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The darkness seemed to swallow the small amount of light cast from the headlights. Louise felt tears starting to well up in her eyes. She shook her head, trying to expel the tears. She drove for what seemed like hours before she saw an exit. She found a cheap motel near the exit. It was the kind of motel that skeevy businessmen rent hourly, but it was all that Louise could afford.

She threw her bag on the bed and a puff of dust flew up. She shook her head in disgust. She should have known that was going to happen. Louise looked at her phone, 12 missed calls. She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. What was she thinking? She couldn’t just pick up and leave when things got bad; if she did, she would be as bad as her father. But she had to get out of that house.

She dialed Natalie, her best friend.

“Hey, Lou, what’s up?”

“I left Linda.”

“What do you mean ‘you left Linda’? Did you just go for a drive and you left the house?”

“No. I packed a bag, got in my car, and drove to a motel.”

“Why? What happened that you left for real?”

“We got into a fight.”

“Lou, you and your mom get into fights all the time. Why is this any different?”

“It was bad, Nat. She was drunk, possibly high, and pissed.”

“Why was she pissed though?”

“I don’t know. She walked into the apartment yelling about how everybody is awful and no good. I thought she just broke up with Chad, so I told her that it would get better. She screamed and said that I was just going to leave her too which would be like everyone else. She then told me I was no better than my dad.”

Natalie stayed silent for a little bit. “Louise, you know that isn’t true right? Your mom loves you. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to her.”

“I don’t know. She always says that, but then she does things like this. She’s the reason I didn’t go to college when we graduated either. I felt guilty for wanting to go.”

“I know, but now you have so much more experience than the rest of us. Plus, you’re not in debt! Being a waitress at a bar does have some perks.”

Louise laughed. “I guess it does. How could I forget? I love when drunk men hit on me.”

That caused Natalie to laugh. “Which motel are you at, hon?”

“The Grunderson.”

“You’re really at the Grunderson? That is the worst motel in the county! Do not sit on anything. Go to the Target like 5 miles down the road and wait for me.”

“Alright, I’ll see you there.” Louise hung up, grabbed her bag, and checked out. She arrived at the only 24-hour Target in the area and walked around the store waiting for Natalie. She checked her phone for time and saw she had more missed calls and messages. She closed the notifications and looked at the DVD selection.

“Hey, Lou.”

Louise turned to see Natalie. She wrapped Natalie in a hug. “Hey, girl. Thanks for coming.”

“Do you really not want to go back home? I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

“No. I am leaving. The only reason I agreed to seeing you was to say goodbye. I don’t know when or if I’ll be back. I just couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

Natalie looked at Louise. “What do you mean?”

“I got a job in San Francisco. I start in two days. I was always planning on leaving Linda but didn’t think it would happen so soon.”

Natalie started to cry. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone with you.”

Louise shook her head. “You have a job and life here. All I have is a sad excuse of a life paying bills for my mom and being her caretaker. I need to do this on my own.”

Natalie hugged her once more. “Make sure you call me when you get there. Are you going to tell your mom?”

“Not until I get settled. I don’t want her knowing where I am going. She has tried to call me nonstop since I left, but I am over it.”

The girls walked out to their cars together. Louise had a steely look on her face. She willed herself not to cry. She would only miss Natalie, and crying would make it worse. Natalie was sniffling. When they got to Louise’s car, they hugged for one last time. “I guess I’ll see you around.”

“I’ll see you around, Nat,” Louise said as she got into the car. She started it and waved goodbye. As she drove away, she saw Natalie crying. It took everything in her not to turn the car around, but she needed to do this for herself. She looked forward and watched as the beams of the headlights pierced the darkness.

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