“I am totally impressed that you became a doctor,” she told her former biology classmate, Georgia, “especially after having me as a lab partner! Quite an accomplishment!” she laughed.
“Actually, you inspired me,” Georgia replied.
“I did?” she asked incredulously. “How in the world did I manage that? When it came to anything science-related, I was a pitiful student.”
“You inspired me to pick better lab partners in my college courses!” Georgia teased.
“Nice,” she replied sarcastically. “Really nice. Glad to be of service.” The women continued laughing as they reminisced for a few more minutes about their teachers and classmates.
“So how goes it over here?” asked her best friend, as she joined them. “What am I missing?”
“Georgia was explaining that she owes her career as a world-renowned pediatrician to me,” she said with mock pride. “I was such a horrid lab partner that I inspired her to hang with a better class of scientists. And the rest, as they say, is history!”
“You know, I can believe that.” With her hand on her hip, her friend considered Georgia’s claim with the seriousness she ordinarily devoted to the assessment of a group of potential jurors. “I have no trouble believing that at all. You sucked at science.”
“Judgment for Georgia,” she laughed as she raised her wine glass to toast the doctor and was joined by the other two women.
“Well, I’m going to take my victory and mingle a bit,” Georgia said as she hugged them both. “It was great seeing you guys.”
“So?” her best friend queried.
“So what?” she teased.
“So . . . are you having a good time?” her friend rolled her eyes in exasperation. The class reunion was in full swing. The ballroom was packed with their former classmates and their guests, the line in front of the bar never seemed to grow shorter. The band played a seemingly never-ending series of tunes that were popular during their high school years and she was shocked to realize that she still knew all of the words to nearly every song.
“I am,” she said contentedly as she enjoyed another sip of wine. “I am having a really great time. It is so interesting to see how people have changed. Or not,” she said, poking her friend in the ribs and motioning to a male classmate standing near the bar.
“Pete,” her friend said matter-of-factly. “My god, he looks exactly the same as he did the day we graduated. His hair is even exactly the same.”
“Yeah,” she snickered, “unlike many of the other guys here tonight, he has hair!”
They looked at each other and simultaneously burst out laughing as they continued surveying the room. Abruptly, her friend quit laughing. After she turned to see her friend staring in the direction of the door, she followed her gaze, immediately realizing what had caused her friend to become suddenly silent.
After a long pause, she spoke in a near-whisper. “You said he wouldn’t be here tonight.”
“He wasn’t supposed to be.”
The two women continued staring as he entered the room alone, greeted the volunteers manning the registration table, and allowed one of them to pin a name tag on the lapel of his jacket. He shook hands and paused to talk with several men as he worked his way toward the bar, never looking across the room to the far corner where they remained rooted, silently monitoring his movements.
Finally, her friend spoke as she continued watching him. “He’s alone. He must have decided to leave his wife at home.”
She felt as though her feet were no longer connected to her body, but she knew she had to navigate her way through the crowd to the exit as quickly as possible. She was not prepared to see or speak to him. Her mouth was dry and her head had begun to throb. She felt as unsteady as if she had just stepped off a carnival Tilt-A-Whirl that had careened numerous times around the track at full speed.
She reached out for her friend’s hand as she whispered, “Get me out of here.”
“O.K., here we go,” her friend responded, tightly gripping her hand and brusquely leading her toward the door as she continued watching him. “Let’s go while he has his back to us.”
They were almost to the door when a large woman with a thick Southern accent and platinum wig squealed, “My stars, Darlene, will you look who’s here!” She rushed over and hugged both of them before her companion followed suit. “I can’t believe it! I have been to every one of these shindigs. Every time I’ve looked for you and been disappointed, but here you are at last. Oh, we have to get caught up! The last time I saw you was literally on the football field as we were throwing our mortarboards in the air. What have you been doin’ with yourself?”
She had no choice but to respond to her old gym classmate’s inquiries, politely asking about the woman’s post-graduation life, as well. As they chatted, she tried to nonchalantly follow his movements out of the corner of her eye, but lost track of him, as did her friend, who was drawn into an intense discussion with Darlene about their respective legal careers.
“Well, I was on my way to the ladies’ room, so I think I’d better keep moving,” she said conspiratorially, as she lightly embraced the woman. “It was wonderful seeing you,” she concluded, and again started for the exit without turning back to note his whereabouts.
When she at last reached the door, a shiver ran the length of her spine, causing her to involuntarily turn and look behind her.
“I hope you’re not leaving already,” he said. She was looking directly into his sparkling eyes, caught completely off-guard by his familiar, mischievous grin.
Click here to read Chapter Twenty-Six