“Shit, shit, shit!” I chanted as I navigated the sidewalk, juggling a Jenga tower of my belongings. “A little help here!”
My brother chuckled from somewhere nearby. “Nah, I’m good.”
“You know being a jerk isn’t going to make me stay, right?”
“Maybe not, but if you break your leg or get stuck cleaning forty thousand palettes of eyeshadow off the sidewalk, you probably won’t be able to leave, either.”
God, I loved Heath, but when I’d asked him to help me move, sitting around cruise-directing without lifting the first damn finger wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I should have asked his wife, Clare, instead. She wouldn’t have been able to help me get my mother’s old mahogany trunk down the stairs, but she also wouldn’t have spent the day guilt-tripping me, either.
“I’m impressed you knew they were palettes. Has Tessa already started hitting you up for makeup?” I grunted, hoisting the stack of boxes into the back of my Chevy Traverse.
Heath finally sprang into action and gave them a shove before they had the chance to tumble out. “She’s not even six yet. She’s got forty more years before she’s allowed to wear lip gloss. I figure they’ll cover eyeshadow when I’m in the grave.”
It should be noted that when it came to Heath’s sisters, his wife, or his daughters, my brother was a caveman. Obnoxious as it was, I couldn’t blame him. In a way, he’d been forced into that role at a young age. When our mother died, the five of us kids had ranged in age from four to sixteen—Heath being the oldest and the only boy. I was the youngest, and to be honest, I barely remembered my parents at all.
I did, however, remember Heath kicking my father out after he’d lost himself down a bottle of Jack.
I also remembered Heath brushing my hair before picture day, putting Band-Aids on my scrapes when I’d fallen off my bike, and forcing me to eat carrots every night at dinner because he’d read that they helped eyesight and we couldn’t afford glasses for me until he graduated from the police academy.
In all the ways that mattered, Heath was the only parent I’d ever had, and as he slammed the hatch to my clunker SUV three times before it caught, I knew watching me drive away was going to break his heart.
Don’t get me wrong. He wanted the world for me. He just wanted the world to be around the corner and within his reach.
“Come on. Don’t go.” He stared at me with sadness crinkling the corners of his baby-blue eyes, which matched my own. He added, “Say the word and I’ll unload all of this right now.”
“Please don’t start this again,” I whispered, tucking a long, blond curl behind my ear.
“I’m not starting anything, Maggie. There’s no reason why you have to leave your entire family behind and move all the way to San Francisco. You’re a creative director. Last I checked, they have a ton of brands who need help in Atlanta.”
“Yes, but none of them gave me ninety-seven thousand reasons and an insane benefits package to stay.” I patted his chest as I walked past him, my heart quietly breaking right along with his.
It wasn’t like I wanted to leave. There was something to be said about having my whole chaotic family within a hundred-mile radius. Jenna, Laurie, and Melanie were all married with kids. Add Heath, Clare, and his two girls into the mix and our family barbecues felt more like a circus. I needed a drink and two Tylenol each time I left, but I was going to miss the hell out of those crazy afternoons.
I couldn’t stay though. I’d promised myself that, no matter how terrifying it might be, I was going to get the hell out of Atlanta as soon as I graduated college. I owed my mother that much. It had taken over a year to gather the courage to actually follow through with that promise, but it was finally time.
“Come on,” I said. “I need your help carrying Mom’s trunk down.”
Heath wasn’t ready to drop it, but luckily, he followed after me. “Cost of living in San Francisco is ridiculous. Ninety-seven grand there is the equivalent of making well into six figures in Atlanta. Hell, what Roman offered you came with a six percent four-oh-one K match, health benefits, and an allotment for a home office. You’d be the richest twenty-four-year-old kid in the state.”
I took the stairs two at a time. “Give it a rest. I have an hour to get on the road or my entire timeline is going to be jacked.”
A groan rumbled in his chest, but his footsteps grew louder. “Why are you so damn stubborn?”
“Because you raised me.”
“See, I knew that was going to bite me in the ass one day.”
“Yep, and today is officially that day. Congrats.” I laughed as we walked through my apartment to my bedroom.
Short of my water bottle and a jumbo bag of road trip Blow Pops on the counter, the place was a ghost town. The movers had come a week ago, which had left me sleeping with a pillow and a blanket on the floor because I’d refused to spend seven days at Heath’s listening to his nagging. Motels weren’t usually my idea of the lap of luxury, but damn the bed at my first stop in Mississippi was calling my name.
Melanie, my one and only quasi-supportive sibling, had helped me map out my path to California. Nothing but four days, five audiobooks, and twenty-five hundred miles stood between me and a whole new life.
New job—a role that was way over my head.
New apartment—I’d yet to find.
New friends—I had no idea how to make, considering I’d lived in the same state for my entire life.
Oh God, what had I gotten myself into?
“You look like you’re about to puke,” Heath said, sporting a proud grin. “Is that… No, it can’t be. Wait, I think it is.” He narrowed his eyes and leaned toward me. “Ah, yes. The look of regret. Since you haven’t pulled out of the driveway yet, I can’t technically say I told you so, but also, I fucking told you so.”
I shot him a glare. “Keep talking and I’m going to reconsider that job in Singapore.”
“Liar,” he mumbled, reluctantly grabbing the wooden handle of my mother’s old trunk.
While I might not have remembered my mom, it hadn’t stopped me from collecting anything I could find that she had ever touched. Pictures, a journal, a few scarfs, and pieces of mismatched costume jewelry were about it, but that deep-red trunk my father had made her on their first wedding anniversary was my most prized possession of all. It was a simple design, and my father’s craftsmanship was nothing to brag about, but she’d carved all of her children’s names into the lid on the inside. From the time I was a child, I’d traced my fingers over those jagged letters more times than I could count.
I’d often imagine what she’d been thinking as she sat on the floor, knife in hand, carving those letters. Was she smiling with love and adoration? She’d only been nineteen when she had Heath. Was she happy? Was that the life she’d wanted? She was younger than I was when Laurie, her third child, was born. I couldn’t keep a fish alive, much less three tiny humans. And what about when I’d come along as number five? Was she exhausted? At only thirty-one, she’d done a lot of living. But how much of it had been about her and not about her kids?
She died four years later, within six months of finding out about the cancer. She’d never traveled or had a career outside of changing dirty diapers. She did laundry, she cleaned, she made dinner while her husband sat on the couch with a beer in his hand.
How could she have possibly been happy?
That was why I had to leave. I needed to get out, see the world, live the life she’d never had the chance to. Nothing against my sisters, who had all settled down in their twenties, but I wanted more out of the—God willing—eighty-ish years I had on this Earth.
So yeah, it was terrifying moving to a new city, twenty-five hundred miles away from the only home I’d ever known, but to me, regrets were far heavier than fear.
“Lift on three?” I asked, grabbing the other side of the trunk.
Heath stared at me for a beat, his innate ability to read my mind in full force. “You know you can always come home, Mags.”
Offering him a tight smile, I nodded. I did know that. The night before, he’d gone so far as to give me a key to his house complete with a Pokémon keychain. That was so uniquely Heath that it had nearly caused me to burst into tears.
I wouldn’t be using it though. I’d come for visits. I’d come for holidays. But home was no longer a place as much as it was a state of mind.
First stop: San Francisco.
After that, only the wind knew.
His lips twitched at the silly nickname I’d used for him since I was a kid. “Anytime, Magalicious. Anytime.”