Saturday night was my (mumbling year) high school class reunion. It was held at a lovely venue in the western suburbs of Chicago, with an open bar and appetizers. There was also a wedding reception at the same location. One of the bridesmaids asked me in the ladies room if I was there for the reunion. I said yes and she said, oh, is it your 20th? Ah, sweet, adorable, obviously alcohol-impaired young lady!
I dragged hubby along with me and he knows no one I went to school with because I met him after college, but he was a great sport. We had such fun talking to my friend Gloria and her hubby, David, who made the trip in from Florida. I swear Gloria looks just like she did in high school. Bitch. No, no, just kidding. She is just as lovely as ever and I’m sure it’s not her fault that she hasn’t aged a bit! Also talked with Terry and his wife, Jan, who came in from Iowa. I’ve known him since we were in sixth grade — about age 12 in the U.S. — and had seen them ten years ago at the last reunion I attended.
Then there was Al, another Terry, Mike, John and his wife Mary, Maureen and Ina and her husband, Gary. Ina is the only person I actually knew only from high school. We were in the same Russian class. Yes, I took Russian for four years in high school. I can’t say that I’ve ever used it since, but I’m always excited when I can read some of the alphabet, like on the Russian teams’ Olympic uniforms, haha.
There was a band who played just a little too loudly, but apparently it was a group of guys from high school who’ve gotten back together and are playing some local venues. They were actually quite good although not many people were dancing. We were too busy catching up on all those years apart. But my absolute favorite part of the evening was when someone told me she used to have her hair dyed platinum, like mine! Made my night 🙂
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
“Well, who doesn’t love a good game of chase?” he leaned forward and casually picked up one of her hands, running his fingers over hers. She was aware of how much larger and harder his fingers were, a little roughened from the carpentry work, obviously stronger than hers. Now that she thought about it, everything about him was larger and stronger than she remembered.
So,” she said, and the word came out a little huskier than she intended. Brian still toyed with her fingers and she turned her hand over to grasp his. She cleared her throat and tried again. “So, what was it you got your degree in after all, Brian? I always thought you’d be a mathematician or scientist or something.”
Brian grinned down at their joined hands. “Saw me as a mad scientist, did you? I’m an architect, actually, but designing big commercial buildings was not for me. I did that for a while, but got tired of the traveling and big cities. And I’ve picked up plenty of building skills along the way, enough to act as general contractor on building the inn. I have to admit, I really like being hands on.”
The electricity between them was palpable and Jen was afraid she was reading more than was wise into Brian’s casual remarks. But when she met his eyes, she could clearly see the teasing warmth. Down, girl, she admonished herself, as she felt the tingle down to her toes. She needed to keep this easy and uncomplicated. But, then again, there was something to be said for sexy and sweaty, too!
Brian paid the check and they decided to take a walk down by the riverfront while it was still light out. There was a beautiful breeze and it was just beginning to turn cool. Brian grasped her hand again as they walked along in front of the stores and shops.
“I’d like to see our little town build up like this over the years, have a true downtown area that might draw more than just the college kids’ parents. So I bought the inn as a start, figuring I could live there and run it until I hire someone to take over, especially if I want to keep renovating other places in town. I don’t know about the old bowling alley or skating rink, but it seems the kids in this area need something to do, too.”
“It seems like you’re doing a beautiful job of restoring the inn from what I’ve seen. I can’t wait for the reunion to see the downstairs all put together. Part of my job is meeting planning, so I’ve had some experience with pulling venues together and deciding on decorations for events, things like that.”
“Sounds like you like what you’re doing, then?”
“I do like it most of the time, although I admit I’m not sure how I feel about living where I do anymore. The commute in to the city is long and when the weather is bad, it makes the days incredibly long. Especially in the winter, I feel like I can go days without seeing daylight!” And even though she laughed, Brian could see a little bit of sadness in her eyes.
“I know this is asking a lot of you and you’re only here for the reunion, but maybe you’d find the time to go through some catalogs online and help me pick out some things for the inn? My skills are more geared to picking out wood finishes and flooring, not paint colors and drapes and furniture.” He’d be willing to take any help he could get from her in that area.
That does sound like fun, kind of like having a new house to decorate!” Jen beamed. It seemed Brian really was interested in spending time with her. This could end up to be a very enjoyable week. Or longer if the text she’d gotten from her friend at work was true.
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
“So, can we see the rest of the place?” Jen was surprised at the excitement she felt in looking around at the inn. “I haven’t been in here except maybe once or twice when we were kids.”
Brian paused. “Well, maybe tomorrow or the next day if that’s okay. I want to give the floors time to dry really well before we walk on them. The plumber and electrician are coming in tomorrow, too, so maybe the day after and I’ll give you a personal tour?”
“Sure, that would be nice. I’d love to hear about how you decided to buy and run an inn in our old hometown.”
“Well, actually, I’d love to tell you. Why don’t we get dinner tonight and catch up?” Brian was proud of working in the invitation he’d been planning. Jen smiled, “Thanks, I’d like that. “
Jimmy and Pam stood off to the side with slight smiles on their faces, as though none of this was unexpected. Jim turned slightly and Jen thought she saw him wink at Pam. Uh, oh, was this part of the problem with Pam’s husband? She’d bet money that Pam didn’t even realize she was flirting with Jimmy, but if Kevin had seen that look… No, she was probably overreacting. When exactly would Pam and Jimmy ever see each other in this town?
“So, Pammie, we should probably get out of the guys’ way, don’t you think?” Jen wanted to hurry her sister out of the old inn before anything else could happen.
“Oh, of course, sorry. We didn’t mean to hold up all your work!” Pam was immediately apologetic and Jen felt stupid for saying anything. After hugs all around, Jen and Pam took their leave and Brian promised he’d be back at the house by six so he and Jen could get dinner.
Dinner out with Brian turned out to be a lot of fun. Jen had showered and dressed before Brian got home and he hurried to clean up so they were able to leave the house by 6:30. She had already fed and walked Jack and he curled up in his dog bed with a look over his shoulder that clearly admonished her for leaving him again. Jen patted his sweet head and promised quality doggy time later. With a wave of his plumy tail, Jack closed his eyes and drifted to sleep, his favorite evening activity anyway.
Brian had picked a little steak and seafood place for dinner that was about a 30 minute drive away, closer to the city. The hostess led them to their table, smiling sweetly at Brian as she seated them while managing to ignore Jen the entire time. Brian winced apologetically as the hostess walked away, but Jen just smiled and shook her head.
The food was heavenly. Jen had scallops, one of her favorites, grilled to perfection and served on a bed of wild rice and sautéed vegetables. She was glad to see that Brian liked his steak medium rare, because anything rarer than that would have left her nauseated. She liked an occasional piece of beef, too, but she preferred hers more than just warmed over lightly.
“So, Jen,” Brian started after clearing his throat, “I really feel like I should apologize once and for all about senior prom in high school. I was such a geeky idiot back then – yes, I get the irony – still a geek even now, but I like to think I wouldn’t be as big an idiot now. I’m afraid I was more worried about my lack of dancing and romancing skills than I was about hurting your feelings, and I’ve felt terrible about that.”
It was such a sweet apology and Jen couldn’t help but smile at him. “I was angry for a while, but believe me when I tell you I’ve gotten past it, Bri. I even had a boyfriend and a fiancée and an admittedly brief marriage, so you don’t need to spend another moment thinking about it. In fact, I’d really like to hear more about what’s been going on with you all these years.”
Those lovely hazel eyes of his brightened as he pulled out his phone. “Well, after I finished my degree, I got married, too,” he said, “and we have a teenaged daughter.”
At her gasp of surprise he looked a little confused then smiled again as understanding dawned. “Oh. No, not cheating on the wife. We’ve been divorced for a few years now. I wanted to move back to the small town and she wanted to move on to an even bigger city. Cities are just not for me, I’ve found. And when I heard that the old inn was for sale last year, it seemed like the perfect time to move back to Brim. This is my daughter, Casey.”
“Brian, she’s just beautiful!” And she was, all long blond hair and big light eyes and that tall, thin coltish look that Brian had growing up. “It’s hard to put my finger on it, but she definitely takes after you, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, thankfully she’s got Sherry’s good looks, but she kind of has my build, I guess, although I’m not sure she’d be pleased to hear that. Right now we’re not on the best of terms. I put my foot down about her traveling this summer with a group of kids. She starts college in the fall and that’s a big enough step without backpacking around the country with friends.”
“Mm-hmm, that must be difficult, but –” Jen began.
He looked pained. “Her mother thinks it’s just fine for her to be alone for a month with a bunch of guys and girls I hardly know, not even sure where they’re going to be exactly or what they’ll be doing. I’m not so old that I don’t remember what it was like to be a teenaged boy! And just being safe nowadays. I mean, the stories in the news…” He shuddered.
“But she’d be traveling with several other teenagers in a group?” I’m a little confused as to why he’s totally freaking out.
“Sure, but three girls and three guys, I can just see there won’t be a lot of good judgment going on there. I mean, her boyfriend is a pretty good kid, but he’s heading off to school in Michigan in the fall anyway. And Sherry says she knows these other kids, but really? How well can she know them?”
“Brian, I do understand, but Casey’s what, 18, 19? And she is going to be out from under her parents’ roofs pretty soon anyway. You won’t have a lot of say so when she’s away at school, especially what she’s doing at night or on the weekends. It sounds like you did a great job raising her and now you’ll have to trust her to make good choices.“
Whoops, she knew she’d really stepped into it when his smile thinned and his eyes narrowed. “And you know this from your vast experience with child rearing?”
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
Parking in front of the Bluebell Café on Third Street at about 9:35, Jen saw her pretty, blond sister already sitting in a booth by the window, drinking a steaming cup of coffee. Rushing inside, she forgot just how annoyed she’d been with Pam and hurried to give her a hug and kiss.
“Jen, my gosh, you look so glamorous!” Pam’s eyes went wide. “I love the hair and you look like you’ve been doing Pilates or something!”
“Pammie, don’t be silly, who does Pilates? But I do still try to do yoga when I can and walking Jack every morning and night helps a lot. But I’ll never truly be rid of these hips!” Jen studied her sister’s face and thought Pam was looking awfully tired.
“Well, I think you look great. I’m so glad you came out this week. Kevin is out of town again on business so it’s just me running the kids to their weekend lessons and getting ‘em off to school in the mornings.” Pam stopped talking and winced at the serious look on her sister’s face.
“You really are mad about Brian being at the house? Mom called a few weeks ago and said Mrs. Walsh had asked her about him staying there while he’s got some project going on. And then he called me and said he needed to stay at least a month until his place would be ready and I told him sure, Mom had said it was fine and he insisted on paying and –“
“Well, jeez, Pammie, I don’t care what Mom and Dad do with the house. It is theirs, after all. But why didn’t you just tell me he was going to be there at the same time as me? A little heads up would have been nice!”
“I was afraid you’d change your mind about coming out at all. You know you could always stay with us, but it’s hard with the kids and our dogs and little Jack not being used to ‘em – so I just figured you would stay away again. And I miss seeing my big sis!”
“Aww, honey, I miss you, too, and seeing Kevin and the kids. But like you said, it’s hard with Jack and your two dogs. Jack’s not used to all the wide open spaces and he gets pretty territorial around other dogs. You’d think he wouldn’t, as little as he is, but what can I say?”
The waitress came by just then with coffee for Jen and a refill for Pam and they put their orders in for a good, old-fashioned home cooked breakfast. Jen looked around and realized that it was kind of nice being home again, especially when she remembered her Claritin.
So they ate their breakfast and talked, then paid and walked around the little downtown area, talking some more. Jen was waiting for Pam to say something about her life, her marriage, the kids, anything that would explain the exhausted look on her face, but she said nothing. Pam pointed out the old Fairview Inn to Jen and said that was where Brian was working, and that was his big black pick up truck in the parking lot.
“Well, he said he was going to be working there today. I guess he got an early start, because he was long gone before I got up and Jack never barked. Is he some kind of handyman or carpenter or something?”
Pam looked slightly amused at that. “No, Jen, he’s a builder. I think he got his degree in architecture. I thought you knew that. I’m not sure, but I think he said he was fixing up the Inn and planning to reopen it again as an even site or something. There’s been all kinds of meetings going on down at City Hall with the Zoning Committee because of some changes he wants to make.”
“You’re kidding, right? Who even knew Brim had a Zoning Committee?”
“Well, I guess if you’d see fit to come back here a little more often, you’d know how up and coming we’re getting to be,” Pam smiled. The college getting bigger has created a lot more jobs around here and it looks like things may pick up a little.”
“So, little sister, what’s going on with you? You look great, but maybe a little tired. Are the kids running you ragged?”
Pam looked a little uncomfortable and scuffed her toe against the concrete sidewalk. “Not exactly. Kevin and I have been having some problems. For awhile now, I guess, if I’m being honest.”
You can find earlier excerpts from The Reunion here
Jen sighed with relief as she finally pulled into the driveway of what had been her parents’ house until they’d moved to always-sunny Phoenix, if only to get out of the car and stretch. She and her sister, Pam, both had keys to the little white farmhouse where they’d grown up and Pam and her family lived close enough to check on it occasionally. And, of course, her mom and dad stayed there whenever they came back to Iowa for a visit. As Jen unloaded her bags from the back and put them on the front porch, she breathed in the beautiful clean night air. And sneezed. And sneezed again. Damn goldenrod. She’d have to dig out her antihistamine tonight.
Jack was yipping away and running circles in his little crate, just in case she might have forgotten about him. “Come on, sweetie, let’s get you out of there,” Jen crooned. Boy, he really had to pee –and he wasn’t the only one. Hustling Jack and all their baggage into the house, Jen flipped on the downstairs light and quickly locked the front door behind her. Unpacking would wait until morning. She needed the bathroom, a quick shower and then some yoga stretches before bed to work out some of the kinks from the drive.
The downstairs bedroom that used to be her parents was definitely beckoning Jen as it had a lovely, queen sized bed. She pulled her suitcases in, with Jack trailing behind her, sniffing his way along the hall. New smells were doggy heaven for sure. He’d been asleep in the crate most of the evening and, even though he was definitely a snuggler and cuddler, Jack needed his play time every night.
Jen dug through one of the bags and found some stuffed dog toys that he liked to chase after and threw one down the hallway. His little feet found purchase on the carpet and he was off like a shot, back in less than a minute, prancing into the bedroom proudly with his stuffed duck hanging out of his mouth. They played a gentle game of tug and he took off again after the duck, but this time she heard him racing up the staircase and down before he came back into the bedroom and deposited the duck in front of her.
Before she could even throw it again, he took off running down the hallway and up the stairs, making more noise than a 20 pound dog should be able to make. It was his wild time of the evening, just running off some of the energy until he’d eventually come back down, sniff out his little padded bed and settle in for the night. Jen headed into the bathroom to brush her teeth and take her hair down, rubbing her scalp from having had her hair gathered up for so long.
She changed into a soft tee and sleep pants, wanting to be comfortable and cozy tonight. She spread out her yoga mat next to the bed and lay down to begin some simple stretches. She’d progressed to downward dog, hands and feet on the mat, her body bent in two, when it occurred to her that Jack hadn’t come back to the bedroom. She peered between her legs at the doorway and spotted a quick flash of brown and white fur.
Ahh, here came Jack now. Jen waited for the inevitable dance as he came into the room, but this time it wasn’t a duck in his mouth. It looked like – men’s boxer shorts?? And close behind him, as she struggled to stand up, ending up in a heap on the mat instead, were a big pair of masculine feet. Naked. Jen briefly debated whether she could pretend she’d hit her head and just stay down on the floor, then decided it was probably too late for that. Crap. Pushing down flurries of panic — this was Brim, Iowa, for goodness sake, not some big city with big city crime, she turned and faced the intruder head on.
Her gaze quickly travelled up long hairy legs to a white towel wrapped around a trim waist, a broad bare chest and finally jerked up to meet amused hazel eyes under dark brows raised in question. “I’m guessing the little dust mop belongs to you?”