Lacy was reading her book and trying very hard to not think of all of her friends driving up to the lake at that exact moment and failing at both.
The lake wasn’t included in her parent’s plan for her. Most of the things she wanted weren’t in that plan, actually. Like the magazine she had brought with her this morning to the office. Oh, Mother had been quick to take that away, and replace it with this book. Text book. Bad enough she had to work reception at her parents’ office the week after graduation, she also was expected to keep studying. She’d already gotten into the college they wanted, their alma mater, of course, she should have been able to take it easy for a couple months, at least. No. Of course no. Why would she even think that?
Her future was laid out in front of her, almost as solid and unbreakable as the waiting room before her. She’d go to college, then med school, then come back to the family practice and work right next to her mother and father. Somewhere in there she’d get married and have kids and learn the joys of balancing two impossible tasks at once. Her parents would have some kind of say in it all. The kind of doctor she would become. The kind of man she would marry. The way she would parent her kids. And if she just let her mind go blank and her heart numb, it sounded sort of okay.
The phone on the desk in front of her rang and made her jump and yelp. Mrs. Burns looked up from her knitting magazine and gave her a look. Every patient who saw her parents thought they had the right to be her parents, too, and that was most of the town. Probably they all had a meeting together and decided poor Lacy didn’t know enough to control her own life, so everyone else had to do it.
“Family Practice, how can I help you?”
“What are you wearing?”
The voice was low and gruff but she’d recognize Billy anywhere. A flush creeped up her face and she glanced up, relieved to find Mrs. Burns back behind her magazine.
“Yes, sir, I can book you an appointment.”
“I got you blushing, huh? I’m at the payphone down at the corner. Come meet me.”
“Hmm, no, that time won’t work. What about-”
“No, Lacy. Now. Bring your purse.”
Billy hung up and Lacy stared straight ahead. He hadn’t quite sounded like himself, at the end. He had sounded like someone new. Nurse Jackie would come for Mrs. Burns any time now, and no one else was scheduled to arrive for fifteen minutes. And, well, her parents were going to be mad at her for one thing or another by the end of the day. Might as well be this. Lacy scooped up her purse from under the desk and walked to the front door, carefully not looking at Mrs. Burns as she passed.
Billy was at the corner, leaning against his truck. Her parents liked Billy. Thought he was a good kid with a sound head on his shoulders. But Billy was never going to be a professional, so whatever they had needed to end before she went to college. Doctors don’t date blue collar, everyone knows that.
Billy saw her and smiled and every thought about her parents washed away. He never saw her as what she might be. Just as what she was.
“Happy birthday,” she said as she hugged him. “I don’t have your gift, I was going to give it to you tonight.”
“That’s okay, that’s fine,” Billy said, his arms still around her. “Lacy, I’m going to lay it flat. I’m leaving this town and I want you to come with me.”
Lacy frowned. “What…like, a vacation?”
“No, not a vacation. A life. I’m leaving for my life, Lace. And you should, too.”
“I know it’s scary, and I know…wait, what?”
Billy was looking at her like there was a fish on her head, and Lacy stifled a laugh.
“What did you think I was going to say? ‘I can’t leave my parents, my job, I’m going to college in the fall.’ Fat chance. I’m tired of this town, too, Billy. I’m tired of everyone thinking they know better, and I’m tired of being bullied in a single direction. I’m tired of my life and I haven’t even started it yet.”
It was clear Billy was expecting a fight from her, but it was true. Any life where she wasn’t staring down the barrel of seven years of school seemed like a relief. She didn’t even like science.
“I don’t know how I’m going to support us,” Billy said.
“We will figure it out together.”
“I don’t know where we’ll go.”
“California. Los Angeles. Isn’t that where all the runaways in the songs go?”
“What about college?”
“Oh, screw that college, I didn’t even want to go there.”
“You just have all the answers, don’t you?”
Lacy pulled back just enough to look into Billy’s eyes, still keeping her arms around him.
“No. I don’t. If we do this I won’t know what comes next for years. I don’t understand why we’re still talking about this and not already in the truck. The only thing I’m afraid of right now is my parents stopping us.”
The look he gave her told her everything. He was serious about running. And he was afraid of getting stopped, too. They were in the truck and speeding down the street without another word, and were ten minutes west of town before Nurse Jackie even noticed Lacy was gone.
“I love you,” Billy said.
Lacy wiggled her toes, her feet out the window and in the breeze. “I love you, Billy.”
“You want to get married?”
Lacy thought about it and shrugged. “Let’s get to Las Vegas and see how we feel.”