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When Love Happens: Prologue
I remember that day well. It was the second of June, 2007. I sat anxiously at my desk in Mrs. Clark’s deadbeat Algebra class, rapidly drumming my freshly-manicured nails across the wood, impatiently anticipating that glorious moment of hearing the annoying school bell for the last time. My seat seemed to become harder and harder underneath me, as if it were telling me to stand up already and leave this armpit of a place, and be free for the next 90 days. But as I stared intently at the clock, each tick of the second hand lessened the speed of time, infuriating me to the point of desiring to shatter the glass barrier over the clock and switch the time myself. All I wanted was to get out of there. Was that too much to ask?
The room was pretty quiet, except for the few backpacks the other students were still stuffing full of a year’s worth of supplies, and the following sound of zippers sealing the now bulging bags. Everyone else just sat at their desks, their arms or legs crossed, slumping down with their bodies’ obvious dead weight. It was clearly evident that everyone was ready for summer vacation to start, but I know for a fact there wasn’t a single person in the school who wanted to escape this place more than I did.
I took another glance at the clock. Thirty more seconds till 2:30. Twenty-nine seconds, twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six, five thousand and three, five thousand and two; goodness, would the time never end? Why must I be forced to endure this crud? Having been born a decent person, I didn’t deserve the awful life I was given, or the slowing time on the school clocks that mocked me with their monotonous ticking.
Finally, the bell rang. It was about time. I stood up, slung my backpack over my left shoulder, and recited the phrase, “I am out of here!” repeatedly in my head as I pushed my way through the mob of eager students to ensure that I’d be the first to exit the classroom.
I broke into a jog when I got into the hall and headed for the stairs. I nearly tripped going down them, but managed to stay on my feet. I finally sprinted for the main exit and shoved the door open. I felt a relieving sense of freedom once I was out in the open world, surrounded by fresh air, open skies, and no memories of school life. I met up with my best friend, Chelsea at the bus stop and we boarded the bus together. We plopped into our seats and dropped our backpacks on the floor.
We let out a simultaneous sigh. “Oh, TGIS,” Chelsea said with a smile.
I wasn’t sure what she meant. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You know, TGIS? ‘Thank goodness it’s summer?’”
I laughed. “Oh, right. You’re not kidding, either. We’re wasting our lives here.”
“I know, but it’s all over now. Good riddens to Marshall Adams High; we are done here.”
“It’s about time, too. I need this summer vacation. I don’t want to have to think about school for a long time. Come to think of it, I don’t want to have to think about life for a long time.” I meant that, too. Life just never seemed to work out for me, no matter how hard I tried. Every time something would seem to be going my way, it turned on me. Every time I thought I was improving in school, my grades would plummet. Every time I thought my mom and I might have been starting to get along better, we’d get into some freakish quarrel. Every time I thought I had a chance with love, my heart was deceived. Whatever the situation was, everything always turned out for the worst. Especially that last one, about love. Love, I assumed, wasn’t coming my way any time soon.
When the bus pulled in front of my street, I stood up with my backpack. “Well, this is my stop,” I said, looking down at Chelsea.
“Yep,” she answered. She rose from her seat and stepped out into the aisle so I’d have room to move away from my window seat. “Hey, would you like help packing? You know, for tomorrow?” she asked.
“Sure, why not?” I walked down the aisle toward the downward steps and the opening bus door. “Come over at four, if that’s okay.”
“That’s perfect. See you then.”
“All right, Chelse. See you later.” With that, I began making my way down the sidewalk, my backpack strapped securely over my shoulder, towards my house. I hadn’t been walking for too long when my phone vibrated. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my cell phone and checked the caller ID. To my surprise, it was Mom calling. “Hello?” I said into the receiver after answering the phone.
“Hey, Kim, how are you doing?”
“Uh, good, I guess. Is Dad home, yet?”
“No, he had to work late. Are you almost home?”
“Well, good, because I just finished dinner. I made grilled cheese; I know it’s your favorite.”
“Right…” For some reason, I couldn’t figure out what to say to her. “Well, I’ll see you in a minute.”
“All right, sweetie. I love you.”
“Mm-hmm.” My voice was flat.
“Bye.” I lowered the phone from my ear and clicked it shut. I felt a pang of guilt ripple through me for practically being mute to my mom. She had been trying so hard to build our relationship over the past few months and all I seemed to do was reject her every attempt. A part of me wanted to appreciate and get along with her, but another part of me told me to keep our level of communication to a minimum, as to avoid any classic mother-daughter drama. We never seemed to relate, anyway, so what’s the point of trying? But still, I felt kind of bad for being so disrespectful towards her. Oh, well. That was our life. That was how it always had been, and I had no intention of changing the course of our history.
When I approached my house halfway down the street and opened the door, I was welcomed by the gracious smell of hot melting cheese, mixed with toasted slices of bread. It was intoxicating and I smiled slightly. I suppose that was a pretty nice way of starting out summer vacation, having my favorite dinner awaiting my arrival after the last day of school. Perhaps my mother did this on purpose. Despite our constant bickering and the distance between us, that was something I always loved about my mom. She could cook. And I mean she could really cook. She can take the simplest recipes and seamlessly transform them into these gastronomic masterpieces that are like a work of art. She actually went to culinary school when she was in college, but nobody’s completely sure why she dropped out.
“Hi, honey,” my mom said when I closed the door behind me.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, kicking my sandals off and tossing them inside the shoe closet. I inhaled again, taking in as much of the grilled cheese as I could in one breath so the smell would remain inside for as long as possible. “Is the food ready?”
“Yes, I’m just letting it cool for a few minutes.”
I walked into the kitchen where Mom was and looked over at the stove, where a tower of grilled cheese sandwiches rested on a large plate. “All right, then, I’ll just go upstairs and be back in five minutes.”
“Well, you sure sound eager. Is there something you need to do?” my mom asked.
“Well, yeah. I have to pack, remember?”
My mom thoughtfully gazed off to the side, trying to recall my purpose for packing. She shook her head after a few seconds. “No, I don’t. What are you packing for?”
“Uh, hello, my vacation?” I said. “I got myself a room at the Crowne Plaza up in Michigan, like, three months ago.”
An expression of realization spread across my mom’s face. “Oh, that’s right. How could I forget?” Her tone of voice had a flicker of sheepishness in it. “When are you leaving?”
“Yeah, I need some time to myself; I need to get away from everything. Staying at a hotel for a week or so will do me good. And my check-in date is tomorrow, so I need to be packed and everything by tonight.”
“Oh, well then, go on up to your room. I’m sorry for holding you up.”
“It’s okay, and I’ll be back down in a few minutes.”
“All right, hon.”
My mom turned back to the stove as I walked to the end of the kitchen and started ascending the staircase just outside in the hall. At the top of the stairs, I turned right and approached my bedroom door. I entered the room, gently closed the door behind me, and then got busy.
After five minutes of packing, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it up and saw my mom outside, holding a plate of two grilled cheeses in front of her. “I thought I’d save you the time of going all the way downstairs to get this yourself,” she explained.
I was stunned by her generosity. “Wow, thanks,” I said, taking the plate from her. Then I just stood there, unsure of what to say next. I could see it in my mom’s eyes that she was having the same struggle as I. These awkward silences were typical and had strangely become routine. Eventually, she turned on her heel and walked away in silence. Then I shut my door again, and resumed packing.
At around 4:10, Chelsea came over just like she said she would, and helped me with my packing. I would hand her something from my closet and she would remove it from its hanger and place it neatly into my suitcase. With four hands working at once, I finished packing my last bag in half the time I’d expected to. By now, my plate was empty, except for the light sprinkling of breadcrumbs and cold fragments of the crust, and my closet had a moderately big gap in the clothes rack. I thanked Chelsea for giving me help, and she went back home after giving me a quick but sincere, “You’re welcome.”
I dragged my suitcases downstairs and set them by the door for convenient access in the morning, and started preparing for bed. I showered, slipped into an over-sized T-shirt, and crawled into bed. Though I loved sleeping in the comfort of my own bedroom, on the familiar mattress under the familiar blankets, I still didn’t think I would be leaving soon enough. The anticipation of going on my own personal vacation was killing me.
But morning came eventually. I woke up around seven, and was out the door by 7:30. It occurred to me by the time I drove to the end of our street that I hadn’t even taken the time to bid my mother goodbye. But I was already on the road and I didn’t want to turn around, even if my house was still close enough by. I figured I could call her later once I arrived at the hotel, but something told me that wouldn’t be the same as saying it in person. Oh, well. One goodbye’s no big deal, right?
Still, my guilt continued to expand, and the urge to call my mom on her phone grew bigger and less resistible. So I finally reached into my Coach purse and pulled out my phone. I flipped it open with my chin, and pressed the number 8 on the speed dial to call my mom. When she didn’t answer, I felt my stomach flop. I wasn’t sure if she just hadn’t happened to have her phone with her when I called, or if she was intentionally avoiding me. Whatever the case, I decided to leave a message. When I heard the beep, I said, “Hey, Mom, I’m on the road right now. Just thought I’d say goodbye to you, like I probably should have done this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t do it before I left. I had a lot on my mind and I guess I just forgot. I’ll call you again later if I can. Bye.” I clicked my phone shut and dropped it back into my purse.
For about a half hour, the drive to Michigan seemed to drag on super slowly. Maybe I was tired, or distracted. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was bugging me. Then again, something was almost always bugging me anyways, but if that was the case, why did this time feel…different? This feeling was unfamiliar to me. I felt a certain…emptiness inside me that seemed to be begging to be filled. Unfortunately, I could do nothing to help, because I didn’t know what it was that I needed.
I tolerated the sluggish feeling for as long as I could, and then shoveled through my purse for my i-Pod when I finally couldn’t take it anymore, popping one ear bud into my ear. I left the other ear empty so I could be aware of traffic. The last thing I wanted today was to wreck and end up in a hospital for two months. As the music began to swiftly maneuver into my ear, I could feel it already taking effect on my alertness. I woke up a little more and my concentration on the road increased tenfold. The rest of the hour-and-a-half drive seemed to fly by.
When I reached Auburn Hills, Michigan, I pulled out the map I had downloaded from Map Quest and followed its path toward Crowne Plaza, where I would be staying for the next seven or eight days. It was relatively easy finding the hotel; the only problem I had trying to find it was having huge clusters of trees along the road concealing the building from plain sight, fooling the eyes a little bit. Other than that, it was a piece of cake. I pulled into the cramped parking lot, carefully driving through to the nearest parking spot. I managed to not wreck, which I considered a good thing, and removed my bags from the trunk before heading into the hotel.
The lobby was absolutely beautiful; well, for a three-star hotel, that is. Everything was clean, well-maintained, and the color coordination with the furniture was a feast to the eyes. I could tell it was definitely worth the money I spent to come here to stay at this hotel. It was very livable. So I headed over to the front desk and checked in, satisfied with the decision I made in choosing my temporary home. I was handed a forest-green card key, and was told that my room was on the fifth floor, room 109. I thanked the woman behind the desk, handed my bags to the bellhop, and headed for the elevator. The ride up was extremely brief; the elevator was moving faster than any elevator I’d ever ridden before. But I suppose that was all the better. I wanted to get to my suite as soon as possible, and commence my personal vacation.
The bellhop met me by the room, holding onto a golden luggage cart on which my bags rested. “Your luggage, Miss,” he said to me, deadpan.
Slipping my card key into its little slot, I said, “Thank you,” to him and opened the door.
He wheeled the luggage cart into the room and set my luggage off to the side along one wall. “I hope you enjoy your stay here at the Crowne Plaza.”
“Thanks, I’m sure I will.”
“All right, then. Good day, Miss.” He gave me a half smile and walked out of the room, leaving me alone.
Alone…I couldn’t believe it. I was alone, all alone in my own hotel suite, my own little house. How incredibly awesome was this?
I took a walk around the room, checking out everything inside, from the bed, to the cabinets, the television, and everything else. Everything was perfect. The beds had a slight bounce in them, and the pillows were extremely soft. The 42” HD flat screen television was a plus I hadn’t expected. The bathroom had a pretty marble sink, and the water pressure was good. Overall, this place was pretty nice. My only real complaint was the “view” I had from my windows. Behind the olive-green drapes was the unflattering sight of the lower roof of the hotel, filled completely with gravel; and beyond that was an old, but still active, McDonald's joint. But, hey, one flaw isn’t bad. I could live without a view.
Once I finished exploring, I threw myself onto my bed and reached for the bedside table where the TV remote lay. The buttons on the remote were fairly simple to figure out; there was a big green button labeled “ON/OFF,” the volume and channel controls directly below that, and a small yellow button at the bottom labeled “MENU,” where I could access movies from the television and other stuff that I probably wasn’t going to put a wad of cash down for during my stay. I turned the TV on and flipped through every single channel at least once, searching thoroughly for something interesting to watch. I had no such luck; the best thing on at the moment was House, a show I had never particularly favored, but could still watch and not bore myself to tears with. So I set the remote back on the bedside table and leaned back in my bed to watch the show.
Just as I’d expected, I didn’t become too engrossed with it. House never did that for me. I was glad to be done with it after two episodes when a different sitcom came on. When I turned the television off, I noticed that I felt starving. I wondered what places they had to eat around here. If nothing else, there was McDonald's. Fast food’s your savior when you’re not familiar with where you are. I headed over to the desk and opened the front drawer, where I found an uneven stack of brochures and guidebooks. I dug my hands through everything, and happened upon a flier with the hotel’s name on it. I opened it up and found an interesting lunch menu on the third page; and that was good enough for me. “I’ll order room service,” I decided.
I ordered the biggest meal available on the menu and, just for the heck of it, some dessert as well. What can I say? I’m a girl, and we girls have to splurge a little bit every now and again, right?
It was close to one when I ate my fill of the food I ordered. What I didn’t finish, I wrapped up in some aluminum foil and placed it in the mini-fridge. I collapsed onto my bed again, and suddenly, that weird feeling came back. That unidentifiable emotion that was eating me alive along the drive to Michigan returned to the pit of my stomach, but this time it was stronger. I clutched my stomach, contemplating the possibility that I might have been sick, but from what I didn’t know. It couldn’t possibly have been food poisoning, seeing as how I had just finished eating. But even so, it had only been two minutes when I began to feel nauseated, so I hurried back down to the lobby and purchased a water bottle from one of the vending machines. I felt slightly better after chugging down a few gulps, but not by much. The nausea had gone away, but the unacquainted emptiness remained. This wasn’t a sickness sneaking up on me; it couldn’t have been. I didn’t feel ill, just in need of something.
I paced around the lobby for awhile, slowing sipping my water, and crashed on some of the furniture even. Finally, I ended up going outside to my car and taking a drive around town, because for some reason, my car has always been my best place for thinking. Something about driving has always relaxed me. Unfortunately, this driving period didn’t last long, because my eye caught on a large, colorful building called “Great Lakes Crossing,” a decently-sized mall. I had never been there before, but I’d heard great things about it. And within seconds, I found myself pulling into the parking lot and walking across the lot to the front entrance.
I slowly ventured through the busy hall, taking a look at everything there was to see. There was a sign hanging from the ceiling that said, “District 4,” and I wondered how many districts there were in this mall. It seemed big enough to have at least 8 districts, maybe nine. I sure hoped so, because more districts meant more stores, which meant more shopping.
As I traveled through the mall, I found that all of my favorite stores were in this place, some of which were outlets. I couldn’t believe it. This place was like paradise to me. I shopped for hours until it was dinnertime and decided to check out what the food court had. By now, my arms felt like they were practically falling off from the weight of the massive shopping bags linked through them, but I kept them with me just so I wouldn’t do anything I would regret later. Breathing heavily, I made my way toward a smoothie place, and ordered a large strawberry-banana smoothie. I watched the woman behind the counter press a lever down on a machine, which dispensed the smoothie into the cup. She put a lid over the top, stuck a straw inside, and handed it to me. I thanked her, turned around, and started looking for a place to eat. Most of the restaurants were all Chinese based, and there wasn’t anything I loathed more than Chinese food. I was starting to feel discouraged when I detected a Taco Bell logo on the opposite side of the food court. Relieved to have found a decent restaurant, I began jogging toward the Taco Bell, smoothie in hand.
That’s when it happened. I felt a jolt. My body suddenly stopped moving forward, reversing its motion into a backwards stumble. Then I felt another jolt, and from that impact I found my bags dropping to the ground, the contents scattering across the filthy floor. My body knocked into one of the tables, my thigh banging into the corner. The next thing I knew, I felt an icy sensation spread across my chest, and a severe degree of wetness; the entire front of my shirt was drenched. It all happened so fast that I wasn’t completely sure what was going on. I looked down at my shirt which was sopping wet from my smoothie, the smoothie I hadn’t even had the chance to take a sip of yet. What a waste of $3.50.
Then I heard a voice. “Oh, man, I’m so sorry!” It was a guy who, when I looked up, was standing up in front of me, petrified from embarrassment with his mouth hanging wide open.
I scoffed in disbelief and turned my gaze away from him.
“Are you okay?”
I pressed my lips together and said, “Yes…I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? You fell pretty hard and body slammed right into the table.”
I could feel my blood starting to boil. “I’m just fine, okay?” I was trying hard to keep my patience. “But look at my stuff; everything’s ruined.”
“That’s all right; I’ll pay you back for everything that got soiled.”
I couldn’t believe what he just said. Helping myself stand back up, I thought, “Does this guy seriously think he can buy his way out of this jam? Who does he think he is?”
“No, I don’t want you paying for anything, okay?”
“Well, okay, if you don’t think it’s necessary.” He sounded unconvinced. “But are you absolutely sure that you’re okay? ‘Cause you don’t look it.” When I exhaled sharply, he added, “See? You’re all tense and stuff.”
That’s what made me burst. I swiveled toward him, and said, “Well, what do you expect? You collided with me and dumped my entire smoothie all over my favorite shirt! There are ice crystals melting in my bra. And thanks to you, all of my brand-new clothes that I paid a ridiculous fortune on are all over the floor, and probably ruined now. So you think you can just waltz in and say sorry and expect everything to be okay? Well, it’s not okay. Get it? You know, if you ask me, I’d just say you’re full of…” Suddenly, I slipped over some of the spilled smoothie and felt myself falling, cutting my sentence short. But I didn’t hit the ground. A strong hand had seized my wrist and put his other hand around my back to catch me.
For a split second, I thought I’d felt my body go into shock, but it was hard to tell. I tossed a couple of strands of hair out of my face, breathing deeply, and looked up at the guy who’d possibly just spared me a bad injury. And for the first time, I found myself involuntarily staring directly into his eyes, and him staring into mine. His touch was securing, and his face glowed. It was in that moment that I felt the previous emptiness in my stomach suddenly over flow, and I realized that it wasn’t my stomach at all that was empty; it was my heart.
After my brief adrenaline rush wore off and I stopped breathing so rapidly, silence completely took over us.
That was the day our tragedy was set in motion.