In the Middle: Ch. 5

“So, not sure if this is your thing or not, but there’s going to be a bonfire on the beach tonight,” Dorothy says without looking up from her phone after expertly navigating me onto the highway. “You should come. It will be a ton of fun.”

“I’ve never been to a beach before,” I say.

I can feel Dorothy’s shocked look, but I don’t take my eyes off the road as I smile a little at the satisfaction of my own words. 

Tonight, I’ll be sitting on a beach in front of a roaring fire surrounded by strangers: a place I never thought I’d ever find myself. It sounds like heaven, with no trace of Brad in sight or mind.

“You've never been to a beach? Like ever? That’s insane. How is that even possible? Wait, how old are you?”

“Eighteen,” I say. “I just graduated.”

“Oh, wow. You seem a lot older. I’m twenty-two, in case you were wondering. But I’ve lived by a beach my whole life. My mom, she could never stay in one place long, but every place we went to was near a beach, no matter what. As long as the ocean was in sight, we could make a home anywhere. I don’t know how anyone could ever go a whole eighteen years without ever seeing the ocean, or feeling the sand beneath your feet. I mean, wow. That totally blows my mind.”

“I’m from a really small town in Oklahoma. We’re landlocked. And my family didn’t really travel. I’ve lived in the same house my entire life.”

“Well, jeez. No wonder you left.”

“Yeah,” I say, sadness coating my voice.

The silence feels heavy for a few moments, and I think about telling her, this stranger, everything. I feel the story swirling in the back of my throat, but before I can open my mouth to begin, I swallow hard and the words just get stuck somewhere in my chest instead.

“Are you okay?” Dorothy asks. “You look like you’re gonna puke.”

“I’m fine,” I say, forcing a smile onto my face. “Sorry.”

“For what? Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’re a chronic apologizer too. Let me tell you what my mother used to tell me, and what I always have to tell Anna: Unless you’ve made someone bleed, there’s really no need.”

“Sorry,” I say, and then I bite my lip.

Dorothy chuckles. “It’s a work in progress. Don’t sweat it.”


There’s silence for a moment. Dorothy is engrossed in her phone again. I keep my eyes on the road ahead, the trees lining either side blurring in a shade of green as we continue on.

“So, I don’t remember if I asked you this already, but what brought you to Portland? Oklahoma’s kinda far, isn’t it?” Dorothy asks.

I shrug. “I just wanted to get away. I didn’t really have a destination in mind. I stayed in Denver for a night. And then Salt Lake City. I’ve kinda just been heading west ever since graduation.”

“I’ve done that before. It’s one of the things I miss about having a car. It’s kinda hard to sleep on a bike.”

The drive and the conversation continues on pleasantly and easily for the rest of the three and a half hour drive. I learn that Dorothy’s mom died of breast cancer a few years ago, leaving Dorothy the small beach house on the northern coast of Washington, two hours away from Seattle where Dorothy was living and going to school when she got the news. 

She met her roommate and best friend, Anna, while attending classes at the University of Washington. After her mom died, Dorothy dropped out, but Anna is still working toward her degree in psychology, commuting to Seattle from the beach house twice a week for classes. 

I learn she and Anna are both working at a popular pub-like restaurant on the beach, and that Dorothy has been sleeping with the married owner, Mike, for quite some time.

“We could always use some extra hands for the summer, if you want a job,” Dorothy says. “Especially since Anna is barely working anymore. I can talk to Mike for you. He pretty much does whatever I tell him. So if you want a job, it’s yours.”

“Thanks,” I say. “That would be nice. But I’m not sure how long I’d be able to stay.”

“You could stay with us. I bet Anna wouldn’t mind. We have an extra room.”

I bite my lip as I consider the offer. It sounds nice, of course. But what if the nightmares don’t stop? What if they change their mind about me after they find out what happened? What I’ve done? 

What if Anna doesn’t like me? What if I don’t like Anna? Or the house? Or the beach?

There seemed to be so much less at stake traveling alone on the open road with no destination in mind. I’m not sure if I’m ready to stop in one place for longer than a night. So far, I haven’t been able to escape the nightmares and memories that haunt me. 

“I’ll think about it,” I say.

I'm not sure I'll be able to stop until I've left the past behind for good.

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