Top 5 Countries I’ve Traveled To

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of my traveling achievements. To date, I’ve been to 11 countries all around the world. But it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, and I’ll be counting down my top five countries I’ve traveled to. (So far!)

These countries are in no particular order.

France

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(c) clarebearhh

You’re sitting in the airport lounge between your yawning parents. It’s early, but that doesn’t matter because today you’re going to Disneyland Paris! You’ve never been on a plane before, never been outside the UK before, and you can’t contain you’re excitement. Next, you’re on an art trip, admiring the beautiful architecture of Paris, eating baguettes and sharing a room with your best-est friend in the whole wide world, thinking it can’t get much better than this. But lastly, you’re on a beach in Nice, watching the sun go down, having spent nearly a month on the road with the same best-est friend. They say everything comes in cycles, and this one might just be your favourite.

Italy

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(c) clarebearhh

Once again, you’re sandwiched between your parents, this time in the back of your brother’s car, driving through the rolling hills of northern Italy. You admire the vineyards, the mountains, how everything is so green. Ten years later, you come back, with a heavy heart and minus your parents. You try to relive every memory you ever had here, trying to search for your lost loved ones as if they had come here to escape their illness. It’s your own little patch of heaven, and in some ways, you can still feel them with you in every step. It’s not just northern Italy that captures your heart. In your Europe Road Trip you glide through the cities, eating pizza, pasta and gelato, enjoying the country in true Italian style.

Hungary

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(c) clareberhh

You’re sitting in the bay window of your hostel, looking down on the locals whilst you read. You’re reading Looking for Alaska by John Green, which you picked up for less than a pound in an English Bookstore. You marvel at how a book can perfectly summarise the grief you feel, and capture the wunderlust you ache for. You carry it with you through the rest of the trip, and for a long, long time after that. Budapest is the perfect rest stop, with the famous bathes to sooth your aching shoulders, goulash to settling your stomach and roommates who really make the stop exciting and fresh.

Austria

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(c) clarebearhh

Your inner child is squealing with joy, as you sing the songs from The Sound of Music and marvel at the filming locations. They even have a Julie Andrews exhibition, as if you weren’t excited enough. Salzburg is filled with deja vu, as is Vienna, which inhabits the stereotypical big city high street stores you would find at home. But if you look hard enough, you will find the back alley authentic Austrian gems, like the Naschmarkt, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat kebabs, and accessories and other trinkets made by the locals.

America

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(c) clarebearhh

Your J1 visa dictates a cultural exchange, you must work to earn your keep, but also have some adventures in equal measure. New York City is your favourite, the concrete jungle whisking you up in it’s frenzy. Times Square dazzles you with it’s bright lights, Broadway theaters and levels upon levels of shops. You celebrate the big 22, wearing a long, glamorous dress and having cocktails at TGI Friday’s, a burger a Planet Hollywood and a matinee show. You feel like a Princess, making it one to remember, and flying bright and early next day to Florida. Harry is waiting for you at the Islands of Adventure, where Ollivander gives you your wand, Willow with Unicorn Hair, ten and three quarter inches.

~

That concludes my top five. It was really difficult to choose from all of the wonderful places I’ve been to, and as you can tell some hold incredible memories for me. In the second part to this post, I’ll look at the places I really want to visit and haven’t yet. Are there any you think I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

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Top 15 Favourite Books

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At the age of (almost) 25, I have read a lot of books. I have read books I’ve loved, books I’ve hated, books that left me feeling ‘meh’, and books that I’ve abandoned. In my first quarter of a century, I’ve accumulated many books that I declare among my favourites, but these are the fifteen most loved ones that I want to share with you.

These books are in no particular order.

1

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

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I’m seven years old, accompanying Lucy Pevensie through the wardrobe and into the Western Wood. I try to reason with Edmund as we walk towards the Witch’s castle. I sharpen my blade with Peter as we prepare for battle, and I fight alongside Susan, shooting my arrow through the hearts of Narnian traitors. As I grow older, I ride alongside Shasta and Aravis as we made the journey across the desert into Archenland. I’ll see Narnia come to life, hearing the sweet sound of Aslan’s song, singing the world into creation with Digory and Polly.

2

The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

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I’m eleven years old, getting my Hogwarts letter with Harry in the cupboard under the stairs. We get the train together at 11 o’clock on the 1st September, and meet Ron and Hermione along the way. I defeat Voldemort with Harry, once, twice and three times. I escape to the Burrow with the Weasley’s way too often, and tag along to the Quidditch World Cup. I stand by Harry through the rise of Voldemort and fight along side him in the Battle of Hogwarts.

3

Looking for Alaska by John Green

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It’s 2011 and I’m in Treehugger Dan’s bookshop in Budapest, Hungary. I’m 19 years old, nearly no longer a teenager, my childhood soon to be over, marked by an epic InterRail experience before university. I’m in the sale section, I see a book called Looking for Alaska by John Green for 200F, equivalent to about 50p. What draws me in is… well, everything about it. I buy it and head back to my hostel, a cute, quirky loft converted from an old town house. I sit in the bay window and devour Looking for Alaska in one sitting. I realise why I want to be a writer. I realise that grief will never leave me. I continue to seek my Great Perhaps.

4

The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth

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I have now “become” an adult. I’m twenty years old. I’m in my first semester of university and I have just been exposed to The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, both of which I’ve read. Somewhere online, I find that the Phantom of Manhattan is the unofficial sequel to Gaston Leroux’s original novel and I fly through it in one sitting. It becomes my guilty pleasure, and much to my enjoyment, enables the musical-sequel Love Never Dies to come to fruition.

5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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It’s the summer of 2012 and I’ve just completed my first year at university so I head into Waterstones to celebrate. I browse the shelves, when this book catches my eye. I’ve heard it’s being made into a movie, and once I read the synopsis I’m sold. I buy this in a two for one deal along with Fifty Shades of Grey, which I soon regret, but this novel serves as a reminder why picking Creative Writing as my degree is a good decision.

6

Paper Towns by John Green

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After I realise John Green has written not one, but four other books, I head to Amazon and go on a book binge buy spree. I buy An Abundance of Katherine’s, Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson and The Fault in Our Stars, his latest novel. Paper Towns arrives first, and on that first page, John Green becomes my second Auto-Buy author. Sitting in my porch/bedroom, as Spring turns to Summer in 2013, I delve into Q’s world, sitting next to him in the mini van as we make our way along the East Coast to find Margo.

7

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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It’s Christmas 2013 and I’m in New York. I head into Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue and browse the shelves aimlessly. Outside it’s snowing, and I know we have to get the Croton-Harmon train back before peak times but I can’t tear myself away. Most people are gazing up at the Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Center, but I’m gazing up at the rows of books before me. I’ve always wanted to read The Bell Jar, and so I buy it there and then before I could talk myself out of it. I read it on the train all the way to Tarrytown.

8

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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It’s 2014 and I’m in my final semester of university. In our Creative Visions module, we’re exploring futuristic words and thus my love for dystopian fiction is born. I spend my time trying to escape the pain of assignments and dissertation talk by curling up with this book, finding a whole new definition of the word escapism. As I read, Tally and I hover board along the skyline, wondering what exactly it is that makes a person “pretty”.

9

Flowers in the Attic and the Dollanganger Saga by VC Andrews

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Despite trying to escape talk of my pending dissertation, I can’t, but I find respite in “reading for research”. Flowers in the Attic is the first book in the Dollanganger Saga, and fills my head with rich, luxurious, gothic mansions, plot twists and betrayal. I lap it up, and am reminded that my final piece for my degree is MINE, and take notes on delicious description from Ms Andrews.

10

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

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I’ve finally left university. My dissertation is handed in and now I’m waiting on my results. Now I can read whatever books I choose, and the thought of that alone is so liberating. When I hear that Divergent is to be made into a movie, I figure it’s just another book series jumping on the coat tails of The Hunger Games, but after I decide to read the series, I realise it’s so much more. Tris goes on a journey unlike any other. She questions what it means to be selfless and brave, and questions her identity along the way. The ending to the Divergent series is heartbreaking, but proves it’s not just another book series. It’s a social commentary on human nature.

11

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

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Three years worth of assigned reading stopped me from buying any new books, so as my graduation fast approaches in the Autumn of 2014, I look for exciting books to catch my eye. Rediscovering authors seems to be a habit of mine. Many years ago when I was in secondary school I read a booked called The Boyfriend List, now nearly ten years later I find We Were Liars by the very same E Lockhart. It’s my first trip into psychological thrillers and I LOVE it. I don’t realise the twist and it blows my mind.

12

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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I’m at my very first Writing Weekend as an alumni of the University of Winchester, and Belzhar has been my most anticipated read of 2014. A YA novel, inspired by The Bell Jar, set at boarding school, and it’s right up my street. Sometimes I wish I could go back to school, just so that I could choose to go to boarding school. Or sometimes I wish I could move back into Halls of Residence, where life was much more simple.

13

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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My graduation has come and gone. I really am a full fledged graduate, so I retreat to a place that makes me feel safe. I’ve spent much of the past ten years online. Not just online but ONLINE, participating in forums and chat rooms, writing in online journals, and writing, writing, writing. I never thought anyone would understand my “life online”, and I didn’t know how to communicate to anyone what that time in my life meant to me, but Rainbow Rowell does it with one swift novel: Fangirl.

14

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks… by Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs

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It’s almost Christmas again and I’ve just finished watching Kill Your Darlings with Daniel Radcliffe. I quickly become obsessed with the Beat Generation and haul a tonne of books from that era. This book is the fictional account, similar to the Kill Your Darlings, of the murder of David Krammerer and the Beat Poets growing up in the underbelly of New York City. I adore this book the moment I read the first page and the moment I read the last.

15

Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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I’m twenty three going on ten years old again. I’m scouting the scrapyard for junk metal with Cinder and Peony when she gets taken. I’m running with Cinder to warn Prince Kai about Levana. I’m sitting in the cell with Dr Erland when he tells her she’s the lost Princess Selene. I’m reminded that you’re never too old for fairy tales.

Did I mention any books in this list that you love too? Let me know in the comments.

Franklin (Part 3)

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Haley and I became inseparable. If we weren’t in class together, we were catching up at lunch, usually in the music room, and we always sat next to each other on the bus home. We started writing songs together, playing music and goofing off. Sometimes Jared would join us on bass, but it wasn’t until senior year, when we were playing open mic nights around Nashville that we realised we had a good thing going.

Haley practically lived with us, especially over the summer months. It was becoming tradition on the last day of school to walk home together instead of take the bus. Mom and Dad would be waiting for us and we’d have a barbecue that evening. It was always sunny on the last day.

Tim would make a fire and we’d sit around, cook sausages, toast marshmallows and eat s’mores, and talk about how much fun we were going to have over the summer. For Haley and I, that usually meant writing more music.

Afterwards, we would all set up camp in the basement, watch movies until the early hours of the morning and eat chocolate, just because there was no school the next day. Tim would fall asleep eventually, but Haley and I would always stay awake to watch the sunrise from the roof of the garage.

We sat there quietly, the red tones of Haley’s hair illuminated in the sun’s glow. She caught me staring and smiled.

“We’re not going to be able to do this next year,” she said.

“We will, it’ll just be…”

“Different,” she finished and forced a weak smile.

“We’ll be thinking about our future, and making the most of the time we have left.”

She sighed. “Mom is really against us going to college together.”

“Whatever,” I shrugged. “That’s our decision.”

“I just feel like I’m not ready, you know?”

“I know.” She looked out at the rising sun again, and I wrapped my arm around her tightly. “I bet you wouldn’t mind getting away from your mom and John though?” I said.

“Yeah,” she whispered.

“It’s not fair that he treats you the way that he does. I know you don’t think so, but believe me he treats you like shit.”

“He doesn’t hit me,” she replied.

“It’s not about that.” I kept quiet because I didn’t want to argue with her. I didn’t want to ruin the moment. “I just hate him hurting you,” I muttered, picking at the holes in my jeans.

Haley laid her head on my shoulder, and I rested mine on top of hers. Haley was right, leaving wasn’t easy no matter what we had to face. Leaving meant change, just when everything was starting to make sense for us.

We stayed like that for a while. We would be thankful for another year in Franklin, pushing the thoughts of the last “last day” from our minds.

~

Present Day

Mom closed the lounge door. I felt suffocated, smuggled blind, kicking and screaming into a situation that I had been trying to avoid. I hated confrontation, especially now. Haley and I had argued so much recently that I was sick of it. Haley paced the room, and I could see the rage in her eyes.

“You didn’t say anything, you just left.”

“I couldn’t do it, I thought you of all people would understand that,” I cried.

“I do, Taylor, but I thought something had happened to you.”

“I buried my father, that’s what happened.”

“I know this has been really tough for you, but if you had just… left a note… or -?”

“I just had to take some time out,” I insisted. My eyes were burning into hers, but not the way they usually did. “Things were getting… too hard.”

“I know that.”

“So why don’t you get off my back?” I could feel the heat rising from me.

“I’m not on your back.”

“Well, it feels just like that.”

“I know we’re not the same kids anymore, Taylor, but don’t treat me like a stranger.”

“I’m not.”

“I came down here because my boyf… my friend, my best friend, isn’t okay and that’s what friends do. What happened to night time walks around campus, or studying together after class or just playing music, like we used to.”

“We’re not those people anymore, Hales.”

Tears started welling in her eyes. “You haven’t called me that in a long time.”

“Jesus – I can’t do this -,”

“Why can’t you write music in front of me anymore, Taylor?” She asked. I couldn’t give her an answer no matter how hard I tried. “Is it because the songs are about me? The songs that we used to write together about our identity and friendship, about Franklin and us – do you remember that?” I avoided her gaze. “Are those songs we used to write now about me? Why did you push me away?”

“I don’t write music in front of you anymore because I can’t bear to – because everything has changed since then, Haley.” I took a breath, trying to work out everything that was going on in my mind.

“Taylor -,”

“I didn’t mean to push you away.”

“I think ‘cut me out’ is a more appropriate phrase.”

I thought I hated her for that.

“It’s because I care about what you think of me,” I cried. “I care if I fail in front of you. For so long I’ve spent my time looking after you, and I cannot accept the fact that I need looking after too.”

Haley closed her eyes, and let a small tear fall onto her cheek. “I know that.” Her voice was dry, and she sniffed loudly. “I’m here for you.”

“I’m not okay…” I resigned myself to it. I couldn’t pretend anymore. “I needed to come home and be with my Mom. I can’t settle at college knowing she’s here on her own.”

“She has Tim.”

“I know, but Tim has his own family to think about.” I saw in Haley’s eyes that she knew how I felt. “I thought I could go back to college but I don’t think I can,” I said.

She nodded. “If you think the best thing to do is come home then…”

“I know,” I reassured her. “I never thought we’d be having this conversation either.”

“It just scares me that I have to do this without you,” she whispered, and stepped forward to wrap her arms around my waist. I rested my chin on the top of her head, inhaling her scent all over again. I felt a stab of guilt, but I couldn’t decide what was right. “Where are we now?” She asked, looking up at me.

“I’m always going to love you, Hales. That’s all I’ve got.” She nodded, and I kissed her forehead, then looking down at her. “I’ll take you home?”

Haley looked up at me again with her big eyes blinking back tears. A ghost of a smile crept onto her face.

“Alright,” she said.

Franklin (Part 2)

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Haley and I first met in freshman year at Franklin High School. I was moving up with the rest of my grade, so I knew a lot of my classmates already, but Haley didn’t. She moved around the hallways like a fish out of water.

“So, what’s her story?” Jared asked me, as we walked past her down the corridor.

“Who?”

“The new girl.”

“How should I know?” I shrugged.

Jared gave me a look. “She looks kind of cool, though.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I like her style,” I agreed, thinking about how girls always dyed their hair peroxide blonde and wore tight jeans all the time. Haley didn’t seem to follow that trend. “I overheard her saying to Miss Williamson that she moved down from Indianapolis when her Mom got remarried.”

“See,” Jared grinned, and shoved me playfully. “I knew you’d hear something.”

“Are you coming to check out the music room?” I deflected, feeling the tips of my ears go hot. “I hear they’ve got six string basses.”

“Nah, I need to go ask Vanessa to Winter Formal. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Alright, later,” I said, ducking into the music room and picking up one the guitars on a stand. I sat down on a nearby chair and gave it a strum. When I looked up, Haley was standing in the doorway wearing an oversized Phil Collins t-shirt and her trademark frizzy hair. We were a mess of acne, bad haircuts and thick eyeliner back then, but I still thought she was cute.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” I smiled, strumming a few chords again. I really hoped she hadn’t overheard mine and Jared’s conversation.

“You’re really good.”

“Thanks,” I stuttered.

She shuffled through the doorway and sat down on a chair opposite me.

“I’m Haley.”

“Taylor.”

“That’s a nice name.”

I had never heard my name be described as nice before. I shrugged. “It’s alright.”

“You’re really good,” she said again, looking down at the guitar I was playing.

My words stuck in my throat. “Thanks. Can you play?”

“Not really. I sing and write songs but they usually suck.”

I shrugged again. “I’m sure they’re alright.”

She smirked at me, but I wasn’t sure why, and I could feel my ears going hot again.

I cleared my throat. “So… the Alaskas are playing in Nashville on Saturday,” I said. “Do you know them?”

“Are they from Alaska?”

“No,” I laughed. “They’re Swedish.”

“They sound cool though.”

“Well they have this album coming out; it’s called We’re Not Actually from Alaska.” Haley snorted. “I know,” I laughed with her. “But they’re really good… and I was thinking of going…”

“Is this a really long winded way of asking me out?” She asked.

“No. I mean – yes. I mean.” I could feel myself sweating. “Do you wanna go? I mean, with me – to see the show. If you want to…”

Haley looked at me, her eyes big and blue, and her goofy smile showing the gap between her front teeth. She had a nice accent, and suddenly I found myself smiling.

“Alright.”

Taylor – Taylor!” I shook the thoughts from my mind. Back in the coffee shop, Tim was waving his hand in front of my face with a sympathetic smile.

~

The next day, I was still thinking about Haley and me, as I lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling, admiring the poster for The Alaskas I bought at their concert. I suppose it was mine and Haley’s first date. I don’t remember if The Alaskas were any good or not, but I’ve had the poster ever since.

Mom knocked on my bedroom door. “Are you alright, honey?” She asked, pushing it open.

I sat up, leaning on my elbows. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

Mum stood in the doorway clutching our home phone. “We had a strange voicemail from Haley this morning. Maybe you should give her a call?”

“Okay. Yeah – maybe,” I nodded.

Mom smiled and closed the door again. I looked towards my phone on my bedside table, which hadn’t vibrated since earlier that morning. Thirteen missed calls. I knew Haley would want an explanation from me but she must have guessed where I was.

I thought about her finding my empty room, all the clothes gone from the wardrobe, my truck gone from the parking lot. I hadn’t left a note but there were still books on my shelf, which I thought made it clear I would return at some point. I just didn’t know when. There was so much I had to do, get over what happened to my Dad, finish college… put things right with Haley… continue with my life. It all seemed so impossible.

I got up off my bed and headed downstairs for some milk. As I got to the stairs, I overheard my Mom on phone in the hall. I sat down at the top of the staircase and listened in, resting my forehead on the banister, like I used to do when Mom and Dad would argue.

“… I just feel like he gets mad at me every time I try and make sure he’s alright.” Mom said into the phone. “Of course, he isn’t alright, his father is…” She sighed deeply. “I don’t know how to help him, Tim. I know he’s gone back to college since but that doesn’t change anything. I’m glad he’s home, at least I can keep and eye on him here… I’ll talk to him, I will… what? Come on… Tim, tell me… they broke up?”

My Mom started to cry. A wave of crashing disappointment washed over me. Everything flashed into the forefront of my mind. Haley and I. Running, laughing, drinking, crying, shouting. They had been talking about me. My Mom was crying and they were talking about me and me and Haley had broken up and my Mom was crying.

“He just doesn’t need this right now,” she choked out as the doorbell rang. “I’m sorry, honey. I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Mom put the receiver back on its holder and opened the door. “Oh my God,” she said, as Haley stepped in out of the rain.

“I’m sorry,” Haley said, and then looked up at me. “But I didn’t know what else to do.”

Franklin (Part 1)

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Franklin was originally a short story I wrote in my second year of university, and was my first assignment to achieve a First class mark. It’s a piece I am immensely proud of, and wanted to share it here in a serialised form for my readers to enjoy.

Franklin

by Clare Holman-Hobbs

My Mom always used to say “if you ever feel afraid, all you have do is come home.” I thought about her words long and hard as I stifled a yawn, the sun rising over the dusty hills of my hometown. Franklin wasn’t far now that I was seeing signs for Nashville. My cell phone vibrated on the passenger seat next to me but I ignored it, and kept my eyes on the road.

The UNC campus had been dark when I left, probably around midnight. I would be lying if I said I had made the decision to come home rationally, but I couldn’t sit in the four walls of my dorm room any longer. As I headed out towards my car with my heavy duffle bag slung over my shoulder, I glanced up at Haley’s window. I knew she’d worry about me, about where I’d gone when she knocked for me in the morning for breakfast like usual. I considered going back for that reason alone, but I didn’t want another argument.

I shook the thought from my mind, realising I had almost passed the turning. People were stirring on the streets of Franklin as I turned down Main Street, commuters passing by on their way into the city and shops owners unlocking their doors. I drove further into the suburbs, passing house after house until I got to mine. It hadn’t changed a bit since I left; only this time, the driveway was empty. I pulled in, taking the space where my father’s car used to be and shut off the engine. I sighed, looking at the worn out wood of the porch, the swing swaying slightly in the breeze.

I got out of my truck, slamming the door behind me and checking my watch. After composing myself, I rang the doorbell, reminding myself to breathe. After about a minute, the front door creaked open, and my mother emerged from around the dark oak that separated us. Her face was pale.

“Taylor. I heard your truck. I thought it was you,” she said quietly. “What are you doing here?”

In the shadow of the cold, empty house that I had fled from months ago, I asked myself the same question.

~

After I got back, my brother Tim and I met at the coffee shop in town. I had spent a lot of time in the basement; trying to make my fingers move coherently enough to play a decent song on my guitar, but it all came out in fragments of an un-tuned mess. Tim took one look at me and knew I needed a break, practically marching me out of the front door and into his car. In the café, he sat across from me, shaking the sugar packet between his thumb and forefinger.

“I couldn’t believe it when Mom called,” he said, breaking off the top of the packet and pouring the sugar into his coffee.

“I know,” I agreed, forcing a weak smile and picking up a packet of sugar from the bowl on the table.

“Little bro – back in town,” Tim muttered, sipping from the steaming mug.

I poured the sugar into the coffee and stirred it, taking a sip; beautiful and bitter, just how I liked it. I sighed and tried to relax.

Tim noticed my posture. “You didn’t bring Haley back with you?”

“Not this time.”

“How come?”

I inhaled deeply, trying to begin. Tim raised his eyebrows at me.

“We’re not together anymore; she doesn’t know I’m here.”

Tim’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah.”

“Taylor and Haley. Like Lennon and McCartney. I never thought I’d see the day.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I can barely believe it myself.”

“What happened, man?”

“Well, I can’t listen to Fleetwood Mac anymore.”

Over his shoulder, I saw a girl with deep chestnut curls. My breath caught, heart hammered against my chest, eyes transfixed on her as she turned her head. It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be.

I looked back to Tim and opened my mouth, but I couldn’t find the words, or the strength to begin to tell him of our downfall, of how everything had changed, and how I had lost the best thing to ever have happened to me. I had lost Haley. I may as well have lost a limb too.