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.