to finally pick an actual major. Her other would leave again. They would be okay though. The previous summer wasn’t easy but it wasn’t difficult. They had made it through that.

A week before finals, also known as dead week. College students wandering around campus like zombies or something. She thought it was a dumb phrase as she stared at her math book reviewing the earlier chapters. Her mind wandered to the empty spot next to her on their couch and the reason they had to study apart.

Her love had gone to campus for a group study… chemistry. With all her other pre-med biology student buddies.

It was just as well though, as when they studied together it was constant distractions and less studying. Or as they would jokingly refer to it as ‘studying anatomy.’

She tosses and turns that night. The last text she received was ‘Got another hour. Get some sleep. I’ll gladly wake you up when I get home.’ So, she went to bed. The last one she sent ‘It’s late and I’m getting worried’ had no reply.

Panic came that morning with the light. Calls went to voicemail. Others who answered her call could not answer her question.

The door opened. She was already pacing and changed direction to the door as she heard the key in the lock. Her words ‘oh thank goodness’ stopped short on her tongue.

She recognized them. The parents. They were red-eyed, exhausted, and a very good distance from home.

Confusion. Questions. Why was she there?

Anger. So much anger. The kind of anger that consumes, devastation, lashing out at anyone and anything pretending that something could have been done. It was aimed at her.

She would know what it was like in a few hours when it sank in. She would feel the same, it would hold her and drop her to her knees sometimes, for months… years.

At that moment she was helpless. Hopeless.

Homeless.

They told her to get out. She was told to leave. She took very little with her and was forced to prove it was hers.

How she stayed that week to finish her finals she wasn’t sure. Actually she was sure, her love would want her to. She couldn’t disappoint.

Blurry-eyed, she finished the last one and turned it in. A classmate asked for a ride home. She knew the apartment complex well enough, the drive was muscle memory and she parked in her old spot.

Next to the dumpster sat that couch, it's green cracked fake leather looking even more worn in the springtime sun. They always had it covered in a sheet or blanket. Cuddled on it. Jumping up when her team scored and spilling chips or popcorn everywhere while her love rolled her eyes. Making love.

Trash. Abandoned. Left.

Snap.

The couch was no longer in a condition to be rescued by new tenants. Her favorite perfectly weighted aluminum baseball bat was in two pieces. She didn’t even know that was possible.

With her numb arms she drove. The general direction was towards home. Except, she had no home, her home was gone.

Dead.

Her real home had been south, in the opposite direction. She headed north to where she grew up. The city she grew up in wasn’t big in comparison. But for the sparse northern area and its rural outlying towns, it was huge. It was big enough that when she stayed with a friend from high school, her family had successfully avoided her.

During the summer they headed further north. Her and a group of guys. A border crossing. Alcohol. Weed. A general sense of fuck it all. A chance to feel it all. To feel nothing.

The boys were drunk and starting fights. Over pool tables and women. She wasn’t entirely sure how she managed to keep them from getting arrested that night. One bartender was super grateful and slipped her a phone number. She couldn’t call though, she reminded her of her other who was gone.

Keeping her friends out of trouble gave her a brief sense of accomplishment. It didn’t last. The calm times, the moments when she felt okay. How quickly they would disappear.

The second trip to the city up north. Same bar. Same bartender. This time waitressing as it was a weekend, busier.

Five whiskey drinks later and five times a witness to waitress getting groped.

Anger.

There was no exchange of words before she laid him out. Her friends managed to pull her back and then they scattered.

She enjoyed the rush and the run. She got back to her exercise regimen she had for sports. It helped.

It wasn’t until the end of summer before they made their way back up across the border again. Different place. Club. Dancing.

She slipped out without notification and walked to the bar. She was hoping to apologize to the attractive bartender and maybe get a copy of the phone number again. She had thrown the original out.

She wasn’t there.

He was.

Words were thrown at her as she tried to extricate herself from the situation. They followed. Chase. Wrong turn.

Cornered.

The police arrived to see only one punch, her fist connecting with a face. She was cuffed and stuffed in the back of a car.

She was released before she even could make her phone call. The older gentleman introduced himself and explained how he witnessed it all. Even the previous times she had been there. It was his favorite bar.

He reminded her of her favorite coach from high school. He told her she shared similarities to his sister. She could stop a fight, she could defend, she could hold her own. He was a retired law professor and published author and helped with her legal defense. The potential assault charge got dropped.

Brave. Loyal. Tough.

It’s how he described his sister, who had been a cop. She was told she’d be a good one too. He would sponsor her if she stayed and enrolled. It took a while but she was in the academy by the following spring. She told him about her placement as a deputy in a small town after graduation. He was there to see her graduate.

But not much longer after that.

Of all the people that had left, he was the most difficult to having missing today.

In the room, looking at all that she had gained and listening to the words said, of course she had thought about all that she had lost. All the things that brought her to a day she thought she would probably never see. Surrounded by friends.

No… Family.

She never thought she would have family again. She never thought she could love again. But here it was. And words were being said...

“Repeat after me. I, Nicole, take you, Waverly.”