Pushing the Limits

By: Brooke Cumberland

I start to remember part of the dream I had about her last night, but it’s hard to know for certain due to the sleeping pills I sometimes take before bed.

They knock me out until morning, but sometimes I can recall the dreams later on. When I can, I replay them in my mind, scene by scene. Mostly, they’re a movie reel of our lives—memories of things we did, places we went—but other times they turn dark. The motions aren’t usually steady, though. We’re usually in some kind of slow motion hell. I’m never able to run fast enough or reach her quick enough before I wake up or my mind goes black. Sometimes, I remember the conversations or events that take place in picture perfect clarity, but other times, I worry it’s my mind playing tricks on me.

The barista calls out my order, and I’m quick to retrieve it. I thank her again before Kendall and I head out the door, and I begin sucking it down. We’re meeting up with Zoe for breakfast just down the road. Kendall and Zoe are roommates who live down the hall from me.

I first met them last summer when I moved into the building. I had lived on campus for two years before finally getting my own place. I’ve grown closer to Kendall since we both attend the same school. It’s just a ten-minute walk from the university, but we carpool together often when our class schedules match up.

My phone rings as I open the door to my new used car—a green Kia Soul. My new baby.

It’s my mother.

I sigh and bite my cheek before accepting the call. “Hello, Mom.”

“Hello, Darling. How are you?” Her voice is tainted with fake politeness, always so smooth and sweet sounding. It’s too early for this.

“I’m just fine.” I hop in the driver’s seat and start the engine. “How about yourself? How’s Dad?”

“We’re both fine, thank you. Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No, just getting into my car with Kendall. What’s going on?”

“I just wanted to confirm your arrangements on coming home to visit during spring break.”

I frown, not wanting to have this conversation with my mother right now. Or ever. “Uh…that’s like three months away.” Spring break isn’t until April and classes are just starting tomorrow.

“I know, Darling. But since you’re always so busy…” I can hear the annoyance in her condescending tone. “I figured I’d need to get on top of this beforehand. Set it in stone.”

I exhale, rolling my eyes at her dramatics. “Sure, Mom. I’ll do my best.”

“Now, listen, Aspen…” Her tone firm and deep, as if I was a child and she was sending me to my room or something. “We agreed to let you go all the way out to art school in California with the agreement you’d come home once in awhile. Even Aaron is driving in for a few days. He’s bringing his new girlfriend, Dana. It’d be nice if we could all be together.”

I grit my teeth. Still not far enough, I think.

“I know.” I agreed to nothing, but I let her think it anyway. I’m not going to let her guilt trip me into coming back. The last place on Earth I want to be is back home with two parents who resent me. I left to escape the memories, to escape the looks of sympathy on everyone’s faces, and to escape the constant reminder of how I ruined their lives. I could’ve moved to Mars and it still wouldn’t feel far enough.

Her tone changes, but is no less condescending. “Good. We’ll plan for it.”

“Great,” I reply flatly. We say our goodbyes and hang up.

‘Everything okay?” Kendall asks, not taking her eyes off her phone, her brown hair falling over her shoulders.

“Yeah. Just my mother crushing my caffeine high.” I furrow my brows in mock annoyance, taking a long pull of my drink.

“You have a serious addiction,” Kendall states as she watches me with wide eyes.

“Your point?” I counter.

“Waffle House serves coffee, you know?”

“Yes, but not good coffee.” I smile, taking another sip.

“Ugh,” she mumbles after a moment.

“What?” I face her, seeing the wrinkles crease in her forehead. “What is it?”

She groans. “Kellan.”

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