That’s when I could finally breathe.
She didn’t know she could still cry after so many days of moping around in her house like a social outcast. Somehow, her boss had given her a couple days off for New Year’s to “celebrate with her family”, and now, here she was, stuck still wearing a wine-stained white dress from three days before. If her mother, who had taught her daughters the virtues of appropriate self-presentation, could see her now from across the country, she would be furious.
But again, Hailey thought, her mother would have given her a brand-new tube of lipstick and walked away to leave her with her own demons.
Every single fucking thing in the world reminded her of him.
It was stupid, really, but she still saw him everywhere, even though they had both internally vowed to stay away from each other. Sometimes she saw his eyes in her vase, a gorgeous blown glass piece that he had given her some days before their trip to his family gathering. Other times, she imagined his car pulling into her driveway in the middle of the night. But most of all, she saw him on her commute to the city, no matter where she looked—the graffiti, her fellow pedestrians, the street performers.
She would get over him one day, but not now.
On the evening of New Year’s Eve, she finally took the time to sit down and stare at the state of her house. She didn’t know how she had missed all the fliers flung all over her dining table, her coffee table in the living room, her kitchen counter, and her bedroom desk. God, her house was starting to look like Calvin’s car before he had gone on a cleaning spree. And Calvin, darling…
She couldn’t go down that train of thought now.
She took a deep breath and stood up from the couch, placing her hands on her hips. She would tackle the dining table first. It was almost a sensory overload to stare into the dining room now with the disheveled Christmas tree and the random shit scattered not only on the table but also on the ground.
It was almost painful to sit down at the dining table. She didn’t know how the hell she would sort out the bills from the charity letters, which had begun to arrive in mass numbers once it hit December. Her hands hovered over an envelope. It was better to start now than later.
There was a legion of Christmas cards from friends and family. She’d missed so much. There were still cards sent at the beginning of the month. She spent an hour or so laughing at her sister’s family picture with her newborn baby boy. And her mother had sent along a package after Christmas, which was an entire set of makeup essentials, with a little card wishing her well in all love and war.
She pushed her mother’s note to the side. A phone call on her part was long overdue.
She thought she’d gone through all the Christmas cards that anyone would bother to send her, so she turned her attention to all the letters asking for donations for all sorts of causes. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t truly bring herself to care, even with the pictures of scrawny terriers and malnourished babies in Asia attached to so many of the letters. She was such a terrible person, really, but she pushed on, signing check after check to include in the return envelopes. Her bills would come later.
Thank goodness about half the pile of paper on her table was cleared after she had gone through all the Christmas cards and donation letters. But now there was the business of bills, with which she had not been especially vigilant. God, she hoped she hadn’t been late with anything… she hated asking her brother for favors when he had so many issues of his own.
Halfway through developing a headache from analyzing all her mishaps with student loans from the bank, she stumbled upon a different sort of letter. From the way it looked, this envelope was from someone she knew personally. Her name was scrawled in the middle of the envelope almost endearingly, and the name on the return address sounded faintly familiar. She opened it.
It was dated from three weeks earlier, around the time she had gone on road trips to the middle of nowhere with him. She licked her lips nervously, forcing herself to read on.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year! I hope that you find success in everything that you attempt, whether that is to straighten out your goals or to bring my son up to par. You are such a wonderful young woman; you make me wonder how Calvin found someone like you in such a big place like New York City.
He’ll always be there for you, and I’ll always support you and him in whatever you have planned in the future.
It was from his mother.
She choked back a lump in her throat. His mother was such a sweet woman, and evidently, this was sent before the accident and before Hailey had cut ties with her son. Hailey saw green eyes in her mind, and for a terrible moment, she didn’t know if she saw his eyes or his mother’s.
Her chest throbbed. The awful stinging in her eyes started again, something she had gotten used to over the latter part of this month. But this time, she let it go, releasing the dam in her heart, and she sobbed, her body shaking, for herself and for him.
It took a while before she could pick herself up from the dining table. Her tears had fallen onto the letters, and her voice was so, so sore from screaming. She hadn’t been afraid of the memories of him. What frightened her the most was that she wasn’t sure whether she was begging for him to come back or whether she was cursing his damned green eyes and his family’s misfortunes.
She stumbled away. She needed a change of scenery now, which the kitchen would certainly not provide. As she made her way up the stairs to her bedroom, she felt her hand shake as she clutched the handrail. Why was she hit with so many memories now, out of all times?
She stopped briefly to look at the clock hung in the middle of the hallway. Fuck, it was getting really late now. Did she really want to spend the last hours of this year sorting through papers nostalgically like a retired old woman?
Yes, she would. She steeled her nerves and pushed on into her room.
More bills. They would choke her if she didn’t know better. Something flashed inside her, and she snatched an envelope off the table.
“You taunt me, you,” she muttered. “They never told me about this part of growing up. God, my life is all bills, bills, money, work, responsibility, and I never seem to have another way to get the fuck out.”
She tore the envelope in half and dropped the pieces of paper to the ground.
“Maybe I’m meant for the woods,” she said quietly. “I guess that’s why hermits and hitchhikers choose to live like that—no stupid bills or student loans to weigh on them.”
She paused. She was going insane. Why in the world was she talking to herself like that? Maybe it was from locking herself up for so long. Maybe it was from being surrounded by him. Maybe it was from never really giving herself a break. Or maybe it was simply because she was sex-deprived—she couldn’t know, and all the reasons didn’t matter. Only the end results did.
“No. I belong in the city. After all, all the colorful lights are like the shithole in my head, right?”
She let out a laugh.
Yes, indeed, she was going insane.
She turned on the lights in her room, and everything flashed into view immediately. The first things she saw were the framed lithographs of pine trees and skyscrapers on opposite walls. They reminded her of him and her. They were such opposites. His mother was right. How in the world did they meet?
She was such a mess on the inside, although she looked like a typical New Yorker with her bright red lipstick and immaculate hair and outfit. But Calvin…
It was wrong of her to still think of him like that, wasn’t it? But she could never forget that unkempt head of dark hair, his signature leather jacket and jeans, or his wild eyes. She had misjudged him when she first met him—he was no bad boy with a dirty conscience. Inside, although he never showed it, he cared about everything, more than anyone she ever knew could.
Yes, she was the city with its impeccable exterior but jumbled interior.
He, on the other hand, was the woods—unpredictable but gorgeous, and refreshingly liberating.
She bit her lip. She had to shake this out of her head before she would cry again, the mess she was. So she turned to her closet and reached for something, anything, from her top shelf above her clothes.
It was a piece of paper. God, she had had enough of paper this evening. She almost threw it away immediately in the wastebin, but the back of it felt glossy, like it was a picture. She turned it over.
God, she didn’t even know that she still had this.
It was the only picture that they had ever bothered printing out from their phones. She was so jealous of him now—at least he had those Polaroids from the time she had lost him, and she was left with her broken heart and just this.
She remembered how she had protested to him about how precious this picture was. Funnily enough, the camera’s focus wasn’t even on the two of them. They stood toward the side of the couch. Instead, Calvin’s grandparents, surrounded by his aunts and uncles and parents, were in the middle. At their feet, the little ones and their teenage counterparts sat criss cross applesauce. They were all beaming.
Hailey bit her lip and focused on the two of them. He wasn’t looking at her, of course, but his arm was wrapped around her side. She was leaning her head against his shoulder, like she always did when she was comfortable. And they both looked utterly at ease.
Now she was sure that Calvin would pull through. He had a family behind him, a huge, endearing, loud family that would push him to his best. And she…
She still had a family.
She placed the picture on her desk, on top of all her other papers, and leapt for her jacket and purse, sprinting out of her house.
She had never wished for a bus so vehemently before. As she ran through the drizzling rain in the darkness, she checked her watch. “Shit!”
It was 11:39 p.m. She was going to miss midnight if she kept going at this rate. She picked up her pace.
She burst into the Port Authority’s entrance and hurried up the escalator, rummaging for her purse at the same time. She had forgotten her lipstick. Ah, that would have to wait for later. She drew out her commute card and held it at ready for the booth. When she nearly slammed into the ticket-reading machine, she had to hold herself to take a couple breaths. She was going to make this.
There was a bus, thank goodness. It was completely empty, save for an old lady sitting directly behind the bus driver. She hopped on, sliding into the seat across the aisle from her.
Before long, they were setting out for the city. She had never felt that the bus was driving particularly slowly before, but it couldn’t have driven any more slowly tonight. The old lady sensed her anticipation and smiled. “Are you hoping to catch the fireworks?”
“Not particularly,” she answered. “I’m a little late to a family gathering.”
The lady nodded, and they said nothing for the rest of the ride. When the bus pulled into the station and stopped, Hailey already had her purse in order, standing up to get off. As she passed the bus driver, he said, “Have a wonderful night, ma’am.”
“Happy New Year.”
Thank God her brother’s apartment was only one subway ride from the nearest subway station. She ran through the streets of New York, the lights never seeming to shine any brighter before. Everything stood out to her, even the open signs on the tiny, run-down Chinese shops and the blinking lights of the Empire State Building in the distance.
It was pouring rain now. She hadn’t worn a raincoat, dammit, but now it was too late to regret anything. She felt her hair plaster against her head, and her flats felt somewhat precarious on the wet sidewalks as she ran as quickly as she could to his apartment building.
Finally, she saw the square white building and its potted plants, which the deluge pummeled relentlessly, and she flashed her fob key before pushing into the entrance. No one was working the front desk. Wonderful—less people would have to see her look like a wet cat. She checked her watch.
11:58 p.m. Shit, shit, shit.
She ran up the stairs, cursing her brother at the same time for living on the fifth floor. At one point, her foot slipped, and in a panic, she grabbed onto the handrail with both hands, panting. No, she couldn’t stop now. Fuck, it was 11:59. She burst through the door leading to the hallway, slipping and sliding on her feet. It seemed like it took her forever to find her brother’s apartment door. She knocked more loudly than usual, placing her hands on her hips as she caught her breath.
Mark opened the door with Vincent in his arm. “Hailey?” His son grinned, reaching out toward her even though she had water dripping down her face from her sopping hair.
Behind them, Mark’s wife turned around as she held baby Allison in her arms, lounging on the sofa. Just then, the roaring from the TV increased exponentially, and the fireworks went off, taking form in a plethora of yellow and green and red and blue.
“Happy New Year, Mark,” Hailey said.
Maybe she could start over now.
Well, this is it. First of all, Happy New Year to all! I hope you all have had a wonderful 2014, and I wish you a very amazing 2015 in the future.
This chapter is dedicated to Taylor Swift because...surprise! Her new album, 1989, is my inspiration for writing Headlights. Taylor, I'll always support you through all your transformations, and thank you so much for telling your story through your songs to the the world.
If you'd like, I'll write a bonus chapter with Hailey and Calvin, but we'll see!
Here is the exact tracklist for each of the chapters. The plotline of each chapter in Headlights vaguely follows the story and some certain elements of its assigned song. Comment about anything you feel below!
1. Welcome to New York
2. Blank Space
3. You Are In Love
5. This Love
6. Out of the Woods
7. I Wish You Would
8. Wildest Dreams
Again, a wonderful new year to all.