The sun is already overhead by the time I’m on the BART back to Oakland, grateful for no major delays amid the scheduled, weekend lag.
In order to commit to Hannah’s fundraiser—and to staying the whole time—I had to stay up, trading sleep for the Z to A project for hours on end so I don’t end up falling behind next week. I still brought my work tablet and a few case files along, hoping to get a bit more done on the commute back.
As a result, every bone I was born with is blanched with fatigue. The effects of my wake keeping were only amplified by the aftershock of my interview with Zane. And my body’s paying the price for it now, possessing the fortitude of a wilting plant as the fourth in a sequence of tired, audible yawns escapes me. But, despite my physical and mental exhaustion, I’ve pledged to be fully present in both capacities to support my friend.
The event kicks off at noon and runs all the way until four PM—the allotted four hours representing the four chambers of the heart.
From the City Center station, I hop on a connecting bus that propels me to my destination. I check the time habitually, my eyes flitting between my watch and the digital signage at the front.
“Come on, come on, come on,” I mutter, tapping my foot impatiently as the public vehicle meanders through moderate traffic.
I practically jump out of it the second it comes to my final stop, power-walking the rest of the way. Briskly, I cut through semi-crowded sidewalks that stretch over half a block, arriving at the event hall with just under ten minutes to spare.
It’s already a full house when I enter, the ballroom teeming with standing and seated guests. I liberally scan the space, impressed by how gorgeous the setup is, how professional everything looks. Pops of red and splashes of pink meld and fold into each other, rouges and fuchsias lining a prominent banner and podium, variant shades of the same symbolic color infused into balloons and decorative furniture. My heart swells with pride as I walk down the main aisle, in search of a vacant seat.
They really outdid themselves this ye—
I feel someone tap my shoulder, suddenly. I turn at the mild sensation, coming face-to-face with the organizer of all of it.
I squeal impulsively, scooping Hannah’s tiny frame in a tight hug. “Oh, my God! I didn’t think I’d get to see you until after the main event.”
“Speaking of that…” she sighs, breaking the embrace to take me by the hand. She starts up the aisle at a speedy pace, pulling me along with her to the very front of the hall before taking another turn. I realize we’re headed backstage.
Confused and slightly concerned by her unusual actions, I follow my former roommate through a door and into a room full of other women. All six of them turn at the sound of our hasty entrance, each a stunning visage, adorned with complimentary makeup, sporting signature red lipstick—and gorgeous, red gowns.
Date auction girls.
They collectively look over at us in the midst of chipper conversations. Hannah doesn’t pause, though. We walk past them into a connecting room ahead.
She closes its door behind us, exhaling audibly and glancing at her watch before meeting my eyes.
“Reau, I need to ask you a huge favor,” she says, shooting straight to the point.
I arch my brow, apprehensive. “What’s going on?”
She expels another labored breath. “One of the girls who signed up for the auction came down with the flu and only called in to say she won’t make it less than an hour ago. We don’t have any reserves or extra volunteers who could stand in so we’re short one participant.”
I’m already shaking my head, but Hannah continues before I can say anything. “I wouldn’t ask if I had another option. I know how busy you are and it means a lot that you even took the time to come with everything you have going on but I’m begging here. The auction’s our only major fundraising event and the proceeds are what cover our costs for most of the year. We have to adhere to the same number of girls. We’ve branded it that way since our very first one. It’s an integral part of the Sweet Heart theme now and we can’t change it last minute. You know that. I’d stand in myself if I wasn’t an organizer.”
Visible distress envelopes my friend; her small body literally vibrating with tension, like she’s on the verge of a panic attack but trying really hard to suppress it.
“Hannah…I feel bad about this. Believe me, I do,” I offer, genuinely sympathetic, “but I don’t think I can. Plus, being in the auction would mean I’d have to come back next weekend. I’m not sure I’d be able to work my schedule around that.”
This is definitely the last thing I expected. And, by the looks of things, Hannah shares the sentiment. I feel shitty for saying no but also kind of put on the spot. I’ve never participated in anything like this—or gone on a date, for that matter—so I wouldn’t even know what to do.
“You don’t have to do anything but wear a dress and smile,” Hannah insists, as if reading my mind, her strained voice interjecting the thoughts running through it. “I swear, I won’t ever ask you for anything else. And I’ll hold your hand every step of the way. Easy peasy, in and out. You won’t have to worry about a thing. I promise!” she adds emphatically, clearly noting the skepticism and hesitation distending my face, imploring me in earnest.
In spite of her assurances, I’m more than a little wary; the extent of my knowledge on events of this nature limited to simple observation through the eyes of an average spectator. And, even though it’s for a good cause, it still retains that characteristic, “pageant-y” quality—something I’m not at all attuned to.
Not to mention, the more obvious element to it.
With absolutely zero experience on dates—real or otherwise—I have a feeling even her best attempts at freeing me of worry might fall disproportionately short.
Hannah continues to regard my silent expression, her warm, hickory eyes glazing with the onset of tears as time she can’t afford runs out. It’s obvious she’s desperate, and I know firsthand how important this event is to her. How close it is to her own heart.
My own eyes flutter closed with an exhale.
“Fine…” I say, hoping I don’t regret my next words. “I’ll do it.”
“Oh, my God, thank you!” she practically sobs, her slender arms damn near cinching me to death. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise!”
I can’t suppress the grin that hijacks my face in spite of this unexpected turn of events and the inconvenience it presents, contented to see the salient worry on hers give way for relief. We don’t get to see each other very often, but I still consider her one of my closest friends so I’m always happy to help whenever I can, especially since she hardly ever asks for it.
“Okay, I have to head out there,” she says, checking her watch again. “We’re starting in five. I’ll have Louisa get you sorted out and I’ll come check on you again before the auction.”
I nod, giving her hand an encouraging squeeze. “Go do your thing. I’ll be good here.”
She smiles appreciatively, rushing out the door and closing it behind her, leaving me by myself.