Sorry I’ve been a slacker posting lately, but I started my new job last week, so my head has been a carousel of excitement, stress and a bunch of other things. Anyway, I’m hoping the conclusion (yes, finally!) to the reunion story makes up for it.
I skipped my high school reunion to have dinner with the girl next door on the pier.
Actually, first we started to go to dinner, then she threw my cell phone into a forest, then I went to the reunion, then she punched the guy I hated most in high school, and then we got pizza. I’m not sure, but I think that probably qualifies as one of the most unusual high school reunion stories.
I stared at Keri while she we sat there eating pizza (from Luigi’s, of course). The reflection of the moon and stars floated on the water below us. She pulled another slice from the cardboard box.
“You know what’s crazy?” she said, pointing the tip of the slice in my direction.
“I have these friends, and they’re perfectly normal in almost every way, except for the way they eat pizza,” she said. She nodded at me, completely serious.
“What’s wrong with the way they eat pizza?” I said.
She took a bite of her slice. “You see how I crease it in the middle? I fold the slice over? They don’t do that.”
“What do you mean?” I said. I picked up a slice and held it in my hands, watching Keri.
She un-creased her slice of pizza, holding it tenderly, making sure it was perfectly straight, rigid. “They keep it flat, like this. For the entire time.”
I laughed. “What’s so bad about that?”
She smiled and her eyes narrowed. “Try it. Try eating the slice without bending it at all.”
I tried and she watched, giggling at my actions.
“You look like you’re eating corn on the cob!” she laughed. “It’s not normal!”
After we finished the pizza, we stayed on the pier, talking about college and life after college, and how time flies, and laughing about high school. We talked about the teachers we missed the most and we talked about our jobs and bosses. I talked about my mom, and I told her what my dad had shown me that afternoon.
“Oh,” she said. She rested her chin in her hand and looked up at me, her expression a mixture of emotions.
“So that was the whole thing? That’s why you guys were acting so strange?”
“Oh,” she said again.
“Yeah,” I sighed. I watched the water bob up and down in the moonlight. I thought about that binder of information and how my dad had held on to it so that he could show me everything today. I shrugged.
Keri reached over and put her hand on my arm. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” I whispered back.
I dropped Keri off at her house and pulled into the driveway. I saw Tom watering some flowers near the edge of his driveway. I turned the car off and walked over.
“You’re out late,” I said.
“Don’t tell Ann,” he said. “I give them a little extra water at night. I don’t like Ann out here in the middle of the day when it’s so hot, so I try to get some of the watering done while she’s asleep.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re kidding, right?”
Tom shook his head. “How was the big reunion?”
“Well, funny you should mention that. We sort of skipped most of it,” I said. I filled Tom in on the whole story from the flinging of the cell phone to the punching of Jimmy Paige. Tom laughed through all of it.
“So you accomplished all of the tasks on the list?” he said.
He smiled. “They were good ones, if I do say so myself.”
I stared at him, my mouth dropping open. “Wait – you said you didn’t know…”
“I said that I’d never seen Ann with those notes, and I never have,” Tom said, smiling.
I sat down on the curb in shock while my mind raced backwards to those few years in my early teens when I found those notes in the hole in the mailbox. I never would have guessed that Tom was the one behind it.
“You were such a quiet kid,” Tom said. “Even before I married Ann and moved in here, I would notice you sitting on your front porch. You seemed like you didn’t like the entire world. You weren’t angry, just … withdrawn. I wanted you to have a little fun in your life. Something that would give you a spark of hope and excitement.”
“You made me clean my room,” I pointed out. “That was less about hope and excitement.”
“Yeah, well,” Tom shrugged. “Kids always need some instruction on that front, too.”
I shook my head. “I had almost convinced myself the notes were from my mother, until this weekend… And even then, I think a part of me harbored some fantasy that the notes were from the great beyond or something,” I laughed at how stupid I felt and looked up at Tom.
He stood there, still watering the flowers. “I ruined the mystery, huh?”
I shook my head again and bit back any emotions that fought their way through my throat and eyes.
“Your mom,” he said quietly. “She was a special woman.”
He said it because in that moment it had to be said, but he also said it because it was true. The emotions broke through and I leaned my head down.
Keri was right: we have friends and we have family, and then we have a special amalgam of the two that she called a forever friend. These are the people that know me and know my history and they know what I need to hear. Just as Keri was a forever friend (whether I liked it or not), so was Tom.
I wiped at my eyes and stood up. Tom turned off the hose and looked at me. “Your mom was special,” he repeated. “Your father is, too. And he’s still here. He’s an amazing man to take care of your family the way he has. You need to hear that.”
He watched me for a second, until I nodded, and then he walked into his house.
The next morning I woke up early and went downstairs. I made scrambled eggs and toast, and brewed some coffee. My dad came trotting down the stairs as I set our plates on the table.
“I could smell the food upstairs,” he said, his eyes wide with surprise. “I thought someone had broken in.”
I laughed. “It’s just a way to say thanks for putting up with me this weekend while I’m back in town. And… just to say thanks.”
He beamed. We sat down and ate breakfast and talked about the Giants. Then, when we were done talking about sports, I listened to my dad tell stories about Jim’s kids. And then he listened to my stories about work.
After breakfast, I walked over to Keri’s house and knocked on the door. She answered, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
“You planning on going to the beach thing today?” I asked her. The reunion last night was only the beginning of the weekend’s activities. We were supposed to meet at the high school and caravan to the shore, then spend the late afternoon and early evening having a barbecue in the park. It would be torture.
“Not on your life!” Keri laughed. She leaned over and grabbed some shoes. We walked down her lawn, crossed the street and stood at my car.
“What do you feel like doing?” I said. I hopped in the Corvette.
She got in by climbing over her door and stepping on the passenger seat.
“I don’t care,” she said, pulling her hair into a ponytail. “Let’s just take this fancy car out for a drive!”
I backed out of the driveway, and we were off. It was just the beginning.
THE END (is not the end).