Part two of Reunion series: continued from previous post – The Past Catches Up
The doors opened onto a festive ballroom full of balloons, streamers, and white strings of light that ensconced friends from what seemed like a previous lifetime. A large paper banner reading, “Welcome Class of 1996” spanned the stage above a rock-n-roll cover band. Classmates gathered in small clusters, much like cliques in a long-ago lunchroom.
Listeners nodded at talking heads across from them, plastic smiles plastered on faces pretending to be happier and more successful than their lives actually made them. Spouses stood slumped-shouldered at being forced to attend a party among strangers and people they may not otherwise associate with in public. Some looked up every few minutes to affect interest.
She ripped an adhesive name badge from its paper backing and moved into the space with the purpose of mingling. It’s not like the old days when I had to find my pack. I can talk to anyone I want here, she told herself. Spanning the room, she questioned herself, But who would that be? A few familiar faces made eye contact and grinned subtle acknowledgement, yet she wanted to get a lay of the land before approaching anyone in particular.
An exceptionally tall woman wearing an embroidered sweater vest approached to ask, “Jennifer, Jennifer Stockton? Is that you?” She searched her memory to decipher who the seemingly ancient woman could possibly be but found no answer lurking in her grey matter. How could I possibly have graduated with someone so old? Jennifer pondered.
“Hi,” she began and offered a hand to greet the woman but lost both arms to her bear-hug grip instead. “What’s with this shaking business? Come here, you!” she giggled, explosively invading her personal space with gangly limbs encircling her body. Her height towered above Jennifer so that her face smashed into one of the rose appliques on the pilled cotton sweater.
“Come on over and meet my husband,” the lady urged. “He’s over here eating, of course, just like always.” For the life of her, Jennifer couldn’t place her new-old friend’s name but followed obediently to the food table. An incessant monologue ensued, complete with career explanations and offspring descriptions. Jennifer thought the woman would prattle on forever, but she heard none of it.
Instead, her eyes locked on him from across the buffet. His visage was unmistakable regardless of the balding pate and sallow complexion. How could a person so previously handsome become so pasty? Maybe it was years of heavy drinking.
Matt looked bored. He stared into the pink concoction in his clear plastic punch cup, and a woman next to him yammered on at the couple standing next to them. Matt scanned the room until his gaze caught her own, but his dour countenance indicated no hint of recognition. Jennifer thought, How can he not know who I am?
The guy was and always would be a wannabe. He pretended to be important, almost an attempt to make others think he was as special as he found himself to be. He was unique alright … just like everyone else. Matt was a fraud and she knew it. He knew she knew it, although he tried to pretend he didn’t. Even back in school.
Yet her fondness for him stayed with her over the years regardless of it not being reciprocated. She felt an aching in the space behind her heart, that orange glowing space that so wanted to be filled.
Their eyes remained locked until his expression turned to one of surprised recognition.
Jennifer’s brow furrowed in disappointment at the delayed reaction. Why wouldn’t he remember me? She tried to concentrate on what Sweater Vest was saying, but she struggled to feign interest. Catching Matt’s approach out of the corner of her eye flustered her even more. She stared at Sweater Vest, nodding, faking a laugh. Anything to make Matt know he didn’t deserve her attention.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. Matt beckoned, “Jennifer, is that you?” Turning to face him, she acted shocked to see him. “Hello there, Matt,” she crooned and plastered a toothy grin across her face.
Jerking his head backward, he wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Oh, my God. Are you drunk? You smell like booze.” Jennifer felt mortified.
*Studio 30+ writing prompt – prattle
(photo: the drink nation)