She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. The air was cold in Laura’s lungs, and standing around dawdling wouldn’t make it any warmer. Only thing that’d get her warm would be the cup of coffee Mama would pour when she got inside.
Dawn better illuminated the farmhouse: its peeling paint, once as bright and hopeful as a blue jay’s plumage; its wraparound porch, with split, splintered wood and creaking steps; its dull gray shutters, slats loose and hinges crooked. Inside, Laura’s mother would be sitting by her father; Laura’s father would consider getting up and would see the flag, carefully folded and loud in the spartan room. Laura’s father would not respond, but would instead roll over and weep into the pillow.
Laura cursed, seeing the gate to the road came unlatched in the night. Nothing was breached, but the barrier was broken all the same. She strode across the yard, the sound of her boots interrupting the quiet melancholy of the morning. She swung the gate and prepared to latch it when she had a vision.
She walked down the road. Laura did not say goodbye to her mother or father. She did not ask for permission to leave, so she was not met with her mother’s pleas that her father ‘cannot lose another.’ Laura did not have to make the distinction that college and death are different, which also meant she did feel the sharp slap, the severed thread of mother striking child.
Laura stood at Sam’s grave. She wept, but she said ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye,’ which were the only things she had not yet said. She knocked on her calculus teacher’s door, and Ms. Cook listened. She gave Laura money from a worn envelope she pulled from a sack of flour, and she packed a small bag with clothes she saved for the church’s annual clothing drive. Ms. Cook drove her to the city, and Laura took her first and last overnight train trip. She did not sleep, but she always had a winner when people exchanged travel stories.
College administration could not allow Laura to start in the fall, but helped her find a part-time job and housing until spring semester started. Laura waited tables and came home smelling like hot oil, soy sauce, and fortune cookies. It was a better smell than chicken shit and slop.
Laura studied mathematics and garnered a reputation for her quiet tenacity. One of the few women in her classes, she was sought after just as much for her patience and drive as she was for her natural beauty. When men told her she looked wholesome, like the ‘girl next door,’ she lost interest.
Princeton offered her a spot in its graduate program. She had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant and led an introductory logic discussion on Tuesday mornings. A young woman approached her after class for help with one of the more difficult proofs. After an hour, the student almost had a grasp on it when another TA burst in, a thick tome tucked under his arm. He apologized, and Laura spoke with him long enough to learn his name was Theo and his discussion section of Intro to British Lit met in the same room an hour after hers.
The next week, Laura lingered to grade papers. Theo arrived thirty minutes early.
For their first date, he took her to a terrible adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with full-frontal male nudity. He apologized profusely after, and she kissed him in the rain.
For their eleventh date, they rode into New York City. On the train, Laura told him about her overnight trip. Theo laughed and said, ‘I love you!’ Laura said she loved him as well, and that night she took him to a pan-Asian restaurant and made him try sushi and dim-sum and cold noodles with a sweet, spicy sauce. Theo did not hate it.
They lost count of their dates, and Theo invited her for holidays with his family in Boston. She fit in, and following Christmas Eve dinner he told her he wanted to have tea, just the two of them. He brought a full tray to the guest bedroom and his hands couldn’t stop shaking. When Laura opened the lid of the tan box, an engagement ring glistened.
Laura shook her head. She latched the gate and walked back to the farmhouse.
This piece was written for the speakeasy #134 challenge. Word count is 741, right under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!