"Ash, you have some duct tape in the top drawer, right?" I asked, putting everyone out of their awkward misery.
"Oh! Yeah. Yes, I do," she said, breaking out of her stupor and grabbing the tape. She dropped it into Yael's open palm.
"You're seriously a lifesaver. See you around, Ashley," she said.
Ashley watched Yael skip down the hallway until I coughed to get her attention again. Ashley whipped around and started quickly unpacking more of her clothes. I smiled a little to myself. She thought Yael was cute.
"Well, are you both going to help?" she asked, her face still a light shade of red.
"We're all yours," Mom said. "I'll start folding sweaters. Savvy, can you load the sock and undies drawer? Do you need me to show you my sock- folding trick again?"
"I've got it under control," I said.
We worked in silence until every last bit of her clothes were meticulously placed in her closet and drawers. We rearranged the few knickknacks she'd allowed herself to bring and weighed the options of moving the fridge to the other side of the room at least three times. It was slowly reaching that point where we realized we were no longer needed in this dorm room, which meant an awful and painful good-bye was in my very near future.
"So," she said. "This is it."
"I guess so," Mom said. "Jeez, I'm glad they put waterproof mascara as a must-have on that list."
Mom pulled her into a bear hug, her head barely reaching Ashley's collarbone. Ashley leaned down to plant a kiss on her cheek and pulled away, wiping a stray tear from her cheek.
"I love you, Chicken," Mom said. "I think I just have to leave the room now before I become a complete mess. I'll meet you outside, Savvy, okay?"
I nodded, feeling the lump in my throat starting to block my airways. As Mom walked out of the room, both of our dissolves crumbled. We pulled each other into a tight hug, our bodies shaking as we cried. We'd never been apart for more than a week at a time, when she went to film camp a few summers in a row. Even those weeks were tough. I couldn't imagine months without her.
"We'll Skype all the time," she said. "We'll have sister check-ins throughout the day just like normal. The only thing that will change is that we won't be in the same room anymore."
"Is that supposed to make it better?" I said.
"I know things have been rough with you and Mom lately. Cut her a little slack, okay? She's gone through a lot of huge life changes this past year and is adjusting. I'll come home and visit as often as I can, but I won't be there anymore to be your buffer. Pick your battles, Savvy, okay?" she said.
I nodded. "I'll try to be better."
She held me by my shoulders and forced me to look into her eyes. "You're stronger than you know. Don't you ever forget that, no matter how tough things might get. And, it's not like I'm across the country. I'm only a few hours away if you ever need me."
I nodded again, curling into her for one last hug. When we pulled away it felt final. I felt like a part of me had been severed and I was leaving it behind. Like Cinderella's glass slipper, but if her leg was still attached. I decided that, like Mom, if I looked back again I would never leave. So I opened the door and closed it quickly behind me. I took my mom's hand and we walked down the hallway, down the flight of stairs, and to the car, where we cried for a good fifteen minutes before hitting the road again.
It had been exactly two days, thirteen hours, and thirty-four minutes since we left Ashley at Indiana State, and I was itching to get out of the house and away from my mom's sole attention. We'd already prepared healthy prep meals that we could freeze and eat for the next month, and if I had to dice one more carrot or make one more pot of rice, I would most definitely scream.
Thankfully, I'd already made plans with my best friend, Grace, to go to her family's summer cookout slash family field day in the park. Each year, the Morenos from around the Midwest came and joined for this day of fun (and sibling rivalry). I was mostly there for a chance to see her cousin Mateo...and hang out with Grace, of course.