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THE BEST WORST THINGA Memoir
By Kristen K. Brown
BALBOA PRESSCopyright © 2011 Kristen K. Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWe staggered through the dark parking lot, laughing and stumbling, the air frosty and crisp, typical of Minnesota weather two days before Christmas. My black, high-heeled boots wobbled over snow-encrusted pavement peppered with gravel that provided just enough friction to prevent a wipeout. My breath left thick plumes of condensation in the air, and I pulled my black wool peacoat, which was not even close to being warm enough, tight around me to block the shocking cold creeping under my clothing. Once again, I had sacrificed warmth for fashion, wearing a thin blouse, jeans, and no gloves or hat. For years, I had dressed inappropriately for the frigid climate, hoping to lure an unsuspecting man—and to impress other women with my fashion sense (usually unsuccessfully)—and that night was no exception.
The heat of bodies and warm breath fogged the windows as my friends climbed into Rob's red extended-cab pickup. My feet slipped off the shiny chrome step rail, the vodka-cranberry cocktails I had been overserved earlier demonstrating their effect on my coordination. Laughing, I shook my head, embarrassed. Rachel, already in the back seat, grabbed my hand to heft my one hundred and twenty-five pounds up next to her in the truck. Her cleavage-enhancing, black wrap sweater gaped open, giving me a view of more than I needed to see—although I had seen it many times in situations just like this. We had been friends since elementary school, partying together through high school, college, and into our early twenties, and we always knew what the other was thinking—which was useful when an unsavory suitor was making his move. But tonight, Jake, our third backseat mate, was an invited partner. He and Rachel had been flirting all night.
As I slid onto the gray leather seat, Jake pulled a can of Busch Light from inside his ski jacket, ready for our drive along the familiar country roads that ran through our little hometown. In front, Todd Brown, tall with blonde, curly hair, shook his head in amusement, seemingly wondering how he had ended up on a road trip with this group of misfits. Although we had all gone to the same high school, Todd and I had never talked. All I knew about him was that he had been in the class after mine and was a bit of an egotistical jock. Todd, Rachel, Jake, Rob, and I grew up in a small, rural farming community about two and a half hours west of Minneapolis, called Montevideo. Yes, Montevideo—like Montevideo, Uruguay, which is, in fact, its official "sister city." I've always found it comical that a predominantly Scandinavian farming town in Minnesota is twinned with a South American metropolis in a third-world country.
Just minutes before, my friends and I had been inside the warmth of the Hunt Bar and Grill, a hot spot in our hometown—if a farming town with a population of fifty-five hundred can have a hot spot. It was nearing closing time, and the one hundred or so people in the bar were thinking about where to go next. Holiday weekends in Montevideo always meant a reunion between those still living there and those who had left after high school. Although I was among those who had left, seven years later at age twenty-five I still thought of Montevideo as home, and I loved going out and getting crazy with everyone I hadn't seen in a while.
As we were thinking about what to do next, a buzz arose.
"Brian's having an afterbar," someone announced.
"Who's going to Brian's? I hear he has a keg," someone else said.
Brian, another friend from high school, was going to keep the masses entertained by hosting a gathering at his house for further socializing and drinking (as if we needed more of the latter). But he wasn't going to leave the bar until the last minute, while Rachel and I were ready to head out. As we discussed what our plan should be, Rob approached us.
"A couple of us are going road-tripping before heading to Brian's; want to come?" he asked, spinning his keys around his finger.
If you think road-tripping is an innocent term used to describe exactly what it sounds like—a trip on roads—you are sadly misinformed. With few entertainment options in Montevideo, the concept of "road-tripping" long ago evolved to include roadies—alcoholic beverages consumed while on said road trip, otherwise known as "bar-in-the-car" or "auto-drinking." Yes, we were aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but that added to the allure. (We're talking about twenty-somethings in a small town, remember?) Just hearing Rob propose a road trip made our eyes light up.
"Totally. We'll road-trip with you," Rachel and I replied. Buttoning my coat, I checked the pockets for my money and ID. I never carried a purse in Montevideo. You never knew where you would end up, and keeping track of a purse was just the sort of inconvenience you didn't need when an opportunity like road-tripping arose.
I got situated in my spot behind the front passenger seat, and Jake handed me one of the "secret" beers from his jacket pocket. I cracked open the Busch Light and held it down below window level as Rob pulled away from the bar en route to the dark country roads that would obscure our illicit activity. I took a sip and cringed. It was warm from Jake's coat pocket, where he had probably put it before going out that night "just in case." But I drank it anyway. That was another of the risks of road-tripping—dealing with subpar beverages desperately obtained after the liquor store closed by either swiping swill from a parent's liquor cabinet or buying lightweight 3.2 beer or wine coolers at a gas station. I leaned over the front seat as we drove, the radio cranked up, drinking, talking, and singing to AC/DC and Guns N' Roses, belting out the anthems of our youth like we were Axl Rose. When the slow songs came on, Todd and I sang together in true monster ballad style, leaning toward each other with our beer can microphones in hand, despite having just officially met.
I felt a jab in my back and looked over my shoulder to see that Rachel and Jake were no longer drinking, talking, or singing; they were kissing. And not just innocently smooching in their own little corner, but thrashing and bumping around like caged snakes, writhing all over each other and pushing against me in the process. I had seen this type of drunken make-out scene before and knew nothing could stop it once it started. I shifted forward toward Todd, our shoulders touching now. I nudged him and moved my face close to his ear so he could hear me over the music.
"Check out the lovebirds in the backseat. I think their saliva is getting on me." My cheek was so close to his mouth that I could feel his breath.
"Wow!" Todd grinned, shook his head, and took a swig of his beer, leaning closer to me. "I'm glad I'm not back there. Awkward! We should probably get to town so you don't have to sit next to that anymore." I still felt his warm breath on my face. I searched for something clever to say and tilted my head and laughed in what I thought was a seductive manner, but due to the vodka-cranberry cocktails was actually more snorting than seducing.
"Yes, please. Let's head back to the afterbar," I said to Rob, not just because I wanted out of the backseat, but because I needed to pee from all the beer and bumpy roads, and so that Todd and I could get back to our bonding over song.
As Rob turned down the next road to head back to town, something happened. One second I was leaning over the front seat facing Todd, our heads mere inches from each other to avoid the flailing bodies beside me, and the next, the space between us disappeared. We turned toward each other at the exact same moment, my brown hair brushing his cheek and his light blue eyes meeting mine for an instant. And then—I turned into a writhing snake myself. I kissed Todd right there in front of everyone. And he kissed me back!
Now, historically I have been extremely against public displays of affection in my own relationships. But something, some combination of magnetism and fate and vodka-cranberries, made me kiss a guy I barely knew while driving the back roads of our small hometown—our warm Busch Lights in hand, not spilling a drop. We pulled away from each other, giggling like preteens who have just exchanged their first kiss in the bleachers at a football game—or maybe that was just me. We looked down at our beers and took another sip. Rob was fiddling with the radio, probably disgusted by all the hormones flying around in his truck without any to go around for him.
After the kiss, Todd and I maintained that connection to each other. We talked over the seat for the fifteen-minute trip back to town, and when we got to Brian's house for the afterbar, no one else mattered. It was as if just the two of us were there, not forty other people, and we wondered why we had never even talked with each other all these years.
The party wound down, and we suddenly realized it was three in the morning. While we weren't far away from our own childhood beds, neither of us felt sober enough to drive, nor did we want to leave each other, although we didn't say that out loud. So we both opted to stay overnight at Brian's house. We could easily have snuck into a bedroom together, but we didn't. Our moral compasses and something blooming inside both of us prompted us not to. I took the couch while Todd stretched out his long, lanky body on a recliner nearby. Even though I didn't have all my wits about me, I remember this as if it happened just last night. I curled up on the couch with my boots still on, my eyes shut, playing coy and pretending to sleep yet fully aware of Todd's presence just feet from me. As I started to doze, I sensed him moving off of his recliner, but I kept my eyes shut, not wanting him to know I was "monitoring" him.
My heart pounded in my chest.
Was he going to come over and make a move on me? Part of me hoped so.
My mind raced, working through the possible scenarios of the next moment: Maybe he was just getting up to go to the bathroom. Maybe he was going to the kitchen to get a late-night snack. Or maybe in a minute we would be making out like crazy teenagers!
A second later, I heard a gentle swoosh of air and fabric and felt a fuzzy blanket being gently tucked around me. Then Todd's hands lifted my feet, slowly eased my boots off, and lightly covered my feet with the blanket before tiptoeing back to his recliner. I feigned sleep, my heart swelling with emotion. This guy was someone special and I knew at that very instant that I would marry Todd Brown.
Chapter TwoThe next couple of days went by quickly as I celebrated Christmas with my family, and soon I was back at work in Minneapolis. But my mind wasn't on my job, it was on Todd. He worked for a bank as a mortgage lender on one side of the city, and I was a national accounts manager for a small gift bag company on the opposite side of town. That first day back at the office, I felt like a schoolgirl, wondering if Todd would call. I checked e-mail, kept my old-school giant cell phone on, and stayed near my desk just in case he called me at work.
By the end of the day, I was convinced he wasn't going to call and that our kiss and subsequent connection had just been a vodka-cranberry/ Busch Light-induced moment that didn't mean anything to him. At 5:05, I picked up my bag and started down the hallway to leave the building. Just as I was about to walk out the door, I heard my office phone ring. I turned and sprinted as fast as I could back toward my cubicle, raced around the corner to my phone, and grabbed it. The line was already dead. Crap! How could I blow it like that? I knew in my gut it was him. I stood there for a moment, catching my breath and cursing myself for missing his call. Dejected, I started to leave once more, but I saw the message light on the phone begin to blink. I anxiously picked up the phone and dialed the voice mail code, crossing my fingers that it wasn't just a work contact.
"Hi, Kristen, it's Todd Brown. You gave me your card but it only had your work number on it, so not sure how else to get ahold of you." (Those damn vodka-cranberries again!) "I wanted to see if you maybe wanted to grab a bite to eat this week sometime. Anyway ... so call me if you get a chance."
"Aaaahhhhh!" I was squealing like a lovesick teenager, jumping up and down, waving my hands in the air. Fortunately, the coworkers who sat near me had already left for the day. Why was I acting like this? What was wrong with me? Since when was I a giddy, sappy girl? My mind suddenly kicked into typical Kristen over analytical mode. Okay, game plan time. What should I do? Do I call him back right now, or will that seem too desperate? But if I wait, will it seem like I was screening my calls? Do I call from home tonight? What if he's busy? Do I wait until tomorrow so I don't seem too anxious? Or will that give him enough time to fall completely out of love with me? What? Love? Who said anything about love? That's just crazy; we had a total of five hours of interaction time!
So I waited ... the fifteen minutes it took me to get home. Then I practically sprinted up to my apartment, threw down my bag and jacket, and grabbed the cordless phone off the wall. I sat down on the edge of my lavender (yes, lavender) couch and stared at the phone in my right hand. In my left hand I held the scrap of paper with Todd's phone number. I had been carrying it in my pocket all day, so the ink was smudged and the paper was crinkled pretty badly, but I could still make out the number. But paralyzing fear kept me from dialing. I stood up and began pacing. I am a master at pacing—back and forth, back and forth—while I work out problems or situations in my mind. I walked into my bedroom, then back to the living room, through the kitchen, and into the bathroom.
I looked in the mirror, leaned against the sink, and lectured myself.
"Kristen, you can do this. Just call," I said out loud, trying to give myself a confidence-building pep talk. "The worst that can happen is he says he changed his mind and thinks you are an unattractive, crazy chick who kisses random guys in pickup trucks." Breathing deeply, I picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hello?" Todd answered.
"Umm, hi, it's Kristen ... Larson from Montevideo," I stammered. Real smooth. He obviously knows I'm from Montevideo.
"Oh, hey!" He sounded happy to hear my voice, which gave me the courage to keep talking.
"Hi. I got your message just as I was leaving the office. Sorry I missed you." I scrambled to think of something more interesting to say so he wouldn't hang up on me. I started to pace.
"Sorry I had to call you at work," he replied. I didn't have any other numbers to call you at. But I wanted to see if you'd like to get something to eat one of these nights." I could tell he was nervous. How do guys handle that pressure of asking girls out? The fear of rejection would send me right over the edge.
"Sure, that would be great. When are you thinking?" I tried to sound casual and breezy. Please say tomorrow! Please say tomorrow!
"How about tomorrow night?"
"I think that should work," I answered, trying to sound calmer than I felt. "What time do you work until?" I silently lunged towards the floor, doing fist pumps in the air.
"I should be home by six. I was thinking a little place over in Edina, called Two Guys from Italy. Want to try that?" Finally, a man with a plan. This was getting better by the second.
"Sounds good. I can come to your house, and we can go from there if that works," I suggested, but then cringed, worried it sounded a little forward. But Todd seemed thrilled.
"Yeah. Perfect. What's your e-mail so I can send you my address tomorrow?"
We exchanged information and hung up. After all that pacing, I had ended up in the guest bedroom/office perched on the edge of the daybed. I set the phone down next to me, out of breath and buzzing with adrenaline. Content, I took a deep breath and hoped for good things to come. Tomorrow night couldn't come fast enough.
Chapter ThreeAs the end of the next workday drew near, I could hardly contain my excitement. My coworkers laughed and tried to calm me down as I paced around the office, unable to concentrate, just waiting until I could go and prep for my first date with Todd. At four o'clock, I couldn't take it any more, and neither could my office mates.
Excerpted from THE BEST WORST THING by Kristen K. Brown Copyright © 2011 by Kristen K. Brown. Excerpted by permission of BALBOA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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