Becca dumped the contents of her backpack out on her bed. How did I get so much trash in here? she wondered. Little scraps of paper and empty gum wrappers mixed with her books and notebooks and pens. Becca sighed. She wasn't in the mood for cleaning. If she hadn't needed her backpack to carry clothes, she would have just left the trash in there. She considered leaving the mess on her bed for later, but she knew she’d regret that when she got back from her trip. The last thing she’d want to do after a girls ' weekend with her best friend was go through a pile of trash so she could have a bed to sleep in. She stared at the mess for a moment, then sighed again and began gathering up the bits of trash.
Oh well, she thought. At least I’ve grown past losing field trip permission forms. Becca had a habit of letting her backpack get messy. She had stayed behind from a field trip more than once because the permission slip was still crumpled in the bottom of her bag, unsigned, usually with slivers of broken crayons mashed into it. She had gotten a lot more responsible since then, but not much neater. She liked to think it was because she had a free-spirited, artistic mind, which was great for being fun and creative but not the best at staying organized. At least there’s no food in here this time, she thought. Once she’d lost a turkey sandwich in her backpack until it oozed rotten liquid all over her school supplies, and her mom had made her clean everything herself. It was not one of her fondest memories.
Becca looked at the mess on her bed and groaned. This was going too slowly. She walked across her room to retrieve a small trash can, then moved back to the bed and began shoving fistfuls of trash and unnecessary papers into the bin. Then she gathered up the books and notebooks from her classes and stacked them on the edge of her desk. She would not need them this weekend. This weekend was for fun. She glanced across her bed, picking up the few stray ink pens still left there and setting them on her desk. She brushed off her bed and smoothed the comforter out. There, she thought. Now for the important things. She walked to her closet and slid open the doors. It was time to choose her outfits.
Picking out clothes was Becca’s favorite part of getting ready for a trip, usually. But this time she wasn’t sure what to pack. Becca had been away at college for a few weeks in a big city about 100 miles from her home town. She had only been home once since college began – she had driven up a week before her classes started to get settled in, but immediately missed home and ended up driving back on her first free day to see her mom and surprise her best friend with a visit. But once classes really got going, Becca got busier. Time flew past, she made new friends and began spending time with classmates, and her texts to her family and friends became less frequent as she juggled everything. Now she felt disconnected from her hometown and sorely in need of a reset. Plus, Becca’s best friend had been asking for a girls' night for weeks. So when Becca’s only Monday class got cancelled, Becca jumped at the chance to take a go home for a long weekend. It was Thursday afternoon, and she had just finished her last class for the day, which meant she had the whole glorious weekend ahead of her. She would stop at home tonight to see her mom, and then spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in her best friend’s dorm at the local university before driving back on Monday to do her homework for the following week. Becca knew her friend probably had lots of things planned for their weekend, but she had no clue what they were. And that was the problem. How can you pick out outfits when you don’t know what you’ll be doing? She would have to text her friend and ask.
Hey, Niss! I’m so excited about our girls’ weekend. What are the plans? I need to know whether to pack sweatpants or high heels. Love ya!
Anissa generally responded to Becca’s messages quickly, but she might be in class or something, so Becca wasn’t sure how long she might have to wait.
Almost immediately, the phone dinged with a message. Becca picked it up. But it wasn’t Anissa. It was Doug.
Hey Becca. I miss you. Why aren’t you returning my calls?
Becca sighed and closed the message. She felt bad for ignoring Doug, but she was in a bit of a bind with their situation. She and Doug had been casually dating for several weeks now, just hanging out, but a couple days ago, Doug had tried to take things to the next level. He had leaned over their cups of coffee on the table, told her he was falling for her, and kissed her.
It had been a nice kiss. Becca hadn’t pulled away. But she hadn’t leaned in, either. She just sat there, paralyzed, unsure how she felt about what was happening. After the kiss, she made small talk for a few minutes before murmuring something about homework and rushing away, leaving a confused Doug sitting alone at the table. Since that night, Doug had continued to try to reach out to Becca, sending her sweet messages and even flowers. But Becca wasn’t sure what she wanted. She liked Doug, but she wasn’t sure she could see a future with him, and she had never been the type to date just for fun. If it wasn’t going anywhere, then what was the point? Why waste the time and risk both people getting hurt? But that was part of the problem – Doug was already in too deep. If she broke it off with him, he would already get hurt, so she couldn’t do that unless she was sure, either. She had to be sure, 100% sure, that she either wanted a future with him or she didn’t. Then she could make her choice.
Becca tossed her phone on the bed. What is wrong with me? Doug was a great guy. An amazing, sweet, hot, smart guy. So why didn’t she feel as much for him as he felt for her? Maybe she could, in time. She just wasn’t sure, and making him wait was only making her feel guilty. Becca sighed again. This weekend was supposed to be stress-free, a weekend just for fun. She pushed thoughts of Doug's message from her mind; she could figure that situation out later. She walked to her small bathroom to gather her toiletries while she waited for a reply from Anissa.
Becca wasn’t planning on taking much with her. She and Anissa were comfortable enough with each other that Becca didn’t feel the need to worry about her hair or makeup. And who else would there be to impress? Becca wasn’t going on a trip to pick up boys, she was going to spend time with her best friend. She would take just the basics – a tinted moisturizer, some lip gloss and mascara. She grabbed a small makeup bag from her counter and shoved the items in, then grabbed her shampoo and toothbrush. When Becca returned to her bed with the items, her phone was blinking with a message notification.
Hi, Becs! Change of plans – Brian insisted that we spend at least one night of our girls’ weekend with him (the jerk!). When he heard you were coming, he said it was his big-bro duty to check in on my best friend and see how she’s been doing in the big city. Do you mind if we crash at my parents’ house this weekend instead of in my dorm?
Becca felt her skin flush. Brian wanted to see her? Brian was Anissa’s hot older brother, and Becca had always had a bit of a secret crush on him. Not that it mattered. He was her best friend’s brother, which made him off-limits. Plus she had known him nearly all her life – she and Anissa had been friends since the 3rd grade. She had always thought Brian was nice, but somewhere between middle school and high school, he had turned from nice to smokin’ hot. Becca had done her best not to notice, but it hadn’t been easy. Still, things had never been awkward between her and Brian. He had always treated her like a second sister. Becca had long-since forced down her own attraction to Brian, knowing “kid sister’s friend” was never going to be on his potential dating list. Even if there had been a chance Brian would ever be interested in Becca – which was next to impossible – there were still Anissa’s feelings to consider. Anissa probably wouldn't approve, and they both loved Anissa far too much to ever do anything to hurt her.
No, a relationship with Brian was never a true possibility. Becca had come to terms with that. But Brian specifically requesting to see her? That was new. She and Brian didn’t really talk, other than when they were both hanging out with Anissa. Don’t read too much into it. Brian probably just wanted some family time with Anissa and was including Becca to be nice, since he knew she’d be in town. But Becca still couldn’t help but feel a small thrill of excitement creep into her chest, betraying a feeling she’d thought herself long past. She forced it down. Brian was off-limits, and besides, Becca still had the Doug situation to worry about. The strange feelings she was having over Brian were probably just a reaction to her stress over what to do about Doug.
Becca texted Anissa back.
Sure, no problem! Any plans? What should I pack?
Not a clue. Left the plans open for whatever you want. But the parents just installed a pool, so bring a swimsuit!
Becca felt a tremor of nervousness as she dug her bathing suit out of her dresser. She and Anissa swam with Brian plenty of times at the rec center as kids, but now the thought of him seeing her in a swimsuit felt… weird.
Get a grip, Becca. She grabbed her swimsuit and a dark t-shirt and some exercise shorts to wear over it, and stuffed them in her backpack. Then she turned back to her closet. A nebulous weekend with Anissa and Brian… Would they be hanging at the house watching movies? Going to the mall? Hiking in the woods? With Brian involved, there was no way of knowing. He was carefree and unpredictable. Becca grabbed jeans and sneakers, and shoved them in her bag. She added some pajama pants and a shirt and, of course, underwear and socks. She picked out a couple comfy shirts, and added them to the bag. She turned back to the closet, surveying her wardrobe, then grabbed a dress that flattered her figure and some heels. Just in case, she thought, a nervous feeling churning in her stomach. She headed to the bathroom to pack her makeup after all. Not for Brian, of course, but in case they ended up going somewhere fancy and she needed to look presentable. After all, it was best to be prepared.
An hour later, Becca was on the road. It took her about an hour and a half to drive the distance back to her home town, and she spent it singing at the top of her voice to the radio turned up loud. But when she turned onto the familiar street into the entrance of her old neighborhood, she turned the radio down. There was something about home that made her want to come in softly, rather than crashing in among a cloud of chaotic noise.
Becca pulled into the driveway and parked, then just sat for a moment and looked at the house. It was an ordinary house, three bedrooms with a small, somewhat-unkempt yard. The white paint was peeling slightly around the brick-red door frame, and dust coated the window ledges that spanned the front of the house. Small patches of brown splotched the grassy lawn and an old oak tree spread across one side, littering the yard with unraked leaves. A tan sedan sat under the covering of the carport in front of where Becca had parked, and decorative pots filled with long-dead plants lined the front porch. Becca stepped out of the car and stared, a strange weight settling into her chest. The house hadn’t changed a bit since she’d left, but somehow it still felt different, as though she were looking at it with new eyes. Would that mean her time with her mom would feel different, too? She would soon know – the front door was opening.
Becca’s mom stepped out, waving, with a huge smile on her face. A bandana held her hair back from her face, and she wore sweatpants and an old T-shirt. Her clothes and face were covered in splotches of red and purple. Is that paint? What was her mom up to now? Becca’s mom wasn’t a painter – usually – but she was always doing some kind of crazy project. Becca wondered what the newest was. Was she faux-painting the living room again? Painting a mural in the bathroom? There was no telling what today’s project was, and Becca would probably get roped into it. Becca felt a small frustration rise in her chest. She hadn’t come here to work on some crazy project; she’d wanted to relax and maybe even get some special treatment as the college girl returned home for a night. She hadn’t come here to be forced alongside one of her mom’s crazy schemes like she’d always been made to do in childhood. Yet somehow the frustration she felt gave Becca a little sense of comfort. At least some things still felt the same about being home. Becca waved and smiled back, then reached into the car to grab her backpack. She was home, but only for one night. And she was determined to make the most of it.
Becca heaved her over-stuffed backpack onto her shoulder and steadied herself for her mom’s traditional nearly-knock-you-over hug. But it didn’t come. Her mom simply walked up and stopped in front of Becca, her face split into a wide smile. “Come inside,” she said. “I have something to show you.” She turned and walked up the driveway and in the front door.
Becca hurried to follow, entering the house a few steps behind her mom. She closed the door behind her and turned to face her mom. “Now what was so –"
She stopped. Standing beside her mom was a tall man in his early forties, his dark brown hair gelled up in an all-too familiar way. Becca’s insides churned as she recognized the man standing before her.