Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 2

She said …

I was sitting at my desk, drumming my fingers on the textbook I had just finished reading. It was the beginning of the awkward few weeks of school between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I was bored. Life was going to get insanely hectic with finals in a couple weeks, but for now, I was still trying to talk my body out of its post-Turkey Day haze and enjoy a week of peace before madness took over. So, I did what I always did when I was bored; I strolled across the lounge of my suite to the room diagonal mine and flopped down on the floor.

I spent a lot of time on the floor of Emilie’s room. With me strewn out across the small floor space and Emilie perched on her desk chair, we always had our best talks. Emilie was so used to me letting myself in and taking my place on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, that she didn’t even look up from pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

“I’m bored.” I started counting the ceiling tiles.

“Well, I’m just on my way out to go watch a movie with some friends. You should come.” Emilie turned toward me. Still counting the tiles, I weighed the options. Stay in my room all evening, or go watch a movie? The choice was simple.

“Hmm … alright. Lemme go change.”

A few minutes later, we were stepping out of the bluster cold and into the Bible Building. Because guys and girls are not allowed in each other’s dorms, the prime movie-watching locations were the small Collaborations Rooms on campus, complete with wall-mounted widescreen monitors.

“Who are we meeting, anyway?” Before Emilie could answer, she pushed the door open. The guy closest to the door turned and looked up at us. His brown eyes looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen him before. But then again, it was a small campus. I’d seen pretty much everyone before. Even so, as he offered Emilie and me seats, I couldn’t shake the notion that I knew him from somewhere.

He said …

“Have a seat, Em. Hey, I’m Alex,” I said, extending the hand of friendship to the foreign creature. She timidly introduced herself as Jess, and I offered her the seat between Emilie and me. Ryan tipped his hat to her, Gabe gave her The Friendly Eyes over the magazine he was reading, and Dave grunted in her direction.

“Pinball’s the game. Emilie and I are left and right flipper; you can be the launcher.” Jess stared at me blankly, obviously completely lost. Emilie and I rolled our eyes at each other—so naïve.

Emilie was leaving for the NAIA National Volleyball Championship in Colorado tomorrow, so those of us relaxing in the Collaboration Room were trying to absorb as much Emilie Time as possible. It was no time at all before Emilie and I were frustrated with Jess (she was really struggling with the Pinball launcher), I had bitten Jess’ finger at least once, Gabe had read through his entire magazine, Ryan and Dave were fed up with studying, and the Bible Building was closing for the night.

“It’s closing already?” Emilie questioned. “But we never even watched The Goonies!” But there wasn’t any sound of remorse in the tone of her voice. She was just smiling in Jess’ direction.

The security guard kicked us out of the building, and we huddled around each other like football players at a pep rally … or maybe volleyball players. Our voices carried into the night as we hooted and hollered, shouting sports-related words of encouragement to Emilie. We each gave Emilie a hug, shook hands with Jess, and left the two girls at their dorm.

“You know,” I pondered, as the four of us guys headed back to our dorm on the other end of campus. “We’re going to have to find other ways to amuse ourselves for the next week.”

“That’s true,” Gabe continued. “Without Emilie and Kylee around, two members of our Wolf Pack will be missing.”

Dave and I pushed open the door to our room, threw our backpacks on the couch, and plopped down into our respective chairs. “What are your thoughts on this Jess character?” Dave asked.

“Well, I think she may be a pretty good stand-in for Emilie while she’s in Colorado,” I responded. “But I’ll get back to you on that.” I spun around in my desk chair and opened Facebook. Jess Rathburn, I typed into the search bar. She was holding a light pole and wearing a black peacoat in her profile picture.

Jess' Profile Picture

My mouse hovered over the “Add Friend” button. Not knowing that she had been at Pyhäinpäivä, I thought I had only just met Jess tonight. Did I really know her well enough to “Friend” her?

I clicked the button before allowing myself to dwell on a few strange notions that were beginning to surface. She must have been online, because she confirmed my request almost immediately. Still feeling particularly forward, I opened up Facebook Chat and clicked on her name.

Alex Laird: Hey. We’ve met, like, once, which practically constitutes a friendship. Emilie is cool, and she seems to think you’re alright, and I thought you were pretty alright when I met you tonight. So, I added you. Thus ends the story of how we became Facebook Friends.
Jess Rathburn: Well, “Hello” to you too. Thanks for the offer of friendship. I guess I accept … Well, I already did.

The quickest way to my heart was through sarcasm, and Jess proved to be sarcastic and amusing over the next hour and a half. We bonded over our mutual friendship with Emilie, plans of bank heists and car thievery (we needed money and transportation to visit Emilie in Colorado), and the proper technique for attaining invisibility (which we thought might come in handy during the bank heist).

Alex Laird: I have a proposition for you.
Jess Rathburn: I’m not interested until I get an apology for you biting my finger.
Alex Laird: We can skip the pleasantries for now. Here’s the deal: you need new friends, and we need someone to replace Emilie while she’s gone this week. You seem like a pretty alright person, so I’m speaking for the group and requesting that you join us for dinner tomorrow night.
Jess Rathburn: Still waiting on that apology …
Alex Laird: Alright, fine. Dear Jess, I’m sorry for biting your finger. In all honesty, it didn’t even taste that good. I don’t mean that in a rude sort of way, because I don’t think fingers are supposed to taste good, so don’t take offense to that … This apology is going south. Anyway, please forgive me for biting your finger. Love, Alex.
Jess Rathburn: Apology accepted. And the dinner invitation as well.

It took a lot to muster a fake apology out of me, but this girl I barely knew managed to do it. It was strangely easy to talk to her, but I hated the barrier of a chat client. For some reason I was feeling oddly selfish—I suddenly wanted to get to know her without the rest of the group around.

Alex Laird: Also, I’m probably going to be studying in The Hive tomorrow afternoon before dinner. You’re welcome to join me, if you like.
Jess Rathburn: Maybe I will. Oh my word, it’s almost 1am! I have class in the morning. I should get to bed.

I logged off Facebook and got ready for bed. I had just spent several consecutive hours hanging out and chatting with a girl I barely even knew but had a lot of fun being around. I knew I wasn’t looking for anything more than a friendship, but Jess seemed like a unique and genuine individual; someone I’d love to be friends with. Of course, I could never let her know that. I’d be sure to play it up that she was merely a stand-in for Emilie for the next week. Who says girls are the only ones that can play Hard to Get?