Kate Kolbeck stretched out on her faded couch. She was enjoying an old episode of Cheers, a well deserved reprieve after a day of heart-break and distress. She was relishing her last moments of solitude when her roommate and dearest friend bustled into the living room. Her name was Dana Allen, and for narrative purposes I would describe her as "active". She was the sort of woman who found indolence, such as she saw before her, to be an offense ranked somewhere between poor personal hygiene and genocide.
"Wow, this is gross."
Dana could have been referring to the two weeks' worth of dirty laundry that lay in the corner, or the filthy dishes stacked on the floor, or perhaps our heroine herself, whose considerable personal attractiveness could hardly compensate for the fact that she had not attempted a shower in 72 hours.
If Dana was expecting a cogent response, she was disappointed. Instead she was greeted with, "Ted Danson has the best hair in show business." Which he absolutely does.
"What happened to you?" Dana asked, and almost immediately answered her own question. "You didn't get your scholarship, did you?"
"Good gracious, Miss Marple, how did you figure that one out?"
"First of all, really? A Miss Marple reference? Second of all, you reek of disappointment."
Kate sniffed her sweater. "Among other things."
Dana marched over to the window and yanked open the curtains, causing Kate to screech as sunlight hit her retinas for the first time that day.
"Katherine Kolbeck, it's only June. You have plenty of time to find another scholarship! "
Kate propped herself up on one elbow. "Please don't use my full name. It sounds so … Scandinavian. And this wasn't just a scholarship. This grant would have covered more than half my expenses for next term. And UCLA is not a cheap place to go to school."
"Point taken. I really am sorry. Anyway, aren't you going to ask me about my trip to Salt Lake?"
"Hey Dana, how was your trip?" The note of false cheerfulness was lost on the other girl.
"Fantastic. Elle, this guy is the one."
Kate laughed and pulled her friend onto the couch next to her.
"Look at us and our parallel lives! You're in a successful long distance relationship with the CFO of a thriving software company … I just watched an all day marathon of Millionaire Matchmaker…"
Dana giggled. "I know. It's totally eerie."
The two girls sat there for a while, watching Ted Danson and Shelly Long do what they did best: hijinks and sexual tension.
Dana finally broke the silence. "Hey Katie, I'm going back to Salt Lake next week, and I really want you to come."
"Sure, girlfriend. But why? Won't I just get in the way of your courtin'?"
"The thing is, I think we are about to move beyond the courting stage."
Kate's eyes widened. "Are you trying to tell me that he…?"
"No, he hasn't popped any questions yet. But last week he went to my Dad. How cute is that? He asked for my Dad's permission."
"Wow," said Kate, "that is equal parts adorable and hilarious. But your Dad told you? Aren't you mad that he spoiled the surprise?"
Dana considered this for a moment. "No, it's better this way. Now I have had time to think about it, and I decided that I am totally gonna marry that dude."
Kate could not have been happier for her friend, but was still confused by her request. "If you know what you are going to say, then what do you need me for?"
"Need really isn't the right word. I want my best friend to be there when I get engaged. And sister-friend, you need to get out of this apartment."
As far as arguments go, Dana had a pretty solid one. Kate was powerless to resist.
The trip to Utah began auspiciously. Traffic was light, or as light as it can get on the 405. The weather was nice, and Dana's car bounced down the freeway as the girls danced to the songs on their designated "traveling playlist", which included everything from The Spice Girls to Joss Stone. By the time they reached the Salt Flats, the sun had completely set. Then, fifteen miles past Wendover things took a turn for the worst. The noise started as a slight spluttering from the engine, which the girls hardly noticed as they bounced and sang to Abba's "Waterloo". Soon smoke started billowing from underneath the hood and they had no choice but to pull over.
The girls looked at the smoking engine of Dana's gently-used, pre-owned Honda Fit in dismay.
"What are we gonna do? We're only about an hour and a half from Salt Lake." Dana asked.
Kate, who had taken Feminist Theory the previous semester, was ready with an answer. "We're 21st century women! Let's fix the damn thing ourselves!"
Forty minutes later Dana was dialing the number for AAA. Unfortunately, the Utah desert isn't known for its phone reception.
"I have no freakin' bars! Let's walk a little farther up the road and see if I get something."
Kate was about to assent when a truck with bright lights came lumbering down the road.
"Should we flag it down? Ask for help?" said Dana.
"Hell no. Keep trying AAA."
Dana would not get the chance to call AAA, because the truck in question began to slow, turning off the road to park behind Dana's still smoking Fit.
"Nuts," said Kate, "I've seen this movie before. Buffalo Bill is going to get out of that truck, lure us in with some sob story about a broken leg, and before you can say 'Hannibal Lecter' we'll be skinned alive so some gender-confused nut-job can make a body suit out of our hides!"
Dana, who by nature was slightly less dramatic than her friend, giggled and said, "It puts the lotion on?"
"Oh my gosh Dana! This is not funny!"
At that point, the trucks' driver has stepped out and was walking toward them. To Dana's surprise, and Kate's relief, it was not Buffalo Bill. In fact, the two girls had never seen anyone who looked less homicidal, or less gender-confused, in their lives. The truck's headlights showed a young man, somewhere between 20 and 25, and looked to be at least 6'3". His hair was a dark blonde, and he wore blue coveralls with the name Henry embroidered on the front in red letters.
Dana leaned over to her friend and whispered, "He looks like a Norse god. If he whips out a hammer, I'm gonna die."
"You girls need any help?" the man asked.
"Thanks," Kate answered, "I think we got it covered. We were just about to call AAA."
He shook his head. "You aren't going to get any cell reception out here. But I'm a mechanic. I could take a look, if you like." Kate notices his amused expression as he surveyed the situation. Both she and Dana were covered in grease from their ill-conceived attempt to fix the car without tools or experience.
Kate looked at Dana, who shrugged. "That would be great. Thank you."
He grabbed a toolbox from the back of the pickup, and walked back towards them. "I'm Henry, by the way," he said, extending his free hand.
"Hi Henry, I'm Dana and this is my friend Kate."
The man's eyes rested on their California license plate. "You gals from out of state, huh?"
"Kate is, but I'm actually from Utah. We go to UCLA together."
He smiled at Kate. "What, LA got too quiet so you came to Utah to cut loose? That makes sense."
Kate smiled back. "Well, we heard you had a killer Tabernacle Choir."
He laughed as he hung a portable lantern from the open hood of the car. Then he turned his attention to the still smoking mess that was once Dana's Honda. After a few seconds of tugging here and prodding there he announced his diagnosis.
"Some of your hoses have come loose and are leaking antifreeze all over the place. It won't take me long to fix, if you don't mind waiting."
Both girls assured him that they did not at all mind waiting. Dana, who had been driving for hours on end, curled up in the back seat to rest while Henry got busy. Kate was just wondering whether she should keep an eye on the handsome stranger who was elbow deep in the car, or give him space to work. He politely saved her the trouble of deciding by casually striking up a conversation.
"So what brings you to Utah?"
"Dana is visiting her boyfriend, and I am just along for the ride."
"If I'm not mistaken, it's an awfully long ride," he said.
"You are defiantly not mistaken. I think we listened to the Fame soundtrack three times before we got out of Nevada."
"She must be a really good friend of yours, if you were willing to go through all that just to be a third wheel."
"She is," said Katie, looking fondly toward the back seat of the car, from which Dana's rhythmic breathing was reaching a volume that bordered on full-on snoring. "We're like sisters."
"Sisters who should never dabble in auto mechanics if they can help it," he teased.
Kate winced. "We just made it worse, didn't we?"
"I'm joking. It was an easy fix." He straightened and wiped grease from his hands.
"We really appreciate you help. I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't have stopped."
"Don't mention it. Listen," for the first time since they met he looked uneasy, "while you're in town, you should come to a party I'm having for my sister's birthday."
Kate was taken aback. She would have accepted her Buffalo Bill scenario before believing that this corn-fed Adonis might actually be interested in spending time with her.
"Sure. Are you sure we won't be intruding?"
"Not at all! And besides," he added, looking relieved, "my sister would really like you."
They exchanged numbers, and Henry gave Kate the address for his place in Salt Lake. After saying goodbye Kate slid into the drivers' seat of the Honda, casting a affectionate glance at her quiescent friend in the back. Then our heroine drove the remaining 50 miles to Salt Lake, her head full of handsome mechanics with a head of hair that would rival Ted Danson's.