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I woke up this morning to the alarm going off. Why else would I wake up? I turned over and opened my eyes and read the numbers on the clock.
"Mmm. 9:15. Too early."
I pulled the covers back over my head and told myself that I could squeeze in nine more minutes of sleep if I just hit snooze. I thought about it for a minute and decided against it.
Today was the day. My magic number had finally come up.
I threw back the covers and sat up. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I looked around my room and saw the neatly packed boxes in the corner. My entire life was packed into those boxes. Childhood momentos, clothes, extra food... it was all there.
I got out of bed and streched for what was the last time in this room. I had spent close to 20 years here and today I was leaving for good.
I could hear my parents going through their usual morning rituals - coffee pot being knocked against a cup, the newspaper rustling - and walked out of my room into the hallway.
"Oh, you're awake." My mother looked down the hall to see me walk out. She came towards me with a cup in her hand. "Come, sit down with your father and I."
I followed her to the kitchen and saw a fantastic spread on the table. She'd really gone all out this morning. It was likely the last time I'd ever see them and I guess she wanted me to fill up on her cooking before I left.
"Good morning, son." My dad set the newspaper down and seemed to want to talk to me. In all the years I sat at this table for this meal, he'd never set the paper down, never mind wanted to talk to me. Breakfast to him meant catching up on the scores from last night.
"Morning, Dad." I sat in my usual seat and poured myself a glass of orange juice. Mom handed me a plate of pancakes and I took a few. After drowning them in syrup, I began to eat.
"Darren? Can we talk to you?" Mom took her seat and reached for my hand. I put my fork down and let her take it.
"Son, we're very excited for you. This day doesn't happen every day, you know." Dad had taken off his reading glasses and was looking very intently at me. I wasn't sure if it was because he had something important to say or if it was because he couldn't see me.
"I know, Dad. I'm pretty psyched about it too."
"I'm sure you are. I, or rather, your mother and I want you to know that we're proud of you. And we want you to succeed."
"Thanks." I tried to get my hand away from my mother, but she squeezed it and held on to it for dear life.
"Son, if it's possible, we'd like to hear from you every once in a while."
"Um... I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do that. They've been pretty strict about no contact with the past from what I've heard."
"Yes, we understand that, dear." Another squeeze from my mother. The woman was just not going to let me eat my last breakfast in her house... dammit. "What I think your father wants to say is if you can find a way, somehow, we want to know you're okay."
"I can see what I can do. I don't want to get in trouble or anything..."
"Of course not. Darren, I know some people who might be able to help you. If you want their names, I can give them to you." I already knew that Dad had a list of names and addresses of people drawn up and in his pocket. If I didn't accept it, he'd be hurt. But if I took it and they found it, I could be in for some serious trouble.
"Sure, Dad, I'll take whatever you've got." My mother finally let go of my hand and I finished my meal. My parents sat in silence while I cleaned my plate and went to my room to get ready to leave.
I showered and dressed in the suit I had bought for the day. Looking in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. I was used to seeing myself in a t-shirt and jeans, not a three-piece business suit. I looked like a kid playing with his dad's clothes.
I went back to my room and phoned the contact number to be picked up. After confirming the meeting time - noon - I went back to the kitchen.
My mother burst into tears the minute she saw me. My father's eyes misted up. I felt like a dolt. Being an only child and having this happen to me, it was something they both hoped for and dreaded.
For the remainder of my time with them, we sat at the table and talked about old times and what they planned to do now that they had all this free time on their hands. Because of today, my parents could retire. They'd worked so long to do so much for me, it only seemed right that now that I was leaving, they could rest. Dad told me about the trip they planned on taking across the country. Mom told me about how she was going to join a couple of clubs and volunteer more. I felt good about the plans they'd made and didn't really seem concerned that their lives would go on without me - their only son, their only child. I wondered before today whether I'd feel cheated out of not 'knowing' them longer, but I came to the conclusion that they had their own lives to live. I was just an extension and they would cut me out, slowly, over time no matter what. Today just meant that the cutting would be faster and hurt more.
At quarter to twelve, the phone rang.
"Hello?" I knew who it was and what it was about.
"Darren, your pickup will be there in fifteen minutes. Are you ready?"
"Yep. As ready as I'll ever be."
"Okay. Thank you."
I hung the phone back up and turned to my parents. I kissed my mother's cheek and shook my dad's hand. I took both of them into a hug and inhaled deeply. My dad's spicy cologne mixed with my mother's fruity perfume - a smell I wanted to hold with me forever.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and was met by a muscular man in a suit similar to mine.
"Come with me, please." He turned and started down the walk. Two other men, of roughly the same build, came up to the door. They passed by me and followed my dad into my old room.
I went to the large van parked on the street. Gabe, as his nametage proclaimed, opened the passenger door for me. I climbed in and buckled my seat belt. Gabe went to the other side and got in.
"Well, Darren, how does it feel?"
"Okay, I guess."
"Good, good. Nice weather, eh?"
"Yeah. Warm for this time of year."
"Yep. Yep. Good for the farmers, though."
"Yeah." I wanted to sit in silence and think about what was going to happen in a little while. I had no real idea what would happen, but for months now, I'd been imagining what the next few hours would hold.
The other large men loaded my belongings into the back of the van and slammed the doors shut. As they were getting into their seats in the back, I looked towards my old house and saw my parents standing on the front porch - my mother leaning against my father, both of them crying. I could feel my chest tighten and I resolved not to let myself show any emotion in front of these people. I had to be strong - I was a grown man and I needed to start acting like it.
Gabe put the van into gear and slowly pulled away. Vignettes of my life flashed through my mind - playing baseball with the neighbourhood kids in the park at the end of the street, riding bikes up and down the hill on the other side of town, fairs attended, cruising the main street for girls on Friday nights... these were all things that I would remember for the rest of my life. No one could take them away.
Gabe and the other men - Hank and Morty - carried on their own conversation while I was lost in my memories.
And this is where I've been stuck on this story for a year and a half. I've tried a few things, but it gets sappier and sappier every time. Help!