Fortune Cookies

Thanks for calling Dylan Lake, but I can't answer right now. I'm probably driving or trying to keep one of my brothers from destroying my personal belongings – most likely the second one. Well, just leave your message and I'll call back as soon as I can. Tootles.

Anyone would've stopped calling after getting the same freaking voice mail message seventeen times, but not me. I continue pacing around the kitchen while compulsively pressing the number three of my cell phone's speed dial – Dylan comes right after my parents. Every once in a while I drink some orange juice straight from the carton, what will certainly make my mom look at me disapprovingly if she catches me when she comes back from work, but I don't care about that. I have something bigger to worry about.

Tomorrow morning I'm getting into a car that will drive me to the airport so I can take a flight to Massachusetts at ten in the morning. I'm going to spend the next four weeks in Boston with my father and his fiancé, having fun and helping with the last details of their impending marriage ceremony. Even though I've known about it for months, I still gushed with excitement until this morning when anyone asked what my plans for the summer are. But now the next month may have been ruined by a low-life jerk named Finley Tate. Thanks to him one of my two best friends is stubbornly refusing to talk to me and ignoring all my attempts f contacting her.

Finley Tate is the kind of guy that every girl wants to go out with at least once in her life because he's the right combination of danger, mystery, beauty and charm. He can talk his way out of trouble better than an underage model with long lashes. His green eyes make it hard to remember the fact that he's cheated on every single girlfriend he's ever had, probably the reason why I agreed to go out with him when he asked me three months ago. And he'd used the trademark Finley Tate smile when requesting that our dates were kept a secret, to what I had dumbly agreed – though the first thing I'd done after talking to him was calling my other best friend and tell her everything in details.

It turns out I should've listened to Ella when she told me that going out with him wasn't a good idea. Clearly, I wasn't thinking of what may happen or not, I just said yes and dreamt about Saturday night at eight pm, when he was supposed to pick me up to go somewhere fun and have a nice time; which was exactly what happened. But Ella is the voice of reason, she's always been and going against her opinion wasn't a good thing – it certainly hadn't worked ignoring her advice when Dylan and I proceeded with a complex scheme to cheat on a Spanish final last year and got caught by the teacher.

I stop pacing after listening to the voice mail message for the nineteenth time and sigh loudly. Dylan probably turned her cell phone off after the five first calls, so it isn't going to make a difference to keep trying. I think of my unfinished bags in my room and pout to the picture hanging on the wall, some hideous green alien that I had drawn during art class in seventh grade.

It's almost seven and I know for a fact that Dylan isn't babysitting her brothers anymore, because her mother arrives home at six sharp every day regardless of the weather conditions or amount of work she has done or has to do. Dylan is always getting stuck with babysitting duties given that her parents rarely ever have time alone since the birth of the triplets four years ago. Whenever Dylan isn't taking care of her siblings, she's with me because I'm the only other friend of hers that has as much free time as she does – Ella normally has to juggle one of those crazy part-time jobs or gigs that she frequently manages to get, like being a magician's assistant, modeling jewelry for catalogues that will be sent to Easter Europe or posing half-naked for her aunt's art students in their life drawing classes.

The reason why Dylan isn't talking to me is part of the reason why Finley Tate is a self-absorbed jackass and also the explanation to keeping our encounters secret: he was dating the two of us at the

same time! I think what surprised me the most was the fact that Dylan even agreed to go out with him, because she has continuously sustained that his habit of objectifying women is a major turn off and she likes guys with content. Finley Tate has substantial knowledge of assorted subjects, I must admit, but it's not like he discusses them a lot or in depth.

After Ella and Quinn Chase, one of our common friends, showed me visual evidence of such accusation, I decided to tell Dylan all about it. I promptly marched over to where the two of them were and opened my mouth to notify my friend, but Finley beat me to it and delivered this whole speech about how I had repeatedly tried to seduce him despite the fact he'd warned me that he was going out with my best friend! Ella and Quinn were as surprised and outraged as I was. The nerve of that guy! I could curse him with ten different kinds of things, but decided to take the higher road and just silently dislike him and let karma do the job.

"Karma takes too long sometimes," Ella said after Dylan and Finley stormed off. "You should come up with a plan to humiliate him and possibly make sure that Finley Tate won't ever two-time any other girl."

"Ella, you're talking to Ava, not Jesus," had been Quinn's reply and his comment still makes me chuckle a little. I remember how Ella simply shook her red hair from her face and shot him a mocking glare before smiling and laughing along.

My thoughts are interrupted when a sudden noise gets my attention. I turn around to see my mom fumbling with a couple of paper bags full of groceries and the house keys, trying to open the side door connected to our garage. I have time to grab a cup from the sink so I can pretend to be drinking juice from it instead of swallowing it from the carton. After a second or so I finally walk over and unlock the door, almost making my mother fall to the floor – she wasn't expecting me to be home.

"Thanks, sweetie, but what are you doing here?" she asks me while dropping everything on the kitchen island. I spy a jar of Nutella and a pack of English muffins in one of the bags and quickly put them out before fishing a knife from the top drawer. "I thought you'd be out having dinner with the girls."

"That was before Dylan got mad at us," I reply while carefully spreading the chocolaty delight on a muffin so I won't get any of it on my hand. I then proceed to give my mother the Reader's Digest version of the whole drama. She smiles sympathetically after I finish the story and asks if there's any way she can help.

I shake my head in a negative manner and explain that Ella is supposedly working on getting Dylan to listen to our version of the story, the real version, what may take anything from an hour to a week depending on their humor. I try to forget that the last time Ella tried to get someone to hear her version of a story she ended up punching a guy in school grounds and landing a week of detention and counseling sessions – our principal thinks she has anger management issues. I can't say I disagree.

I eat two English muffins with extra Nutella as my mom puts the groceries away. She's talking about her day at work and how she saw on the internet that two people in the Boston area were killed last night. My father lets me walk all around Boston by myself or with his fiancé's 21-year-old half-brother even if it drives my mother crazy. She thinks that I'm prone to be attacked by sexual predators and homeless people because I'm a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl – her words, not mine - and tries to show me how violent the big cities can be by reciting statistics and recent news.

Her views on big cities, however, are slightly biased and exaggerated. First of all, she grew up in a small town in California where people greet everyone they see on the sidewalk and yield for pedestrians even if all they did was think about crossing the street. She likes suburban areas, where we can listen to crickets on summer nights and find grasshoppers in the garden on hot days. We live forty minutes away from San Francisco and she would rather drive in the city or take public transportation than moving there, what would be much easier on the long run. The only time my

mother actually lived somewhere with more than a hundred thousand inhabitants was when she moved to Boston for university and met my father, a self-proclaimed city rat – he grew up in New York City and has never lived anywhere with less than two million people or no alarming noise ratings.

After promising her to be careful in Boston, I assure her that yes, I did eat real food for dinner and not random crap like instant mac & cheese or frozen pizza. She's going through this healthy phase ever since grandpa's doctors found out he had a sort of malnutrition problem because he ate too much junk food, which apparently doesn't have all the nutrients and vitamins humans need to survive. Now she buys organic products and things with reduced fat percentages or minimal amounts of sugar – even the snack stuff tastes. She always gives me something to take to school for lunch and I happily trade them with whatever Dylan takes – her mother is the total opposite of mine and lets them eat whatever they want. During sixth grade Dylan decided to eat only chicken nuggets or PB&J sandwiches and did so for almost six months, when she decided to become a vegetarian – a phase that lasted two weeks.

My mother looks at me for a minute longer than usual, as if trying to assess my resolve, like a test to decide if she believes me or not. She finally nods and smiles before telling me that I can have dessert if I want. I politely refuse, because the only thing we have is all-natural vanilla ice cream, and excuse myself to go to my room, given that I still need to finish packing. She seems to understand and bids me goodnight before quietly saying that things will work out sooner or later. And I really wish it happens sooner rather than later, because then it may be too late. I know the kind of strain a situation like this can cause on a friendship.

Fifteen minutes before midnight Ella calls me. My ringtone for her is a random Avril Lavigne song, even though we both think it's stupid. It rings twice before I finally manage to pull it out of my pocket, a clear sign of how tight my jeans are and how urgently I need to start working out. The expectation in my voice is obvious as I greet her and quickly ask if Dylan and she talked today. Ella hesitates before telling me that she didn't make any progress with our best friend. She's still buying Finley's version, a fact that really leaves no room for me to defend her in the future when people call her a dumb blonde just because she's blonde.

We talk for some more time as I finally get done with packing. My father will probably laugh at the size of my two bags when he picks me up at the airport tomorrow, but I've never been good at packing light – my mother and grandmothers taught me how to pack and they're the kind of people that believe drastic changes in weather conditions can happen suddenly, so one should always be prepared for every possible situation and that explains why I had a sweater with me during the hottest summer of my life when I visited Dallas two years ago.

Ella bids me goodbye after forty minutes of conversation, just as I zip up my bags and plug in my laptop to charge it. As I go to sleep, the only thing I can think of is how the whole situation with Dylan makes me sad. How can she believe Finley Tate over Ella and me? I always thought we'd choose each other over anyone else regardless of the situation, but this proves me wrong. It takes five tracks from The Fray's album to put me to sleep.

I wake up only six hours after going to bed with my alarm clock blaring out a random rock song. Before my fingers even reach the snooze button my mom comes opens the door and happily announces that I need to get up and change if I want to have breakfast before leaving for the airport. In record time I'm heading downstairs to the kitchen showered, dressed and refreshed. We eat pancakes with fruits, bacon and eggs with orange juice and coffee while reading the newspaper's front page and talking about how I'll probably spend my next month.

My mother's very excited that I'm helping with my father's marriage and wishes she could attend it, but she has an important business meeting on the same and the meeting was arranged even before the wedding ceremony. I usually thank heavens that my parents are still friends despite the divorce, but sometimes I have to wonder if their proximity doesn't bother my father's fiancé or my mother's possible suitors. Ella says they're kind of like Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. I never ask.

Just as I'm finishing my food, we hear a car parking outside the house and someone coming in through the front door. My mother always keeps it locked, so it's easy to guess who could be the person coming inside – I use less than ten fingers to count how many people have a copy of our front door's key and the spare one is in the neighbor's garage because we thought it would be too obvious to keep ours in our own garage. Besides, the people living next door are very close to my family and we have their spare key as well. It's a win-win deal.

"Where's your stuff?" Ella asks as she walks in the kitchen carrying a small gift box. Her red hair is in a sleek ponytail and she has some makeup on, just enough to disguise the fact she hadn't had enough sleep the previous night. "Hey, Mrs. Stamford."

"Hi, Isabella! How are you today, dear?" my mother says with a shiny smile and I can see the effort my friend makes in order not to cringe at the use of her actual name as she gives a short answer. "Well, you're just on time to help Ava with her bags. I'll tackle the dishes while you girls bring everything downstairs."

"I'm impressed," I tell Ella as we make the way upstairs and she gives me a confused look. "You almost didn't twitch when my mother called you the I name."

"Oh. She caught me off guard, 'cause she usually uses a pet name," Ella said and handed me the small gift box she had been holding. "Just a little something that will hopefully cheer you up."

I smile, saying that she didn't have to get me anything, especially because I didn't buy anything for her. Ella just shrugs and tells me to open the box, what I do carefully so the blue bow is still intact. Inside the package is a variety of sour candy stripes, simply my most favorite candy ever – after chocolate, of course. I thank her and offer a green apple stripe before getting a strawberry one for myself. We chew happily while dragging my bags down to the living room. Ella doesn't say much and neither do I, because we don't have to – we know we're going to keep in touch and I'll be gone for a month, not eternity. It'll be over before we realize it.

Just as I think this, it occurs to me that yesterday I had the opposite thought with Dylan in mind. Here I am thinking that a month without Ella will fly by because we're sure we'll be in touch and yesterday I thought of how long the same period of time was because Dylan and I aren't speaking to each other. It's funny how different circumstances can make similar things seem so unlike. I shove the thought in the back of my mind as I shove one of my bags in the backseat of my mother's car. Just as we start making our way back inside, a car drives up and we recognize it thanks to the bright red paint job and the extremely dark windows.

The car stops in front of my house and its driver turns the engine off before stepping out. My lips form a smile almost immediately when I see Dylan, which quickly fades since I have no idea what's going to happen next. She hesitates, standing by the vehicle with a hand holding the door open and the other moving her purple-framed sunglasses from her face to her blonde head. I exchange glances with Ella and smile to Dylan again. After a second more, she smiles and closes the car's door before making her way around it and running towards us.

I run in her direction as well and we meet in the middle of the front yard. Our hug is tight and she apologizes shyly, but profusely. Dylan tells me about Ella's speech and how she did some thinking, but it's unclear how she changed her mind and decided to believe in me because she can hardly finish a sentence before starting a new one. When she asks me to forgive her, my only reaction is to laugh and shrug it off – there is nothing to forgive, it was just a momentary lapse of judgment. Ella hugs the two of us when we hug again. Dylan's about to say something else, but interrupts herself when we all hear my mother say something about airplanes not waiting for late passengers. We turn around to see her coming outside carrying my backpack, purse and her own oversized tote with some difficulty. I walk over to her and grab my stuff and the house key to lock the door. We then fall into step and go to her car.

Ella hugs me for one last time and isn't shy when asking for a present. She tells me that I suck at picking gifts, because all I ever bring back are t-shirts or hoodies with university names on them. I claim it's not my fault that the Boston area has over a hundred or more institutions. Ella rolls her eyes and tells me to get a magnet, a water globe, anything but a clothing garment. Dylan laughs as she hugs me once more and says she'll still be my friend even if I get her something that sucks. Then she gives me a small gift bag, red and shiny like her car. Before I can even think of opening it, my mother honks and startles us. The three of us laugh and kiss each other's cheeks before I finally get in the car. I wave as we drive off and watch my best friends until they're too small to see.

My mother turns on the radio loud enough to listen to the music, something by The Killers, but not too loud that I can't listen to her immense list of recommendations. It doesn't matter that she's already told me the same things twice today and another hundred times every other occasion I caught a flight, cab, subway, train or bus by myself. My mother knows the speech by heart, like every other parent in the universe, and so do I from listening to it so often. I promise to follow every guideline and not get in trouble just as we get to the airport.

"Oh, sweetie, I hate seeing you leave!"

"Mom, it's just a month. I'll be back before you know it."

"I know. Only a month and I'm making this scene," she says with a chuckle.

"Yes, you drama queen. I can't imagine what you'll do when I go off to college," I make the mistake of saying and see her lip quiver for a second. She looks like she's going to cry, but doesn't do so.

"We'll have waterworks for sure," she says and chuckles again. "I'll bring extra Kleenex packs. Well, you should go, dear. Only twenty minutes more."

The twenty minutes seem to go by quite quickly, even though the only things I do are waiting and listening to my MP3 while sending a text message to my father to tell him that I'm boarding the aircraft. His fiancé's brother will pick me up in Boston and take me to their apartment, where I'll decide what to order for dinner and rest with the purpose of getting used to the time change, since they're hours ahead. Soon enough I'm looking for my seat, which is by the window as I specifically requested when booking it online.

An old lady is on the aisle seat and she has a giant hairdo, what makes me wonder if she's from Texas. She's really nice when I ask if I can pass and the Southern twang is a strong indication that my guess may be right. The middle seat is left empty as I take mine and buckle the belt five seconds before a flight attendant walks by and tells us to buckle up. The old lady's about to say something when a handsome man approaches her and excuses himself because he has to disturb her so as to get to his seat, the middle spot. I smile when I catch the woman quickly winking at me before directing her attention to the young guy.

Their idle chat is promptly forgotten when the shiny red bag gets my attention. I grab it and shove my hand inside it as carefully as my excitement allows me to. My eyes water for a second as I stare at the fortune cookies that are wrapped in colorful paper instead of boring plastic packs with the silly names of Chinese restaurants. Ella, Dylan and I had once found an Asian store that sold empty fortune cookies so people could write their own to put inside and ever since Ella had argued with us over a stupid thing and used them to apologize, we would get the cookies and write sweet messages to each other.

Only one of the cookies is wrapped in red paper, Dylan's favorite color – all the others are in blue paper, most likely because that's the one I like the most – and I open it first. The message in it makes me smile again just as the young man finally sits next to me and is introduced to me by the old lady, who turns out to be from Tennessee.

have a safe journey …