I took a deep breath before knocking on the door, knowing I was going to have to face my parents in less than a minute. I had been trying to prepare for this moment all day—I hadn’t called ahead to tell them that I was coming, afraid to hear the disappointment in their voices when they found out that I just hadn’t been able to make it in the city after all. So I decided to face them in person, that way at least they wouldn’t try to convince me to stick it out and try harder. I had tried as hard as I could to make it in New York but the city and my experiences there had broken me, and I’d felt like I had no choice but to run back home to Garner, Connecticut.
My mom answered the door, a look of surprise spreading over her features after registering who I was. She looked me over, looked down at the ground beside me where my suitcases sat. Then her lips pressed into a thin line, and for a moment her face held the expression of disappointment that I had been dreading. I forced a smile on my face instead of letting it get to me; I was going to be casual about this, tell them I was just taking a break and would go back to the city when I was ready. Though I had no plans to do so, it would give me time to find an apartment in Garner once I found a job here.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, putting my suitcases down and reaching out to her for a hug. She hugged me back, and at least that was filled with warmth. I knew my parents loved me but I also knew they expected a lot from me, and when I told them that I had dropped out of school to become a musician they had been utterly disappointed and shocked.
“Hi, baby,” she said. “Um, what are you doing here?”
“I’m just—I’m just coming back for a visit,” I said. “Isn’t that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay, honey,” she said, turning around so that I could follow her into the house. “Your dad’s not here right now. He’s at work. But he’ll be home later. Are you hungry?”
“No, I was thinking about going to The Perk for coffee. I feel like walking around a little bit.”
My mom nodded. “I’ll fix you something to eat.”
“Okay, Mom,” I said, knowing that there was no way to stop her. I went up to the room that I used to share with my sister as a child. It still had two twin beds in it, and I put my suitcases on the floor and sat down on the one that used to be mine. I buried my face in my hands for a moment, trying not to let my mother’s expression get to me. I knew it was going to be even worse when my father got here; he was the one who had wanted me to become a doctor, and finding out that his college dropout daughter had failed as a musician in New York was bound to wound his pride.
My mom was in the kitchen when I left the house, making my way down the block toward the only coffee shop in Garner. It was called The Perk and it was only a few blocks away from my house. My childhood friend, Samantha, worked there and I was looking forward to seeing the look on her face when I surprised her. It had been years since I’d seen her, yet I knew that when we got together it would be like no time at all had passed between us. I was excited to see her as I entered the coffee shop, approaching the counter and looking around trying to spot her.
“Lauren!” came a voice behind me, a familiar voice that filled me with dread. I turned around to see my first boyfriend, Josh, sitting at a table with a girl I knew named Patty Summers. Patty was the girl who Josh had left me for and she knew it; judging by the look on her face, she wasn’t happy when he invited me over to their table. The last thing I wanted to do was go over there, and I glanced desperately behind the counter to see if Sam was anywhere near. I didn’t see anybody, though, so I had no choice but to join Josh and Patty. I stood awkwardly by their table, trying not to make eye contact with either one of them.
“How have you been, Lauren?” Josh asked, a snide look on his face. “You just visiting or did you get kicked out of New York?”
I rolled my eyes at him.
“I’m here to see my family.”
“I heard you didn’t make it through college,” said Josh. Beside him, Patty stifled a giggle. I felt a tension spreading through my body, anger starting to rise within me. I glanced desperately over my shoulder but still didn’t see Sam or any other employee.
“I quit to play my violin,” I said to him.
“And how did that go for you?”
I didn’t answer. I walked away from the table, not knowing what else to say. I left the coffee shop without looking back. I was making my way down the block, trying to keep my breathing calm, when I ran almost straight into Samantha, who had her head down looking at her phone as she walked. She started to apologize and look up at me but then her eyes widened.
“Lauren!” she said, practically throwing her body against mine in a massive hug. “What are you doing here?”
“I totally fucked up New York,” I told her. “Royally fucked it up.”
“Hey,” she said, her face going sympathetic as I felt myself start to cry. I put my hand over my face, trying to shake the tears away. Then I laughed.
“I’m sorry. I’m such a mess.”
“It’s okay. I’m going to call in and I want you to come over.”
“You don’t have to—”
She shot me a look that told me not to argue, digging her phone out of the apron she was wearing. After a moment of talking to her boss, she hung up and gave me a big smile, taking my arm and turning me around to walk in the other direction toward her house.
“So tell me what’s going on,” she said.
“Did you get in trouble for calling in?” I asked her.
“Oh, totally,” she said.
“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing my hand as we walked together. “It’s worth it. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Can we go get a drink?” I asked her. She nodded.
“Perfect idea. Let’s go to Jimmie’s.”
I groaned. I had almost forgotten about Jimmie’s, one of two bars in town. I hated it there—the place smelled like decades and decades of old cigarette smoke, stale and cloying.
“Hey, the drinks are free,” she said, nudging me with her elbow.
“Jake still works there?” I asked her. Sam’s brother, Jake, was three years older than us in school and had started working at the bar before he was even out of high school.
“Yep,” she said, leading me across the street. We walked a few blocks before we got to Jimmie’s, and I had to hold my breath as we walked inside. It was a tiny bar, dingy and dirty, but Jake smiled at us both when we walked in.
“Hey, little sis,” he said to Sam, then came up to me and ruffled my hair the way he used to. “Hey, other little sis.”
“Hi, Jake,” I said, hugging him before he went around to the other side of the bar and pulled out two beers for us. Sam shook her head.
“We need something stronger,” she said. “Just give us the bottle of Jack.”
He looked at her sternly. “You know I can’t—”
“Jake, look at her. She’s crying. Please.”
I blushed when she said that, filled with embarrassment, but it worked. Jake gave us a look and handed me the bottle along with two glasses, and I thanked him before we went to sit at a table far away from the bar so we could talk.
“Tell me everything,” she said. “Are you still dating that guy? Conrad?”
I laughed. “Connor. And no. Surprise, surprise. He left me.”
“Why?” Sam asked, pouring us each a glass of the whiskey. She passed it over the table to me and I sipped it, wincing as it burned my throat. Still, just that brief taste made my body feel a little warmer.
“For another girl,” I said. “Why else?”
“Oh, honey,” she said, and I almost couldn’t take the look of pity on her face. That was twice now, including Josh, that I had gotten dumped in favor of another girl. My only two serious relationships had ended that way, and it had turned me off of men for good.
“It’s fine,” I said, waving her off. “Connor and I were never meant to be together or anything. He was just a boyfriend.”
“Yeah, but you liked him a lot,” Sam said. “It’s okay to be upset about it.”
I sighed. “I know. But I’ll be okay.”
“Is that why you decided to come back?”
I shook my head. “I just got so overwhelmed there. The city is so big, and I—I was waitressing and nannying at the same time as I was giving music lessons and having auditions. There was just so much going on and it was driving me crazy. I had to get away.”
“I understand,” she said. “I would hate to live in the city. You know how I feel about that.”
“I know,” I said, downing the rest of my drink in a shot that went straight to my head, making me feel light and bubbly.
“What are you going to do now?” she asked.
“I have to get a job,” I said to her. “So I can move out of my parents’. I told my mom that I was just here to visit.”
“But you’re staying?”
I nodded and she grinned at me.
“I know it sucks, Lauren, but I’m glad you’re back.”
“Thanks,” I said to her. “I only hope I can survive here. I can’t stay with my parents forever.”
“You should check out the job board on your way home,” she said.
“I will,” I told her. I had forgotten about the job board in town, which advertised various businesses or requested services from local people. “Can we talk about something else? What’s going on with you?”
“I work. I work, and I work some more,” she said. “My life is boring.”
“Maybe you need to get laid,” I said. She laughed.
“Definitely,” she agreed. We spent the rest of the night talking, even past closing time while Jake was cleaning up. It was nearly three in the morning before we left and I was starting to sober up, but still felt a little giddy as I said goodnight to Sam and made my way back to my parents’ house. I stopped by the job board on the way, searching it for anything. There were various babysitting jobs and a couple of advertisements requesting music lessons. I wrote down the information for everything before I came across one at the bottom. It was a nanny position for a six-year-old girl, a live-in position that promised to pay well. I took the flier and put it in my bag. It was really the only one that seemed promising and sustainable, and the idea of getting a job and moving out of my parents’ house immediately was tempting. I made up my mind to call the number in the morning, hoping that it would work out for the best.