"Okay kids, Dad and I are leaving!" Miranda Owens announced as she rolled the last suitcase to the door. "Byron, you take good care of Vanessa. Don't forget the check for her yearbook."
"I won't forget, Mom. You and Dad have a great time and don't worry about anything. I got this." Byron flashed a good boy smile to his mother.
Miranda grabbed her son's face and kissed his cheek, "I know you do." she pinched his cheek. "Vanessa!"
Vanessa came bounding down the stairs. Her hair was brown, shoulder length, with highlighted beach waves. Her eyes were blue with shades of green. Miranda always said they reminded her of when fresh water meets ocean water. Her skin fair, cheeks flushed. She was only fifteen years old. Byron was in his first year of college at Virginia University and came home for winter break.
Miranda grabbed Vanessa and squeezed her. "Okay Mom, you're crushing me."
"Sorry, it's just that I'm going to miss you so much!"
"I'll miss you too!"
A car horn beeped from the driveway and out stepped Daniel Owens. Much like a retired superhero, Daniel was a dashing older man. Byron took after his height of 6'2, luscious dark brown hair, ice blue eyes, and a smile that could drop the panties off any woman. Aside from good looks, Daniel was a well to do lawyer. One of the top five most requested in Alexandria, Virginia. He was taking his wife Miranda of 25 years on a cruise for a winter getaway. He walked up to the house and greeted Miranda. The family hugged one another and Vanessa and Byron watched their parents drive down the street. Two days before Christmas, they learned they would be burying their parents.
Byron had to drop out of college to take care of Vanessa or she would go into the foster system. Vanessa had gotten used to being alone. Byron worked two jobs, during the day he worked at the local bank as a teller, and after picking up Vanessa from school, he worked as a bus boy at the local diner. It was a long three years of frozen dinners, late night television, and just being alone. Vanessa relied on Byron a lot, and as she got older, she wondered if it had become too much.
After she graduated high school and got accepted into James Madison University, she encouraged Byron to get back into school. Vanessa wasn't close with anyone in high school, and she especially grew distant after losing her parents. However, Rylie Summers was the extrovert who took the introvert under her wing when they met as roommates in the college dorms. Her and Rylie had grown close, and Vanessa had found a real friend who became her rock.
The smell of burgers and fries wafted as Vanessa stepped out of Ballentine Burgers after a long weekend shift. The sharp winter air stung her cheeks as she walked through the parking lot to her old Nissan Altima. Her phone buzzed in her purse and she pulled it out to see Byron calling. She opened the car, started it, then grabbed her phone and hit the answer button, "Hey!"
"What's up, Little V?" Byron asked.
"I just got out of work, what are you up to?"
"Just finished studying for an exam I'll have before winter break."
"Haha! I took mine yesterday!" she taunted.
"Way to rub it in." Byron chuckled.
"What can I say? A mid-week exam is the way to go."
"I bet I had longer to study than you did, you probably bombed yours."
"If I did, remember who helped me with homework."
"Fair enough!" Byron laughed, then his tone went from teasing to normal. "Anyway Little V, I called you to let you know that I'm going with some friends to New York City for winter break."
Vanessa frowned a little. It was the fourth anniversary of their parents death, she needed to see him and wanted to introduce him to Rylie. "Yeah? What's sending you guys to the Big Apple?"
Byron sensed that Vanessa was disappointed, and he knew why, "It's the anniversary of our parents death. I know. But I wanna get away, V. Don't you think I've earned that?"
Vanessa closed her eyes, tears shot down her cheeks. It seemed selfish to ask Byron to be with her when he did deserve a getaway with friends. But she struggled that time of year ever since. "Of course you do, By. I just..."
"I know V, I know. It's hard for me too, but I need to get away."
"What about me? What if I want to get away?"
Byron shook his head, a few tears dripping from his eyes, "You don't want to get away. You're not ready to."
"You don't get to say that." Vanessa's voice shook. "It's fine Byron. You deserve to get away. I'll just spend Christmas with Rylie and her aunt."
She hung up before Byron could say anything else. Why this trip to New York was so important, she didn't know, but he did take care of her and even dropped out of college to do so. The least she could do was let him go. She could be the strong one for once, right?
Winter break started and Vanessa sent a text to Byron, "I'm sorry, you deserve to get away. For once, I can be the strong one for you." Byron replied with a GIF of two people hugging and she smiled. Two days before Christmas, she was with Rylie at her aunt's house is Leesburg, Virginia. They were having a family Christmas party consisting of Ugly Sweaters and sugar cookies. Vanessa was enjoying a cup of hot cocoa by the fire when a call came in from Byron. She should have known he would remember to call that day of all days and it warmed her heart.
"Hey! How's New York?" she asked as she answered the call.
"It's good. Listen, I just wanted to call and say I love you Little V. I've decided to stay in New York. You won't be seeing me again. Just know I'm okay and I love you."
"Wait Byron, what's going on?" Vanessa asked, but before she could finish the question, he'd hung up. She tried calling him back, but the only answer she got was a dreaded beeping noise and an automated voice, "This number is currently out of service." She tried again, and again, and again. Same automated response. She texted him, an automated text came back. Byron was gone.