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It started with a murmur. What was hardly a hushed whisper at first began to build and build, as spurts of conversations sprouted around from all sides. Something was going on. Something had happened, and it wasn’t good. Because all around, those hushed whispers held a feeling, and it was a feeling of unease.
RINGINGINGING. *school bell*
“Did you get my super, special, amazing, heartfelt, birthday text? I’ve been working on it all morning.”
In their crowded high school halls, Katie was bubbling with energy, as usual, and much to the chagrin of Alex. Always bubbling. Bubbly Katie.
“Oh uh, I haven’t read it yet…” Alex pulled out her phone to check for the message, but no message was there. “Are you sure you sent it? I don’t have any new… Oh wait, I don’t have any signal.” I don’t have any signal? “Give me a sec.” Alex fumbled with her phone to restart it, but the connection issue persisted.
An uncharacteristic frown crossed bubbly Katie’s face. “Come on! I spent all morning writing it. The least you could do is read it,” Katie pouted. “Fine, if you want it that way, I’m not afraid to embarrass you right here, right now by reading it out loud in front of everyone!” Katie reached down to pull out her phone and began to read. “Dear Alex, your bestest friend in the whole world wanted to wish you the happiest birthd—… Oh wait, I don’t have any signal either.” Katie began to furiously tap on her phone.
The bell rang, cutting their conversation short.
Mr. Sanderson’s fourth period was abuzz with conversation. “I can’t get my phone to work, can you?” “No, I don’t have any signal.” “Hey, I don’t have any signal either!”
The ever-plump Mr. Sanderson walked in and hushed the crowd as he strode toward his seat. “Alright, alright, settle down class. Time to learn. Switch your brains into World History mode!” Mr. Sanderson chuckled at himself as he took his seat with a hard plunk and started clicking around on his computer. “Hold on, I just gotta pull up the… hmm…wait a second.” Mr. Sanderson sat back in his chair and gave his scruffy beard a stroke, before returning for a second round of more frantic clicking. After an unsuccessful round two, Mr. Sanderson sunk back into his chair with a deep sigh.
Around Alex, people began to murmur. Mr. Sanderson rose to silence them. “Alright class, just give me a second. I can’t seem to get the school Wi-Fi to work. I’m just going to pop next door to Ms. Robinson’s class to ask. Open your textbooks to uh… to the last thing we learned about.” Satisfied with his not so precise directions, Mr. Sanderson sauntered out the door. “Hey Olive, I can’t seem too…” The rest was cut off as the door closed behind him.
Immediately, the classroom was a hive of activity.
“Can anyone get their phone to work? I don’t have any signal.”
“Not me either.”
“Do you think they installed a cell blocker? You know, to keep us from like, cheating?”
“Seriously? Why would they do that?!”
“But even the school Wi-Fi doesn’t show up. They wouldn’t block their own Wi-Fi. Maybe it’s because…”
Alex, who wasn’t much of a talker, especially in the absence of Katie, sat back and let the conversations envelop around her. Already, her thoughts were beginning to whirl. The school Wi-Fi isn’t working either? How could both the Wi-Fi and cell service be down at once? Is that even possible?
Mr. Sanderson opened the door, bringing the boisterous conversation to a halt just as it approached its climax. “Well class, it seems like the network might be down in the building. But don’t worry,” Mr. Sanderson said with a smug grin. “We’ll just have to do this lesson OLD SCHOOL.” After he said that, he waddled up to the seldom-used whiteboard and uncapped a marker. “Now… can anyone tell me, uh… Joshua, summarize what you learned for homework.”
Class passed by excruciatingly slowly as Mr. Sanderson attempted to improvise a lesson on the fly. Of course, none of the class was paying any attention, as everyone was too busy secretly pulling out their phones every few minutes to see if it was back up. Alex was similarly following suit, glued to her phone turning the lock screen on and off, hoping each time that somehow something would change.
She continued this on the ride home in Katie’s not-so-brand-new-preowned car, giving updates to Katie as she went. But even though they were getting further and further from the school grounds, the reception still wasn’t coming back.
“Is it back now?” Katie asked, hands firmly planted at 10 and 2 as she headed towards Alex’s house.
“But we’re like at least 50 miles from school at this point!”
“Katie, I don’t think our town is even 50 miles wide in total.”
“You know what I mean.” Katie retorted. And then again, after a brief pause, “What about now?”
“Oh wow, it’s back!”
Sonya was already home when Alex arrived. Shuffling around the kitchen, she looked up as her younger sister entered.
“Well well well, if it isn’t the birthday girl! Happy birthday Alex!” She paused briefly to pull out a store-bought cake that she had until then kept hidden behind her. “And look, your big sis even got you a cake!” Her smile beamed in direct contrast to the heavy bags under her eyes.
“Thanks.” Alex’s curtness spoke volumes.
Sonya continued her shuffle around the kitchen, speaking as she moved. “I’m so so sorry that I can’t stay for your special day, but you know tonight I have the night shift at the hospital. But I promise to make it up to you. What do you think maybe this weekend you and I—”
Alex cut her off. “I know. You always have the night shift.”
Sonya stopped in her tracks. “Well, that’s not technically true. But you know it’s easier to pick up overtime hours now that—”
“I know. Thanks. I’m fine. I’m pretty busy right now anyways. The usual. Homework, and a test on Monday. Anyways, Katie’s stopping by after her work to celebrate with me.”
After taking a moment to gather her thoughts, Sonya replied. “Oh. Well… that’s good. Of course, she’s welcome anytime. You know, maybe we can all—”
“I’ve got to do my homework now,” Alex said, ending the conversation by shutting the door to her room.
Immediately after shutting the door, Alex slung off her backpack and sat down in front of her computer. Please. Please tell me it’s working here. But after some increasingly frantic clicking, and the subsequent unplugging and replugging of cables, she was forced to acknowledge that it was in fact not working here either. Even the router refused to submit to her tampering. No Wi-Fi at school or here. Where’s my phone… Still no cell service. Maybe if I… Oh come on! Why today?!
Alex slouched back into her chair, eyes staring up at the ceiling. From down the hall, she heard her sister calling to her. “Okay Alex, I’m heading off to work now! Tell Katie I said hi! I’m sure you two can rummage up something from the fridge. Save me a slice of cake! Oh, and don’t stay up too late! And don’t forget I love you!”
How could I forget. Alex waited until she heard the front door shut before creeping out of her room back into the kitchen. On the counter sat the now unboxed cake, on which some underpaid grocery store employee had been forced to pipe:
Happy Birthday Alex! Love Sonya, Mom, & Dad
But for Alex the message only stirred up anger.
“Well, I think it’s sweet,” Katie said while munching on a slice of cake. “It shows that she cares about you.”
Katie and Alex were sitting in the living room, the now partially eaten cake residing on the coffee table in front of them. The TV wasn’t working either—only displaying static—so they were forced to choose one of Sonya’s cheesy DVDs. Katie hadn’t even bothered to change out of her McDonald’s uniform.
“You know, I wonder if the internet is out at my house as well. Actually, do you think my parents even remembered that I was coming over here tonight? Oh! Do you think they think I’ve been kidnapped?!” Katie was always one to err on the side of dramatic. This time, it seemed kidnapped child was the role she selected.
“I just hope it’s back up by tomorrow,” Alex mumbled in between bites of cake. “You know, I think I read something once about how a guy dug too deep and accidentally cut the main fiber cable to a city, leaving them without any service. Maybe that’s what happened here.”
“You think so?” Katie asked.
“Maybe. I think they couldn’t even call 911 or anything. It was a big deal.”
“Oh… Do you think Sonya is having to deal with that right now?”
Katie bringing up Sonya again dampened Alex’s mood. “I’m sure she’s fine. She’s very good at always handling everything, even if you don’t want her to.” The last bit Alex mumbled under her breath.
“You know, I don’t understand why you hate Sonya so much now. With what you two have been through, I figured—”
Alex quickly cut her off to change the subject. “What about your parents? Don’t they like, work from home on the internet?”
Katie leaned back into the couch, as if the thought had just now dawned on her. “Oh yea… I guess I hadn’t really thought about that. Well… then I hope it comes back soon!” After that momentary pause, she perked back up, as if all the doubt had already left her mind. “Anyways, since it’s still not back up, I guess I have to read my super special birthday message to you in person!” She picked up her phone from the table. “Dear Alex, your bestest friend in the whole—”
Alex quickly snatched the phone out of her hand. “Please don’t read it out loud! I’ll literally die of embarrassment!”
That night Alex lay in bed, staring across at the blank computer monitor over on her desk. It will be alright. It’s just one day. You can survive one day. As long as it’s back up tomorrow, everything will be okay. No need to panic.