Empty Nesters || Caroline Harris

Four of us sat around the small bedroom when there should have been five. Words were scarce. Peter sat at the desk chair, the rest of us were piled onto Garrett’s neat bed that used to be nothing but a mess of pillows and sheets. I laid my head on John’s shoulder; Heather swung her short legs over the edge of the bed. It was subtle, but it felt like the world had shifted.

Garrett had flown out that morning. His pictures from the airport in London gave the impression he’d been happy to leave, even if only for a few months. He was off to explore the world. And I knew we all selfishly wished we could be in his shoes.

“It’s only a semester.” Peter tossed a hacky sack in the air, catching it as it came back down. “He’ll be back annoying us before you know it.”

As a collective, we nodded, but the gloomy vibe lingered. We functioned in unique roles, like a well-oiled machine. But without Garrett, our process stalled. The night had started just like any other Saturday. Alcohol poured down eager throats, and laughter filled the confines of the apartment. But the clock ticked, and time slowed, and before I knew what had happened, we ended up piled in Garrett’s room.

I could tell the blur of the booze hit Peter the hardest. They’d been friends the longest. His usual aloof attitude was replaced with a nostalgia he wasn’t used to. I’d never heard Peter utter the words Best Friend until Garrett left. It was foreign to hear the phonetics on his tongue, the cadence different from the snarky insults usually professing his affections.

“Now who’s going to obnoxiously play guitar over our conversations?” Heather asked as she played with the hem of her shirt. “Or read us poetry we’d rather not hear?”

Her tough exterior was only a cover for the loving mother hen we all knew her to be. She wanted the best for him, for all of us. I can remember their good-natured tiffs, the arguments they were so fond of having. Heather smiling, her eyes beaming, as she listened to Garrett’s long-winded opinions on why she was wrong, even if she’d never admit to it.

“Who’s going to spout some existential shit when he gets too drunk?” John added, smiling down at me for a brief moment.

John had brought us all together. He was the beginning of it all. They acted like brothers without any of the resemblance. And I couldn’t help but wonder how he would fare without Garrett.

“I’m sure Heather’s drunken antics will give us more than enough to deal with.” I nudged Heather’s knee with my foot. She shot me a half-hearted glare, unable to hide her blush at not being able to hold her alcohol.

Peter laughed, still messing with the hacky sack he’d found on Garrett’s desk. “I can’t believe the idiot locked his door.”

“I guess he wasn’t smart enough to think you would pick the lock,” I responded, chuckling in sync with Peter as his eyes flashed to Garrett’s bedroom door.

We fell into silence again, as if in mourning. My eyes traced what was left of the room. A few shirts still hanging in Garrett’s closet, a couple books neatly tucked away on his small bookshelf, and the dust already starting to gather on the blades of his ceiling fan. It was hard to accept that we wouldn’t be seeing him every day. No more meeting for lunch. No more study breaks or weekend outings. He was living a new life.

“I bet he’ll come back a hippie,” John broke the silence.

“He already went through that phase in middle school,” Peter responded.

Small smiles crossed each of our lips. We’d known each other for only a few years. But it felt longer. We knew too much, yet somehow not enough.

“So this is what it feels like to be an empty nester,” John said to no one in particular as he gently laid his head on top of mine.

We each looked to one another before laughing at the comparison. I couldn’t help but think that there are certain springs tapped only when we are left alone. Our solitude encasing us in order to rediscover the true essence of our friendships.

“Now who am I going to mother?” Heather asked to break the tension, but we let the words hang in the air.

The last time I’d spoken to Garrett, he said he was nervous. “It’s a new adventure,” he said. I’d heard the faint tremor in his voice. I’d wanted to tell him that I’d miss him, that it wouldn’t be the same here without him. I hugged him instead.

Peter set down the hacky sack and joined us all on the bed. We shifted to lie looking up at the grimy ceiling fan. Not a word was spoken for the remainder of the night slowly transforming into morning. My eyes fell closed, and I wondered what Garrett was doing as we squeezed our bodies onto his bed, trying to fill the nest he’d left.


Caroline Harris is from Powell, Ohio and is currently a senior studying at Bowling Green State University, where she is pursuing a degree in both English and Creative Writing. Her piece “Just A Formality” is published in IO Literary’s online journal Refractions. She is the Tech Editor, and Event Planner of Prairie Margins, BGSU’s Undergraduate Literary Journal.

Originally published in the FALL 2018 edition of The Helix.


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