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On the Way to You
Author:Kandi Steiner

On the Way to You

Kandi Steiner

To the voyagers, looking for answers in the shadows of the darkest of nights.

May the promise of the sun on the horizon always bring you back home.

What makes you happy?

Those were the words he said to me the day I met him. He asked me a simple question, one I should have been able to answer easily. There were plenty of answers, after all.

My books made me happy, and my dog, Kalo, made me happy, too. Yoga made me happy. The way the sun always manages to come back, no matter how dark the storm, made me happy. I was the happiest girl in the world.

Or so I thought.

That day had started just like any other. I woke up with the sun, dragging my yoga mat out of my closet with a yawn to start my Friday. I fed Kalo and took her for a walk, ate breakfast alone, and checked to see if my parents were still alive. Referring to them as my “parents” is kind of a stretch, though, because that would imply they did some kind of parenting. In reality, I’d been taking care of myself since I was old enough to pour my own cereal. I was still amazed I’d managed to make it to see my twentieth birthday.

Daryl, my father, had made it to work by some miracle that Friday morning and was already gone by the time I was packing up my backpack to head to work. Cindy, my mother, was doped up but breathing, which was a win in my book. She was sprawled out on the old, dingy, sunken-in couch in the living room of our trailer, and I didn’t say a word to wake her before I pushed through the creaky metal door and out into the fresh Alabama air.

Well, it would have been fresh, if we didn’t live in the Longleaf Pine trailer park.

Still, I had a smile on my face as the morning dew settled on my skin. With one last wave at Kalo, who was looking at me through the hole in my bedroom blinds, I hopped on my bike and started the short ten-minute bike ride to Papa Wyatt’s Diner, the restaurant I’d called home ever since I could remember, and my place of employment since I was sixteen.

“I hate Alabama,” Tammy said as soon as I pushed my bike through the front door to a chime from the small bell above. Orange and black streamers hung from the door frame, each of them sticking to my forehead a bit as I passed by. Sweat was snaking its way from my damp hair down the back of my collared uniform shirt, finding a rather uncomfortable home where the sun doesn’t shine, but it didn’t matter.

Alabama was hot, but Papa Wyatt’s Diner was exactly the same as it was every day. I found comfort in that, in the fact that I was able to work there at all, to get out of my house and do what I needed to do to make ends meet. I had plans to get out of Mobile, and I was so close to making it happen I could taste it.

“No, not you!” I joked with a feigned shock face as Tammy helped me situate my bike in the back storage closet. “I just can’t imagine you hating anything, Tammy.”

She glared at me, hands hanging on her hips. “It’s Halloween and it still feels like the inside of a sweaty jock strap out there. Fall doesn’t exist in this town.”

“Well, I can’t argue with that,” I said, a longing sigh on my lips. “I’d kill for some sweater weather right now.” I pulled my long blonde hair into a quick braid and let it hang over my left shoulder, retrieving the orange hair tie from my pocket to add a little holiday spirit. My thick, black-framed glasses had slid down my nose in the Alabama heat, and I used one finger to push them back into place.

I craved a true fall season, too, and I knew I’d find it in Seattle. It used to be if I made it, but now I knew it was when. I’d been saving for years, even after having to help my parents with the bills. I could have already been out of that town if I would have told them to shove off when they asked for rent or grocery money, but the truth was that I needed a place to live, too — and food to eat.

Lily, my best friend, used to let me stay at her house all the time. Her mom didn’t even bat an eye if I was there when Lily wasn’t, because they knew my home situation. But Lily went to college right after we graduated, just like everyone else, and I stayed back, attending our local community college and saving for my dream school.

If it weren’t for Tammy letting me crash on her couch on the nights when my parents’ fighting got really intense, I probably wouldn’t have had enough sanity left to joke with her every morning.

“Yeah, well, at least you’ll get it soon. At Bastyr.” Tammy smiled, punching her log-in into the register as I prepped the coffee machines. “But for now, you get summer in October.” She glanced over my shoulder at the front door. “And weirdos who still want hot coffee, anyway.”

I didn’t even need to turn to know Mr. Korbe was standing on the other side of the glass, hands resting easily in the pockets of his worn, brown dress slacks and what little hair he had left swept over his freckled head. I threw him a wink and a wave before smiling back at Tammy.

“Just a few more months.” The words came out airy and light, riding on a fantasy I’d had since I was twelve. My dream school was three thousand miles away on the Pacific Northwest coast, and after years of saving, I was almost to the point where I could make the move.


“Did you get your acceptance letter yet?”

I swallowed, dusting off the front of my apron before heading for the door. “Not yet. But it’ll come.” I paused when I’d almost reached the lock, eying Tammy who was bouncing a little now, biting back a smile. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Something big is going to happen today. I feel it.” Tammy was older than me by thirty-two years, the dark bun at the nape of her neck peppered with hints of gray. Her eyes creased with laugh lines as her smile widened.

“Uh-oh, did you read your tarot cards again this morning?”

“Nope, but you know my gut feelings. My intuition is never wrong.”

I laughed, because as much as I wanted to argue with her, it was true — she always had a feeling when something was coming, good or bad. I’d believed in her psychic abilities ever since I was a thirteen-year-old dirty kid with my feet hanging from the barstools in front of the cash register. She used to buy me a grilled cheese and a slice of pie out of her own pocket, and when I turned sixteen, she got me a job so I wouldn’t have to go hungry ever again.

“Well, then, maybe my letter will come today.”

“There’s my optimistic girl.” She whistled, hollering into the back kitchen. “Door’s opening!”

“Strippers locked away!” our cook, Ray, yelled back.