There have been an increase in animal attacks on the outskirts of Portland, leaving many of the citizens and university students hospitalized and some even dead. Authorities believe the problem stems from rabies infected packs of wild dogs though test results from the victims have been inconclusive so far. Police along with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are advising that citizens keep out of wooded areas until the problem can be taken care of.
Luke rolled his eyes at the printed news article his mother slid in front of him, which had also moved the cereal bowl he’d been eating out of aside. Ever since he’d been accepted into University of Oregon, his mother had been trying to find every which way possible to talk him out of going. Now it was clear she was getting desperate if she was shoving a news article she’d printed off the internet about wild dog attacks at him. A sigh left him and he pushed the article back at her across the surface of the breakfast bar and turned his attention back to what was left of his cereal, which was quickly becoming soggy.
“Honey, are you sure you don’t want to go to a school that’s closer to home,” she asked. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“Yes, it is too late,” Luke replied, leaving his spoon in the bowl. “Move in is next weekend and your hotel rooms are already booked.”
“It’s just so far away and look at this!” She picked up the printed article and waved it in his face. “Wild dog attacks, Luke!”
Luke groaned. “Mom, please...you’re killing me a little…” Suddenly he didn’t have much of an appetite anymore. After weeks of back and forth arguing about his choice of school, he was over it. “Besides, Portland is an hour away from Eugene. Ashton and I aren’t even going to be living anywhere near those attacks.
“You think wild dog packs don’t travel?”
“Mom are you ser-” Luke was cut off as his father entered the room, a sigh escaping him.
“Liz will you leave the kid alone?” Andrew Hemmings groaned as he took a seat next to Luke and pulled the printed article toward him. “Really? Wild dog attacks?”
“I think it’s a perfectly acceptable reason for Luke to choose a school closer to home,” Liz argued.
Luke didn’t think so at all. In fact, he was pretty well fed up with his mother’s constant worrying and hovering over him the last few months. He couldn’t recall her being like this with his older brothers, Ben and Jack, one of which had already graduated and one who was set to graduate this year. Neither of them had chosen schools close to home and yet his mother seemed to think he was incapable of going away to school and surviving it.
His mother looked between him and his father and when it was clear neither of them were going to side with her, she snatched the article out of her husband’s hand and stalked out of the kitchen.
“Don’t let it get to you,” said his father as a hand clapped down on Luke’s shoulder. “Your mom’s just having trouble with the idea of not having any kids in the house anymore. Empty nest syndrome.”
Luke groaned faintly. “I guess.”
His father gave him a sympathetic smile before he slid off the stool. “Have a good last day at work, kiddo.” He left Luke alone in the kitchen.
Luke turned his attention back down the the cereal bowl, no longer interested in finishing it. He stood from the stool he had been sitting on and took the bowl to the sink to pour the leftover cereal and milk down the drain. Luke rinsed the bowl and spoon and placed them in the dishwasher before he left the kitchen.
* * *
“Earth to Luke. Luke Hemmings come in!”
Luke looked up at the sound of his name, startled, and realized that the shot glass beneath the espresso machine was about to overflow. He cursed under his breath, punching the button to stop the machine from dispensing and moving the glass out of the way. They’d been having problems with the machine all week so not paying attention wasn’t exactly a good mix. Luke narrowly missed being burned by the hot espresso.
“Dude, are you alright?” Ashton asked. Luke turned to his best friend and took the paper cup that was held out to him.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just daydreaming,” he replied. Luke finished the drink by sliding the cup into a paper sleeve and handing it to the customer across the counter. “Sorry about the wait, Mr. Adams.”
“Ah it’s no problem, Luke. We’re going to miss you and Ashton around here.” Mr. Adams picked up his coffee with a nod before he walked over to his usual table.
Luke smiled faintly. As much as he wouldn’t admit it out loud, he was going to miss home and the things he had always known. He also knew that he wanted to leave Michigan and the small town life behind. It had been something he and Ashton had dreamed about since they were freshman and had to really start thinking about college and life after graduation. Collectively, they had decided to apply for University of Oregon during their junior year. For months they had waited on pins and needles to see if they’d been accepted and by some miracle, they both had. It was a small comfort to know some part of his childhood would be coming with him. Luke and Ashton had been friends since preschool.
With his customer out of the way, Luke finally turned to his best friend and shrugged at the raised eyebrow. “It’s our last day working here. I’m kind of out of it,” he said by way of explanation.
Ashton grinned and threw his arm around Luke’s neck to drag him away from the counter. “Come on, dude. Be excited! We’re getting the hell out of this town and going some place way more exciting. Oregon is like the land of the weird. We’ll fit right in.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Luke laughed. Part of the reason they’d chosen Eugene was because it was close to Portland. The west coast in general just appealed to Luke in a way no other part of the country did.
“Then let’s clock out and never have to make coffee again!” Ashton exclaimed.
Luke allowed his friend to drag him over to the register and pressed his thumb to the scanner so he could clock off. When he was finished, he stepped aside so Ashton could do the same and took off his apron. It was the last time he’d ever have to wear anything that was related to Starbucks and there was a certain thrill that went through him. They were onto bigger and better things.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” Luke beamed.
As happy and excited as Luke was about the path ahead of them, as much as he looked forward to college and the future, there was something almost bittersweet about saying goodbye. They turned in their aprons and hats to their manager and said goodbye to their co-workers. They promised to drop in for visits when they were home for holidays and over the summer, and walked out the door for what felt like the last time.
“Can you believe it?” Ashton flopped into the passenger seat of Luke’s Camry and buckled up only when he was reminded to do so. “I don’t know it really feels like the beginning.”
Luke turned on the car and nodded. “Yeah, it does. Kind of scary though, too.” He didn’t look at his best friend as he admitted that, instead he fiddled with his phone to bring up his most recent playlist on Spotify.
“Dude, I know. No one ever said growing up wasn’t scary but you got me.”
“Yeah. Let me tell you how you might be the only reason my mother isn’t chaining me to the basement.” Luke pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street, heading for Ashton’s house.
Ashton was the eldest of three with a single mom that always worked two jobs to support them. It hadn’t left him with much of a childhood, the complete opposite of Luke who was the youngest and had both of his parents. Ashton had always been more responsible than Luke, more grown up because he had to be. His mother had admitted to him she felt only mildly better about Luke going to school so far away because of Ashton.
“She knows I’ll take care of your dumbass,” Ashton grinned. “What’s really on your mind?”
He really ought to have known that Ashton would be able to notice something was off about him today and Luke shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just the impending change.” He kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. “Yeah, it’s exciting and I can’t wait but it’s also kinda sad too, you know? This is all we’ve ever known. I think part of me is gonna miss it.”
Luke spared a glance at Ashton who nodded. “Makes sense.”
Silence fell between the two of them and Luke turned his attention back to the road. Even though Ashton appeared flippant about the fact they were moving across the country, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy on his friend either. It never was when you left your entire world behind and embarked on a new adventure.
“At least we’re in it together,” Luke mused, “and we have a party tonight so we should probably make the most of it and enjoy our last night of teenage stupidity.”
“Now that’s what I like to hear.”
Luke laughed and shook his head. They could put off the worry for now and meet it head on once they actually got to Oregon.
“Cal’s excited we’re gonna be there,” Ashton said, his tone a little more casual than really necessary.
“Your internet boyfriend?” Luke grinned. He’d teased Ashton for ages about his online buddy of the last two years.
“Fuck off, he’s not my boyfriend.”
Ashton’s face turned pink from embarrassment and Luke laughed, delighted to have gotten a rise out of his friend. “Except you’re blushing so guess that means you’ve got a crush on your internet pal. I’m not judging you. He’s hot.”
The only response he got was a scoff and Luke felt satisfied over the fact he successfully ruffled Ashton’s feathers yet again about Calum. Luke grinned and blew a kiss to Ashton as his friend go out of the car and flipped him the bird.
* * *
Luke and Ashton packed up Luke’s dad’s truck with the things they would need for college, marking off each thing the checklist suggested they bring. Both of them had pooled their money together to buy a mini fridge since they’re dorm didn’t come with one, among other shared things. What they couldn’t fit in the truck went in Ashton’s mom’s van. The plan was to take two vehicles since Ashton’s siblings were coming along as well. In the morning, they started early on their 36 hour trip from Michigan to Oregon, only stopping when it was necessary.
Move in weekend for college was something Luke and his family had done twice before so they were prepared for the utter chaos that surrounded them the second they entered onto the University of Oregon’s campus. Thousands of people moved around them to find their dorm assignments, get their class schedules and find out when they were meeting their RA. Luke knew it would be overwhelming but he hadn’t realized how different it felt when it was him that would be doing all of this. It had been easy to simply watch Ben and Jack do it.
He also didn’t remember there being quite this many tears when they had dropped his brothers off for college but Luke’s shirt had wet spot on it from where his mother’s face had been pressed against his chest. He sighed, patting her back and feeling the littlest bit embarrassed over the whole situation. He looked around to find other mothers - and some fathers - were in tears as well. Luke supposed he couldn’t really hold it against his mother for being upset, or he wouldn’t have if she hadn’t done this twice before.
“Mom, it’s gonna be okay. I swear we’ll be fine,” he groaned. Luke was really glad his brothers weren’t here to witness this because they would never let him live it down. “You didn’t do this with Ben or Jack.”
His mother raised her head, wiping tears from her eyes and glared at him. “You’re different. You’re my baby.”
It took everything in him not to roll his eyes and he looked to his father, helpless. His father took the hint and wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“We won’t tell Ben and Jack that you’re mom cried over you leaving home. Don’t want them to think she loves them less than she does you,” his father teased. It brought a slight laugh out of his mother.
“I love all my sons the same,” she defended, “but they’re all grown and out of the house now and it’ll be so empty and quiet.”
Part of Luke felt bad for his mother. She had spent so much of her life raising him and his brother, sacrificing for them, and now he was the last to leave. He recalled his father saying it was ‘empty nest syndrome’ but he hadn’t thought that was a real thing. Maybe it was, so he reached for his mom and pulled her into another hug.
“It won’t be that long till I’m home for Christmas,” he assured her. “I love you, mom.”
“I love you too, honey, and I’m very proud of you.”
Luke smiled and gave her one last squeeze before he let her go. His mother reached for his face, cupping it between her hands for a moment. It didn’t seem that long ago that Luke was looking up at his mother instead of down at her. The realization of how quickly his childhood had passed hit him suddenly and he felt his chest tighten. This was really it, the moment that he started becoming an adult and would rely less and less on his parents. It was as exciting as it was frightening.
“We should get to the hotel so we can try and get a good night’s sleep in,” his father said, hugging his wife to his side. “We have an early morning ahead of us.”
Luke nodded. Just behind his parents, he could see Ashton hugging his brother and sister to him, both of their faces red and tearstained. He knew it was going to be hard on Ashton to watch them go. Luke pulled both of his parents to him and hugged them tightly. They said their final goodbyes and Ashton joined him as their families waved goodbye and left the campus. He let out a sigh and looked to his friend, nudging him gently.
“You good?” he asked.
Ashton nodded. “I’m good.” Luke could see he was trying his best not to cry.
“Let’s get college life started then.”
Luke hooked his arm around Ashton’s neck and guided him toward their dorm room where their things waited to be unpacked. Their parents had help them set up the rooms so only their clothes and personal items were left. Neither of them really knew what this was going to be like but Luke was glad he had Ashton with him. That little bit of familiarity was going to help the transition in a lot of ways. They had gotten particularly lucky to not only have been accepted to the same school but to he roommates as well. The idea of sharing a room with a stranger had horrified Luke and he had pushed hard to make sure Ashton was assigned to the same dorm.
“This is it,” Luke chimed as they stepped through the doorway of what was to be there new home for the next couple of years at least inHamilton Hall.
The room was about the same size as Luke’s bedroom back home but instead of a queen sized bed, a large desk and plenty of closet space, it was set up for two people. A single bed was positioned against the walls on either side of the room, with wood cabinets at the head of them. At the foot of the beds were two small desks beneath a large window they were clearly going to have to keep clear of junk so they could work on them. Luke was grateful for the set of drawers beneath each of the beds that were currently lacking any bedding.
“You’re going to get so sick of seeing my face every day,” Ashton mused, the grin on his face entirely too wide.
Luke rolled his eyes. “I’ve seen your face just about every day since we were four. I haven’t smothered you in your sleep yet.”
“There’s a first for everything!”
A laugh bubbled it’s way out of Luke and he shook his head as he crossed the room to his bed with the intention of making it first. He pulled out the fitted sheet, a flat sheet and the blanket he’d brought from home and stretched them across the mattress, glad that it was an extra long bed to accommodate how tall he was. It only took him a few minutes before he was finished and he flopped back onto the bed. The walls were bare but Luke could see small holes in the walls and places where tape had peeled away the paint from residents past. It made him smile faintly. He couldn’t wait to cover the walls and make this place his own.
By the time he sat up, Ashton had already finished putting his bed together and he’s begun to store clothes away in the drawers beneath it. He ought to be doing the same but there are other things on his mind. Luke wanted to explore the campus, find his classes before Monday morning so they aren’t stumbling around like idiots.
“Hey, let’s go check out the rest of the campus,” he suggested. He slid off the bed and reached out one long leg to nudge Ashton’s calf with his foot. “We still gotta figure out who our RA is and when we’re supposed to be having this social bond fire...thing…”
Ashton nodded and put the last bit of clothing inside the drawer. “Yeah, sounds good. I guess this can wait.”
“We have a whole year here, dude. C’mon.” Excitement unfurled inside of Luke and he nodded his head toward the door. “Let’s go.”
Ashton followed him out and locked their door behind them.