My Thanksgiving gift to all of you is a completely unedited scene from a draft of what ending up being Finding Slope, before it was anything like the way Finding Slope ended up being. In fact, my working title of it was Taking the Season. (Ugh, I know. I’m bad at titles.)
This was back when I still envisioned it as a holiday novella that happened right after the end of Making Headlines. I actually started writing it before Making Headlines was completely edited, which means that there are some things in this that are weird—for example, a character named Ainsley who was initially part of The Taking Flight Girl Squad and was later removed (She may or may not make a triumphant return in my current WIP….) and a love interest for Willa who isn’t Dan. *gasp*
In this scene, Willa has returned to Missouri after spending Thanksgiving (see what I did there?) in New York with her mom.
I get off the plane in Columbia and can’t decide if I’m glad to be back or if I’m going to cry because I miss New York so much already.
I guess it’s a little bit of both, if I’m being honest.
My Thanksgiving break wasn’t nearly long enough. I mean, I spent a lot of time with my mom, which was wonderful, but I barely got to see Ana, my best friend from high school, because she was busy hosting her extended family who flew up from Brazil because they were curious as to what American Thanksgiving was like. I actually had to meet up with her during the two hour block where she was supposed to be touring them up and down Fifth Avenue, aka letting them spend an insane amount of money on designer clothes.
She promised that we’d see more of each other over the holiday break, when we both have about a month off of school. My concern is that she’ll randomly end up with some sort of month-long externship at a fashion designer’s atelier. She’s in fashion design school in Savannah, and she’s thriving there. Her professors adore her, it seems that she has more friends than she knows what to do with, and is already considered the most talented designer in their class.
Not that any of that surprises me. I just wish I was as well adjusted to college as Ana already is.
I mean, I’m not having a bad time or anything. I’m enjoying my classes and I’ve made some amazing friends. I just feel homesick a lot. I miss little things, like watching period dramas with my mom and being able to see the Empire State Building in person and the pleasantly greasy smell of the Halal cart on my street corner.
And on top of all that, I ended things with Dan and we haven’t spoken in months. Initially, I took that really hard. And that coupled with the homesickness put me into a small tailspin—I would sleep a lot, but always felt exhausted, and I never felt hungry. As a result, I’m probably the one college freshman who lost weight. Well, without trying to, at least.
Of course, none of that went unnoticed. Sophie is constantly checking in on me, as if I’m some sort of baby bird who needs to be doted on. I do appreciate the concern and everything, but it annoys me that my not being able to emotionally handle some things was obvious to everyone.
I spy my dad standing outside his car, which is idling in the airport’s pick-up zone.
“There’s my Willa,” he says, hugging me.
“Hey, Dad,” I say when he pulls away from me and takes my bag.
“Too short,” I say honestly. “But finals will be over before we know it and I’ll be back in the city in no time.”
I say it before I think about it, but don’t see him cringe. I think he understands that New York is my hometown and that I miss it terribly. He’s pretty intuitive like that.
Well, and he and my mom have a pretty good divorced couple relationship. I’m sure they compare notes.
“Are you feeling recharged, at least?” he asks as we open our respective doors and get in the car. “I know this beginning of the semester wasn’t the easiest adjustment for you. I was hoping a few days back in the city might give you a little boost.”
For some reason this makes me cry. Which is totally embarrassing.
“Oh, Willa. I’m sorry,” he says, looking over at me briefly before taking his eyes back to the road. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, it’s not that,” I say, using the back of my hand to wipe the stupid tears away. “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”
“Okay,” he says quietly before turning up NPR. As we enter campus, I remember that I never texted Mom to let her know that I landed safely. I grab my phone and turn airplane mode off. As soon as I do, I’m bombarded with texts from my friends wanting to know if I want to go to an impromptu football party tonight.
That is the last thing I want to do right now. I want pajamas and to curl up with the very gory true crime novel I picked up at the airport bookstore.
But I have a feeling I’ll be going anyway.
I ignore the texts for now and send one to my mom.
The car pulls into the circle drive in front of my dorm and as I go to open the door my dad says, “Willa?”
I drop my hand from the door handle.”Yeah?”
“Are you happy here?”
“I am,” I say. What I don’t say is that it’s more complicated than that. Yes, I’m happy. Sometimes. Most of the time. I don’t feel unhappy. I just often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. That’s not the same as unhappy.
“Are you sure?” he asks. “Because there’s no shame in saying that you aren’t. You could transfer somewhere else. Or take a gap year.”
The look on my face must be one of horror because he laughs softly and says, “I know that you’d probably never do that. But I want you to know that if you think you need to, that’s okay.”
“Does it seem like I’m unhappy?” I ask, genuinely curious.
“Not unhappy necessarily. You just seem kind of down. I know you like school and are thriving here academically. But college isn’t just about school. And if you feel like you’re not growing as a person, then its okay to take a step back and regroup. Figure out what the best next steps are for you.”
I try to decode what exactly it is that he’s saying. When your dad is a professor, you find that sometimes he goes from dad-mode to mentor-mode pretty quickly.
“I have friends,” I say in my defense.
“I know you do,” he says, looking me in the eyes. “People would be crazy not to be friends with you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I say, smiling at that.
“But seriously, if being away from New York is too tough on you, just say something.”
“I will,” I say, hoping that will make him drop this subject. I know that it comes from a place of love and care, but I feel like he wants me to say that I’m unhappy here. And I’m not. I really do like it. It’s just taking me a little while to get over, you know, Dan. And it’s not like New York is a place that you just stop missing. It’s in my DNA at this point.
But, he’s not wrong in saying that I’ve been down lately. I know I have been. I’m working on it. I just don’t really want to talk about it. Especially with my dad.
“Okay,” he says. “Well, enjoy your first night back. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
I roll my eyes, but lean over to hug him.
“Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.”
“Let’s get lunch this week,” he says. “Whenever is good for you.”
“Sounds good,” I say. “See you soon.”
I grab my bag out of the back and key into the building, feeling both anxious and excited.
After dropping off the stuff in my room, which is for intents and purposes a single since my roommate has never spent a night here, I start to unpack my suitcase. I know I should get back to my friends about the party, but it’s been a long day and classes start back up tomorrow.
Just then, my phone rings.
I swear, the entire group of them has ESP.
But when I look at the phone, I see that it’s Jake, the football player who has vigilantly been trying to date me, calling.
I sigh, trying to decide if I should take it or not. I’m in an antisocial mood, but, maybe that’s contributing to the aura of unhappy I’m giving off. And Jake is nice. And it’s not like I’ll be on the phone that long.
“Hi,” I say, answering before I can decide not to.
“Hi, Willa,” he says, his voice congenial. “How was your Thanksgiving?”
“It was nice to be home for a few days. And yours?”
“Well, we had to play on Friday, so I actually had dinner with the team, but our families were invited and given a hotel room and free tickets to the game, so I did get to spend some time with them.”
“I’m sure they enjoyed the no-fuss Thanksgiving,” I say.
He laughs and says, “Yeah, my mom definitely did.”
I’m not sure what to say from there, so I stay quiet for a couple uncomfortable seconds.
“So, hey,” he says. “I’m not sure if Courtney invited you, but we’re having some people over tonight. It’ll be low-key—just some folks hanging out. I’d love it if you could make it.”
I take a deep breath in and weigh my options. I’m not really feeling up to a party, but he did say it’s low-key. And all my friends will be going.
“Yeah?” he asks, sounding surprised.
“Yeah, I’ll get a ride over with the girls. I’ll see you soon.”
“Great! See you soon.”
We hang up and I’m not sure how to feel about this—now that I’ve committed to going, I’m kind of excited. I’m hanging out with guys from the football team, one of whom is into me, with my really cool group of girlfriends.
I text Sophie, Kate, Courtney, and Ainsley, letting them know that I’m in. They all respond immediately, exclamation points and emojis galore, and instructions to meet downstairs in an hour.
I start changing out of the clothes I work on the plane and into a cute pair of new skinny jeans and grab my favorite blue sweater. It’s one of those that is thin enough to be flattering, but still keep you warm.
As I look at myself in the mirror, I suddenly remember that it’s the sweater I wore when I met Dan in the city and he took me to Chick-fil-A.
At first the memory makes me wistful—we had so much fun that night. It was the first time we’d seen each other outside of an airport and we were able to talk for as long as we wanted and kiss and watch a movie. He ended up falling asleep in my bed while we watched Netflix, which didn’t go over well with our moms, but it was such a revelatory feeling to wake up next to him.
I smile at the memory and find myself blinking back tears.
I slump down onto my bed, wiping away the tears for the second time tonight.
I have got to get my shit together.
I have got to move on from Dan Martin.
And I know just the guy who can help me do that.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!