It's not easy leaving home.

My friends are enthusiastic, of course. Karen and Ann threw us a goodbye party, and Popuri even made sure she was in town to see us off.

Well, to be fair, she had to. Kai's boat is currently the only ferry from Mineral Town to the mainland. Not that their kids minded having a little extra time with their grandmother and uncle...

You know, sometimes I wonder if Popuri should have three children (and be pregnant with a fourth) at the age of nineteen. But she seems to handle them pretty well, and she shows more patience than I ever have raising my kid brother...

Stu. I know that the doctor and my grandmother will look after him, but I still worry. Grandma Ellen isn't as energetic as she used to be, and my boss, well-intended or not, doesn't really have the time to look after a hyperactive, intelligent, and mischievous ten-year-old. I can only hope he's not too thoroughly traumatized by the time I get home for the holidays...

And there's Mary, saying goodbye to her parents. She's been bouncing off the walls since we left for orientation. She's both nervous and excited, though, and I understand that.

I feel the same way.

It feels so long ago since we sent applications to the state university. Karen and I were up late one night talking last spring, and before I knew it, I was doing the research. When the doctor came in to open our official hours at the clinic, he found me going over financial sheets to see if I could afford tuition and whether or not I could get sufficient financial aid.

Before I knew it, he had me logged into the library's computers, and I was officially enrolled at State. Once Mary did a little research of her own, she quickly followed suit.

A whole mess of papers, visits, and assorted madness later, and here we are. Mary Higgins and Elli Thomas, college freshmen. Both of us already know what our majors will be, but beyond that... well, I don't really know. Neither of us has really lived that independently, but that doesn't worry me. We lucked out and ended up being roomates with each other. Since we've been neighbors basically our entire lives (in a town where everyone knows each other), I don't think that the two of us living together will be too difficult.

What really worries me is where we come from. I love Mineral Town, don't get me wrong. But it's such a small community, I worry how we'll adjust to State's bustling campus. And don't even get me started on the town State's in the middle of!

"It won't be that bad."

I look up from the railing, and Popuri's leaning back next to me.

"You're worried about getting lost in the crowds, aren't you?" I nod. "So was I, when I first left town. And it does take a little adjustment, don't get me wrong. But you know what? You're probably more ready for the larger world than any of those kids you'll be taking classes with. Heck, I almost wish I could go to college!"

"Well, why don't you?" I replied.

Popuri shook her head in reply, and patted her abdomen. "I've got my hands full already, thanks. Besides, I'm not a genius writer or a talented amd experienced midwife. I'm gonna miss having your touch when this one's ready to escape, by the way..."

I giggle a bit at that. "You could always try coming to State's clinic as a volunteer, you know..."

And I get another shake of a pink-haired head. "No guarantees you'd be the one assigned to me, and I'd rather deal with a professional. Don't worry, though. Granny Ellen said she'd look after me in your place."

That gets my attention. "You're going to stay in Mineral Town?"

"Yeah," Popuri says. "Nina's going to be old enough for school before too long, and a traveler's life isn't really what Kai or me want for our kids. Zack's doing enough work that he can pay an assistant, and Mom certainly mind having her grandkids around all the time!"

"And Rick?"

Popuri's laugh is a little bitter, but mostly amused. The animosity her brother and boyfriend had shared since they first met had never been much of a secret around Mineral Town.

"He'll have to get used to having his brother-in-law around. Maybe after he sees that Kai's not going to run off on me, he'll soften a bit and they can start getting along."

I doubted it, but I nodded anyway. Miracles were known to happen...

"Attention all passengers! We are now approaching State University, home to great dreams, new adventures, and two of the brightest women in the world, fresh arrived from Mineral Town! Please make sure you have all luggage before you disembark, and that none of my kids are hiding within!"

Mary and I both laugh. Kai may not have much of a reputation in his brother-in-law's eyes, but he's always had a way of talking that could put you at ease. Mary's relaxed a little, but I can still tell that she's scared. So am I, but I think I can handle it now. I'll take it one day at a time, and I'll get the education I came for.

And not everything I learn will be in class, either!

"Hey, Popuri."

A pair of red eyes look at me quizzically.

"Look after Stu for me, would you? I worry about him."

She nods in reply. "I know, and I'll do my best. Be sure not to visit until Thanksgiving, alright?"

I nod, and giggle again as I wave goodbye. College will be good for me, and I'll go home and give what I've learned to the greater community, just like the best people I've ever known do.

I give Mary a nudge and a smile, signalling quietly that we'll be alright.

And with a confident stride, we head to our dormitory to settle in.