My heart was pounding so hard that I thought I might have a heart attack. I was terrified. I'd never left Willow Lake for more than a weekend, and even that was always with my mother. I would never have expected to be so scared, but I really was. Because I was leaving, and I honestly didn't know when or if I'd return to Willow Lake again.

It was three days later, and I had called my mother the day before to tell her that I was leaving with Caleb; that we were going to Bismarck, North Dakota where Caleb was going to be going to school. I told her that I would be staying there for a week - actually it was nine days - and then I'd fly to New York to meet my roommate at the airport on the 21st. Of course she had asked how I had the extra money for the extra plane tickets but I told her that Caleb had taken care of it. And he had. I had gone over to my mother's house later that day, alone, to say goodbye to her, Thomas and my brothers. I was in tears before I even pulled into the driveway.

"Why are you leaving?" Ryden had asked; pulling at my heart strings.

"She has to go to school, Ry," Troy had answered for me, making me smile.

"Are you going to come back?" Ryden had another question. He was only eight but he was definitely wise beyond his years. He knew, even then, that I might never called Willow Lake "home" again.

I had looked up at my mother before answering this time, and she nodded. She knew that whether or not I had planned to move back to Willow Lake in the future, I had to tell the boys I would be back. "Of course I'm coming back. It might not be for awhile, but I'll be back." I finally answered, and saw Ryden and Troy both nod.

After all the hugs and kisses, I looked up at my mother one last time. I gave her a half-hearted smile, and she gave me one back. That summer had not been what either of us had expected, but I guess that's how things happen sometimes. And both of us accepted it at that moment. I remember looking down at my mother's stomach. She wasn't showing yet, of course, but it was weird to know that there was a baby growing inside of her. And I was leaving. I wouldn't be there for the rest of her pregnancy, to help Thomas deal with her like I had the other three times. I wouldn't be there when the baby was born, I wouldn't see the look on Ryden and Troy's - and especially Oliver's - faces when they saw their little brother or sister for the first time. I wouldn't be there for any of it.

I saw the sad look in my mother's eyes as she realized that her only daughter - so far - was all grown up. And there was nothing she could do to stop me. I hugged her again, kissed her cheek and told her that everything was going to be alright. She nodded, and then asked me to call both Brittany and Terra before I left. She felt that it was important that I do it, even with all that had happened. So I agreed. She told me for the millionth time that she'd have my car sent down by the end of the following week, to New York City, and I'd have to pick it up, but she'd call and let me know when. I nodded. Then I hugged my little brothers again, followed by Thomas, and then left without turning back, with tears still pouring down my cheeks. I had heard Oliver calling out to me, crying, as I got into the driver's seat and started my car, waving as I backed up and drove off down the street.

Now, as I sat in that basement where I'd spent my entire summer, I cried. I was staring at my cell phone, trying desperately to call either Brittany or Terra - eventually both - but couldn't work up the courage. Not that I had done anything wrong, but I still felt bad for just getting up and leaving. Finally, just an hour before Colin was taking us to the airport; I picked up my cell phone again and dialed Terra's number first. After three rings, a voice answered, sounding disturbed,


"Hi, Mrs. O'Conner, it's McKenna," I began.

"McKenna," Terra's mother repeated, "hello."

"Is Terra home? I know she works a lot, but, I really need to talk to her - " I started, but was interrupted.

"She hasn't been feeling well. I don't think she feels up to talking on the phone." Her mother told me quickly. Too quickly.

"Oh," I said, knowing something was wrong, "well, can you just tell her I'm on the phone? Maybe she'll talk to me for just a minute." I replied.

"I don't think so, honey. Maybe you could call tomorrow and see if she's feeling better." Her mother suggested.

"Actually, I'm leaving Willow Lake this afternoon. I'm moving to New York, and I am leaving early so I just wanted to talk to Terra - "

"Oh," the woman began, sounded surprised, "I'm sorry, McKenna, you'll have to call her in a few days, when you get settled." She answered.

Why the hell couldn't she just let me talk to her? Just for a minute. I just wanted to tell her that I was sorry for not being around much that summer. I just wanted to say goodbye.

"Okay," I said, not wanting to start an argument, "can you tell her that I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to her and that I'll call her in a few days?"

"Of course, honey. Goodbye, now." She finished and hung up in my ear before I could say another word. Something was definitely wrong.

We were in Colin's car, him driving, me and Caleb in the back seat, just forty-five minutes later. I hadn't been able to build up the courage to call Brittany, so I had just decided not to. Neither of us had been very good friends to each other that summer, and maybe it was meant to be that way. Who knows? I would never know. We had to go to the St. Albert's airport to depart, and the drive seemed to take longer than it should have. I had my eyes closed, my head resting on Caleb's shoulder, when I heard my cell phone ringing. I pulled it out quickly and saw that it was Brittany. For a second I didn't know whether I should answer or not, but I flipped it open a moment later with Caleb just watching.

"Hi," I answered, quietly.

"McKenna, god, I'm so glad I caught you before you left." Brittany's voice boomed into my ear and I could tell she was or had been crying. She had obviously called my mom.

"You almost didn't," I began, "I'll be gone in less than an hour."

"Shit, why are you leaving so early? You didn't even call me?" she wanted to know. She must have forgotten the little incident she'd caused less than a week ago. Maybe she had a bad memory.

"Brittany, I couldn't call you." I said plainly.

"You didn't even let me explain."

"What's there to explain?" I asked, raising my voice a little and saw Colin look over his shoulder at me, concerned. "You called the cops on my boyfriend just because you were mad at me. You put us through hell, for no reason."

"I'm sorry. I called you that morning and you wouldn't answer your phone, I just needed to talk..." she let her voice trail off.

"About what?" I asked, still annoyed, but giving her a chance to tell me, at least.

"Mac, I caught A.J. at the mall with some other girl last week. That's why I called you that morning, I wanted to apologize and tell you that you were right and I should have believed you. I'm so sorry." Brittany told me, now crying again.

I had no idea what to say. Sure, that wasn't a very good reason for her to call the cops on Caleb, but I had turned off my phone that morning because I didn't feel like talking to her. That had been pretty immature of me, as well.

"Britt," I started, taking a breath, "I'm sorry I didn't answer my phone that day. We've both been pretty bad friends this summer."

"Yeah, we have." She agreed.

"I'm... I'm glad we got to talk before I left." I told her. Honestly, I would never had thought I'd say that to her. But things were okay again.

"So am I. Mac, I'm really, really sorry for what I did. Can you tell Caleb how sorry I am?" she continued, and I nodded, even though she couldn't see me.

"I'll tell him." I agreed.

"So, what's going to happen? With us?" she asked, still crying. "I've never gone more than a few days without seeing you, our whole lives. And now you're going to be gone for a year or more."

"I know. You'll always be my best friend." I told her, and as I did, I thought about Terra. I had to talk to her. I had to make things better with her, too, before I left.

"You'll always be my best friend, too, forever. I'll miss you." Brittany answered.

There was that word again. Forever. But this time it actually made sense to use it. Even though her relationship with A.J. was not going to last forever as she'd thought it would, I believed at that moment that our friendship would.

"I'll miss you, too. I missed you this summer." I admitted, and I had.

"I'm glad you're happy with Caleb. I'm really glad." She told me, making me smile.

"Thanks. I'm sorry about A.J. You'll meet better guys at Princeton, anyway." I told her, still smiling.

"You knew all along that I'd end up at Princeton, didn't you?" she asked with a laugh, although I could hear her sniffing away her tears.

"Yeah, I did. I bet your mom's happy."

"She is." Brittany told me.

There was a moment of silence, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It was okay. Everything was okay. I cleared my throat and thought about Terra again. I had to talk to her.

"Brittany, I gotta call Terra, alright? I'll call you when I'm settled in New York, I promise." I said to my childhood best friend.

"Okay, Mac." She sounded sad but knew she had to let me go. "Bye."

"Bye." I finished, and closed my cell phone again, taking a deep breath and then letting it out.

Without a word to Caleb, I began dialing Terra's home number again. But this time it rang four times and the answering machine picked up. I'd assumed that her mother had seen the caller ID and saw that it was me, so she didn't answer. I decided against leaving a message because I had no idea what I would say. And it wasn't as if her mother was going to give her the message, anyway. Something was wrong with Terra and her mother was trying desperately to keep it from me. And I'd have to wait awhile before I found out what it was.

I was just pulling away from a huge hug that I'd given Colin. We were standing by the door of the St. Albert's airport, waiting for our flight to be called.

"Thank you so much for everything you've done for me, and Caleb, this summer." I said honestly, looking into Colin's eyes.

I could see that he was holding back tears as he replied, "No problem. I'm going to miss you two so much."

"We're going to miss you, too. We'll call you. I'll never forget you, Colin." I told him, making him blush a little.

"I'll never forget you. You've been so good to my buddy here, and to me." He told me, now smiling.

I didn't say another word because I began crying then. Caleb hugged his best friend and thanked him as well, and we were all crying as we heard the announcement about our flight and that we needed to board the plane. This was it. It was now or never. Caleb and I waved at Colin as we walked away from him, and out to the airplane. Colin was staying in Willow Lake to work for a year before attending the community college in St. Alberts the next year. But after all we'd been through with him I'd wished that he was coming with Caleb and me.

The two of us got settled into our seats on the plane a few minutes later. It was a full flight; a small plane, though. About thirty seats, I had guessed. I sat by the window and stared out it, trying to forget everything, trying to tell myself that I'd be starting over. But I still thought about my mom, my brothers, Brittany and especially Terra. I looked over at Caleb who had been watching me, and he smiled, making me smile. He had always been good at that.

"Are you okay?" he asked cutely, taking a hold of my hand.

"Yes. I'm okay." I told him, smiling genuinely.

"What are you thinking about?" he wondered, looking into my eyes.

"Everything. I'm still upset about not getting to talk to Terra." I answered.

"You'll talk to her in a few days; everything will be okay." He told me, as if he was absolutely sure of this fact.

I just nodded. The flight was only about five hours long but I had slept mostly the whole time with my head on Caleb's shoulder. He was whispering to me when the plane landed, to wake me up.

"Cutie, we're here. Come on."

I opened my eyes, smiling. We were there. We were in Bismarck. I'd never been to North Dakota before. I'd never really been anywhere outside of Idaho besides one trip my mom and I had taken to California when I was seven. That was back before she was even with Thomas. The good old days when it was just her and I. Caleb and I got off the plane which led us into the huge airport. We managed to locate the baggage claim without much trouble, by following a bunch of tourists. I'd only brought three bags of clothes and one packsack of personal belongings; the rest of my stuff was going to be sent to New York the following week. Caleb had only brought two bags which held his clothes, a few CDs and a few books. That was all he really owned.

We held hands as we waited for our bags, and before any of them had showed up on the baggage belt, we heard a loud voice calling Caleb's name from behind us. I stayed where I was; afraid, terrified even, to turn around. But Caleb turned, turning me with him a moment later and we came face to face with an older looking - as in older than my mother - woman with dark hair and a toddler on her hip. A smile spread across my boyfriend's face immediately.

"Mom," he said, his voice shaky.

"Oh, Caleb," the woman smiled, put the toddler down on the floor and wrapped her arms around her son. After she pulled away from their hug, she looked him up and down a few times. "You look so good." She told him.

"Thanks," he replied, but hadn't really taken his eyes off of the little girl who was now standing next to his mother. "Mom, this is my girlfriend, McKenna."

The woman looked over at me and smiled right away, and then held out her hand. She seemed pretty nice already. I shook her hand and said, "Nice to meet you."

"You too, I'm Sherry," she told me, "Caleb went on and on about you on that phone a few days ago. And when he called yesterday, well, it was the same thing." She smiled, looking from me to Caleb and back to me again.

I just smiled. It made me feel so good to hear that.

"Mom," Caleb began again and then motioned towards the little girl who was clinging to the woman's legs.

"Oh, Caleb, this is Ariel, your half sister. She's just turned two years a few weeks ago." His mother told him.

"Wow," Caleb smiled, looking down at the little blonde girl, "When I was saw you last, you were pregnant."

"Yeah, I can't believe I let a whole year go by without even talking to you. You are my baby." She told him, reaching out her hand to touch his face.

Caleb had since told me that his mother and father had gotten divorced when he was eleven and the custody battle ended a year later with his father having full custody of him. So his mother moved upstate for awhile and then eventually moved up to North Dakota when he was thirteen. She had gotten remarried a year later and Caleb had a half sister who he'd never met until now.

"I missed you, Mom." Caleb told her honestly, and then bent down to look at the little girl. "Hi, there, I'm Caleb." He told her and she smiled without a word.

"I didn't believe you actually had that done..." his mother said to him, letting her voice trail off and both Caleb and I looked confused until I noticed she was staring at the tattoo on his arm.

"I told you I did." Caleb replied, after realizing what she'd meant.

"I know. It's beautiful." His mother finished, making Caleb smile. "Well, I guess we should get your bags and get going, it's a good half an hour drive home and I'm sure you both are tired." The woman continued.

It was seven o'clock Bismarck time. I found out that Caleb's mother didn't actually live in Bismarck, but in the outskirts of it. Caleb's college was actually right in Bismarck, so he'd be living in residence during the week and would be staying at his mother's house on the weekends. He had it all planned out. And I'd be in New York.

We left the airport and got into Caleb's mother's minivan. The little girl, Ariel, was in a car seat in the second row of seat, so Caleb and I sat at the very back. The drive was long and I was still shaking with nervousness. I'd already met his mother, who seemed nice enough, but now Caleb and I had to meet the step-father. Caleb had met him once, at fifteen, when he'd gone to Bismarck - well, Mandan, where they lived - to visit for a week. They had been married for a year and his mother was just a few months pregnant.

I just watched out the window the whole way there, glancing up at my boyfriend every few minutes. I could tell he was nervous as well. Finally, when Caleb's mother pulled into a long driveway of a huge, gorgeous house, I felt my heart skip a beat. We were there.