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After visiting the hospital and then coming back to school, my life returned to normal. It had been about two weeks since Mom's bad seizure, my classes were over for the day and I was headed to my parents' house for the weekend. I knew Mom was still a little frail and weak since the hospital visit and Dad was really busy with work during the week - as always - so I figured they might enjoy a chance to relax. Plus, without Mom to cook I knew they probably hadn't been having any nice meals for dinner. It was just the right reason for me to make myself useful.

At about 6pm Friday night, I passed the mailbox that said Tonesdale on it and pulled into the driveway.

"Elle!" Dad said enthusiastically, coming out to meet me. As I stepped out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me in a big bear hug. Compared to most, my dad has always been a bit more sympathetic and caring, pretty honest with me...as far as I know...and he's always been full of advice for whenever I need it. Sometimes his personality came in handy, but when he and I had arguments, it didn't: we're so much alike that once we get at each other, nobody wants to agitate either one of us.

When we entered the house, Mom was on the sofa watching Oprah, who was interviewing Mathew McCaonughey, the "sexiest man alive."

"He is pretty cute," I said as I walked in the door.

"Honey, I'm so glad you're home! But are you kidding?!" came the voice from the couch. "He's the best-lookin' hunk of man I think I've ever seen! If I were 20 years younger - and single again - I'd sure be knockin' on his door for a date. Cute?" she said, referring to my rather lackluster description, "Sweetie you have got to quit being so shy and just be honest with yourself...otherwise you might never reel in a hottie." And with that, she ended her little spiel with a smile and a wink.

"Well Mom," I returned, "I didn't realize you felt so strongly about Matthew McConaughey and my umm...love life." Please, let's talk about something else, I thought. "By the way, you sound like you're pretty healthy again."

"Yup. Your dad here, he's just been treating me like a queen."

"Glad to hear it. Well I, for one, am a little hungry. Want me to make us a nice home-cooked dinner?"

"Sure Babe, that'd be great. But you know we could just order Chinese so you wouldn't have to do all that work."

"Actually that sounds like a better plan to me." So much for me being useful. At least I was staying Saturday and Sunday too - there was still time. For tonight, takeout was good enough.

So while I called the Chinese place, Mom watched the end of Oprah's interview with that "hunk of man," and Dad got ready to go pick up dinner.

~

It was Sunday night, and I'd decided to make my parents a nice dinner - finally, a break from frozen TV trays and carry out Chinese. I found this recipe for Garlic Chicken and pasta that sounded amazing, but because the pantry wasn't completely stocked with the regular staples, I had to run to Lou's, the local grocery store not too far down the road.

Ten minutes later I parked the car, went in and grabbed some garlic, vegetables and a loaf of French bread plus a carrot cake for dessert. Since I was kind of in a hurry, I decided to check out in the express lane that had a limit of ten items or less.

"That'll be $15.21 ma'am," said the guy ringing me up.

I got out my credit card to pay, but when the cashier saw it he immediately informed me that I was standing in the "cash only line." After smacking my forehead and reprimanding myself for being so dumb, I pulled out my wallet and dug through it in search of some cash.

Crap, I only have $3 and there are all these people behind me who are probably in even more of a hurry than I am, I thought. Why in the world did I not read the sign that says "cash only?" What is wrong with me today?

Just then a voice interrupted my thoughts. I heard a girl saying, "Don't worry about it, I can just give you the cash you need."

Who could this angel be?

Turning my head to see who was standing next to me, I found a girl who appeared to be only slightly younger than myself. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, a sweet smile -- basically the perfect picture of a supermodel.

"Are you sure you want to do that for me?" I asked politely, in an attempt to assure myself 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," I said, offering to shake hands with this kind-hearted stranger.

"I'm Monica," the girl replied, handing me a $20 bill. "I'm really glad I can help you out."

"That's a nice class ring," I said, noticing the silver ring adorning Monica's left hand; it had a surfboard and a sun, making me think of 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?" my 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's already been on the campus for while."

"Perfect. Then it's settled." For me, 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 our 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 mine.

"No problem. Here's the money." I calmly handed over the cash Monica had just given me. "And no need to get angry. I didn't mean to hold anyone up," I added apologetically.

"Well, you did," he retorted, still glaring at me. "Have a nice day ma'am," he inserted sarcastically, with an annoying fake smile.

Before I had a chance to leave, Monica, who had just started checking out - only with two items touched my arm. "Will you wait for me? It'll only take a second."

"Sure," I 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, I had been getting a 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; I never meant 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 girls who was nice, but always got the things that 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, Monica and I stopped near the Customer Service desk where there was a counter, a hard surface so I could 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 I was the prepared one, that ready-for-anything kind of girl; I'd been like that for as much of my life as she could remember. That day I 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 me, "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?" I 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," I said with a little laugh. "I bet you're tired.

"Well I'm a pretty light sleeper, so I got a lot of rest on the plane."

"Oh I'm so jealous. I wake up to everything during the night." Noticing that Monica seemed really anxious to leave, I 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. "

We reached the parking lot and began looking for our 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!" Still walking towards her own car, I watched as Monica climbed into the drivers seat of a cute hunter-green mini-cooper. As a teenager, a mini-cooper had always been my dream car, but my parents decided a Toyota was a more practical option.

"They're just not safe enough," Dad 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 Dad, always worried about the well being of his little girl and everyone else around her, never seeming to do much worrying about himself. I figured it was just a habit men picked up once they became fathers.

Just then I reached my car, put the three plastic bags into the seat behind her, and closed the door. As I sat down behind the steering wheel, I paused a moment - just stopped moving completely. I'm so tired, I thought, breathing deeply: in, and out. I just need to slow down for a second; rest...relax. I looked out the window, noticing that the clouds seemed a bit dark; they were gathered together and seemed to be hovering directly over the car.

I knew I'd better get back. Great, a storm's coming.

~

By the time I got home, the storm had begun; it was raining so hard, the windshield wipers were on at full speed. Right now was when I wished Mom and Dad 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, I thought, closing the door and hurrying around the side to get the bags. In less than two minutes outside, I was drenched, feeling wet everywhere. As I walked in the door from the garage, I could hear the weather report on the TV.

"...hurricane warning for all of Lowell County."

"Jeez that's some pretty serious bad weather," I commented as I set down the bags and took off my shoes.

"Oh I know. They've been giving warnings every couple of minutes," Mom responded, getting up off the couch. Seeing how wet I was, she added, "Baby you are soaked! Why don't you go get some dry clothes on while I take the food to the kitchen?" As Mom talked, I looked out the window and saw big flashes of lightening outside.

"Okay, be right back then. Hey...where's Dad?" I started walking towards my 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 Dad usually got home from his business job. "Should be about ten minutes or so." There was the thunder, so loud it almost hurt my ears.

"Well then I guess I'd better -" Before I could finish my sentence, the entire house went dark.

Wonderful. A power outage. It was the perfect ending to a sucky day.


Submitted: December 28, 2006

© Copyright 2022 Corinne Smith. All rights reserved.

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