Here I venture to tell a story that takes place in this world. It’s been a while, since for the past four years all my thought has been wrapped up in my own story world. Hopefully it’s not too bad :)
Something startles me awake. I grab my alarm clock to see what time it is, then fall out of bed in my haste to get up. 8:30 am—I’m already running late. As I run to the bathroom, my awakening senses pick up a sound that is unfamiliar here in southern California—rain. Oh, no. I now have even less time to get to my 9:30 class at Irvine Valley College and deliver a group presentation.
After brushing my teeth and throwing on jeans and a sweat shirt, I jump in my car—only to discover I left the window down last night, and my seat is soaking wet. Now completely frazzled, I run back inside, change pants, and grab some towels for the seat.
Half an hour later, I’m still stuck in traffic. In my head, I berate southern Californian drivers who forget how to drive when it starts raining. They make my ten minute drive at least four times as long. At least this car has a stereo, I think, remembering my first car that would barely start, let alone play music. And just then, there’s a loud pop and my speakers stop working. Clearly, this is going to be a terrible day.
It takes me ten minutes to find a parking spot. As soon as my car is off, I’m running toward the history building, bag flapping. I slip, but thankfully manage to catch myself—only to step in a huge puddle. Now my shoes are soaked.
“Sorry I’m late!” I pant, bursting through the classroom door. My professor looks up and purses her lips. “I’m glad someone in your group decided to show up,” she says. “Kristen, your partners aren’t here, so you will be giving your presentation alone.”
My heart drops, then instantly starts beating at double-speed. I hate public speaking, and was counting on not being the only one in front of the class. I walk to the front, painfully aware of the squelching sound emanating from every step I take in the otherwise-silent classroom. Opening my binder, I look for my notes while trying to remember something my partners were supposed to talk about. Dread turns to terror as I rifle frantically through the loose pages. I now have a clear mental picture of my notes on the counter next to, not inside, my binder.
Looks like I’m improvising.
I take a deep breath and begin. “In 430 AD, Patrick, a Welshman, was sent to Ireland from Gaul to replace the bishop there, so obviously there was Christianity in Ireland before then. While we don’t know how Christianity got there to begin with, we do now it was established there in a different form from the Catholic form of Christianity elsewhere in the west…”
When class is over, I breathe a sigh of relief. It was a terrible presentation and will bring my grade down, but now it is over and I only have to go to work. Maybe the day will start to get better.
Everything goes well until I walk into work and discover everyone is in a meeting. “Ah, Kristen,” my boss, Mark Shepherd, draws everyone’s attention to my late entrance. “Just in time. As you know, today’s Valentine’s Day.”
Rats and mice. I had not noticed the date yet. Instantly, bad memories swarm in of Valentine’s Days spent alone while my parents went out and my sister was with her boyfriend—or worse, fighting with me. No, I had not known today was the worst holiday ever invented.
“In view of the holiday, it’s company tradition to do something together, to build teamwork instead of just accomplish work,” he chuckles at his pun. “This year, we are doing a scavenger hunt. You are paired up as follows…”
I zone out until I hear my name. “Kristen…and Lexi.” Lexi? Who is Lexi? I know everyone who works here, and none of us are named “Lexi.” I glance around the conference room and see her, just as my boss says, “Lexi is our newest team member—in fact, today is her first day! You get the honor of introducing her to life here at The Rock Sunglasses, Incorporated.”
“Lexi,” I spit out her name like a bitter taste.
“Kristen,” she greets me back, her voice and smile uncertain.
How dare she make me feel bad for hating her!
In junior high and elementary school, we were best friends. Then we got to high school, where I was quickly drawn in by the popular crowd. She was not, at first, but she was my best friend. I made sure they understood we were a package deal. It all worked well, until Matt, the boy I’d had a crush on since sixth grade, started noticing her, and she went for him like a bear goes after honey. Heartbroken, I turned my back on her for a week. Instead of apologizing, she spread rumors about me. In a matter of days, all of my supposed friends left me. I went to senior prom alone, and at one point tried to talk to her, tried to get my best friend back. Little did I know she was only giving me the time of day so she could spill punch all over my dream dress and laugh at me in front of the entire school.
I haven’t spoken to her since.
“Here are your lists of things to find,” Mark says, passing out numbered sheets, “and here are cameras to record them.” He pulls a crate of disposable cameras from under the table. “First place wins a thousand dollars each, second place wins brand new iPods, third place wins huge boxes of chocolate. You’ll be judged based on speed, accuracy, and, most importantly, creativity. Ready? Begin!”
“We’re taking my car,” I tell Lexi. There’s no way I’m letting her drive me anywhere. For all I know, she’ll try to push me out the door at 100 miles per hour.
She shrugs and tilts her pretty little blonde head. “Whatever you want.”
We file out of the office and I discover it’s raining even harder now. I know I’m weird because I love the rain, but now all I can think about is that it was raining this hard when I first saw Lexi and Matt walk across campus holding hands and pause to kiss in the rain. “Back-stabbing blonde,” I mutter vehemently—choosing to ignore the fact that I’m even blonder than her.
“What was that?” Lexi asks, her sweet tone making me feel sick.
“This is my car,” I say instead, gesturing to my dark green Chrysler Sebring convertible.
“Um…” she pauses before getting in, looking uncomfortably at the towels on the seats.
I duck into the car. “I left the window down last night,” I explain. She gingerly touches the towel on her seat before getting in. Sissy. Germaphobe.
I turn the car on and glance at the list for the first time. They’re not really items we have to find, more like things we have to do in certain places. Thing 1: Dress like cupid and take a picture with a happy pair. “We can get a costume at Costume Castle,” I tell her, heading toward El Toro Road. She nods.
Curse my stereo for choosing today of all days to break! I fiddle with the dials some, praying it will turn on. No such luck.
In the heavy, awkward silence disturbed only by the rain pounding on the car, Lexi speaks. “Whatever happened to us, Kris?” she asks.
I laugh humorlessly. “You hooked up with Matt, took my friends away, made me a loser loner, and ruined my best dress in front of the whole school,” I tick off on my fingers. “Nothing much.”
She sucks in a breath. “Kristen, I’m so sorry. I don’t want to make excuses, but—”
“No,” I interrupt. “I’m not having this conversation with you, Alexandra Ravena Simeon.”
Saying her full first name reminds me of Alexandria the city, which of course reminds me of the other four cities that were important in early Medieval Christianity and hence of my failed presentation. Worrying about my grades makes me think of CSUF, where I’m hoping to transfer into the teaching program in the fall. I’m expecting a letter any day, and acceptance sure would improve this stupidest of days I’m having.
“Hey, do you mind if we stop by my house real quick? I’m expecting a letter,” I say, already turning into my neighborhood.
“Sure,” is her cryptic reply.
I jump out of the car and run around to the mailbox. There is a letter for me, but it’s from my insurance agency and marked “urgent.” I get back into the car before I open it and see that somehow, I owe $1000. Could this day get any worse? I barely make enough to pay for school and gas as it is. I don’t have $1000 laying around. Unless we win.
“What’s wrong?” Lexi asks.
This scavenger hunt is no longer a lame invention by an out-of-touch manager. I look Lexi in the eyes. “We have to win this thing.”
We buy a cupid costume in record time. Lexi puts it on over her clothes while I start looking around for a couple to take a picture with. Considering the date, it’s harder than it looks. I guess most couples get ready during the day and don’t meet up until later on Valentine’s Day.
“Kris,” Lexi says, struggling to put on the tiny wings, “he said creativity counts, right?”
“Yeah,” I agree, “but this direction’s pretty clear.”
“Maybe,” she says thoughtfully. I go back to looking for a couple while she rummages through her purse. “What do you think?” she asks, holding up something for me to see.
It’s a pear. With a happy face newly drawn on it.
“ ‘Take a picture dressed as cupid with a happy pair,’” I reread, and begin to genuinely smile for the first time today. Knowing how much my boss loves puns, he’s going to eat this pear up—no pun intended.
“Great idea,” I agree, snapping a picture of her and the pear.
I look at the paper. “A picture of you below a mountain of stuffed animals,” I read. We look at each other and say in chorus, “The Disney Store.” We’re back in the car before you could say “Mickey Mouse,” heading for the Laguna Hills Mall and the pile of stuffed animals at the back of the Disney store.
After sharing a Ruby’s milkshake, giving flowers to a random elderly lady, and stuffing a whole box of conversation hearts into our mouths while standing in the middle of a fountain, we’re at Lexi’s apartment making a life-sized Valentine card out of pipe cleaners. Our creative touch: we’re making it the size of the board game Life, and it’s going to be the most intense pipe cleaner Valentine ever.
Standing barefoot at her kitchen counter while my shoes are in the dryer, I’m actually having a good time. All the places we’ve gone to as part of our scavenger hunt have been a walk down memory lane. After twisting a red and white pipe cleaner together, I look over pensively at Lexi. “Whatever happened to us, Lex?” I surprise myself by asking out loud. “How did things get so bad?”
She avoids my eyes and shrugs. “I guess we were just different people in high school.”
“But how did it happen?” I persist. “We were so close, then all of a sudden one day we were enemies.”
Lexi takes a deep breath, still busying her hands with the card. Then she started to talk so quietly, I can barely hear her over my shoes thumping in the dryer. “One day I came over to surprise you, but Natalia Penkroft was already over. You didn’t realize I was there, but I heard what you said.” She changes her voice to Natalia’s squeaky pitch. “‘I don’t know why you drag her around with you everywhere.’” Now she imitates my voice: “‘She used to be my best friend. Now she just tags along wherever I go. She’s like a leach I can’t get rid of.’
“‘Haha, wow, I’m so glad. Honestly, I was doubting your excellent taste.’
She pauses. “Then you said, ‘Ew, like I’d actually be friends with that ugly, fat old loser?’ It hurt. I turned to run, but Natalia said one more thing I heard. ‘Good! Then let me tell you our little plan to make her life miserable.’ I couldn’t stay to hear any more,” Lexi whispers, “but I decided right then to beat you at your game.”
I stare at her, mouth opened, in shock, watching her cry. The memory which was nearly forgotten now becomes crystal clear. “Lexi,” I gasp, “we were rehearsing for the all-school play that James wrote!”
Now it’s her turn to stare, mouth open. “I didn’t go to the play, because I was sick,” she says slowly, realization dawning. “You mean….Really?” she asks.
I bite my lip as I feel it start trembling, blink as my vision goes cloudy, and nod. Is it possible that our amazing friendship was ruined by nothing more than a simple misunderstanding? Then I see Lexi is crying again, and we start laughing at our ridiculous behavior. “Man,” she says, “We’re acting like two ludicrous, emotional freaks out of a corny chick flick.”
“Well, we may as well do it right,” I say, wrapping her in a bear hug.
When we let go, she looks up at me quizzically and asks, “D’you have any plans for tonight?”
I make a face. “No sirree, I’m as terminally single as an unmatched sock.”
She laughs. “You have plans now. Come on, let’s finish this scavenger hunt. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do afterwards.”
What do you think?