����������� Turning her head to see who was standing next to her, Ella found a girl who appeared to be only slightly younger than herself.� She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a sweet smile, and was the perfect picture of a supermodel.
����������� "Are you sure you want to do that for me?" Ella asked politely, an attempt to assure herself this wasn't too good to be true.
����������� "Yes, I'm positive.� It's no trouble at all."
����������� "Thank you so much!� I really owe you.� By the way, I'm Ella," she said, offering to shake hands with this kind-hearted stranger.
����������� "I'm Monica," the girl replied, handing Ella a $20 bill.� "I'm really glad I can help you out."
����������� "That's a nice class ring," Ella said, noticing the silver ring adorning Monica's left hand; it had a surfboard and a sun, making her picture life on the beach.� "I take it you're not from around here?"
����������� "Oh I'm just here to visit my brother and tour a college where I'm thinking about going.� He just lives a few minutes from here and goes to UM Boston, but I'm actually here to see Harvard."
����������� "Oh my gosh! You're serious?"� Ella's voice was elated.� "I go to Harvard!� You know, if you want me to - as a way to return the favor - I could give you a tour sometime, show you around campus, introduce you to people and all that."
����������� "Actually," Monica responded, clearly pondering the offer, "that's not a bad idea.� I mean, it's great.� I'd love to walk around with you...that way it'd be less awkward, you know, 'cause I'd know somebody who lives on campus."
����������� "Perfect.� Then it's settled."� For Ella, this would be fun; taking a prospective student around with her, introducing her to friends, professors, roommates...the possibilities seemed endless.� "Okay, why don't I just -"
����������� "Excuse me. Ma'am?" A voice, an extremely irritated and tense one, broke into their conversation.� "I'm still waiting for your payment ma'am.� Just in case you haven't noticed, there's something we in the grocery business like to call a umm," the voice paused for emphasis, "line...right behind you," said the cashier, boring his eyes into Ella's.
����������� "No problem.� Here's the money." Ella handed over the cash Monica had just given her.� "And no need to get angry.� I didn't mean to hold anyone up," she added apologetically.
����������� "Well, you did," he retorted, still glaring at her.� "Have a nice day ma'am," he inserted sarcastically, with an annoying fake smile.
����������� Before Ella had a chance to leave, Monica, who had just started checking out - only with two items - stopped her.� "Will you wait for me? It'll only take a second."
����������� "Sure," Ella watched as the cashier took Monica's money, sending her off with the same words, "You have a nice day ma'am," minus the sarcasm.� Figures.� For some reason, Ella had been getting this negative vibe from people lately - not just at the local market, but in restaurants, on campus, even at the hospital back when she was there to see her mom.� It was strange; Ella hadn't intended to offend or insult anybody.� At least - so far - Monica was breaking that trend.
����������� "So what were you saying when the guy interrupted you?� Very rude worker by the way...I'm surprised the store even hired him," the way Monica talked, she almost sounded like one of those rich girls- nice, but never failing to get what she wanted.� Maybe she came from a rich family or something.
����������� "Oh I was just going to give you my phone number.� And I was wondering how long you're staying here. Are you on a break this week or something?"� On their way out the door, Ella and Monica stopped near the Customer Service desk where there was a counter, a hard surface for Ella to write down her number.
����������� "Well it's our spring break over in Cali.� At my school it's usually pretty early, so I figured Harvard would be in session all this week."
����������� "Yeah, everything's no different than usual.� Do you happen to have a pen and some paper on you?"
����������� "Actually yes I do."� Smiling, Monica pulled them out of her rather large, expensive-looking purse.
����������� "Thanks so much.� You're so prepared, and I'm just the opposite -I'm having one of those days where my brain's so scattered I'm having trouble keeping it all together, if you know what I mean." Normally Ella was the prepared one, that ready-for-anything kind of girl; she'd been like that for as much of her life as she could remember. Today she felt different, flustered, but unsure exactly why.
����������� "Oh definitely.� I know how that goes - I've had plenty of those days myself.� Well," Monica took the piece of paper from Ella, "I think I'd better get going, head over to my brothers apartment.� I only came here for a few things I forgot to pack."
����������� "You said you're from California?"� Ella was curious to find out a little bit more about this girl.
����������� "Oh yeah, I love Cali, just an eight hour plane ride away from here."
����������� "Just eight hours," Ella said with a little laugh.� "I bet you're tired.
����������� "Well I'm a pretty heavy sleeper, so I got like a ton of rest on the plane."
����������� "Oh I'm so jealous.� I wake up to everything during the night."� Noticing that Monica seemed anxious to leave, Ella began walking towards the door.� "Anyway, maybe we could work something out for you to meet me on campus tomorrow.� I'm staying at my parents just for the weekend, but tomorrow morning I've got to go back for classes."
����������� "Okay, I'll definitely give you a call sometime tomorrow. "
������������ They reached the parking lot and began looking for their cars.� "I'm so glad I met you...Ella, right?" Monica genuinely sounded excited.
������������ "Yep, and you're Monica?"
������������� "Uh-huh.� Well I'll see you around I guess.� Bye!"� Ella, still walking towards her own car, watched as Monica climbed into the driver's seat of a cute hunter-green mini-cooper.� As a teenager, a mini-cooper had always been Ella's dream car, but her parents decided a Toyota was a more practical option.
����������� "They're just not safe enough," her mom had said.� "I mean, what if you were in a really bad accident?� An SUV could just crush one of those little things in one second."� Yeah, that was Angie, always worried about the well being of her little girl and everyone else around her, never seeming to do much worrying about herself.� I guess, Ella thought dismally, that's just a habit you pick up when you become a mom.
����������� Just then she reached her car, put the three plastic bags into the seat behind her, and closed the door.� As she sat down behind the steering wheel, she paused a moment - just stopped moving completely.� I'm so tired, she though, breathing deeply: in, and out.� I just need to slow down for a second; rest...relax.� She looked out the window, noticing that the clouds seemed a bit dark; they were gathered together and seemed to be hovering directly over her car.
����������� She knew she'd better get back. Great, a storm's coming.
��������� � By the time she got to her parents house, the storm had begun; it was raining so hard, her windshield wipers were on at full speed.� Right now was when she wished her parents had enough space in their garage for just one more car.
����������� Oh well, I guess I'll just "run between the raindrops" like Mom always says, Ella thought, closing her door and hurrying around the side to get her bags.� In less than two minutes outside, she was drenched, feeling wet everywhere.� As she walked in the door from the garage, she could hear the weather report on the TV.
����������� "...hurricane warning for all of Lowell County."
����������� "Jeez that's some pretty serious bad weather," she said as she set down her bags and took off her shoes.
����������� "Oh I know.� They've been giving warnings every couple of minutes," her mom responded, getting up off the couch.� Seeing how wet her daughter was, Angie added, "baby you are soaked!� Why don't you go get some dry clothes on while I take the food to the kitchen?"� As her mother talked, Ella noticed big flashes of lightening outside.
����������� "Okay, be right back then.� Hey...where's Dad?" She started walking towards her bedroom.
����������� "He just called.� He said he's still on his way home from work."� It was six o'clock, about half-an-hour after her dad usually got home from his business job.� "Should be about ten minutes or so."� There was the thunder, so loud it almost hurt Ella's ears.
����������� "Well then I guess I'd better-"� Before she could finish her sentence, the entire house went dark.
����������� Wonderful.� A power outage, she thought. What a perfect ending to a sucky day.