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Willa picked at the silver nail polish she had applied earlier that morning. She could hear her mother humming Van Morrison’s “Moondance” as she drove down the waterfront boulevard. That’s the wrong key, she thought to herself. She resented her mother’s sunny disposition, and the fact that it matched the weather outside. She wanted to open her mouth, but she couldn’t think of anything worth saying. She sullenly stared out the window instead, muting all the colors she saw and adding clouds to the sky. “Turn up here,” she mumbled. Her mother looked toward her, flashing her lunatic smile.
“Wait, turn where?” Willa silently groaned to herself, knowing that her mother had heard what she said. She watched as the car approached the side street, and didn’t slow down.
“Left! Left!” Willa’s mother jumped. She turned her head, looking for the turn.
“I don’t see it!”
“That’s because you missed it!” Willa glared at her mother in aggravation.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Her face fell, and she stopped humming. “It’s not like I know where I’m going.” Willa hated it when her mother said “like.”
“Well I assumed you could see a giant opening on your left!”
Willa’s mother took a deep breath. Then she giggled and said, “God you’re horrible at giving directions!” She reached over to give one of Willa’s blonde curls a playful tug, but Willa turned away. “It’s okay, Willa, we can just turn around. We’ll still get there in plenty of time.” Willa knew she was right. She had made sure that they left the hotel half an hour earlier than they had too, but she slid down the passenger seat and sulked nonetheless. She gazed at the unfamiliar scenery flashing by out her window. They were past the lake now and into the center of the city. Before she could stop herself, she let out a sigh. Her mother looked over at her again. Her eyes softened, and she gave Willa’s hand a squeeze. “He’s so proud of you, you know.”
“I know,” Willa quietly replied.
The silver Volkswagen Jetta pulled into a parking spot across the street from the University of Chicago’s Max Palevsky Residential Commons. Willa got out and opened the trunk. She was just about to grab one of her purple suitcases when she felt someone tap her on the shoulder.
“Can I help you with those, miss?” Willa whirled around. She would’ve recognized that voice anywhere.
“Dad!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him for what felt like forever. She finally let go and stood back, taking in his camouflage uniform. “What are you doing here?”
He grinned. “I wasn’t going to let my little girl go off to college without saying goodbye first!” Willa felt a huge smile stretch across her face. She glanced to her left and saw her mother beaming at them from the sidewalk.
“Mom! Did you plan this? How did you keep it a secret?” Her mother laughed.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”
“C’mon, Wills, lets get these bags up to your room. Tell me about your roommate!” Willa took a bag and walked with her father across the street, telling him animatedly about Kelsey, the Montana girl she would be rooming with. Her mother followed behind, listening to her daughter and husband catch up after months of separation. She knew that the military lifestyle Todd had thrust them into had been hard on Willa. But, as she caught a glimpse of her daughter’s glowing face, she knew that the moments like these made it all worth it.