I stirred Saturday morning feeling the flutter of butterflies within me. At first I was perplexed, but then I remembered the night before. How could I not have still had butterflies? It hadn't even eight hours since I had been with my friend Katherine just skating. In case you can't read between the lines, we were skating and I was flirting and maybe she was too but I'm not good with picking up on that stuff.
Personally I'm horrible at the whole flirting game to begin with and then when you add trying to figure out if someone is trying to flirt with you I just give up (although it's complexity is far less frustrating than that of trigonometric identities—mostly because trigonometric identities are a requirement for school, flirting is a fifty-fifty guess at worst). But Saturday was a big day as well; another day of trying to figure out the next phase of my life. I had to get going from Auburn Massachusetts to North Adams Massachusetts to attend an open house at one of the two colleges I'm applying to, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. The tour was to start at 9:45 so my mom and I had planned to leave at 6:45.
I'll spare you all the dry details of a breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt and skip ahead about ten minutes when an envelope caught my eye. The cream colored background with a crazy but colorful pattern was hard to miss. Not many card envelopes were so distinct. It had been the work of an incredible artist with a simply pretty juxtaposition of thoughtfulness behind the giving of cards and the innocence and confusion often associated with swirls and squiggly lines.
Traveling Auburn at seven at night this time of the year is never exactly fun. With the freak October snowstorm we had only three weeks before, the roads were more difficult to navigate. With tense muscles and butterflies, I felt more pressured. I had only been to Katherine's house once, and that was in broad day light and with the assistance of a friend. Now, I was alone, avoiding the hanging branches of impending doom with a general idea of where Katherine lived within two or three houses. As I continued to drive I felt that I had passed the house and pulled over to the right. I mean, I had something to look forward too, but it can still be scary navigating in such dark conditions.
There are a few things I hate to do when in a car: One of them is to pull over in a residential area in front of somebody's house, which I did, and the other is texting, even if I am pulled over, but I regretfully had to ask Katherine if she would mind waiting outside her house because I feared I had passed it. A simple three point turn and not even one tenth of a mile later, brought me to Katherine standing outside of her house hands in her coat pockets. Suddenly the butterflies intensified as if they had consumed some sort of energy drink and my tensed muscles became weak and shaky. ComposeyourselfLance, I thought.
I smiled as she opened the door and surprised me with an envelope and a cutely packaged stack of three chocolate chip cookies contained in a small plastic bag tied at the top with a white ribbon. "Happy birthday," she cheered handing me the cookies and the envelope.
It was probably far too dark inside the car to tell but I blushed. I knew she knew that it was my birthday, but she didn't have to go as far to make me cookies and give me a card. "Aww thank you," I said in a higher pitched voice than normal. I carefully put everything in the back seat. We were already running slightly behind schedule so I would read the letter after the skating.
You're welcome," she replied as with a smile that made me melt. "Mom and Jason say happy birthday."
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at all stunned. Her mom and… her mom's long time boyfriend wishing me a happy birthday as well was not totally unusual but I had never considered this outing for my birthday.
"Well tell them I said thank you," I said slightly bewildered as I pulled off of her street. The only thought keeping me focused on the road is I'd never see Katherine again if I was too distracted by her and got us into some kind of perilous accident. It was a pretty simple concept which actually put more pressure on me, but at the same time, got the job done. Not even the Josh Turner CD playing in the car could relax me as I talked to her about how much I hated when people didn't turn off their high beams when driving on a dark road with on-coming traffic.
After only getting lost twice my mom and I arrived at MCLA for the open house. North Adams is a small town adjacent to the Berkshire Mountains which are the dominating sight of the town. I wasn't deep within the town itself. In fact, the direction we went led us directly to the college without sending us to downtown North Adams which is kind of slummy for a small town from my own personal experience having visited the college before.
The first features you see of MCLA are the dorms that are known as the Berkshire Towers. They are two towers adjacent to one another which serve as one of the areas where students dorm. The next feature that I could see were the abundant amount of blue and yellow balloons tied to railings and polls. Mom pulled over briefly to ask where we parked for the open house event. We parked in the Berkshire Towers parking lot and opened the doors only to be greeted with the bitter cold of sub forty degrees flirting with freezing. Needless to say mom and I made a dash for Murdock Hall where we were to go to get signed in and put on a tour. There was a short line that moved quickly. The process seemed simple. You tell them your name, they look through the list and highlight it, and then they give you a ticket which tells you what tour you are on and who your guide is.
I was placed into tour number four with a tour guide named Tyson, a double major in history and education with a minor in political science (coincidentally, the same disciplines my brother is taking at Clark University). He was a relatively tall man with probably about six feet and a slightly rounded frame but overall healthy. Judging by his unkempt appearance he had been up late studying or doing papers for classes. The life of an educator in the making is always filled with intense studies. We left Murdock hall to feel the cold Berkshire air once again as we made our way to the towers.
The parking lot to Horgan Arena was half filled but all front row parking spots had been taken. It didn't really matter all that much though. I pulled right into a parking spot in the back row and even amazed myself at getting between the lines that were impossible to see until the headlights were on them. Prior to picking up Katherine, I had made note to myself to remember to mention something about the stars while we were outside because they were quite visible in the cloudless sky—of course this was while I was alone getting myself into my car. I am not one to remember however, even in the amount of time we would be stuck outside waiting in line shivering in the cold night air. Well, it was partially shivering because of the cold air but part of it was trembling because I was nervous beyond all reason. Anyway, Katherine ended up mentioning something about the stars and I just wanted to smack my palm to my forehead but refrained from doing so.
"It's too bad there are too many lights for us to see them well," Katherine. It was true; the difference between my driveway and the parking lot was the addition of lights which made star-gazing a little more difficult.
"I can see one over there," I said finding one that was barely visible.
"That's a plane," she replied.
"No not that one," I chuckled shaking my head. "I know that's a plane. To the right a little bit more."
"It's a shame that the lights make it so difficult," Katherine replied.
"I could see them well from my house," I explained. "It's a shame during the summer there aren't many good days to see the stars it seems. But it gets so cold during this time of year that I tend to not go out and enjoy the view as much as I should."
We held a decently long conversation about stars and their visibility during various times of the year and from different locations that we knew until we finally reached the first set of doors we had to go through to enter the skating rink. I reached into my back pocket to pull out some money when Katherine interjected. "Put that away," she demanded.
"But I have to…"
"It's your birthday; you shouldn't be paying for anything."
"Oh come on you shouldn't have to pay for entrance and skates for both you and me," I tried to argue. "You really don't have to…"
"I'm going to win because I'm stubborn," she interrupted again.
"Put it away," she warned once more.
I reluctantly slipped my wallet into my back pocket. I wasn't going to try to argue if she wanted to pay for her own admission and rental skates but for mine too just didn't seem right. "I feel bad."
"Why should you feel bad? It is your birthday."
"You know me; it's just how I am."
"Stop feeling bad," she sighed.
I really couldn't argue any further. Indeed, she was more stubborn than I. I did have a backup plan. I'd pay for refreshments while the zamboni was out on the ice. She already spent a total of eighteen dollars to get us admitted and get our skates which compared to my projected cost of gas at about a dollar and seventy five cents at the most was just insane. I mean she had also probably spent around three dollars for my birthday card and the amount it cost for three cookies was probably minimal but there was never a need to spend that much money just because it was my birthday.
"You have gloves right?" Katherine asked.
I froze with a small amount of shame. The one thing I forgot was gloves. "No," I admitted. "But I'll be fine."
"Are you sure," she checked. "You could borrow my gloves."
Even if I wanted to borrow her gloves—I'd never have her sacrifice her gloves to me because I was an idiot; that is just wrong—her hands are smaller than mine and I'd probably end up stretching those gloves beyond belief. "I'm sure, everything will be fine." That was the truth and a lie all in the same. My hands froze up in sub sixty-five degree (Fahrenheit) weather. I am so used to it however, that it doesn't even bother me when my hands are cold (unless it's a sudden change in temperature).
We stepped in to the warm reception room of the arena then immediately made our way to the rink area that changed the temperature back to cold, but not freezing. We took our rental skates and tightened them so our ankles wouldn't be loose and when we permitted on the ice; I clutched the wall and grew more ashamed of my lack of muscle memory at the seemingly simple task I hadn't done in over three years since I had hit the back of my head in skating lessons. Even then I was embarrassed by being the oldest person taking lessons, but now I was the oldest person there clutching to the wall for dear life. As for Katherine, she waited patiently as I inched forward, one step at a time.
I had already visited the school once before, and it was all too familiar. The town of North Adams took pride to being home to the largest museum of contemporary art in the entire nation and MCLA hosted its own works of contemporary student and alumni artwork. The most notable though was some kind of animal that was made entirely out of recycled materials. I wish I could remember its name. But we continued our tour back and forth we went from one building to another. I could honestly see myself living there. Looking at all the financial aspects of this college I will probably end up going there anyway. The transition from warm to frigid kept going.
We were moving at a relatively quick pace in order to get ourselves to the indoor session of the Open House where we would be able to speak with the President, Deans and a handful of willing professors, along with representatives of certain clubs. On our way from one hall to another the cement path became increasingly narrow. Not wanting to lose her place in line a woman wearing a strapless red cocktail dress and heels stepped out onto the grass which was still wet with the sprinkle of rain from the night before. One false step into a patch of earth without grass sent her sliding down landing on her left side.
"You alright?" Our tour guide called out.
"Yup," the woman replied trying to get back to her feet.
"Do you need help," the history major asked going the extra mile to give us a quick lesson on the code of chivalry.
"No I am good," she answered getting up on her feet. As she stood she instinctively looked on the side of her body she fell on. There on the upper left thigh of her red dress was a brown mud stain that wouldn't be going away until the washing machine got hold of it. "Shit," she muttered softly.
I personally couldn't help but laugh; a dress and heals were hardly the proper attire for an open house that included a one hour tour in a school surrounded by the mountains. I don't like to judge people and I wasn't exactly judging her. As a person prone to accidents himself, I could only sympathize. She completely made a fool of herself in front of a group of about fifteen people. As a sympathizer, I could laugh.
I was actually getting pretty secure with my skating ability. Sure, Katherine could easily out skate me, but I was moving at a pretty good pace that was probably less painful to stay with. I was off the wall and I was actually making gliding strides. Of course, after being skated on for about an hour, the ice tends to get a little bit groovy, not unlike my recently rediscovered forward skating skills (Katherine loves bad puns so I had to put that in). The grooves tended to make the skating a little rougher on my balance in the knee area. Eventually, the inevitable happened; I fell. To be honest, it was actually rather graceful.
My right knee started going down and I was able to slow the fall and kept myself on one knee. The forward motion of my right side dictated me to start spinning to my left. Behind me, a group of four people were coming my way and I adjusted my body to make it easier for them to maneuver around me. Needless to say Katherine came to my aid asking if I was alright.
"Yeah, I'm good," I assured her getting back onto one knee.
One of the Ice Guards came over as part of his job to see if I needed assistance. He was probably my age plus or minus a year or two. "Need any help?" he asked.
"No, I think I'm good thank you," I replied.
"You sure?" he asked obviously not convinced.
I stood up and got back up on my feet. "Yes," I replied as he skated back to about center ice to supervise the arena once again.
Katherine and I skated forward once again debating whether we could make one more lap before the zamboni came out to resurface the ice before the next hour of free skating. The answer was no. We stopped at the first turn of the ice and headed back to the lobby to warm up and order some refreshments.
"I can pay for the refreshments," I said.
"Nope," she protested.
"Oh come on, you have done enough for me already between admission skates the card and the cookies," I countered.
"Well the cookies were from mom so those weren't from me," she replied. "And once again I am more stubborn than you."
That was a point I could not argue. She was far more stubborn than I was. "You know you don't have to," I offered as my final protest.
"It's your birthday," she replied simply.
Defeated I just replied, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she cheered smiling again. I'm such a sucker for that smile.
"I'll just have a hot chocolate," I said.
"If I ordered fried dough would you split it with me?" she asked. "I could never eat it all."
"I could," I replied. "And we can most certainly split the hot chocolate as well," I insisted, even hinting. "Are you sure you don…"
"Don't even think about it," she answered with a slight glare.
That was truly the last time I was going to bring up the nights finances. The fried dough would take a few minutes but we were given the hot chocolate. I tried to put the lid on the cup but it didn't want to cooperate. Against all logic, I pushed down harder. There is only so much pressure a cup can take before poof! I felt an uncomfortably hot sensation on the front of my left thigh. I sucked up the pain as Katherine could do nothing but laugh at me for my clumsiness.
"Ah man," I finally came out with keeping the lobby dialogue rated G. Amused, the woman behind the counter of the refreshments handed me a roll of paper towels to wipe myself, the floor and counter off with. It was the least I could do. Katherine wasted no time assisting me in the clean up while simultaneously laughing.
"You must be completely embarrassed to be with me right now," I said blushing.
"No, not at all," she assured me. "You're the one wearing it."
Indeed, there was undeniable evidence of my adventure with the hot chocolate in the form of a brown stain on the left thigh of my blue jeans. I sighed ever so slightly and apologized to the vendor for my idiocy. She was very kind about it once again pointing out, I got the worst end of the deal being completely embarrassed in front of the people in the lobby and of course Katherine. She was even so kind as to give me a replacement hot chocolate free of charge. They even took the time to put the lid on for me.
We would end up spending more time on the trip there and back than we spent in North Adams itself, but the open house was worth it. I got to meet and talk with the school's president along with students from the education club and the Allegrettos (the school's a capella group). I also had brief talk with the director of the education program who seemed less than enthused. The other professor I met was an English Professor who the President of the Education club claimed would change my life if I came to MCLA. I didn't doubt her in the least. He was enthusiastic for my passion for the English language and its literature. Truly, it was a pleasure to meet him.
A whopping two and a half hours to North Adams after waking early in the morning with the same whopping two and a half hours back with fatigue from the day's experience. We only stayed awake because of my custom-made CDs of upbeat country tunes.
The skating had certainly been enjoyable. We got back out on the ice after our refreshments and were forced to skate the other way. I kept an even pace and didn't fall again. I couldn't help but hope to come skating again.
As we made our way to my Chevy Trailblazer, we once again gazed up at the stars. Katherine is skilled at identifying constellations (well compared to me). I can find them all if I can find the big or little dipper, but I hadn't had much experience navigating the night sky this time of year. The stars had shifted in the sky due to the tilt of the Earth. I was lost trying to find constellations while Katherine struggled fighting the lights. She was able to identify some constellations and I was able to confirm them.
As more people cleared the parking lot I felt it was safe to enter the vehicle and make our exit. When we entered the car I turned on the driver's side overhead light and reached back for the card. "Where did I put the card and cookies?"
"You put them back there," Katherine confirmed.
I finally saw the envelope and grabbed it.
"It's really mushy," she said embarrassed for about the fourth time that night.
"It's alright," I assured her. "Trust me."
I opened the envelope and began reading the card. Of course the card itself was great. But what she herself had written is more worthy of mentioning.
You are a gentleman. You're deeply passionate about all you believe in. You are such an eloquent writer and your vocabulary is beautiful. You're a very good person, a very strong person. I know you're not perfect, but I still admire you. I wish you all the best this year and all the years to come. Have a very happy birthday ~ Katherine 3
I just smiled, and blushed. She truly had me by the heart. I wanted to reach across and hug her. Actually, I had wanted to give her a hug all night, but I didn't want to be so forward with myself. And now she was an awkward reach over the emergency break, and shift; I didn't want to test my luck. "Thank you," I said, somewhere between a mutter and a whisper. I didn't really know what else today. We exchanged some heartfelt flirtations and consolations that may be too personal for this piece. We both agreed however, that we should hang out again and more often. After I dropped her off at home I smiled to myself. Maybe, just maybe, she felt the same way about me as I did her.
Somehow, despite the early rising that morning for school and the late time of night it was then, the drive home was not a difficult task. I smiled as I departed from Katherine's house and made my way home. I didn't even need any help staying awake navigating the total pitch black of the post ten o'clock Auburn roads. I needed a little more help from the white line to my right as I passed a car with its high beams on.