Two years ago
Tonight was the big night! Katie sat obediently in her dorm room at the plain wooden desk chair while her roommate, Lauren, tugged and coaxed her hair into what she hoped was a perfect French braid. She was having a hard time sitting still, and Lauren told her so.
“Katie, please keep still. I’m almost done.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just nervous. Does it look okay?”
“You are beautiful as usual. Jason will be speechless. Or he’ll propose.”
Katie grinned sheepishly. She had to admit that she did look good tonight. She had paid what seemed like a fortune for the slinky black number she was wearing to the Winter Carnival Dance, the Snow Ball. The dress came to mid-thigh, and with the spaghetti straps and scooped neck, it made her feel absolutely glamorous. She was sure the hard-earned money she spent would be all worth it when she saw Jason’s face.
She was going to the Snow Ball with Jason Chandler, her boyfriend of two months. She was the envy of her Alpha Gamma Delta sorority sisters, not that she cared about that stuff. Jason was the Big Man on Campus - president of Alpha Tau Omega, captain of the soccer team, Academic All-American, and if everything went according to his plans, he was headed for Harvard Law year after next. Besides that, he was a nice guy. Smart, funny, kind, really everything Katie could hope for. Jason Chandler was a catch, and tonight, he would be her date. Could life get any better?
“Katie, stop squirming! Do you want me to have to start over?” Lauren’s threat was all Katie needed. She immediately straightened and took a deep breath to steady her frayed nerves.
“What time is it?” she asked Lauren.
“It’s ten after seven. You still have twenty minutes until he’s supposed to be here. Calm down, you have plenty of time.”
A moment later, Lauren finished Katie’s braid. Katie stood up and walked to the full-length mirror behind the closet door to survey the results. She smiled at her reflection. She was far from vain, but even modest women have to admit when they look smashing, don’t they?
“Lauren, you are a miracle worker! All I need is a 20-carat diamond necklace and I could fit in at the Oscar’s for God’s sake!”
Lauren giggled. Katie didn’t just look gorgeous - she was gorgeous. And the funniest thing about it was that she didn’t know it. She was the most unpretentious, down to earth women Lauren knew. She still didn’t know why Katie ever joined Alpha Gamma Delta. She was as different from her sorority sisters as Lauren was. Lauren was a bookworm - intelligent and brutally honest. Her bright red hair had always made her feel like a pariah, but Katie, thoughtful and kind as she was, had always insisted that it was the most beautiful shade of red she had ever seen and anyone who couldn’t see it was just blind. Or a jerk.
Katie always made Lauren feel accepted. She remembered coming to Clark College two-and-a-half years ago, terrified that college would be just like high school - four years of isolation and loneliness, never quite fitting in, always on the fringes. She had walked into the dorm room, well, tripped actually, because of all the stuff she was carrying. She thought she would die from embarrassment. But when she looked up, there was Katie, with no hint of anything except concern on that lovely face of hers and then a hint of a smile. And just when Lauren thought she would cut her up, Katie joked, “You did better than me. I fell flat on my face!” At that moment, Lauren knew they were going to be the best of friends.
Katie was turning nervously this way and that in the mirror. She wanted everything to be perfect. She made one final check of her small beaded black purse to make sure that she had everything she needed, which sadly, wasn’t much. Since Katie wore no makeup, the contents consisted of some tissues, her dorm room key, her license, and her Admission ticket. Well that didn’t take long. Now what do I do for the next fifteen minutes?
“Sit down, Katie, and relax. Let’s talk about something. Um..., you never told me how you did on your Finance exam.”
Katie sat down, glad to have her mind off things, and smiled. Lauren recognized that as the “I aced it but I’m too modest to tell you” smile. Katie was incredibly smart. She always performed at the top of her classes. She was in all the honor societies. If not for the one B+ she received freshman year, she would have a perfect 4.0 GPA, which still irked her almost three years later. She was studying business, and was majoring in finance. Once she finished school, she wanted to go to Harvard for her MBA, and had dreams of being a big-time executive in a Fortune 500 company. However, as always, she did not assume this would happen easily. She planned to work hard and not take anything for granted – not one exam, not one course. As a result, she often fretted about her performance in school, despite the fact that she never failed.
“I don’t know why you were worried, Katie, honestly. You worry to death about every exam, and then you end up throwing the curve for everyone else. Now I know why all your classmates hate you.”
It was Katie’s turn to giggle. Lauren had a way of saying exactly what everyone else was thinking but was too afraid to say. It was one of the things Katie loved about her. She was just about to come up with a witty reply when a curt, business-like knock sounded at their dorm room door.
Lauren smiled. “He’s here. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” Katie lied through her teeth. Would she ever be ready for the biggest night of her life?
She went to the door, but not before checking her appearance one last time in the mirror on the way by. After straightening her skirt and taking her tenth deep breath this hour, she plastered on a winsome smile and opened the door. The words “You’re early” died on her lips as she noticed not Jason, but Dean Jacobson and two uniformed campus police at the door.
Her first thought was that somehow the Dean had found out about that stupid sorority stunt she was involved in last fall. She hadn’t really wanted to take part in the tradition of stealing their rival sorority’s banner; she was afraid of getting caught and the consequences. But the sisters had assured her that they would return the banner at Christmas. Oh, God, what if they hadn’t and the Dean was here to expel her? All her dreams ruined for some stupid stunt!
Oh, God, here it comes. My life is over. My mother’s going to kill me! “Yes.”
“Katherine, may we come in?” The dean gestured to two uniformed officers, who had decidedly uncomfortable looks on their clean-shaven faces.
“Of course,” Katie replied, now suddenly coming to her senses and wondering why on earth the Dean would choose to deal with this on a Friday night.
As she stepped back to let three men in, she noticed there was also a woman with them she hadn’t noticed at first. She was petite, her hair pulled back into a severe bun, and she was wearing a tailored grey pantsuit and holding a burgundy briefcase. She wore nothing on her face except her own grim expression. Who was she?
Katie closed the door behind the group and turned nervously to face them. The Dean appeared to be shifting and searching for words. He was older, maybe 60, grey hair, distinguished in his suit as always, yet he looked out of his element in the small square dorm room. She chanced a glance at Lauren who looked as baffled as Katie felt. Lauren attempted to excuse herself, but was halted by Dean Jacobson who suggested she stay.
“Katherine, as you probably know, I am Dean Jacobson. These are Officers Macey and Hanes, and this is Dr. Jameson.” He pointed to each person as he introduced them. “Katherine, please sit down.”
Katie obeyed numbly, her mind now racing, frantically trying to figure out why they had a doctor with them. She didn’t know when or why it happened, but she suddenly felt an intense feeling of foreboding; as if her life would never be the same. Suddenly, the room felt extremely cool to her bare shoulders and neck. She looked up at the Dean, who was still standing, flanked on one side by the officers, and on the other by the doctor. They all looked grim, and she wasn’t sure, but were they looking at her with pity?
She realized in some deep corner of her brain that she didn’t really want to hear whatever it was he had to say. She glanced again at Lauren, whose face clearly told that her thoughts had gone in the same direction. Katie’s heart started pounding wildly. Something is wrong, oh God, something is wrong. Katie realized now with crystal clarity that what they had come to say had nothing to do with the stupid sorority stunt. Oh God, oh God, oh God.
When she finally tried to speak, she realized her mouth had gone dry. She managed to croak out one word. “Dean?”
Dean Jacobson’s heart was breaking. In all his sixteen years as the Dean of Students, he had never had to do anything as hard as this. He wanted to come out and tell her, but God’s truth, he didn’t know what to say. He looked down at her expectant face and all he could see was the little girl she must have been. The little girl she would be until he shattered her whole life with this news. It was suddenly too much for him.
Stepping aside and choking a bit, he nodded to Dr. Jameson. She came to sit down next to Katie. When she grabbed both of Katie’s hands with her own, Katie’s fear spiked horribly. Her heart was now beating so fast, the pounding in her ears was all she could hear. She felt herself begin to perspire. She couldn’t breathe, oh God, she couldn’t breathe! She suddenly fixed her intense gaze on the doctor, silently willing her to tell her what was so wrong and at the same time pleading with her not to.
It seemed to be minutes before the doctor spoke, but in fact was just a few short seconds. The doctor, to her credit, only hesitated slightly, chancing a look at the Dean and the officers as if to bolster her resolve. Finally deciding she could put it off no longer, she looked back at Katie.
“Katherine, I’m afraid we are here under the most troubling of circumstances. I...your... Katherine, there has been an accident,” she finished lamely.
Katie couldn’t seem to think. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Please tell me this isn’t happening! Oh God, oh God. She felt as though her heart had suddenly been torn out. Instinctively she knew. Oh God, she knew and she didn’t want to know! Oh God, please let this be a dream. Oh God, oh God. Again, Katie managed only one word.
Dr. Jameson took another deep breath and resolved that she could put it off no longer. “Your mother, Katherine. Your mother was in an accident. She lost control of the car on the icy roads.” She paused only momentarily before adding the final blow.
“I’m sorry, Katherine, your mother is dead.”