Anna arrived at the sleepy town of Jackson Falls with nothing more than a backpack. She had just graduated from college, without a penny to her name, and desperately needing some sort of break: from school, from her family, and, most of all, from her ex-boyfriend, Todd. Despite the prodding of her well-intentioned parents, what Anna wanted most of all was something—anything—different than her last four years.
Anna and Todd were high school sweethearts in the most conventional way. They’d grown up about four blocks from each other, and began the sort of puppy-dog romance most romantic fiction authors would dream of creating. They’d both been the children of modest, middle-class, fiscally (and politically) conservative parents, who instilled Christian morals in their children, entirely consistent with the middle-of-the-road American town in which they lived. No drugs, no drinking, and no sex before marriage. Their romance, as it was, began under the watchful eyes of their parents, who begrudgingly acquiesced to minor dalliances like unsupervised nights out at the movies starting their Junior years, and, most significantly, a first kiss after their Senior prom.
By all accounts, and to all outsiders, Anna and Todd were a model couple, and model students: both graduated near the top of their class, and both chose, quite consciously, to attend the local state university—a well-regarded, popular destination for smart, homegrown students on a budget, located about an hour’s drive from their hometown. By graduation, Todd had grown into his adult frame: a slim, six feet, two inches tall, with sandy-colored hair, complete with an “aww-shucks” sort of expression that quickly made him fast friends with his classmates. Though not sickly thin, he tended to slump while standing, accentuating his long, gangly arms and legs. Anna was a modest, if not somewhat shy, introvert, with a penchant for reading, cooking, documentaries, and volunteer work. Her dark brown hair tended to obscure her delicate facial features, and she rarely wore makeup (except on special occasions). Though she stood five feet, ten inches tall, her penchant for casual, conservative clothing obscured close scrutiny of her figure.
Despite the freedom of dorm living and no parental oversight, things, initially, changed little for Anna and Todd’s relationship. Though they lived within a three minute walk of each other, they saw each other what Anna thought was a reasonable amount: a few times a week for dinner, walks, and college-related events. Their prom kiss evolved into awkward kissing, hugging, and light fondling, but neither seemed inclined, confident, nor knowledgeable enough to progress to the next level. For the time being, Anna thought, all was as it should be.
As college progressed, Anna continued in her studies and her hobbies, choosing to pursue a degree in sociology with dreams of becoming a social worker. She volunteered at a local soup kitchen, became involved in a mentorship program for high school kids, and became active in a local choir. Her roommates—randomly assigned to her when she was accepted—fast became her closest friends. Collectively, they eschewed the party life of their college, usually opting for a night watching romantic comedies instead of drinking with their classmates. She settled into a comfortable extension of what her pre-college life had been, progressing with the sort of understated normalcy that seemed preordained from her upbringing.
Todd’s path, however, was different. Though not athletically minded, his Freshman year roommate (an athletic recruit) invited him to try out for the men’s crew team. After a few months of weight lifting—an activity he found he greatly enjoyed—he was shocked to find himself offered a position on the men’s varsity lightweight crew team. He quickly found the camaraderie between athletes inspiring, exhilarating, and a change of pace from what he began to regard as his boring life back home. He slowly slipped into a cycle familiar to his college athlete friends: waking at dawn for practice and workouts, furiously downing an enormous breakfast, lazily sliding through classes picked almost entirely for their lack of academic rigor, all culminating in nights of increasingly heavy drinking and partying with fellow athletes mixed into the same regime.
Though Anna looked on Todd’s drinking and increased partying with some concern, her now multi-year relationship with Todd became a central focal point in her life. Her already small group of friends dwindled to irrelevance as she sought to spend more time with Todd, increasingly thinking that this was the man she would marry. That Todd’s looks had markedly changed as his athletic prowess blossomed likely had something to do with it: Todd now carried his newly-broad shoulders with confidence, his once drooping jawline now immaculately defined, and his deep, booming, gregarious voice instantly recognizable. By the start of their Senior years, Todd rowed on a men’s heavyweight crew team that ultimately won the state championship, while Anna spent most of her days volunteering or by herself, daydreaming about their future wedding and what she expected would be a sizable brood of modest, well-tempered children.
When Anna and Todd had sex for the first time, at Todd’s great insistence in the spring of their Junior year, Anna felt a deeply emotional and, even, spiritual connection. Todd’s once awkward groping had, over college, turned into a masculine, forceful quest for sexual intimacy—a quest that Anna found unexpectedly erotic and intoxicating. That they weren’t married added to the allure for Anna: that small bit of disobedience carrying just enough of a taboo to convince her to forego the militant morality her parents had instilled her with.
Anna thought that Todd’s increasing aloofness during their Junior and Senior years was something to be expected, and the maturation of a relationship from childhood puppy-love into a serious, adult bond. After all, Anna’s own parents maintained a sort of studied Christian stoicism Anna thought typical of married life. Even more so, Anna thought, Todd was preoccupied with the crew team and his athlete friends: a fun and typical, so she thought, romp through college life. Todd started referring to her as “babe” instead of their once-secret nicknames for each other (hers was “honeypoo”), would be lax (or, even, forgetful) to return her calls. He preferred brief text messages to phone calls, and their dates—more often than not, a quick meal at a dining hall—were more perfunctory catch-ups on life events than moments of intimacy. Their sex, initially a sensual affair full of foreplay and cuddling, had seemingly turned into a rote quest for Todd’s completion, and Todd often didn’t even bother to stay the night, suggesting he had to return home to get a full night’s rest for crew practice, or to study for an upcoming exam. Todd’s physical appearance changed too—preferring tank tops to the t-shirts he wore as a Freshman, and even getting a tattoo of the initials of their university on his calf. Anna intrinsically responded to Todd’s behavior by becoming increasingly needy and, even, in retrospect, desperate. Todd closely guarded his athlete friends, rarely, if ever, introducing Anna to them.
It was a few weeks before graduation that the bombshell hit. Anna was lazily daydreaming in the window seat of her school library, looking onto the courtyard, when she saw Todd walking outside. Flanked by his rowing buddies, they passed a group of sorority girls of her college. Dressed in a short skirts, midrift baring tops, and wedge heels, Anna dismissed these girls as typical sorority trash, obviously with substantial issues at home, acting out by dressing scandalously in public. Her Mom and Dad had warned her about these girls—so different from the quiet, demure, conservative Anna. Still, it was exciting for Anna to see Todd out in the open: he was so frequently rowing, so she thought, or busying himself in his schoolwork, as Todd incessantly told her.
It was to Anna’s slack-jawed amazement as she witnessed Todd open-palm slap one of the girl—a blonde—straight in the butt, before smothering his face into hers, sucking her tongue deep into his mouth, then forcefully grasping her leg in his right hand with the sort of sexual intimacy she had never even known Todd to be capable of.
Anna, possessed by a strength of a demon she didn’t know she could muster, launched herself from the library nave into the courtyard. “WHAT THE FUCK,” she screamed, already shaking uncontrollably, with tears streaming and fists clenched. “Hey, uh, what’s up,” Todd said. Apparently, his bimbo coterie didn’t know of his existing relationship, and Todd was trying to play it off.
“Fuck. You. Fuck you. Fuck. You” was all Anna could muster, her eyes red and blurry from confusion, and hatred. She ran away, devastated beyond her comprehension. Simply appearing at graduation to receive her diploma was an act of supreme will she thought she might not ever find again in her life. Removing herself to Jackson Falls—from Todd, from college, from her family—was the only choice.