Read Common Ground (The Common Ground Trilogy Book 1) Online
Authors: Barry Chaison
“Uh, is there a problem with that?” I asked, breaking the silence that had fallen on our table.
“Oh nothing, it, it’s nothing.”
“Wait, Simi, you’re hiding something. What about the Beta house?”
Simi’s gaze flashed back outside as her hands fidgeted with the fork she had used to eat. There appeared to be a massive internal battle going on in her head, as though she really wanted to say something, but then thought better of it. I sat there and waited for her as the clock on the wall slowly inched towards noon.
“Look Zoe, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” she finally said.
“Okay, does it have to do with Annie?”
“Yes and no,” she responded hesitantly. “I feel that as one of your leaders, it is my responsibility to make sure you guys stay safe and have the best experience possible on this campus. But, the Beta house has some members in it that are not what I’d consider good guys. They have a reputation for being more of the sleazy, self-centered and sometimes dangerous fraternity guys on campus. You know the stereotypical fraternity guy? Some of the Betas make them look like wimps.”
“To be honest with you, I’ve actually been over there before. Liam invited all of us to their Toga party at the beginning of the year, and I can definitely see what you are saying about them. I wasn’t impressed at all.”
“Wait, Liam invited you?” she asked, stunned.
I nodded. “Yeah, he and Annie are dating now. That’s who she’s been with over there.”
Simi took a deep breath and stared directly into my eyes. “Zoe, what I’m about to tell you is coming from me as a friend. But, consider it more of a warning than a friendly piece of advice.”
“Okay,” I said nervously. Simi looked hesitant to continue as she opened and closed her mouth a few times before she finally spoke again.
“Liam is bad news, and Annie would be better off staying as far away from him as possible. I’ve known him for a little over a year now, and spent all summer with him getting ready for Orientation Week. All I can say is that he has absolutely no respect for women, and some of my own sorority sisters have firsthand accounts of how low he can be. If I were you, I’d get Annie out of there as soon as possible.”
All of my worst fears had come true in one fell swoop. Something deep inside had been screaming Liam was bad news but for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to step in and tell Annie what I felt. But if Simi, who knew him a lot better than I did, said he was trouble, there was no other confirmation I needed.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” I said, shaking my head. “Thank you Simi, I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied, as a smile slowly came back to her face. “Just make sure you look out for Annie. Liam has a way of warping girls’ minds. It’s a nasty skill.”
I grabbed my phone and looked at the clock, which read 11:50. The conversation had flown by so quickly, I almost forgot about my Philosophy class.
“I’m sorry to cut this short Simi, but I have class in 10 minutes. I’ve got to get going.”
“Oh, time sure does fly when you’re having fun, huh?” she said, as she tore a piece of paper out of her bag and jotted something down on it with a blue pen.
We both stood up and she put the folded piece of paper in my hand.
“That’s my number,” she said. “Call me if you need anything. I mean it.”
“Thanks,” I said, as I folded the paper back up and slid it into my bag. “I definitely will.”
We gave each other one final hug as I turned and left The Pit. It wasn’t even noon yet, and my birthday had already turned out to be one of the most emotionally draining days I’d had on campus.
Philosophy and math flew by almost instantly. It was difficult to focus on anything in class as my mind had been torn into two pieces. One part could think of nothing but the most recent dream involving my parents. The vision of my younger face lit up in such an ecstatic smile, while my parents stood over me looking extremely proud was engrained in my memory. A small part of me still wondered what exactly had gotten my mother so shaken up during their private discussion, but the joy I relived outweighed any other curiosities that plagued my thoughts.
The other, bigger, portion was focused solely on Annie, and what mess she had dove into. Simi’s warning floated in my mind all afternoon, but I was at a complete loss for how to approach Annie on the subject. The way she acted around him was so different than any other guy she’d dated that it was going to be a difficult task to bring up Simi’s warning without alienating her completely. I tried to shake those thoughts out of my head as the apartment came into view, where Annie waited with a birthday surprise.
I stepped inside the apartment and the door closed behind me. A delicious scent of baked goodness wafted through the air. There was something familiar about the smell, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Zoe? Is that you?” Annie’s voice yelled from somewhere behind the closed kitchen door.
“Yeah,” I hollered back.
“Do me a favor, give me about 5 minutes to finish up in here before you come in? Just hang out in your room until I get you.”
“Why? What are you doing in there?” I asked loudly, sauntering slowly towards the kitchen through the TV room.
“I told you to give me 5 minutes!” she snapped as her head poked out of the sliding wooden door. “It’s a surprise!”
“Okay, okay, calm down,” I laughed. “I’ll be in my room.”
I walked into the room and threw my bag onto the bed. My body collapsed next to it as I turned on the fan that rested on the nightstand. The smell from the kitchen had followed me, making it impossible to relax with such a delightful aroma filling the air. Without any other options, I decided to unpack my bag until Annie came for me. The package from the Johnsons was the first thing out, so I tossed it onto the bed softly and continued to unpack everything else. After five minutes, a hard knock on the door echoed throughout the room. Annie, singing loudly and wearing a pointy party hat, entered the room carrying something that brought tears to my eyes.
Resting in Annie’s hands was a full sized rainbow chip cake, complete with frosting and 20 sparkling candles. Once Annie was finished singing, she told me to make a wish before blowing them out.
“But I’m not 20 yet,” I joked, wiping a tear away.
“No, but you need one to grow on!” she demanded.
Just as in my dream, I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about what I wanted more than anything in the world. My mind raced through many different things, but I finally realized that there was nothing else, or nowhere else I’d rather have been than right there at that very moment, with my best friend.
After a minute, I opened my eyes and blew out all the candles in one fell swoop. Annie put the cake down and gave me a big hug.
“Happy Birthday Zoe, I love you,” she whispered as more tears filled my eyes.
“I love you too,” I said back.
“Hey, is that from my parents?” Annie asked, referencing the gift sitting on my bed.
“Oh yeah, you want me to open it?”
“Sure, but I already know what it is,” she said with a slight smirk.
I picked up the box and tore it open. There was a rectangular object that was wrapped up in bubble wrap and tissue paper, which took a few seconds to tear off. After all of the wrappings were off, I flipped the frame over and gazed in wonder.
It wasn’t one of my mother’s paintings, but instead a simple photo that I hadn’t seen in years. In it stood two young girls, one with curly, golden hair and majestic green eyes, the other with long black hair and mysterious blue eyes. Their arms were around each other and huge, gaping-tooth smiles covered their faces from ear to ear. The Puget Sound was in the background as a beautiful sunset rippled off the water. I looked up at Annie who had an even wider smile plastered on her face.
“Pretty cool huh?” she asked.
“You did this?” I asked in awe.
“I guess you could say that. I called my mom and told her what we should do. She then got out some of your parents old pictures and we went through them on the phone for hours until we found it. It’s my favorite picture of us.”
“It’s the best gift I’ve ever received,” I said, choking up.
“Well the day’s not over yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“You may want to change. We’re going out for a drive.”
Chapter 5: Old Acquaintances
“Wow,” I gasped in wonder, staring down into a vast pit of power lines and turbine engines. “Annie, you have to come and see this!”
“I’m good over here, thanks,” came Annie’s queasy voice from somewhere close behind me.
I turned on the spot and noticed how far away Annie really was standing. She was at least ten feet back, keeping as far away from the ledge as possible. Even with her oversized sunglasses and enormous amounts of makeup, the paleness of her face was obvious. A tall, but narrow concrete tower was holding her weight as she leaned up against it, arms folded across her chest. Even though she looked and sounded sick, a faint smile spread across her lips as she saw me turn to face her.
“Oh come on Ann, they have guard rails for a reason!” I joked.
“Yeah, yeah, you go ahead and enjoy it for the both of us then.”
I shook my head and turned back around, refocusing my eyes on the rapidly tumbling water spewing out from the massive concrete structure. At that moment, a strong gust of wind blew up as the refreshing scent of fresh river water filled the air. “So I read online that Hoover Dam provides power to Vegas and even LA, isn’t that crazy?”
“Wow,” she said lazily. “That’s amazing. But, the fact you know that doesn’t surprise me Zoe. I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it!” I replied cheerfully. Turning back to face her, I spread my arms out and rested them on the guard rails, and leaned back, putting my full weight against the protective concrete barrier. “How’d you come up with this anyway?”
“I uh,” she said uneasily, turning a shade of light green. “I know how much you love these historical monuments.”
As she spoke, her hands clasped onto the stable tower even tighter.
“You know me way too well,” I said with a half smile.
“Why don’t you come away from there for a few minutes?” she asked nervously, her voice breaking with each word.
I took a deep breath of the fresh air and gazed back out at the natural beauty that encircled us. Rugged, dusty brown colored mountaintops spanned all around on every side, as the Colorado River flowed smoothly at the basin. It was a strange sight, as the turbine engines ruffled the flow of water within a few hundred feet of the dam before the river calmed down again. The sky was a picturesque light blue, without a cloud anywhere to be seen. It was an ideal desert setting, with rich warm colors and a glaring sun, which basked down onto the hundreds of tourists scattered on top of thousands of tons of concrete.
“You want to take a walk then? Check out the rest of it?” I asked, as I walked away from the edge.
“Sounds great,” Annie exhaled.
The air wasn’t as warm as it had been in Vegas, but the sun was still doing its best job at blinding us. As we walked along the path around the dam, everyone we passed seemed to be in a cheerful mood either sporting ear-to-ear smiles or joking pleasantly with their companions. Being with Annie just made it seem that much more perfect.
“So, have you had a good birthday so far?” Annie asked, as the color slowly returned to her face.
“It’s been wonderful,” I said. “One of the best birthdays ever.”
“I’m glad to hear it! Are you completely surprised though? That was the main thing I was going for with all of this.”
“Oh yeah, definitely surprised. Not even Steph gave it away. She kind of hinted at something, but never said anything about what you actually had planned.”
“Thank god,” Annie breathed, sounding very relieved. “She was the only one who knew where we were going. I was talking to her about you and your birthday, and she kind of helped me figure this all out. There were a few times that I got a little worried she would let something slip though.”
“Nope, didn’t give anything away. I’m glad she didn’t, because this is just incredible,” I said in awe, gazing back down at the calmer, more serene river far below. Unlike the other side, where the powerful turbine engines spewed water all over the place, the opposite side had a comforting stillness, where the bright sun reflected beautifully off the ripple-less top.
“Well, I guess you’ve had the perfect birthday so far. Our trip out here, the photo, going to classes, shoot, you even got a full night’s sleep!” Annie exclaimed. “What else could you want?”
Her mention of the word sleep triggered some type of automatic recall system in my brain. My thoughts instinctively jumped right back towards my most recent dream. The images of my parents’ proud faces and the look of innocent joy that was cemented on my younger face rotated in and out of my mind like a slideshow. A profound sense of yearning invaded my heart, which replaced any feelings of happiness that my birthday had created. I could feel the smile on my face slowly break down into a gloomy frown.
“What’s wrong?” Annie asked.
“It’s nothing,” I said quickly.