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Journey To The Center Of Big Sky Country

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 6:16 a.m. U.S. Central Time / 7:16 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Ticking the items in her mental checklist for the dozenth time, Maureen slid behind the wheel and turned the engine. The cold rendered the ignition hesitant, but it soon cooperated. Her cache of supplies comfily occupied the passenger seat. The car was tuned, the oil was fresh, and the tank was full. It was go time.

She had a long, long drive before her. Tomorrow was the birthday of her kid sister. Then she had some time off to relax, before and after the equally unwieldy trip home. The truth was, however, she didn’t look extremely forward to the occasion. Nonetheless, it was a family function, and she was expected to put in a cheery appearance. Which meant she’d have to draw on some acting skills, she thought with a sigh. She shimmied in the seat until comfy, adjusting her coat and scarf with mitten-clad mitts. As the car began circulating warmer air, Maureen took off one mitten to slip in her Bluetooth and retrieve her cell. The sky was two-thirds cloudy, but through streamed the glow of sunrise. Call button punched, she dropped the phone in the passenger seat and shifted into drive. A few rings piped through the car’s stereo, followed by a click, a soft female voice, and a greeting Maureen didn’t expect.


Maureen paused as she pulled out to the street, furrowing her brow. She echoed the generic greeting.


“Hi?” said the voice.

“Is…this OnStar?” asked Maureen.


“…Really?…Oh, uh…I’m sorry. I could’ve sworn I dialed the right number. I didn’t think I needed a 1 before the 888.”

“Mmm, no, but, I think I see what happened. I think you accidentally misdialed. My area code’s 878.”

Maureen slowed down, picked up the phone and looked. Sure enough, there it was: 878. She rolled her eyes.

“Aw, cryin’ out loud. Damn touch-screen. That’d almost be funny if I wasn’t in such a crappy mood.”

“Oh. I’m…sorry?”

“No, I’m sorry,” lamented Maureen, making her first right turn. “I called a total stranger at a quarter after six in the morning, and probably screwed up her nice deep sleep.”

“Oh, no, no, not at all. I’m in my living room with a fresh cup of coffee right now. And it’s a quarter after seven here.”

“Really? Where are you?”

“Pittsburgh, P.A. Where’re you?”

“Juniper, Minnesota. Although, I’m in my car on the way outta town at the moment,” said Maureen, smoothing a palm down her yawning face. “Heading towards Minneapolis right now…then to Montana. ‘Course, that’s assuming I don’t get lost. I mean, I think I know my way pretty well, I just thought I’d double-check with OnStar. Well, guess I better let you go. Sorry to bother you.”

“You’re not bothering me,” the mystery voice quickly asserted.

“Oh, please.” Maureen decelerated for the neighborhood speed humps. “You can tell me the truth. I bother everyone sooner or later.”

“No, really, not in the least,” her misintended callee insisted. “You didn’t wake me up, and you’re honestly not bothering me. Seriously, Miss, you may not know me, but I’m single, I live on my own, and…I go out pretty often, but I don’t get to meet a lot of people. It’s not that there’s something wrong with me. I’m a perfectly sweet, attractive, lovely 37-year-old woman. Sometimes I just find myself craving a bit of human interaction’s all.”

Stop sign number one. “Hm. Same age as me.”

“No kidding. What’s your birthday?”

“August 16th. What’s your name?”

“Heh! Good point. I’m Dawn.”

Dawn, huh? thought Maureen, watching the sun just begin to peek over the horizon. How coincidental.

“I’m Maureen.”

“Nice to meet you. And my birthday’s May 3rd.”

“Ye—and it’s Maureen, by the way. Not Mo. I know you didn’t call me that. I just happen to hate that nickname. With or without the silent ‘e.’ I am not a Three Stooge, nor am I a Pep Boy.”

“Ha! Picture gotten; Maureen it is.”

“Thank you, Dawn. That actually means more to me than you might think.” Stop sign two, and a left onto Jefferson Drive.

“…Hm. Y’know, I was just gonna hang up before, but…well, I mean, now we’ve introduced ourselves, and…I, uh…I dunno, Dawn, I…I actually kinda like talking to you so far, and, uh…yeah. Is this weird?”

“Well, it’s certainly unusual; this sorta thing doesn’t happen every day. But I’m finding it pretty interesting. I mean, I’m just sitting here in my jammies with my Folgers. And you’re…I guess, driving in your car, like a thousand miles away. And normally, right now on a day like this, I’d probably have the tube flipped on, reading the paper, blah blah. But I can do that anytime.”

Maureen’s facial muscles turned upwards for the first time, into a hint of a smile. She genuinely liked this lady’s voice. It was smooth, kind, and even rather sensual. And it was frankly nice to speak to someone escort şişli with no semblance of a goofy—to Maureen’s ear—Midwestern accent. She couldn’t help but wish her voice sounded more like this. She threw a sigh. Dawn paused.

“Hey, it’s…none of my business, of course, Maureen, but, um…everything okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m just…tired…” Maureen yawned. “Could’a used a little more sleep, but screw me.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Hope you got a pick-me-up handy.”

“Ah, yeah, I’ll be fine,” she assured, taking her next right on Dominion Parkway. “I’ve got water, Red Bull, energy bars, a couple sandwiches…and there’s places to grab a cup of coffee, som’n’ else to eat. Just wish I was more excited about where I’m going.”


“Yeah…” Maureen pawed her face, removed her mitten, breathed on her palm and rubbed her nose warm. “Tomorrow’s my little sister’s birthday party. Now, I know, I know, birthday parties are SUPER-‘fun,’ whether the birthday girl’s three or thirty-three. Eh, in my sister’s case it’s thirty-three. The…thing is, I…don’t really enjoy my family gatherings that much.”

“Aw, that’s a shame.”

Maureen encountered her first red light. Businesses popped into view: a shopping center, a day care, a gym, a warehouse, though none had yet opened their doors for the day.

“Well, here’s the thing. Or, things, rather. For lack of a better word, my sister is…well…goddamn friggin’ perfect.”

“Oh my.”

“She’s…gorgeous, she’s nice, she’s smart, she’s got a cool job, a beautiful house, tons of friends, a handsome doll of a husband who’s just an angel, a lovely baby daughter, a son on the way…you get the idea?”

“I believe I do…”

“Con, verse, ly…” Maureen went on, overenunciating each syllable. “Big sis, Maureen Coale, is…average-looking at best, kinda on the anti-social side, less than erudite, works at a mall kiosk, can barely keep her head above water in a studio apartment, is basically unlikable, invisible, isolated, unhappy…see where I’m going with this now?”

“Awww…I’m so sorry, hon.”

“Here’s the best part: I moved here some years ago,” Maureen proceeded, turning onto Juniper Street. “We’re originally from Helena. They still live there, my sister and our folks. That’s where I’m heading for her party tomorrow. So after they had me, my parents wanted another kid, and they had trouble for a while. My Mom almost miscarried her, then when she went into labor, she breached her. But eventually they were able to deliver her okay. She turned out just fine. And Mom and Dad were sooooo happy…they called her their little ‘miracle.’ And they named her—drumroll, please—Helena.”

“I see. Well, that’s quite lovely, though I can see how that’d make you feel their love skews in Helena’s favor.”

“Well, thank you! Someone actually gets it for a change!”

“Well, I’ve always been one to try and validate each different point of view.”

“So it’s always been good ol’ Maureen who’s gotten all the mental issues and personal problems handed down to her, instead of positive characteristics, thank ya so much. Mincing squat…I’m a pathetic mess.”

“I know that’s untrue.”

“I know you’re wrong.”

“Forgive me.”

“No, no, that’s okay; actually, that was wrong of me to say.” Sigh… “I’m always wrong.”

“Aw, Maureen…”

“No, no…it’s okay, Dawn. It’s not self-deprecation if it’s true.” She maneuvered a roundabout 180°, continuing the same direction. “And to illustrate but one of my issues—well, actually two—like I told ya, Helena’s got a hundred friends. Which means there’s gonna be a bazillion people at her house tomorrow. Lotsa fun for Maureen, who has social anxiety and gets overwhelmed by crowds. Yay!”

“Oh, dear…sucky situation.”

“So anyways, this trip’d ideally take a little under 24 hours. And while driving is one of the very few things I’m good at, stupid traffic’s gonna push it upwards of thirty. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: why not just not go.”

“Actually, I w—”

“I’ll tell you why not. Because if I didn’t, I’d never hear the goddamn end of it from Mom and Dad. Which compels me to really consider which is worse: a year’s worth of parental disappointment, or half a paycheck’s worth of gas to torture myself at a wall-to-wall-packed birthday party. So tell me, my friend, which do you think is worse?”

“Eh, well, quite frankl—”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not fair to throw that in your face. Y’know what, Dawn, I don’t wanna make you uncomfy or put a damper on your day. So if I bum you out too much, or you get tired of me, you can hang up. Hypothetically. I’m not saying I want you to, but it won’t hurt my feelings. Believe me, I’ve been disappointing people my whole life. I’m used to it.”


“My gosh, Maureen, I think you’re gonna make me cry.”

Red light. “See? I’m a raincloud. My name should be Debbie Downer.”

“No, no, I meant that…well…this is just something about me. kağıthane escort I get to caring about folks real easy after just talking to them a little while. I love meeting all the different people I can. Like I said, it doesn’t happen that often.”

Green. “Oh…well, that’s really nice,” Maureen told her, slipping on her sunglasses. “I wish I was you. And not just ’cause you’re snug and cozy indoors in your jammies. There’re lotsa times I wish I was just…anything besides me.”

“Awwww…Maureen, hon, you’re gonna break my heart. And I’m not saying that to be the least derisive or sarcastic. I mean it.”

“Well…thank you. And, I’ll be honest, Dawn: it is actually kinda nice to talk to someone who’s also just hanging by herself. One on one. I don’t mind being in groups of, oh…up to six or eight? But you go upwards of that, I kinda gotta get outta there.”

“It can be a bit much.”

“Right?? And if I’m around just two other people—so there’re three of us total—guess which two, without fail, will always end up talking to each other, and which one’ll end up left out?”

“That stinks.”

“Well, it’s not like the other two deliberately omit me; it’s just the way it—parenthesis, always, close parenthesis—happens.”

“Aw, Maureen, I’m sure you’re a cool, interesting person. I’m sure there’re lotsa folks who’d like to talk to you, or hang out with you.”

“Mm. Well, this is the point where the bitter, cynical part of me’d say, oh, like you’d want to. But we kinda actually are, so…”

“Unfalse. Please pardon me for saying so, but I think you’re being overly hard on yourself.”

“Maybe. But it’s tough to explain my rationale without making my life sound like one big sob story. Y’know, maybe that’s enough about me for now. Why don’t, uh…why don’tcha tell me about you?”

“Oh. Golly. Well, eh…gee, where do I start. I was…born and raised here—in Pennsylvania—had a pretty run-of-the-mill childhood…”

Maureen slowed toward a red light in a turn lane, and flipped on her blinker, listening attentively.

“…I work in a therapy office, though there was a whole lotta stuff I wanted to be at various points in my life: a ballerina, a teacher…one of Josie’s Pussycats, Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel…then either Cagney or Lacey. Oh yeah, that’s another thing about me: I watch a lotta TV.”

Maureen smirked and nodded, starting to feel a bit warmer.

“Let’s see…besides TV, I also really like being outside, riding my bike, web surfing, trying every restaurant I can, listening to CDs—music and stand-up comedians—reading, organizing stuff…and…if those last two made me sound like a nerd, it’s ’cause I kinda am.”

“Hm! Well, you’ll get no judgment passed by me, Maureen Coale, Miss Dork Queen 1980. Asterisk: not a real title, by the way.”

“You don’t say. Hee hee…okay, well, then…I wasn’t sure about mentioning this part, but…believe it or not, part of me does still enjoy the occasional video game, comic book, Ren fair, and…even a sci-fi convention or two. Yes, I’m a geek, and deep down, proud of it.”

Maur giggled. “Really?” she asked. “Well, maybe there was a Dork Queen of Minnesota and Pennsylvania at the same time.”

“Oh, I think there’s a complete fifty of us representing the country, my friend.”

A pause settled. Neither said anything for a moment. Maureen drove, passing and being passed by all makes and models of vehicle both in production and still drivable. Interspersed were a gang of bikers, pickup trucks, and commercial 18-wheelers. Her compass indicated she was heading northwest, and the thermostat read 23°F. Now that the sun was up, she looked to the sky. Still cloudy.

“Hey, uh, Dawn?…I know it was probably just a casual thing, and I don’t wanna make you think I’m weird for asking this, but…would…you really say I’m your friend?”

“Uh, hm. Well, numero uno: sí. Numero dos: no hablo español, so switching back to ingles now. Number three: who says ‘weird”s a bad thing? I’m super weird, and super proud of it! I’m just a big ol’ cute, goofy weirdo!”

“I suppose. Dunno if I’m weird, normal, creepy or what…but whatever I am, I’ve never exactly been real proud of it.”

“Aw, Maur, cut yourself a break. As we’ve been talking so far…I like you the way you are. Uh, pardon my accidental poetry.”

Maureen smiled. Her body, heart and soul warmed more.

“…You really like me?”

“Sure. To be fair, it doesn’t take all the world’s work to get me to like someone. Vice versa’s a bit of a different story.”

“Well, thus far, Dawn, I like you too.”

“Why, how fantastic! I think you just made my day.”

“…Huh. Well, Dawn, I’ll tell you, the first thing that came to mind when you said that was, ‘Wow, also doesn’t take much to make your day, does it.’ Y’know, I used to try to be sarcastic to be funny, ’cause I foolishly thought that’d get people to like me. But eventually I figured out I was just coming off as nasty and hostile.”

“Meh. escort ataköy At least it’s good to learn those things, so you get to grow and be a better person. Not saying ‘you’ to mean specifically you, Maureen; anyone. We’ve all got our flaws, trust me. Wanna hear about mine?”

“Uh, very much so, yeah. It’d make me feel better about myself if people shared their own issues and faults with me. Since most don’t feel inclined to, and I generally see things going okay for them, it’s easy for me to think their lives’re perfect. Even though I know deep down they can’t be. But I still can’t see anything wrong with ’em. And since I’m so self-absorbed, and all too aware of everything wrong with me…I can’t help but compare myself.”

“Awww…you poor thing. Again, no meanness or sarcasm on my part. Please don’t think I’m giving you a hard time saying that.”

“I know, Dawn. Thanks. So, uh…your flaws?”

“Heh! Okay, well, um…oh! Here’s one. I’m clingy. And needy. Like I told you, I don’t meet people that often, so when a chance for a new friendship comes along, I leap. Sometimes I feel like I scare people away. Also, I can’t cook worth a lick. That’s why I eat at restaurants so much. I don’t have any real creative or artistic talents. I’m always amazed and frankly jealous of people who’re so good at those things. There’s stuff I’m good at, that I guess kinda ‘matters,’ but it’s…I dunno, pretty dull. I’m better at sports than drawing or painting or playing an instrument. I’ve never been great at love or relationships either. Seems like every woman I date dumps me, and sometimes I can’t even figure out why. I am pretty good at saying it’s their loss, though, and getting back on the horse.”

Maureen perked up. “You’re a lesbian?”

“Yyyyeah…does that pose a problem?”

“No! No! Just…just the opposite!” Maureen insisted. “I’m a lesbian too!”

“Whoa!” chuckled Dawn. “That is so cool! What’re the odds?!”

“Not just cool,” said Maureen, shaking her head. “That’s…awesome. Dawn, if I can confess something to ya…just between you and me: outside of Helena and our parents, my relatives and co-workers don’t even know I’m gay. And even Helena, Mom and Dad tend to forget, it feels like. I dunno if they don’t…want it to be true, per se, or just don’t think it’s that big a deal. But I don’t even wanna consider coming out to my workmates. It feels like they think I’m unapproachable enough already.”

“Oh, I know. People who’ve never had to deal with it don’t understand how tough it can be. I’d like to think they can at least imagine and try to appreciate it, though. Like, I’ve never smoked. But I’ve heard smokers talk about how incredibly hard it is to quit. So I take their word for it, and empathize with anyone who’s got a proverbial monkey on their back. I’ve also never given birth. And after hearing women talk about how excruciating it is, I’m not in a hurry to do that any time soon either.”

“Ho-ho! Tell me about it. So you don’t have any kids?”

“Nope! Just a goldfish and a parakeet.”

“Aw. I thought about getting a pet. But it wouldn’t be real responsible of me, barely being able to support myself.”

“Yeah…I have a pretty nice apartment. But I don’t take home much more than I need for it and my little companions. I’ve got some nice pictures and knickknacks here and there. But not a helluva lot more than that.”

“Mm. Betcha still make more than me.”

“Well, I won’t argue. But I’ll bet you have a lot more going for ya than your job, Maur.”

“Oh, c’mon.”

“No, I mean it. Hey—in fact, you wanna do something with me? It’s kind of a little game.”

“What’s ‘at?”

“Well, it’s a sorta social experiment. It’s not really based on any hard science, it’s mostly just meant to be fun. And to entertain your friends. What you do is, you put your name and your birthdate into this web site, and it runs a program, and it spits out some cool little characteristics and things about ya. Wanna try it?”

A bit thankful Dawn couldn’t see her face, Maureen furrowed her brows. She didn’t want to say what she really thought of this weird little idea. It sounded a bit like a horoscope, which Maureen felt were rather silly and absurd. But Dawn was trying to do something nice for her, it seemed, and Maureen didn’t want to squelch it or hurt her feelings. So she agreed.

“Well…I guess. I mean, I suppose it can’t hurt. And you said it’s just basically for fun, right?”

“Right! Okay, so lemme bring up the site…here we go. Now I’ll start with your first name…M-A-U-R-E-E-N?”

Maureen headed towards the exit for Interstate 94. “Yup.”

“A’righty…can I ask what your middle name is?”

“Karen. K-A-R-E-N.”

“‘Key-dokey…and your last name?”

“Coale. C-O-A-L-E.”

“Tee-rific. And, what was your d.o.b. again?”


“Fantastic…and the last thing I need’s three words you’d use to describe yourself.”

“Oh.” This part seemed to lend the experiment credibility, even if it deflated the “magic” slightly. She was unsure if the “result” was influenced by positive or negative words, but thought she’d go with positive. She was making an effort to be more optimistic lately.

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