Amy woke up in a panic. She didn’t hear her alarm, and she usually didn’t wake up before it, which meant there was a high probability that she was late and Sophie was waiting for her. She bolted up and grabbed her phone. It was two minutes until her alarm went off. She breathed a sigh of relief and rolled over. Her heart was still racing.
Amy took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Her neck and shoulders ached, like she slept wrong, but the tension seemed to spread up into her head and all the way down her spine. There was a pounding in her ears, and she strained to make sure it was her heart and not actually Sophie knocking at the door.
Amy threw the blanket off and sat up in bed. Her room was too messy. If Sophie did come in, she’d be furious that the cabin was in this state. Amy had clothes everywhere that needed to be folded and put back in her backpack. But if she put them in her backpack, they’d start to wrinkle and she’d just washed them. The cabin had no drawers for storage, though, so she couldn’t just keep them out of sight unless she put them in her backpack. But then they’d wrinkle. But they look messy strewn about the cabin—
Her heart was pumping as she tried to think of an answer. Maybe she just needed them off the floor, she thought. She grabbed a few t-shirts and began pacing.
With a sigh, Amy threw the clothes on the bed. She’d just have to fold them and put them away, she told herself. Wrinkled or not, clean floors were more important.
Amy folded her t-shirts and a pair of shorts nearby and moved them towards her backpack, which was halfway under the bed. She tried to pull it out with her foot. The strap hooked around her toe as the top of the backpack snagged under the bed-frame. Amy felt her body tip forward as the clothes tumbled from her arms and onto the floor.
“Seriously?” Amy nearly shouted.
She bent down and started throwing the clothes on her bed. The blue t-shirt was already looking crumpled. A hot tear snaked down her cheek. Then another. She fell to the floor and burst into tears.
What’s wrong with me? Amy thought.
She tried to force herself to stop crying, but her body shook with sobs. It felt like something was squeezing her chest. She hugged her knees and tried to take slow, deep breaths like she had practiced. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Her breaths felt shallow and empty, like there wasn’t any air to inhale, like her lungs had turned into stale balloons that sagged and slowly shriveled up on themselves.
Deep breath in. Pause. Deep breath out. Pause. Deep breath in. Pause. Deep breath out. Pause.
Snot dripped from her congested nose, and she wiped at her upper lip. Both nostrils were clogged, and sobs blocked her throat. She tried to power through, even as she felt her airways close off.
Deep breath in. Pause. Deep breath out—
Soon, the tears stopped, but Amy still felt like she still couldn’t control her breathing. She heard a knock at the door.
Please go away, she pleaded silently, burying her head deeper into the cocoon her body had wrapped itself into.
The door swung open.
A cool hand pressed against her shoulder, and she glanced up. Sophie was giving her a worried look. Amy realized she must be late for work. She swiped the snot away from her nose again, aware that her sleeve was very damp at this point.
“Are you okay?” Sophie asked, putting her palm on Amy’s forehead. “Are you feeling ill?”
“No,” Amy said quickly, trying to stand up. “I… don’t know… I feel like I can’t breathe.”
Sophie helped Amy to her feet and set her on the bed. Amy probably looked like a mess. She was still in her pajamas, which was now soaked at the wrists with her own snot, her hair was un-brushed, and she just spent who-knows-how-long sobbing over a pile of wrinkly shirts.
Sophie stood over her, gently massaging the back of Amy’s neck and with one hand as the other made gentle circles across Amy’s back and shoulders. The calm, deep inhale and exhale from Sophie helped Amy’s lungs remember their job. She felt her breath slowly return to normal.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Don’t apologize, sweetheart,” Sophie said quickly, sitting down next to her. “You’ve had a rough couple of days. Do you think it’s stress?”
Amy hesitated for a moment before giving a single nod.
“I had… anxiety attacks when I was in college,” she said. “I think it might’ve been that.”
She wanted to add that it totally could have just been, like, a bad allergy attack or something and Sophie shouldn’t worry, but it didn’t seem like Sophie was giving her the ‘poor child, why are you even traveling alone if you can’t function’ look. Sophie squeezed her hand.
“Why don’t you just rest?” she suggested. “I can handle things today.”
“No, no, I’ll be fine,” Amy said, trying to stand up. “You can’t do everything.”
“I’ll make Colin take over the kitchen,” Sophie said, pushing her back on the bed. “After all the mess he’s caused, he can get caught with a frilly apron for all I care.”
She smiled at Amy, and Amy tried to return it. She felt the corners of her mouth shake.
“I’ll bring you some breakfast,” Sophie said. “I want you resting in here all day. And that’s an order, ok?”
Amy nodded. Sophie stood up and gave Amy’s leg a quick pat. Amy waited until she left before grabbing her laundry.
By the time Sophie returned with some tea and toast, Amy had re-folded all of her clothes and even changed out of her pajamas. The food helped, and Amy grabbed her backpack, setting it on the bed to be organized.
It had been awhile since she had gone through it, she realized. She opened a bag filled with souvenirs from France and Ireland. She smiled a bit. Why did she decide to collect magnets from everywhere when she didn’t even have a place to put them back home? Her mom would hate the reminder that Amy was spending her time not in school, and it wasn’t like she had a place of her own. She traced the Eiffel Tower and put it in a pocket of her bag. The plastic bag went into the trash.
She reorganized the clothes into her bag, rolling them up neatly. She was sure she read somewhere that rolling them helped prevent wrinkles. Then, she put the backpack under her bed and lay down again.
Her head smacked something hard. Amy sat up with a groan. She had taken out the photobook and left it on her pillow.
Amy traced the name on the front of the book, written in gold and fancy lettering. She opened it gingerly and scanned the pictures.
She wondered if there was anywhere her father hadn’t gone. Other than home, obviously. He had pictures from every continent.
“Were you trying to tell Mom that anywhere was better than with us?” she muttered, flipping to the end of the book.
There was her father, with a small paragraph about him. She looked at the rugged smile on his scraggly face. His eyes were bright and carefree, like he didn’t have anyone to tie him down. Amy traced the hair that fell to his shoulders. He looked like such a hippie, she thought with a small smile.
Scotland native James McKeon has been featured in numerous magazines, such as the Times and National Geographic. The “man without borders,” James has traveled to every continent, highlighting cultures around the world. He hopes his photography will inspire future generations and encourage understanding between humankind.
Amy scoffed. Of course, for all his talk of inspiring future generations, he forgot to mention his own offspring. She closed the book with a slam.
“The pictures weren’t even that good,” she told the book, tossing it next to her backpack. “I don’t see what was so special about those places.”
She sighed and laid back down. She wished she could ask him what made traveling so much better than staying.
He’d probably just say some bs like “I was trying to show you the world out there, so we could go together someday,” she thought.
Because he never could have just told her the truth outright. Maybe that was a guy thing.
“Is it that hard to be honest if you’re just leaving me?” she asked into the still air and sighing when it didn’t reply.
Colin’s face popped into her head. Of course, her mind would wander back to him, she thought. She sat up with a huff. His was another name to add to the list of people who left her for something better, which was only two so far but apparently able to increase at any moment. She wondered how many more people would be added to the list.
She zipped up her backpack.
When Sophie dropped by with a lunch plate, she looked around with a pained expression.
“I know I said I’d help out until your arm was better,” Amy began.
Sophie shook her head. “I understand,” she said with a sigh. “I wouldn’t want to stick around here either if I were you.”
Sophie sat down next to Amy and handed her the plate. Amy put it on the bedside table.
“I’ll clean the cabin before I leave,” Amy promised. “And I’ll stay in touch.”
“If you wait ‘til the last ferry, I can get Ava to come down and drive you,” Sophie said. “And I’ll make a call to the hostels over in Oban to see if anyone has a place for you to stay tonight. I heard almost everywhere is full.”
“Thanks, Sophie,” Amy replied.
“Sorry my nephew turned out to be such a dick,” Sophie said, patting Amy on the shoulder. “Rest assured, I’ll never let him live it down.”
Amy shook her head.
“I’m over it,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I’m good enough to be someone’s first choice. And if I’m not, they don’t deserve me.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Sophie said. “And you shouldn’t ever settle for less.”
“I won’t,” Amy promised.
Sophie stood up with a sigh.
“Well, I’ll give Ava a call,” she said. “And she’ll probably be here at half four.”
“Thanks, Sophie,” she said. “And… maybe don’t mention this to Colin until I’m gone.”
Sophie gave Amy a soft smile and headed out. The door clicked behind her. Amy glanced around.
Who would have thought it’d end like this?
Her heart sank into her stomach when she tried to picture herself walking out of the cabin. Not having breakfast in the garden, music marathons with Sophie while mopping the kitchen…
The image of Colin stuck in the corner of a freshly mopped kitchen pops into her vision. Her lips turn up and then wobble before falling down.
It was time to end things and move on, she told herself firmly.
She reached for her phone to check the time. It was dead. Amy sighed. Just her luck, she thought, digging the charger out of her bag again and plugging it in. It should be charged by four thirty, at least.
Amy grabbed the sandwich from the plate and the photobook. She browsed the photos while eating.
Someone else would really enjoy this, she thought. Maybe she’d leave the book in the cabin for the next wayward traveler.