Brittneigh‘s birthday was a couple weeks ago – actually, the same weekend as the “Welcome to Night Vale” live show in Portland. We had gotten tickets ages ago, but as the event drew closer, we decided to add a surprise birthday celebration to it. It would involve brunch (because Portland) and thrifting (because Portland and Brittneigh), and at some point, Kristi and I would sneak into Brittneigh’s apartment to fill it with birthday decorations.
Slowly – very slowly because, as the thesis of this piece proposes, we are terrible spies – the plan took shape. Jessica, who was staying at Brittneigh’s the night before, would primarily be the distraction. Kristi and I would get cake and decorations, then meet up with Brittneigh and Jessica for brunch. We arranged for someone to “forget” something and have to “drive back to Vancouver,” when we would actually be using Brittneigh’s stealthily-obtained-from-Jessica spare key to decorate the apartment. We decided that Kristi should be the one to forget because I’m a terrible actor. Since we were all planning to wear purple clothing and makeup in honor of Night Vale, it was decided that Kristi could forget her purple, hence giving us an excuse to leave while in reality her purple gear would be safe in the car.
The day of the big event, Kristi arrives at my house – in a purple jacket, with purple eyeshadow.
“I forgot what I was supposed to forget.”
Okay. So we stumble going out of the gate, but we can still work with this, being, after all, the highly resourceful and professional people we are. We decide to say she “forgot her phone,” and she would need it “because she’s on call.” Problem solved.
We hit the road and stop at the store for cake and balloons. We don’t know what flavor cake to get – who knows, maybe Brittneigh really hates chocolate – and call Jessica, because time is too short for texting.
While the phone rings, I remember that Jessica is already with Brittneigh and probably can’t tell us what kind of cake she likes.
“So uh…can you tell me what kind of cake to get?”
“Okay. Well, the plan is now that Kristi Forgot Her Phone so we’ll have to leave for a bit after brunch.”
I hang up. “That was really dumb.”
Jessica texts me: get cookies, not cake, because Brittneigh had already had two cakes this week. By this time we are high-tailing it across the store to get the balloons. There’s no one at the counter, so we wait, debating whether we should spring for the expensive dog-shaped balloon with accordion-fold paper legs, or just an ordinary mylar balloon with a dopey birthday bulldog on it. The balloon guy arrives and Kristi and I experience reaffirmation of our status as losers as we try to explain the four-person, early afternoon, alcohol-free party – followed by a live showing of a quirky podcast he’s never heard of – we are planning to throw. We get the balloons and leave in a hurry.
Halfway across the parking lot: “Wait…we forgot the cookies.”
We shove the balloons in my car and go back for cookies. (We also get a huge Cake Boss dulce de leche cake because why not. I would up eating almost half of it over the next week because Kristi and I never had a good time to get together and eat it, so basically I owe Kristi a really nice cake.)
Finally, with baked goods and balloons safely concealed in the back of my car, we leave for Portland. Phase One accomplished! It’s a beautiful, practically warm sunny day, and inside the car, it’s even warmer. I struggle out of my coat – no time to stop, and anyway we’re already on I-5 – and I wrench my shoulder trying to get out of the coat while not crashing.
I think our greatest success throughout this debacle is the fact that we never crashed the car.
We reach the right corner of downtown, but the GPS insists on sending us onto 405. Brunch ends in forty minutes, so it’s not like we have a real time crunch, but we’re hungry and what the heck is the GPS doing, anyway? At least it doesn’t send us down Burnside because:
At last, we park and meet up with Jessica, who gives us spare key. I drop it stealthily into my bag and we go. Phase Two accomplished!
We enjoy our brunch, but finally the moment comes when Kristi and I leave “so we can get to Vancouver.” I’m preoccupied with how much time we have to kill to effectively pretend we’re going back across the state line, so we’re already back at my car when I realize I’m only coming up with one set of keys.
We open the back of the car and empty my purse, spreading its contents across the carpet. No key. I already know what I did, though: I’d dropped the key in my other bag, which, because it’s lighter than my purse, had been on my wrenched shoulder where my purse usually is.
Phase Three, the most critical phase, is an abject failure.
I quickly text Jessica, who comes up with a reason to borrow Brittneigh’s key and meet us at the parking lot. They’d been at a nearby coffeeshop – near enough to see the entrance to Brittneigh’s apartment – so we have to sprint for the door, bouncing orange balloons and cookies in tow. Jessica lets us in and hurries back to the coffeeshop – she’d told Brittneigh that she needed to talk privately to her husband about finances, which means he might be involved in our web of intrigue now. Or rather our sad scraggly summer-camp macrame of intrigue.
Upstairs, I find the key in my other bag. We hastily decorate and leave, saying Kristi had found her phone in my car after all.
“She must have figured out what’s going on now.”
Kristi just shakes her head sadly. “Trust me, they believe me. This is absolutely something Kristi would do.”
The GPS leads us on more merry driving adventures as we hustle to Lloyd Center. Kristi is attempting to navigate, but the GPS is changing its mind every few blocks.
“This is getting ridiculous. I’m setting a goal for the rest of the day, which is to not screw up.”
“That was supposed to be a left.”
I return Jessica’s key and we go shopping and nothing stupid happens for at least an hour. This part of the day is great. Brittneigh seems to remain unaware that some of her friends are morons.
Around 4:30, we drive back to have dinner at Brittneigh’s. Kristi and I get there first, which means we have to wait outside while Jessica and Brittneigh drive around for a parking spot. Brittneigh arrives first – without Jessica, who just dropped her off while she continued looking for parking.
We wait outside a little longer. It’s cold. We need to get started on dinner if we’re going to get to Night Vale on time.
“I think Jessica has her key back if we want to go in,” I suggest.
The words are already out of my mouth before I realize how much I should not have said them. Kristi’s eyes go wide with horror and I try not to cringe at my astonishing stupidity.
Brittneigh doesn’t seem to have noticed. “Oh, does she have a key? She needed to borrow mine earlier.”
“Uh, I just thought she mentioned having one sometime.” She has stayed over at Brittneigh’s before, so this is a reasonable excuse.
We go in and wait in the hallway, ostensibly to let Jessica in, in case she doesn’t have a key after all. Brittneigh goes to check her mail, and while she’s gone, Kristi gives me a “WTF” look and I let out the long-contained cringe.
Jessica arrives shortly and I let her in.
“WE WEREN’T SURE IF YOU HAD YOUR KEY OR NOT.”
Jessica goes along with it. “Oh yeah, I found it.”
We go upstairs, relieved that we’re seconds away from finally getting to give up our stupid charade. Brittneigh opens her door and is, against all odds, still surprised by our cluster of balloons and drapes of crepe paper.
“Oh my God, you guys.” I can’t tell if she’s pleased, embarrassed, or thinks we’re idiots. Probably a bit of all three.
“Did we seriously surprise you?”
“Dude, I had no idea.”
So maybe we’re not the worst spies…but we’re pretty dang close.