My face feels warm and I know I must look ridiculous, wearing a knit hat, heavy coat, scarf, and mittens in a building that's been a constant 85 degrees Fahrenheit since the administration decided to turn on the heat. Not that I'm complaining; I hate the cold.
"I'm sorry, KT, but no," Natalie says exasperatedly, her calm tone barely masking her annoyance.
"Okay, okay," I say, "I'm sorry. I just-"
"-want someone to go with you to the tree lighting festival downtown. I know. That's all you've been talking about this week. Call up Karen Dupree," she suggests.
"I did," I respond glumly, "she can't go either. She has her physics final tomorrow."
"Forget it. It's okay. I can go next year," I reply, taking off my hat.
Natalie turns red. "For God's sake, KT! Why can't you go by yourself?!"
I look down at my shoes, immediately feeling guilty and ashamed for getting the already frazzled Natalie riled up over something that really isn't a big deal. "I can," I say. And then with more conviction, "I will."
"Okay. Good," Natalie shakes her head, not even bothering to look up and continuing to read over her notes, subtly reminding me that I'm disturbing her quiet study time.
"I'll leave now," I announce hastily. Natalie looks visibly relieved.
"See you later. Have fun."
"I will. Study hard." She spares me one of her rare half-smiles, to let me know that things are okay between us.
At first it's relief I experience when I finally exit the room and shut the door behind me. Then it's stupidity I feel. What am I going to do? I don't want to go downtown by myself and everyone's too busy studying for finals to go with me-Natalie…Sarai…Parker Sinclair…Karen; I was even so desperate as to ask Taylor Wincraft from Ryder House. But she's too cool for me, so of course she wouldn't go to a juvenile thing like a Christmas tree lighting. I finished my last exam this morning and am ready for a little fun, but everyone else has a few more left to go, so I'm stuck partying by myself. And what a lively party that is. Yay.
Actually, there IS one more person left that could possibly go with me. I don't think Barron has an exam tomorrow. This morning I saw him coming out of Rochester, the industrial engineering building. He had a huge smile on his face…accompanied by a glazed over look. He waved to me, which in a clearer state of mind, he would never have done. Anyways, I could pop over to Duffry and see if the post-exam enthusiasm has worn off yet, but I don't want to risk it. Plus, it would probably open up a whole can of worms. The long, awkward kind.
I wander down to the lounge, berating myself for not at least changing into more comfortable clothes or taking a book out from our room before hiding out in the library for the rest of the night. The lounge is deserted except for David, who's playing Mario Kart by himself.
"Hey, play against me," David directs, tossing me a controller, happy that he has a person to play against. He does a double take at my appearance.
"Going somewhere?" he asks, trying not to laugh. I ignore him, shed my jacket, hat, scarf, and mittens, and pick up the offered controller.
"What are you doing here?" I demand to know, while struggling to figure out the controller functions. David lives in Spumock House, the dorm two buildings down from mine.
"A couple of different study groups took over our lounge. Your house is the only one with an unoccupied television," he replies nonchalantly, like he hasn't just waltzed into enemy territory and claimed their television for his own purposes.
I don't bother to mention that the reason my dorm, Kelvin House, is pretty much empty is because everybody is either camped out at the library or at another dorm, with their study group. Except for Natalie, of course. That's the downside to being a Temp, a member of Kelvin House…the party is never here, it's always somewhere else, away from us boring, non-descriptive Temps.
It's not even a close game and David quickly realizes it's more fun to play against the computer than to play against me. He switches to a fighting game, one that only requires button-mashing from me and to my surprise and his, I actually beat him for three straight rounds.
"Okay," David says, switching to yet another game, "No more of that either." He looks embarrassed, like I've threatened his video game playing ability or something. I lose horribly at Bomber Man and David's ego is restored.
"So why are you dressed up like that, anyways?" David asks conversationally, while we wait for the game to reload.
"The festival downtown," I reply. I didn't bother to ask Sam, a friend of mine and David's roommate, to go because I know he's working on his comp sci program that's due tomorrow. Actually, I haven't seen the guy in a couple of days, but people tell me Sam's holed up in the computer labs, writing furiously with his fellow CSC procrastinators. And I think David would laugh at me if I go into any more specifics. Truthfully, it's really childish, but I've never seen a Christmas tree lighting before and I want to see one. But not so much as to sacrifice my dignity in front of David Gallagher.
"What festival?" David asks, oblivious as always.
"Christmas tree lighting," I mumble, really softly, hoping that he won't hear.
"Whadidjasay?" David asks, as the both of us try frantically to plant as many bombs as possible to clear the bricks that are blocking the bag of gold coins. We both concentrate and David wins again. As usual.
I thought the subject was dropped but David remembers anyways, and asks me to repeat my answer again. To my embarrassment, he switches off the game system and turns to give me his complete and undivided attention. I decide to get it over with, and tell him, focusing on the sign on the door behind his head. He's grinning like a maniac when I finally dredge up the courage to meet his eyes.
"Christmas tree lighting?" he asks, trying to hide his laughter.
"Yeah. So what?" I ask defensively, hugging my arms to myself because it's suddenly gotten colder in the room.
"Nothing," David says, leaning back in the overstuffed couch, the laughter still palpable in his voice.
"So why aren't you downtown?" David asks.
Ouch. As if one time wasn't enough.
"Couldn't find anyone to go with," I respond, trying to be as nonchalant as possible, but knowing full well that I'm failing miserably.
David rubs his jaw, like he's thinking. He hasn't shaved in a while, and is starting to grow a goatee. I think that's partly due to laziness and lack of money for razors, but I'm not too sure which one plays a bigger role. Since he broke up with Karen, bits of the pre-AVIT David has come back. The one that goes around barefoot all the time, even in the rain, singing old Disney show tunes. The hilariously funny, slightly nauseating, less academically-minded David. The one that taught me the Animaniacs' Presidents song in high school…during church.
"Why don't I go with you?" he asks.
"Really? I know it's kinda stupid but I've never seen one before…you don't have to come if you don't want to…I mean, you probably have an exam tomorrow and should stay in and study-"
"Nope," David interrupts my babbling, grinning like a lunatic again. "I got my physics exam waived, so I'm a free man."
I look at him blankly. "Ask you what?" I question, confused.
"Ask me if I want to go to the festival downtown."
I blink. "I thought you said you could go."
David frowns. "That's not the point," he counters impatiently, "Ask me if I want to go so I know you actually want me there and I haven't just invited myself along."
He does have a point; do I really want to be in the exclusive company of the obnoxious David Gallagher for such a long period of time? I might not survive the evening without breaking into my carefully hidden violent tendencies. I decide to risk it anyways, because I really want to see the lighting festival, and at this desperate time, it really doesn't matter who I'm seeing it with. I roll my eyes to let him know how stupid this is.
"David, there's a Christmas tree lighting festival downtown. Would you like to go?"
He grins brightly. "I thought you'd never ask, baby," he teases. David continues to smirk infuriatingly while watching me don my winter gear-hat, jacket, and scarf.
I hate the cold.
We make a quick stop back to David's room for a coat and then we're bumping along on the bus on our way downtown.
The bus is crowded, full of holiday shoppers and families out to enjoy the "winter wonderland" view. I'm squashed between David and a lady with four enormous shopping bags and I curse my lack of height that's causing my arm to feel numb from hanging on to the pole for too long. If it weren't for the lady's shopping bags, I would've pitched head long across the aisle four turns ago. I incline my head towards the shopping bags to acknowledge their life-saving properties as the lady climbs off the bus at her stop. Her place is taken by a couple near my age, the guy's arm around his girl's waist. I take care not to bump into them; the girl looks like the type that would scream bloody murder if I did, and the guy looks like he could beat me into a bloody pulp without much effort.
But I don't need to worry because the bus suddenly stops. I stand on my tiptoes and twist around to see what's going on.
"Traffic jam," David tells me. I glower at him, not only because of his news, but because of his height. The freak of nature is still at least a head taller than everyone on this bus. It's a wonder that he can even fit, standing up. I smile, appeased and amused, when I realize that he's actually ducking, and his broad shoulders are hunched over. That can't be too comfortable either.
We wait a few minutes longer. The couple next to me has begun a rather risqué make-out session and from the front of the bus, I can hear a baby crying. The bus driver opens the doors, to let anyone who wants to leave out, instead of waiting for the jam to clear up to go. A blast of cold air hits, and I shrink down lower, glad for the barrier of bodies blocking the icy wind.
David exhales. "Okay, let's go," he says. I look at him blankly. Is he crazy? It's gotta be below zero out there!
"I thought you wanted to go see that lighting festival, KT," he says impatiently, when he realizes I haven't budged at all.
"I do," I say.
"Well, we're going to miss it if we wait the jam out," David says pointedly.
"But it's cold," I reply, my voice taking on a whining quality.
David rolls his eyes. "No shit, Sherlock," he says, "Do you want to see the lighting or not?"
"Yes," I respond, sure my nose is frozen solid by now.
"Then let's go!" David orders impatiently.
I resignedly follow him out of the bus and on to the busy street. The street is also crowded with holiday shoppers and I bump into quite a few. David becomes impatient again, the third time he realizes I've lagged behind to stop help a lady pick up her spilled packages, courtesy of me of course, and seizes my arm and pulls me along at a pace I can barely keep up with.
I'm panting heavily, like a dog (not a pretty, but nonetheless true, comparison) when we finally arrive. Even though the crowd is huge, and we're pretty far back, I can still make out the tree clearly, even above all those tall heads. The mayor of the city mounts the podium and begins his speech about the accomplishments of this year. Even though I can't see him, I can hear him, loud and clear, and quite a few people look at me strangely when I snort at Mayor Crossbridge's declaration that "Newark's education system has made great strides this past academic year."
Great strides my ass, more like great slides, backwards, that is.
The mayor winds up his speech with a Thoreau quote, the few I recognize because it's the one printed on those awful greeting cards I receive every year from my dad and his girlfriend of the season. My mind snaps back from its state of semi-consciousness to full focus when Mayor Crossbridge announces that he will now "light the lights of the city." Just then, a cool gust of wind blows and I sneeze, my eyes watering, forcing me to close them. When I open my eyes again, I'm aware of the crowd cheering, and the previously dark tree magnificently ablaze. I can make out the little patterns of stars at the base, and the larger flower shapes (poinsettias?), around the crown.
"Pretty cool, huh, KT?" the near forgotten David asks.
I open my mouth to agree, but instead a complaint tumbles out. "I hate the cold," I gripe.
And then I realize…
"I forgot my mittens! They're still in the lounge!" Damn.
David shoots me a weird look, and grabs me by the hand. "Come on, let's walk around," he says, dragging me closer to the tree, away from the dispersing crowd.
And even though it's freezing, David is being bearable, his large hand is warm around my near frostbitten one, all of downtown really does look like a scene from a Christmas cartoon, and I can't say I regret leaving the relative warmth of the bus or my room.
Especially when David buys me a bag of peanuts, and doesn't complain when the hungry pigeons get more out of the deal than either of us.