Hermit Crab
Caro Dee

Traffic is backed-up and I gaze out the window, watching a couple of young women talking earnestly and keeping pace with the truck. They've got backpacks with Rainier patches, so I know they're students.

College girls are beautiful, I have to admit. Discovering the freedom to explore, to experiment, intellectually, sexually and otherwise. They're so eager to take on the world and to experience life. I sigh nostalgically, remembering some of the gorgeous girls interested in getting the Sandburg Experience. But that was then and this is now.

I turn and look at Jim, who's staring straight ahead and pretending not to notice my little trip down memory lane. Oh yeah, he's got the jaw-twitching thing happening. No matter what I say, he still thinks I belong at Rainier, being an assistant professor and leading expeditions. He thinks that I've sacrificed myself on the Altar of the Sentinel.

He doesn't understand that I've done the college bit and it was time to move on. The news conference just forced me out before I knew I was ready. Sure, I moaned about it in the beginning. School was home for a long, long time; my whole identity was wrapped up in it. When it was gone, I didn't know who I was anymore.

I was like a hermit crab cramped by a shell grown too small. Leaving it, naked and unprotected, to look for another was scary as hell--but I found my new home and it's fucking huge, with room to grow. And it's got Jim.

I reach over and poke him hard in the ribs. The truck jerks to a halt as his foot slams down on the brakes. At this snail's pace, it's hardly noticeable. Jim turns and glares at me.

"It's okay, man," I tell him quietly. "I'm where I want to be."

The tightness around his eyes disappears and the corner of his mouth lifts in a smile, reluctant but genuine. Maybe he's finally starting to believe me.

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