This story is by A.K. McCutcheon and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
3:05 p.m. – 4 hours until flight time.
Vegas baby, Justin had said. I thought it would be romantic to celebrate our engagement on a white sand beach cooled by ocean breezes, but Justin insisted that Las Vegas would be a non-stop party.
I’m in panic mode. Justin will be here in two hours with an Uber to take us to the Burbank Airport. I need to finish packing, shower, do my hair, and drop off Sadie at my sister’s house. Her Royal Pudginess hops onto the bed to claim a nap spot atop my packed clothing. She mewls in protest as I lift her off the quilted comforter.
Cursing the last-minute client meeting that kept me at the showroom later than I planned—apparently, an emergency closet remodel is a thing—I clip the tags off my new babydoll nightie and toss it into the suitcase. I loved the Flame Red color pictured on the Adore Me website, but I knew Justin would prefer the Midnight Black.
My frenzied packing is interrupted by my cell phone’s island music ringtone. My sister Gina calling.
“Roncie, mom’s package hasn’t been delivered yet.” Her voice is tense. Mom’s birthday is two days away. We ordered a special gift, a handmade woven throw blanket imprinted with family photos.
“Don’t worry, G. It should be here any day now. The Etsy seller ships from San Diego. I have the tracking information. I’ll check it out and let you know what’s up.”
“Thanks.” Her tone lightens, but the tension is still there. “It’s just… it’s her first birthday since… and with you not there… it would be sad if her gift missed her birthday, too.”
My stomach churns with guilt and regret. “G, this is the only weekend Justin has free before his busy season, and he wants us to have this time to ourselves.”
“I get it, I guess.” Her voice is strained. “Roncie, he’s a tax accountant… he’s his own boss, right? You couldn’t make him understand how important this day is for us?”
Her question awakens an upsetting memory… I tried, but I couldn’t make him understand. “I’m running late, G. I’ll see you when I bring Sadie over in a little while, okay? I’ll look up the tracking info right now. Mom’s present will get here on time, I promise.”
3:30 p.m. – 3 ½ hours until flight time.
Panic mode kicks into an emergency plan—pause the packing, shower, deliver Sadie to Gina’s, then race back here to finish packing before the Uber arrives—
Oh, damn, I told Gina I would track mom’s package.
Grabbing my cell phone, I copy the tracking info from the Etsy seller’s email, pull up the USPS website, and paste in the tracking number.
The tracking history pops up:
January 10, 2022, 5:15 pm – Departed Post Office
SAN DIEGO, CA 92101
January 11, 2022, 11:21 pm – Arrived at USPS Regional Facility
HONOLULU HI DISTRIBUTION CENTER
Arrived in Honolulu? Four days ago? The package had to travel only 120 miles from San Diego to Los Angeles. How did it end up on Oahu?
According to the tracking results, the box departed Honolulu on January 12, two days ago. No further information. Where was the package? What would I tell Gina?
4:00 p.m. – 3 hours until flight time.
After a quick shower, I ponytail my still-damp hair, pack Sadie into her crate with a 3-day supply of Fancy Feast Gourmet Naturals, and load her in the car for the trip to Gina’s place in Studio City.
Driving south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, traffic slows as we pass a post office. On impulse, I turn left and pull into the stamp-sized parking lot.
4:15 p.m. – 2 ¾ hours until flight time.
Two of the three service windows inside the small postal facility are staffed by clerks, each occupied with a customer. Fluorescent lighting hums in the windowless space.
As I approach the counter, another postal worker emerges from the business area behind the service windows. He removes the “Closed” sign from the third window. “How can I help you, miss?” I walk up to his window and take a deep breath.
“I need to track a package. Actually, I tracked the package and found out it was delivered to Honolulu, which doesn’t make sense because it was shipped from San Diego to L.A. I hope it’s not lost, because it’s a gift for my mother’s birthday. She’s been alone since my father died last year. My sister and I are surprising her with a blanket printed with family photos from Hawaii. We lived there when dad was in the Navy, and it was the happiest time for us….”
What am I doing? Why am I telling my life story to this post office guy?
“…and it’s crazy that the package landed in Hawaii, of all places… and I feel awful that I can’t be with my mom on her birthday because”—my voice breaks—“I’m getting on a plane tonight.” Embarrassed now, I stop talking.
The post office guy has blue eyes. His name tag reads, Dave Mitchell, Supervisor. He smiles slightly. “Hawaii. I was stationed there, too. Air Force. Good times. I’d like to go back someday. Now, let’s see if we can locate that package. Do you have the tracking number?”
I empty my tote bag to reach my cell phone, which has fallen to the bottom of the bag.
Dave taps out the number on his keyboard. His eyebrows crease. “Give me a few minutes to make a phone call,” and he disappears into the business area.
An agonizing wait later, Dave returns. He’s grinning. My breath catches. “Okay,” he says, “it’s not clear how the package was routed to the distribution center in Honolulu, but it’s in transit to L.A. today. It should arrive tomorrow.”
I exhale with relief; then, my vision blurs with welling tears. Embarrassed again, my voice chokes, “Thank you so much. You’ve been just… great.”
Dave is still smiling. “My pleasure. I hope your mom has a happy birthday. And you, have a nice flight.”
4:30 p.m. – 2 ½ hours until flight time.
Back in the car, I check on Sadie, then flip open the visor mirror to dab at my wet eyes. My engagement ring glints in the afternoon sun. Justin chose the princess cut solitaire. I admired an Art Deco style, but Justin didn’t want anyone to think he couldn’t afford a decent ring. When we ordered engraving for our wedding bands, he insisted on Justin and Veronica. No one calls me Veronica, except Justin. He thinks my nickname is juvenile.
I start the car. The digital clock on the console lights up… the Uber is on the way. I glimpse myself in the rearview mirror and think, Justin won’t like the ponytail.
The sun, warm on my face moments ago, is shrouded by evening clouds. I shiver in the chill. A lone sea gull spirals in the sky.
Suddenly, my throat tightens. My hands shake on the steering wheel, and tears stream down my cheeks.
I sit weeping for minutes, engine idling, then I shut it off.
I reach for my phone to call Justin.
5:15 p.m. – Back at home.
Pulling the front door closed behind me, I bend down and release Sadie from her crate. She exits slowly and sashays into the kitchen, silky tail swishing.
The doorbell rings.
Thinking it’s Gina, I open the door.
It’s the post office guy. The one with the kind eyes. Dave.
I stand in the doorway, wordless, confused, and a little nervous.
“Hi. You left this on the counter.” Smiling, he holds out my red faux-croc wallet. “I got your address from your driver’s license. It’s on my way home, and you said you were getting on a plane, so…”
Still speechless, I take my wallet from his hand.
He hesitates, then starts to turn away.
I find my voice. “Wait.” He turns around. “Thank you, Dave. For bringing me my wallet… for everything.”
Then I say it, “I’m not getting on a plane tonight.” I think of that phone call to Justin. “Things didn’t work out.”
I feel a confidence I haven’t known in a long while. It’s time to be myself again.
“I haven’t had anything to eat today. I was just going out for dinner. Would you like to join me, Dave? Unless… you need to get home?”
Sadie crosses the threshold and circles Dave’s feet, rubbing her fur against his legs. He crouches to scratch her ears.
“There’s no one waiting for me at home, except my cat.” He smiles. “Dinner sounds great, Veronica.”
“It’s… Roncie. Short for Veronica Cecilia, after my parents, Ron and Cecile.”
“Roncie. I like it.” He looks at me with those blue eyes.
And then I remember where I’ve seen that color blue… Oahu, Kaena Point. The clear blue ocean in summertime, lapping at a white sand beach.