Today, Adam was going to ask Vanessa to leave Maple Ridge with him. He was going to ask her to leave behind her security blanket, leave behind the bullshit, and prove everybody wrong. Prove themselves wrong. From day one there was a slightly forlorn quality to their love, a quiet melancholy. Whenever people challenged their relationship, they would nod grimly, as if they had been expecting this all along. And they had. Interracial dating was just not done in Maple Ridge, and especially not by the crown princess of the Hitchinson family.
Of course, no one was indelicate enough to say that race was the problem directly. But they had their ways of communicating disapproval, their euphemisms designated for polite company. “His family doesn’t have any roots here. No history,” they would point out with concern. “What’s to keep him here?”
The assumption, of course, was that Vanessa would never dream of leaving Maple Ridge. After all, her family did have history here—over 200 years of it. They’d been pillars of the community from the days of the Revolution. Their family’s names dotted the headstones in the local graveyard. The high school football field was named after Vanessa’s grandfather, an All-American halfback.
To the denizens of Maple Ridge, there was nothing more odd, more frighteningly compelling, than the scandal of a Hitchinson daughter beginning a romance with a “transplant”, as they called them. Not only a transplant, but “an…unusual transplant.” Such incidences in the past had been quickly resolved, though not as quickly forgotten. Scandal had a way of lingering unpleasantly in Maple Ridge.
How does one describe the Hitchinsons? They were not particularly wealthy, though certainly not poor. They were well educated, smartly dressed, confident without exuding an aura of pretension, and all without that ultimate mark of the upper class – boredom. They were noticeably involved in the community, but never at the expense of time spent together as a family. They were the paragons of the expression, “Everything in moderation.”
Where the Hitchinsons were admirable in their balance and vigorous spirit, Vanessa was more so. From an early age her teachers and dance instructors remarked upon her special blend of grace and fortitude. Neighbors would delight in telling her parents about her acts of kindness and generosity, smiling fondly and finishing with, “That Vanessa sure is something else.”
She was not the most popular in school according to social currency. Very rarely do teenagers adhere to the same standards of societal status as adults, and her family name meant little to her classmates when it came to forming in-crowds and outsiders. In line with her usual measure of grace, this did not bother Vanessa at all, and so it was that she floated effortlessly between the various groups, soliciting smiles and defusing confrontations. Had she so desired, Vanessa Hitchinson could have claimed the distinction of getting to know more people at Hitchinson High than any other person. She just never thought of it.
That’s not to say she was naive. She recognized from early on that she was a beautiful girl, and the guys paid a lot of attention to her, ranging from wholesome to unsavory. She also recognized that many of her classmates struggled to attain the ease with which she traversed social circles and yet never achieved their goal. She was not the type to host a party and invite people from different cliques without considering the ramifications. She was extraordinarily intuitive about social interactions, and this was one of the things that set her apart from both her family and her classmates.
She would sometimes half jokingly tell the story of the night when she was nine years old and she lay in bed frustrated that her parents had not let her stay up and watch some television show. She lay on that bed and told herself, “I’m done being a kid. I’m ready to be a grownup now.” With that she closed her eyes and imagined all the freedom she would have as an adult, the rules that would not apply to her, the secrets that would not be hidden from her.
But as she imagined these things, something strange happened. She began to see much less whimsical images—broken marriages, financial anxiety, premature death. It scared her to be sure, but as she would tell it, she knew that choosing the one meant accepting the other. So, she lay there on her bed, nine year old brain swirling, until she fell asleep.
She would always laugh self-consciously before continuing. “When I woke up, something had changed. The world looked different.” She would pause thoughtfully. “But I knew the world was really the same, I was just seeing it differently. Does that make sense?”
Adults never knew how to respond to this question. It made sense in the natural flow of maturation and coming into adulthood, but it seemed shockingly out of place being explained by a 14 year-old, much less a 14 year-old recounting the realization of her nine year-old self. She would give them a genuine, slightly sad smile as they gently dismissed her claims with bravos and encores. After all, adults wanted to be entertained by children, not educated.