Even though I said I would wear the dress, I was so on the brink of running to the bedroom and putting my comfortable clothes back on. I was about to change back into my security blankets but Grandma wouldn't have it and she had me sit down and tried to do something with my hair in the three hours we had before having to leave for Starkville. I left the house for the first time in a skirt, two clip-on earrings in my ears and my hair actually looking somewhat feminine.
"All I need is for one person to recognize me. 'Hey, look, we have our very own Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'.”
"And what? Isn’t that what you want? To be noticed? I'm not sure about the title--"
"--Yeah, but, after the procedures and all-instead of just-"
"Think of it as a dress rehearsal."
“We’re not going to be near the team. We'll be on the Mississippi State side and no one knows me or you. So when we’re at the stadium just relax and imagine your wedding day.”
“I have been.”
“Making progress then.”
Thirty minutes later we arrived on the sprawling campus of Mississippi State University. Parking was a bitch as we drove from one closed off section to another before we found an actual place to park.
We each carried a bag of some type: a satchel in my case with my playbook and notes. Michael carried his laptop bag on his shoulder and then grabbed mine. We walked up a slight incline road up to Davis Wade Stadium.
"My uncle wanted me to play football here."
"And your grandparents wanted you in the farming program."
"Could've done both...but, then I'd miss out on someone important."
"Don't get yourself worked up."
"Too late," he replied with a smirk and a wink.
The stadium towered before us with sides that ascended several stories.
“We have to climb all the way up there?”
“Shall I carry you?”
“You may have to.”
And yes, the climb was more than I wanted to do. And again, I was SOOOO glad I wore flats as an ever-so-sloping stairway to heaven would never be on my short list of fun things to do. I decided that if I made it to our seats I would stay there and not get up for a thing. The stadium could go up in flames and I would stay right where I was, fiddling with my stage directions while Starkville burned.
Our seats were just shy of St. Peter's gates, oxygen masks were considered; but at least they were out of the sun and there were nachos close by.
Michael took the laptop out of his pack and like a choreographed dance he handed my bag to me in an under-over maneuver.
I opened one of my binders and turned a page to look over my notes.
"Not going to watch the game?"
"I will. When it starts. Right now the only thing I see are people grabbing hot dogs and is that a deep fried turkey leg?"
The computer beeped and beeped again.
"What? What? What?"
"Can you hold this for a moment?"
I put my notebook down as he passed the laptop over to me. I held onto it as if it was infectious--with my hands on the sides.
"Tell me that I brought an extra battery."
I kept quiet.
He clenched onto a rectangular piece of metal and plastic.
I passed the laptop back as Michael flipped it over, switched out the battery and flipped it upright;
while I went back to reading, and by the time I looked up there were a lot more people around.
"I'm going to let the program load up, then adjust the camera."
I nodded in reply.
"And now I’m going to go get a coke, do you want one?”
“Yes, thank you.”
"Want to come with me?"
I cringed at getting up at that moment. "Vertigo?"
"That's a no, then?"
"It's a thank you for going to get one for me too. I love you."
“Now, if I can find a place that won’t charge me three dollars for a large cup of ice and three drops of soda.”
"It's a football stadium. Good luck with that."
I went back to looking at my notebook for a few seconds and then looked up and thought twice about not going with him. When we were together, nothing weird would occur so now that Michael was gone I would probably be greeted by my entire graduating class from Highland:
“Hey, we’re all in the neighborhood…what’s with the skirt?”
Which wasn’t too far from the truth, as Mike stated to me when he returned with two cans of coke in hand:
"Take a wild guess who goes here?"
He took a moment to hand one of the cans to me and sit back down and then said:
"I was walking down the hallway when I heard this voice yell out...
“Michael, Michael Nelson, right?” The person in question saw Michael and made a bee….or more like a wasp…line advance and hugged him.
“Hello… Karen Anne.”
The hug continued and his eyes widened as she embraced him—in a ‘should I be surprised, scared or a little bit of both’ expression. Good thing for her that it was Michael and not some random guy.
“Oh my God, you remember my name.”
“Of course, ” he replied as she held the hug on a bit too long- as if she never saw him before or wanted to see what would happen, like if he would grab her by the waist, lift her up and ask, ‘Good Lord, where have you been, girl? Let’s blow this place and be alone…you and me.”
She smiled as she finally let go of him.
“So, you go to MSU?”
“What’s your major?”
“Network technology...I’m working on a field study right now.”
“Great, do you want to sit with me at the game, catch up a bit?”
“I’d love to but I’m capturing the game to the college’s network. I have to try and keep the signal up so it’s watchable on the other end. It’s a test to see if it can be done.”
Her eyes glazed over at that…she had no idea what he was talking about, not that it stopped her from trying to reel him in:
“I’m working on my teaching degree. Gotta start at the bottom rung, right?”
“Yeah, I reckon so, I-“
“Were you on your way somewhere?”
“I was just going to get a coke.”
“Come on, I’ll show you where a machine’s at—Top secret, you know. No one wants to pay for a three dollar cup of ice and fifty cents of soda.”
Karen Anne walked ahead of Michael but turned back to him every few seconds. Again, she was obviously looking out for a way to sneak into his life and wondering ‘is he with anyone?’
They arrived at a door and Karen Anne simply opened it up, like she owned the place. There was a lone Coke machine, sitting on the interior wall like a hidden treasure.
“It’s so great to see you. Have you heard from Kris?”
“He’s at the campus,” Michael replied as he fed money into the machine.
“You stay in touch?”
“Have you been back to Cordova?” KA asked as Michael selected a soda and then put in more money.
“Once, but since school started, it’s been a little hard to go back and forth.”
“Yeah, and I’m getting one for my girl.”
“Oh?” I would have loved to have seen her face when she asked, but Michael said her tone was not fear or jealously and that she was just asking a question. He still doesn’t understand the bitch code.
“Sorry about Prom, Melissa was a bitch for doing that to you, I-“
“That was a long time ago, Karen Anne, I—“
He picked up the other bottle and tried to find a way out of the situation.
“Yeah. Hey how about after the game we all go out? Catch up on a few times?”
“Uhh,” Michael stated as he attempted once again to try to find a way out of the situation.
He looked at her face…and probably at the rest of her as well…I probably would have too…if I had been there instead of him.
“What do you say?”
“Sure, that’ll be great, thanks.” And with that he failed miserably in getting us out of the situation.
She walked with him for a little bit more but then said something about having to go meet up with her friends. She gave him ANOTHER hug and they parted company.
I glared the entire time it took him to walk back to his seat, which by then the rest of the row had filled up with people, a lot of them with cowbells for some reason.
"Who was that?"
"Take a wild guess who goes here?"
“Karen Anne. She goes to MSU”
Micheal said that with such calmness. Like it was no big deal.
“She’s still a nice person. Helped me find the elusive soda machine and still looks good...but-“
“But my heart is with you.”
“Thank you. Do I worry too much?” I asked as I looked at him in earnest.
“I’m not going to answer that.”
“Because, you can’t handle the truth.”
“You’re a jerk," I replied, so wanting to jump up and kiss him but still feeling a bit angry at KA.
"I'm right though."
"Still a jerk.”
“So I hear. Excuse me.”
He typed a few keys and I was just about to go back to reading when he looked at me for a second too long.
"KA invited us out after the game.”
"Karen's invited us to go to a club in Starkville."
“She wants to talk with people she once knew.”
“She doesn’t know ME, Michael!”
“It's time to introduce Kristi to the rest of the world. We can start with Karen Anne.”
"I'd rather not," I said as the band played in the background.
"We have to start somewhere."
“What if it all leaks back? What if she asks her friends: "did that girl say where she’s from?" and they tell her that she must be from UT and she learns who went to UT from our school and comes up with my name and puts it all together?”
“You’re giving her too much credit.”
“I plead the fifth."
As I've said a few times already, Karen Anne was my girlfriend. I had known Karen Anne during the times in my life I wasn't exactly sure what I was and I played the part too well. She was a girl who was my friend for a while and then my girlfriend for five months and a few odd days. Odd in the fact that we were even together in the first place and odd in the fact that we "broke-up" without a fight. There wasn't a whisper of an argument between us at any time. We never bickered like a married couple, not even when we seemingly acted like a married couple..
My clothes, pictures, awards...my name all just screamed "boyhood" but my body didn't feel like that. I never felt right. Being with Karen felt...kind of right...but I'm sure that it was just a part of the role I was assigned to play. I was supposed to like girls and feel that elation at the smell of the right perfume or on the sight of the "right one". I felt that and a little more when I first saw KA.
As mentioned, she was a southern girl, a late nineties debutante in the flesh. She never wore jeans.
Never...even in thirty degree weather. Well, at least not until in high school and there were days that the dress uniform she wore, if you looked just right, violated the dress code...but maybe that was just the way I looked at her.
We met on her second day of school and by then she had already picked up on how to act to fit in with just about everybody. She wasn't snobby but she was on the cusp of being a part of the group of girls in every school: the “Heathers”, “Ashely’s”—the “Mean Girls” who seemed untouchable and who looked down on you. The girls never looked down on me but they never talked to me very much, not until Karen Anne reached out to ask me if I knew someone who could help her in math.
"Can you?" She asked without any intonation to flirt with me. I was kind of disappointed.
"Sure. Can't let you drown on your second day, right."
"How do know it's my second day?"
"You're in my Literature class."
"Oh," she replied with an honest look of shame on her face. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I'm Kris."
"Karen Anne English."
"Has anyone told you welcome to Cordova?"
"A teacher or two."
"Doesn't count. Welcome to Cordova. Your accent sounds like you're from Alabama."
"I'm from Tuscaloosa" she said with her eyes wide. "How did you know?"
I never told her that I noticed her jacket had a crimson "A" on it from the University of Alabama.
* * *
I wanted to follow the game while looking at Michael and my play notes. I really tried to not think about the inevitable: meeting with my former girlfriend and act like I didn't know her. How long would it take her to see who I was? I wasn't going to just flat out tell her, I didn't have to or should have even cared, but I did.
Damn it, Michael and his being nice to everyone.
Double damn it for me being anti-social to everyone.
And triple D for me choosing to wear a dress as I would feel like a little girl around Karen Anne and any friends she had who were going to be with us. I hoped for friends, in a way, as they could be there to keep her in line.
Yes, I felt like I was going to lose my fiancé in a few hours. Perhaps the coach could call several time outs and maybe an earthquake could occur, causing the stadium to fall and Michael and I would be saved only by wrapping his shirt around the railings as we hung on for dear life. Karen Anne would be on the field, alive, but bruised as she looks up and curses about the lucky girl wrapped around Michael Nelson.
"Where are we meeting you?"
Karen Anne called seconds after the final whistle. I gathered our bags as Michael turned the laptop off with one hand.
"We'll meet you there. See you." He flipped the cell closed.
"Do we have to?"
"If you really don't want to go-"
"No, no, I'll go for you and me. You're right. We have to start somewhere. Starkville is somewhere...but so is Hell."
"And will you have fun?"
"I promise I won't kill her."
"We'll go with that."
We walked down the long ramps back down to the ground level and with every step I felt an immense pain...I wished the pain was in my feet but it was in my head. It wasn't a headache or a migraine but if I could have it bottled and sold it would be as potent as arsenic.
I looked ahead and saw her. HER. Karen Anne, standing in her "I am so beautiful, but I'll never say it--you'll just think it" style. I grabbed Mike's hand in a death grip. It was worse than not knowing your lines on opening day. I would have preferred to be naked on stage in a revival of ‘Mamma Mia!’--in Swedish.
“Oh God, Please. I’ll go to Africa, I’ll attend student mass, I’ll-“
“Hey." She motioned us over to her friends. "This is Nola and Matt.”
“Michael," Matt replied as the two guys shook hands.
"Hello. This is my fiancé, Allie.”
"Ello," I replied with a slight European accent to my voice. Not so much British or Scottish, but just enough to play yet another part.
"Fiancé?" Nola asked.
"Family official as of this morning," Michael responded.
I avoided looking at Karen Anne. I wanted to see her expression but I was also afraid to see her face.
We all walked together to our vehicles which were parked in the same general area.
Karen Anne talked back and forth with Nola and Michael as I politely nodded to this and that; all while holding onto Michael's hand.
"Why don't you ride with us? We got room." KA pointed to an SUV. I assumed it was Nola's, Matt's; or his mother's.
"We have a few things I don't want to leave in the car; so we'll follow you," Michael replied.
"Okay," she replied as she turned to Matt. "Keep it under forty."
Michael opened my door and then moved to the other side of the car.
We didn't say another word until the doors were closed.
"Shrek?" He asked.
"Don't know who that is but that was pretty good," Michael replied as he started the engine.
"You don't think she sees through it?"
"She still has it for you," I snorted as I watched her climb into the back seat of the SVU.
"Seriously? You couldn't tell?"
"Wasn't really paying attention," Michael replied as he shifted the car and moved to follow the chariot of the loser of The Second Battle of Nelson
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