The reincarnation theory notwithstanding, Kaitlin did turn out to be normal.
We’d been roommates for three weeks and so far we actually liked each other (as predicted, Josie and her vegan roommate, who preferred to go by the name Fern even though her real name was Doreen, lasted ten days before requesting that the director of housing step in and remove one of them after Josie threatened to hurl a vegan-friendly imitation leather boot at Fern’s head if Fern forced her to listen to one more grotesque fact about the exploitation at factory farms). Lucy had texted that her triple at UNC was huge and her roommates seemed fine, except for the fact that they were twins and Lucy could never tell them apart (apparently one of them had a distinctive birth mark on her left butt cheek but Lucy was willing to guess at who was who without asking for dematologic verification).
So as far as roommates went, Kaitlin seemed to be as good as they get. Her nightly phone calls from Mark, who wasn’t supposed to be on the phone after 11:30 because St. Germain’s had a strict lights out policy, even for seniors, were tolerable for the most part. Sometimes when the calls were winding down her voice would get all low and soft and I’d conveniently find a reason to go to the bathroom or down the hall to the kitchenette. Listening to all the I love you’s and miss you’s was bad enough, but hearing Kaitlin profess her undying love was downright unbearable when the only miss you’s I was getting came from my mom and were accompanied by reminders to separate my whites and colored laundry before washing.
I could have told Kaitlin the gory details about me and Luke from the start and avoided the seemingly innocuous questions that she’d pepper me with out of the blue, questions that only made me remember what I was trying so hard to forget: What was his last name? (Preston, Luke Preston) What color eyes did he have? (a soft brown, like caramel syrup) How’d you meet? (Umm…) Did your friends like him? (Double umm…)
But I didn’t tell Kaitlin any more than I had to. I’d barely told Josie and Lucy exactly what happened when Luke and I broke up, and they were so preoccupied counting down the last few weeks before leaving for college that my meager explanation was good enough. Long distance relationships don’t work. Not that any of us would know this for a fact or from personal experience, but everyone knew that high school couples always broke up a few months after going off to college. I told Josie and Lucy we were just eliminating the awkward conversation when we would have to admit that it just wasn’t working. Even if, at the same time, I kept thinking, two hours isn’t that far, why is it so easy for them to believe such a lame excuse?
Instead of getting an exhaustive review of the facts, over the first few weeks of school Kaitlin just learned the basics – Luke and I started going out the second half of our senior year, we made it through June and July just fine, and by the time August rolled around we were over. I had a boyfriend for a little while and then I didn’t. Not exactly a novel story, nothing unusual about it.
“Seriously, what happened?” Kaitlin finally wanted to know. We’d both gotten into the swing of classes and our conversations had gone from comparing professors and reading requirements to normal life stuff – toss me a pen, I’m all out of tampons so can I borrow one, want to order a pizza for dinner instead of eating in the dining room? I guess it was only a matter of time before she wanted to know more about Luke.
“There has to be more to it,” she insisted.
Kaitlin and I were lying on our beds attempting to study. It was a Friday night and we probably should have been looking for a party or hanging out downstairs in the lounge. But Kaitlin was waiting for Mark’s nightly phone call and I was trying to get a jump start on my upcoming geology paper (I thought a class about rocks and crystals would be fun and interesting, but I had quickly discovered I was not a budding geoscientist).
“What do you mean, what happened?” I repeated Kaitlin’s question. My mom had instilled in me that repeating a question that someone had just asked you showed you were listening. In this case, however, I was just buying myself time to think of an answer.
“There had to be something, a fight?” Kaitlin stared up at the glow-in-the-dark stars she’d stuck to the ceiling over her bed. I thought that an engineering major would make sure that the stars accurately reflected actual constellations but instead the pale yellow bursts haphazardly dotted the ceiling in no particular formation. “Did he lie to you about something huge? Did he get pissed at something you did?”
All of the above, I thought.
“It’s history, old news,” I said instead. “It’s over.”
Kaitlin turned onto her side to face me. “But we learn from our experiences. I mean, what’s the point of coming back if we can’t take the lessons from our past lives with us?” Kaitlin wasn’t kidding. She really believed all this past life stuff. I’d learned to actually kind of appreciate her offbeat take on life (or afterlife), even if I still couldn’t figure out the mermaid thing. I mean, mermaids don’t actually exist outside of books and Disney movies. So her past life seemed a little convenient and also a little wishful, I mean who wouldn’t want to be a mermaid? They always had great boobs, fabulous hair and even though they spent 99% of their time underwater their make-up never ran.
“Not everything can have a lesson, Kaitlin. Some stuff just happens.”
“Nothing just happens. Tell me the story of Emily and Luke and I’ll help you figure out what you were supposed to learn.”
“See these?” I held up the two text books scattered around me on my bed. “I have enough learning to do this semester. I don’t need to revisit Emily and Luke.”
Kaitlin shook her head at me. I could practically hear her tsk, tsking as she lamented my inability to get how the world (or afterworld or reincarnated world) worked. I had a feeling she was beginning to think I was a lost cause. “Then you will be destined to make the same mistakes, over and over again.”
“I truly doubt that.” Kaitlin had no idea about The Book of Luke, about how Josie, Lucy and I had decided that Luke would be the subject of a senior year experiment – to secretly write a how-to book for guys that teaches them the right way to treat girls, and then prove it works by changing the guy who was the worst offender. Only our plan went awry when I didn’t change Luke. I fell in love with him instead. And almost lost my best friends in the process.
So what did I learn from that experience? When you throw a notebook in the trash make sure the subject of said notebook doesn’t get his hands on it. In other words – learn how to use a shredder.
Okay, seriously. I did learn my lesson from that experience. I lied to my best friends, I deceived and lost my boyfriend (or, more accurately, a guy who thought he was my boyfriend even though I knew he was just supposed to be a test subject), and the whole school got to watch my humiliating demise unfold in real time. Maybe lesson number two is don’t attend all-school assemblies.
“Just tell me,” Kaitlin insisted. “You’ll feel better.”
I seriously doubted that reliving that night in August would make me feel anything but completely and totally shitty.
Kaitlin sat up and leaned against the wall beside her bed. She pulled her knees into her chest and hugged them. Now I had her complete attention. “I don’t believe you.”
“What don’t you believe?”
“That it’s history, that it’s old news.” Kaitlin frowned at me. “I think you’re still in love with him.”
I didn’t deny it, although I really wanted to. “Even if I was, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It does matter, Emily.”
“Because maybe he’s your dolphin.” She didn’t even crack a smile when she said this. Kaitlin was totally serious.
“So maybe it’s not really over. But we won’t know until I hear the whole story. Start to finish. So start.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” I snapped the cap onto my yellow Highlighter pen. It wasn’t like I was making a tremendous amount of progress on the topic of mineralogic problems associated with crystallography anyway.
“Begin at the beginning,” Kaitlin instructed me. So that’s what I did.
I told Kaitlin about moving back to Boson my senior year of high school after living in Chicago for three years, and how Josie, Lucy and I came up with the idea to include a guy’s guide to girls in the senior class time capsule (which was really a rectangular Rubbermaid storage container). And I explained how we decided that, having been trained by a mother who, in addition to being the country’s leading etiquette expert was also someone who prided herself in raising a daughter who knew right from wrong, I would be the least likely person anyone would suspect of doing something devious. That’s why I was the one to put the guide into action on Luke. I took Kaitlin quickly through the ups and downs, how I totally screwed up and how, eventually, Lucy and Josie forgave me, and so did Luke. Then I stopped where most stories stop, the happy ending. Because isn’t that what everyone wants?
“And then everything was great,” I concluded, much like a librarian closing the last page of a book before looking up at her class of adoring, satisfied listeners. “We were happy.”
“Obviously not,” Kaitlin pointed out. “What’s the rest of the story?”
I sucked in my breath and rolled over onto my stomach, hoping a change of position would keep me from dissolving as I thought back to graduation, to when I thought we really would have a happy ending.
“We graduated a month later.”
“And…” she wanted to know.
I fixed my eyes on the covers of my geology text books, the vivid images of purple prismed crystals, craggly silver speckled rocks and golden molten lava blurring together into a kaleidoscope of indecipherable smudges. I forced myself to blink, bringing them back into focus.
“And then it was summer,” I said. “The beginning of the end.”