Everyone thought she was crazy.
She was broken hearted, a bit depressed, a little lost and a tiny part angry but she didn’t really think she was actually crazy. It wasn’t crazy to leave behind a part of her life that made her miserable, was it?
Nicole didn’t think so. It was this reasoning that made her sublet her apartment, move whatever she couldn’t fit into the back of her Toyota 4Runner into storage and notify the school that she worked for that she would not be returning to work in the fall.
Her Mom and Dad couldn’t believe she would actually go through with it. All her life Nicole had been the responsible one. Her older brother Gavin was the free spirit who never seemed to want to make plans for the next week, let alone his whole life. In response to the struggles she saw her parents go through with Gavin, Nicole decided on a plan. After graduating high school, she attended Western Oregon University on an academic scholarship and got her bachelors degree in history. He kept going and earned her masters degree and her teaching certificate.
After college Nicole moved back to Eugene and took a position at South Eugene High School, the same school she had graduated from. She loved her job and found it challenging.
Her parents were thrilled to have her close by, especially her mom. They were always close and Nicole never had to question how proud they were of her for quickly settling on a career path and moving back to Eugene where they felt like she belonged.
Yet as happy as she was, she felt like she needed more in life. That was when she had met Rob. He was the friend of a co-worker that Nicole met at a football game. Rob was a financial advisor with strong goals in life. He was a shy, but driven man and the sparks flew immediately.
That had been almost three years ago Nicole thought as she eased the 4Runner away from the curb in front of her parents house.
A lot had happened in that amount of time. Nicole was a changed woman. She just needed to figure out what those changes meant.
This was one of the many reasons she was leaving. As much as she loved her family, her friends, her job and the city where she grew up, she just wanted out. She needed something that was unstructured to throw the illusion of her perfect life out of balance. She was so sick of perfect that it made her want to scream.
Now it was just Nicole, her car and the open road that left hundreds of possibilities for her to explore.
Her phone rang as she was getting onto highway 126. “Hello?”
“Hey Nic, where are you?”
Nicole smiled at her brother’s question. “I’m driving, where are you?”
“You’re actually doing it?” he asked and Nicole smiled at the surprise in his voice.
“Yeah, Mom and Dad were just as surprised.” she laughed.
Gavin chuckled in response. “So what direction are you headed?”
“North until Portland, than east is the plan.” she admitted. She honestly had no destination in mind although Montana sounded beautiful to her.
“You should come to Bend and visit me before you head out. Give me a chance to say good-bye.” Gavin suggested.
Nicole hesitated. It had been hard enough to say good-bye to her friends and her parents without weakening her resolve to leave. If she made any more stops before she left the state she might just turn around and come back.
“Come on, Nic. I’ll buy you lunch.” he offered.
“You’re not going to try to talk me out of this or talk about Rob?” Nicole questioned.
“I promise. Now call when you get into town.”
Gavin suggested the Bend Brewing Company for lunch, which shouldn’t have surprised Nicole. Gavin loved living in Oregon because of the microbrews which he was a huge fan of. Actually, according to Gavin, he loved everything about living in Oregon from the microbrews to all the outdoor activities. He worked as a river rafting guide during the summer and took odd jobs during the winter, although he’d worked as a painter the past couple winters and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Her parents never really understood Gavin’s lifestyle. It was even hard for Nicole to understand how Gavin could feel more at home sleeping in a forest than sleeping in his own bed. The summer after she got her masters degree Gavin insisted on taking her out on the river as his gift to her. That rafting trip had been the highlight of that summer and the best part was finally coming to an understanding with her brother. Nicole got to see Gavin in his element, doing the thing he truly loved. Ever since than she never questioned the way that he lived. In fact, she admired his courage to forge his own path.
Gavin was already seated when Nicole arrived. “I ordered us nachos as an appetizer, I hope you don’t mind.” Gavin told her as she slid into the booth across from him. Nicole shook her head as she picked up the menu. She was surprised that Gavin had chosen a place that was a little bit more than he liked to spend when he was constantly broke. “Maybe I should pay for myself.” Nicole said.
Gavin shook his head. “I know it’s hard to believe but I’m not as broke as Mom and Dad think I am. I can afford to take my sister out for a nice meal, especially when she’s pulling a Gavin.” he assured her in a teasing tone.
Nicole raised an eyebrow as she looked at him over her menu. “A Gavin?”
He had to laugh at his sister. “Yeah, taking off with only the stuff in your car, no destination planned ahead, no time frame. It sounds exactly like the sort of thing I would do.” he explained.
The waitress delivered their nachos and Gavin’s beer. She took their order and left. Gavin took a nacho and smiled at his sister.
“Did you ever do what I’m doing? I mean, just take off?” Nicole had to ask. If Gavin had done it and lived to tell the take than so could she.
“Sort of. When Carmen dumped me a few years back I needed to clear my head. A couple buddies and I piled into my friend’s car and drove south. It was definitely the best road trip I’ve been on. I felt better about everything with Carmen and I missed the river so much I wanted to get back to work. So I came home, where I belong.” he told her.
Nicole found herself smiling at her brother. Maybe she and Gavin had more in common than she originally thought. “It’s nice to know that someone understands. Everyone else has resorted to calling me crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy, Nic. You’ve surprised me, but I’m actually excited for you. And when you’re ready you’ll find yourself heading home.” he said, sounding very sure of himself.
The waitress brought them their food and Nicole’s iced tea. Nicole noticed that the waitress seemed to be flirting with her clueless brother and smiled. She didn’t speak again until the waitress walked away.
“What if I never come back to Oregon?”
Gavin was about to bite into her hamburger and paused. “Nicole, only you can decided where home is for you. If you get to Louisiana and look out over that bayou and decide that’s where you need to be, than you’re home. And even if you make your home on the other side of the country, you’re still my little sister. But if you end up someplace really cool I’ll probably visit more often.” he joked. Nicole laughed while she rolled her eyes. She really was going to miss her brother.
“Since you’re leaving I guess I’ll have to visit Mom and Dad more. Maybe I’ll bring Raquelle with me. Dad won’t give me such a bad time in front of company.” Gavin said after a few bites of his hamburger.
“New girlfriend?” Nicole asked, suddenly curious about her brother’s new love interest. To her knowledge Gavin hadn’t had a serious girlfriend since Carmen, at least not one he thought about bringing to meet Mom and Dad.
“Not new. I’ve known Raquelle for awhile actually. She’s a river guide too. We’ve been dating for awhile and she just moved in with me.” Gavin admitted. He couldn’t help but laugh at Nicole’s shocked expression.
“How come you’ve never told me about her? It’s not like I tell Mom and Dad everything.”
Gavin shrugged. “When we actually decided that we were serious about each other you were going through everything with that jerk and I didn’t think you’d want to hear about it. I’m sure you’ll meet her eventually. Raquelle has informed me that she’s not planning on going anywhere, at least not without me.” he informed her and from the way he was talking about Raquelle and the look in his eye Nicole had to smile. Even though she was recovering from her own romantic upheaval it felt good to see her brother so happy about a girlfriend.
They finished their meal and the check came. Gavin pulled out his debit car and handed it back to the waitress before Nicole could protest.
“So I actually wanted to meet with you for another reason.” Gavin admitted as they waited for the waitress to return. Nicole gave him a questioning look.
“I know you have savings and that’s how you’re planning on making this journey of yours, but if you ever need help with anything I want you to know that you can call me. Despite what you and Mom and Dad think, I’m not always broke. I have a cushion. I hated having to call Mom and Dad when I found myself in a jam and I know you would too, especially since they don’t approve of your little trip.” Gavin said.
Nicole studied him for a minute, trying to decide if he was joking. How could Gavin have any extra money to loan her? He lived in a tiny rental house because it was cheap, drove a beat up picked up truck that he’d paid cash for and was always talking about finding the cheapest way to live. Her parents were even baffled at how he never seemed to need a loan when he lived the way he did.
“Where would you get the money from? You aren’t knocking over liquor stores or dealing drugs again, are you?” Nicole joked.
Gavin laughed at his sister. “No, I’m just careful about my money. Plus a couple of my friends started flipping houses and got me into it. It’s really good money.” he admitted.
Gavin nodded and laughed at his sister. Obviously she hadn’t been expecting such a rational answer and expected him to be involved in some crazy scheme.
The waitress returned with the credit slip for Gavin to sign and told them to have a nice day. Nicole sighed as they stood up and headed out the door. This was it. She could honestly say that she didn’t know when she would see her brother again.
“I have something for you.” Gavin said as he pulled a burned CD in a clear plastic sleeve out of his jacket pocket. Nicole took it from him and smile at the CD that read To The Journey in Gavin’s handwriting.
“The key to a good road trip is good music. Raquelle helped me make it and she wanted me to tell you that she hopes you have a good trip. The first song made me think of you. I think you’ll get it.” he explained.
Nicole smiled as Gavin pulled her into a hug. “I’m proud of you, Nic. Drive safe and call if you need help.” he instructed. Nicole nodded, suddenly feeling very nervous about the journey she was about to begin.
“I love you, Gavin.”
“I love you, too.” Gavin said as he finally let go.
Nicole grinned as she climbed into the 4Runner and turned the key. She slid the CD into the CD player and buckled her seatbelt. It was now or never.
“I don’t know what I want so don’t ask me cuz I’m still trying to figure it out…” crooned a female voice as the first song began to play.
Nicole immediately laughed at Gavin’s choice of song as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the highway. She felt better about leaving after talking to Gavin. Everyone else might think she was crazy but she knew at least one person who was proud of her.
This was the thought that gave her comfort as she got onto the highway…heading east.