“Guess this is it.” My dad solemnly said before sighing.
He’d just stopped the car in front of the Cedar Grove Academy’s student housing. At the sight of the building I nervously chewed my nails. My older sister Channel didn’t seem to share my anxiety, playing around her phone in the backseat.
“Well, obviously.” I nervously muttered. “We visited two weeks ago, not like it could’ve gone anywhere in the meantime.”
“I mean this is the last time we see each others for a while.”
I felt a noose form in my stomach. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“It’s my last tour after that it’s back to civilian life for me.” He said with a sad smile. He put an arm around my head and drew me closer, mushing me against the fabric of his army uniform.
“Can you at least come and help us unpack?”
He took a look at his watch. It wasn’t the fancy one, that one was safe in storage. The one he wore just a cheap one he’d bought for the days ahead. “Got plenty enough time for that.”
The three of us hopped out of our van and went for the trunk. There was a lot of stuff; clothes, blankets, desk fans, school supplies. With my dad about to leave for an eighteen month tour of duty Channel and I were relegated to living on the school’s campus. Dad and Channel picked up most of the stuff, I grabbed a few things only for my dad to frown.
“Are you sure you’re good carrying all that?” He asked.
“I’m fine dad.”
“You don’t have to force yourself like that, we can carry it all.”
“Dad, I said I’m fine.” I rolled my eyes before doing a little jig to prove my point. Ever since the accident he’d turned into a big papa bear. Not that he had any choice with mom gone…
“Let’s go!” Channel said. “This is way heavy.”
I didn’t argue and marched for the house. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just your average family home even if it was larger than usual. We didn’t have to knock at the door that a couple in their late sixties answered; Mr and Mrs Carmody, the house parents.
“Please come in.” They said, stepping out of the way. “Hayden will be in room five and Channel in six.”
“They’re not together?” My dad asked.
“We prefer to group people by age, it helps getting them accommodated to boarding and make friends.” Mrs Carmody explained. “They’ll just be one door away from each other.”
We stepped for the staircase only for Mr Carmody to intercept me.
“Oh dear, let me take that.” He didn’t give me a second to protest that he had already swiped the bags I’d been carrying and was hauling them upstairs.
I sighed before following everyone upstairs. My room wasn’t anything spectacular, it was small with a bunk bed, two dressers and two desk taking most of the space, leaving only a small area to navigate. The room was otherwise bare, the closet empty too. Clearly my roommate hadn’t made it yet.
I started putting my things down when Mrs Carmody came to me.
“Girl’s bathroom and living rooms are upstairs. The Boys rooms and showers are in the wing.” She said. “You’re not allowed in the other sex’s part of the house but the den, living room, dining room and kitchen are open to everyone. Understood?”
“Wake up is at seven, breakfast is served at seven thirty. You have to change and shower before then. Diner is at six. Quiet time at nine and lights out at ten. Weekends are more loose.”
I nodded and thanked her again before focusing on my things. My dad came and helped me do the bed and move the heavy stuff, occasionally going to help Channel set up her own room.
While I was alone the door of my room opened and a girl I’d never seen before walked in. I could tell with just a glance we weren’t alike; she was tall, skinny and everything about her was so perfect and manicured; her hair, her makeup, her nails even. On the other hand I was short, slightly pudgy which my dad insisted was just ‘baby fat’ and rather unkempt. She had natural blonde hair and blue eyes. She was that kind of girl that boys would probably go crazy over.
“Hi!” She said, smiling perfect white teeth at me. “I’m Evelyn.”
“Hayden.” I said with a timid wave.
She came forward and put down her first bag down, soon followed by a man and woman I presumed were her parents, all equally neat and perfect. She introduced them to me as Brigite and
“Leaving me the top bunk? I thought it was the prized one.” She joked.
“I couldn’t get up there if my life depended on it.” I answered, it hadn’t sounded as comedic as I’d wanted it, more like grim.
She turned around and looked at me, a brow raised.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright.” I shrugged. “Are you from around here?”
“No, but I convinced my parents to let me come here. I really wanted to try the whole boarding school experience and a fresh environment. Cedar Grove’s prestige did help them along with a certain promise I’d take up law classes.”
“Oh nice.” I answered. She was definitely one of those share-everything type.
“What about you?”
“I live- used to live just a few blocks away but my dad’s getting deployed in Kuwait.”
“Oh my god, that must be terrifying.”
I shrugged. “He’s a helicopter mechanic so I’m not that worried. Doesn’t leave the base without a helicopter escort.”
“Well, that’s comforting, I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to have your parent as an infantryman. What about your mother?”
“She’s… Not around anymore…” Was all I could say, my eyes heading straight for the parquet flooring. I bit my lip, trying not to think of her. I’d been over a year but it still felt so fresh…
We both went silent as we unpacked. Thankfully the awkwardness was interrupted by my dad.
“Knock-knock.” He said as he hovered at the entrance of my room. “Channel’s all set up and I still have some time before I have to report to the base. How about we go get some ice cream?”
“Sure.” I smiled. “I can finish what’s left later.”
We left the house, making sure to keep our electronics with us for safekeeping and packed back into the car. We drove only a few streets to the local dairy queen. We got some ice cream cones and found a place further away to sit down.
“I’ll miss you two so much.” My dad said, putting a hand on both of us.
“I’ll make sure to write all the time.” I said.
“Then I’ll eagerly await your letters.” He wrapped his arms around me and I leaned down against his chest, feeling the way it moved with his every breath.
“You are such a daddy’s girl, Hayden.” Channel said with a chuckle. “It’s your first year of high school, it’s meant to be enjoyed, not to think of your dad. You’ll see dad, I’m going to make sure that happen, I just need to get her a boyfriend and then she’ll be alright. Won’t even think of how much she misses you.”
“Oh my god Channel!”
“Maybe one of those geeks she’s always spending her time with. You’d think she’d notice one of them but nope, it’s all about video or card games with her. I wonder why… ” She put her fingers to her chin. “What if it’s not her type?” She said, nudging my father.
“Woah, are you calling me a lesbian?” I said, choking on my saliva.
“I dunno, are you?” She teased.
“We are so not talking about me being or not being a lesbians right now.”
“Oh come on, you know we’d still love you.” She hopped closer and wrapped an arm around me. “Gay or not you’d always be my little sis.”
“Oh my god. Dad! Make her stop!” I pouted.
Instead my dad just burst out laughing and Channel and I stopped, looking at him. “You two; please never change.” He said once he regained his composure. “And she’s right about being gay not changing anything.”
“Not you too!” I rolled over on my back. “Dad, Channel, I like guys okay? Just not my friends. Just because I’m a tomboy doesn’t mean i’m gay.”
My dad chuckled. “Whatever darling, I don’t mind either way. You two take care of each other alright?”
“We will.” We both promised. Channel gave me a quick hug and I returned it. We argued, we fought, we annoyed each other but in the end we were family.
“Channel, try not to tease her too much?”
“Ooh, I’ll try my best but I can’t make any promise. She’s just so fun to tease.”
In answer I flicked my finger at her ear.
“Ouch! You little runt!” She shoved her half-eaten cone in my father’s arm before wrestling me down and tickling me without mercy.
“You- bas-tard-” I screamed, “if I drop my ice cream I’ll kick you!”
Our little ‘fight’ was interrupted by the sound of my dad’s watch alarm beeping.
“Is it time for you to go?” I asked, Channel having stopped.
“I’m afraid so.”
The sun was already making its way down, the first colors of the evening showing. In a few hours he’d be in another country, half a world away from us. I got up and wrapped my arms around him tighter than ever before. The last time I’d hold him in nearly a year…