It was just after 10 and the morning air was refreshing. I lowered the top of the Corvette, and was pulling out of the driveway when I heard the familiar slam of the screen door next door. I stopped in front of Keri’s house just as she reached the edge of her lawn. She hopped over the side of the car, stepping on the passenger seat on the way.
“I hope that doesn’t leave a scuff mark,” I muttered.
“Oh, shoot,” she said. She leaned over to look at the bottom of her shoe. “I did just rub my feet around in some manure. Because I’m four years old.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Where are we going?” Keri said.
I drove over to Ann’s house and Keri stayed in the car while I ran up to the front door.
“Hey. Do you still want to have that coffee? I can come by for lunch today,” I said.
She nodded and peeked past me at Keri in the passenger seat of my car. “And have Keri come, too,” she said.
I nodded and waved goodbye.
I jogged back to the car and slid in the driver’s seat. Keri had found some classic rock radio station and was twisting her hair up into a ponytail.
“Hope you didn’t have lunch plans,” I said, pulling back out onto the street.
“I’m free as a bird,” Keri said.
I drove to the high school and parked in the empty parking lot. The reunion committee had planned a few things that weekend for everyone who was coming back into town, but none of the plans consisted of a tour of the old high school.
“School on Saturday?” Keri said. “You must really be trying to escape something.”
I tried a door and found it open. We walked in. The halls were dark and kind of creepy.
“Ugh, it looks the same,” I said.
“You sound disappointed.”
“It’s just weird. Nothing here has changed. But we have, you know? We could probably come back in twenty years and the only thing that will have changed is that the teachers are older.”
She walked in front of me and ran her hand along the lockers. Some of her wavy hairs had pulled loose from the ponytail from the ride in the convertible, and she brushed them off her neck. She pulled the hair tie out and let all of her hair fall loose down her back.
I remembered that last time I saw her, when we were both home from college. It was the college break when my mother died and took a part of all of us with her. At the memorial service, some college friends rode down to support me. We were in the sanctuary of my church, and Keri walked up, wearing a short, black skirt and a gray sweater. She wore high heels, and I don’t know if it was the grief or what, but I just focused on those shoes. I had never thought Keri was a high heel kind of girl. She’d always worn sneakers and jeans in high school. She came over to me and hugged me. She whispered that she was sorry, and then she walked away, tears in her eyes.
“Who is that?” my friend Jason said at the time, as we all watched her find her parents and sit down.
“We grew up together,” I replied. I looked at her through his eyes, and I saw her differently from the girl I grew up with. She was not that girl anymore, just like I was trying not to be the boy I once was.
I didn’t see her again during that break from school because things were so hectic with relatives and friends coming over to pay their condolences. I avoided coming home after that, opting for summer internships away from home and planning vacations during the shorter breaks.
She stopped in front of a locker and turned to me, smiling. “My locker,” she said.
“Really?” I wondered vaguely if I’d even be able to locate my locker. It was on the second floor, near some science classrooms.
“I bet I can remember the combination,” she said.
She started spinning the built-in combination lock. “Hey, we had to remember this combination over every summer and somehow we did it.” She tugged at the locker door. It didn’t open.
“Take two.” She spun the lock around again, and tugged again. Nothing.
“Third time’s a charm,” she said.
I watched her and thought about that last time, at the memorial service, when she walked up to me and hugged me. I thought about my surprise at seeing her there. I don’t really know why I was so surprised; of course she’d be there for my mom. I looked at her now, concentrating on the numbers, and brushing her hair out of her eyes. Even now, standing in our old high school, dressed in jeans and t-shirt, I would be able to tell that she is a high heel kind of girl. Keri was the girl next door, complete with ponytail and sneakers, who could also turns heads in heels and a dress.
“Got it,” she said, and threw open the locker door. Some loose papers and pens fell to the ground. She picked the papers up. “Alonzo Lopez,” she read. She stuffed them back into the locker.
“I cannot believe you remember your locker combination after ten years.”
“I know! That should have been a game at the reunion, right? I should win something,” she said.
“Okay, let’s keep moving and leave Alonzo and his locker in peace,” I said.
Keri picked the pens up from the ground, and then pulled one of the loose pieces of paper out of the locker again. “Yeah, just a sec. I’m going to leave him a note.”
“No.” She scribbled something down on the paper, and then positioned everything so that only the one paper would fall out when the locker door was opened again.
We walked down the hall to a stairwell.
“What did you write?” I said.
“Clean your locker and tell Mr. Loriczech that K. Free says hi.”
I laughed. “Nice.”
We went to the auditorium and sat in front row, directly in front of the stage.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been here when it was so empty,” I said. I stood and climbed the steps of the stage. I stood directly in the middle, facing Keri and the empty seats of the audience.
“Did you know that I wanted to go out for the school play when we were sophomores?” I said.
“Seriously?” Keri said. “Why didn’t you?”
I shrugged and walked around. I checked out the backstage area behind the curtains. I had never been back there. “I figured football was more of a guy-thing, and musicals were … not.”
“Ohhhh, what was the musical that year…” Keri said.
“Singin’ In The Rain,” I said.
Keri’s eyes were wide and shining. “Gene Kelly! He’s a man’s man. You totally could’ve pulled that off.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, like I would’ve gotten the lead.”
Keri skipped up the steps onto the stage with me. “I bet you could have.” She found some hats backstage and tossed one to me.
I put it on, and jumped up and clicked my heels. We both doubled over with laughter.
We heard a door slam somewhere in the huge auditorium, and we both froze.
“Someone in here?” a man’s voice called out. We both recognized it as Principal Porter’s voice.
Keri grabbed my arm and dragged me backstage and through a series of hallways. We shook with silent laughter the entire way. When I finally caught my breath, I whispered, “Where the hell are we going?”
“This goes to the band room,” Keri whispered back.
When we finally got to the band room, we fell into the small student desks, exhausted from running and stifling our laughter.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, looking around horrified. “Did it always look like this? I feel like I’m in some three-year-old’s nightmare.”
The walls were painted with cartoon characters playing instruments. Keri punched my arm.
She tried to say something else, but we were already laughing too hard. I felt like a teenager again. My stomach muscles ached that old, good ache that I remember from when Keri and I were kids.
When we finally stopped I leaned over close to her.
“Listen, I have something to tell you,” I said.
She stared at me, her eyes flickering back and forth between mine. “What?”
“It might make you feel uncomfortable.”
“Or, I don’t know. Maybe it’s not the right time to tell you…”
Keri bit at her lip, an old nervous habit.
She put her hand on my arm, and leaned in toward me. “What is it?”
“Keri,” I said softly, and leaned in slightly closer. I reached my arm out and stretched it past her. “Mr. Loriczech retired two years ago.”
I pointed at a plaque on the wall with a picture of Mr. Loriczech and the dates of his employment. It hung next to a cartoon illustration of Popeye playing the flute. “Alonzo will have no idea what your note means.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Read Part FOUR