By: Heather West

Chapter One


With a sigh, I pulled over into the marina and slowed down my rig. Every time I drove in my home town, I felt like I was on autopilot. There was something about living in Dos Palmos that made the year seem like one big, long season. Nothing to break up the monotony. Well, nothing except for semester-long runs.

The breeze from the ocean felt stronger and more refreshing than usual. It had been months since I’d been home, and I was glad to start finishing up. Next week would start one of my last semesters of med school. I was eager to finish and get it over with; it seemed like I’d been in school forever. But that’s what happened when you only attended one semester per year; driving a rig for tuition took up the rest of my time. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done anything purely social. I didn’t have many close friends, and I certainly didn’t have a boyfriend.

I only had to drive for one more year before I could finish school. Just one more year, I thought to myself. One more year. You can do it, Ella.

The thing was, sometimes I wasn’t so sure anymore. Sometimes, it didn’t seem worth it to put my life on hold. But every time I thought about that, I realized that I didn’t exactly have a life to go back to. And I was past the age where girls went out to meet guys. I was thirty-one, plain Ella Riley. I couldn’t giggle and flirt and wait for someone to ask me for my number at a bar. Besides, they probably would have been joking. I could never see myself as pretty; it just seemed too indulgent and unrealistic. Women ruined their lives in pursuit of beauty, and I wasn’t quite ready to do that. Not that I had much to ruin, or anyone to look good for. But so many days, it just seemed kind of pointless.

The sun was glinting off the water and I shoved my hands into the back pockets of my jeans and strolled around the wharf. I was waiting for a delivery, and then I had one day left. Then I’d be done, at least for a semester. It was hard not to feel discouraged but I was trying to keep my spirits up. After all, only one year left to go.

Being outside felt really good. I took off my sunglasses and closed my eyes, tilting my face up towards the sun. I thought about the long run I’d been on—I’d seen the whole country. From coast to coast, it looked incredibly different. America wasn’t a vast stretch the way I’d imagined as a kid. Every nook, every cranny looked different. It was hard to believe that such a patchwork quilt of states could be stitched together to form one, cohesive unit. And the people were so different! I’d missed California, I loved living here, but it had been good to get out. And now I’m back home, safe and comfortable. Well, maybe a little too safe and comfortable.

There was a crowd of bikers on the pier, laughing and throwing their heads back. For a moment, I envied their ability to laugh together. They seemed like they were having so much fun. I thought about how I’d been relieved to get back home. But watching the bikers made me feel empty inside. They made me feel like I was missing out on something in life by being so lonely all the time. Suddenly, I wondered if I’d be happier if I had friends. Or a boyfriend. Anything. Something.

“Stop it, Ella,” I muttered. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I couldn’t let myself fall into a depression now. Not with only one year of trucking and two semesters left. This would be worth it; in the end, I’d be a doctor. A real doctor who could get a job anywhere. I wouldn’t have to drive the rig, I wouldn’t have to take shitty part-time jobs. I could maybe even settle into some kind of social life.

On the water below me, my reflection shimmered and puckered. I peered down at myself. Yep, still the same Ella as ever before. Brown hair, blurred features. I cracked a grin. One benefit of being on the road was that I didn’t really have to worry about what I looked like. Not like I put a ton of effort into that anyway, but there was something nice about being alone with myself and my thoughts all day. On the bad days, it was torture. But on the good days, I enjoyed it. I always taped my lectures from med school and I loved listening to them over and over. It was like studying. And it reminded me that all of this work I was doing was for something.

When I was growing up, I never imagined this kind of life for myself. I always thought that I’d be relatively normal. Meet a guy in college, date for a few years, get married and have a reception at the community recreation center. I could have even imagined using those plastic utensils that look like they have a metal coating on them. I never thought I’d be alone, practically a spinster. The last boyfriend I’d had was in college, before I’d dropped out. I hadn’t dropped out because I was failing, but my parents were sick and I had to take care of them. When they both died, I didn’t feel like going back to school was worth it. That was when Derek and I broke up—I couldn’t find space in my life for a boyfriend when I was grieving my parents. At the time, I didn’t think that he’d given me enough time or space. But now I realize that I’d completely pushed him away. I didn’t pine for him, or miss him the way I used to, but life was different when I was facing an eternity of solitude.

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