The alarm blared at 5:30 a.m. Tara probably could have slept another hour but she wanted time to try and talk with her mother. The sun was barely creeping over the horizon. Tara lay in bed, trying to think of what she should say.
She only had to wait about five minutes before there was a knock on the door. She shook her head to clear it, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and sat up as her mother entered.
Tara managed a small smile followed by a yawned, "Hello," in greeting.
"Everything all ready to go?" Mrs. Kavanagh asked.
"Yes, I'm all packed," said Tara. *Whether or not all my stuff will survive the trip remains to be seen,* she thought, but didn't dare voice it.
"Dad's making breakfast," said Mrs. Kavanagh. Tara could tell this was just as awkward for her mother as it was for her. Mrs. Kavanagh could not quite meet her daughter's eyes and her tone was more quiet than usual. "I'm going to try and wake your sister but no telling if she'll come downstairs before you leave."
"Maybe," said Tara. Why was this so hard? Usually, if Tara and her mom had a spat, they would give it a few hours, or overnight, and life would return to normal. But, this time was different. Between her was leaving, where she was going, and the words that were said, the whole fight the previous night had a whole new hurt factor to it. Tara had to figure out a way to reconcile, otherwise next time she was home, there was n increased chance for an even bigger fight. She had seen people go through that. A girlhood friend cut ties with her own sister after a huge family fight. Tara didn't think she could handle that.
"Look, sweetie," Mrs. Kavanagh began, sitting on the bed. "I wanted to apologize for last night."
Tara could not speak. She knew it looked awful but she could only gape. Mom never apologized. Actually, neither of them ever did. Their few hours of cool-off time usually implied a mutual apology. At least, that was what Tara always believed. Mother and daughter were both tremendously stubborn, which contributed to the never officially apologizing after an argument. One thing she feared was something that would trigger another flare of temper. Then, where would they be?
"Uh huh," Tara managed, finally.
"You were right," Mrs. Kavanagh continued. Another first. "I may not like that you're going to live with your grandmother for a while. Or that you're working for her." Not making things better. "But…" Wait for it. "I am proud of you. Continental is a great school and a full scholarship is wonderful. So, I may not agree with your decision but I will support it."
Tara threw her arms around her mother and squeezed her eyes shut to prevent the tears from returning. "Thanks, Mom," she said. "And I'm sorry, too." It wasn't much but it was enough.
When the hug ended, Tara went downstairs while Mrs. Kavanagh attempted to wake Christine. The smell of eggs, bacon, and something delicious baking filled the air. Tara stopped to take it all in. She made a mental note to take advantage of the campus weight room. Her father learned his excellent cooking and baking skills from Gran, which meant she would be living with rich, delicious food for the next three months. She would pack on the dreaded Freshmen Fifteen before school even started.
"Good morning, baby girl," said her father.
"Hi," said Tara. "It smells good."
"It better," said Mr. Kavanagh. "Where's your mom?"
"Trying to get Christine up before I go." Tara sat at the table and began petting Mickey, their lab mix. He lay on his side, tail thumping the tile floor happily while he had his belly rubbed.
"Operative word there is 'trying,'" said Mr. Kavanagh, with a grin. This caused Tara to laugh. They both knew her sister was not a morning person so waking her at 6 o'clock was not an easy task. "Did you talk to your mom?"
Tara nodded. "I was just getting up when she came in. I think we really made up this time."
"Good," said Mr. Kavanagh, as he flipped bacon in the pan. "You shouldn't leave on bad terms."
"I hated that you and Christine were in the middle, too," said Tara.
"Middle nothing," said Mr. Kavanagh. "I was completely staying out of it. That was between you and your mother. But it's over now so let's have a nice family breakfast and you can hit the road before traffic gets bad."
Tara took a rag and began cleaning dirty pans while Mr. Kavanagh set the table and dished out scrambled eggs and bacon. Mickey hovered, waiting for scraps to fall before Mr. Kavanagh put him outside. The oven timer sounded and Tara squealed with excitement as she pulled out a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls.
She set them on the table and applied glaze. As she did, Mrs. Kavanagh entered the kitchen, followed by a sleepy-eyed Christine. She mumbled something that might have sounded like 'Good morning' if she were awake. Instead, the teen slumped in her seat and struggled not to face plant her plate of food.
The meal passed quietly. The girls were not all the way awake yet, despite the coffee concoctions they were both downing. Tara made another mental note to stop at her favorite coffee shop for a large frozen coffee for the road.
Mr. Kavanagh talked about some of the places around his mother's shop that he remembered frequenting on his days off school while his mother worked at the shop and his father was away driving truck. Some of the places were either closed or passed ownership to the next generation.
Coolersville Township was a small town in central Ohio. Not a likely place to find a college. And yet, Continental College was considered one of the best in the country. Tara had been thinking about attending school there since she was a small child and now she was only a few months away.
When her grandmother had offered her a job in the summer to help earn extra money, she jumped at the opportunity. She knew her mother would be mad, and it eventually led in part to the prior evening's argument. But, she adored and idolized her grandmother and was never able to spend enough time with her because of her mother's feelings. She did not want to hurt anyone.
At about 7:30, Tara helped clean the dishes with her sleepy sister. She grabbed her purse, the box of pictures, double checked her list, hugged her family, and said goodbye. Her parents asked her to call when she arrived at Gran's and reminded her to keep her phone in her purse. As she drove down the street, she watched her family fade in the rear view mirror and a tear ran down her cheek. She felt a mixture of sadness, excitement, fear and happiness. She was on her way. Actually on her way. Taking the first step toward the rest of her life. If only she knew the surprises that awaited her. An adventure she'd never expect.
He watched the girl depart from her family and clicked the screen off with a cringe as she began belting along with a Broadway musical on her MP3 player.
"What a sweet scene," he muttered, sarcastically. He turned to where his mate sat on the couch. She stared wistfully at him with her lovely orange eyes. "What do you think, my love?"
"She will be fun to toy with," she said, her tone breathy with exhaustion. "She's so emotional. I know you always enjoy that."
"I want to wait until you're well," he said, sitting beside her and taking her in his arms. He kissed her forehead. She purred and nuzzled closer.
"I will be well soon enough," she purred. "You should have some fun in the meantime. I don't want to deprive you."
He turned her to face him and pressed his lips gently to hers. He moved up her nose to her forehead. He worked down her left temple, down her cheek. She let out a moan as he nuzzled her neck. The moan turned into a cry of pain as her head began to pound.
He pulled back, concerned. Her face was pale and sweat beaded her brow. She was panting and barely able to lift her head.
"I'm so sorry, my love," he exclaimed. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, I'm fine," she panted. She caressed his cheek with a trembling hand. Her fingers were ice cold. "I'm just getting tired."
"Everything is almost ready," he whispered, kissing her shaking fingers. "I can't stand to see you like this. You'll be well again. By all the power I have within me, I swear it."
Far too exhausted to reply, she merely held onto him before falling asleep in his arms.