027. In Transit. Wendy Maxon

Vic was too pedestrian for Helie. Awkward, her roommate Deb insisted. Why was Helie so excited, anyway? Didn’t she notice Vic shoved those stargazer lilies into a cheap old-lady vase?

Deb must be right. Helie hadn’t dated anyone else and couldn’t know what she was doing in relationships; Deb knew better. How could she hang with Deb in Cancun on spring break if she stayed chained to Vic like that? So Helie was on her way to break up with Vic at 3:00 am, driving her silver hatchback, beelining for his crumbling apartment, so she could have a life with far more gold than silver.

Vic wore sweatpants ridged with motor oil and didn’t fit in either. He spent weekends fixing that battered Chevy his dad couldn’t trade in. He and Helie laughed about their shared pasts, penned in like black sheep. They chugged coffee in high-backed diner booths and swapped ideas, dreams, qualms, plans. But Deb swore rags and grease were wrong, and dreams meant nothing if you couldn’t upgrade that Chevy. Helie felt embarrassed she hadn’t realized the truth and thanked Deb for the advice.

Didn’t Helie notice that vase smelled? Pungent, like the glue Vic used to create those mosaics for her, shells and twigs and sea glass in the exact shape of her nose and angled cut of her cheek when she grinned like a madwoman and looked directly into the sun, which she only did near him.

Before Vic, Helie hid her smiles and spent time holed up, nose deep in tales of ocean journeys. Her parents always wondered what was wrong with her. That girl across the street, Deb, didn’t roll her eyes or spiral down into oceans. She wore white jeans and went to parties! Helie could too, if she could just get it right.

Last year in the dorm, the seniors down the hall (Deb too, with her green bikini and permanently arched brow) questioned her looks and instincts. Helie nodded with them, because there was a gold medal ahead that she should be able to see. But Vic held her hair in his paint thinner-stained palms while she sobbed and told her she was the fucking most beautiful thing on earth. And right then, triumphant, wild hair backlit, she was. She should have outgrown that feeling, right? Why wasn’t she brave enough to let him go?

The freeway lights froze into white and red threads, like the stripes on the petals of her stargazer lilies. Helie wove through lane lines, hand trembling on the gearshift. She tried to remember why she was doing this, what the goal was supposed to be. Maybe she didn’t need gold or silver anymore. Maybe just chrome.

She’d pause at the next offramp. Check the GPS. Research a scuba trip. Check Craigslist for ads for new roommates.

Vic lived ten miles up. She’d call him tomorrow to see if he wanted to dive.

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