Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between

This story follows Clare and Aidan. On their last night together before college they decide to make a list to decide their future, together or apart. It takes them on a rollercoaster ride through their past - from the first hello in science class to the first conversation at a pizza joint, their first kiss at the beach and their first dance in a darkened gymnasium - all the way up to tonight.

A night of laughs, fresh hurts, last-minute kisses and an inevitable goodbye. But is it goodbye forever?

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1. Chapter One

In the car, Aidan pauses before turning the key in the ignition, and for a brief second, Clare lets herself imagine that they’re on their way out to dinner or a movie, or anywhere, really, even just the kind of aimless, purposeless drive that’s been the only thing on the agenda so many times before. Their nights always seem to begin in this way: the two of them sitting in Aidan’s dusty Volvo, trying to decide what to do.

But tonight is different.

It’s not a beginning at all. Tonight is an ending.

Aidan’s hand is still hovering over the keys, and Clare glances down at the piece of notebook paper on her lap. During the short walk over to the Gallaghers’ house—a walk she’s made about a thousand times in the past two years—she folded and refolded the page so many times that it’s already soft and wrinkled.

“Maybe we should just take off or something,” Aidan says, looking at her sideways. “Just keep driving till we hit Canada.” 

“Canada, huh?” Clare says, raising her eyebrows. “Are we going on the lam?”

He shrugs. “Fine. Maybe just Wisconsin, then.”

She reaches over, resting a hand on the back of his neck, where his reddish hair is newly trimmed, cut close in a way that makes him look older somehow. “I’m leaving first thing in the morning,” she says gently. “The car’s already packed. And your flight’s at noon.”

“I know,” he says, but he won’t look at her. His eyes are fixed on the closed door of the garage. “That’s my point. Let’s skip it all.”

“College?” she says with a smile, letting her hand drop.

“Yeah,” he says, nodding now. “Who needs it? Let’s run away together instead. Just for a year or so. We’ll start a new life. In the country. Or better yet, a deserted island.”

“You would look nice in a hula skirt.”

“I’m serious,” he says, though she knows he’s not. He’s just desperate and sad, nervous and excited, wildly unsure of everything as they barrel toward the invisible line that will separate their lives into a before and an after. Same as her.

“Aidan,” she says quietly, and this time, his eyes find hers. “This is happening. Tomorrow. No matter what.”

“I know,” he admits.

“Which is why we have to figure out what to do about it.”

“Right, but—”

“Nope,” she says, cutting him off. She holds up the piece of paper. “No more talking. We’ve been talking all summer, and it’s gotten us nowhere. We’ve just been going around in circles: Stay together, break up, stay together, break up....”

“Stay together,” Aidan finishes, grinning a little.

Clare laughs. “The point is that we’re hopeless. So no more talking. For now, let’s just drive, okay?”

He leans forward, reaching for the keys, and then turns over the engine.

“Okay,” he says.

Their first stop isn’t far away, and they drive in silence, all the familiar sights of the town slipping by outside the window: the bridge over the ravine, the road lined with pine trees, the gazebo in the park. Clare tries to absorb each one of them as they whip past, because by the time she returns at Thanksgiving, she knows she might be some‑ one entirely different, and she suspects that—because of that—all this might look different, too. And something about that scares her. So one by one, she tries to pin them in place: each tree, each road, each house.

This is how it all started this morning, when she woke up in a panic about how many goodbyes she still had to say. Not just the people: Aidan, of course; and her best friend, Stella; Aidan’s sister, Riley; and his pal, Scotty; plus the handful of their other friends who are still around.

But there was also the town itself. All the landmarks that had been the background to her childhood. She couldn’t leave without going to the village green one more time, or getting one last slice of pizza at their favorite spot.  She couldn’t possibly take off without one more trip to the beach, one final party, one last drive past the high school.

And so she made a list. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that most of the things that meant something to her were inextricably tied to Aidan. This place was a ghost town of sorts, littered with milestones and memories from their nearly two-​­year relationship.

So it had turned into something else, this night: a nostalgia tour, a journey into the past, a walk down memory lane. It would be a way for her to say goodbye to this town where she’d lived her whole life, and maybe—somehow—to Aidan, too.

She can’t help shivering a little at the thought of this, and she presses the button on the car door, closing her window.

Aidan glances over. “Too windy?” he asks, rolling up his own window, and she nods. But it’s more than that. It’s the same icy dread that fills her each time she starts to imagine it; not just the goodbye, but everything that’s to come afterward: the hurt that will surely trail them to opposite coasts, so strong that she can already feel it even now, when he’s only inches away.

The truth is, she’s still waiting for her heart to get on board with the decision her head has made. But she’s running out of time.

When they reach the long drive leading up to the high school, Aidan frowns. “So tell me,” he says as they pull up to the front of the sprawling building and into one of the empty parking spots. “Why exactly are we here?”

It’s early evening on a Friday toward the end of August, and the school sits hushed and empty. Though she spent four years here, Clare’s already having trouble remember‑ ing the feel of the place when it’s full of students, everyone spilling out the wooden doors and onto the front lawn. It’s only been two months, but somehow, all that seems like a very long time ago.

“Because,” she says, turning to Aidan, “it’s the first stop on the list.”

“I know that,” he says. “But how come?”

“It’s where we met,” she explains as she gets out of the car. “And the idea is to start at the beginning.”

“So this is a chronological scavenger hunt, then.”

“It’s not a scavenger hunt at all. Think of it more like a refresher course.” “A refresher course in what?”

She smiles at him over the top of the car. “Us.”

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