Rhonda came to kidnap me away from L’Abri my first Thursday there, which is typically our day off from study but this time we were to get Friday off instead because Dick Keyes, the director, was hosting a rehearsal dinner for his son Tim’s wedding. On Friday afternoon, we would all be kindly asked to make ourselves scarce so that the house would be empty for the dinner’s guests. Between that mess of activity and watching the hootchie-coo of Sara and Ryan’s romance, I was more than ready to hang out with another single chick close to my age.

Amherst is about an hour plus from Southboro, so when Rhonda arrived, it was already dark and an hour past dinner. Since we’d last spoken, she had bought a car, this adorable little two door Eagle something or other, all blue with chrome moldings and fat tires, a little ghetto roadster. Rhonda is looking for the translation of little blue frog in French (her language choice for her gen ed requirement) and that will become the car’s christened name. Like the loom I’m storing for her in New Orleans, she bought the car from her boss and will be working it off for a while, but she’s happy and loves and I thought it rocked most charmingly.

Once we got back to Amherst, she took me to the café her boss runs in addition to a cookie company for which she manages the accounting, and we sat outside, smoked, shivered and talked about all the things that had been going on since I’d seen her in February. At 26, she is attending college as a freshman, doing this accounting jag as well as driving a bus for the township, and I am more than proud of her, because for the longest time she didn’t think she’d make it in college. She rents a room from a family in town instead of living on campus at U Mass, so when we got back there, she offered to sleep on the floor, since she had already gotten used to the drafty cold of New England houses and I had yet to.

When I awoke the next morning, Rhonda had already left. I had be told to walk to campus and meet her in front of the building where she had her first class so I could see the grounds and sit in with her during her day at school. In Astronomy, I heard about neutrinos and isotopes, watching a wiry man in thick glasses lament about how amazing our universe really is. We went inside the campus center and bought Cokes, then went outside to watch the students mill about, looking only slightly busy as they went from class to class. I remembered that when I was in college, one of the biggest trials was simply getting to each class on time, moving from one end of campus to the other like musical chairs. In Art History we heard how Michelangelo would include the faces of men he hated and put them in the Hell section of his religious murals, and what the Gothic style really meant in its origin. Rhonda had wanted me to watch this prof very carefully so I could mimic his mannerisms to her friends; she must think I have a knack for such things. During her French exam, I wandered back into the campus center and the bookstore and recounted how central a place it was, where you could get almost anything you needed and where you almost always resorted to when decorating your dorm room. Flipping through the carousel of postcards, I was saddened at how ugly the buildings at U Mass are, how dull and boxy. I checked my email at one of the library’s Mac labs, all the while noting what I missed out from my college. Internet connections as standard in the dorms, for crying out loud, and nice, new Macs for public use. I mean, U Mass has a hotel on campus for visitors and a visitor’s center where anyone can get a tour. Shmancy.

Greek Mythology was the biggest class she had, around 400 or so, and that day they were finishing up a screening of Black Orpheus, a cheesy rendition of the Greek myth. There was a scene depicting Carnival, and the teacher reminded us that this sort of thing happens in New Orleans, and it’s called Mardi Gras. We looked at each other and laughed. Even here, New Orleans can find us.

Later that night we went out for Indian cuisine in Northampton and nearly overstuffed ourselves on Na’an and red wine. One of the coolest feelings is to step out of a warm, dimly lit restaurant, full and satisfied, and walk out into the cold night and light a cigarette. Earlier, Rhonda and I visited a humidor to get some vanilla cigarettes she had been pining for; Bob Marley was playing. I was pleased to find that the little entertainment and retail district had absolutely no franchises or chain stores. One of her bus driving friends had a drummer for a boyfriend and we were to attend one his shows that night at the Iron Horse Music Hall, but before that we stopped at a bar because Rhonda wanted, specifically, two whiskey sours. It took the waitstaff almost an hour before they decided to tell us that our clove smoke did not mingle well with the burger fare, so we left soon after that. The bar had this article from Bartender’s Digest framed by the bathroom door, showing two men in a tandem sky dive, one of which was holding a martini shaker. The caption below it read: Mile High Martini. Boy that was awfully clever of them. To wake ourselves up once we left the bar, we stopped into a small coffee shop/bookstore. Ozzy was on the stereo. I love this place.

At the Iron Horse, you couldn’t smoke inside. We sat by the door so that every time someone left to smoke, we would get hit with a waft of cold air. Going up to the bar to order drinks, I saw a bottle of Tia Maria on the shelf and asked the bartender if she new how make a drink with it. After having to consult a bouncer, she was still pretty much clueless, so I ordered a Guinness to make it easier for her. I wasn’t allowed more than one drink at a time, so Rhonda had to come up and get her own. Only in moments at bars like this do I note how New Orleans bars are different. You can get a go-cup and take any alcohol with you, and you can smoke in every bar. But the band sound checked a half hour late, so that made me feel more like home. Nothing starts on time back home.

The first band was a bit too funky for my taste, but if the funk bands in New Orleans could sound that good, they wouldn’t still be playing in New Orleans. Even Jess’ boyfriends band wasn’t my taste either, but I loved their energy. We were watching them from the side and the bass player and guitarist would weave back and forth with the music, looking from my angle like the copper legs of a massive wind chime.

We were out until 2 or so before coming back to her room to crash. The next morning I helped her wash and wax her car, which was funny to me because the paint was so faded that it was coming off with our rags, with the car wax sponge. She ran some errands for her boss and in the bakery where the cookies are made, a couple artists have rented an adjoining studio space where they made pottery. One tenant made these amazing clay dinosaurs, with full rows of teeth glazed in white. She brought some of the cookies with her when she drove me to L’Abri because Ryan’s favorite animal is the rhino, which was the cookie company’s mascot.

She dropped me off late Saturday afternoon. Thinking back, I can’t tell you specifically what we talked about, or what we shared, but I do remember that she is one of my closest friends because I can tell her everything. I trust her and love her and can say as much to her and not feel awkward. When she comes to get her things next week, it will be sad for me because it will mean that she won’t likely return to New Orleans except to visit, as I will when I move. Still, it’s nice knowing that she’s out there, and that I am being missed by a really good friend who has weathered with me through some of the most difficult ordeals of my life so far, and never once turned me away.