Having possibly just pushed her bike to its limit, Des smiled as she released the throttle to begin slowing. It was the rush that exhilarated her so much, even if nothing could ever truly compare to the sensation of rapidly blasting through time and space. She hadn’t time-traveled in over a year, mainly because of a promise she made to her moms. She swore she wouldn’t seek that ultimate thrill unless absolutely necessary; though the urge was always there. The speed of a motorcycle would suffice, for now, and Des loved taking joyrides on her bike more than anything.
The flat, two-mile stretch was coming to an end as a sharp curve quickly approached. She returned to a much safer speed, within ten miles per hour of the limit, and rounded the bend, closely hugging the near corner. When she downshifted, a metallic, grinding noise she’d never heard before seemed to come from the engine area. It wasn’t overly noticeable, but, having become somewhat of an expert during the past year, she could tell something wasn’t quite right.
“Oh, great,” she frustratingly complained to herself, pushing back a beckoning wave of panic.
The university was only a few miles away, so she put off assessing the damage until she was nearer her destination. The problem, thankfully, didn’t seem to impact the remainder of the ride. Whatever the issue was, Des didn’t think it was necessarily urgent, at least not yet.
As she coasted down the hill that led to center campus, she noticed less students milling around than the last time she was in the area. It being Sunday, a non-class day, would most likely explain the lack of activity. The recreation complex and student center were on her right, and a series of fields and other sports activity spaces, including the track, were on her left. The dormitories and on-campus apartments, where most students called home during the semester, could be seen from Des’s location in the distance past the track and fields. A special, more upscale, athletic dorm was offset and spaced further up the hill than the rest of the buildings.
She pulled into a smaller parking lot beside the track and propped her bike on its kickstand. A team of athletes were on the opposite side of the chain link fence that separated the sports facilities from the surface lots. The group was stretching, jogging, and apparently having a late afternoon practice, none seeming to pay any attention to Des and her bike. Even if they did notice her, she was college-aged and would easily blend in with everyone else.
Des hopped off and unbuttoned her black, leather jacket allowing the cool breeze to sweep through her clothing and softly graze the skin that had been covered during her trip. She crouched down and began to tinker with the inner workings of her vehicle. Many of the metal parts were hot, but she knew a lot about bikes and would be able to check the potential trouble areas without scalding herself in the process. In her mind, she went through a checklist of the most common issues she could envision. After everything checked out, she started imagining the not-so-common problems that could result in the clanging sound she heard several minutes prior.
“Destiny?” A strange, yet slightly familiar, voice called out from behind her, towards the track and field, beyond the fence. “Is that you?”
The biker stood from her bent-down position and stared in the opposite direction for a moment. Her mind began jumping from one face to another, attempting to place the voice with its owner. She figured she only knew two people who would’ve recognized her on campus, and Kate and Victoria didn’t sound anything like the girl who had just spoken. It wasn’t as soft and unassuming as Kate, and it wasn’t as direct and judgmental as Victoria; the voice that called out to her was somewhere in between. It was gentle but firm.
“It is you.” The girl’s voice grew louder, as she must have been shortening the distance between them.
“Shit,” the biker whispered to herself, not wanting to deal with whatever was about to happen. She wasn’t a fan of forced conversation, and didn’t really enjoy chatting just for the sake of socializing. In the past, her mom was open about her social anxiety issues, and Des assumed this is how she must’ve felt when she was younger.
Slowly turning to face the individual, the blonde was astonished by who she saw. Her heart flitted and jumped, causing her breathing to silently hitch. She felt her eyes opening wide with wonder. A gorgeous, dark-haired athlete wearing workout clothes and running shoes was on the other side of the fence staring in her direction. Her creamy skin was glistening in the late afternoon sun, and the refraction from the early spring sky shimmered off the wet in her light-brown irises. The girl had her hands behind her head, readjusting her hair-tie and pulling the loose strands back into a ponytail.
“Destiny Caulfield-Price. Only person I know with a hyphenated last name. God, it’s been what, three years?”
Like a religious awakening, it suddenly dawned on the blonde who was standing before her. “P-Pearl?”
“That be me,” the girl in running attire responded with a tiny giggle. In reality, she was closer to Des’s younger mother in height, but the dominating way she held herself, Pearl seemed like a giant. “Haven’t seen you since high school. Damn! You are just… gorgeous.” Her eyes were scanning Des from head to toe. “Well,” she paused and lowered her arms, smoothing the wrinkles in her tights, “you were always beautiful. But now… like, damn. Did you sell your soul to the devil for some sorta badass glow-up?”
A thousand thoughts were colliding with one another in Des’s mind; none seeming to materialize coherently enough to speak aloud. From what she remembered, Pearl was always outgoing and chatty when they were in high school. It felt nice having the brunette’s attention focused on her.
Realizing her gaze was fixed on Pearl for several moments, the taller girl knew she needed to respond. She desperately hoped she looked less like a fool than she felt. “Uhmmm, what?”
“Aww. Is Destiny really blushing? Dang. You’re so cute. Anyway, what are you doing on campus? I thought you were like, in a band or something; I know you used to play guitar.”
“Oh, well… my… uh… mom asked me to pick something up from Ka… uh… Professor Marsh. I guess I’m like her delivery girl. Just call me Destiny Prime. You know, like… Amazon Prime. Never mind.” Des immediately regretted every word she just said.
“I love Professor Marsh! She’s my sociology teacher. I’m taking one elective course before focusing on my last major classes and capstone project in the spring. By the way, your bike is pretty rad.”
Des chuckled to herself. “Who says ‘rad’ anymore?” She folded her arms at her chest and took a small step backward. She felt the warmness in her cheeks starting to cool, a small budding confidence surfacing.
“Me,” Pearl assuredly responded, an impish smirk on her face. “I say ‘rad’. You got a problem with it?” The brunette stepped closer, gripping the top of the fence and leaning forward. Above her olive-shaped eyes, two perfectly framed eyebrows were lowered, feigning an anger that was clearly not really there.
“I do, as a matter of fact.” Despite having an urge to run away and hide, Des pushed those thoughts aside, beginning to feel slightly more at ease around Pearl. “In high school, you were like one of the… I don’t know, stuck-up popular girls.” Des returned a mischievous smirk of her own. In a way, their banter reminded her of how her moms acted around one another when they were playing around and giving each other shit.
“Stuck-up? Ouch.” Pearl lifted her chin and pivoted her hips.
“Maybe not stuck-up. But like, everyone loved you, and you were waaaaay too popular for me to ever speak to you.”
“Me? What about you? Keeping to yourself, looking all badass all the time. I gotta be honest, Destiny, you felt too ‘rad’ for me.” She used finger quotes with a fun-loving tilt of her head and grin. “I thought I probably would’ve cramped your style anyway. It’s not like you were very approachable, ya know. Super dark and mysterious.”
“Mysterious?” Des wondered.
“Oh, damn! I still don’t know how you pulled off that senior prank. Everyone knew it was you but there wasn’t any evidence. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to ask you about it.”
“No idea what you’re talking about.” Des smiled then looked down at her feet.
“HA!” Pearl belted out. “Bullshit.”
The blonde looked up and into Pearl’s eyes then shrugged, a goofy grin on her face.
“Why do I not believe you? Maybe it’s because you literally told Vice Principal Calvin to go fork himself at the school assembly. THEN, the next day, 500 plastic forks were stuck in the football field. I saw the video, Destiny. The field was clear, then a split second later it was filled with forks. That’s a crazy trick ya did there. I’m guessing you somehow tampered with the video. Otherwise, it would mean you’re either The Flash, or you can like, freeze time or something, and that’s impossible.”
Des briefly fixated on the words “freeze time” but realized she was just being overly cautious. She took a step closer, towards the fence; never losing eye contact with the girl on the other side. A strange sense of awareness filled her heart and she could almost feel the pair’s souls, in a childlike state, tugging the other to come outside and play. Pearl must’ve felt it too because she nervously withdrew, twisting her head around and glancing towards her teammates with an awkward look in her eyes. She brushed her bangs out of her face and turned back towards the fence.
“Unfortunately, I gotta get back to practice. But it was really good to see you, Destiny.” Her voice suddenly sounded small and inviting. “OH!!” The athlete seemed to have remembered something. “Can I paint you?”
“Uhm, what? Paint me?”
“Yes! Please, Destiny. I paint in my apartment. It’s like my creative outlet or whatever. I’d love to do you next. Here…” Pearl extended her arm with an upward facing palm. “Give me your phone.”
“Oh, that’s right. I think I remember hearing that you loved to paint or whatever. But… my… phone? Why?” Des’s voice staggered a bit.
“Yes, Silly. How the heck else are you gonna save my number? Now, you can let me know when you’re ready to be painted. I must warn you, though, I’m pretty dang good. It’s just a hobby now, but I’ve been told I should sell my portraits. I dunno about all that. I just love to create art, and your beauty deserves to be on my canvas.
“B-Beauty? If you say so.” Des nervously rummaged through the junk in her jacket pocket, finally locating her phone. She held it to her face so it would unlock, then she handed it to Pearl. She shrugged and looked back down at her feet, one slowly nudging a rock from side to side.
“Look, I’ll show you the one I just did of myself,” Pearl spoke as she typed, “then decide if you’ll do me this honor. I’m getting pretty good at it. It really won’t take longer than an hour or so. I have class or practice, or both, basically every day, but reach out and we’ll find a good time.”
Des worked on and off for her mom for many years. As far back as she could remember, photography was a big part of their family. She definitely enjoyed the art form but never had quite the burning passion her mom did. The way Pearl talked about painting; it made the blonde smile, recognizing the girl’s enthusiasm.
Reaching back out across the fence, the brunette motioned for Des to reclaim her phone. “There ya go. I really hope you call or text. It was nice seeing you Destiny Caulfield-Price.”
“Yeah. Nice seeing you too, Pearl Fawkes.”
The athlete bobbed her head and casually tucked another loose strand of hair behind her ear. She turned and jogged back towards the group who was still stretching and running drills in the center grassy portion of the field. Des watched and admired the girl as she departed. She thought she noticed Pearl look back as well, but she wasn’t sure. When she realized she was still staring, she snapped herself out of it and headed back towards her bike.
“Pearl.” she whispered out of earshot. Several indiscernible emotions were flowing through her body, mostly pleasant. Her heart was still racing and she felt she might have just discovered a rush that was more enjoyable than riding her bike. “She wants to… paint me? That’s kinda weird.”
In an attempt to shake off what had just happened, Des began focusing on her task. She left her bike and started for the main cluster of classroom buildings near the food court and other student eateries. She trotted up the large stairs that led to the sociology building and scanned the side of the structure from bottom to top. It didn’t matter how many times she was on university property, she marveled at the large, stone columns and archways. With the exception of the newer additions on the perimeters, the parking decks, and the new athletic dorm, the building designs looked to have come directly from ancient Rome.
She tugged the left side of the large double-doors, pulling them apart in the center. The copper handle was cool and thick; she could barely wrap her hands around it. Once inside, she walked up to the small information desk, planning to ask for Professor Marsh’s office. She’d been on campus several times before but had never been in that particular building. As she was speaking to the administrative assistant, she heard an excited, yet soft, voice behind her.
The blonde stopped mid-sentence and turned to face the voice she clearly recognized as Kate’s. “Hi… Professor Marsh.” She hadn’t seen Kate with her hair up since hers and Victoria’s wedding. Most of the time, Des was only around her when she wasn’t at the university. It felt nostalgic seeing her in business-like, conservative attire again.
Kate pulled Des in for a hug then stepped back. “Professor Marsh? Aren’t we past being so proper around each other at this point?”
“Yeah, I guess so. My moms told me to say it. I dunno.” Des pursed her lips and cut her eyes to the side.
“Well, that’s sweet of them. I guess they felt like it was a respectful thing to say. But, yeah, I’d prefer you just call me Kate, if that’s okay. You’re not in one of my classes, are you?” Kate smiled. She and Des had a conversation about her lack of interest in academia the last time she was at their house.
“Nah, the college thing just isn’t me. But I’ll call you whatever you want, Kate.”
The professor smiled and placed a hand on the young adult’s shoulder. “Max texted me that you were coming. I’m not too sure what Chloe wants with this recording, but come with me and I’ll get it for you. It’s upstairs in my office.”
Kate turned to head for the adjacent staircase. Des followed behind and the two began ascending. A large, stained-glass window cast oblong, abstract shapes across the hallway and stairwell, causing the pair’s skin to brilliantly shimmer with each step. After reaching the top, they made their way down the lengthy corridor towards the back, darker area of the building, stopping in front of the second to last door on the right.
“Here we go,” Kate calmly stated, swiping her ID card and twisting the oil-rubbed, bronze door handle downward. “It’s somewhere on my desk.” She entered the office and flipped the light switch up. It didn’t turn on the overhead lighting as Des expected, but a stylistic floor lamp with two shades and bulbs dimly lit the room.
“You don’t use the office lights?” Des wondered as she looked up at the fixtures after sweeping her bangs from her eyes.
Kate shook her head. “Not usually. If a student requests more lighting, I have a switch on the back wall that’ll turn them on.” She pointed to a panel beside the window that Des didn’t notice previously. “For as much money as the university has, they won’t get rid of these harmful fluorescents. They give me a pretty bad headache, so I brought my own lamp.”
“Ah, gotcha.” Des scanned the walls to her left and right as she waited, while the professor rummaged through stacks of papers and other cluttered items on her desk. An enlarged selfie photo of her wife, with sunglasses on and her tongue sticking out, hung on the right wall. It was bordered by a thick, if elegant, frame that must have been chosen by Victoria. She wore a black and white striped swimsuit and an oversized, straw sun hat, clearly having a good time on the beach. Des felt it was ironic as she recalled a story about Victoria making fun of Max because of her affinity for selfies many years prior.
“So,” Des began, as she nodded towards the picture, “you and Victoria. How did that even happen? She was like, your bully in high school, right? Just curious.”
It took a moment for Kate to respond. “Here it is,” she finally said. “Tell Chloe not to remove the tape. She can rewind and fast-forward but if she takes the tape out, it’ll break. Trust me; I almost ruined it earlier.”
“Will do, Professor. Bloody brilliant.” Des used her best British accent, failing miserably and causing the woman behind the desk to giggle.
“To borrow a phrase from your mom. Wowser. That was pretty bad, Des.” Kate shook her head but a toothy grin stretched across her face from ear to ear.
“Yeah, well. Figured I’d try and do my best Harry Potter accent. Oh well.” She shrugged and reached for the small, hand-held tape recorder that was just provided. Once in her grasp, she tucked it into an interior pocket inside her black jacket.
As she was turning around from the spot where she was standing, heading for the door, she realized the woman almost successfully deflected Des’s question, causing her to forget she even asked it. “Wait just a minute, Kate. I really wanna know. How did you and Victoria get past your baggage and, ya know, fall in love? You two could be the greatest enemies to lovers couple of all time.”
Again, Kate giggled, covering her mouth with both hands this time. “Well, yeah. ‘Baggage’ is probably the best way to describe it. I don’t know how much time you have, but the whole thing would be a very lengthy conversation. Let’s just say we bring balance to each other, and it took working through our pasts to figure everything out. After getting through the high school bull crap, we realized how much we meant to one another.” The woman smiled as thoughts of her wife must’ve been bubbling up inside her head. After a brief pause, Kate’s heartfelt grin turned downward, seeming to sour a bit.
“Because the storm had destroyed most of Arcadia Bay, we first bonded over our losses. For Vick, she lost family and friends. Even had to take over her parents’ gallery when she was way too young. For me, I lost friends but my parents and sisters were safe since we left town before the storm steam-rolled everything. For both of us… the girls we were back then were dead and gone. We changed so much from those crappy high school days to when we fell in love. It’s hard to describe, but every time I look at her, all I see is light. She illuminates my world now, Des.”
“That… that’s beautiful Kate,” Des responded, a serious inflection in her words. “I never knew you were such a mushy goop.”
“HA!” Kate let out an abrupt laugh, sniffling to fight back tears. “I know how it must look to those on the outside. But she’s so sweet and tender towards me. I know she loves me so much.”
“Damn.” Des playfully spun around, strolling towards the door. With one hand on the handle, she pivoted her torso, again making eye contact with the woman. “Thanks, Kate. It means a lot that you opened up to me like that.”
“Anytime, Des. Also, tell your moms to call me.” Kate folded her arms and lowered her eyebrows. “We haven’t had a proper dinner or tea together in months.”
“Will do,” Des smirked. “See ya, Professor.” She opened the door and began the small trek back to her bike.