Authors: Yesenia Vargas
Jimmy got out of the car and grabbed his book bag. Ariana was still in the car. She hadn’t even taken the keys out of the ignition yet.
“You comin’? Jimmy asked.
“Um, later.” She looked at Jimmy and tried to smile. “Gonna hang out with Lucas a little. We’ll catch up to you.”
“Telling him about UGA, huh?” he asked.
“Yep,” she said, taking a deep breath and looking straight ahead.
There was a small pause, then Jimmy said, “See you later, then. Gonna go look for my girlfriend now.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “You guys are awesome together, by the way.”
“Yeah, we kinda are, aren’t we?”
She thought for sure he’d have something to say, some kind of opinion to share on the subject of her and Lucas, but he didn’t.
She nodded, and he closed the car door and left. She could see him heading towards the school from her rearview mirror. She watched him and the crowd of people going into the school like that for another few minutes. She saw several cars pulling into the lot, but no Lucas.
She checked her phone again.
They weren’t gonna have much time to talk. They had to have breakfast too, and that ended at a quarter past eight.
She sighed again and put her head down on the steering wheel and closed her eyes.
She was tired. Her head hurt from not getting much sleep last night. She was still high from the news of her acceptance into her dream college but that was mixed in with the ickiness she felt inside her at figuring everything out with Lucas and the sheer joy for Mayra and Jimmy finally being together.
She jumped at a knock on the passenger window. The door opened, and she looked up.
He got in and went in straight for a kiss. A long kiss. She only had time to close her eyes.
His hands were on each side of her face, and his lips pulled on hers, his tongue slipping in as well.
Something lit inside her chest, and she wrapped her arms around his neck.
One of his hands went to her waist and the other to her thigh.
A minute later, he pulled back, but her eyes remained closed, wanting to savor the intense moment they’d just had.
Slowly, she opened her eyes to stare at Lucas. His face was inches away from hers.
“Good morning,” he said. His voice was in between a whisper and normal talk, and he was out of breath.
She realized she was too.
“I missed you,” he went on. She couldn’t decide whether to look at his mouth or eyes.
“I missed you too,” she said. This time, she went in for the kiss. Not as long, though. “I want to hug you.”
They weren’t going to be able to in the car. Not like she wanted. She got out of the car, and he did the same. It had been a bit chilly before, but now the air around them felt perfect. Fresh.
They met in the middle at the hood and Lucas immediately put his arms around Ariana’s neck and back while she hugged back and pressed her head against his chest.
She could hear his heartbeat. It was beating pretty fast at the moment. Lucas kissed the top of her head.
“What time is it?” She had left her phone in the car. He got his out of his pocket.
“8:03,” he said, looking at the screen. “Why?”
“I don’t want you to miss breakfast,” she said.
“Any other reason?” They hadn’t been looking at each other, but with that, she pulled back and his gaze was already waiting for her when she turned in his direction.
She had to do this.
“I got in,” she said, hardly above a whisper. “To UGA. I found out last night.”
“That is…awesome,” Lucas said. He was smiling, but his eyes weren’t locked on hers. “I really am happy for you. I know what we said before, but you—you have to go. There’s no question about it.”
He squeezed her, and her face was against his chest again.
“We’re gonna figure it out,” she said. “I promise. I don’t care if we have to take turns driving to each other’s school every weekend.”
She wanted to say the words, but she was too focused on not crying.
I love you. I don’t want to lose you.
She realized then that Lucas really did love her. Because he was willing to let her go.
That afternoon, Ariana trudged back up the parking lot to her car. She couldn’t get her mind off of the next few months. It killed her inside not knowing what was going to happen, whether her relationship with Lucas would survive the changes coming ahead in their lives.
Her whole life was changing. It’d be completely different in less than six months. Maybe she’d change as a person. Maybe Lucas would. Maybe he’d meet someone while she was at UGA.
She didn’t think she could handle that.
She shook her head and decided to look up at the sky instead of at the ground like she had been doing recently.
Ariana got to her car, and she opened the back door to put her stuff in the seat.
She was about to close the door. That’s when she felt someone’s arms around her waist. She didn’t have to turn around to know it was Lucas. She knew his hands, his smell. She was smiling before she turned around.
“Hey,” she said, looking into his eyes. “How was your day?”
“Okay,” he replied. “I wish we had more classes together. We don’t even have lunch together anymore. That used to be the best part of my day, even before we started going out.”
Ariana laughed. “Really?” She remembered last semester how they’d started liking each other and how awkward it was to be around him at first, especially because of Mayra. But she was so happy things turned out the way they had, even if things might eventually end.
“How was your day?” Lucas asked. He was leaning on her car, and she was leaning into him.
“Okay. Lots of homework.”
“Me too. Got senioritis yet?”
“Me too.” He laughed.
“Oh gosh,” she said with a smile.
“I can’t wait until graduation,” he said.
She felt a pang in her heart.
Lucas whispered, “Actually, I can.”
“I’m visiting UGA in like a week,” she said, looking over at him for a second.
They stood there in silence for a minute, listening and watching the other cars leave the parking lot, then the buses drive away. The constant buzz was dying. She closed her eyes and felt the breeze on her arms while soaking in the bit of sun there was today. It was chilly, but Lucas was warm.
“Realistically, what do you think is going to happen?” she asked. Nothing from Lucas. “Do you think we should…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“Break up?” Lucas asked. He sighed. “The day one of us stops loving the other, definitely. But until then, we’re going to fight to stay together, even if we’re apart. We’ll make this work.”
He looked down at her, and she up at him.
He went on. “I promise you. You’re it for me.”
This is it, Ariana thought. She pulled out the driveway. It was a school morning, but instead of Jimmy in the passenger seat, it was her mom.
Jimmy was going to ride to school with Mayra today because Ariana was finally visiting UGA.
She’d get to see the campus in person and confirm this was where she wanted to go.
She glanced at her mom, who smiled at her while she sipped some coffee. She smiled back but found herself gripping the steering wheel a little extra. It was gonna be a bit of a drive, so they had to leave early. It was only 6:00 a.m., and they were already hitting the road.
“Is there anybody else from your school going?” her mom asked.
“Um, a handful of people, actually,” she said. “Other Hispanic kids who are applying for the scholarship program.”
So awesome but nerve-wracking. She had no idea what to expect come fall or even today. How should she act? What if she did something like ask an obviously dumb question?
At least everyone there was in her same boat, and the lady in charge of the program seemed really nice and funny. She had visited her school last week and gathered a small group of students who were going to be going to UGA.
“You know where you’re going?” her mom asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.
“Yeah, I have my phone’s GPS on.”
Her mom nodded. “Good thing we’re a little early then. We can stop for some chicken biscuits if you want.”
“That’s okay,” Ariana said as she pulled onto the freeway. She pressed down on the gas and joined the lane to her left. There wasn’t too much traffic yet. “Remember, they’re giving us breakfast there.”
“Oh, that’s right.” She took another sip of her coffee and glanced behind them as Ariana switched to the fast lane to get ahead of a slow mini-van in front of them. “So what exactly will we be doing today?”
“I’m going to shadow a student a little bit, so I’ll be following them around to their classes. We’ll get a tour of the campus, some free lunch at the dining commons, and just some information about a scholarship they’re offering.”
“That’s good. Free food. Free money maybe. I like this school already.”
Ariana laughed, at ease a bit. If there was something about her mom, it was that she loved free food. She just hoped UGA would be a good fit for her too.
“This is officially freakin’ awesome,” Ariana said as she walked inside UGA’s three-level gym. There were college students working out everywhere, most with earbuds in their ears and facing forward while breaking a mean sweat.
She walked over to an elliptical.
“And they have TVs with cable? Why does the freshman fifteen even exist?” She looked at the girl she’d been paired with. Her name was Nayelli. She was taller than Ariana and easygoing.
“I know, right? But you’d be surprised. No one tells you when to eat and when not to eat. You stay up studying and you get hungry? You can buy yourself something somewhere or go to Snelling, which is open 24/7.”
She patted her stomach, which was almost flat. “I had to learn the hard way last year. I gained some serious weight but began eating healthier and coming in here a few times a week. So basically, don’t stuff your face every day.”
“Wow. I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” Ariana laughed.
Nayelli glanced at her phone. “I have a calculus class coming up in about twenty minutes. We should start heading that way, and you can see what that’s like. There’s only about twenty-five people in that class, though, which isn’t as cool as the three-hundred people biology class I had last year.”
“Three hundred people in one class? How do they all fit?” Maybe that was one of those dumb questions she shouldn’t have asked, but Nayelli didn’t seem to think so.
“There are these huge classrooms that are kind of like a mini stadium. The professor’s at the bottom and there’s this huge screen and the class kind of goes up and around a bit.”
“Oh,” Ariana said, trying to envision it as they walked back out of the gym.
“I’ll show you a class like that later. I personally liked those classes better, but it’s just a preference.”
Ariana nodded as they arrived at the bus stop.
“Okay. We need to get on the East/West bus. Do you see one?”
Ariana glanced around. There was one bus leaving and one about to get where they were, but it said something else.
“It’ll probably be a few minutes. In the evenings, though, the schedule changes and the buses come through a lot less frequently, which sucks if you don’t have a car and find somewhere to park for free. Sometimes I get stuck waiting for like fifteen, twenty minutes, but now I just ride with one of my friends.”
Pay to park? Ariana thought. She assumed she’d be bringing her car next year, but no one ever had to pay to park in her hometown. How much would it be just to park? She started thinking about all the expenses the program lady had mentioned earlier, like the meal plan, tuition, books, clothes, and everything else.
She knew her parents had a little money saved up since they had been doing financially better in the last couple of years, but not anywhere close to pay for all of her college.
Her stomach sank a little at the thought of not being able to come here because she couldn’t afford it. There was that one scholarship and a few others she had heard of and applied to, but would they be enough? There was also HOPE, which covered her tuition if she got As and Bs, but she had to live here the first year in the dorms and she knew that had to be expensive.
“Do you have scholarships?” she asked Nayelli.
“A couple. I still work part-time, though. At this fast food place down the street from my dorm. So I can afford all the fees, books, and the meal plan. I mean, there’s bus fees, technology fees, green fees. Plus like supplies and clothes and stuff. My parents weren’t really able to help me out at all with my expenses, so I cover them myself.”
Ariana thought about that. Fees on top of everything else?
“Oh, look. There’s the bus we need to get on.”
Ariana tried to focus on her steps as she got on the bus and took a seat next to Nayelli instead of wondering if she’d actually be coming here next year.
Ariana took her plate of food over to where her mom was sitting in a corner of the dining hall, which looked nothing like the ugly cafeteria back at her school.
She hadn’t seen her mom most of the morning. All the parents had been in their own informational meetings about what to expect once their kids were in college.
The extensive variety of food at the dining hall had distracted Ariana from her earlier worries, especially because all the walking around had left her starving. She had piled plate after plate of food onto her tray, not to mention a tasty-looking fruit smoothie she was dying to try after being out in the heat.