Left coast karma, p.1
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       Left Coast Karma, p.1

           Jonathan Vaught
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Left Coast Karma

  a short story

  by Jonathan Vaught

  Copyright 2009. Some rights reserved.

  I hadn't seen Kevin in forever. He got scooped up by Karma and swept off to California to work on some super-secret project involving world domination and, for all we knew, time travel. He was the lone wolf, the alpha geek and, oddly, the party animal in our cadre of college friends. Considering all that, I was surprised when he told me he was getting married.

  You know how it is, right? Your cell phone rings, or, more likely, your email dings. You see this name on the screen, one that you used to see every day but no longer, and the first thought that comes to mind is what do they want from me?

  You have a pretty good idea. They've either been sucked into a pyramid scam, or their life is about to change. In Kevin's case, his email was to the point:

  "Hey dude. What's your mailing address?"

  Which could only mean I was getting a wedding invitation-or worse, one of those awful "Save the Date!" magnets with a cheery photo of my former pal and some perky California stranger. Probably both wearing J.Crew and standing on a hillside under a big oak tree in wine country. Not at all like Kevin.

  I wrote back and gave him my address, along with the standard small talk: what have you been up to lately? How's Karma treating you? How's California? Etc. Meaningless questions that you'd never need to ask a close friend. I didn't expect an answer anytime soon. Kevin wasn't much for idle chatter. I got one, though, and it was more or less what I expected.

  "I'm getting married in September. We're having a bunch of people out for an engagement party. Taryn's sending out invitations tomorrow."

  Taryn. It sounded California enough. J.Crew indeed. I wrote back asking for more details, but knowing Kevin, that was all the info I was going to get.

  When the invitation came, two weeks later, I had some frequent flyer miles saved up on a credit card, and plenty of curiosity-about the woman, the job, and California-so I was all in.

  Sure enough, there was a refrigerator magnet in the envelope. With no photo on it.

  I wasn't expecting a greeting committee at San Francisco, and I didn't get one. It was Friday evening and Kevin worked programmer's hours. One thing I'd gotten out of him was that his job had weekly deadlines, and though overtime was officially discouraged at Karma, working nights was considered a badge of honor. They didn't have bunk beds and free snacks for nothing. They hired the kind of person who wanted to work all hours. Someone who didn't even think of it as work. Kevin would just as soon stay up all night inventing a new web server as playing Xbox, or playing with some girl. It was all play to him. Never one to dig below the surface of things like that, was Kevin.

  I didn't mind that no one was there to meet me-I liked traveling alone and going where I wanted. I'd read that the Bay Area was easy to get around if you stuck to public transportation. I retrieved my duffle bag from the conveyor and hopped the BART over to the CalTrain station. The train's PA reeled off a string of bland, vaguely California names: Burlingame, Hillsdale, Belmont. They all ran together in an endless suburban sprawl outside the train window. I could have been outside of Los Angeles, or Fresno for all I knew. Kevin said he'd bought a house in Menlo Park, which meant nothing to me. I thought Menlo Park was in New Jersey. The engagement party was on the Karma campus in Redwood City. I'd booked a hotel there, on El Camino Real and just around the corner from the CalTrain station. I had hopes of getting up to San Francisco proper at some point.

  You may wonder why I was out here all by myself, why no one else from the old college crew made the trip. I guess I was closer to Kevin than most of them. Not everyone can tolerate a person like him. He kept us all entertained, but a class clown doesn't make the greatest of friends, and when your hobby keeps you at the computer day and night? you get the picture. And since I'm being honest, I'm the only single guy left. Everyone else has either moved away like Kevin, or has a wife and kids. I bet it's a hard sell convincing your wife to fly across the country, for one weekend, to visit your former friend that she may have met once or twice. I, on the other hand, was unattached. Portable, you might say. And I meant to make the most of it. This Taryn girl had to have a single friend or two.

  After an uneventful night in my uneventful hotel, I dialed Kevin over a fast-food biscuit. No answer. He'd probably pulled an all-nighter and was crashing hard with his cell off. The party was in the evening, so I figured I had time to see the city.

  I studied a transit map on the long train ride back to town-I wanted to have a plan when I got there and I hated wandering the streets looking like a tourist. Everyone else was jacked into something electronic. I counted seven iPhones, four PSPs, a DS, and two Kindles from where I sat. I didn't bother to count cell phones or laptops. I wondered what these people thought of my so-last-century map, if they noticed anything at all outside their digital bubbles.

  At the end of the line, I walked a few blocks through the SOMA wilderness of repurposed warehouses until I found Union Square and the cable cars. Tourist or not, who doesn't want to ride one of those things? It being Saturday, the line was long and the car was packed like the proverbial box of Rice-a-Roni. I didn't see much from inside the knot of gawkers, but hey, I'd done it. I got off at the top of Russian Hill to check out the pretty old houses and stunning views-just long enough to realize that San Francisco feels ten degrees colder than the actual temperature and I hadn't brought a jacket. I bought the least touristy sweatshirt that Ghirardelli Square had to offer (blue and gold Cal hoodie, if you must know) and walked a few blocks over to North Beach for pizza. Afterwards I set the leftovers next to a sleeping homeless guy. San Francisco is full to the gills with them. If you've never been, like me, that fact will hit you even harder than the terrific views. I read somewhere that the town is really good to them, or they just love the place too much to live somewhere else they could afford. Maybe some were casualties of dot-com or real estate. I wondered how many people who worked here could actually afford to live here. I passed by the Fisherman's Wharf complex, seething with tourists, and walked a few blocks of the financial district. It was midafternoon by now, and I did have a party to get to. I rode back to the CalTrain, this time on a city bus. Much different sort of crowd than the cable car.

  I put on my best imitation of a California party outfit and took a cab to the big event. I was right-there seemed to be enough attractive and unattached women to spare one for me. I didn't recognize anyone else there, except for?

  "Kevin! Where've you been hiding all weekend? I've had nothing to do. This place is dead, you know."

  "DUDE! This is awesome! You made it!" He gave me a guy hug, the kind where you shake with the right hand and back-pat with the left. "I'm really sorry we couldn't hang out before the party. I had to work until like 5 am last night and then I slept all day. Taryn was worried I wasn't going to make it here on time." He shot a worshipful look at his mystery girl. I'd never seen that look on the Kevin I knew. I followed his gaze to the woman three steps away. Yep, she was California to the bone. And-there's no other way to say it-HOT. Which, for Kevin, was kind of rare. I know I said he enjoyed the ladies and they enjoyed him. Funny thing about Kevin, though, he wasn't picky. I'd seen him chase a 5 or a 6 like she was on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover. He wasn't what I'd call ugly, but being a computer nerd cost him a couple of points right off the top, so it was probably a good thing he didn't discriminate. OK, he'd brought home the odd 8.5. Maybe even a 9 once. But this Taryn was an 11, easy. And I'm not just saying that because of the whole California-girl mythos. Maybe this wasn't LA, but I'd been here all day and I'd seen the scenery. This girl still made the top of t
he list.

  Was this the Kevin I knew? All of a sudden I had doubts. There are all these subtle physical changes you notice when you haven't seen someone in a long time. Hairstyle, clothes, weight, mannerisms all change with your environment and your lifestyle. The voice was the same, but when it came to her... He spoke her name, still fawning, and she turned to look at us. Flashed a perfect smile. Perfect teeth, perfect skin, lashes that looked fake but you knew they weren't. Normally I wouldn't comment on a woman's lashes, but I was trying really hard to keep my gaze above chest height. I didn't think she was even wearing makeup. She didn't need it. I spoke first to break the spell she was casting.

  "So you're the woman that managed to get my old roommate back in touch with me. Hope he hasn't been too much trouble to tame." She laughed a perfect laugh and I actually shook my head a little to clear it. Kevin made formal introductions, sounding like a teenager. I swear I heard his voice crack.

  Taryn kept that megawatt smile focused on me. "You're the one that came all the way out from Carolina. Thank you so much for coming! I was hoping to meet someone that knew Kevin in college. I expect a full history before you leave here
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