Fifteen minutes later, I was at the bar, two hours early for the reunion. I didn’t know where Keri was. Maybe she was walking along that empty road, holding her high heeled shoes in her hands, or maybe she was picking her way through the forest trying to find my cellphone that I reminded her I needed for my job, before I sped off.
“We’re not teenagers anymore,” I’d told her before I left her to find her own way to the reunion. The words seethed out of my mouth. “You can’t just throw away someone’s phone because you don’t like who they’re talking to.”
She’d said nothing and no look of remorse passed over her face, so I’d taken off, finding myself at the bar hours early and hungry. And, of course, this bar didn’t have the pizza I’d been dreaming about all weekend.
I thought about the list – that damn list. It was the cause of all my trouble. Who the hell was leaving me those notes? Well, the last task just wasn’t in the cards, I thought. No dinner with the girl next door on the pier. It was her fault anyway. She was so stubborn.
I knocked back one beer and then another. I felt eyes on me from across the bar and peered through the smoke. Ten years ago, Jimmy Paige had been a hint of brain, much brawn but mostly braggadocio. The brawn was somewhat more bloated, but I would recognize that hungry look of hubris anywhere. The compact man across the bar with the unibrow was the old lacrosse star himself, Jimmy Paige.
“Jimmy?” I called out and held my glass aloft.
“Sammy Lancey,” he crowed. He walked, or put more aptly, sauntered around the bar toward me. He clinked my glass with his.
“I’m not the only one who decided to pre-game the reunion, huh?” He chuckled. Even his laugh was pompous. But misery loves company, so the saying goes, and Jimmy was the only person there.
“Jimmy Paige,” I said, my voice heavy with surprise. Surprise at his appearance (did I look that old?) and his presence (of all people!) in my hour of need.
“The one and only,” he said, holding his glass high again.
I touched my glass to it again and watched him while he emptied his into his mouth. He ordered up two more beers.
“You been pulling any girls’ braids, lately?” I said.
He chuckled but looked confused. “Only the naughty ones.”
I drained half of the glass.
“Are you ready for this thing?” he said. “Ten years, damn.”
“I bet some of these girls have been thinking about me this whole time,” he said, straightening his tie.
My jaw clenched. “Probably some of the guys, too,” I said, thinking about how nice it would be to punch him. I probably could have dreamt about that for ten years.
Jimmy laughed. “I don’t even want to know about that,” he said. “But you can’t blame ‘em, right? You can’t blame ‘em.”
He slugged my upper arm, like we were old army buddies or brothers.
I took another long drink of beer to keep my mouth shut. I heard the jingle of the bell over the door and glanced behind me to the entrance. Jimmy noticed.
“Who are you watching for?” he asked.
He winked. “You know. Who are you keeping an eye out for? Who have you been waiting for the last ten years?”
“No one in particular,” I said. “I’m just trying to see the old football team, or hear what everyone’s been up to.”
Jimmy laughed. “Let me tell ya, Sammy. Nobody comes to the ten year reunion just to hear about what everyone’s been up to. Give it up: what are you really here for?”
I shrugged. I was mostly telling the truth: I wanted to see the guys from the team, hear about their jobs, meet their wives or girlfriends. I wanted to tell them about my job. And Keri was right – I wanted them to be impressed with my career and even my car. But who didn’t want to sound interesting to their old friends? What was wrong with that?
“I’ve got a list of ladies, myself,” he said and he winked again. I hadn’t ever been winked at so many times – and by a man my own age – so I wasn’t sure of the appropriate response. I settled on a glare. Jimmy Paige was unfazed.
“Yep, a list of the top ten,” he continued. He took a drink and then laughed. “But the list may change based on if the ten years have been good to them.”
His grinning eyes searched mine for a response, but I couldn’t laugh. I took the opportunity to punch his arm, harder than he punched mine. “Jimmy, you’re an ass,” I said.
“That’s what they tell me,” he said, laughing harder.
A group of more classmates entered the bar, and I was able to maneuver away from Jimmy Paige and talk to some of the others. Every time the door opened, I looked over to see if it was Keri, with shoes in hand or leaves in her hair. Or even better, my cell phone and an apology. It wasn’t.
Soon the downstairs was full of people. With each new arrival, Jimmy would whisper in my ear whether the former classmate made it on his top ten list or not, as if I cared. By the time the reunion began in earnest and we moved into our private room upstairs, the current number one on Jimmy’s list was Prom Queen Angie Tait, followed closely by a non-classmate, Dawn, the wife of the Shawn Miller who had been on the basketball team.
I was in a conversation with two of the guys from the football team who’d gone on to play college ball when I heard Jimmy’s fetid voice in my ear.
“Looks like there’s a new number one,” he sang.
I knew who it was before I turned around. There was only one girl that made me want to clock Jimmy Paige; the same girl who now walked into the room in her shiny blue dress and sparkly barrette in her hair. There were no wayward leaves from searching through brush, no scuff marks on her shoes from a long walk, and definitely no cellphone in her hand. Keri moved into the room, a picture of grace, and paused with her hands clasped around her pretty little purse. Then she scowled in my general direction.
“Ooh,” Jimmy said. “No ring. I’ll see you later.”
He took off for Keri, grabbing a glass of punch on the way.
I walked over a group of classmates that were closer to Keri and Jimmy and pretended to listen to them talking about their toddlers. I could only hear glimpses of Keri and Jimmy’s conversation, but I heard Keri’s voice rise a bit to announce that yes, she was hungry, how nice of Jimmy to notice, and that pizza sounded delicious.
I turned to her.
“You’re leaving? Now?”
Jimmy winked at me again. “Just to get a nibble,” he said. “Don’t wait up.”
“Where’s my phone?” I demanded.
“Right where you left it,” she said.
“You mean where you threw it.”
“Jimmy,” she said, turning to him but still staring at me. “Can you imagine taking a phone call when you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone? A conversation on what friendship means?”
“If I were talking to you, sweetheart – ” Jimmy began.
“Jimmy,” I said, cutting him off. “Do you think that anything that is happening with your friends is your business? Or do you think there’s such a thing as privacy?”
“Well, I’d like to explore privacy with Keri, here,” Jimmy said, but Keri spoke over him.
“Or if something were clearly bothering this friend and they were keeping it inside, it would be better to talk about it,” she said.
“Talk about it with someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in ten years!” I exclaimed.
“We’re forever friends,” Keri shot back. “That’s what I keep telling you. I know you better than anyone here, yet you’re so concerned with what they’re all going to think of you.”
Jimmy’s eyes bounced back and forth between us.
“I care a little bit. I mean, sure, you keep talking about my car. Yeah, I have the car, but look at you in this dress, right? It’s the same thing,” I said.
She looked down at the dress and then back up at me and smiled. “Yeah, maybe I wanted to impress someone here tonight.”
“Color me impressed,” Jimmy hooted.
Keri and I looked over at him for the first time in our conversation. She glanced back at me and rolled her eyes and we both giggled. Jimmy Paige. I always hated him.
“It looks good on you, but you know where it would look better?” he began.
I knew I could punch him then. I’d waited ten years, and there were probably plenty of guys at the reunion that would have applauded. But I didn’t punch him.
No, I didn’t. Instead, Keri did. Her swing was strong and she leaned into it, like a professional boxer. He went down hard and lay still on the ground, holding his jaw and moaning.
She shook out her right hand. “I’ve wanted to do that for a decade,” she said, wincing.
“Wow,” I said. My eyes were wide. “Just … wow.”
“Yeah, he deserved it. You should’ve heard the things he said to me before you came over.”
I shook my head. “I can imagine, unfortunately.”
She grabbed my hand with her left hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
“And ice,” she said, glancing at her other hand.
We walked down the steps and out to my car. She paused before getting in.
“We’re getting Luigi’s right?” she said.
“Yes,” I promised.
She hopped over the door and stepped onto the seat. “Let’s go.”