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The stale smell of 1987 Volvo was utterly inescapable. It oozed its mustiness from the scratched red leather seats, worn steering wheel, and blasted out of the overworked heater. Within a few seconds of getting into the car, my four year old daughter Emma instantly noticed the stench.
“Momma!” she whined as she clutched Babs, her stuffed rabbit, to her chest. “It stinks!” I turned to face her and noticed her comical scowl and managed to stifle a laugh. Her porcelain brow was furrowed, her pink lips set in a grumpy frown.
“We’ll be at Poppy and Grammy’s before you know it, Em,” I assured her, smoothing the top of her honey-blonde head. She smiled and rested her head on her shoulder, closing her clear blue eyes. I then started the car, shifted to drive and peeled out of the driveway of our former home.
Six months ago, I had been a waitress at the local Applebee’s and a part time telemarketer. Money was scarce and the possibility of eviction was likely. Then, with the economy’s fall, I was coincidentally laid off by both of my employers. I applied for welfare and unemployment money, but that wasn’t enough to quench my growing debt with my landlady. With a child in my arms at age twenty-six, living on food stamps, coupons, and pennies, I knew I needed a change. That night I had a long chat with my mother and the next day, I had a full plan in my head. I took a loan from my parents and paid off my debt, I discontinued my rent and I made preparations to move.
I glance at the sky through my windshield; the navy blue sky is sprinkled with pale glowing starts. I should’ve left a little earlier in the day instead of eight at night.
A loose strand of my honey-blonde hair fell in front of my eye which I brushed behind my ear as I maneuver the car through the streets of Baltimore, heading for my home; Elmira, New York.
Living in that slow-moving town was a drag, but I had luckily wrangled a scholarship to the University of Maryland. I bid adieu to my sulky younger brother, mom, and dad and experienced the best years of my life. I found my best friends, flourished in my classes, and let my skills shine. I lived on campus for freshman year and moved to my own apartment with some friends where I realized my potential in life and I pursued it.
As for high school in Elmira, I was pretty well-known because of my job as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Green Bee. Of course, I was also known because of my older sister’s popular reputation. I had to live in the shadow of her 4.0 GPA, renowned volleyball skills, and valedictorian status for two years until she left to play volleyball at Syracuse University.
The traffic downtown was at a standstill, when I flipped the radio to traffic, a nasally voice announced a nasty wreck with a pedestrian and two cars. With an irritated sigh, I twisted the radio dial to the left until I heard the voices of N’SYNC, instantly transporting to the halcyon days of high school. I pulled my hand from the dial and rested my head on the headrest, taking a deep breath.
After what seemed to be three hours, I eventually escaped the city and made it to a stretch of highway through Pennsylvania. I noticed my gas running low, just as I turned sharply into a gas station, my clunky, outdated cell phone chirped. I quickly stopped at a pump and pressed the phone against my ear.
“Hello?” I asked into the hollow silence, I twisted my torso to check on Emma, she snored quietly in the back. I shoved the door open and nimbly stepped out, waiting for an answer.
“Julie? This is Mom, where are you?” the familiar voice demanded scratchily over the phone.
“Hey Mom, um…I’m somewhere in Pennsylvania…I think we may be a little south of Philadelphia,” I said absent-mindedly, swiftly opening the gas tank and grabbing the pump with one hand.
“It’s ten at night! When did you leave?” my mother’s reproachful voice inquired.
“Eight…” I responded sheepishly, finally resting the pump in the tank. I heard her long, disapproving sigh and I could picture her right now, rolling her eyes.
“I’m sorry, but your father and I aren’t staying up that late.” She responded wearily. “Still, knock on the door, we should wake up.”
“Thanks mom, I know this is a burden for you…” I replied, a feeling of guilt clouded my conscience.
“This isn’t a burden, Julie, it’s a blessing in disguise,” She said calmly. The warmth she usually hid beneath her tough exterior seeped through, making me smile.
“I’ll be home soon, ma, but I have to leave now,” I said softly.
“Be safe!” she warned before I hung up.
“Bye!” I called back. I slipped the phone into the pocket of my jeans, paid the pump, and slipped back into the car. When it started again, I proudly accelerated away. I was ready to return home.