She always wanted to have magical powers. To be able to help others and be a modern day superhero, she obsessively wished for that to happen. The beauty and grace that these magical girls in the cartoons exceeded, she was enamored. To save the day and let love conquer all, if she could do that, then she could have given up everything. That was, until recently. Since when did being a magical girl involve killing others? Murder? Death? Corruption? And how about consequences? Why did being a superhero come with such dire costs? Yes, reality did rear its hideous head upon her beloved childhood dream, but the girl tried to focus on what appealed to her about the genre. How the output outweighed the costs and sacrifices. How saving the day was more important than teenaged angst and drama. Looking at the small creature before her, she was hesitant. The opportunity to realize her childhood dream was just an answer away. But knowing what she did now, she knew that this door, closing would not be the end of her world. By turning her back away from it now, she would be keeping her dream alive.
A little gir, resting underneath a sky littered with cherry blossoms. She had nearly no recollection of her life before sleeping here. There was only one memory: an elderly man, whispering to her. “I’m so sorry.” He apologies in a hushed, croaked tone. He cut her loose of his tight embrace, as she fell. Walking through the pink hills, the girl felt awestruck. The pristine trees, pure ivory park and light, heart-shaped flowers that fluttered through the wind, it was a sight to marvel at. The girl felt like these flowers, they resonated with her. Looking at them, she felt hope, joy, and for some reason, guilt. Seeing these flowers gently glide past her. She could sympathize with their descent from the heavens. But unlike these fallen petals, the girl knew she could continue moving. She felt almost ashamed, as if she was leaving these delicate flowers behind. Being able to move forward, it seemed like something she was not supposed to be doing. Like her, small and untainted in the beginning, before being released, displaced, dirties, and discarded. She knew, deep down, that her innocence was sullied on her way here. Despite not knowing why, she knew that her past was a fall, but her future was a rise.
Walking along the rugged path, a tall, tanned youth frowned to himself. He had left behind his home to find a cure for his beloved, who was lost to the cold. It was up to him to embark on this journey. He had to find those elusive smoke lilies. Those purple and black flowers held a nectar that, when mixed with ginger root, should melt his prince’s locked heart. These lilies bloomed at the very bottom of the mountains; beneath the mist rested entire fields of them. His prince, the youth dreamt of ending his ailment.His sweet master used to be so kind and loving. But then it happened. The mist began to flood the mountains, in the midst laid their castle. Their paradise together, away from the world beyond. The benevolent boy was saddened.His tears had caused everything to be shrouded in the dark clouds. THe prince’s heart then fell into the coldness. Snow crept onto their kingdom, their haven, slowly draining life from all of its denizens. The youth had to flee, not only to survive, but to find those smoke lilies. Diving through the mist, he was determined to save his home. His prince was waiting, alone and scared. He was separate to remove the snow. He pushed himself forward, through the dark and cold, reaching for any hope. He wanted so badly to hold his prince in a tight embrace. Not as his knight, but as his beloved.
Road Movie was my first story based almost entirely off of events that had nothing to do with my personal life. Fun fact, I have never even been to Chicago, nor have I ever been in a long-term relationship, experienced the loss of a significant other, or worked in a marketing firm. That being said, I had to do a ton of research on the Greater Chicago area, reference a lot of the emotions of feeling love and loss, and luckily, I have taken multiple marketing classes, worked as a marketing coordinator, and spoken to enough marketing executives to gain a vague idea of what it means to work in marketing, albeit for hospitality and engineering, not medicine. That being said, as challenging of a story it was to write, Road Movie was one of my favorites to do for that very same reason. Having to push myself beyond my own limitations and life experiences and pull from others, it was a real eye-opener. I greatly enjoyed the message of this story, which was to make life a constant pursuit of moving forward and finding happiness.
I literally conceptualized the story based on the Maaya Sakamoto song “Road Movie”, which spoke a lot about being lost, finding happiness, and remembering the love in your heart. From there, I had to think about different cities. I considered several, but ultimately wanted to do Chicago, mostly because I had never been to Chicago before, and it would be a much more interesting challenge to do something like that as opposed to a more familiar city. I originally wanted the story to be set in the 1980s, or just an earlier time when drive-in movies were more popular, since the title of the story was “Road Movie” and drive-in movie theaters fit that bill perfectly. But then I realized it would be too difficult writing both in a real life location and in a time period that I have never experienced, and cross-referencing Chicago locations in the 1980s would be difficult and hard to keep consistent in my story.
Hillary Jenkins is a fictional marketing company, and I decided to do a marketing company mostly because I was currently taking a marketing course, and I figured I could easily cross over what I was being taught in class with Dakota’s career, just because it would not be completely inaccurate.
Dakota Logan was originally going to be named Vivian Logan. I wanted her nickname to be Viv, so a pun on viva or vie, which means to live in Spanish or life in French. I ultimately changed her name to Dakota for one sole reason: her entire character, I took inspiration from Dakota Johnson. I had this idea for a timid, seemingly helpless, and easy-to-victimize female brunette character in mind, and Dakota Johnson tends to play those roles in her movies, so subconsciously, I kept typing Dakota instead of Vivian, and decided to just roll with it. The nickname Ducky, unfortunately, there really was not much meaning behind it. It became more of a cute nickname than anything with deep symbolic meaning. I made her from Naperville mostly because I have a friend from there, and it was the first suburb that came to mind: coincidentally, it was close to the Cascade Drive-In, so that worked out in a lot of ways for me. Dakota never leaving Illinois became a focal plot point when I was almost done writing the story, because I wanted to focus on that being the driving reason for her wanting to leave Chicago: I knew that no matter what, she was going to watch a movie in the drive-in, and then leave for somewhere new by the end of the story. I just needed to figure out what drove her to that conclusion.
Phillip Hopkins, I wanted him to be this sort of reliable, smart, do-it-all, very mature figure. Somebody who, when you pair anyone with him, would feel like they are being nurtured and watched over. That’s the main rationale behind making him want to be a pediatrician. I wanted to develop his character a lot because I knew once he gets killed off, there would be no other opportunities to really get to know him, since the remainder of the story, I wanted it to focus solely on Dakota’s moving forward. I wanted the reader to relate to Phillip’s growth, because I am almost positive that everyone can relate to doing silly things during puberty. Phillip becomes much more relatable during those chapters, and I wanted him to narrate them in a first person perspective, just for the reader to gain more closeness with him.
Out of Dakota’s coworkers, only Maria and Frida were based on people I knew in real life. They were both actually sales managers and directors at a one of my old workplaces, and I kept them pretty similar to their real life counterparts, not even changing their first names, personalities, or ethnic backgrounds. Maria was always this open-minded, hardworking, and kind person, somebody who I felt Dakota could come to trust and grow from. Frida was this ridiculous, over the top old lady who would indeed do crazy things despite her age: fun fact, the heart attack and drinking story was actually something she did do in real life. Overall, I felt like those two personalities would help bring more characterization to the workplace.
Virginia and Justin were completely fictional. I wanted Virginia to be this stone-cold Betty type of character, very cool and aloof to Frida’s antics. Making her come from Hawaii made sense in that she worked closely with the hospitality industry, and it helped give her character purpose when it came time for Dakota to talk about leaving Illinois. Justin, I just wanted somebody there for Frida’s crazy to be directed towards, so that was more of what his role was expanded into. A motif I subconsciously created was the idea of father-figures being more muted, something that is noticeable with both Justin and Mr. Hopkins.
For the parents, we had Peter Logan, Marisa Ellis-Logan, Jessica Hopkins, and Matthew Hopkins. I knew that I wanted to expand upon the parents’ backstories in this one, similarly to how I did with Sky Bird, but in this case, not because of any internal conflict, but so that Mr. and Mrs. Logan can provide full understanding and insight to Dakota’s situation. I did not want them to completely mirror their daughter and Phillip’s lives, so I made them meet in completely different circumstances and focus on different career goals. Mrs. Hopkins was only ever formally introduced via dream sequence, so by no means is that what she really is like. The dream sequence version simply represented Dakota’s own fears of inadequacy and reluctance with continuing her relationship with Phillip. Originally, Mrs. Hopkins was killed off the same way as her son, but I changed it from a truck crashing into her car to just her crashing into the DuPage River and freezing to death, just because I did not want everyone who died to die via trucker. Mr. Hopkins, I regret not developing his character more, because it would have been great to see his reactions to the loss of his wife and the loss of his son, but for me, I always felt like father figures tend to hide their pain, so that was the sort of route I took with him.
Pamela, Dakota’s therapist, was loosely based on Pam Poovey from the show Archer. Mostly in appearances though. I wanted Pamela to be this insufferable personality that was aggravate Dakota to no end, just to show how frustrated she was at her then-current situation. She was originally going to make more appearances, but then I decided to push up the chapter when Dakota decides to quit work, and Pamela became obsolete to the plot at that point, so I wrote her out of the remainder of the story.
Lastly, there’s Monique. I wanted Monique to be a complete foil to Phillip’s personality. Rather than being incredibly career oriented and busy, Monique was more free-spirited, young, and unburdened by her past. She has a different outlook than Phillip entirely on her life, but she does have her doubts on whether or not the life she is living is the one she wants to have. I did at one point consider having her end up with Dakota, but ultimately decided against it because I felt like Dakota did not need to come out as bisexual for the story to really progress or end on a strong note: coming out and the ending message may potentially eclipse one another, so I stuck with the ending instead and was happy with that. As for Monique’s grandma, originally, all four of her grandparents were going to die in a plane accident, but again, too many deaths via motor vehicles, so I just wrote off a grandma in a corn fire instead. Overall, Monique’s character was a huge surprise to me. I did not write her in until much later in the writing process, and decided that her character was much needed if Dakota had to go through therapy and could not return to work first.
Overall, I am happy with the fact that Road Movie wound up being a story based off of experiences that were not my own. I do want to visit Chicago, now that I have done so much research on it. The idea of Road Movie was moving forward and remembering the happiness we gained from love, while not constantly dwelling on or missing the love itself. We can find new things to fill the void left behind from the old, new things that can maintain that happiness. I hope that the story was able to perfectly emulate that message
Our love did not exist. What we had was an illusion. A lie. We tried to be there for each other. Simply but, we were bad together. We hurt each other. We convinced ourselves that we needed each other. But you deceived me. Behind my bcd, you told others how you rely felt. My confidence, my self-esteem, I sacrificed those to be your friend, your confidant. I gave up my dignity. How foolish I was, to do that for anybody. I refused to think that I was in the wrong. I committed every thought and concern to your safety and happiness. Or so what I incorrectly perceived it to be. But you are not worth my love and trust. SOmeone who treated me like a monster in my moment of vulnerability. Somebody so insensitive, entitled, and immature. You do not deserve my attention. You do not deserve my focus. You are a waste of my time. Please do me a favor, and go away. Treat yourself like how you treated me. Maybe then you will understand how much of a brat and coward you were. Stop trying so hard to be the victim of this situation. You really are a disappointment of a human being. I am embarrassed to think that I let somebody like you hurt me. Somebody with such a cracked heart.
Getting into her car, the brunette sighed to herself. This was it. This was her last goodbye to Illinois. Driving towards the highway, she noticed something. It was Cascade Drive-In. Open and showing a movie. The brunette frowned to herself. Come to think of it, she never saw that movie. Pulling into the movie theatre, she smiled to herself. She finally got to see a movie here. “Thank you for coming to Cascade Drive-In! Today, we will be showing the movie, “How to be Single.” The ticket lady said. “Thanks, I’d like one parking space, please.” “One parking space, that’ll be $8!” The brunette handed in her bills before taking a spot in the parking lot.
As the movie ended, Dakota could find herself feeling refreshed. Seeing the main character, Alice, finally setting out to do the things she wanted to do, with or without a boyfriend or man in her life, it just strengthened Dakota’s own resolve. She knew that this was right now, more than ever before. Pulling up her GSP, she smiled. It was going to be a long drive, but she was excited for this. It was finally time for her to say goodbye to Chicago. However, opening her glove compartment, she found something unusual. A letter with her name on it. The brunette tore it open, curiously.
“Dear Dakota, we will always love you no matter what. We hope that you’ll find this letter when you settle in your new city, but if you have not already, that’s fine too. We all love and miss you very much, but we are happy that you are finally pursuing something that you have come to love. We will always support your decisions, because we want you to be living a life that you can genuinely enjoy. -Your parents.” The brunette could already feel herself fighting back the tears at that point. She did not expect to find something like this hidden away in her glove compartment. When did they have the time to put this there?
But the letter did not end there. “Hey there, photo-bestie. I’m so glad that I met you at that camera store. Sometimes, life just drops pleasant surprises in our lives, and you were definitely one of those I will always be grateful to call you my friend, and I am so glad I met you that day. I will keep submitting your photos behind your back, unless you finally start putting yourself out there more! I know your passion and now talent for photography will carry you far! Love you lots, Monique.” “Oh god.” The tears were rolling down Dakota’s face at this point. How much she already missed Monique and being able to photograph her way through Chicago together.
And then there were more letters to come. “Hey there, my little chickie. I am so glad that you came waddling back to Hillary Jenkins, because you were something special. You have a unique talent for being great at whatever it is that you like to do, and I cannot wait to see what you’ve got planned for your future. I support you 100% and I just wanted you to know that this letter was Frida Caldwell-approved.” Thinking about her time with Frida, Dakota laughed to herself. Frida was a crazy, crazy boss to work for and she knew that there would be no person quite like her. But that was part of the reason why working in Hillary Jenkins was so special. It would not be Hilary Jenkins without Frida leading the marketing department.
But the letters did not stop there. “Hey there, Dakota. I’m so glad that we were able to become friends, even though we had that awkward fight at first. You became one of my closest friends in Chicago and one of the reasons why I enjoyed working at Hillary Jenkins as much as I did. Please visit whenever you can. I miss you already! -Virginia.” Thinking about how Virginia went from being her workmate to her friend, it reminded Dakota that first impressions are not as important as one may think. So long as both sides are open to giving each other a second chance, then that was all that mattered: getting to know the real person beneath the facade that was an initial interaction or encounter.
Looking at the next letter, Dakota laughed to herself. “Hey there, buddy! I’m still so sad to know that you’re going to another city. But I’ve seen your growth in our company, and I know that you’re going to go somewhere far in whatever industry you are going to be entering. Keep up the good work, kiddo! -Justin.” She was not terribly close to Justin, so it was a surprise to see him write anything to her. But it was touching for him to point out that they have been working together for so long. Even though the two of them mixed like water and oil, they still had a love for one another that came in the form of respect.
There was just one more letter in that large envelope. The writing, Dakota knew who’s it was from the moment she saw it. “Thank you so much for helping me from the beginning of your time in Hillary Jenkins. Being able to see you grow up from being this shy intern into a capable young woman has been inspiring for me to watch. Dakota, you will be able to succeed in anything and everything you put your mind to! Never forget that! Love you and miss you lots! -Maria.” Maria was like her work-mom/older sister figure, guiding her through the company. She had learned so much from working under Maria, and Dakota was forever grateful for that. And just hearing the praise, it sent her over the mood. It helped the brunette remember that she had the ability to do whatever she wanted to, within reason. Nobody could stop her from that much. Her parents definitely put these in her car when she was not looking.
Wiping away the tears, and putting the letters away, Dakota sighed to herself. She was finally ready to move on. No matter where she wound up, she knew that her friends would be there with her, in spirit. Yeah, she knew that was a cheesy line, but it definitely applied here. Her friends would be there to support her, and give her the hope and confidence she needed to keep pursuing her career. “Goodbye, Illinois!” The brunette called, turning the key and igniting the engine. Pulling out of the drive-in movie theatre, she waved goodbye to Naperville, and then got onto the freeway. It was going to be a long drive. She was glad to be able to finally see a movie in the Cascade Drive-In. And the perfect one to close her story in Illinois, and to begin her new one, far, far away.
“Loving, caring, and hardworking. These were the qualities that described not only Phillip Hopkins, but his beloved Dakota Logan. May she live a happy life, in his memory.” Those were the words engraved on his tombstone. And they were the very thing he wished for his Ducky.
“Are you ready, honey?” Mrs. Logan looked at her daughter. It was finally time to go to Phillip’s funeral. Dakota’s parents had arrived at her apartment to pick her up. They were going to drive together to Graceland Cemetery, where the brunette will see her boyfriend for the very last time. She felt nervous. She had no idea how she was going to react to seeing his body. It had been months, since she basically turned her life upside down and started anew. But this was something she knew she needed to do. She needed to finally confront the fact that she could not turn back and return to the life she used to have with him.
It was a very somber moment. Sitting in front of the sea of people, dressed in black. These were Phillip’s relatives, friends, and a few of Dakota’s as well. It was quiet. The brunette sat in the front, to her left, her parents, and to her right, Phillip’s father. The four of them slowly got up, and approached the casket. Phillip’s body laid there. It was the first time she had seen him since they had gotten into the accident. It had been months. Looking at the young man’s corpse, and seeing his peaceful expression, Dakota felt herself let loose a sigh of relief. The one thing that concerned her about this moment was the look on his face. She would have been devastated had his face worn a look of pain or despair. But it looked like he still went out peacefully. “You’ll always be a part of my heart.” Dakota whispered, as she placed the bouquet on the body.
Standing with Mr. Hopkins, Dakota and her parents quietly walked towards the casket with the rest of the crowd. They were going to bury his body now. “Phillip is in a better place now. And hopefully, we will be too.” Mr. Hopkins smiled at Dakota and her family. “”You’ll always be family to us, Matt.” Peter patted his friend and former neighbor on the back. “Thanks, Pete, Marisa, and Dakota.” He grinned sadly. But he knew that he had to live on for Phillip and Jessica now, more than ever. Neither of them would want him to be unhappy. He was moving into the next chapter of his life. He would be off, helping the less fortunate raise money for college. Nobody knew it at the time, but Matthew Hopkins would go on to be one of the best known philanthropists in the Greater Chicago area.
Walking back to her room, Dakota sighed. It still felt numbing that she just witnessed her own boyfriend’s funeral. But she knew that seeing him with that peaceful expression, that he lived a happy life, even if it was a short one. While her life was longer, Dakota needed to do whatever was necessary for her own happiness now. Phillip would have wanted that for her. Just as badly as she would have wanted that for him. She shook her head. Phillip was an all-consuming thought, but she needed to get him out of her head. She wanted to put those thoughts to rest with the funeral. She had to get into the habit of not thinking about him. “Honey, come down stairs!” Mr. Logan called. “Oh, okay!” She ran down, closing the door behind her.
Walking into the living room, the brunette found herself face to face with both of her parents. “Dakota, I know that you might be stressed, since you’re in between jobs, houses, and you just attended your boyfriend’s funeral, but we wanted to make sure that you had this before you left.” Mr. Logan handed her daughter an ivory studded ring. “This was given to me by my own mother. She wanted me to have it because it was good luck for her when she moved to Wisconsin from Oklahoma. I want you to have it, because you’re moving from Illinois, and I want you to keep carrying on that legacy of making a new place your new home.” She smiled at her. “Thanks, mom.” The two hugged. “I love you, sweetheart. Please take care, and let me know when you arrive at your new apartment, okay?”
“Dakota, you’re my only daughter, and I have to tell you now while we can still talk in person, that I am so proud of you.” Mr. Logan looked at the brunette. It was his turn to give her a speech. “Your mother and I, we both love you a lot. You mean the world to both of us, and we are so happy that you are taking risks and trying something new.” He started. The brunette was unsure of where he was going with this. “Don’t worry about money, okay? Financially, we can support you while you are still starting out as a photographer. But I’m sure you’ll be in high demand! You won your first photography contest with out the gate.” He smiled as he joined in on hugging his daughter with his wife.
Hearing their warm words touched Dakota. She was already grateful to have two parents who are living proof that taking risks and putting yourself out there is okay, but knowing that they support her decision, even when most rational parents would probably yell at her, not support her, and say something of the effect of “you made your bed, now sleep in it.” But that’s what made Dakota love her parents beyond everything else. No matter what she was doing for a living, the two of them were more than happy to support her. They knew that while money was important, being happy while making money was optimal.
Dakota did question if becoming a photographer was a viable option, but she was not terribly worried. Which was a surprising change for once. She expected herself to be stressed out by the idea, but her own love for doing this outweighed every other fear she could possibly have. It was a great feeling to know that she had her parents as a safety net, absolutely. But that was not why she was so relaxed. It was more along the lines of her being happy with what she was going to be doing. That part, plus being able to move to a new city, it was exciting. She knew that with these opportunities, she can continue to grow as a human being. And with that growth, she can continue to reconnect with that “Fierce Nerd” that she knew she was deep down.