I had been completely unaware of the plot until Bradley asked for a favor. It came as a surprise since my status at Springdale High didn’t rise to the level of Bradley’s popular crowd. It must have been his last-minute need to recruit a lookout, and I happened to be convenient.
During lunch period, I stationed myself by the door of the deserted classroom as Laura Coates, Keely Roberts, and a dozen or so boys entered. They clustered in the far corner. I immediately abandoned my post and took up a position on the edge of the gathering. No one seemed to notice. After a moment of hesitation, Laura and Keely embraced and kissed. A sigh of pleasure rippled among the watchers. Then came the plea.
“Tongues,” someone said.
The girls broke apart, looked at each other, and then complied. Emboldened by success, the aroused circle issued more demands.
“Touch her breast.”
“Do it again.”
“Longer this time.”
Finally, Keely pushed Laura away. “That’s enough for now. More later,” she promised.
Murmurs of protest slowly dissipated. Bradley took Laura’s arm and they departed.
I spent the remainder of my lunch period replaying the scene. Keely’s breasts were objects of fascination for all the guys. She flouted her sexuality, often receiving reprimands for her short skirts and low-cut blouses. She generally selected her boyfriends from the football or basketball teams, depending on the season.
Laura, on the other hand, exuded a shy appeal with her lithe figure and reserved manner. Bradley likely coaxed Laura into the kissing exhibition. They had been a couple since midway through their junior year. His family had money, and he projected an air of entitlement. Most of the students either admired or despised him.
One day in early April, a thunderstorm erupted as school let out. I had often been mocked by classmates for carrying an umbrella in my backpack — a nerdy habit in their opinion. But on that occasion, it paid off. Laura stood at the entrance of the science building, gazing at the downpour.
I overcame my natural timidity and approached her. “Need a ride?”
“Okay. Thanks, Quinn. Bradley had to see Mr Snead about a science project. No telling how long he’ll be.” It excited me that she knew my name. I hadn’t realized.
She linked her arm with mine as we slogged down to the student parking lot. Heaven … I was in heaven. My ancient Chevrolet must have seemed a clunker compared to Bradley’s sporty Nissan 240SX. I fumbled with small talk as I drove. By the time we arrived at her house in an exclusive neighbourhood, the rain had stopped. She rewarded me with a smile and thanks.
From that day onward, visions of Laura supplanted all other contenders. She began to acknowledge me with a nod and sometimes a “Hi, Quinn” when we passed in the hallways. The final days of my senior year vanished in a fog, and the class of ’93 dispersed.
I went off to college. The undergrad years swept by in a rush, producing a few short-term relationships. Grad school dragged on interminably but left little opportunity for finding an ideal mate. Eventually, I got my PhD, secured a faculty position in the history department of a prestigious university, and penned a couple of well-received books. A romance with another faculty member led to a hasty marriage, which didn’t last. I settled into a series of brief affairs, each less satisfying than the previous. Visions of high school crushes lingered in my dreams, most often of Laura, but occasionally Keely and a few others.
I don’t know why I decided to attend my twenty-fifth-anniversary high school reunion. Perhaps I desired to display my professional achievements to those who had dismissed me as insignificant. Despite the social media explosion, I hadn’t kept up with my classmates.
The first-person singular dominated the conversation in the ballroom of the convention centre that evening. Few remembered me. What a mistake to have come. After about an hour of listening to nostalgic anecdotes and looking at pictures of everyone’s kids, I made my escape without waiting for dinner to be served.
With some time to kill before my late-night flight, I strolled into the next block. A small café caught my eye. Inside, a few scattered diners populated the establishment. The hostess seated me, and I browsed the menu.
I turned. Laura sat at a table for two along the wall. An empty wine glass stood before her. I opened my mouth to speak and made a few incomprehensible sounds, but no actual words came.
“Don’t you recognize me, Quinn?”
“Uh … yes, Laura. Of course. You surprised me. I didn’t expect …”
“Join me, won’t you?”
“Sure. Are you alone?” She nodded. I eased into the chair opposite her. She had maintained her trim figure and overall good looks, though her eyes revealed a trace of weariness. “You’ve hardly aged.”
She waved off the compliment. “What have you been doing for the last twenty-five years?”
Before I could answer, the waiter appeared with another glass of wine for her. He glanced at me. Since Laura wasn’t dining, I ordered a beer instead of dinner.
“I’m teaching. Got my degree and tenure.”
“Family?” She sipped her wine. “You have a family?”
“Well, I’m separated from my wife.”
“Sorry to hear. Must have been hard.”
I leaned back as the waiter approached with my beer. After he withdrew, I exhaled a deep breath. “It was an amiable parting. I suppose we’ll get around to making it official sometime. No kids, thank God. Never found the time. What about you? Did you marry Bradley?”
She shook her head. “I wanted to, but he wasn’t prepared to settle on one woman. He’s making a fortune on Wall Street. I married a guy with a chain of restaurants. We were financially secure. It was an easy life, but he was married to his work. We’re divorced. I’m in a better relationship now.”
“You working somewhere?”
“At the hospital. Nursing. Long shifts, but the pay’s decent.”
“I didn’t see you at the reunion. Did you cut out early, too?”
“No … I totally bailed. I planned on going, but at the last minute, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
“You didn’t miss much. It was a yawner.” I paused before adding, “I had a crush on you back then.”
She smiled. “I thought so.”
“All the guys did.”
“I don’t know … I guess. But that kind of popularity comes with baggage. No one knew who I really was. Anyway, most of the boys were drooling over Keely.”
“Not me … or at least, not too much.” I took an obligatory swig of my beer. “So, what happened to Keely? She went to Hollywood, right?”
“Yeah. You probably recall that she did some local theatre after high school. I heard from her occasionally after she moved to California. She married and divorced an aspiring actor. She had been doing some secretarial work, but that was ten years ago. Who knows if she’s still out there?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Divorce seems to be a theme for the class of ’93.” She laughed, and for an instant, I saw the young girl to whom I once gave a ride on a rainy day.
“I remember when you and Keely kissed in that classroom.”
“Oh, were you there?”
“Yeah. It was exciting.”
“We did it a few more times at parties when we had been drinking. Keely called it ‘fooling the boys.’ Maybe she was, but I was fooling myself.”
“You mean …” Was she implying an attraction to Keely or a realization that she didn’t have to indulge Bradley’s fantasies? I didn’t know how to ask.
“Oh, I’m talking too much. It’s the wine.” She ran a finger around the rim of her glass.
“God, why does it take so long to find one’s self?”
“Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, I’m fine.” She appeared to shake off a memory and checked her watch. “I’ll have to go soon.”
“I’ve got a rental car in the parking deck. I’ll give you a lift.”
“But it’s not raining,” she said playfully.
I smiled at the shared memory.
Her phone buzzed, and she gave it a glance. “My ride’s here.” She signalled the waiter for her check. “It was good to see you, Quinn.”
“Let’s stay in touch.”
“I’m not so good at that. I’ll remember your kindness in giving me that ride and for this conversation, but I’m ready to move on. It’s tiresome to keep rehashing the past.”
I sat for a few minutes after she departed and tried to draw some meaning from the encounter. Whatever I had sought to recapture from the reunion eluded me. Laura was moving on. Perhaps she was right; answers lay in the future rather than the past. I ordered dinner and another beer before heading to the airport.
Ken Wetherington lives in Durham, North Carolina, United States. His stories have appeared in Ginosko Literary Journal, The Fable Online, Borrowed Solace: A Journal of Literary Ramblings, The Remington Review, Waymark Literary Magazine, and others. His first collection, Santa Abella and Other Stories was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion from the Book Readers Appreciation Group in the literary fiction category. When not writing, he is an avid film buff and teaches film courses for the OLLI program at Duke University. He may be reached through his website: https://kenwetherington.com