Center Stage: a throwback to better days

On an ordinary Friday evening, I nursed a bowl of chicken noodle soup, laced with a dollop of kidney beans, a spoonful of steamed garlic mushrooms, and a layer of cheddar, melting from the scorch of the broth, dripping down the sides of the bowl, and wrapping up the topmost noodles in a soft, firm bearhug.

I shoveled a spoonful onto my tongue and snapped up my phone, aimlessly refreshing the stadium seating for the Chicago concerts, taking place on the next two evenings. For snicks and giggles, to be sure, and because I had nothing better to do as I snarfed down my soup, in the hopes it might stave off another bout of sickness.

My God!

My phone skittered from between my fingers, thudding against the tabletop, and I snatched it back up, rubbed the palms of my hands against my eyeballs hard enough that they squelched in and out of their sockets with each drag, and I could be sure that the sight before my eyes was a product of working eyes, rather than the chicanery of my overactive imagination.

A block of little blue dots gazed back at me.

Dozens of them.

On the floor of the stadium.

Exactly three rows from center stage.

Wanton and seductive, they beckoned to me with outstretched arms, parted lips, and half-lidded eyes. Take me, they said, as I blinked, unable to do anything but breathe in little, shallow gasps of air. Take me, they said, as I refreshed the page, still sensical enough to think it a glitch. Take me, they said, as the same, salacious block of twinkling blue stars popped up on my screen, a few of those seats closest to the stage having faded, in the last ten seconds, to gray. Take me!

I fumbled through my contacts, clammy palm trembling, slick fingers slip-sliding over the screen. Just as my fingers glossed over the contact I’d been seeking, the screen pulsed a dark gray, vibrating desperately against the palm of my hand. Mom, the screen read.

“Did you see the seats?” She asked, breathless.

I swallowed, the gravitas of the circumstances settling in. What would airfare cost? Did I have the time – program four had just opened, I had a phonetics midterm the following week, and I’d promised Bash I’d watch the latest RuPaul episode with him tonight. How would we get to the concert? When would I fly back? How would I make the redeye tonight, late as it already was? Could I survive forty hours with no sleep? Did I want to traumatize myself with two more flights – in the span of two days? Could we even afford it? Wasn’t this weekend Mother’s Day? Did this mean I wouldn’t be able to eat dessert?

“Did you see the seats?” She asked again.

I swallowed through the rubber-band ball lodged inside of my throat.

“Y-yes,” I stuttered, “get them.”

There was a beat of silence over the line.

“I already did,” she said. “Your plane leaves in four hours.”

She hung up soon after that, not without a reminder to pack a spare pair of panties in case the flight was delayed, to call an Uber within the next fifty-one minutes if I wanted to arrive at the airport with enough time to make it through LAX security, and to get my ass on that plane.

The line dead, I slumped back in my chair for a few long minutes, my half-eaten bowl of soup lukewarm and congealed. I sighed. This meant I wouldn’t have time for dessert, didn’t it?

***

I jogged back up to Saxon, stuffed my laptop, a pair of panties, and some mismatched socks into the bottom of my backpack, threw out all of my liquids, and bounded out of the suite, slamming the door in my wake. Suitemates be damned – I had a plane to catch! I tripped down the stairs, calling a ride in the meanwhile, and galloped out to the pick-up alongside De Neve, with only a ratty backpack and a few socks to my name.

The ride in was quiet enough, the driver none to eager to start up a conversation, which I found admirable. In the meanwhile, the gravitas of my current circumstances settled in. What on God’s green earth was I doing? This was absolutely insane. Stark raving mad. I must have lost my marbles. Scoot over, because I’d just boarded the crazy train. Had I eaten one two many nuts in the last few days? Because this was nuttier than a fruit cake.

As the pulsating, red beacons atop the campus hospital – a helicopter landing pad, as it were – faded into the distance, dissolving into the pitch-black backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains, hulking masses of earth blotting out the stars along the horizon, and as, some twenty minutes later, white and rumbling metal beasts flew overhead, flashing bright greens and reds from the tips of their wings, ratchetting up and over airpockets, and stuttering into patches of low-hanging clouds, vanishing forthwith, I came to a sudden and quite unexpected realization.

In less than twenty-four hours, I would be at a BTS concert.

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