WHERE DOES THE GOOD GO?
We are in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, and once again, Ryan has forgotten where we left the car. I keep telling him that it’s in Lot C, but he doesn’t believe me.
“No,” he says, for the tenth time. “I specifically remember turning right when we got here, not left.”
It’s incredibly dark, the path in front of us lit only by lampposts featuring oversized baseballs. I looked at the sign when we parked.
“You remember wrong,” I say, my tone clipped and pissed-off. We’ve already been here too long, and I hate the chaos of Dodger Stadium. It’s a warm summer night, so I have that to be thankful for, but it’s ten P.M., and the rest of the fans are pouring out of the stands, the two of us fighting through a sea of blue and white jerseys. We’ve been at this for about twenty minutes.
“I don’t remember wrong,” he says, walking ahead and not even bothering to look back at me as he speaks. “You’re the one with the bad memory.”
“Oh, I see,” I say, mocking him. “Just because I lost my keys this morning, suddenly, I’m an idiot?”
He turns and looks at me; I use the moment to try to catch up to him. The parking lot is hilly and steep. I’m slow.
“Yeah, Lauren, that’s exactly what I said. I said you were an idiot.”
“I mean, you basically did. You said that you know what you’re talking about, like I don’t.”
“Just help me find the goddamn car so we can go home.”
I don’t respond. I simply follow him as he moves farther and farther away from Lot C. Why he wants to go home is a mystery to me. None of this will be any better at home. It hasn’t been for months.
He walks around in a long, wide circle, going up and down the hills of the Dodger Stadium parking lot. I follow close behind, waiting with him at the crosswalks, crossing at his pace. We don’t say anything. I think of how much I want to scream at him. I think of how I wanted to scream at him last night, too. I think of how much I’ll probably want to scream at him tomorrow. I can only imagine he’s thinking much of the same. And yet the air between us is perfectly still, uninterrupted by any of our thoughts. So often lately, our nights and weekends are full of tension, a tension that is only relieved by saying good-bye or good night.
After the initial rush of people leaving the parking lot, it becomes a lot easier to see where we are and where we parked.
“There it is,” Ryan says, not bothering to point for further edification. I turn my head to follow his gaze. There it is. Our small black Honda.
Right in Lot C.
I smile at him. It’s not a kind smile.
He smiles back. His isn’t kind, either.
ELEVEN AND A HALF YEARS AGO
It was the middle of my sophomore year of college. My freshman year had been a lonely one. UCLA was not as inviting as I’d thought it might be when I applied. It was hard for me to meet people. I went home a lot on weekends to see my family. Well, really, I went home to see my younger sister, Rachel. My mom and my little brother, Charlie, were secondary. Rachel was the person I told everything to. Rachel was the one I missed when I ate alone in the dining hall, and I ate alone in the dining hall more than I cared to admit.
At the age of nineteen, I was much shier than I’d been at seventeen, graduating from high school toward the top of my class, my hand cramping from signing so many yearbooks. My mom kept asking me all through my freshman year of college if I wanted to transfer. She kept saying that it was OK to look someplace else, but I didn’t want to. I liked my classes. “I just haven’t found my stride yet,” I said to her every time she asked. “But I will. I’ll find it.”
I started to find it when I took a job in the mailroom. Most nights, it was one or two other people and me, a dynamic in which I thrived. I was good in small groups. I could shine when I didn’t have to struggle to be heard. And after a few months of shifts in the mailroom, I was getting to know a lot of people. Some of them I really liked. And some of those people really liked me, too. By the time we broke for Christmas that year, I was excited to go back in January. I missed my friends.
When classes began again, I found myself with a new schedule that put me in a few buildings I’d never been in before. I was starting to take psychology classes since I’d fulfilled most of my gen eds. And with this new schedule, I started running into the same guy everywhere I went. The fitness center, the bookstore, the elevators of Franz Hall.
He was tall and broad-shouldered. He had strong arms, round around the biceps, barely fitting into the sleeves of his shirts. His hair was light brown, his face often marked with stubble. He was always smiling, always talking to someone. Even when I saw him walking alone, he seemed to have the confidence of a person with a mission.
I was in line to enter the dining hall when we finally spoke. I was wearing the same gray shirt I’d worn the day before, and it occurred to me as I spotted him a bit farther up in the line that he might notice.
After he swiped his ID to get in, he hung back behind his friends and carried on a conversation with the guy running the card machine. When I got up to the front of the line, he stopped his conversation and looked at me.
“Are you following me or what?” he said, looking right into my eyes and smiling.
I was immediately embarrassed, and I thought he could see it.
“Sorry, stupid joke,” he said. “I’ve just been seeing you everywhere lately.” I took my card back. “Can I walk with you?”
“Yeah,” I said. I was meeting my mailroom friends, but I didn’t see them there yet anyway. And he was cute. That was a lot of what swayed me. He was cute.
“Where are we going?” he asked me. “What line?”
“We are going to the grill,” I said. “That is, if you’re standing in line with me.”
“That’s actually perfect. I have been dying for a patty melt.”
“The grill it is, then.”
It was quiet as we stood in line together, but he was trying hard to keep the conversation going.
“Ryan Lawrence Cooper,” he said, putting his hand out. I laughed and shook it. His grip was tight. I got the distinct feeling that if he did not want this handshake to end, there was nothing I could do about it. That’s how strong his hand felt.
“Lauren Maureen Spencer,” I said. He let go.
I had pictured him as smooth and confident, poised and charming, and he was those things to a certain degree. But as we talked, he seemed to be stumbling a bit, not sure of the right thing to say. This cute guy who had seemed so much surer of himself than I could ever be turned out to be . . . entirely human. He was just a person who was good-looking and probably funny and just comfortable enough with himself to seem as if he understood the world better than the rest of us. But he didn’t, really. He was just like me. And suddenly, that made me like him a whole lot more than I realized. And that made me nervous. My stomach started to flutter. My palms started to sweat.
“So, it’s OK, you can admit it,” I said, trying to be funny. “It’s you who have actually been stalking me.”
“I admit it,” he said, and then quickly reversed his story. “No! Of course not. But you have noticed it, right? It’s like suddenly you’re everywhere.”
“You’re everywhere,” I said, stepping up in line as it moved. “I’m just in my normal places.”
“You mean you’re in my normal places.”
“Maybe we’re just cosmically linked,” I joked. “Or we have similar schedules. The first time I saw you was on the quad, I think. And I’ve been killing time there between Intro to Psych and Statistics. So you must have picked up a class around that time on South Campus, right?”
“You’ve unintentionally revealed two things to me, Lauren,” Ryan said, smiling.
“I have?” I said.
“Yep.” He nodded. “Less important is that I now know you’re a psych major and two of the classes you take. If I was a stalker, that would be a gold mine.”
“OK.” I nodded. “Although if you were any decent stalker, you would have known that already.”