Undertow | short story

The car sitting in the driveway looked ready to burst—stuffed to the brim with camping gear and snacks. The vehicle waited, idling in front of a row of townhouse-style attached apartments that resembled a line of trees, albeit quite different from the actual ones they’d be seeing soon on the trip.

Molly leaned against the closed trunk of the two-door sedan and wiped the sweat from her brow. She didn’t think the three of them had packed all that much, but then again—it was a small car. After glancing into the interior to make sure that nothing had been forgotten and that she still had a place to sit in the back, she returned to her apartment.

“Moll, is everything ready to go?” a voice from the kitchen called.

“Yeah, we’re all set.”

Today marked one week since college graduation and four weeks until their lease was over. Molly thought this time felt like a weird transitionary period. She didn’t want to liken it to Purgatory—that sounded too dramatic—but she was left with no real plans of what to do with her life after the next month.

The young woman in the kitchen finishing the dishes before their departure was Jessica, Molly’s roommate for the last three years. They lived with two other people, both of whom mostly kept to themselves and were now working at their part-time jobs to save up money before moving out. Molly thought they were fairly nice people, but Jessica had never gotten along with them well; she disliked their “lack of cleanliness” and frequently scrubbed their dishes clean, expecting some gratitude from them while also never asking them to clean their own dishes earlier. That was just the sort of person she was.

The two girls grabbed their keys, locked the door, and walked outside to see a person waving at them from the other end of the long driveway. “I’m ready!” she called.

Jessica gave her a quick hug before opening the car doors. “Sarah, we put your stuff in the trunk. I think we’ve got everything. Tent, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, our food, car chargers for our phones…”

“Sweet, thanks, guys!” Sarah spoke with the exuberance of someone who miraculously had not had her soul crushed in the four years of college.

Jessica moved the driver’s seat forward for Molly to climb into the back seat, then got herself situated for the trip ahead: a journey down the east coast to a house, which Sarah’s parents were renting, by a beach in South Carolina. They had a few campsites along the way they’d be staying at briefly. Sarah had come up with the idea shortly before graduation, pleading with Jessica that she had always wanted to do both a road trip and a beach trip. Jessica had invited Molly to come along, and she had nothing else to do before moving out, so why not?

“Oh, I forgot to mention before that I’m running low on my data plan,” Sarah said. “Could we use someone else’s phone for the GPS?”

“Molly’s got unlimited data. Let’s use hers,” Jessica suggested.

“What? But I was gonna play a game on my phone.” Molly had never really liked how Jessica volunteered her for things without checking in with her first.

“Okay, fine, whatever. We can use mine for a bit, but we can’t use it the whole trip,” Jessica acquiesced.

“You know you can just download the maps data beforehand to use offline.”

“No, not all of us are know-it-alls.

After three years of living together, Molly and Jessica had already gone through plenty of petty rebuttals on each other.

“…H-hey…,” Sarah said quietly with a strained chuckle. “It’s no big deal. When we get to a rest stop with Wi-Fi, I’ll download it.”

Jessica exhaled and turned on the ignition.

Crammed into the back seat with a pillow already falling on top of her, Molly bit a response back. The car felt smaller.

What a great start.


School hadn’t been all good, but it had given Molly a routine. She’d had academic advisors who she would consult with before picking classes (not that they really helped in advising at all). Professors assigned projects for her to focus on. She’d studied journalism, and she’d at least learned how to stay on top of her deadlines. With graduation behind her now, she had nothing in her planner for her to write or check off as complete.

For the past year, she’d attended the career fairs at school. She’d done internships during summer breaks. She’d written who-knows-how-many cover letters for journalism positions and had heard nothing beyond the standard reply: “Thank you for your interest. This position has been filled, but we will keep your resume and cover letter on file.”

She was standing in a dark room, searching for the next doorway. Yet she was getting nowhere.

Molly knew graduate school would be wasted on herself, but she envied Jessica for having a plan of what to do next. Having done her undergraduate in biology with a focus on neuroscience, Jess was going to study it further in a rigorous program. Molly wished she could justify getting another degree for herself.

After all, in a month she had to go back to her parents’ house, and who found that exciting?

It wasn’t that she hated being with her parents; she just felt like a disappointment. All her life, she’d done well in school, believing that good grades led to a good college, which led to a good job. That’s what all the adults had said. Yet, she’d yet to have an interview at any of the places she’d applied to, and most of her friends didn’t have jobs lined up, either. Moving back in with her parents felt like a step back.

Like clockwork, Sarah asked, “So what are you planning on doing when you go home, Molly?”

“Uh…well, our local paper stinks, so I’d rather not even consider asking if they have any job openings. I suppose I could call my old boss at the restaurant I used to waitress for.” Molly grimaced. “To be honest, I’m not really sure what to do.”

“Oh? Yeah, job prospects kind of stink right now.”

“Have you found anything?”

“With a history degree? You kidding?” Sarah gave a hearty laugh. “I mean, I’ve tried getting in touch with some museums in the area and also back at home, but they’ve got nothing available and confessed that jobs are rarely open. My advisor kept telling me to get my certification to teach history in schools, but the course curriculum for anything in high school and earlier is so boring, so I was against it. I’m kind of regretting that now…”

“You could get it later, though, right?”

“Yeah, I could…”

“You two sure did pick some lousy majors,” Jessica cut in.

“Hey, we were all told to follow our passions,” Molly said. “It just turns out that in reality, no one really cares if you can string logical sentences together or know why the French revolution happened the way it did.”

“I miss school already.” Sarah sighed.

Jessica laughed. “We graduated literally a week ago! Aren’t you at least happy you don’t need to take another final exam ever?”

“I bet you wish you didn’t have to do more of those,” her friend in the passenger’s seat said. “Hey, remember freshman year in that general psychology class we took? When I’d show up to study sessions in the library with you, and you’d always get there before me and be halfway through studying by the time I arrived? You’ve always been a great test-taker.”

Molly checked out of the conversation by putting on her headphones and starting a rhythm game on her phone. Sarah and Jessica had met each other freshman year in some classes for both general education requirements and Sarah’s exploratory major at the time. Molly had always wondered if they were so close, why had they never roomed together? Sometimes when she was with them, she felt like a third wheel.

She was already having second thoughts about coming on this trip, but it wasn’t like she could just get out of the car. Asking them to turn around at this point, two hours in, would be rude. And she didn’t want to ruin their fun.


That night, they were camping in Connecticut.

It turned out that the tent they’d bought that was advertised as being for three people was probably more accurately sized for two and a small child, but they shoved all three sleeping bags inside. The sun was beginning to set for the evening, and even though the trio wasn’t quite hungry thanks to snacking in the car, they decided to at least start a fire and cook hot dogs over it.

It wasn’t exactly what Molly had envisioned as a campsite. She had always imagined ones that were secluded, so everything was quiet except for the crackles and occasional pop of the fire. This one was set up as several small campsites next to one another, and you rented your spot for a certain number of nights. They were only going to be there until tomorrow, though.

Young kids biked along the paved path near the sites as Molly, Jessica, and Sarah sat on folding chairs, holding their hot dogs on sticks as the processed meat warmed up.

“What was even the point of college?” Molly suddenly asked, watching the yellows and oranges of the flames flicker.

“What do you mean?” Jessica asked.

“Like… Don’t you get the sense that you paid so much money for this experience that everyone says is necessary—and even though you really enjoyed your time there, but was it really worth two hundred thousand dollars?”

“Well, yeah, it wasn’t really worth that much money, but it still feels like it got me somewhere.”

“I guess it’s different if you’ve got grad school plans or a job already lined up, but for me, I’m starting to feel like I made a huge mistake in going to a private school for a career that will net me barely enough to live—if I even get a job.”

“Just keep applying. You’ll find something.”

“I’m one person competing against hundreds of other people for a single position. Any single line of a cover letter or the slightest thing in a resumé that gives a hiring manager a bad feeling can ruin my chances. I went to the career center at school. I talked to professors about cover letters. I’ve had so much help along the way, and nothing is coming of it. Am I just not as good as I thought I was?”

Jessica didn’t have a response, so no one said anything for a while. Then Sarah opened the bag for hot dog buns and finally chimed in to the conversation: “Did you like your classes?”

Molly didn’t even need a moment to think about that. “I loved them.”

“Did you get to meet new people who challenged you?”

“I was challenged here more than anywhere else I’ve been.”

“So it wasn’t all a waste, then…right? After all, I’m glad I got to meet you.”

Again, Molly could not understand how Sarah could have survived the last four years without growing a bitter bone in her body.

“I think things are just kind of scary right now because we’re not really sure what happens next,” Sarah continued. “In my middle school, counselors were already pressuring us to find a career path. I can’t be trusted to know what I want, and yet they always want us to have this big map of our lives. But who the hell knows what they want to do at thirteen years old? When I was ten, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer!”

All three of them laughed.

“I wanted to be a lacrosse superstar when I was in high school,” Jessica admitted. “I actually only went into biology because my parents told me to.”

“I never knew you did sports!” Molly exclaimed.

“Yeah, I sort of fell out of athletics the moment I got to college.”

“Isn’t it weird how much you can change in four years?” Sarah mused, staring at her empty stick, poking the fire with it after taking a bite from her food. “I thought the people I hung out with in high school would always be with me, but we don’t really talk anymore. I didn’t even drop by their houses to say hi over the last winter break.”

“People drift apart sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you were never really friends,” Molly said.

“Do you think we’ll all still be talking years from now?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, I think so.” Truthfully, Molly wasn’t sure.

Jessica didn’t say anything. She stared at the sky, watching the reddening tones of the sunset, as if something was on her mind.


Molly couldn’t sleep.

The tent was too hot with the three of them cramped together. She didn’t want to strip down completely because she wasn’t in the privacy of her own room, but her light cotton t-shirt was clinging to her sweaty body. The more she wanted to sleep, the more aware of how awake she was, and the less she felt like sleep was coming. Her frustration was still building, even though she knew that wasn’t going to help her fall asleep, either.

To make matters worse, Sarah was a snorer.

Every sudden noisy intake of breath coming from her mouth set Molly’s frustration anew. If every night would be like this one, she thought she’d rather jump in front of traffic. She knew that was overdramatic, but every little thing was building on one another.

If you want to keep loving your friends, don’t sleep in the same room as them, she thought to herself. She looked at Jessica, who slept between them, and who looked sort of odd. Jessica was so calm and collected during the day. Molly couldn’t remember a time when her roommate had risen her voice, even when Molly hadn’t been the best person to live with, she had to admit.

But now, Jessica’s brow twitched and her teeth ground together as her jaw clenched.

Molly knew grad school was hard. Jess had a lot of reasons to be stressed out—but at least she knew what to do next. Molly didn’t have anything to blame her stress on but herself. It was worse having no plan at all.

Molly’s legs kicked off her sleeping bag, and she rustled through the tent, putting on her shoes. She grabbed an old college sweatshirt, and as soon as she zipped the tent shut—even in her frustration, she didn’t want to get any bugs in the tent—she ran off in a direction. Any direction, it didn’t matter. She just needed to move.

Still gripping her sweatshirt in one hand, she sprinted off. Her feet slapped the grass beneath her. Her legs ached after only one minute of running, and her lungs were screaming. It hurt—it hurt so bad—but it also made her feel good. She couldn’t do anything with her inward anguish, but physical pain was easier to understand. It made sense.

When her body couldn’t will herself to go any further, Molly stumbled to a stop, heaving and coughing, desperate for her heart to slow down. Her vision was blurry, and in her dizziness, she fell to her knees. The cold air stung against her hot face, but that didn’t feel so bad.

Molly brought the sweatshirt to her face to wipe the sweat from her brow, but she paused. Thousands of other people had this sweatshirt—naturally, Jess and Sarah had their own. So many people had come and gone from this community, a small one when compared to the rest of the world. But surely she wasn’t the first to feel so lost after leaving that home.

As that thought came and went, she couldn’t help feeling bitter. She knew she was smart. She knew she was talented. She knew she was better than a lot of those students.

I’m supposed to be better than them.

And she felt alone again.


The three girls had spent the next two days similar to the first one: driving, camping, and moving on. Molly felt her quips coming faster, as she blurted them out before immediately regretting them a second later. She chalked it up to lack of sleep; she hadn’t slept much at all. She kept blaming it on Sarah, even yelling at her one morning about it, but she knew a part of it was due to her own stress. Jess had stopped at a convenience store and bought a pair of earplugs for Molly, who angrily batted them out of her hands.

Now Jessica and Sarah were abnormally quiet, just occasionally talking to each other when a conversation happened to arise; they kept Molly out of it, though.

Molly was fairly sure Jessica was refusing to talk to her out of frustration; she wouldn’t make eye contact at all. Sarah had met Molly’s gaze a couple of times, and each time she worriedly looked away. The girl was probably terrified of talking to Molly now.

Molly wanted to slam her head against the car’s interior. Please, please let this trip be over soon.

Jessica and Sarah took turns driving, and Molly felt like she should volunteer to help as well, but she was too angry to feel like driving. She just continued to play rhythm games on her phone with her earbuds in.

—Until she realized her phone was getting low on battery for the day.

Sarah was currently driving, which meant Jessica was in the passenger’s seat with the car charger for their phones. She was staring out her side window, watching the concrete and trees lining the highways fly by, the sun flickering behind the trees.

“Hey, Jess…,” Molly said.

Jessica remained quiet.

“Jess…,” Molly repeated, louder this time.

Still, she didn’t even turn her head.

“Jessica, would you quit it with the fucking silent treatment already?” Molly spat.

Jessica suddenly whipped her head around. “Molly, do you even want to be here?”

Sarah gripped the steering wheel and kept her eyes on the road.

Molly felt the car shrinking. “What I want is to charge my phone.”

“Well, I don’t think children should even be using a phone.”

“…What the fuck? What is your problem?”

“Just because you’re pissed off about what you’re doing after this trip doesn’t mean you can take it out on all of us.” Even when Jessica was livid, her tone remained even. That made Molly even more upset. The girl was so god damn perfect.

“Look, just because I’m upset doesn’t mean you get to act like you’re a know-it-all! You always do this! You make anyone upset around you feel like their feelings aren’t valid! Like I don’t have a reason to be angry! Well, I’m sick and tired of hiding how I feel. I played this damn game that all of the adults laid out, like, ‘if you follow these steps, you’ll have a job, you’ll buy a house, you’ll start a family, you’ll retire, and you’ll be successful’—when it’s all a load of bullshit, and it feels like I wasted the last four years by paying into this elitist crap and won’t have anything to show for it!”

Molly’s rage turned into frustrated tears. Jessica didn’t bother responding, nor did she hand over the charger. When Sarah tried to offer some condolences, Molly started to cry, so both girls in the front seat returned to silence.

Molly turned on the screen to her phone. The battery showed 15% remaining. She opened a navigation map and searched for their current location; they were nearing the border to South Carolina. They’d be at the beach house by that night.

She brought her legs up and set her head on her knees.

A part of her didn’t want the trip to end. When it was over, she’d have to figure out what to do next. But she also knew she’d already ruined the trip for herself. Even from the first day she had set herself up to be miserable, focusing on all of the annoying parts so that she could have an excuse to be mad at something, anything that wasn’t about her future.

Jessica was still staring out the window, watching the sun filtering in through the gaps of the trees. Molly did the same, desperate to see whatever her old roommate could see.


When they pulled into the beach house’s driveway, Jessica left the car without pulling up the seat for Molly to get out. Sarah didn’t, either. The two of them unloaded the trunk, talking in hushed voices, too quiet for Molly to make out any words. She would’ve been mad about them leaving her in the car, but she didn’t really care anymore. I deserve this, she thought as she flopped her head against the remaining gear in the seat next to her.

I’m such a brat.

Molly sat in the car for ten minutes before reaching around the front seat for the lever to move the seat forward. She went around to the trunk, which the other two girls had left open for her, and grabbed her things. Then she picked up as much from the back seat as she could and took it inside, carefully opening the screen door with her elbow and shoving her hip against the slightly ajar front door. At least they hadn’t locked her out. If she were in their position, she probably would have.

They were in the kitchen, checking appliances and making a list of what food they needed to go pick up for the week. Molly lingered in the hallway for a moment, but neither of them looked up at her. She carefully dropped everything that wasn’t hers and took her things upstairs. She’d never been in the house before, but it wasn’t particularly large, so she didn’t need help figuring out where to go.

There were three bedrooms upstairs—one for each of them—and a bathroom they’d share. Molly peeked in to the first two rooms next to the stairs and saw bags in them already, so she went to the last bedroom, pushed into a corner. It was the smallest of the three, and even though her immediate reaction was indignance that this had been decided without her input, she knew she was being, without another word she could think of—a bitch.

She plugged in her phone to a wall outlet to charge and collapsed on the bed. The springs under the mattress felt old, and they squeaked. The sheets smelled foreign to her. They were nothing like the scent of her and Jessica’s apartment—probably because Sarah’s family used different laundry detergent.

Despite having contributed zero miles of the driving, Molly felt exhausted. Her face flushed thinking about her outburst in the car a couple hours earlier.

Ugh, just kill me, she thought.

She shoved her face into the pillow and closed her eyes, drifting into sleep before she realized it…

…Until she was awoken by a knock.

She rubbed her eyes and checked her phone. About an hour had passed, she estimated.

There was another knock. “Molly?” The sound was muffled, but it was definitely Sarah. “Can I come in?”

“Oh, uh…yeah.”

Sarah opened the bedroom door and entered with some pale-yellow foam. “I brought you a memory foam mattress to go under the fitted sheet. That bed is the oldest one here, and it definitely feels like it.”

Molly accepted the foam mattress and squished it a few times. She’d used these before, but she never got enough of squeezing them when they weren’t functioning as a mattress.

“Sorry I didn’t bring it earlier,” Sarah murmured. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, facing Molly. “I was kind of upset and didn’t really feel like talking.”

Shit. Right.

Molly nervously scratched her head. “Oh…don’t worry about it. I’ve been the worst travel buddy this trip so far.”

Sarah forced a smile. “Yeah, you haven’t been the sunniest person to be around the past few days.”

“That’s putting it lightly.” Molly stretched. Her back really did ache from that mattress. Hopefully the memory one would be better. “Anyway, it’s past eight already. Did you guys eat?”

“Yeah, Jessica made a quick stir fry. She set some aside for you, if you want it. You’ll just have to reheat it in the microwave.”

“Mm, thanks. I’m not really hungry right now, but I’ll have it later. Tell her I said thank you.”

“Okay, but make sure you talk to her later, all right? We’re going out to the beach to walk around for a bit. There’s a spare set of keys on the kitchen table, so if you leave, make sure you lock up.”

Molly nodded. When she didn’t say anything for a few seconds, Sarah turned around to leave.

“Uh, Sarah—” Molly quickly started to say. She fumbled for the right words. “I really am sorry I’ve been such a bummer to be around. No one wants to vacation with someone who’s having a bad time. It’s just…I’m frustrated, but I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Did you know I nearly flunked out of biology in freshman year?” Sarah suddenly asked.

Molly shook her head. Of course she had no idea. She also wasn’t sure where this was headed.

“I was having a hard time adjusting to living away from my family and friends from home. I was around all these new people, and they all seemed way smarter than me, so I started thinking I didn’t deserve to attend the same school they did. I just stopped trying for a while. Jessica ended up helping me—but that’s not really the point of this story.

“My parents pressured me to talk to one of the counselors at school, and when I eventually did, the counselor listened patiently to me, through my sobs and my yelling, all about how I thought I was a failure who didn’t have what it takes to go to college. After all of it, she said something like, ‘All you can ask from yourself is your best. It’s not going to be the same as everyone else’s, so stop comparing your successes and your happiness to those around you.’”

Those words hung in the air.

They stirred around Molly’s head, seeping through the cracks of her skull, like a sponge absorbing water.

“Anyway,” Sarah said with a lighter tone as she opened the door, “I don’t think it’s going to be easy to find a job—for me or for you—but we’re not alone. Maybe we’ll end up doing stuff completely different from what we studied, but maybe that doesn’t matter.” She chuckled. “We certainly won’t be the only ones from our year struggling, so reach out if you’re angry. We’ll all be angry together, at least.”

With that, Sarah shut the door and walked down the stairs, responding to a call from Jess at the front door.

When they closed the front door, Molly let out a loud sigh she’d been holding in for too long. Life was too damn complicated; it was way more confusing than she’d been led to believe four years ago.


By 9 PM, Molly had eaten the leftovers from dinner, found the keys that Sarah had mentioned, and strode outside, locking up behind her. She had no destination in mind, but she knew she needed to talk to Jess—even though a part of her was queasy just thinking about that.

The sun was starting to set over the beach, and the ocean’s water reflected the pinks and purples of the sunset. It would be dark soon.

The shoreline was longer than Molly had expected, and she couldn’t see Jess and Sarah anywhere. She walked from one end to the other, staring at the other beach houses, which all looked more expensive than any house her family could afford. She looked over the ocean and saw the stars beginning to show themselves. The moon was high up in the sky, although only a sliver of it could be seen. Other than the sound of the waves, it was quiet.

Molly dug her bare feet into the wet sand, and after taking a big breath, she flicked the sand ahead of her as she exhaled. She repeated that a few times until she felt satisfied. The whole day, she’d felt this urge to destroy something. Whenever her frustration built up too much, she had a physical urge to do something, whether that was running or breaking things. She kicked the sand harder and harder until she hit a seashell and yelped.

“You playing soccer or something?” a voice asked.

Molly looked up and saw Jess, walking across the dryer sand toward the water. She and Sarah must have ended up walking somewhere else, but Sarah was no longer with her.

“You know I suck at soccer,” Molly said.

“Yeah, you wouldn’t be able to last ten minutes on the field before needing a sub to take you out.”

Jessica kept walking past Molly, dipping her feet in the water. Molly followed, stepping just far enough that when the waves came in, they’d lap at her toes.

“Are you okay?” Jessica asked.

It took Molly a few moments to admit it, but she did finally answer, “No.”

“You know, it’s okay to not be okay.”

Molly watched the waves roll by. A part of her understood that, but she also didn’t feel any better accepting how she felt.

Neither of them said anything, but they both seemed like they wanted to say something. Yet neither of them could vocalize their thoughts, like they were both sounding things out in their heads, trying to give shape to something coherent, or something helpful.

When things got too awkward, Molly shook off her feet and started to make her way back to the house.

Then she heard splashing.

She did a 180-turn and saw Jessica running into the ocean in her tank top and shorts.

Jessica pushed farther and farther into the waves and then ducked her head underwater. Molly ran into the water after her, terrified. She’d never seen Jess act this way.

Jessica came back up for air just in time for a wave to crash into her and knock her over. She knocked into Molly and was laughing as she got to her feet. It was a hearty, breathy laugh, like she was short on oxygen and also as happy as she could be. She waded back into the water, and Molly went out with her that time. The hem of her T-shirt floated out around her, and she felt the sharp rocks and seashells below her feet scratch her.

The waves were forceful if you weren’t ready for them, so Molly ducked underwater each time a large one was coming, then she’d quickly search for Jess, who’d she find nearby, enjoying the night swim. Every now and then, Jess would stick her head underwater and stay there for as long as she could, when she’d then come gasping for air. Each time, she looked relieved afterward.

“Jess, what the hell are you doing?” Molly demanded.

“I’m screaming where no one can hear me.”

Then Jess took in a big breath and dove underwater again. Molly got closer to her and did the same.

They both clenched their eyes shut from the salty water, but Molly could hear an indistinct loud sound next to her, along with bubbling.

Molly exhaled and screamed. The water dampened the sound, making it muted and deeper in tone. She could hold it for only five or ten seconds before she surfaced…in time for a wave to hit her face. She scrambled back up to the surface again and wiped her eyes.

“Feels good, right?” Jess laughed.

The girl, illuminated by the stars above their heads, looked exhausted, worn down, yet happy all the same. Molly couldn’t recall a time when she’d looked so beautiful.


Molly and Jess sat on the shore in their drenched clothing. They were starting to shiver, but neither wanted to go inside just yet. Despite the scratchy sand under her butt, Molly knew she had to endure the discomfort—all of it. She had to talk about what was happening.

“So, that was…different,” she commented.

Jess laughed.

“No, seriously,” Molly insisted. “Since when have you been frustrated enough to scream?”

“Moll, I know I’m not entirely honest about how I feel,” Jess said, “but I’m overwhelmed right now. I have no fucking idea what to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Same as you. Graduating…and stuff.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to grad school. You’ll be at your dream school, studying what you want to learn. And you’re gonna do great.”

“It’s going to be like starting over—again. Yet again, I’m going to be moving to a new place without my friends, doing something completely out of my comfort zone, and the school work is going to be even harder.”

“You’re gonna do great. You don’t have to worry.”

“I’m not actually concerned about my grades.” Jess’s voice started to get sharper. “I’m sure I’ll get the hang of a new school, but I’m going to be alone. You chose not to go with me.”

“…What are you talking about?”

“A year ago, we were discussing where we’d end up moving to. You told me you had nowhere specific in mind, that you could probably do journalism anywhere,” Jess explained. “I asked you if you would continue being my roommate when I was in grad school. You said you would.”

Molly racked her memories. She couldn’t recall that conversation in detail, but she wouldn’t be surprised if she had said something like that, or had maybe said something that made Jess assume Molly would follow her.

“Jess, I’m sorry if I made you feel like I bailed on you,” she said. “But you know I don’t have the money to move to a big city. Not without begging my family for money to get me started somewhere…somewhere I’m not even sure would work out for me job-wise.”

Jess dug her heels into the sand. “I know that. Logically, I completely understand that. I’m just so…scared. I don’t know my new roommate well. I have no idea if we’ll get along. I have no idea if I’m going to make friends while at grad school.”

Molly scratched at her knees, feeling an itch to do something with her hands while she thought of how to reply.

“I’m scared I’m gonna go nowhere, after all this time and money spent,” Molly admitted. “Like I’m a failure to myself. I’m terrified of letting myself down. I want to do good work. I want to feel like I made a difference in this screwed-up world.”

Jess leaned against Molly’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I ignored you,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you—and was…just…really rude this whole time,” Molly said just as softly.

“Life sucks.”

“It sure does.”

“Want to go scream under the water again?”

“Hell yes.”




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