“I’ll go upstairs and get your things,” Mr. Wright said quietly as everyone ate their breakfast at the table.
“No. I’m not going,” Zoey replied, setting her fork next to her untouched eggs and sausage.
Her three younger sisters stared at her, mouths gaping open.
“What do you mean you’re not going, Zoey?” Mr. Wright asked curiously.
“NOT GOING?!” Mrs. Wright shrieked. “You’re the oldest and would be the first! The first to go to college! FIRST! Do you hear me Zoey Grace?! They offered to pay for your schooling! OFFERED! We wouldn’t have to spend a dime – ”
“Well they can offer it to someone else,” Zoey shot back at her mother’s unbearable voice echoing throughout the house.
“Offer it to someone else?! SOMEONE ELSE! And let our family run out of money?! BROKE?! Out on the street! No money! No food and no-”
“Zoey, let’s take a walk,” Mr. Wright replied through a small gap in Mrs. Wright’s shouting.
Outside, the tall grass rolled gently in the breeze and brought sea salt from the ocean with it. Zoey took a deep breath in. The salty air filled her lungs and a bit of joy sprung from her heart. The seagulls squawked at each other every so often and dove for fish in the water. She had once fed a seagull from her hand but had to run when the food ran out. Mr. Wright and Zoey walked for a while in silence. She listened to the ocean waves and let the sand squish between her toes, another familiar feeling that caused her heart to overflow. Mr. Wright had taken his daughter on many walks on the beach, both to have a good chat to bring her to her senses and to listen to her heart. He wasn’t sure which category this one would fall in.
“Why are you choosing not to go?” Mr. Wright asked to start the conversation and break the silence.
“Oh, I can’t! I decided last fourth of July where I was brave enough to light my own sparkler! My own father! My heart is here – with the ocean, with the sand, with the seagulls, with – ”
“With him?” Mr. Wright interrupted, looking directly into his daughter’s blue eyes. Although he wasn’t for certain there was a boy, Mr. Wright had seen that same look in Zoey’s eyes years ago in Mrs. Wright’s eyes.
Zoey glanced at her father and looked down before reluctantly nodding. Mr. Wright sighed and nodded to acknowledge her before looking out to the ocean.
“I cannot make you do anything. Of that, I am sure. And if you don’t go to college, I will never hear the end of it. Of that, I am absolutely certain. And,” Mr.Wright said, looking back at his daughter and gently wrapping his arm around her, “Zoey, if he cares deeply, he will hold on or he will follow. Of that, I know.”
Zoey nodded and looked out to the ocean as if searching for the right answer.
Mr. Wright left her to make a decision and eat his breakfast. Regardless of her decision, the man was hungry.