Author's note: Please bear with me. The second chapter will have a bit more of background and will explain how the characters have reached this stage of their lives. This first chapter is really more about setting the scene and the premise for the story. Any omissions will be dealt with soon enough.
Needless to say, I don't own any of the characters within the story, and feedback is always appreciated.
Now I'm nearing thirty, I have made a decision. Secretly, without telling any of my friends, I've drawn up a 'To Do' list which I'm trying to complete before the big 3-0.
I don't know what the trigger for this sudden crisis was. I've never been overly bothered by my age, and in the years gone by I have never seen the age of thirty as some sort of milestone. Still, it's six months until the big date, and one day a couple of weeks ago I suddenly began over-analysing every single little thing about my life.
When I left college, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do with my life Trini settled back in California, and I followed her to the same town, eventually finding a job working in the local courthouse as a court reporter. Every day is certainly different, and my natural curiosity is satisfied by listening to different cases and hearing people's stories. It wasn't what I'd ever pictured myself doing for a job, but what do you do when you've achieved your dreams by the age of nineteen? After winning an Olympic medal, anything else is bound to feel like a sort of demotion.
Despite that, I never thought I was unfulfilled, or lacking anything in my life. I have friends who live close by, I go on dates occasionally and I enjoy my life. At least, I thought I did. My subconscious, however, seemed to want to educate and inspire me in many different ways, and so one Tuesday evening, when I had cancelled a babysitting date for Trini to stay at home and watch DVDs, I found myself using the shorthand notepad I normally use for work to write a list of things to do before next February.
The list started out full of grand ideas and sweeping generalisations. For example, number one in my first draft was "Go to Africa." Right. As though Africa was not a huge continent with many different countries and cultural differences, but just one country. The first draft of the list also included seeing penguins in their natural habitat, designing my own wedding dress and walking across America.
The grandeur of the list may have had something to do with a bottle of white wine which seemed to have disappeared rather quickly, come to think of it. It's amazing how my opinion of my abilities, not to mention finances, suddenly increased with direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed.
Although the first draft of the list died a quick death, the idea continued to niggle away at me for the following couple of days. I met Trini for coffee one lunchbreak not too long afterwards, and the topic of birthdays came up.
We meet in a cafe around the corner from where I work. Easy access for me, and as Trini works from home she generally jumps at the chance to get out of the office when she can.
I walk into the crowded coffee house at a little after twelve-thirty, and see Trini already seated at a coveted table with comfortable chairs, and with two lattes waiting in front of me.
"You're a godsend, do you know that?" I say, slumping gratefully into the oversized armchair and moving the untouched latte towards me. "This has been the day from hell." Enjoying my job does not mean I am impervious to the odd bad day. Or bad week, for that matter.
"It can't have been any worse than mine," Trini argues, sitting back in her chair and closing her eyes. "Trying to balance the accounts of someone who believes tracking down one till receipt out of four is anyone's worst nightmare. He presented me with about ten pieces of paper which looked as though they'd been through the laundry more than once, and then had the gall to tell me they represented all his expenditure over the past year."
"I don't envy you that, anyway," I reply, and take a sip of the coffee.
"The real world is fantastic," Trini drawls, with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Still, whenever I feel down, I always remember that you will be thirty before me, and that makes me feel a lot better."
"You're a true friend, do you know that?" I retort, and Trini grins. I'm only a month older than her, but ever since college she's gloried in the fact that she was born in March, but I was born in February. Of course, in high school it was the other way around, and she was jealous of me. I got my driver's license first, was able to stay out late first...
The mention of age draws my mind back to the fateful night already beginning to gain legend in my mind under the title That Tuesday, and I groan slightly.
"What?" Trini asks, unable to take the curiosity out of her voice. "Did you forget to pay your parking tickets again? For someone who works in a courthouse, you have a lax interpretation of time limits."
"No!" I say, affronted, and throw a sugar packet from the bowl on our table at her. "I haven't gotten a parking ticket for at least, um, a month. And stop talking to me like you're about to convict me of some sort of felony! But that's not what's bothering me."
"Sorry," Trini says, and has the sense to actually look sorry as opposed to smirking and winking at me. "So, what's the problem? Anything I can help you with?"
"Not unless you can magically resurrect any powers we have floating around us and create a time machine so I don't have to be thirty yet," I say mournfully, and take a large sip of coffee. "I sort of spent all last Tuesday night compiling a list of things to do before The Birthday."
"The Tuesday night you cried off from babysitting?" Trini says with a fearsome glare.
Oops. The night I decided I was not in the right frame of mind to babysit my three year old godson, and pretended I was behind at work. And in my defense, how many three year olds have you come across who think a good night is hearing their godmother complain that she'll never get to see penguins in their natural habitat?
"Did I say Tuesday? I meant Wednesday," I say with a grin. "You know me and dates."
Trini doesn't exactly look pacified, but neither does she look homicidal. "So, what was on the list? And why are you talking about your birthday as though it's written in capital letters?
"I don't know," I admit. "I didn't think I was going to be affected by it, but then Tue- I mean, Wednesday, I got home and started thinking. And I know we both have had a better life than most, and have been incredibly lucky, but there are still so many things I want to do with my life. I should have done them all by now, but instead I'm here."
"Just because you're going to be thirty doesn't mean you'll keel over and die," Trini points out helpfully. "It's not the end of the world, Kim. It's not even remotely old. You can still do all the things you want to do, like... what kind of things do you want to do?"
I am not mentioning the penguins. She will laugh, and remind me of the time we went to Stone Canyon Zoo for her eighth birthday. I do NOT want that brought up again. I still have nightmares.
"Well, after a bottle of wine, the list was very ambitious," I admit. "But there's not a lot of point in saying you want to see Africa when you have the grand total of one thousand and eighty dollars in your savings account. And I think parachuting over the Grand Canyon is probably out of the question as well."
"Where would you land?" Trini, ever the practical one, asks. Then her eyes narrow, and she looks at me with a horribly knowing expression. "Let me hazard a guess. Was wine involved in this decision-making process?"
"Maybe," I say defiantly. "Moving swiftly on, maybe a list isn't such a bad idea." I pause, and gaze unseeingly in front of me while my mind works overtime. Then, I strike gold. "Why don't you make a list too? We could do new and exciting things together."
Trini shakes her head. "I don't think I share your views about turning thirty, Kim. Maybe it's because I'm settled and have a family, but I don't think I feel as restless as you do."
"Please don't turn this into another conversation where you tell me that Jason has a friend at work who would be just perfect for me," I beg. After the fifth bad date in a row, I placed a strict embargo on Jason fixing me up. This hasn't stopped Trini attempting to place 'good catches' in my way ever since. "You know ever since the run of bad luck I decided Jason is the only human in his office."
Trini looks unruffled, and finishes her drink before continuing. "If you say so, but if you change your mind one of Jason's colleagues is divine."
"Divine like a prison sentence," I mumble under my breath, but luckily I don't think she heard. I'm within target range, and Trini can still kick harder than anyone I know. "Well, if you don't join me, I'll just have to devise the list by myself. Would you at least be the keeper of the list?"
"If only to keep you on the straight and narrow," Trini agrees, and pulls a pen and pad out from her oversized handbag. "There's no time like the present. What do you want to do before you're thirty?"
It's difficult to pull out any specifics, there's only a burning need to do... something. All my life, there's been something to aim for. Gymnastics, college, creating a career for myself. Now I have the career, but am not quite sure what to do with it, and it's caused me to question everything else going on in my life.
A long held ambition from when I was a kid suddenly pops into my memory, and this is one that doesn't involve Africa or penguins at all. "I want to learn ballroom dancing."
"You've been watching too many episodes of Dancing with the Stars," Trini mutters darkly, but bends down over the pad and scribbles something down anyway.
"There have to be some local classes. I'll look online when I get home from work," I decide. And so what if I've been watching too much TV? A girl's allowed to want to learn to waltz, after all. "And I want to learn a language," I say wildly.
"Which one?" Trini says sceptically, pausing from her writing to look at me. "You can already speak French, so I don't think that counts."
"I can barely speak French," I correct Trini. Three summers in France with my mother, and I can barely do more than order hot chocolate. "I think Spanish would be a good language to learn," I say, while daydreaming about paella and flamenco dancing. "Plus, I know that the community centre do adult classes in Spanish on a Thursday. If I wanted to learn Flemish or Estonian, that may have been a problem."
"Good luck with breaking it to your mother that you've actively decided against learning the language of her adopted country," Trini grins, but starts writing again anyway. "Are you going to add the whole 'parachuting in the Grand Canyon' thing or have you decided against being insane?"
"I'd like to skydive again," I say, thinking nostalgically of younger days and skydiving over Angel Grove. "But let's remove the Grand Canyon from the equation."
"Got it," Trini says. "Jason may want to join you if you go ahead with skydiving. He's been mentioning wanting to try it for a long time. I think he was jealous that you guys did the sponsored jump but we missed out. I, meanwhile, would be happy monitoring the jump from the safety of the ground."
"No problem," I say, and pick up my mug to finish the latte, still thinking intently of possibilities. "Can you put on the list that I want to get a promotion? And maybe buy a dog. And get married."
"It's nice to see you haven't lost your sense of perspective," Trini says mockingly. "You've got six months, Kim. And if you don't get all these things done, you'll get depressed and end up in a worse position than you are now. Why not try to keep your tasks to those you can achieve? There's no point in starting out to make yourself feel bad on purpose."
"Fair enough," I say distractedly, and start chewing on a frayed fingernail while trying my best to concentrate my mind.
It's true to say that my dating career has pretty much been a disaster the past few years.
One brief engagement aside, the most significant dating event which has happened to me was going on a date and being told I had 'nice eyes'. Seriously. I have lost all faith in men.
So, maybe aiming to get married before I'm thirty is a stupid idea.
Okay, it is a stupid idea. I'd end up married to the guy from the gas station who asks me to marry him every time I go there. I don't think that's a solid basis for a lasting relationship.
There's nothing stopping me from wanting to right past wrongs, however. And there are plenty of those. "I should probably try and call Stephen. And tell him I'm sorry I threw his priceless collector's item baseball from the World Series of whenever through the window of his Porsche. He was an idiot, but he maybe didn't deserve that."
Trini tries to stifle a giggle, but doesn't entirely succeed. "I knew that was you. He called me after you walked out and asked if I'd seen you and whether you'd mentioned taking both his most precious possessions away from him."
This is something I've never heard before. "Really? What did you say?" She shrugs.
"Well at first I thought he meant you and the engagement ring. So I said that I hadn't seen you but had spoken to you, and I was sure you could patch things up if he just apologised. But then he said that his autographed baseball had gone, and the windshield of his precious car had been shattered by something that would have had the proportions of a baseball. I just told him it was probably a neighbourhood kid and that he should lock his car up at night."
"What did he say?"
"He said the car was already in the garage."
Oops. Suffice it to say that I wasn't exactly pleased at finding him in bed with another women three months after he proposed. "He probably found the stupid baseball anyway, I put it on the shelf with the paintcans so all he had to do was raise his eyeline. I drew the line at actually dipping the thing in paint, though. I wanted to leave my options open in case there was ever a divorce settlement and I could auction it off for food money. But as much as it pains me to say it, there were problems with the relationship even before that. I probably owe him an apology."
Trini nods, a small smirk playing across her lips, and writes something on her pad.
We haven't been best friends for the most part of our lives without getting to know when the other one is holding back. Everything about Trini's posture is screaming 'I want to tell you something', and even though I know I will probably regret it, I bite. "What? And don't try to tell me you were only thinking of what to pick up at the grocery store."
Trini sighs, and fiddles with her pen, flicking it up and down and in between her fingers before finally deciding to speak. I'd like to think it's because she doesn't want to face my death glare any longer, but it's probably because she's under some sort of impression that I need to hear what she has to say. "Look, why don't you stop beating around the bush and creating who knows how many targets to hit before February?"
Oh, no. I know exactly what she's getting at. However, I can play dumb for a lot longer than she can. "Really? Do you think I should just put all my savings into the lottery and hope I become a millionaire?
Unfortunately, Trini is also famous for possessing a death glare, and she isn't afraid to fix me with it. And nor is she a fan of playing dumb when straight talking will do. "You know exactly what I mean. You and he have been dancing around each other – and don't even think of making some ballroom dancing analogy – ever since he moved here. But you haven't talked about anything significant, and you really should. It would be healthy, even if nothing more came out of it. And if you're planning on apologising to Stephen for cracking the windshield of his car, you can't exactly say you won't apologise to Tommy. Or at least talk to him."
The only thing I can think of to say is useless, but I say it anyway in the hope she'll get distracted. "I didn't just crack the windshield. I made very sure the hole was a proper hole to show my displeasure."
"How exactly is that relevant?" Trini asks, and slumps back in her chair in exasperation, before pulling herself up into a seated position and looking me in the eye once more. "Try to understand me, Kim. I'm not suggesting you jump into a volcano. I'm not suggesting you trek through Antarctica or the North Pole."
How did she know? Have I let something slip about the penguins?
"And I'm not forcing you to do anything. I just think it would be good for the both of you if you sat down and talked properly. I don't even necessarily think you would be that well suited for each other any more in a relationship. But you need to talk to each other honestly if you ever want to be friends again. I know you do."
I hate it when you're right. I also hate it when she says something deliberately calculated to get me annoyed, such as insinuating that Tommy and I will no longer be well suited.
It's not even that I think there's a chance anymore. I'm not even sure it would work out. I just want to prove her wrong. Preferably without losing face at the same time.
"Fine. Put 'big dramatic discussion with Tommy' on the list," I grumble. "It's not as though we've got much to discuss any more. We talked about the letter years ago."
"But you might want to discuss the huge crush you still have on him," Trini says knowingly.
"You know what he's like – you could hit him over the head with a mallet, but unless you spell it out to him in actual conversation he still won't have a clue."
This is far from being something I want on the list. I was hoping to have happy things on the list, hence the aforementioned marriage and dog. I was hoping to skip the messy bits, the actual progress, like actually breaking the news to an old boyfriend that I actually think he's The One. And then hearing that he wants nothing to do with me.
"No pain, no gain..." Trini says tantalisingly. "What's the worst that can happen?"
"It's alright for you," I point out, neatly avoiding the question. "You've found your soulmate and you're happy. Have you forgotten what it's like to put your heart on the line and then have it stomped on? I already did it once to Tommy, and I don't really want the favour returned."
"It's up to you," Trini says calmly, and puts the lid back on her pen. "I may be the keeper of the list but you ultimately decide what's going on it. Just because I think both of you would be better off talking things through – which implies both of you have issues the other should know about, by the way – doesn't mean it automatically goes on the list."
Back up a minute. What?
"Issues?" I say nonchalantly, pushing my now empty mug away from me and into the middle of the marble effect table. "What kind of issues?"
Damn Trini and her range of smug expressions. "You'll never know if you don't ask now, will you?" She rips the piece of paper from her pad and pushes it towards me, before putting the pen and pad back in her bag and pushing her chair back. "I have to go back to work, a client's coming over at two to collect his reports and I have to be on time otherwise I'll be late picking up Charlie from the sitter."
"Let me know if you want a sitter one evening. I could take Charlie to the park," I offer, still thinking over what Trini has said. So Tommy still has issues? Does that mean he still hates me and has barely been tolerating me these past few months? Or does it mean something more?
It can't mean anything more than friendship. Can it? We're so different now. Back in the Ranger days we complemented each other but these days I don't think that's the case. I know I still find him very attractive, which I have made the mistake of sharing with Trini, but I don't know whether a relationship will work. And I am really starting to regret the idea of the list.
"I'll call you during the week," Trini says, and stands up. "Do you want to walk out together?"
"Sure," I say, and mentally hit myself over the head to force my thoughts into some sort of coherence before we walk out of the cafe and towards the courthouse. "Is dinner on Sunday still on?"
"Yeah. I think Zack's coming over, and of course, Tommy will be there," Trini says, and digs me in the ribs. "So wear something nice and smile a lot, won't you?"
"Remind me why this friendship is so strong?" I ask, trudging along beside her. "What was meant to be a conversation about my targets to hit before I'm thirty has turned into the most depressing exchange in my life."
"All I did was mention an ex-boyfriend and close friend," Trini says logically. "You brought in the depression all on your own. It's not my fault you still like him but can't tell him."
"And you're always right," I continue to grumble as we turn a corner and walk onto the street where the courthouse is situated. "That's surely not a normal basis for a friendship."
"E-mail me the finished list and we'll work out how to go about it," Trini advises. We reach the steps of the courthouse and Trini pulls her car keys out of her bag. "After all, it's not every day a girl turns thirty."
"I hate you," I say, but with a smile on my face. She may be annoying at times, but we've been through so much that I know I'm exactly the same to her. And when she says things I don't want to hear, it's normally for my own good. "I'll call you tomorrow. Give Charlie a kiss and say hi to Jason for me".
"Charlie doesn't even remember what you look like seeing as you called off babysitting to get drunk on your own," Trini says sarcastically. "I would be worried, but you're getting so old I know you're responsible underneath it all."
"Goodbye, Trini," I say sternly, and we smile at each other before she walks towards the parking lot and I climb the steps of the building to go back to work.
With friends like Trini, who needs a life coach?