THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
It will be serialized over the next several days…the ending will be marked in the classic styling…
Gail spent her twenty-ninth birthday with her co-workers at a popular sports bar, watching her favorite college football team play. She normally had a handle on self-control and was incredibly responsible, but something about the last year before thirty led her to over-indulge.
“Thanks for an awesome time, guys!” she called to her friends, all of them cheerful and laughing. “A little too awesome, maybe,” she continued. “I definitely shouldn’t drive home.”
“Call you a cab, Gail?” Daryl, the manager of her sister department asked over the low din of still celebrating patrons.
“I can give you a ride home,” Kendall offered. Gail worked with Kendall every day, and they were friendly with one another (friendly enough for her to be invited to Gail’s birthday dinner and drinks night), but they weren’t ‘close.’ Gail smiled. The same satisfied smile that spread across her face when she saw Eli’s current online photos (and when he accepted her friend request with a cheerful, ‘There you are!’).
“Sure. Thank you so much!”
On the drive home, the two women chatted about work, the easiest subject, as it was obvious common ground. Gail recalled how considerate and reliable Kendall always was at work. She always lent a helping hand, always joined a team in need of assistance, would even volunteer for the least desirable tasks other people shied away from. She wasn’t Kendall’s supervisor (Daryl was), but she made a mental note to write Kendall up for her exemplary service. It was suddenly too unrecognized for Gail’s taste. As they pulled into Gail’s driveway, Kendall remarked what a nice place it was.
“Yeah, no cable. And I probably eat more than my fair share of instant ramen for an adult, but it’s mine. Well…it’s going to be mine in 24 more years of mortgage payments. And I can still go on vacations. Sometimes. If I really stay frugal about other stuff.”
“Oh yeah! You’ve got that ski trip to Colorado coming up in what? Three weeks?”
“Yep. You remembered that?”
“I always note your vacations. It’s very apparent when you’re out of the office. I mean…don’t worry or anything. Stuff is under control, it’s just…things are noticeably smoother when you’re there. Haha!”
“That’s good to know I guess! Haha! Job security!”
“If you don’t already have plans tomorrow, would you like me to stop by to get you late morning-ish? Drive you back to get your car?”
“That’s so nice, Kendall! That would be awesome, actually. I don’t have plans. Let me treat you to lunch.”
“Oh, we can do lunch for sure! But no need to treat. Happy to help out a friend.” Gail noticed for the first time how lovely Kendall’s smile was. There was a sincere kindness in her eyes that was particularly striking. Sensing the evening was drawing to a close, Gail decided she’d like to extend it; she didn’t want Kendall to go.
“Want to come in and chat for a while? Join me for a cup of coffee?” She realized how silly it was to offer hot coffee to a native Floridian in a sundress and sandals while she stood there in her own board shorts in the muggy, still-over-eighty October night air. She shook her head at herself. “You don’t have to drink coffee. I have bottled water. And Coke. And cranapple juice…”
“Hahahaha! Omigosh, I LOVE coffee! I want coffee! Seriously. You are the only other person I know that will drink it hot at night like me!”
“Haha! Great! Coffee coming up.” The two women talked well into the night, discovering how much they had in common (which turned out to be a lot more than work). They had similar family and youthful social backgrounds, and liked a lot of the same things. Kendall wasn’t really into college football like Gail was. She was more a Disney kind of a girl, but she thought it was interesting and fun that Gail followed sports so enthusiastically. “You know…two brothers. Grew up in the Midwest where there’s really nothing else to do but play sports and follow them. Especially football…”
“It probably has something to do with growing up in Florida; the Disney fascination. When you live less than an hour from The Magic Kingdom, I guess it’s pretty easy to buy into the Cinderella myth,” Kendall giggled.
“No, that’s adorable. Like a part of you never grew up, still liking princess movies like you’re a little girl. I think it’s sweet,” Gail honestly assured her new friend.
Gail changed into her regular pajamas…boxer shorts and one of the dozens of free t-shirts she’d earned from running dozens of charity 5 and 10K races. Kendall said she’d never run in anything like that, but always sort of wanted to. Gail suggested if she ever wanted to give it a serious try, she’d be happy to train with her. Kendall blushed. And Gail thought about the coy rouge to her face for days after that first chat session, sometimes at work. The ease and intimacy of that evening coffee went into the early morning hours, and Gail finally just asked Kendall to stay over.
“Yay! Slumber party!” Kendall giggled. “Haven’t been to one of those since fifth grade!” Gail offered her another pair of boxers and a different free running t-shirt to change into.
“I only ever got invited to one,” Gail said, remembering how often she didn’t exactly ‘fit’ with the other girls when she was very young. Ursula was the first girl since elementary school she’d really felt was a real friend to her, and until she got into college a ways and working, she considered Ursula her only woman friend except for Drea, the girl who had actually invited her to the slumber party in fifth grade. “It was fun, though. I guess.”
“What did you do?”
“Watched a couple movies. Ate pizza. Slept in a bank of sleeping bags on my friend Drea’s basement floor.”
“Well, I’m still stuffed from dinner and birthday cake and I won’t make it through a movie now, but we can sleep in a pile of pillows and blankets on the floor if you want.”
“Haha! Yeah. Let’s do that.”
“We could braid each other’s hair,” Kendall chuckled, thinking back to her own memories of girlhood camaraderie at overnight elementary-school birthday parties.
Gail looked oddly serious. “Not into that? I was just kidding around…” Kendall stammered.
“No…I…that’d be nice.”