“You don’t always have to be the strong one, you know.”
I took a deep drag on my cigarette, holding the smoke in my mouth for a long moment before I slowly let it out. “I’m not trying to be strong.”
She cleared her throat; she always did that when she was feeling skeptical. I didn’t look at her. I tapped the ash off the end of my cigarette and waited.
“Well… it’s just… you keep trying to act like you don’t care.”
I almost laughed. “Katie, I don’t care.”
I still wasn’t looking at her, but I could practically feel her eyebrows raise. “Your mom kicked you out and you don’t care?”
My boot knocked into a pebble, and I sent it skittering across the parking lot. “She hasn’t kicked me out yet.”
“Okay, but you know she’s going to!” Katie said. Then she sighed, losing her steam. “I’m worried about you, Jack. You’re like my sister, and… well, where are you going to go?”
I shrugged. “Europe.”
“Europe?!” she almost shrieked.
I shrugged again, blowing out another mouthful of smoke. “Yeah. I’ve got money for a plane. Might as well get out of here before she makes me get out.”
“Don’t be stupid, Jaclyn—buying a plane ticket would leave you with nothing. You can’t afford to take a trip like that.”
“I figured I’d just take my college fund.”
That left her speechless for a moment, and I took another musing drag on my cigarette. “I mean, it’s not like I ever really wanted to go to college, anyway,” I said. “It was just something she wanted me to do. But if she’s decided she doesn’t want me anymore, then I sure as hell don’t give a fuck about her.”
Katie just stared at me, her hands empty and despairing at her sides. “But that’s… you’re…”
I dropped my cigarette, crushing it decisively under my heel. “Hey. You only get one chance to live.”
She stared for another moment, then pulled me into a hug. Her hair smelled like honey and flowers, like always. The scent of my best friend had always been able to calm me.
She sighed. “What am I going to do without you, Jack?”
“You’ll get by,” I said, half a smile in my voice. “You’ve got big plans, remember? Medical degrees don’t earn themselves.”
“I’ll miss you.”
I slipped my hand into hers and we started down the sidewalk. Nothing more needed to be said; it had all been decided already.
“What are you going to do?” she said suddenly. “In Europe, I mean?”
“I’m going to look for myself. I know I’m out there somewhere. I just need to find me.”
She gave me a look I was very familiar with—one that said she’d long ago given up on trying to get me to talk sense. “Okay, I guess. So what are you going to do when you find you?”
I smiled. “I’m gonna walk right up and introduce myself.”