…“Are you just going to sulk or do you want to dance?” She stood before him with her hand outstretched and no pity in her eyes.
No one else at the homecoming dance even noticed them as they made their way out onto the floor, half giggling half blushing.
Not that anyone would have cared anyway…
It was a modest sized ballroom in a medium sized hotel. Middle aged people dressed in crisp clothes wandered through the tables, all hugs, smiles and handshakes. The open bar was seeing a lot of action, the buffet not so much. It was the 25th high school reunion and everyone was giggling over how much everyone had changed; who got fat, who got thin, who got rich and who got weird. Randy Carter stood near the back of the room, watching it all, hoping someone would notice him but unable to make the first move.
It was like old times again.
When the dance was over Randy told her he didn’t know what to say, she jut kissed him on the cheek and told him to stay out of trouble.
Randy knew he was a fool to think she would ever be here, but he had to take the chance, he so wanted to see her again. He watched David Reed strutting around with his hair plugs and trophy bride and there was Terri Smith in a dress that was three inches too short and two sizes too small. The Vice Principal Mr. Martinoli was there, almost 80 years old but still recognizable, Randy was sure for a moment the old man had noticed him but it was just that he had been lingering near the rest rooms.
Everyone said she was a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, that she was headed for a bad end but ever since that dance Randy had been in love with Joyce Maynard.
She never wore makeup and she never wore dresses, even at the homecoming dance she had been wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Sure all the other boys appreciated the sight of her curves but none of them dared go near- she might be a junior but she dated college guys. All the other girls said so.
All these faces, some familiar some rendered unrecognizable by years or botox; Randy felt nothing at the sight of them. He just watched as his former classmates as they were overwhelmed with nostalgia or longing. Did any of them even remember him? Was he even a subject of conversation? There was a half- abandoned drink on a nearby table, Randy had half a mind to grab it and fling it into the ‘Welcome Alumni’ banner.
What would they have to say about Randy Carter then?
She didn’t forget him after that night, when she passed him in the hall she wasn’t afraid to make eye contact and flash him a little smile. On days that happened Randy was walking on air for the rest of the day.
As the seasons rolled on Joyce would disappear for weeks at a time, once or twice for suspensions and then there was the week she was hospitalized. What was she hospitalized for? Depending on which rumor you believed it was either a drug overdose or an abortion but the last time Randy saw her he would learn the real story.
When the buffet closed the began to play all the songs from the old days, people began to filter on to the dance floor; old flames sharing slow dances while their spouses waited on the sidelines. It wasn’t even midnight yet but many of the Alumni were drunk and maudlin rehashing the same old stories again and again. Randy wished he could have joined in with them but what kind of stories would he have to share? He had spent so much of his time with his nose pressed in a book in anticipation of college, then in college in anticipation of his career. He made partner at his law firm when he was in his twenties, he was divorced by the time he was thirty-five and then along came a heart attack at forty one, in truth he had expected that as well, but not quite so soon.
And through it all he held on to those memories of Joyce, the only thing in his life that had ever been unexpected.
Even at seventeen he had a paper route; he was always industrious like that, always saving his money for law school in case his plans for a scholarship fell through. This had been his route for years but he never knew she lived on it, not until that frosty March morning. She was just coming home when she noticed him riding past on his bike, she called him over and they talked for a while about this last semester of high school. Joyce would be 18 this summer and she told him should couldn’t wait to move on, she wasn’t even going to bother with graduation ceremonies. She told him once she took her last exam she wouldn’t be caught dead in that damn school.
It got colder and she invited him in for breakfast – there was no sign of her parents and all she had to offer him was soda and pop tarts. How could he refuse?
Conversation went round and round until he mentioned her most recent absence from school, he knew the rumors but he was curious to know the truth.
So she told him- it had been an appendectomy, then laughingly she had stood up shown him her scar. She dared him touch it, and he did.
Then in a moment of madness he kissed her.
And she kissed him back.
Before he knew it they were in her bed pulling at each others clothes. He was so excited and terrified, he even told her he didn’t know what to do so she showed him, guided him. They moved slowly cherishing every moment.
They both knew in their heart of hearts this would never happen again.
By 2 AM and the party had broken up and from the way some of his former classmates were acting Randy wouldn’t be surprised if a few marriages might have gotten broken up as well. Randy was still there feeling disappointed and bitter, feeling like he’d wasted his time and effort to be here.
And it hadn’t been easy to get away from home to be here, it had been more than a struggle but he had been determined.
All this effort for nothing but it had been worth the chance hadn’t it?
He paused at the bulletin board that showed pictures of all the people that couldn’t be there, or didn’t care to be. Beside that were the pictures of the faces that could never be there.
One picture was a melancholy tribute to Joyce Maynard; mentioning how she had died young but not that she had died of a drug overdose weeks after graduation.
And beside that was Randy Carter dead of a heart attack at 42. He wondered to himself where they had gotten the picture of him from and how death could be so lonely, how he had even gone unnoticed by eternity itself.
Suddenly there was a voice behind him, “Are you just going to sulk or do you want to dance?”
She stood before him with her hand outstretched and no pity in her eyes.
There was no one there to notice them as they made their way out onto the floor, half giggling half blushing.
Not that anyone would have seen anything anyway…
You can check out more Al Bruno III stuff over at his blog, The Wit and Weirdness of Al Bruno III