I snuggled closer to the warm body beside me and pulled the blankets over my head to block out the morning’s invasive light. My mouth was filled with cotton and every heartbeat echoed in my head. Alana didn’t normally let me drink enough to feel like this, so the feeling was a vague memory from my college days. She moved beside me to crawl out of bed.
“No, Al, stay a while.” I reached for her unsuccessfully.
“Not Al, honey. It’s Leah.” Her voice was soft, and not the least bit angry. I shot up in the bed. It made me dizzy. I tried to focus on her. She was tying on a fuzzy pink bathrobe, and even though she was rumpled, she looked fresh. I’d lived with Alana long enough to know that even though the bathrobe did nothing for her, it was hiding a smokin’ bod, and despite the mashed down look of her hair, she was very pretty. I tried to take in my surroundings, but as the room was spinning at little, I struggled.
Closing one eye to help me focus, I saw I was in a sparsely decorated bedroom. One lonely posted was tacked to the wall – one of those pre-Raphaelite deals with the princess and the knight. The duvet was covered in something that must have come from IKEA. It look like a child had attacked it with markers.
“I, uh, I’m sorry?” It was the best I could do.
“You told me all about her last night. I didn’t realize people still ran away to California in this day and age. Weird, eh? Anyhow, I was just going to get you a glass of water. I lost count after your 12th tequila shot.”
“That explains the marching band in my head.”
“I don’t imagine you remember much else? I get black spots from tequila.”
“Yeah. Voids in my memory.” She was smirking at me. I have to admit, I was a little intrigued. Going home with strange women was never my style. Going home with strange women in foreign countries was way off. Not that Canada was really foreign, but still.
“Right. Yeah. I remember the bar after the game. And I remember you buying me a Bud and making fun of me,” I trailed off, trying to recall the rest of the night, “and the beginning of the tequila shots. What happened to the guys?”
“Your friends? They hopped a cab at some point. You know, none of you sounded like what I expected you to sound like.” She walked into the bathroom and ran the water.
“Well, I expected, I dunno, Fargo or something.” She laughed and brought me a glass of water.
“That’s North Dakota. I’m from Minnesota.”
“Whatever. So when is your flight?” She dismissed the difference with a wave of her hand.
“8:30.” It never crossed my mind to ask her how she knew I was flying home this morning.
“I hope you had trip insurance then, sunshine. It’s after ten.” She nodded toward her alarm clock. I glanced at it, to confirm what I knew was inevitable.
“I am gonna kill them.”
“It’s hardly your friend's fault.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not in some strange woman’s house, with no clue of how you got there, no recollection of what was probably really terrible sex, and no way to get back to your own country!” I was a little panicked. “And it goddamn figures! I let them convince me that coming here to see the Wild play Edmonton was a great idea. ‘It’s not really a foreign country, Erik, they speak the same language, and it’s only a couple hours on the plane.’ ‘You need to experience life, Erik. It’s the safest trip in the world. Hockey game and home again.’ Goddammit!!” I punched the pillow.
Leah had sat back down on the edge of the bed and was giving me that smirk of hers again.
“We didn’t have sex.”
“Are you sure? Because if we did, I think I’ll need to apologize for more than just not remembering where I was and who I was with.” I looked her in the eyes, searching for the lie. All I got was a wicked twinkle and the knowledge that her eyes were an intriguing olive green.
“No sex. You weren’t really in any condition. Look, get dressed. I’ll take you to the mall and we can get your ticket changed.”
“Then why were we in bed together?”
“I never said we didn’t make out.” She laughed and disappeared into the rest of house.
“The next flight I can get you on is at 6:30, connecting through Calgary, Vancouver, and Denver.” The travel agent was young and hot. I was beginning to notice a trend with these Canadian girls.
“Sure.” I handed over my credit card and checked the clock over her head. I had 6 hours to get to the airport, but to her credit, Leah was still hanging around. I considered asking her to take me to the airport, but dismissed it. I didn’t want to sit around the airport for six hours waiting. Surely there would be a shuttle. West Edmonton Mall was supposed to be the biggest mall in Canada.
“Oh.” The tone in the travel agent’s voice was disheartening.
“Oh?” I asked.
“Well, it appears the Edmonton leg of that flight is overbooked. I can confirm you on that flight from Calgary, but not from Edmonton. Let me see what else I can find.” She went back to tapping on her keyboard and squinting at the monitor. She pulled her glasses off, absently, and cleaned them.
“Is there an earlier flight into Calgary I can get on?”
“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Olafson, everything is booked up. Hmm. I can get you on the same flight on Tuesday though, connecting through Calgary, Vancouver and Denver.”
“Is there any way you can get me to Vancouver today?” I clenched my hands in my coat pocket and counted to ten in my head to calm myself.
“No sir, all the remaining flights to Vancouver connect through Calgary today.” She smiled sympathetically at me. I wanted to smash my head into the table. Leah sat down beside me.
“Calgary is only about 4 hours from here. Want me to drive you down?” She offered.
“Are you kidding me?” I was dumbstruck.
“Not at all. Give me gas money, and I’ll drive you down.” She shrugged. I looked back to the travel agent and nodded. Her fingers clacked away on the keyboard again and the printer behind her began to whir to life.
“Book me out of Calgary, please.” I looked back to Leah, “do we have time to stop at that electronics store we saw on the way in? I promised my sister an iPod for Christmas.”
“As long as you know what you’re looking for.”
“Mr. Olafson? Here are your tickets, sir. If you’ll just sign the credit card receipt.” The travel agent handed me a pen, and I signed the next six hours of my life into Leah’s hands.
We walked into what was apparently the Canadian version of Best Buy, a store called Future Shop. A perky girl with a nose ring and too much eye make-up on approached me.
“How can I help you?”
“I need an iPod for my sister for Christmas.”
“Right this way.”
She led me toward a display that was brimming with mp3 players of all types. I looked for the telltale Apple and found that half of them were iPods. I closed my eyes and sighed. Nothing was going to be easy today. Looking back at the display I was disappointed to find I hadn’t been seeing double.
“I’ll be right back.” Leah whispered in my ear.
“So what kind of iPod did you want to get for your sister?”
“Uh. How about I just look around for a second?”
“Sure.” She stepped back to the sales counter and started joking around with her coworkers. I starred blankly at the display in front of me for a moment and was just about to give up when Leah rematerialized at my side and handed me a Styrofoam cup.
“Booster Juice. It’ll help your hangover.” I took a sip, cautiously. It looked a little froo-froo to me and I was somewhat embarrassed to be seen with the bright yellow and pink cup. The salesgirl came back. I could have sworn she eyeballed my drink and smiled.
“Any luck deciding?”
“Well, no. Which one holds the most music?” I was completely out of my element. I’m probably the only man in the world who doesn’t get wood from electronics. I’d paid a fortune to have some snot-nosed know-it-all come set up my home theatre. He’d made condescending comments the whole time he was in my basement.
“Probably this one. It has an iTunes wi-fi music store, widgets and tft lcd display including accelerometer.” She held up a black shiny model.
“A tufty why-fie with a whaterometer?” I didn’t understand a word the girl had said to me.
“No, an iTunes wi-fi music store, widgets and tft lcd display including accelerometer.” She said it slowly and giggled at the end of her sentence.
“Is it possible to get that in English?” I asked her. I looked at Leah, who was smirking, “I didn’t realize Albertans spoke French.”
“I am speaking English.” The sales girl flipped her hair and rolled her eyes at Leah.
“You might want to try Hockey Jock.” Leah offered with a shrug.
“Right… It’s very shiny. It holds lots of music. You can even order music from the internet with this iPod without involving your computer.” She said slowly and winked at Leah. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“Right.” I shook my head and smiled, despite myself.
“Did I mention it was shiny?”
“Yes, fine. That one will be fine.”
“Great. I’ll grab one from the back and meet you at the till.”
“You’re an utter snob, Leah. Hockey jock?” I snorted. Leah laughed.
“I went to university with Carson. She was an applied computer science major, and basically tutored everyone through the course. I was just teasing you a little with an old joke between us.”
“If she’s so smart, why is she working here?” I challenged.
“Staff discount, my friend. Besides, I like helping people walk in with that little lost lamb look. Like you have.” Carson said from behind me. She quickly rang up the sale. “Did you want extended warranty?”
“I doubt it will be much use, I’m taking this back to Minnesota.”
“No problem, just activate the warranty through Best Buy when you get home. I think we sell it for cheaper, but we’re the same company.” She wrapped everything up and handed me the bag. Leah looked at her watch and swore. I looked at her.
“Come on, we’ve gotta get your butt to Calgary. It’s a damn good thing we picked your stuff up before we came here.” She grabbed me by the shoulder and dragged me from the store.
The road between Edmonton and Calgary is long. It runs North-South and really doesn’t deviate from straight much. With a layer of snow and countless cars in the ditches along the road, I was surprised to see other drivers passing us. According to Leah’s speedometer, we were doing the speed limit, which I figured was around 70 mph. And we were one of the only cars on the road. Everyone drove trucks.
“People on this road have a death wish?” I watched a fully loaded logging truck fly past us, kicking up snow in its wake.
“They just get cocky. Probably drive it lots.”
“Do you?” I have to admit, Leah piqued my interest.
“What? Drive to Calgary lots? Nope.”
“So, why today?”
“You needed to get home.”
“I’m a total stranger, Leah.”
“You’re a nice guy, Erik. You came home with me last night because your buddies ditched you thinking you were looking to score. We got to my place and you said you weren’t that kind of guy. And even though you don’t remember anything from last night, you were funny and nice to talk to. And despite being so drunk you could barely walk, you’re a pretty good kisser.” There was laughter in her voice. My chest tightened and I found myself wishing she lived on my side of the border.
“So because I was funny, nice to talk to and didn’t extort drunken hook-up sex out of you, you figured you should drive me to Calgary in the dead of a Canadian winter?”
“It’s an adventure. I’ll crash there tonight at my cousin’s place.”
“Look, I’m in debt to you forever. But you’re crazy.”
“Here’s my philosophy. You’re only young once.”
“Which means ‘drive to Calgary with a strange man’?”
“Well, it’s not like I’ve got to be anywhere tomorrow.”
“No. Just finished my degree. I sub every so often.”
“You’re a teacher?” She didn’t strike me as a teacher. She wasn’t old enough, or frumpy enough. Or anything else I associated with teaching.
“How do you pay your bills?”
“I make enough to get by. And my parents sometimes help me out. Damn!” Leah slapped her steering wheel. I glanced back to the road. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see. I sighed and my hopes fell.
We sat in silence, slowly creeping forward. I tried not to check my watch obsessively, but you know how when you’re trying to restrain yourself, you are much worse about obsessing? That was me. I thought I was being discreet. Apparently I wasn’t.
“If you look at your watch one more time, I swear to god I’ll break your wrist.” Leah snapped without looking away from the road.
“Sorry.” I stared out my window at the snow-covered fields as they whizzed by. It really didn’t look much different than home. I picked up my juice from the cup holder and drank. It was more tepid than cool but it was refreshing. Alana had never thought to get me a drink like that the entire time we’d been dating. I said as much to Leah.
“Yeah, well, you looked pretty awful. And it’s going to be a long night for you. So.”
“So. I dunno. Anyhow. I still don’t get how you wound up in Edmonton. You sort of explained it last night, but I didn’t make all the connections. I think because you weren’t really making all the connections.”
“Oh. Well. My girlfriend left me to chase fame in LA. The guys thought I needed to blow off some steam.” I wasn’t ready to tell anyone about the night Alana left. I had no idea how unhappy she’d been. I got down on one knee, holding a few thousand dollars in a pink satin box out to her. She’d laughed.
“So you end up at a hockey game in Canada because your girlfriend was an idiot.”
“More or less.”
“Why a hockey game?”
“Seriously. Why not a trip to Jamaica, or Mexico?”
“I went to university on a full ride for hockey. My dad played in the NHL, so did my granddad. It’s kind of in the blood.”
“Ah.” It was a knowing sound. I snuck a peek at my watch as we passed a distance marker. I was just going to make my flight. As long as there were no more delays.
“We’re almost there!” Leah punched me in the shoulder, waking me up. I didn’t even realize I’d fallen asleep. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. There were neighborhoods popping up next to the snow-covered wheat fields. And in the distance, I could just make out the skyline of a city. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything as stressful as that last 25 kilometers into Calgary. It just keeps going and going and going. And just as you think you’ve finally made it, there are more outskirts to drive through. We finally saw an exit for the airport and then, before I knew it, we were driving up to the departures entry. Leah hopped out to open the trunk. I fished through my wallet before I reached in for my bag. I handed her the cash to cover her gas and reached into the trunk to grab my bag with my free hand. Suddenly her arms were around me and she was squeezing the air out of me.
“Uh, Leah?” She had her head nestled into my chest. She took a deep breath and pulled away. I waved the bills.
“Oh, thanks.” She stuffed them in the pocket of her jeans and looked at her watch, “you need to run!”
I looked down at my watch and cursed. I looked back up at her and was caught off-guard by how pretty she was, even though I’d been admiring her looks all day. The wind was blowing, making her hair fly in the wind, and bringing up a flush in her cheeks. She had her hands stuffed clumsily in her jeans pockets and her hoody was zipped up right under her chin. I dropped my bag and pulled her into my arms.
“Thank you so much.” I whispered in her ear. As I pulled away, I was caught by the same crazy impulse that had led me to Canada in the first place, and I kissed her.
The set I received was as follows:
- A brand new college graduate who is expecting to be independent but still is also expecting to be taken care of. They expect everything to work out so they don't try to keep things under control. They are not sure what they want to do with their life, but they are sure it will work out fine.
- A man just dumped by his girlfriend of a few years. She wanted to move to California and he didn't want to leave Duluth. His family has lived in that area for generations and he feels a deep connection to that area.
- A geek girl in her twenties who is a sales clerk at Best Buy. She likes gear a lot and she like people and she likes to help people. She got the job out of college and just never moved on. She has friends of both sexes but no boyfriend.
- A trip to a foreign country has gone awry. The character is alone, doesn't know the language, and doesn't have anywhere in particular to settle down and think. The location isn't particularly dangerous but it isn't particularly inviting either.
- A trip to the bottom of the Ocean has gone awry. A tourist submarine can't surface because of a storm. If the storm blows over in 3 or 4 hours as expected everything will be fine, but all 30 strangers on the sub are frightened. I obviously didn't use this scenario
- The main character has 6 hours to get from one place to another but doesn't have any transportation or know how to get any. Perhaps they have a dinner appointment. Maybe they are going on a first date. Maybe they just need to go home.
- The character needs help to do something personal that they can't do for some reason and normally wouldn't feel comfortable asking for help with. Perhaps they have a broken leg and need to tie their shoelace.
These ideas were courtesy of Jen's hubby, Veriano of Haikuku. But thanks for the great stuff, D!