When the invitation arrives, he almost doesn’t open it. He almost throws it away. His hand is actually over the trashcan ready to let go, but he can feel the embossed lettering through the envelope. And he’s got an appreciation for design now that the website is…well, it’s almost up and running. Any day now, like he tells Wallace. So he tears it open with his thumb and royal blue and white calligraphy invites him to West Scranton High School’s Class of 1998 reunion. Scranton. The word itself glares at him just like all the faces still stuck there do. For no reason, really. Why should he blamed for his success? Michael is practically celebrated for his failure. But he doesn’t dwell on Michael, ever, unless Wallace is being a particular asshole or he finds an almost empty pack of cigarettes in a desk drawer.
He thinks about high school and wonders if it’s really something worth re-living. All those people, none of whom he really keeps in contact. It’s at the country club, so at least he wouldn’t have to actually go back there. He doesn’t need to see the brick buildings and that old gym that’s in serious need of refurbishment, unless it’s gotten one in the past ten years. No, he decides, it’s not worth the drive, the effort, the rehashing of times he’d rather keep tucked in his senior yearbook, the only one he bothered to hold on to.
The last day to RSVP comes and he drops off the form with the checked “Yes, I will be attending” box in the mailbox outside of Corporate. He mapquests directions to the country club before he leaves work.
He laughs when he sees the electronic sign that reads “Welcome Invaders!” outside the country club, like it’s a cartoon out of the New Yorker. If he ever read the New Yorker instead of letting his subscription pile up on his coffee table.
He parks the car himself instead of letting valet do it, which is new. Maybe just being back, he thinks. It’s seasonably warm for a night in May and he would leave the suit jacket in the car if it weren’t for the fact that he paid so damn much for it. Not like people are going to be looking at the label or anything, or that they even knew enough about designer suits to know that it was one. But still. He keeps it on.
Top 40 music helps lead him to the ballroom, decorated in much the same way as prom. Balloons with the school colors, white lights that probably came from someone’s box of “Christmas stuff”. No streamers, he notes, and thinks that the Party Planning Committee would be disappointed. Or maybe just Angela. But he hasn’t thought about that in awhile.
It’s immediately uncomfortable because he’s surrounded by opportunities for eye contact. And that eye contact will inevitably lead to some inane conversation as they grapple for something they have in common. Like wasn’t Madame Lareux’s second-year French a killer? No man, I had Senora Martinez for Spanish, and she flunked me. He wonders how Oscar’s doing.
So he heads for the open bar, because alcohol’s really the only thing that’ll help this night along. He’s starting to regret coming. But a beer will help, and he orders one, leaning casually against the counter scouring the throngs of people for a familiar face. He feels a tap on his shoulder.
Becky Turner, the girl he’d wanted to nail since freshman year English when she asked to borrow a pen and all he had was a pencil. One pencil, and he gave it to her anyway. They almost did it at Amy Reisler’s graduation party in the guest bathroom. It’s why he keeps a supply of condoms in his glove compartment now, to make up for that lack of preparation and why she remains an “almost.”
“Hey Becks,” he says, conjuring up her old nickname like a relic from the past they’re all reliving.
“God, I haven’t heard that in ten years. How’ve you been?”
“Good. Same ol’.”
She nods like it’s the best news she’s heard all night.
“That’s great. What are you doing now?”
Vice President of Regional Sales. Is what he should have said. Instead he says “Finance.”
She looks impressed and he feels pleased. “Wow. Good for you.”
“What about you?” he asks before knocking back more than a few chugs of his beer.
“Oh, I’m in teaching. And I’m engaged!” She squeals and he looks at her left hand to find no sign of a ring. She notices and starts to shift uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“Yeah, the ring…I mean, he has it. We picked it out and everything, just getting sized and…” she trails off and he thinks briefly of Pam.
“Well hey, congratulations. That’s cool.” He downs the rest of his beer because he really isn’t interested in wedding plans or stories of kindergarten. He starts looking for a way out.
“Good to see you, Becks.” He pats her shoulder awkwardly and moves towards the buffet of appetizers. It’s an asshole move, but he won’t see her for another ten years and he never slept with her, so he’s already a better guy than Brad Ferraro, the guy who did do her at Amy Reisler’s graduation party in her parent’s basement. And then didn’t talk to her all summer. At least that’s what he heard.
He eats when he’s bored or trying not to think about life. So the mozzarella sticks and potato skins (did Michael cater this thing?) plus the beer settling in his blood stream are really doing a lot to improve his outlook on this. He doesn’t know why he feels so anti social. He’s gone out every weekend since he moved to New York, to new bars and old favorites and it’s been great. Really. Troy is cool enough and with him around, he’s the tall one for the first time in his life. Girls dig tall guys in designer suits who are in finance. And they don’t notice the unread New Yorkers on the coffee table when they stumble out of his apartment the next morning.
Life is good for him. And he could be out at one of those bars meeting one of those girls. Instead he’s a table, by himself, picking leaves out of the floral centerpiece. He feels a large weight of a hand clasp his shoulder.
“It’s the Ry-Man! What’s up bro?” Derek Mitchell opens his arms wide like he’s looking for one of those man hugs. Ryan chooses to shake his hand instead.
“D-Rock, hey man, how goes it?” He thinks that Derek would have probably joined his fraternity had he ever actually made it to college.
“Good man, good, just workin’ and, you know. How ‘bout you man, I heard you’re like, making paper or something?”
He swallows a potato skin. “Selling it. Or, I used to. Now I’m Vice President of Regional Sales.” He tells the truth because he’s not trying to sleep with Derek. And it’s a good thing too, because the guy looks like he’s trying to divide seventeen by three.
“New York,” he adds and this gets a much better reaction.
“No way, dude! Me and the wife are thinking about moving there after the baby’s born. You know, like in the suburbs or whatever because it’s safer. Better school district.”
Now it’s his turn to be confused.
“Dude, you got married?”
“Yeah dude! Five years now. With little Derek Jr. on the way,” he beams proudly.
“You don’t know it’s a boy, stop jinxing it.” A small, pretty brunette pats Derek’s broad shoulder gently. Then she smiles and extends a hand. “Melissa. Call me Mel.”
“Yes, thank you, Derek. I’ve heard a lot of stories about your basketball days, Ryan. Good to meet you.”
Derek managed to land a smart, articulate, beautiful girl with a belly that’s just starting to show. The confusion just continues to mount.
“Uh yeah, you too. Congratulations on the…” he waves a hand at her stomach, which is probably rude, but he feels too much like shit to care.
She rubs a hand over the small bump.
“Oh, thanks. Glad the reunion was now and not in five months when I’m gonna look like a whale.”
“A beautiful whale, babe,” Derek says and kisses her on the head. He and Roy would have gotten along, Ryan thinks.
“You’re sweet. You ready to go?”
“Yep, let’s hit it. She gets tired if she’s on her feet too much,” he whispers the last part to Ryan and he can only nod.
“Good seeing you, man,” he calls over his shoulder as he places a protective arm around his wife.
He looks around for a trashcan because it’s officially time to leave before he gets too far down this road of high school nostalgia. He looks for Becky, maybe to say goodbye or something, but she’s not around and he’s just ready to…go. So he says goodbye to no one and slips out the back door.
It’s still warm; he finally takes off his coat, what he’s been wanting to do this whole timeand decides it’s nice enough to drive with the top down. The fresh air will maybe do him some good.
He starts to dial a familiar number as he adjusts his Bluetooth and merges onto the familiar Scranton roads. And then he remembers she’s with Darryl, if that’s even still going on, and it’s probably not worth a potential ass-kicking to find out. Then another impulse hits him, and he puts the top up to make the call. Utica’s direct line to the regional manager is in his phone. For business purposes.
She’s working late, like he assumed, and he smiles when she picks up with a bored “hello.”
“Did you hate your high school reunion?”
“I was single and selling paper. Of course I hated it. Especially those successful fuckers.”
“Wanna get a drink? Meet halfway?”
“I’ll need a place to sleep,” she says with absolutely no suggestive undertones.
“I don’t have a couch,” he offers, because it’s worth a shot.
“Call me when you’re close.” They hang up without saying goodbye, and he puts the top back down as he merges on the 81 toward New York.
I really have no idea where this came from, just a litte one-shot I thought up in the shower (where all good ideas come from)
Chapter End Notes:
Cousin Mose rocks my socks for being such an awesome beta!
Wendy Blue is the author of 18 other stories.
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