This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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“We… shouldn’t.”

The silence that followed was deafening. Not actual silence, of course — the winery had plenty of bustle on a Saturday afternoon. Cars driving themselves in and out of the gravel driveway, kids running around chasing the resident dog, whose parents were too busy tasting to care, the welcome sign gently creaking in the warm summer breeze. But I didn’t hear any of that when she said it outright, just like that. We shouldn’t. We shouldn’t give it a shot. We both knew it. It was just really hard to hear her say it out loud.

We both knew distance would never work. She would go off to the West Coast, get settled at her new software job at Apple and probably make a whole slew of new friends. A brand new social life — without me in it. She’d probably message me once every few days when her first week began, tell me all about how awesome her new life is shaping up to be, how great it feels to work on something she feels passionate about. Then the messages would become less and less frequent as she spent more and more time with her bay area friends. Maybe she’d update me when she hikes out to Yosemite. The stereotypical “enjoying life in California” pictures would come, maybe once a month or so. The beach pictures with the not-so-subtle phone filters applied, like they were tourist postcards. Then eventually, she’d stop altogether. I’d be no more than a “oh, I should probably catch up with him sometime…” in her head. I imagined all of this so clearly the instant she uttered that sentence. I was certain it would play out this way.

She didn’t say anything else for almost an entire minute. I was surprised at myself, too, for letting the silence last that long. I guess we were both thinking the same thing, after all. Just how inevitable and sad this was. The scent of self-pity was thick in the humid summer air. Then, perhaps at an attempt to steer the conversation back, she stated something obvious.

“If only we’d thought about this stuff sooner,” she said with a half-smile. There was a heavy mix of regret and nostalgia in her expression. Maybe a hint of resignation, too — that was something I didn’t share.

“Yeah, they told me you’d learn a lot in college but nobody told me learning would hurt so much.”

“I don’t think they were talking about this kind of stuff, Jay.”

“I just meant that it sucks to realize now, literally days before you leave forever, that we should’ve tried to make it work while we were still in school.” She gave me that “haha, very funny” look when I said the word “forever.”

“I know what you meant. You were just doing that thing you always do where you try to sound elegant and succinct or whatever.” Her half-smile was now a noticeable grin. As much as she liked to say she didn’t care for them, I knew she was always willing to humor me.

“Yeah, you know me. Always the smart-ass.” I chuckled beside her.

We gazed out into the lake in the distance. There was not a hint of a cloud in the sky and the pastel blue above us met the cool and inviting blue of the lake seamlessly at the horizon. It was one of those picture perfect Saturday afternoons, with every inch designed to make you want to throw all your clothes off and jump in the water. Our wine glasses — hers empty and mine with just a swig or two left — glistened in the sunlight as if to remind us how close we were to the end of things. Neither of us had taken a sip for a long while now.

“Well, school kept us busy. It happens,” she said, nonchalantly, as if the last four years of memories and “if only we could be more than this” moments were something she would simply forget by tomorrow. I know she didn’t mean it like that though. I knew her too well to think she wasn’t regretting it just as much as I was.

I didn’t want to belabor the thought. We both knew each other well enough at this point to know how this conversation would go if we kept on this topic. That’s the thing — we knew each other so well that we could order for one another when we went to brunch. There wasn’t really much left to say here that we didn’t both already feel.

“As much as I hate to leave, I should get going. That flight isn’t gonna wait for me if I’m late, and I still have to pick up my suitcase from home,” I said. The latter was true. But I mostly wanted to leave so this didn’t drag out any longer.

“Okay, you better keep in touch! New York has MaxCabs now, you have to send me a video if you see one!” That was the Lilly I knew. If there was new tech out there, she had to see it.

“Uh, you’re the one going to work in Silicon Valley,” I retorted. “Doesn’t Apple give every employee their own Max for free?” Max was the newest personal assistant AI from Apple. It was basically like Siri that everyone used to have on their phones years ago, except a LOT more advanced. Like, indistinguishable from a real person advanced. Instead of being tied to your phone, a Max could live in your watch, your bracelet, your necklace, or anything else that you could wear. They were truly personal assistants in the fullest sense, taking calls, jotting down memos, reminding you of events that you didn’t even set reminders for, and even detecting when you were sad and trying to cheer you up. They had a personality and everything. Some people thought they were too creepy, but others (like Lilly) adored the idea of one.

Apparently, Apple just released these cabs in New York City that are only for Max users, which can be called by your Max even before you knew you needed one. Imagine walking out of your last meeting at work and then going downstairs to see a cab already waiting there, just for you — for free. It sounded too good to be true, but I’d heard they’re already being used everywhere in the city. I guessed I’d see them for myself soon enough.

She smiled at the rhetorical question. She could’ve launched into one of her excited rants about the incredible new features of the Max, but I think she understood that a Max wasn’t something I could afford anytime soon even with this new job that I’m going to New York City for.

We instead joked about a mutual friend’s strange new hobby of livestreaming his plants as we walked to the winery driveway and waited for our cars to arrive. Mine got there first. I gave her a quick hug and a big smile. It was hard to accurately describe all the emotions that were going through me at that moment, but joy must have been at least a small part of it since I didn’t have to force the smile. I didn’t want to drag out the goodbye, so I quipped out a half-hearted “you better visit, or else!” and got in the car. I closed the door knowing that she’d likely never visit, told it to drive me home, and sat back to enjoy the scenery.

Last week’s graduation ceremony had left me with feelings that I was still trying to process, about my new job, moving to a new city, and finally being done with what seemed like an eternity of school. Leaving Lilly today piled even more confusing emotions on top of that, leaving me unsure of whether I’d even be ready to start a new phase of my life so soon. ‘Just two and a half weeks until my first day,’ I thought to myself. It all seemed like a big unknown.

The drive from the winery took me through a small forest, then out on the road right by the lake. I often came out riding on this road when I needed to clear my head before a final exam. It was a bit of a secret — not the existence of the road itself, but rather that I came out here to actually drive my car. Most of my friends didn’t know that I had actually learned to drive growing up. Nowadays it made you seem old fashioned if you actually knew how to drive. People regarded it as dangerous and needlessly risky. But my dad had grown up driving his own car for fun and he had taught me how in his old Tesla Mini. Ever since I discovered this lake, I couldn’t help but roam these roads once in a while. I was licensed, so it was legal, though I was debating letting it expire after I started my new job. I didn’t think there would be time for me to continue these little excursions, and there wouldn’t be any place for me to drive like this in New York City anyway.

This road actually stretched almost the entire way around the lake, though I’d never taken it all the way around. The view was as pristine as could be, with calm waters reflecting the high summer sun and the lakehouses peppered along the waterfront. I saw a handful of sailboats as well as a few of the fancy convertible carboats out in the water. I imagined if you owned a carboat on a day like this, it would be hard to resist.

I thought about calling Hamners and talking about nostalgic stuff for the rest of the ride home as I often did when I couldn’t quite grasp all of my emotions, but then I realized his graduation was a week later than mine and that he was likely sitting in some stadium with his own set of ridiculous medieval garb, being told how much potential he and his classmates had by some famous speaker. Although he was the type of person who would pick up and have a conversation with me on the phone even during his own commencement speech, I didn’t want to push it. There would always be time to catch up later.

My thoughts slowly wandered back to Lilly as my eyes scanned the lake’s shoreline, which had turned from rocky to sandy. As much as I hated to admit it, I slowly realized that most of my feelings resulted from a deep-seated worry that I wouldn’t ever find someone that understood me as well as her after moving to a new city and starting a new job. I was going to lose most of my current network of friends (I only knew one other person from my friend group that was moving to New York and she and I weren’t that close), and I was unsure as to whether my work would even be an environment conducive to making friends that were my age. Not to mention the fact that finding and becoming a part of the brass band music scene would not be an easy task. I didn’t want to stop playing trumpet, but I had no idea if it was even feasible to join a band as a hobby in New York City at the skill level that I was. It seemed everyone playing music in big cities were way beyond my level of commitment.

I knew I would profoundly miss the comfort of knowing that I had someone who I could always count on. Lilly and I had become close after meeting each other towards the end of freshman year. It was during a fundraising event for some student group that I couldn’t remember. I was there because my friend Josh was involved in organizing it, and she was there only because she happened to be passing by the student center and had popped in to see what the event was. I was close to the door and she asked me what was going on, at which point I proceeded to give her a mostly inaccurate description of the fundraiser. As I was just about to tell her that “I wasn’t sure of like 90% of what I just said,” Josh appeared from behind me and explained to Lilly what the event was actually for. Turns out they knew each other because they had been in a sociology class together during first semester. All three of us left that event together to grab dinner, and the rest is history, as they say.

Since then, there have been many late nights of getting together and doing homework. At first it was the three of us: me, Josh, and Lilly. Then during Sophomore year, Josh transferred to University of Michigan and we rarely ever heard from him after that. From then on, it was just Lilly and me. The dynamic quickly shifted. We stopped hanging out in libraries and dining halls, and I began to end up at her apartment more often. There was less and less actual studying and more joking around and spontaneous Cards Against Humanity sessions. Then eventually the friendly kisses turned into long make-out sessions, and before too long she became a regular in my apartment in the mornings. We both knew what was happening… but neither of us wanted to commit to something that we were afraid of.

She never told me directly, but from the stories she told me of her high school life, I pieced it together. Her last committed relationship had ended with him betraying her trust in some big way, and I think she was too hurt to try again. I, on the other hand, just didn’t know what I wanted. I had bought into the stereotype of “having fun is mutually exclusive to being in a relationship” and I had stupidly thought what we had then might turn into something different if we told ourselves we were serious. Or something like that — Looking back now, I wasn’t really sure what was going through my head then.

My car slowed down for a red light. It gently came to rest beside a lime-green house overlooking a small dock. From my window I could see that the dock was out of repair and had lost a few too many supports, some rotten away and others simply broken. I wondered who in their right mind would let a place so wonderful slip away into ruin like that. Then the light turned green, and I was moving again.

I wondered if I should have done things differently. We were both hard on ourselves academically. We always put schoolwork first and prioritized our responsibilities, which is why we mostly saw each other at night when all our activities had ended and responsibilities dealt with. When Lilly had tech week for the musicals that she performed in, I didn’t see her at all. When job interview season came around, we didn’t see each other for over a full month. We both loved to spend time complaining about how much work we had, which seemed to only reinforce the idea that if we committed to a relationship, we wouldn’t have been able to find the time. Now I sat in my car wondering if that was actually true.

But I knew better than to let myself keep sinking down this hole. What-if thoughts were dangerous, and I knew that dreaming about a different world was not productive for anyone. I needed to take my mind off of it all, so I decided to drive.

I took out my drivers license and slid it into the card slot on the dash. It took a few seconds to register, then a voice boomed through my car speakers: “Manual mode ready.” I could feel the brake and accelerator pedal rise into place underneath my feet.

I set my hands on the steering wheel. The voice rang out once more: “Control transferred. Please drive safely.” The vehicle was mine. The car was already going over 60mph and it felt good to take over. It was great to drive again.

I changed lanes over to the passing lane and sped up past the few cars that had been in front of me. Then I pulled back over to the right lane and kept going just above the speed limit. I knew that people in those cars didn’t care at all. In fact, I doubted that any one of them even noticed since they all looked like they were too busy checking their phones. ‘Not me,’ I thought to myself. ‘Driving keeps me occupied. Keeps me from thinking about things I don’t want to think about.’

Maybe I should’ve told more of my friends that I sometimes drove. Sure, they might have called me old-fashioned, but here I was, cruising by the lake, hands on the wheel, mind on the road. All just so I could “take my mind off things.” Yeah, they would have been totally right. I could just picture my dad telling me how he used to do this exact thing when he was in college, and I wondered if I had been born a generation too late.

I came upon another car on the right lane and moved into the passing lane again. This brought me a few feet closer to the lake where I could get a better view of the shoreline. If I only had the time to stop and swim in that water for a bit… The water looked so inviting that I honestly considered coming back here after grabbing my suitcase to just dip my toes in for a few minutes. I knew, of course, that there was no way I’d have time for that if I was going to make my flight on time.

As I merged back into the right lane, I glanced at the person in the car that I had just passed through my back mirror. I expected just another random kid on their phone, but something was different this time. It took me a split second too long to realize that the difference was not the fact that he wasn’t looking at his phone. It was the expression of surprise and panic that gripped his face.

I knew something was wrong. The dreadful feeling came racing down my spine as I looked away from the mirror back onto the road ahead of me. That’s when my car made an incredibly loud beep and my body was all of the sudden jerked forward violently. All I could feel was the seat belt harshly digging into my chest, and the squeal of the tires gnawed at my ears even more than the beep did. Only then did I see the helpless deer, standing ever so still directly ahead of me. Its eyes seemed to be glued to my car as it decelerated faster than I had even known was possible and came to a halt mere inches from the deer’s body.

It was probably over in less than a second, yet it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t even fully process what had just happened. All I knew was that my chest felt like it was bruised where my seatbelt had dug into me and that the car behind me had also stopped with barely any space to spare between it and my back bumper. The deer held still for a few more seconds, then when all the motion seemed to have stopped, it looked away and darted back into the woods, away from the lake. At that moment, I realized I had been holding my breath and let myself sigh.

That had never happened to me before. Where did that deer even come from? I hadn’t even had time to move my feet onto the brake — hell, I think I must’ve been still accelerating from passing that other car. If it hadn’t been for the collision detection system, I might not even be alive right now.

I took a moment to collect myself. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Repeat. The car behind me seemed to have recovered just fine and began to pass me and drive away. That reminded me that I was sitting still on a 60mph road and that I should probably get moving. I slipped my drivers license out of the dash and said, “Navigate home.” The pedals began to retract back into the floor and the car accelerated right up, like nothing had ever happened.

‘Christ,’ I thought to myself, ‘that was a close call.’ The very next thing that came into my head was that I should probably message Lilly. But then I thought better of it. I decided to calm myself down by trying to catch some shut-eye until I got home and if I still felt like I needed to tell someone, I could message people then.

As I reclined my seat to try to get comfortable, I heard the noise of a small motor whirling. It wasn’t my seat reclining — as all-electric as this car was, the seatbacks weren’t motorized. I soon realized that the noise was my brake pedal attempting and repeatedly failing to slide back into the floor of my car. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that a small white box about the size of a holotablet was stuck underneath it, preventing it from retracting properly. I stooped down and dislodged the box, curious as to what it could be. It sure wasn’t anything that I remembered putting in my car. Whatever it was, it must’ve come flying from somewhere else within the vehicle and gotten stuck down there when the car decelerated so quickly.

As soon as I placed my hand on the box, there was no mistaking what it was. I didn’t even have to glance at the silver Apple logo on the surface to notice the packaging as the company’s signature sleek white style. I flipped the box over to read the “Apple Max” on the front. The “Watch” label was half obscured behind the yellow sticky note that contained some all too familiar handwriting.

“So I don’t know if you knew, but Apple gives out two Maxes to each of their employees. Yours is paired with mine, meaning our Maxes are best friends. I’m serious about us keeping in touch, and I hope this shows how much I mean it. Now you have no excuses not to keep me updated! I’ll miss you so much… — L”

She must’ve hidden it somewhere in my car yesterday when I was giving her a ride back from the concert. She was probably expecting me to have found it by the time we got to the winery, but if it hadn’t been for me nearly smashing straight into a deer, I wouldn’t have even found it before I left for New York.

Maybe I was wrong about her, and I was very, very happy about that. With a smile on my face that I couldn’t contain, I opened the box and put the watch on. It was dark silver, clearly a high-end product, yet not too showy. The strap was black leather. She had even picked out the type of strap that she knew I’d like. As soon as I felt the cool watch back make contact with my wrist, the Max began to boot up. The stress from my near-accident quickly faded, and I settled back into my now-reclined seat with the hope that this was only the first of many pleasant surprises yet to come in my new and unexplored future.

Software Engineer @ Google, Composer. /

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