When Caitlyn caught my gaze, I quickly snapped my head down and looked at the floor. My shoes were filthy from the puddle of mud I stepped in en route to the U.S. Bank Stadium metro transit station. Next to my right foot, lay a formerly chewed on piece of gum. It looked a bit like a cocoon. I reminded myself multiple times of its existence, as to avoid stepping on it.
I kept my eyes glued to the floor, mainly focusing on the piece of gum, until I reached my stop. It took everything in my power not to look up and peer back over at Caitlyn – all five-foot-eight of her. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced I’ll never remember what hooked me initially. Perhaps it was her long, silky brown hair, or her piercing green eyes. It could have also been her amazing ass. I’ll truly never know.
What I do know, however, is that I met Caitlyn by accident. I, along with my roommate Jordin Yellow Snake, boarded a light rail en route to Mall of America. We were both new to the area – Jordin having moved from a small town in North Dakota so he could enroll in a GED program and myself arriving to begin a master’s degree program in January – and felt a desire to see if the acclaimed mall lived up to the hype.
The train car was relatively empty and Jordin was on a call with Southwest Airlines – his Aunt never received a confirmation number for her flight to Vancouver – so there was nothing to distract me from glancing at Caitlyn, besides, of course, the floor and accompanying gum. When we reached our stop, I looked at Jordin and motioned with my head toward the door. I made my way to the exit, stepping on the gum in the process.
There was a bench directly outside the door and I made my way over. As I sat there, chipping the gum off with a key, a woman joined me on the bench. She smelled terrible – a concoction of old eggs and cat litter – and her open-mouthed breathing began its invasion of my personal space a mere few inches from my neck.
“Do you have a dollar?” she asked, opening the faded fanny pack on her waist and removing a tattered leather wallet.
“Sorry, I’m not carrying any cash.”
She forced a smile and returned the wallet to its home on her waistline, before leaning in, once again, close to my face.
“I have a brother,” she informed me, excitedly. “And I killed him in my dreams.”
I hadn’t quite removed all of the gum from my shoe but decided, in the interest of personal safety, to trudge on anyway.
“Where are you going?” she asked, tapping me on the back of my left leg with her cane. “You don’t even know what mom’s cooking for dinner.”
I kept walking, ignoring her prodding with the cane. She was probably harmless, but you never know. Even at six-foot-five it’s best not to take chances.
Jordin was a few hundred feet ahead, now shouting into the phone. He was not on the same page as the person on the other end of the line, or so I gathered from his boisterous tone. Were it not for a lack of bystanders, he would have likely caught a few glances. At that moment, however, ‘twas only I listening to his impassioned criticism of Southwest Airlines customer service.
I continued to lag behind as we made our way up the staircase toward the mall, admiring Jordin’s fashionable alligator skin boots in the process. They were the kind of boots designed for a man with the utmost confidence. They were stunning, really, and elicited a sense of bold classiness. A real take no prisoners pair of a boots, if you will. I envied them, but more so Jordan himself – I could never pull off such a breathtaking look.
A silence befell Jordin. He seemed to grip the phone, firmly placed against his left cheek, a bit tighter. I could tell he had been placed on hold; he had a similar reaction the night before when we tried to order pizza and they asked him to hold.
I felt a tap on my back. “Excuse me,” a soft, light voice said. “You left this on the train.”
I turned around to see Caitlyn, standing behind me holding my wallet. A sense of nervous dread came over me. I tensed up, my mouth and throat now dry.
“That’s mine,” I said, realizing as soon as the words left my mouth just how truly stupid they were. “You’re holding my wallet.”
“Yeah, I saw it fall out of your sweatpants pocket. When the automated voice started speaking you jumped up and it felt out.”
She wasn’t wrong. That happened. I was indeed so focused on the floor and not staring at her, that the voice had in fact scared the bejesus out of me, causing my flight-or-fight instinct to engage, leading me to seek shelter in the sky.
“Thanks,” I said. “Without this I would have been up shits creek.”
She laughed. “No problem.”
We stood in awkward silence for a few moments. She broke first, smiling and resuming her ascent into the mall. I stayed behind, thinking that if I continued as well it would come off as creepy. Remaining in place, I scanned through my wallet to ensure nothing was missing. I looked up to see if she had made it into the building, so I myself could finally head inside.
A mountainous figure stood atop the staircase, peering down at me. It was Jordin, now off his phone and in a seemingly more energetic mood.
“My Aunt’s dead!” he shouted down to me.
“What?” I responded, confused.
“If Southwest asks, she’s dead. It’s the only way I could think of getting her a refund.”
I made my way up the stairs, baffled by what I had just heard. “So, your aunt isn’t dead?”
“No. She’s very not dead.”
We made our way into the mall, discussing the potential ramifications of lying about his aunt’s non-death.
The most striking part about The Mall of America, besides the amusement park in the middle, is the fact there are six Lids. Lids is a retailer of hats and clothing, catering largely to sports fans. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is a massive sports area, so having multiple Lids in the worlds largest mall makes sense. But, six? That’s a bit much.
We eventually broke down after stumbling upon Lids after Lids. It simply wore us down. When we stumbled upon Lids number five, Jordin wanted to peak inside.
“There’s something telling me we should go inside,” he said, tossing a gum wrapper over the safety railing. “I need a new Vikings hat and they’ll have a dapper one in here. I feel it.”
“Were you chewing gum on the train?” I asked, realizing my troubles on the train likely stemmed from my roommate.
“Well, no. I spit it out when we the train started moving. I didn’t want to choke on it.”
We looked at each in silence, both fully aware of why I had asked the question.
“What?” he said, interrupting our impromptu staring contest. “Could have been anyone’s gum.”
I rolled my eyes and walked inside. He followed behind, his guilt showing itself, offering to buy me a hat from the clearance rack.
I walked over to the far corner, browsing University of Minnesota gear. I might as well purchase some paraphernalia for my new school, slowly weeding out my collection of Framingham State apparel. Although, I didn’t want to purchase too much, either. Somewhere in the middle between being a blowhard and a nothing. I decided a hat and a sweatshirt would suffice.
It took me a while to pick out the right hat. I wanted something ugly, but the kind of ugly that still has some style to it. It’s tough to explain, but I’ll give it a shot: imagine if Liberace designed Hawaiian vacation themed hats.
Eventually, after several minutes of deliberation, I settled on a show-stopping red, maroon and yellow snapback. A big, yellow “M” – University of Minnesota’s logo – branded the front. It was only $12, too. For a brief moment I felt like a King.
That feeling soon faded, however. As I approached the register, I noticed a woman walking toward it as well: it was Caitlyn. I turned around, thanks to nerves, and pretended to scan around, looking for Jordin. He had texted me a few minutes earlier, saying he couldn’t wait any longer for some Cinnabon and had left Lids. Still, I feigned confusion instead of being faced with the possibility of talking to a woman. It felt like the right thing to do.
After sixty-seconds of looking from corner-to-corner, I turned back toward the register, hoping to see no one in line. Instead, I was met by her gaze.
“That’s yours,” she said. “You’re holding your wallet.”
I had forgotten I was holding it, having taken it out to count how much cash I had on me after I decided on which hat I would purchase, so it took me a few moments to respond.
“Yes! It holds money and important things, like licenses and credit cards.”
She looked at me dumfounded. “No shit.”
Embarrassed, I placed the wallet in my pocket.
“Lot of nice hats in here,” I said nervously.
“I’m Caitlyn,” she said, her angelic voice stirring up butterflies in my stomach. “That hat is hideous, but I like it.”
“Thanks, I just hope it fits my big ass head.”
She laughed. I couldn’t tell if it was sincere, but I honestly didn’t care. A beautiful woman laughed at one of my jokes.
“This might be a bit aggressive,” she began, “but your friend, what’s his name? The tallish, cute, Native American man.”
Of course. Fucking of course. I was more frustrated than stunned. This kind of thing happened all the time back home.
“His names Jordin,” I fought to speak the words. “Jordin Yellow Snake.”
“Wow, that’s so hot.”
“Yeah, he’s a great guy.”
Caitlyn reached into her purse, took a pen and a wrinkled napkin. She unfolded the napkin and placed it against a pillar to her right, scribbling something down with the pen.
“Can you give him this?” she asked, eyes bright.
Blushing, she said bye and exited the store. I paid for my hat and waited outside the store. Jordin would soon be returning with Cinnabon, at least he told me he would. I watched people stream by, many of them happy couples hand-in-hand, laughing and smiling. I envied them.
Jordin finally returned, his mouth covered in cinnamon sugar.
“I have something for you,” I said, handing him the napkin that had been in my pocket.
His mammoth hands took the napkin, raised it to his face and wiped his mouth.
“Thanks. I forgot to grab one at Cinnabon.”
“No, Jordin. A woman left her phone number on there for you.”
He was confused. I took the napkin from his hand, flattened it and pointed to the number.
“Her name’s Caitlyn. She wants you to call her.”
It was a simple situation, at least it seemed that way to me. But Jordin didn’t seem to grasp it, staring blankly at the napkin, then at me, then back at the napkin.
“I don’t know a Caitlyn,” he said.
“Yes. She came up to me in Lids and told me to give you this. She wants you to call her.”
It finally began to sink in.
We began walking, headed back toward the center of the mall. On the way, Jordin disposed of his empty cup, formerly containing cinnamon swirl bites from Cinnabon. To my surprise, accompanying the cup, was the napkin Caitlyn had written her phone number on.
“What are you doing?” I asked excitedly, debating whether or not I should retrieve it from the bin.
“Well, I don’t know her. She could be a serial killer or something.”
She wasn’t a serial killer. I mean, I don’t think she was. I expressed this to Jordin, calling him “a fucking idiot” in the progress. It was regrettable, and it angered him greatly.
We’ve since reconciled, but not before he clocked my face with a right hook as we prepared to get on a water ride in the malls amusement park. The punch, crushing my face with the force of forty elephants, knocked me for a loop. I’m pretty sure it gave me a concussion, as I don’t remember the water ride at all, nor do I remember climbing over the counter at Sbarro’s so I could look for ghouls.
All I can remember from that moment, though, is learning firsthand why my best friend is nicknamed Midwestern Thunder.