"The Distance"Andie Thomas walked back to that old abandoned house that had become nothing over the past five years. It all poured back into her mind like a rushing waterfall. She peaked through the smoke stained windows and felt like she was back there again, on July 9th, 2004.
She thought of all the people and the feeling of the mistakes she made. She remembered how the girls dressed liked hussies and how the guys just stared at them, acting like animals. She rubbed her fingers across a shatter in the glass, thinking of the thick, smokey air and the smell of an old city bar. She was only eighteen at the time, but she let the peer pressure get to her. She drank and drank and passed out cold on the coffee table.
She never did find out how the fire started. She thought of being the only one to get drunk enough to pass out and being left there by herself. No one stayed there with her. No one tried to help her. And after five years, not a day goes by that she doesn’t wonder why she was the one who lived. She wished it was her who died instead of the fire fighter who rescued her, her brother, Jason.
Jason was six years older than Andie. Although there was a slight age difference and they were always interested in different things, they had a close relationship growing up and he always looked out for his little sister. After their family began to fall apart, Andie became distant, but Jason and their mother became closer.
Their mother, Denise, was a 5’8”, skinny, dirty blonde. Looking at her and how beautiful she was could take your breath away. She had always been the girly type. While most other girls didn’t mind getting dirty like a normal North Carolina girl, Denise competed in pageants and she was second runner-up in the Miss North Carolina Beauty competition when she was nineteen. Along with beauty and talent, she also had the brains to tie together what made her who she is today. She followed in the footsteps of her mother and went to Duke University on a full scholarship.
She and Michael Thomas met in the parking lot at the local market. Denise was struggling to carry her bags to her car. As she was approaching her beat up station wagon, she dropped one of her bags that was filled with soup cans and fresh fruit. Michael was parked next to her and stopped to help her while he was walking inside.
Nobody really ever did understand how Denise and Michael wound up together. Although his parents were quite fond of her, Denise’s parents couldn’t stand the fact that Michael didn’t get an education and didn’t want their little girl to be with someone that they considered to be “white trash.” They didn’t want her to sell herself short and marry the first guy that walked into her life and swept her off her feet. Ignoring how her parents felt, Denise knew Michael was the one for her and married him the first chance she got, when she was 24 and he was a year older.
Michael was named after his father. He was a tall, scruffy man who spent most of his life working. He was a smoker, just like his dad and drank a few beers every night when he got home. He had always felt that a job was more important than an education and he didn’t care what anyone thought of his choice, although most people didn't like the fact that he didn't finish high school. When you looked into his eyes, you could see how tired he had grown from all the long years in a factory. His hands were the same way. They were rough and dry and you could see all the hard work they were used for.
Whenever Andie thought of her brother, she would think of her father too because they were a lot alike and seemed invincible to her.
She had tried to get Michael to quit smoking for years, but she never could. When Andie was fifteen, she watched her dad collapse onto the kitchen floor, holding his chest and gasping for air. The doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer. He started wheezing pretty often and had a cough that sounded like he had something stuck in his throat and it wasn’t going away, which always scared Andie. She and her dad didn’t have the normal father/daughter relationship. She was never considered “daddy’s little girl” and never thought about the fact that one day he wouldn’t be around.
He underwent six months of chemo and radiation therapy, but nothing was working. The cancer was spreading fast, like lava running down the side of an erupted volcano. Michael was given three months to live and as those three months grew shorter and shorter, Andie and Jason spent as much time with their father as they could. Andie could see her dad find strength even through all his moments of weakness. As their time together became like an hourglass, she could feel the sand running out. She knew she couldn’t flip it over and redo her relationship with her father, but wanted nothing more in the world other than for him to know he’d always been her hero.
With her father gone, Andie became someone she had never been and didn't even recognize. She started getting into trouble at school and began partying a lot. It didn’t matter if she knew anyone at the parties she was going to. If she could get a drink in her hand, she was there.
Andie knew in her heart that she wouldn’t be this way if her father never had died, which made it even harder after Jason was gone. With her father and brother not there at all, she felt like her life was a puzzle and she needed the last piece to complete it. She considered that last piece to be Michael and Jason and they weren’t there to finish it.
Andie was considered to be a typical small town girl. She loved that little town of Garner, but knew she couldn’t wait to get out one day. At 23 years old, she stood at 5’5” with blonde hair like her mother and green eyes that could put the North Carolina stars to shame. She had a gorgeous sun-kissed tan that helped her skinny, but not too skinny, body stand out. She always had her brother's cross hanging around her neck to remind her that he was watching over her.
With the heart and soul of an angel, she grew wild with her daddy’s tongue and temper that never failed to get her into trouble. She had the type of smile that could bring sunshine to someone’s darkest days and had the kind of touch that could drop them to their knees. She was like a little piece of heaven but never passed up the opportunity to raise hell.
She had met her boyfriend, Daniel Kelley, when she was just 19. He was two years older than her, but seemed like the type of guy you’d see in a movie. He was tall and had shaggy blonde hair. His eyes were as blue as the sky, which she loved. Andie knew that Daniel was tough, just like her daddy. She knew that the stars in the sky wouldn’t always be shining, but they would be with him in her life. He had his life together and she knew that she couldn’t let a guy like him get away, because she needed him. He knew she thought this, but he never had the heart to tell her that’s not all he was. He couldn’t tell her that he was the one who needed her. Or that he’d be lost without her. He couldn’t tell her that when he holds her, she’s the one who’s really holding him. Andie thought she was the lucky one, but Daniel knew he was the one who had been given a gift from God.
Over the course of a few months, they became inseparable. Andie quit the partying and finally started getting her life together. She spent every moment that she could with Daniel. She hated missing him but loved the fact that she had him to miss. It was almost like he had been sent to rescue her and at only 19, she thought she had met the guy she was going to spend the rest of her life with.
As months passed by, turning into years, Andie could feel the spark between her and Daniel slowly burning out. They began spending less and less time together and fought over every little thing. She missed how he used to talk to her as if she was the only person in the world. He used to walk with her like they had nowhere to even go. They used to have their relationship figured out and under control. There was never a doubt in their minds on their future together. They didn’t think, they knew. That’s how they had always been. And now, Andie doesn’t think, she knows that after four years, it’s time to walk away.
“You know I love you, right?” Those words made Daniel shake. He looked into her eyes and tried to figure out what was coming next.
“Yes.” You could hear the tremble and nervousness in his voice.
“I feel that our relationship has become just a routine. It feels like we tell each other we love one another because we know it's what we should do. And I hate feeling like I have to compete for your attention now. And I just think I need to be done with this, with us.”
Daniel could feel his heart breaking. He wanted to be with her more than anything in the world. When he told her he wanted to be together forever, he meant it.
He stood there for a second, staring at the ground, and wiped a tear from his cheek. Her words made him cold and he felt like he was out of breath. When he looked up, he saw her crying too, which told him this was as hard for her as it was for him. He wasn't going to make it harder for her, so he wasn't going to beg her to stay with him. Daniel didn't want her to pretend she wanted to be with him if she didn't.
He pulled her into his arms. She always felt a sense of comfort when he was wrapped around her. He kissed her forehead and lifted her chin for one more kiss. As he leaned in, another tear ran down her cheek. He had always told her that he wanted to be her last first kiss. In that moment, he realized he wasn’t going to be. Because this was going to be their last kiss all together.
He walked Andie to her car and opened the door for her, just like he always did. Daniel knew he'd never love another girl the way he loved Andie, and he didn't want to love anyone else.
Every year on the fourth of July, the whole town of Garner gathers together for a celebration. Everyone brings food and you feel like you gain thirty pounds after the night is over. Andie had gone with her mother, since it had been five months since she had ended things with Daniel. Denise had become a lot quieter since Michael died, but Andie knew getting her mother out of the house would be good for her. Andie had gone to get her and her mother a beer and when she came back, she saw Denise talking with an old friend she went to high school with. Andie handed her the beer and slipped away to watch the fireworks.
She wandered down by the pier and sat down on the dock. Andie dangled her feet over the edge and she began thinking of Daniel. They used to come here a lot during their summers together. They'd lay with the old wooden dock against their backs and would gaze at the stars for hours. She and Daniel would talk about their future together. He'd kiss her like he truly did mean forever but looking back on it, they were too damn young to even know what forever meant. She’s 23 and is still too young to know.
The wind was blowing, gentle enough to give Andie a slight chill. To her, being out there was like paradise. Although it held many memories with Daniel, she’d never take back a single one of the moments. She closed her eyes and leaned back onto the dock, just like she used to when she was with him. The sound of footsteps came up behind her and she sat up to look. Standing there, smiling at her was a six foot guy in name brand khaki shorts and a gray cut off t-shirt.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He was smiling as he said it. Not one of those normal smiles that you’re forced to do when posing for a picture, but one of those half smiles that makes any girl’s heart sink into her stomach. She couldn’t help herself from smiling back.
“It’s fine, you didn’t scare me.”
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
“I like coming out here during the summer, especially now for the fireworks.” She motioned for him to sit down. He didn’t dangle his feet like she did. He had his feet up on the dock and his arms wrapped around his knees. He put his hand out to shake hers and introduced himself.
“I’m Travis, by the way, Travis Adams.”
She shook his hand and let out a little giggle.
They smiled at each other and shook hands for a few more seconds before letting go. Andie felt a sudden connection with him and although she couldn’t get Daniel out of her head, she had no problem trying to.
She skimmed her eyes up and down Travis' body. His skin was dark. You could tell he was an outdoors kind of guy. Andie noticed he definitely had the body type for it. She kept admiring his muscles when he wasn’t looking. There was an awkward silence and they exchanged glances every few moments. When they both looked at each other at the same time, they both laughed and after that, there wasn’t any more silence.
She and Travis sat out there for hours, learning anything they could about each other. Andie grew to know every little detail of his appearance. He had dimples, just like her. His eyes were green, usually. As the sun sank below the water, she noticed the reflection in his eyes and how it added little specks of blue to them. She couldn’t help but find him attractive and was hoping she’d get to see him again.
Andie and Travis were both leaning back on their hands when she felt his fingers scoot into hers. She had butterflies in her stomach and had forgotten how good it felt. She hadn’t felt that way since the first few months she began dating Daniel. Not a lot was said while the fireworks were being shot off. The two of them just sat and enjoyed each others company. It felt good to her that she wasn’t alone.
The fireworks ended and neither one of them got up. She was determined to see him the next day. She was nervous and couldn’t get her words out without having a little shakiness in her voice.
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Seeing you, hopefully.”
She smiled, feeling like a little kid inside, and it was the happiest she’d felt in a long time.
“But I leave to go back home in two days.”
There it was. Andie knew there had to have been a catch because she never gets lucky enough to have something like this happen to her.
“I live in Camden. It’s a small town in Maine. I’ve been down here for about a week now for my great-uncle’s funeral.”
The part about the funeral went in one of Andie’s ears and right back out the other. All she could focus on was Maine. Maine of all places? That was at least 800 miles from Garner.
“Whoa. That’s a little far from here.”
She tried to be sarcastic without showing that she was a little disappointed.
“I’d still like to see you though.”
They made plans to go to dinner the next night and both of them gave up with trying to contain their excitement. He hugged her and they walked back up to where the rest of the town was still gathered to celebrate. Andie and Travis went their separate ways for the night and only hoped tomorrow would come sooner.
As the next day came, Andie couldn't help but think about Travis. She went to meet him at the pier at five o'clock. She could see him from the road and the butterflies came back so fast it was almost like they never left.
She was wearing a gray sundress and had her hair done in long, loose curls. When her heels hit the wooden dock, Travis turned around to see that it was Andie. They both smiled from ear to ear when they saw each other. He had on a light blue t-shirt that complemented his eyes in so many ways, and it looked pretty good with the flowers in his hands.
“You look beautiful, Andie.” Travis couldn't take his eyes off her. He leaned in to hug her and she could feel his trembling body against hers. She was thankful she wasn't the only one who was nervous because she couldn't get that roller coaster kind of rush out her system.
“Thank you. You look pretty good yourself.”
He chuckled when he heard her say that, but he couldn't get that thought out of his head. He had never seen anything more beautiful. It was like he was in a dream and he didn't want to wake up.
“These are for you. They're your favorite, right?” Pink lillies... She had told him those were her favorite the night before by the water. It was so sweet to her that he remembered because things like that were important to her.
“Yes they are. They're so pretty.”
“Ready to go?”
Andie shook her head yes and Travis wrapped his arm around her as they began walking. He smiled at her. Every time she saw that smile it was like she was in a whole other world.
Travis hadn't told her where they were going. Usually Andie doesn't just go with the flow, but today, she didn't mind.
Walking along the pier, he still had his arm around her. Andie felt so content in his arms. She felt safer than she ever had with Daniel.
Travis took her to this restaurant she had never been to, Breezes, and it was right by the bay. The whole place was covered with windows so there was no doubt that she and Travis would have a great view of the water.
Andie kept a constant smile on her face and loved how the conversation never stopped. She and Travis talked about their families, where they grew up, what they wanted to do with their lives, and not once was Daniel on her mind.
As the day slowly faded into the night, Travis and Andie walked back to the dock where they had met up that afternoon. They sat down on the edge, with their feet dangling over the water, just like they had the night before when they first met.
It all felt like a fairytale to her. Time felt like it had slowed down and she didn't want the night to end. He had his hand rested lightly on her leg as she had her arm locked with his.
“I had a good time tonight. Thank you for dinner.”
“Well, thank you for letting me take you out.” She couldn't help but smile whenever she heard his flattering comments like that. Hell, she couldn't help but smile whenever she heard his voice in general. She could feel his eyes on her and her heart began to race. It had only been one day and she could already feel Travis picking up the pieces of her broken heart and putting them back together.
Andie looked up at him and they stared into each others' eyes for a brief second before Travis leaned in. His lips were light against hers. She had so many things running through her head that she couldn't focus on just one. She knew in her heart that this moment was right and it all felt so magical.
When Travis pulled away, he looked at Andie, only to see her eyes still closed and smiling. He moved a piece of hair that fell down in front of her eyes and slid it gently behind her ear. He ran his thumb across her cheek and pulled her in for another kiss. This one felt as good as the first to her. For Travis too.
Andie was having such a good time but couldn't keep the thought of him leaving the next day out of her head.
“So you leave tomorrow?” You could hear the disappointment in her voice. She didn't want Travis to go.
“Yeah, I do. But I was thinking... How would you feel about coming to visit me in a few weeks?” He didn't know what she was going to say. He could feel himself falling for her. Travis knew Andie hadn't been in a relationship for almost half a year. He knew how hard it was for her to let Daniel go and he knows how hard it would be for her to be in North Carolina while he's in Maine. He didn't want her to slip out of his life, but he also didn't want her to have to worry if a long distance relationship would work out or not. Plus, if it didn't, he didn’t want Andie to end up as hurt as she was when she broke up with Daniel.
“I'd love to!” Andie didn't have one moment of hesitation. She laughed when she realized how fast she said it and how giddy she was acting.
“I'd love if you did.” He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her forehead. “It's getting late. I should probably get you home.”
Travis stood up and stuck his hand out for Andie to grab. They walked hand in hand back to her house. They walked up the sidewalk and saw that her mom was rocking back and forth on the porch swing.
“Well, hi there. I was just heading inside so that's where I'll be if you need me.” She winked at Travis and walked through the door.
“I'll call you as soon as I get home, okay?”
“You better.” They both laughed.
“And you're gonna come up to Camden in a few weeks?”
“I'll be there.”
He let go of her hands and kissed her. As he let go and began walking away, she grabbed his hand and pulled him back. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
He kissed her cheek. She could feel herself about to cry. She didn't want him to go home. She had such strong feelings for him already, but she knew he had to go.
“I will, baby.” He smiled at her and slipped his hand away. When she heard him call her that, she couldn't hold the tear back. One fell lightly down her cheek. She couldn't wait to see him again and was going to be in Maine the first chance she was given.