Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chapter 2

She was on the road by eight in the morning, having skipped the tasteless continental breakfast. An hour in, she stopped at Starbucks and bought an iced mocha and a scone. Smelling the scent of the scone, Emma began to whine, so she pulled out a treat bag and gave her one.

They rode in peace for several hours after that, listening to the Eagles and the Beatles and all of the bands that made driving less banal for her. Finally, they reached the bridge leading to the islands, and she felt butterflies stirring in her stomach.

"Emma," she said softly, resting her hand on the top of Emma's carrier, "we're almost there."

They crossed the bridge into the Outer Banks of North Carolina and continued south, down the bypass. After another half hour, they were approaching the town of Manteo. She knew it like the back of her hand, and was immediately taken back to her summers here with her grandmother, digging in the sand and going for walks along the waterfront and even shopping at the legendary Christmas Shop.

When her grandmother had passed seven years ago, she had left her tiny cottage on the island to her. She had been torn about what to do; she knew, on one hand, that the cottage was prime real estate and could be sold for a tidy sum, but on the other hand, she wasn't eager to rid herself of her grandmother's memory. So she had done what had seemed to be the most logical thing at the time. She had done nothing. Of course, she had kept up with the taxes on the small property and hired a maintenance guy to take a look every month at the place to make sure it was inhabitable and well cared for, but otherwise, she had sat on it. Now, as she approached it, she found herself relieved that she had chosen to do nothing. She and Emma would be content in the tiny cottage.

She pulled into the driveway and noted that the yard was well-kept and the house relatively attractive for its age. It was a tiny bungalow, with three little bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area, and one and a half bathrooms. Nothing to brag about; in fact, it was quite a bit smaller than the house she was coming from. But then again, she was bringing nearly nothing with her. So it should all work out.

As she opened the front door, the dank and musty smell of an empty house greeted her. Ted, her maintenance man, had been kind enough to come by and start the air for her, but the house still had the smell of a building that had sat empty for a long while. She closed the door behind her and lowered Emma's carrier from her shoulder to the counter, and then took the tiny dog out. Emma was excited, her little body writhing in her grasp, and she put her down on the ground. "There you go," she said, "Go explore." Emma took off quickly, running to the next room and disappearing into a bedroom.

She walked slowly from room to room, remembering the time she had spent here in the past. She meandered into the room that had always been hers when she visited, noting that the sign indicating it was hers--"Mina's room"--was still there, almost as though she were ten again, here for a visit with her beloved Gram. She couldn't remember exactly when Gram had accepted her desire to be called "Mina" instead of her given Melina; just that she had come for a visit one day and the name "Mina" had announced itself on the door. And from that day forward she had always been Mina to everyone except her mother, who insisted on Melina despite her protests.

Her bedroom looked much the same. A chest of drawers, a queen bed with a comforting quilt her grandmother had made, and a collage of photos of three generations of women, beginning with Gram and ending with her. She found herself smiling as she examined the collage and allowed herself to be taken back to memories of her life before moving. She had been too young to appreciate it before. Now she did.

Suddenly she felt something nip her shoe. Sure enough, Emma had pounced on her foot. She reached down and picked her up, and Emma quickly leaned forward to lick her on the face.

"You like it, huh?" Mina told her contentedly. "Told you that you would." She snuggled the tiny dog against her side. "Well, no point in putting it off any more, as Gram would say. Let's get our stuff inside and then we can figure out what we need to pick up from the store." Emma's body continued to wriggle, and Mina chuckled to herself. If it were up to her, her body would be wriggling with excitement too.

Chapter One

She felt free.

When she first came up with the idea, she had thought of a million reasons why it would never work. Her responsibilities, her commitments, even her rent all burst up in her head as reasons that a woman doesn't just get up and leave her life at age forty. That you don't just abandon everything you know.

And yet here she was. It had been surprisingly easy to walk away. Despite the fact that she knew she would miss her students and even some of her coworkers, despite the fact that she had fallen in love with the tiny midwestern town she had been living in, despite the fact that she had given away more than half of her worldly possessions to a thrift store that helped people in need, it had been, in retrospect, an easy choice.

She had her car, her luggage, and what she considered the basics: good books, a basic set of cookware, and the towels she had bought the week before she decided to give up her life. And her dog, the tiny little mutt she had adopted from a no-kill shelter three years ago and who accompanied her everywhere.

It was more obvious what wasn't with her--a husband, children, and all the conventions that she had imagined she would have. She knew a lot of women in her field, especially those who had achieved as much and as early as she had, sacrificed the white picket fence fantasy. She guessed she was one of them, although it wasn't something she had done on purpose. In fact, she still wanted those things as much as ever. But her time was running out.

When she had awoken that Thursday morning and looked in the mirror, realized her womb was a clock ticking away and she had given her prime years to a job that she wasn't in love with anymore, that had been the moment. The moment she decided to walk away. Fortunately she had just finished the semester and wouldn't be letting her students down. Grades had been turned in, and other than them missing her (and her the same) they had no more expectations from one another.

She kept the dog in a carrier, strapped in the front seat like a child. This might be the closest she ever got, and she didn't want the poor animal to go flying through the glass in an accident.

It had been a long drive--seventeen hours so far--and she was less than five hours out from her destination. She decided to stop and spend the night at a hotel and pick up tomorrow. She was drowsy and didn't want to fall asleep at the wheel.

It was a chain hotel and the front desk clerk hooked her up with a room quickly, then went on to explain about the complimentary breakfast. She found herself nodding, but more to shut him up. She knew she'd be on the road in the morning. She just wanted to get there.

Once inside her room, she unhooked the dog from her leash and set her up with food and water before opening the fast food bag she had picked up before stopping. The dog took a couple bites of kibble before approaching her slowly, jumping on the bed and sniffing at the chicken tenders she was eating.

"Emma," she cooed softly, offering the animal a tiny bit of her biscuit, "this will be good. For both of us. I promise."

She knew she was promising herself, her logical self, since her gut had run rampant on this one, and the need to escape college town life had been furiously intense. But for the first time in a long time, she felt she knew where she was going, although she had no idea what she would do when she got there.

"It's okay," she told Emma, who had settled on the bed, curled up against her. "We'll figure it out."