I dropped Keri off at home and told her I’d pick her up for dinner at about 6, and then we could go to the reunion together. Her eyebrows furrowed.
“You mean, we’d drive over in your car?” Her eyes swept down length of the Corvette.
“Too flashy?” I said.
She blushed. “Sorry, no, it’s fine and thanks for driving. I just … you know that commercial where the guy is going to his high school reunion, and his entire life kind of sucks, so he rents a nice car? I’d just kind of feel like that.” She looked sick as she said the words.
“Your life doesn’t suck,” I pointed out. I shrugged. “I’m just offering to drive. I wasn’t planning on leading a parade into the parking lot of the reunion.”
“I know. I’m a jerk. Sorry,” Keri said. She slammed the car door shut. “I’ll be ready at six. Thanks again for driving. Really.”
I watched her until she was in the house, front door closed. Yes, Tom was right. Fourteen years ago, after we’d helped Ann get ready for her wedding day, Keri and I had stopped outside the cluster of trees outside my house and had our first and only kiss. We were walking back to our houses to go to the ceremony with our families, and we’d stopped for a second to talk by the trees, hidden from view from every window of every house on our street. Keri wore a dark blue dress and I was in my old, itchy suit. She wore glasses then, and her hair, which was usually twisted into a long, thick braid, hung loose for once. She was talking about Jimmy Paige, a kid we graduated with, and how he sat behind her in biology and would tug on her braid all class period long. I remember being a little surprised, because the Keri Free I knew would turn around and slug him. But maybe that’s when we both started to change – at fourteen, there in front of our houses. Keri didn’t punch boys anymore and she let them tug her hair, and I heard about it and got mad, but would never do anything about it because Jimmy Paige was twice my size and captain of the JV lacrosse team. So Jimmy Paige would continue to pull her braid, day after day, in biology class. Of course – and I knew this at the time – him tugging her hair may have annoyed her, but he did it because he liked her, like when I used to run up to her in kindergarten and tag her with cooties. So that’s what it was: Jimmy Paige was doing the same thing I did, only ten years later, and Keri was telling me about it while we stood in the shade of the trees.
“He just yanks on my hair and Mr. Thompson already doesn’t like me, so I can’t even move or make a sound or else I’d get in trouble,” Keri had said to me back then.
“Jimmy Paige is an imbecile,” I’d said, even then realizing the hypocrisy of my statement.
“I think he wants me to turn around,” she’d said. “I think he wants to talk to me.”
And that’s what did it. That’s what made me kiss her, because she was figuring it out. She was figuring all of us imbeciles out, and I didn’t want her to. So I’d just leaned over and grabbed her arm and kissed her. She’d stared at me.
“So do you think I should?” she’d finally said.
I stared back at her, wondering if I’d imagined the kiss. “Huh?”
“Do you think I should just keep ignoring him?”
I shook my head and held out my hands. “Sure, or no. I don’t care.” And I’d walked away then.
After that, we did our own thing – she mostly hung around her marching band friends, and I hung around the football team. But I always hated Jimmy Paige.
I found my dad inside the house, watching television in his recliner. When he heard me enter the room, he sat up and turned off the TV.
“Sammy, come sit down for a second,” he said. In his lap was a binder. “I want to go over some things with you.”
I pulled a wooden chair next to the recliner. My father gave me the binder and I paged through it. It looked like medical bills, test results, stuff I didn’t understand.
“I want to talk to you about your mother,” my father said. “I want to tell you everything you didn’t hear from me all those years ago.”