You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
Three weeks later, on a Friday after work, Jen pulled her shoulder length, carefully highlighted hair into a messy bun on top of her head, loaded her little King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Jack, and his crate and dishes into the back of her car along with her suitcases and garment bag and began the drive home. Pulling away from her little townhouse in the Chicago suburbs, she headed toward Route 80 and the semi-boring drive through the small hills of western Illinois that led to the flat and treeless terrain of Iowa. She stifled a yawn and thanked her lucky stars for the Starbucks sign up ahead. She still had several hours of driving left before she got to her destination, the little town of Brim, Iowa, nearly smack in the center of the state. And after moving to Chicago, she’d heard the “Idiot Out Wondering Around” acronym for Iowa more times than she could count and it always annoyed her. Or embarrassed her, if she was really being truthful. But really, at 38, wasn’t it time to stop feeling like a little girl from the country?
Pulling off at the exit, she opened Jack’s crate and snapped on his leash so he could sniff around and find just the perfect spot to do his business in the little grassy area behind the strip mall. His yips and plumy tail wags reminded her that he thought now was the perfect time to feed him his carefully measured cup of doggie chow which he promptly inhaled as quickly as she poured it into his dish. Five minutes later and he’d done his business for the evening. After cleaning up after him and a quick trip to the restroom herself, Jen was soon smiling her thanks at the hunky, much too young for her barista who made her a tall, no fat, no whip mocha, expertly crafting a heart in the foam on top. With a flirty wave, she got back in her little SUV, savoring the chocolately coffee while pulling back out onto the highway.
Tuning the radio to MY93.9, the home of the 80s and 90s, she sang along with Rachel Platten’s Fight Song and let her mind wander to growing up in Brim. To a young girl with bigger dreams, it had sometimes seemed like the most boring place on earth. And growing up in such a small town meant even though everybody knew who you were and looked out for you, they also knew every good and bad thing that ever happened in your life. Like the debacles of gym class and being picked last for every team. Or having Ms. Sinclair, her third and fourth grade teacher, always seating her next to the class clown because she was so well behaved and such a calming, studious influence. Just once, couldn’t she have sat next to a popular boy?
High school had been just as painful in its own way. Sure, she’d had friends like Sue Esther and Ruthie who lived down the street from her. They studied together and went to the movies and sometimes to a school dance, but they were both chubby girls, too, and Jen wondered if she’d stayed friends with them because, of the three, she was always the thinnest and looked even smaller by comparison. Had she really been that shallow? Well, yes, she’d been a teenage girl trying to get through life… But she was never a cheerleader or on the pom squad, too shy to even try out for the debate team. She liked English and history; math and science, not so much. She thought 4H would be sort of like a riding club, but it had turned out to be about all kinds of farm animals. And, of course, more of the kids from the outlying farms had joined than from the little town where she lived.
Then there was her prom date. Or lack of a prom date. It wasn’t like she’d been going out with Brian Walsh and he wanted to take her to prom. Her mom and his mom were friends from working at the library together for years and had thought it would be so nice if their children went to the dance together since neither one had a date. Brian was friendly enough when their families got together for barbecues in the summer, as talkative as any teenage boy would be with a girl he obviously had no interest in. He didn’t seem to have much interest in anything other than shop class and fixing cars and woodworking. But one day he strode up to her locker and very seriously asked her if she wanted to go to prom with him. His dad said he could borrow the car so she wouldn’t have to ride in his pick up. And his mom said to let him know what color her dress was.
So Jen and her mom had driven into the city to find a flattering long dress in a coral pink and she had her hair and nails done and was kind of excited/nervous about going. She was ready by 7 p.m. on the dot, waiting by the front room window, with her mom and dad poised to take the required pictures. Then Brian had called with some lame ass excuse that he’d had to work at the last minute at the Burger Barn/Video Store. On prom night. Jen had never known if he’d chickened out or really had to work, but she knew her mom and Mrs. Walsh hadn’t seemed to be such good friends after that night. Brian had called the next day, but Jen was too mortified to come to the phone and her mom hadn’t pushed her.
By graduation she’d earned enough scholarship money to convince her parents to let her go away to college where nobody knew her name. And then she’d begun the process of reinventing chubby, bookish Jennifer Meyers into the woman she was today.