Ten Below Zero

By: Whitney Barbetti

A single text message changed my entire life.

Unknown: This is Jacob’s friend, Everett. He said we should meet.

Ten words. Two sentences. And yet, it was the beginning of my entire life as I knew it, though I didn’t know it when I first read the words.

It was also a wrong number. But I didn’t tell him that, the mysterious Everett. My friends, or more appropriate – roommates, had just left me alone and so I sat in my apartment, wearing a sweatshirt that was three times my usual size and paint splattered yoga pants. My face was completely free of makeup, my hair in a bun on top of my head, a style that could not be accused of being fashionable in any magazine.

My night suddenly had an extra option thrown into the mix. Normally, my nights consisted of the same thing. Books, people watching from my balcony, studying, or working my shift at the restaurant. I was never chosen for Friday or Saturday nights. Probably because I was boring and not outgoing. My shifts were usually breakfasts and early lunches, when the customers were too hung over from their all night partying to bother with engaging conversation. Which was what I preferred. They were less likely to dwell on the scar on my face, or the one on my arm. My scars weren’t something I particularly enjoyed talking about over eggs and coffee.

But a text from a stranger was something that didn’t happen every day. Or any day, really. The only people that texted me were my roommates and it was only ever to pick up their drunk asses. As they had walked out the door this evening, Jasmine had even told me she expected me to be available to pick them up. And why wouldn’t they count on me? I was dependable. I didn’t party. I spent more time inside the apartment than out of it and I never ever had plans. Granted, Jasmine took advantage of my lack of social life and I let her. Tonight, though, when she’d blown the insincere kiss at me on her way out, I’d been angry. Which was new for me. I hardly ever felt anything stronger than fear or mild annoyance.

So I cradled the phone in my hands, rubbed a thumb over the words on the screen, and made a decision. To be reckless. To be the girl I was before.

Me: Sure. Where? When?

I sent the reply before I could talk myself out of it.

It was dangerous behavior, especially for a twenty-one year old girl, but I always played it safe. I’d never broken curfew, I’d never sneaked a guy into my room, I’d never gotten wasted, I never so much as straddled the line into rebellion. Before I was no longer a ward of the state, I was practically puritanical in my behavior. When I’d turned eighteen, all bets were off. And then, after being attacked in the middle of an abandoned parking lot, I’d crawled into a hole of indifference.

Which was probably why my roommates took advantage of my ability to pick them up from whatever hole in the wall they’d needed rescue from. I didn’t have a life. I didn’t do things. I didn’t have plans and I most certainly didn’t meet with strangers on a whim. I went to my anthropology classes. I worked. I hid in my room.

I tapped my fingers on my desk, willing his reply to come. And then I suddenly wondered if he even lived in this area. My new-found sense of spontaneity could be short-lived, depending on his reply.

I didn’t have to wonder long.

Everett: The Brick. Nine?

Being the shut-in I was, I quickly woke up my laptop and Googled The Brick, sighing in relief when I saw it was four blocks away from my apartment. I wouldn’t even have to drive. I could run home if I wanted. I was forever thinking practically. Practicality: killer of dreams and fun. And I was practicality’s most valuable assassin.

Me: See you then.

I stood up and stretched, staring at my drab closet, hoping for inspiration. Just as I started to walk to the closet, my phone vibrated across the desk.

Everett: What will you be wearing? I need to know who to look for.

I looked down at my current ensemble. This wouldn’t do. I bit my finger as I contemplated. Inspiration came to me in an instant and my fingers flew across the on-screen keyboard.

Me: Look for the girl who doesn’t belong.

His reply came quickly, and seemed warmer than his earlier texts.

Everett: Now I’m really looking forward to meeting you.

If I smiled, I would have then. But I didn’t smile, not ever.

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