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Chapter One chapter one
My alarm is set to go off any minute. I’ve been awake for half the night, shifting back and forth, counting the lines between the ceiling tiles and repeating the course schedule in my head. Others may count sheep; I plan. My mind doesn’t allow a break from planning, and today, the most important day in my entire eighteen years of life, is no exception.
“Tessa!” I hear my mother’s voice call from downstairs. Groaning to myself, I roll out of my tiny bed. I take my time tucking the corners of my bedsheet against the headboard, because this is the last morning that this will be a part of my regular routine. After today, this bedroom is no longer my home.
“Tessa!” she calls again.
“I’m up!” I yell back. The noise of the cabinets opening and slamming closed downstairs makes it known that she is feeling just as panicked as I am. My stomach is tied in a tight knot, and as I start my shower I pray that the anxiety I feel will lessen as the day goes on. All of my life has been a series of tasks in preparation for this day, my first day of college.
I spent the last few years nervously anticipating this. I spent my weekends studying and preparing for this as my peers were hanging out, drinking, and doing whatever else it is teenagers do to get themselves in trouble. That wasn’t me. I was the girl who spent her nights studying cross-legged on the living room floor with my mother while she gossiped and watched hours of QVC to find new ways to improve her appearance.
The day my acceptance letter to Washington Central University came I couldn’t have been more thrilled—and my mother cried for what felt like hours. I can’t deny that I was proud that all my hard work had finally paid off. I got into the only college I applied for and, because of our low income, I have enough grants to keep my student loans to a minimum. I had once, for just a moment, considered leaving Washington for college. But seeing all the color drain from my mother’s face at the suggestion, and the way she paced around the living room for nearly an hour, I told her I really hadn’t been serious about that.
The moment I step into the spray of shower water some of the tension leaves my strained muscles. I’m standing here, under the hot water, trying to calm my mind, but really doing the opposite, and I get so distracted that by the time I finally wash my hair and body, I barely have enough hot water to run a razor over my legs from the knees down.
As I wrap the towel around my wet body, my mother calls my name yet again. Knowing that it’s her nerves getting the best of her, I give her some leeway but take the time to blow-dry my hair. I know that she’s anxious for my arrival day at college, but I have had this day planned down to the hour for months. Only one of us can be a nervous wreck, and I need to do what I can to make sure it’s not me by following my plan.
My hands shake as I fumble with the zipper on my dress. I don’t care for the thing, but my mother insisted that I wear it. I finally win the battle with the zipper, and pull my favorite sweater from the back of my closet door. As soon as I’m dressed, I feel slightly less nervous, until I notice a small tear on the sleeve of my sweater. I toss it back onto my bed and slip my shoes onto my feet, knowing that my mother is growing more impatient with every second that passes.
My boyfriend, Noah, will be here soon to ride up with us. He’s a year younger than me but will turn eighteen soon. He’s brilliant and has straight A’s just like I did, and—I’m so excited—he’s planning on joining me at WCU next year. I really wish he was coming now, especially considering that I won’t know a single person at college, but I’m thankful that he’s promised to visit as often as possible. I just need a decent roommate; that’s the only thing I’m asking for and the only thing I can’t control with my planning.
“Mother, I am coming down now. Please do not scream my name again!” I yell as I walk down the stairs. Noah is sitting at the table across from my mother, staring down at the watch on his wrist. The blue of his polo shirt matches the light blue of his eyes, and his blond hair is combed and lightly gelled to perfection.
“Hey, college girl.” He smiles a bright, perfectly lined smile as he stands. He pulls me into a tight hug and I close my mouth when I catch his excessive cologne. Yeah, sometimes he overdoes it a bit with that.
“Hey.” I give him an equally bright smile, trying to hide my nerves, and pull my dirty blond hair into a ponytail.
“Honey, we can wait a couple minutes while you fix your hair,” my mother says quietly.
I make my way to the mirror and nod; she’s right. My hair needs to be presentable for today, and of course she didn’t hesitate to remind me. I should have curled it the way she likes anyhow, as a little goodbye gift.
“I’ll put your bags in the car,” Noah offers, opening his palm for my mother to drop the keys into. With a quick kiss on my cheek he disappears from the room, bags in hand, and my mother follows him.
Round two of styling my hair ends with a better result than the first, and I brush a lint roller over my gray dress one last time.
As I go outside and walk to the car packed up with my things, the butterflies in my stomach dance around, making me slightly relieved that I have a two-hour drive to make them disappear.
I have no idea what college will be like, and, unexpectedly, the question that keeps dominating my thoughts is: Will I make any friends?