A short story written for the WDC Rhythms and Writing Contest, July 2020.
Finally freeing herself from her boyfriend's arm, Marie pushed her way through the dancing bodies until she stood in front of her best friend. "Look, Suz! Isn't it gorgeous!" She held her left hand out, displaying her brand new engagement ring.
Suzy Matthews smiled. It was impossible not to when faced with Marie's excitement. "It's a real beauty," she agreed. Her friend was waiting for her to say more so she added, "You're a really lucky girl."
"I am, aren't I. Six months until the wedding... I wish it was sooner but Paul, you know... There's only you left, Suz. Have you and Josh got any plans to settle down?"
"Oh, please, Marie." Suzy looked out at the dancing couples and sighed. There was no way any of them were going to understand her feelings, the way she knew there had to be more out there somewhere. Catching sight of her own boyfriend, Suzy put a hand on her friend's arm. "I'll catch you later."
It wasn't hard to hide herself among the dancing couples. Suzy moved off in the opposite direction to where she had seen Josh, and headed towards the open doors that led to the balcony. The party had spread out from the house to the garden, but Suzy looked past the revelers, lost in her own thoughts.
All her friends from school were either married or engaged; even the guys seemed to want to go no further than this town and were happy to work in whatever jobs they could find. Was she really the only one that wanted to get out there and see more of the world?
"Hey, Suz, are you okay?"
She hadn't noticed Josh join her until he spoke. "Yeah, I'm fine," she said.
"It's a great party," Josh continued, reaching out an arm to pull her close. "We're the last, Suz. Don't you think it's about time we thought about settling down too?"
Pushing herself away from him, Suzy said: "Please, Josh, let's not go through this again now."
"Suz, you never want to talk about it. I love you. I want to marry you. What's wrong with that?"
"Josh, this is Paul and Marie's party. Let's not spoil it by having a row."
"All you have to do is say one simple word, Suz. Just say, 'Yes'."
Turning quickly, Suzy Matthews looked into his eyes. "No," she said, and hurried away.
Scanning the crowds for Marie, Suzy finally found her surrounded by another five of their former classmates. Three were already married, the other two engaged: Suzy could not face them. Feeling guilty, she turned and walked through the door and along the street to her parents house.
Her parents had not understood her decision either. "Don't be stupid, Suzy," her mother had said. "Josh is a lovely boy, anyone can see that he adores you."
"I know, Mom. It's not that there's anything wrong with him..."
"Then why can't you do what all the other girls are doing and settle down?"
Suzy had tried to explain, but her mother would not even listen.
Her father had tried different tactics. "I don't know what you think you're going to find out there, Suzy, but whatever it is it's not there. Everywhere is basically the same. The people are the same, the prospects are pretty much the same. All that changes is the scenery."
"Oh, come on, Dad. You know that's not true."
He had put his hands firmly on her shoulders before continuing. "Your Mom is right,. You'll not find anyone better for you than Josh."
"And that's the problem. Everyone thinks I want to settle down. I don't! I want to go out there and see places, meet people. Can't you understand? I want to LIVE!" Suzy had swiped angrily at the tears that had begun to form in her eyes, then had run from the house, walked and walked.
Suzy had already given in her notice at the drug store, where she had worked a six-day week since leaving school. She'd traded in her car for an old camper. It was a bit tatty on the outside and inside, but mechanically it seemed sound enough. It would get her to where she was going, and then on from there. She had no plans of hanging around anywhere for very long.
There was no point in her loading the camper up with too many of her things. She packed up her bags with a selection of clothes and footwear. She grabbed a handful of her favorite CDs and books. The rest? Well, she'd just have to hope that her parents didn't throw it all out.
Marie phoned on the Friday night while Suzy was studying maps, trying to decide where to head to first.
"Suz, don't go," she said. "Josh... he'll be devastated without you. We all will. Please stay..."
"I can't, Marie. This is something I need to do. Can't you understand that? It doesn't mean I won't be back, and if it really is like my Dad says, that every where's the same, I might not be gone for long at all."
"No, Suz, I can't understand. Why can't you be like the rest of us and just settle down? Josh is really cut up about this."
"Josh will be fine."
"You know you might lose him."
Suzy sighed. "Well, if I do, I would have done sooner or later anyway. My mind's made up, Marie, please don't make it harder for me."
They had talked for a while about Marie's wedding plans. "That's another thing! You need to be here for the wedding!"
"I'll stay in touch," Suzy promised, then disconnected. She powered off her cell phone and climbed into bed, intending to head off early before anyone else was up and about.
And she made it; sneaked out of the house without disturbing her parents. She had left a note, quite a long one, on the breakfast table. They couldn't miss it. Exceedingly aware of the sound of the engine, Suzy steered quickly onto the road and turned left. The tank was full to the brim, would get her a fair distance without her even having to think of stopping.
Glancing in her mirror she saw Josh. He must have been planning to talk to her; attempting to persuade her not to go, no doubt. She saw his defeated posture and for a moment doubted her plans. But it wouldn't work, couldn't work; not until she had got this wanderlust out of her system.
"Goodbye, Josh," Suzy, whispered, then pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal and stared at the road ahead through blurry eyes.