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“So how’d it go?” Lana asks with anticipation, raising her eyebrows with real sincerity like only a best friend really can. I wish I could lie, say everything went great, but how can I when her expression is so candid?
“God, I blew it.”
“You can’t have blown it.” She says it with such confidence, I nearly believe her.
“I did, Lana.”
“No. I’m sure you didn’t. What happened?”
“I did what you said. I mean, I followed your tips. Using their name, making direct eye contact, the whole shebang.”
“So what went wrong?”
“Hell, I don’t know. It was just so much different than I expected.”
“Jeez Mal, it’s like pulling teeth. Do you know how to answer in more than five words?”
I counted on my fingers, “That was thirteen, actually.”
She rolled her eyes and ignored me. “Sit down. You’re frazzled-“
“I’m not frazzled. I don’t need to go to college. I mean, if nobody will take me, heck, I’m $40,000 a year richer.”
“Shut up and tell me exactly what happened.”
I take an exaggerated deep breath, more for Lana’s sake than my own. “So I drive up and it was beautiful. I mean really gorgeous, Lana. The campus is like a giant park which just happens to have a school in it. So I’m driving around looking for the “Cronin Building” when I see this guy. He’s off to my side and really gorgeous. Dark hair, kind of wavy and longish…He might have been Scottish…”
“Back to earth, Mal.”
“This is crucial to the story.”
She rolls her eyes, “Fine, continue.”
“So, I’m distracted by this bodacious guy with a luscious head of hair-“
“You just used bodacious and luscious. In the same sentence.”
“Don’t judge me. Anyway, so I’m not looking in front of me and I…” I paused for a moment, unsure of my next word choices.
“Jeez, mal. I sort of bumped this guy in front of me.”
“I just hit him a little bit.”
“Was he in a car?”
“Um, let me think…Well no actually, I don’t think he was.”
“Oh my gosh, Mal. Did you kill him?”
“No, no. I just kind of, you know, gave him a little nudge.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that’s all.”
“You don’t have to make me feel bad…”
“Well alright, then what’d you do?”
“Well I parked my car and- oh my gosh!”
“That wasn’t even a parking spot.”
“I can’t take this.”
“So I parked and ran out of the car to see how he was, if he broke anything,-“
“Was he on the ground!”
“No, no. Nothing as drastic as that. He just stumbled a bit. Then he said he was fine and looked funny at me and then at my car and- Oh, that makes sense now. Since I was parked in the middle of the road. He probably though I was under the influence.”
“I’m beginning to believe you were.”
“Only under the spell of love! Those Scotts…”
She laughed, pityingly, again, only like a true friend would know to do. “Continue, then.”
“Well then he said, ‘It’s alright, I’ll be fine after some crucial surgery and intensive therapy.” And I tittered a little bit-”
“And then he said, ‘can I help you find your way somewhere?’
I figured he was just a friendly student, he looked so young. So I said, ‘Yeah, actually. I’m looking for Cronin Building, I’m supposed to have an interview there in-‘ I glanced at my watch, ‘Oh, shoot, I’m late.’
And he was so nice; he laughed and said, ‘Aren’t we all? I think there may be a high school senior stranded in my office wondering if she’s been stood up right at this very minute.’
‘I suppose that’s my fault,’ I said.
‘If it hadn’t been your car it would have been something else.’
‘Probably not another car, though.’
‘No,’ he admitted. ‘Most likely not another car.’ We were walking this whole time, and we were inside the building now when he asked, ‘Which room are you looking for?’
I glanced down at my note and said, ‘Room 328.’ Then he stopped.”
“You can’t just stop there! Why’d he stop?”
“Because, Lana, he was the interviewer. And I was his interviewee. The terrified, stranded interviewee to which he had referred.”
“Oh, my god.”
“I suppose the interview was a little awkward then.”
“If you still followed my tips, though, it may have gone alright. Which questions did he ask?”
“That’s just the thing. He asked me about my parents.”
“Oh, Mal…I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. It’s just, he hardly asked any of the questions we practiced. By the end, though, I felt more like myself than I have in a long time since the accident.”
Lana doesn’t answer. She just reaches over and hugs me, long embracing arms and I realize that I have the best friend in the world.
“It’s been a month. I think this is a nice way of telling me no. “
“If they saw the real you, there is no way they are going to say no.”
“Goddarn fire ants.” We are sitting in my front yard, slurping 79 cent slushies and waiting to pounce on the mailman.”
“We should head in.”
“Why? It’s a beautiful day.”
“It’s making me depressed.”
Almost as if on cue, the mail truck pulls up. “Anything today?” We both shout it simultaneously, like a command.
“Sorry, girls. Some junk mail, some bills- oh! A coupon to Bath and Body Works. You girls like that place, don’t ya?”
“Yeah, thanks, Gary.”
A minute passes somewhat awkwardly before Lana starts crying. “Lana, come one. They already accepted you. Why are you crying?”
“Beacause. It’s been my dream school since I could write.”
“And I can’t go. Not without you.”
It’s useless to debate this because I know it’s true. “What do you think they know?”
“I mean colleges. What can they know that is so worthy of a second mortgage, life savings, dreams, tears. Why do they get to tell us if we’re good enough?”
No response from Lana, just big, unbelieving eyes.
“Huh? What do they know? The meaning of life? I suppose they know why the heck we’re here? Why the heck they were driving that night, why that car didn’t stop?! Do they know-“ My voice cracked and I stopped talking.
“Just give me an answer.”
“No, I don’t suppose they do know that.”
The sun glints off of my salty streaked face and I take a deep, deep breath, this time for my own sake. We sit in silence for five minutes at least, and then I feel Lana’s long piano fingers curl around my own sweaty stubs. I think of the last time this happened, when I was seven and the chubbiest girl in our class. Lana was skinny and I remember thinking nothing could ever go wrong in her life because of that. She wore pigtails, like me, which was my fashionable choice for most all of my elementary school career. I was at recess and the love of my life, Zach, who had a Toy Story lunch box and sneakers that lit up had just told me that he could never return my feelings. Actually, I believe what he said was, “You’re too fat and I saw you pick your nose last week.” Ah, the injustice. One self-indulgent moment and I had ruined my chances with the Brad Pitt of first grade. I remember very clearly sitting on the bench on the outskirts of the playground, sniffing, crying, and feeling sorry for myself when I heard an angelic voice. “Are you okay? I heard what he said to you. Don’t worry, he doesn’t know what he’s missing,” A phrase I’m sure she picked up from her mom. “Do you wanna come play on the swings?” I think she saw in my face that I really just wanted her to sit there for a minute, to comfort me. So she sat back on the splintering bench and her lean fingers curled around my little skin colored sausages, and held them like they were the best deli meat she’d ever held.
Right now I really want Lana to say something, to use her comforting words again. I urge with all my mind but and heart so when the next words come I think I might be imagining them. “What?”I ask.
“I said, would you like to go play on the swings?”
My nose pricks, and a flood of big wets ones are pushing at the back of my eyelids, with so much persistence that I’m reminded of the buffalo stampede I saw on Discovery last weekend. I want to answer but instead I just smile, not my matured smile, but the incomplete grin of my seven-year -old self, and I nod.
The moment still feels too fragile to disturb by getting up, so I lean over and kiss her on the cheeck. “I know what it is,” I say.
“The meaning of life. We’re here for this.” I gesture to the space around me and Mal and squeeze her hand. “To find something as solid and genuine as this and survive this crazy world with as much enjoyment and class as possible.”
“Yeah. Screw college.” She says seriously but with a little smirk, like only a true friend really can.