Daylight was just starting to break as she taped up the last box and stood back onto her feet. Rachel placed her hands on her hips and softly sighed. Her body ached for sleep but she couldn’t stop now. She still needed to put these boxes into the trailer so she could get on the road. Stretching her stiff muscles, she slowly looked around at the room that had become her personal sanctuary all through high school. The walls were completely bare and the mood seemed depressing and heartbreaking.This wasn’t just a bedroom to her. This was the place she hid to escape the chaos in her life. It was the place she wrote all her books, held slumber parties, and watched countless hours of MTV videos. This bedroom was the only safe haven she had and she was leaving it to embark onto the next chapter of her life...college. It almost seemed unreal that this day had finally come. It was bittersweet and Rachel couldn’t decide if she was happy or terrified to be leaving. Either way, she knew it was the right decision.
A chilly draft slithered across her back and Rachel shivered lightly as she walked to her window. She quietly closed it and turned the lock. She closed her eyes at the touch of the cold glass against her fingertips. For a moment, she felt numb and heavy in her legs. She didn’t want to move from her spot. If she moved, everything would become real and her life would change dramatically. As much as she knew that change is what she needed, she couldn’t help but fear that things would crumble beneath her. All of her life, she had been painfully alone and forced to grow up quickly. She was never allowed to be herself or even make mistakes. Everything she did had to fit perfectly into a mold for her life or she’d suffer the consequences.
Rachel’s borrow furrowed deeply as a sudden wave of anxiety hit her fiercely and was the doubts of her decision to move to Florida swam through her head. She knew moving away was the answer, but she had doubts that things would work out the way they were planned. Plans had fallen through before and luck has never been on her side. She swallowed back the rise of uneasiness within her chest as she thought about all the possibilities of things going wrong once she arrived. It was almost too scary to think about. For once, she just wanted to have things go her way. It was something she felt she deserved.
Rachel exhaled quietly as she pressed her nose against the glass, her breath softly fogging against her lips. She looked out at the driveway and saw her car sitting alone on the pavement. Another sigh escaped her lips as she noticed the touch of frost on the hood. It was barely August and it was obvious that fall was coming early in the Missouri region. The thought of cold weather approaching made her smirk of the idea of sunshine and beaches coming her way. It was at that moment that she assured herself that her decision was the right one. She had to get out of that house. There was no other way around it. If she stayed there any longer, she knew she would be swallowed into the darkness of her mother’s own personal misery. It was time to take control of her own life. It was time to be free.
Rachel stepped away from the window and walked to her closet. It was completely bare except for a few wire hangers lightly dangling from the rod. Running her hand over the shelf, she stood up on her tiptoes to make sure she didn’t leave anything behind. Slowly lowering herself back down, she sighed as she glanced at the full length mirror on the door. Aside from the box, it was the last thing to take with her. Rachel studied her reflection in the mirror, frowning a little as she smoothed out her hair.. Her slender, 5’1” frame stood meekly in front of her as she observed her black leggings and blue tank top. She stared into her own dark blue eyes and pursed her lips as she slid her purple scrunchie off her wrist and pulled her long, brown hair into a messy bun. Her doubt began to creep over her again as she constructed a plan to remove the mirror from the door. Her fingers traced over the chipping pink paint on the frame as she gripped the mirror tightly. With a touch of frustration, she grabbed the edges of the door and carefully peeled it off the door. The adhesive tape crackled as she pulled it a little harder but the bottom right corner was refusing to give. Rachel grunted as she pried the it off with a loud pop. She closed her eyes at the sound and stepped away from the door with the mirror in her grip. Rachel sighed of relief as she opened her eyes to see that the mirror remained undamaged in her hands. She quietly stepped into the dark hallway and made her way to the front door with the mirror, making it a priority to not break it on her way to the car.
When she stepped outside, she immediately regretted not putting on her favorite oversized Mossimo sweatshirt. A cold breeze blew past her as she quickly made her way to the U-Haul trailer attached to the back of her car. Shivering against the wind, Rachel swiftly unlocked the trailer and slipped the mirror in an opening just thin enough to hold it snugly. Her teeth began to lightly chatter as she ran back into the house to grab the last box.
Rachel crept through the living room, careful to not wake her mother, who was passed out on the couch, the after effect of her drunken adventure the night before. Rachel moved quickly past the living room and back to her bedroom. She stopped in her tracks, surprised to see her brother, Adam, standing in her empty room. Observing him still dressed in his blue Superman pajamas with the feeties, she couldn’t help but smile at the appearance of her baby brother. He was always a little immature, but she loved him anyway. Despite the fact that he was eight years old, seeing him standing there among the bare walls made him appear years younger. It was sad and melancholic. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Leaving him behind at such a young age shouldn’t have happened, but staying wasn’t an option.
“Are you leaving now?” he asked softly, looking up at her with sadness in his brown eyes.
“I just have this last box,” Rachel said in a hoarse whisper. “I’m surprised you’re awake.”
“I wanted to be up when you left,” he said as he picked up the box for her. “Walk with me to the car?”
“Okay, but be quiet, Mom’s still asleep on the couch.”
“What else is new?” he muttered as he carried the box out of the room.
Rachel followed him outside and opened the trailer door for him. Adam carefully placed the box inside and looked at her. Rachel observed her baby brother, hardly believing he was already almost as tall as her. She tousled his curly, black hair and smiled; giving him her best brave face.
“You’re growing up so fast, kiddo,” Rachel said as she pulled him into a hug.
“I’m gonna miss you,” he said softly, squeezing her tight.
“I’m gonna miss you too,” Rachel said as she hugged him tighter. “You be good.”
“I’m always good,” he said as he looked up at her with a frown. “It’s Mom who isn’t.”
Rachel sighed and slowly nodded. “I know,” she said as she led him back to the house. “Just try and stay out of her way.”
“I’ll try,” he said as he followed her into the house, quietly shutting the door behind them.
“Go back to bed,” Rachel whispered as they entered the living room. “I’ll call you from Florida.”
“Okay,” Adam replied as he gave her one last squeeze. “I love you, Sis.”
“I love you too,” Rachel said tearfully. “I’ll see you soon.”
She stood in the dark living room and watched him go back to his room, blinking back the tears as she heard him close the door. Her glance shifted over to her mother who was lightly snoring on the couch. Rachel sighed as she walked over to the coffee table and picked up the empty glass that sat on the edge. As usual, her mother didn’t use the coaster and she left a ring under her glass. Rachel frowned as the scent of vodka reached her nose.
“Jesus, Mother,” Rachel whispered as she went into the kitchen.
She took a moment to tidy up the counter and put away the dirty dishes before leaving. Rachel pulled out the full trash bag from the bin and tied it up. She made her way to the garage, grabbing the empty cooler with her. Her footsteps echoed as she set the trash bag by the deep freezer. As quietly as she could, she filled up the cooler with ice and drug it back into the kitchen with her. She opened the refrigerator and began adding cans of soda and the sandwiches she had prepared the night before. The cooler was almost full as she placed the last six pack of Coke inside, her hands growing numb from the ice. Flexing her aching fingers, Rachel shut the cooler and jumped at the sight of her mother standing close by.
“What are you doing?” her mother slurred, staring at her with glossy eyes.
“Packing my snacks for the trip,” Rachel said as she stood up straight. “Just go back to sleep. I’ll be out of here in a minute.”
“Yeah, running off like a rebel,” her mother spat, rocking slightly to the left as she clumsily brushed her bangs out of her face.
“I’m going to college, Mom,” Rachel replied flatly.
“You’ll never make it out there.”
“Mother, could you for one second stop being cynical and be happy for me? Just this once?”
“You want me to be happy about my daughter running off to God knows where to do God knows what?!” she said a little louder.
“Shhh! You’re going to wake Adam,” Rachel hissed. “I’m going, Mother. Whether you like it or not, I’m going,” she continued as she grabbed the cooler. “Excuse me,” she said as she moved in the direction of the front door. She gasped as she felt her mother’s icy grip on her arm.
Rachel’s mother glared at her as she slapped her across the face. “You ungrateful little bitch! Don’t I deserve any respect? I gave you everything I had and you wanna act like none of that matters.”
Rachel winced at the pain in her cheek then pushed past her mother, fighting back the tears that were quickly approaching. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said in tears. I’m leaving and never coming back.”
“Rachel Annett, you come back here! I’m not through talking to you.”
“Goodbye, Mother,” she muttered.
Rachel let the tears spill down her cheeks as she ran out the door with the cooler safe in her arms. She shoved the cooler into the backseat and got into the driver’s seat. Rachel saw her mother at the front door, scowling at her, shouting obscenities that she couldn’t make out from behind the glass. She turned the ignition, immediately shoved her Backstreet Boys CD into the CD player, and put the car into reverse as the music to Larger Than Life filled the air. Tears still streamed down her cheeks as she backed out of the driveway and headed down the road toward the highway. Pressing harder on the gas pedal, she accelerated onto the highway, barely looking behind her to yield to oncoming traffic. As she reached the first mileage marker, she let out a gasp of air, letting go of all the pressure within her chest. A soft sob escaped her lips as she slowly pulled off onto the shoulder of the highway. Putting the car into park, she laid her head on the steering wheel and allowed herself to release the pain that she had been holding in for hours. Rachel hiccuped as she tried to calm herself, lifting her head to look around. Wiping the tears off her face, she stared down the road that would change the rest of her life. The feeling of relief, fear, and excitement hit her all at once. She had done it…the war was over. It was a new beginning…there was nothing to stand in her way. She was free.