Dressed in a three piece charcoal gray suit, the man sat behind the steering wheel of his rental car wondering what in the world had possessed him to travel across the country to a high school reunion. Forty years ago, he had sat in his car in this very same parking lot, doing last minute cramming for an English final. His hand reached hesitantly for the door handle, grasping it, and then letting it go. I can call this a family visit, he thought, I did stop in to see my older brother’s family, and the graveyard. I could leave now. No one would notice.
He yanked the door handle irritably as if it had some part in his wavering resolve, and pushed the door open. The man paused, gazing around the parking lot with a couple hundred cars, and people exiting their vehicles experiencing the same tense, nervous regret he was. If I recognize five people after forty years, it’ll be a miracle. Many glanced in his direction and at each other, the darkness relieved slightly by dull yellow lot lights around the parking lot perimeter. Some formed groups, laughing and talking as they walked toward the building, natives and still area residents the man figured speculatively. They had watched each other’s attrition slowly gray their hair, widen waists, and bend backs over the many years.
“You’re not thinking of backing out now, are you?” A soft lilting voice called out from behind the man, as he had been contemplating exactly that.
He turned, startled at the realization he recognized the voice. It held the same promise, and humor it had forty years ago, as if she were laughing at him provocatively. She stood in the darkness, a few feet from the trunk of his rental. She tilted her head speculatively, the light at the man’s back shadowing his features, while not quite illuminating hers.
“Tim Benson? No… too tall for Tim… ah… Brad… oh, who the hell am I kidding,” she laughed. “I don’t know who the hell you are. I see you’re alone. Want to walk in with me?”
“Sure,” he agreed, closing his door.
It was then as he turned into the light, she recognized him. Four decades fell away in seconds, with accompanying cascades of memories causing her to momentarily reach out and steady herself with a hand on his car trunk.
“Jim… Jim Randal… it can’t be. You… you’re dead,” all humor and ease gone from her voice, leaving only wistful uncertainty.
Jim Randal stepped toward her but stopped when the woman held up her other hand in a warding off gesture.
“Give me a second, Jim… just stay where you are.”
Jim did as ordered, seeing Kate straighten away from his car and take a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh.
“Well, that’s a little too much excitement, even for a reunion,” Kate proclaimed, holding out her hand shakily. “Nice… nice to see you.”
Jim clasped her hand firmly for a moment, feeling the coolness of her skin, unaffected by the hot muggy air of a Midwestern summer night in June. He held on, his memory of Kate’s face fast forwarding to the lined older version of reality before him under the yellowed haze of light. She pulled her hand free, turning away abruptly.
“Don’t… I know what you’re thinking,” Kate giggled, sending memory chills lancing through Jim’s consciousness. “It’s not fair. I…I’ve had no time to prepare. You just show up out of no where in time to see me old and gray. Thanks a lot, pal.”
“Pals don’t care about small stuff like that,” Jim said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “What, you think I still look eighteen?”
Kate turned to face him, reaching up with her hands on his shoulders, turning Jim into the light, first one way, and then the other. Even in the dull light, she could see his short bush cut hair was all white, and his lean face lined with age. A scar ran from his left lower eye socket down to his jaw line. He felt like granite under the suit.
“It doesn’t feel like you’ve been behind a desk all your life.”
“You either,” Jim replied, smiling as he placed his hands at Kate’s waist.
“I’m an old, overweight frump.”
“Are you fishing for compliments, Kate?”
“Maybe,” the lilting tone was back in her voice, as she took his hand and pulled him to the front of his rental. “My knees are getting sore. Help me up on the hood.”
“We could go inside,” Jim countered, lifting her up on the hood with surprising ease.
“We’re not going anywhere. I want to know everything, and I won’t be interrupted,” Kate stated firmly, crossing one nylon encased leg over the other and leaning back with her hands splayed behind her on the hood.
Jim nodded, liking the simple black skirt and sleeveless burgundy blouse she wore.
“You’re checking me out again, and I’m getting nervous.”
“You don’t look frumpy to me.”
“Thank you. Now, where the hell did you go?”
“The service,” Jim shrugged.
“You’re not going to make me pluck bits of information from you like lint on your suit, are you? I heard you died overseas.”
“It was a mix up. My family knew it was a mistake. I came back a few times to visit while my folks were alive.”
“You didn’t call me. I thought we were friends.”
“You were married, and I…”
“I married Don because you left,” Kate cut him off indignantly. “You could have married me before you went in the service.”
“No, I couldn’t,” Jim replied, noting the conversation taking a dive back into the archives of lost discussions. “My draft number was eighteen, and like I told you then, I wanted to make it back in one piece before marrying you.”
“So leaving me to think you were dead was…”
“Why didn’t you contact my folks? They could have…”
“I figured they’d be devastated, and I’m not much at consoling people. I couldn’t even console myself,” Kate interrupted again, uncrossing her legs and sliding to the ground, shrugging off Jim’s attempt to help her. “You should have called me.”
“Yea, I should have done a lot of things,” Jim retorted. “You went to the prom with Don. I figured…”
“You brat!” Kate gasped. “You signed up to work as a damn dishwasher on prom night.”
“I needed the money,” Jim muttered guiltily.
“For the trip to
“We were going in the service and wanted to see something besides our own backyard before shipping out,” Jim countered, smiling as the two of them stood nearly toe to toe, arguing like the prom had taken place four days ago instead of four decades. “You didn’t know it, but Don took you to the same restaurant after the prom I was washing dishes at. I saw you hanging all over him.”
“I was…!” Kate looked around, realizing her two word outburst had again attracted attention. She waited for a moment, turning away from Jim with her arms crossed over her chest. “I was drunk, and pissed off at you. The next day you were gone.”
“We headed out for
Kate twisted around, the anger contorting her face giving Jim pause.
“I hated you,” Kate whispered, the rage draining from her when she saw the concern etched in his features. She looked away. “You owned me, every touch a seduction, every kiss a… I had college… and obligations… and…”
“I know,” Jim said, putting his arms around Kate, gently hugging her to him. “You didn’t come with anyone. Are you alone?”
“Yes, I’ve been…”
“So am I,” Jim interjected, whispering only inches from Kate’s ear. “Maybe we could have a private reunion.”
“No… we should… oh…” Kate demurred weakly, Jim’s lips on her ear as he traced a path to Kate’s neck, inducing a shiver of anticipation. “Hell… I…I didn’t want to attend this goofy thing anyway.”