“Flight A957 is now boarding,” a muffled male flight attendant announces over the loudspeakers.
No. No. No. Georgia thinks, tossing her chestnut tendrils back, as she rummages through her belongings in search of her unused passport. She is at the security checkpoint with several other travelers in front of her. Fighting back water beginning to pool behind her eyes, Georgia gets hold of the precious document at the bottom of her backpack and wields it above her head in victory. Her petite frame at 5’2” makes this motion somewhat comical amongst her neighbors chatting quietly around her.
Georgia begins to fan herself with the passport, her frantic nerves starting to calm, the rosy color on her pale skin fading as well as the beads of sweat populating her simple gray t shirt.
Is this really happening? she wonders, remembering the few days prior that led her to here…
A soiled, white ceramic mug was all that remained on the counter as Georgia arrived at Cedar’s Coffee on Market Street that last Saturday afternoon. Like always, she made a beeline for her usual stool along the window and pushed aside what appeared to be a peppermint latte towards the other end of the wooden bartop. From her worn corduroy backpack, she pulled her brick of a laptop out and started it up while she began her routine of getting settled, hoping the home screen would pop up quicker than the ten minutes it took the last weekend she was here.
While waiting for it to power on, Georgia headed over to the main counter to put her order for coffee in, maneuvering between the mismatched chairs and tables as she extracted her checkered scarf from around her neck and laid it across her arm.
“Morning, Tom,” Georgia said, smiling at the older lumberjack-looking owner as he finished pouring water for another customer’s hot tea.
“Heya, Georgie,” Tom grinned, moving over to the cash register and plugging in her drink she ordered ever since she started high school. That name had always embarrassed her growing up, but Georgia’s cheeks no longer reddened at the sound of it, let alone coming from Tom.
Georgia handed over her crumpled dollars when Tom asked about her mom. “What’s Margaret been up to lately?” he inquired, unfolding and sorting the small bills.
Tom had been a part of the family ever since they lived across the river in New Jersey. She and her mom and little brother, Damian, had moved there from the city after her dad left. Tom was their neighbor down the street and was always bringing them pastries and goodies from his shop when she got home from school every day. For a girl like Georgia, she always looked forward to seeing a familiar face she could rely on. Ever since she moved back to the city on her own, Georgia hardly ever made the short commute to her mom’s.
“I’m taking the train over tomorrow to get lunch. Just her, Damian will be at basketball practice. We’re meeting at your old stomping grounds before you made it in the big city,” she smirked, showing her one dimple on her right cheek. “With this new job, I haven’t had a lot of time to call her,” she confessed, looking down sheepishly and clutching her small, black wallet.
“Whelp, everyone has gotta start somewhere,” he admitted humbly. “Tell her I said hello and that Philly isn’t as scary as all those crime shows make it!” he laughed.
Georgia chuckled softly and headed back across the coffeeshop. She had to think back to the last time her mom was here. It must have been almost ten years at this point. Her little brother, Damian, who was not so little anymore at 6’1 on the varsity high school basketball team, had been to see her at least twice a month since she moved.
When she returned back to her spot, the login screen displayed a world map background. She entered her credentials and opened the last webpage which revealed the third module in the online Italian course she had been taking through the Philadelphia Public Library. Today, the lesson was on food and dining. Grabbing her composition notebook and number two pencil from her bag, she wrote the day’s date on the page. On the opposite page, a table with deposit dates and amounts from the past six years spread down. Another column showed the amounts in different currencies – euros, pounds, pesos, and yen. She glanced quickly at the running total, sighing hopefully and hit “Start” back on the site.
Georgia had not been out of the country before. She hasn’t really been anywhere come to think of it. Tom was always the one fueling her dreams to see something new, even teasing her lovingly about how she makes all these hypothetical travel plans, learns all these things about the world, but never acts on them. She even sent for a passport when she turned 18. There is something comforting to Georgia, though, just absorbing it all through books and online classes, traveling the world through her computer screen. One day, she thought, maybe.
After a few moments reviewing the outcomes of the lesson, Georgia felt her phone buzz in her front pocket. A calendar invite for Monday at 8am flashed in the notifications. Her shoulders slumped as she considered what this meant for her week ahead. Her officemate, Megan, was also an invited participant for the event, so Georgia knew at least she’d have someone to commiserate with later. Their boss probably reviewed their pitch ideas for their latest client from yesterday and most likely had changed his mind after assuring them they were on track with communicating the message of the new product.
“Tall hazelnut iced coffee,” yelled Tom, placing the drink down in the pick-up area. The shop had grown smaller as more students and young professionals took refuge from the bite of winter. Georgia shuffled over to the counter. She took a sip of her coffee and relished in knowing she would spend the afternoon virtually transporting herself somewhere that was a literal breath of fresh air.
On Sunday morning, Georgia awoke to the faint smell of toast wafting from the kitchen. Andrew, she thought, remembering that her best friend arrived back home from his work trip to New York late last night when she was already sound asleep. This had always been a ritual for the pair ever since grade school. Sunday morning breakfast where they could hang out and talk about all the important things in life – in grade school being who was the best on the swings at the playground. Now they had entered the phase of actual grown-up conversations, although occasionally they became their innocent young selves again, just because.
A soft knock fell on her bedroom door as she began the process of rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Roomie? You up?” Andrew whispered, slowly turning the knob and shielding his eyes jokingly.
Georgia picked up the plain white pillow and tossed it at him, striking him softly in the gut. “I’ll be out in a sec, goofball.”
“Ok, ok! I have your favorite today so hurry up before it gets cold,” he
stated in his gruff voice, leaving the door cracked slightly.
My favorite? Georgia pondered, turning the thin blanket over and padding towards her cramped bathroom. Immediately, another scent was flowing through the air, probably from when Andrew opened her door – peaches and cream. Once the realization was made clear, Georgia knew something was amiss. He’d only made this simple yet delectable boxed oatmeal when there was something he needed to tell her.
“Rooms,” he began hesitantly, as she made her way to the island bar stool, resting the cloth napkin across her plaid pajama pants. Georgia noticed him attempting to wipe crumbs off the counter, knowing full well there was nothing there. “Elena and I decided to buy that house in Manayunk we saw before I left for my trip.”
“I remember,” she paused, allowing Andrew to fill the silence so she wouldn’t have to. She knew they couldn’t be roommates forever, or if they were, Elena would probably not be a fan of living with her fiance and his best friend in an apartment as they try to start a family. However, Georgia had thought she would have more time. Why do people always leave? she wondered despondently, simultaneously pasting an excited grin on her face, urging Andrew to continue.
“So…” he begins, avoiding her gaze. “So that means that since our lease is ending soon, I won’t be able to renew,” he finished in his last breath, slumping his shoulders forward in confession.
Georgia’s throat began to tighten. As far as she can remember, Andrew has been like a protector for her. From spotting her trying to teach herself how to ride a bike way past the age she should have learned and making it his mission to show her how, to covering the majority of the apartment expenses as she climbed out of loan debt, Andrew has been what held her together.
“And I’ll either need to find a new roommate, or…” she says, not wanting to complete that sentence. Andrew comes around the other side of the counter and wraps her in his soft arms. Neither of them is touchy feely, but there are few exceptions, the realization that Georgia needs to get by on her own being one of them. They’ve talked about this before, Andrew always trying to give her the challenge by choice.
“It had to happen sooner or later,” she starts as laughter bubbles in between quiet sobs. “I can’t keep using you as a crutch every time things get tough. You’ve been there for me when my dad left and when my mom became a recluse.”
“It’s not your fault she was smothering Damian with how much he reminds her of your dad,” he said softly against her hair, the bristles of his scruffy beard tickling her ear. “She can’t let go, and you unfortunately suffered because of it.”
They continue to hold each other until Georgia’s phone buzzes with a calendar alert to leave soon for the train. They untangle themselves as she brushes a fallen tear away from her cheek. Once the dishes are put away, Andrew starts towards the laundry closet.
“Hey you!” he calls out as Georgia rushes towards her bedroom. “Just remember that I won’t be too far away,” he exclaims. “We can still see each other regularly!” he continues optimistically. Little does he know those were the same words Georgia’s father said to her and Damian the night he left for good.
Georgia kept replaying the morning with Andrew in her mind as she walked to the PATCO station three blocks from their apartment. She pushed through the turnstiles and boarded the eastbound train towards Haddonfield.
As the train crossed the river into Jersey, Georgia’s mind transitioned to her mother. She had known Andrew since he was little as well. Georgia wondered what her mom would say about his new phase of life, but tossed that thought out quickly. Margaret Cole had become a different person after Georgia’s father left. Her whole world now was taking care of Damian, the last resemblance of the man she loved.
At her stop, Georgia exited the train and walked down the steps heading to Tom’s old coffee shop. Now called, “Beans”, the shop was more modern, sleek, and flashy – not like Tom at all. Everything can’t stay the same, she remembered thinking when the new store opened, or we wouldn’t evolve into something greater. Regardless of that mindset, Georgia had never heeded that for herself, still relishing in the comfort of the familiar.
“Come here, sweetheart,” her mom sing-songed in a higher pitch than normal, extending her arms out to Georgia once she opened the door to the coffeeshop.
“Hi, mom,” she muffled into the side of her freshly cut blonde hair, enveloped by an embrace she forgot could be this warm and welcoming.
They ordered their usuals and grabbed a table by the window, ice formed along the edges and plastic clings shaped like ornaments adorning the glass. Despite her mother’s distance the last few years, Georgia was relieved to spend time with her. When she was little, she always loved having “girl” time with her mom, sitting at the coffee table, painting each others’ nails and talking about trips to Six Flags and Disney World.
Georgia updated her mom on Tom, her new job, and Andrew, but chose to omit the part about Andrew moving. No need to bring down the mood. Margaret talked about the women in her book club – which was really a chance to dish and drink wine – and Damian’s new girlfriend. Once their drinks were delivered by the young barista – iced coffee for Georgia, hot chocolate for her mom – Margaret settled in and wrapped her hands around the wide mug, warming her fingers with a firm grip.
“What did you want to talk to me about, Mom?” Georgia inquired, mimicking her mother’s posture, only her hands were oddly warm against the cool glass of her drink, palms suddenly laced with sweat.
Margaret took a deep breath. “Your father,” she started. He was always referred to as “your father” whenever her mom talked about him. His name was implied forbidden by all of them. “He left a huge hole in this family, Georgia. One that I know I tried to ignore, even to fill by glazing over the fact.” She continued to stare intently at her hot chocolate, bobbing the marshmallows up and down with her spoon. Noticing that Georgia’s eyes were locker on her hands, she released both, clasped her hands instead in front of her on the table, and looked directly at her daughter. “I have kept denying that it was real, hoping that he would turn up, to be with me, with you kids, again. Now that Damian has a full ride to UCLA for basketball, I think it’s time to separate myself from everything that reminds me of him.”
Georgia nods, wondering what her mother is trying to say, and had a gut feeling. “Honey, we are going to head out west to my parent’s place after Damian graduates.” There it was. The ball dropped. “There are too many memories here, and we need a fresh start. Damian will be in school over there. It works out great. And you just started a new job and are making your way, I couldn’t be more proud of you and how far you’ve come,” she beamed, honestly looking healthier and more at peace than she had in years, Georgia thought. She couldn’t bare the idea of showing disappointment knowing that her mom is finally doing something she needed to do years ago. It just was unfortunate that it was coming at this point in time.
Georgia pulled all of her strength together and sat up straight on the wooden chair to tell her mom, “This is a long time coming but better late than never. Make sure grandma and grandpa have a room set up for me when I come visit.” Georgia grinned. Her mother elated, reached towards her, enveloping Georgia in a hug that reminded her of being young again.
Margaret released her and held her at arms length. “We won’t be too far away. Only a few hours by plane and a couple hours behind in time zones. Don’t worry, we’ll still see each other, sweetheart. We’re family,” she says, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.
Surprisingly, Georgia headed into work that Monday morning ready to be distracted by anything at this point, even potentially redoing her project from last week. She clocked in at her cubicle a few minutes before the newly added meeting was scheduled to start. As she was checking her email, Georgia looked over the enclosure to the meeting room where a larger than normal group was forming. She eyed this gathering with suspicion as she looked from face to face, not quite sure what she was recognizing in her colleague’s expressions.
Megan was amongst the crowd and flagged Georgia down, her sinewy arms gesticulating to come over there asap. Georgia locked her screen and hurried over to her friend.
“What’s going on?” she asked, feeling more uncomfortable in the midst of the disarray.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Megan said, pulling Georgia over to a nearby wall decorated with motivational posters. “There are a bunch of big wigs in there now. It looks super serious,” she whispered, although it was doubtful anyone could hear her as there were other similar conversations happening around them.
Just then, the meeting room door opened, their fearless leader, Jonathan, emerging, buttoning his suit jacket. “Good morning, everyone,” he began after clearing his throat. No one moved, the only sound was a pitiful murmur of “good morning” back.
“I’ve been meeting with the leadership team from corporate over the weekend, and we have an announcement.” The group of other important people, presumably the head honchos, appeared behind Jonathan, standing in a semicircle, an odd show of unity.
“There’s no easy way to say this but…” he paused, for an effect that was not needed. “The Philadelphia branch of the company will be closing its doors at the end of the month, as we wrap up the year.” Gasps of disbelief populated the room in one breath.
What is happening? Georgia contemplated. Tom always told her that bad news comes in threes. And this was the last of them, in three days ironically enough. First Andrew, then her mom and brother, now her job. Former job, that is.
Jonathan went on to discuss the timeline, providing recommendations for all of the staff, and other important details, but Georgia just heard white noise. That’s it, she determined.
Georgia went back to her cubicle, grabbed her things and quickened out the doors before she could change her mind. She heard Megan’s voice, inaudible, probably calling for her to come back, but Georgia was not going to be stopped.
She saw how surprised Tom was to see her this time of day, on a Monday morning, thinking that she ought to be at work. However, as she flew through the doors, throwing her bag down at her usual space at the counter, she had no doubts he knew something was awry.
Without missing a beat, her usual coffee was placed beside her as she pulled up the ticketing window on her laptop. She could feel Tom watching over her shoulder, lingering to see if she would tell him what happened. Georgia remained silent, typing in her demographic and payment information, more focused than she’s ever been.
“A blessing in disguise” she mumbled to herself quietly, Tom still at her side.
“Taking a little vacation are we, Georgie? I’d say I’m thrilled, but I know you. This is not in your nature to be so…..spontaneous,” Tom stated, still confused but somewhat supportive as always.
Georgia grabbed her coffee and gulped several mouthfuls down before placing the glass back on the counter and turning to Tom, finally giving him the words to match her actions.
“Tom, it’s finally time. Everyone is moving on and doing things and leaving….,” she began. “Leaving….me.” And there it was, the truth she had never admitted out loud. Her pool of loved ones continuously dwindling, Georgia unable to stop it nor wanting to stop them from doing what they felt they had to, whether it affected her or not.
“I understand, Georgia Lee,” he cajoled, using her full name only when he was speaking seriously. “I’ve watched you hold it together for so long, and I’m sorry that you deciding to go out on your own was motivated by hurt not love.”
Georgia sniffled, turning completely towards Tom now. “It’s not just about being hurt, Tom. I have been on the sidelines, watching everyone I know go after what they want. Why can’t I do the same? What am I so afraid of?”
Tom took Georgia by the shoulders and looked into her now tear-filled eyes. “Leaving them behind.” He was right. Georgia did not want to leave them, any of them, to be the one who chose to leave. She did not want to make promises she believed in but ended up not fulfilling. She did not want to miss out on all the memories they were making without her. Who would choose to do something like that? Georgia knew. She always knew but never wanted to believe it – that someone she loved chose to leave her.
Releasing her slowly, Tom smiled down at her. “You’re not him, Georgie. I know you. You always find your way back to the ones you love.” And with that, Georgia beamed, her one dimple defined, looked over to her screen, hit “Pay now” and closed her laptop. A confirmation message beeped on her phone, a reminder shortly followed that her plane was on time, departing from Gate A25 in 4 hours. Based on her years of saving and hypothetical travel itineraries, Georgia knows she can make this work logistically for a good amount of time.
“You better get going,” Tom said as he leaned down to peck her on the cheek. “This one’s on the house.” He pointed to the now empty glass of iced coffee.
Through security now, Georgia raced through the terminal to her gate, stopping only to put herself back together after her bags and outerwear were scanned. Georgia threw on her jacket and zipped it up, slinging her backpack over her shoulders and checking her pockets to see if her phone and passport were still there. Finding those important lifelines in the correct spot, she hit “send” on the heartfelt emails she wrote on her way there for Andrew and her mom, explaining her decision and that she loved them. Placing the phone and passport back into her pocket, she discovered something else in the corner of one of them. A small napkin with “Cedar’s Coffee” printed in the center was scrunched into a wrinkled rectangle. Georgia saw a bit of blue ink barely visible on one side and explored the papery material to discern what it said.
The harried written note was simple, Know that I’ll never leave you. Georgia stared longingly at the message, then folded it neatly into a square before placing it back in her jacket pocket.
“FINAL BOARDING” flashes energetically next to her flight on the screen. People always leave, she pondered, glancing at the terminal monitor, a one-way ticket to Rome in her right hand, reaching towards the handle of her roller bag, the ubiquitous crossroads in front of her.