When the service is over, Jack finally manages to get a look around. He notices some familiar faces in the seats behind him. As everyone rises, silent gestures are communicated to meet downstairs in the coffee room. Jack goes to pay his last respects to Kevin Wilkowski then heads downstairs. His old classmates are collecting in a small room below the parlor. Jack finds it odd that the first time he is seeing these people again is at a funeral. He steps into the room and immediately takes stock of the situation. To his left sits Ryan Packard, the celebrated soccer player. During their senior year, Ryan led his team to the city championship. Jack can’t believe it but seated next to Ryan is his high school sweetheart, Stacie Bergman or Packard now, he assumes. Seeing them together after all this time makes Jack feel nostalgic and nauseous all at once. Jenny Maclin, a cute girl who was always kind of hyper, was flitting around the room filling everyone’s cups with coffee. The twins Kelli and Kerri are there, flashing their all-American smiles as they converse with the others. They had this little thing they did, Jack wasn’t sure if it was a conscious move or not, but they would flip their long blond hair in opposite directions simultaneously, causing many an onlooker to do a double take at the mirror image they created. Donny Adams, always a bit of a loner, sat, slightly pushed away from the table with a brooding look not saying much, unless directly spoken to. Even then, offering only, quick, short responses, usually in the form of a grunt or growl.
Then there’s Vikki. Victoria Campbell. Jack and Vikki were in the same language program and had many classes together, so they became good friends over their four years of high school. The kind of friends that know things about you that most others do not. Jack found it easy and comforting to talk to Vikki, she was smart and funny and forgiving. By senior year, they had developed this little game they liked to play. They would walk the halls arm in arm, pretending they were married. Vikki enjoyed introducing Jack as her husband. Well, as the guy inevitably does in these situations, Jack started to develop feelings for Vikki, strong feelings, beyond friendship. She played the game too well though and Jack never disclosed his feelings to her for fear of losing the relationship they did have.
Jenny is the first to see him enter. She bounds over, coffee pot in hand, embraces him and kisses his cheek. Next, Ryan approaches with an extended hand. He can’t resist getting in the first dig,
“glad you could stay awake for the service, Jack.”
The small assembly of thirty- somethings gets a good laugh out of this. His wife, Stacie apologizes for his rudeness.
“It’s been fifteen years since we’ve all been together and right away you start with the ribbing, I mean honestly.”
She sounds more like Jack’s grandmother than a contemporary. She puts her delicate hands on both of his shoulders and leans over to kiss his cheek. The twins direct their practiced smiles his way while Donny gives a nod as if the last time they saw each other was yesterday. Jack takes a seat at the table and Jenny instantly pours him a cup of coffee. He thanks her and then looks across the table at Vikki. She sits there with a slight smile and her head tilted down, eyes looking up to meet his. After a few awkward minutes it’s as if time melts away and it is 1989 again. The group starts reminiscing which leads to laughing, perhaps a bit too loudly. Plans are made to meet at a restaurant after some disgusted looks are shot their way from grieving family members. The twins, unable to make it due to some family function, say their goodbyes and exchange numbers with the other girls. Donny also tries to back out, but with no reasonable excuse, he is dragged along. Jack is glad for this. Donny seems to be able to outwardly express what Jack feels inside. Jack and Donny were not necessarily the best of friends in school, but they often ran around in the same circles. Jack is hoping to make some kind of connection tonight.
Just as the group is being seated at the restaurant, Jack notices Vikki hesitate, pretending to attend to a heel on her shoe. Then as Jack chooses his seat, she makes a daringly balletic move around Donny, making sure she was positioned across from Jack at the table. Donny, not caring one way or the other simply moved on to the next chair. They order appetizers and Ryan chooses a bottle of wine, an expensive Cabernet. Jack secretly hopes that Ryan plans on picking up the tab, at least for the wine.
Stacie begins the conversation saying how sad it was to see Kevin lying there so still and quiet. Everyone nods in agreement, echoing her sentiments.
Jenny says, “that lady you were talking to when we came in, Kevin’s mom?”
“Yeah,” Jack replies. “Nice woman,” is all he can think of to say.
“Well, what’d she say?’ ’About you know… Kevin,” Vikki asked.He retells the story of what Kevin faced after high school and how he died.
“That’s really fucked up, man,” Donny suggested.
Everyone nods in agreement. Ryan wants to know if anyone had seen Kevin since graduation. No one can remember any such encounter, but they relayed other chance meetings with former classmates over the years. These accidental rendezvous seem few and far between.
“What happened to everybody?” Jack wonders aloud. “Milwaukee isn’t that big of a city.”
“Seems like they all just scattered,” Donny mused
Everyone nods in agreement once again.
At this the waitress comes and collects their orders. Seeing the wine is nearly gone, Ryan orders another bottle. Jack hopes he has enough money to cover his portion of the check. Jenny wants to know what everyone else has been up to.
Ryan had gone to work for his father, who owned a construction company, of which he was currently the vice-president. His father planned on retiring to Arizona in a couple of years, leaving the company in his hands. Ryan and Stacie married just three years after graduation. They now had three children, two boys and a girl. They ranged in age from six to twelve, the girl being the oldest. Right after school, Stacie went to college for accounting. Ready to be a full-time mom, she quit after getting pregnant with Amanda. Not long after came Jeremy and finally Aaron. They seem very happy. Maybe he isn’t used to the good wine, but suddenly Jack feels nauseous again, but it soon passes.
Jenny, like Jack had been married and was now divorced. She never had kids of her own but following her split with the “jerk,” she went back to school and was currently working as a kindergarten teacher. Jack imagines her scurrying about the classroom keeping twenty little five year olds busy until they collapse with exhaustion. Being a new teacher doesn’t pay very well though, so she also works a part-time at a little coffee shop near her east-side apartment.
“You should all stop in,” she bubbled.”I’ll give you a freebie.”Jack makes sure to get the name and location of this place. Free coffee is something Jack is in no position to pass on. Besides, he wouldn’t mind seeing Jenny again. She retained the cuteness he remembered from school.
Neither Jack nor Donny offer up any information, so Vikki chimes in. Jack always imagined Vikki doing something in the arts or interior design. He is surprised at her choice in careers. She went to business school in Chicago. After getting her degree, she went to work in an ad agency and became quite successful. She recently broke away and started her own company with a colleague, they are trying to establish a client base presently. She has never been married, but was engaged for a short while, coincidentally to her current business partner. Jack can’t be sure but he thinks he feels Vikki’s bare foot brush up against his leg, not once but twice and lingering for a while as she finishes her soliloquy. Jenny, realizing what is going on below the table, is not about to be outdone. She slows her busy hand enough to let it come to rest on Jack’s fore arm, rubbing it ever so gently.
“So Jack, tell us what’s been going on in your life,” she coos.She holds his gaze for a few seconds before releasing him. Stacie lets out a little chuckle, as Vikki shoots Jenny a look of dismay. At least she is keeping her flirtations discreet.
Finally Jack finds his voice,
“Ahem, well…”he stumbles, before managing to say,
“I’m divorced too,”
almost proudly. He recovers himself and goes on to mention his kids, passing their pictures around the table. He talks briefly about his job as a ward clerk at a hospital not too far from Jenny’s coffee shop. Jenny’s smile widens at this and Vikki shoots another dagger her way. Jack then says, almost as if trying to convince himself that he is a struggling writer.
“Anything we may have read?” Ryan asks with a snort.
Jack re-emphasized the struggling part. They all laughed, even Jack who didn’t really find it that funny. He feels Vikki’s foot again.
“Please tell me you brought some of your work with you,” Vikki pleaded.
“I know some publishing people in Chicago.’ ‘I’d be happy to pass it along for you,” she went on. Feeling trumped, Jenny withdraws her hand from Jack’s arm and leans back in her chair, openly sulking. Jack can only manage an enthusiastic,
Vikki, sensing victory, leans over the table and takes both of his hands in hers. In a breathy voice, she says
“I’d love to, it’s no problem.”
Now with two bottles down and their food nearly gone, Ryan orders yet another bottle of wine. -O.K. he better plan on picking up the tab Jack thinks to his self. A little prodding from Stacie or maybe all the wine got Donny to loosen up a little and he starts to tell his story. He got through a semester of college before he decided it wasn’t for him. He kept up with a few friends from school after graduation, guys that the rest all knew but didn’t really associate with. Donny and a couple of the guys got the bright idea to knock over a liquor store one night after smoking some weed. Inevitably they got caught and all served some time, Donny served a little more than the others though since he was the one with the gun in his hand. It was just a cap gun but the judge didn’t care, he came down harder on Donny because he was the only one who had a record, some stupid little shoplifting incident. Anyways, he never saw those guys again after he got out. He was working with his cousin doing some freelance roofing and siding gigs.
“Never married, no kids, end of story,” he finished.A moment of awkward silence is interrupted by Donny pushing away from the table.
“I need a cigarette,” he spat
“Wait.” Jack offers.”I’ll go with you.”
“Whatever,” was the reply
Outside, the two men light up and stand quietly enjoying the first long drag of their cigarettes.
“I can’t stand all this happily skipping down memory lane bullshit,” Donny admits.
“Yeah, pretty lame, huh?” Jack relented.
“At least you got something to show for your life, I got nothing,” Donny goes on.
“Look Donny, I don’t think anyone wanted to make you feel bad in there,” Jack offers.
“Yeah, I know.”
They stand in silence again before Donny speaks up,
”I gotta go man, I can’t deal with this.”He flicks his half- finished smoke out into the parking lot. Jack watches the sparks scatter as the cigarette skids across the concrete. Jack sucks down the last of his own as he watches Donny cross the street, only turning to go back inside once he sees him disappear into the liquor store half a block down.
Stacie lets Jack take his seat before asking after Donny.
“He had to go,” Jack offers with an apologetic shrug of his shoulders.
“Is he alright?” Jenny wants to know.
“Yeah,” Jack claims, “he’s fine.”
The friends are nearly through their third bottle, when Stacie says they should get going. Her mother has the kids and isn’t used to having them for so long. Everyone agrees it’s time to call it a night. They exchange numbers and addresses while Jack finishes off the wine. Ryan gets the waitresses attention and hands her a credit card. Vikki quickly claims the next check to be hers. Hugs and handshakes are followed with false hopes of keeping in touch.
Later that night, Jack sits at his computer, trying to get some of the day’s events jotted down. He feels like there may actually be a story in there somewhere. His mind, swimming in alcohol, begins to wander and he thinks of Vikki. He just finishes typing her name across the top of the otherwise blank document when there is a buzz at the door. With a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, he gets up angrily, wondering who could be interrupting him while he is writing and at such a late hour. He unbolts the lock and throws open the door. There is Vikki standing in his doorway holding a bottle of wine. His cigarette falls from his mouth and singes the little hairs on his bare foot, causing him to jump back. Vikki, laughing at this, steps inside and closes the door behind her.