General Fiction posted July 9, 2016


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Not all get-togethers go as scheduled.

Inevitable Reunion

by howard11





"Same old seawall. Looks as it did in the late 60s. Great spot for girl watching." Chris shifted his weight and sipped his beer. He stared blindly into the dark toward the sound of breaking waves. "Definitely, a more comfortable seat when enticing tans are strolling by."

"Been reinforced and repaired many times since then. And so have I." Don laughed at his own joke, then held up his beer bottle until Chris clinked it with his. "To modern medicine. Without it, attendance at 50-year reunions would be quite low."

After toasting, Chris turned his bottle upside down and watched a few drops fall to the white sand. "Another dead soldier."

"Or sailor." Don paid homage to his old navy days. "So, why did you come to this near wake? You never fit in with these people and they never tried to get to know you. It was different for me. I grew up with most of them and still live here. They were spoiled and self-centered long before your arrival. Surely, you have more important retirement activities in Texas to enjoy."

"Nothing more appealing than once again chasing the elusive trout with you. The official reunion events mean nothing to me. But our past hours wetting lines are memories worth honoring. And so is your companionship. Looking forward to tomorrow and successful fishing. As for my other high school contemporaries, I don't blame them for keeping me an outsider. In fact, my subdued personality made it easier for them. After all, they were offspring of space scientists and engineers. Hell, their parents put Americans on the moon. Those kids were used to being the smartest and wealthiest in the room. They had no interest in rubbing elbows with a newbie who lived with his waitress mother."

"Chris, kind of selling yourself short aren't you?" Don had interrupted. "Who was smarter than you? Only Richard, and he was smarter than everyone, including half the teachers."

"I had brains, but no common sense or much experience in social interaction. The last two are very important to a teenager's survival kit. Back then, I sold myself short, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes unintentionally. I'm not the first, or last human, to play a convenient role to painlessly get by. Any beer left?"

Don took a couple of cold bottles from the white Styrofoam cooler and replaced them with the latest empties. He handed one to Chris, opened his and lifted it toward the stars over the Atlantic. "To those who are no longer around."

"Amen." Chris concurred and then asked, "Don, does the Becton family still live in the brown house over there?"

"They moved about the time you departed for Vietnam. They had retreated behind their fence the years immediately following their daughter's death. My parents rarely saw them. Occasionally at church on certain holidays. Mr. Becton, once a close buddy of Dad's, turned down every fishing trip invitation after Lou's traffic accident. Those were sad times."

"Did you know Louise well?"

"We attended the same schools beginning when I was in the 2nd grade and she was in the 3rd. Through the years, we also shared some Sunday school classes. Lou was quietly smart, pretty, and friendly." A pensive Don zoomed in, "You know, except for the preacher at the funeral, you're the only person I've ever heard call her Louise. Not even her parents. How does that happen?"

"When I got here from Tampa, it was the beginning of summer. Transported from a tree-shaded middle class neighborhood to a wide open fun-in-the-sun beach party. Surfing, bonfires, and more two-piece bathing suits than you could shake a stick at. I really was a stranger in a strange land. That first week here, I nervously walked down to the beach hoping I could hide 16 years of virginity ... social and physical. Two months before becoming a high school junior, I needed help to join the world. That help took the form of an attractive short-haired brunette, wrapped in a dark bathing suit and lying on a beach towel book in hand."

"Lou?" Don became interested.

"No. Actually, Louise," corrected Chris. "She was deep in her book and I stared trying to make out the title. I unconsciously kept walking toward her trying to focus. Feeling my approach, she looked up and greeted me. Immediately, the book was forgotten. We introduced each other and she insisted on being called Louise. So for the rest of summer it was Chris and Louise whenever we got together. A good summer."

"You never even mentioned her. At school, I never noticed you two in any conversation. She was constantly seen with that brick head linebacker Gary Brown. Damn Chris, you secretly passed the summer with the head cheerleader and never told me. A senior, she was top of the food chain. How did you two spend those summer days together? I assume you shared a little more than the time of day. And if it was so good, how come at school, it was like you two had never met." Don was clearly perplexed. "So, what happened?"

"She said it had to be that way. We could not ignore our different worlds." Chris's reminiscing took on a more serious tone. "To answer your first question, we discussed books, our families, our lives, and our plans. We swam and walked on the beach together. Happy times, and what I remember most is her private smile... restrained, but oh so honest. Take a look at her yearbook pictures. Try to find one in her five or six that honestly says 'life is good as high school ends and I head off to college with a bright future'. The public Lou was a role played by the Louise I knew. And because I conceded to her separation wishes, I lost her before her death."

"You weren't at the funeral."

"Considered it, but attendance by me would have seemed odd to many. I'd never met her parents and her acquaintances weren't mine. Sitting in a church balling my eyes out in front of strangers did not seem right. I did most of my crying walking the beach alone. Mourning her down here under the stars seemed appropriate."

"I preferred private mourning myself," Don recalled his wife's cancer death 13 year ago. "Did you hear from her after she began at Georgia Tech?"

"There was a letter around Thanksgiving which I chose not to read. I bitterly tossed it. Three weeks later she was dead."

"What did you think about the rumor that she was coming home for Christmas with news she was pregnant?" Don felt awkward asking.

Chris regretted his friend's question. "Unlikely. However, she would not be the first girl to leave the farm and get into trouble moving to the big city." His words dripped of sarcasm born of hurt.

Don quickly stood, "This is enough walking down memory lane for one night. We'll have several hours on the boat tomorrow. Be prepared to hear about all my seven grandchildren. Go ahead, keep the last beer and enjoy the beach. We won't be rolling out until about 9:30. Still have to get you a fishing license. See you back at the house."

"Don't lock me out." As Don walked away, Chris stood and stretched his legs. With conversation quieted, he again noticed the sound of the waves. He opened the beer, pulled off his sandals and slowly walked toward the shore breakers. He was happy about visiting Don and promised himself to be an attentive audience for his friend's memories. As he stepped into water, the breeze seemed to deliver a voice.

"Really. A good girl gone bad in the big city. Are you still so mad at me, you question my judgment? You think I'd become a notch on the belt of some college stud or frat boy. Give me a break!"

Chris spun around. He looked in all directions, squinting and searching. The silhouette of the sea wall was visible, as was the contour of the shoreline highlighted by distant house lights. But he saw no one. He looked at the beer in his hand. Only his third and nowhere near under the influence. The seemingly familiar voice had to be a senile hallucination.

"And another thing. You remember my book that afternoon was 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles'. Right off the recommended reading list for college bound students. We talked long and hard about Thomas Hardy and his female characters. Now, you tell Don I may have shared Tess's sexual morays and it might have caused my downfall. You knew me better than that. I had only been gone from home four months and the time was passed studying. You Bozo."

"You were gone from me a lot longer." Chris raised his voice, "An exile you imposed." He swallowed beer and noticed his knees shaking. Water to his ankles, he found himself arguing with someone he had not seen in 51 years. A dead girl who could not be there talking to him. It had to be some sort of repressed memories controlling his thoughts. "You are not here. You're gone from my life. I'm ending this discussion unless you concede it's in my head."

"Listen, Chunky. I did not originate in that noggin of yours. Accept I am a free-floating spirit who found a way to converse with you. And, in no way can I reveal any more about my existence. However, I am the Louise who gave you your kiss first back in the day."

Chris was a believer the moment she addressed him as 'Chunky'. The first time they went swimming together, he had pulled off his t-shirt and Louise pronounced him 'a little chunky, but okay'. Only she would call him that. As for that milestone kiss, it occurred not 10 yards from where he stood now. Nervous and clumsy, his approach lacked tenderness. It was purely instantaneous brought on by male hormones, the at-ease companionship they shared and most significantly, Louise's beauty lit up by a full moon. His unexpected smack on her lips was detached and the associated hug somewhat brutal. A flustered Louise dragged him into the ocean and pushed him under the surf. She said he needed a 'cold shower'. An hour and a half later when he walked her home hand-in-hand, he was a smitten experienced kisser...more smitten than experienced. Presently, Chris gave in to the improbable, "Hello, Louise".

"I witnessed you putting those kissing techniques to good use with your so-called first love. Remember Sharon? Of course you do. Odd, she was almost my clone. Black hair matched mine. Same dark brown eyes, open and curious. And of course, very similar smile, reserved and kind. Sound familiar? You did not take long to replace me. A mere two years into college."

"Reality check here, Louise. You ended us. In your mind, the dream of becoming an engineer was not compatible with any close relationship. Yes, it would be tough for a woman back then. What was it your Dad used to drum into your head? Oh yea, 'degree before diapers?' You actually committed to 'his' dream. I tried to point that out the day you informed me we were done. But you already knew it and with self-sacrifice, accepted it. Of course, you sacrificed me as well. You cut out my heart that hot August afternoon. Days later, when your senior year started, it was goodbye Chris and hello number 52. I wonder if the linebacker ever recognized his dual role as the safe choice in your Dad's eyes and a constant visible deterrent to my intense feelings." Chris hesitated, "By the way, have you watched my entire life? Has it been your assigned job ... a chosen mission ... or just entertainment to keep an eye on me?"

Louise, bound by certain rules, answered carefully, "I've observed your last 50 years. My choice. My nose pressed against the window looking inside, wanting to be there with you. I did have to get permission to outwardly communicate with you."

"I guess you liked what you observed. What you might have shared." Chris had never healed.

"It was very tough at times. I wanted to hug you at your mother's funeral. Feared for you when you were in Vietnam, and again in the desert war. Sorry, I could not give you some answers during the failed marriages. Very sorry, my actions contributed to your unsettled personal life. I like your stepson, though. And you've consistently treated people, including strangers, with amazing kindness. But, I'm most proud of the teaching years and your gift to the school children. The gift of your heart."

Chris interrupted, "I thought I'd try to give it away one last time. Piece by piece."

"Point taken." Louise had to get back on track. "I'm here to talk about my graduation night. The best I can tell, you've never shared what happened with anyone."

"Getting late. Walk with me along the shore to Don's. Like the old days." Chris thought moving would ease what was to come. Probably the reason she was here. "I knew it was your graduation night and wanted to be close to you. One last time before you were off to college. The year of banishment had been rough on me. So, I went down to the sand dunes near your house about midnight to catch a glimpse of you coming home."

"I know all that," Louise was openly impatient.

Chris forged ahead, concentrating on details. "About 1:30, Gary's Mustang rolled into your driveway and stopped. He jumped out, went around the back and let you out. He then walked you to the front door and tried to kiss you. You allowed a peck. I appreciated that his days of glory were done. For me, the scene provided little solace. I marveled at your beauty until the door closed behind you. A tear raced down my cheek as I sought a seat at the sea wall to steady myself."

Louise picked up the account. "I sensed being watched and walked straight through the house, out the back door and found you on the sea wall. Tears were in your eyes."

"Yours too, lady."

"I did not want to admit to you how hard snubbing you had been. Many nights of crying, no sleep, and the repeated questioning of my goals. Despite all that, I still planned to leave you behind and our meeting at the seawall reinforced my decision. Physically close and alone for the first time in nearly a year, I wanted to be with you so much. The confrontation reminded me how much I truly cared about you, Chris. But, my love for you was a threat to everything. Panic setting in, and impulsively I ran down to the water suggesting a swim."

"Naturally, I followed with no hesitation. This was unexpected bonus time with you." The sound of modern-day waves helped transport Chris back to that 1965 night and its surprises.

"I got to the water's edge and realized the graduation dress on me was not swimming attire. We're going skinny dipping. I took my clothes off with my back to you and jumped right in. I turned and saw you still dressed. Come on coward."

"Not a coward. Just transfixed at what was happening. Even with your back to me, you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I undressed slowly as you watched. You, watching me. Evaluating and smiling an approval. Then, you threw a curve ball. You got up and walked out of the water toward me. I haven't been the same since then. Nothing or no one in my years since has triggered such overwhelming emotion in me."

Louise continued, "At that moment I felt nothing on earth could match the way you looked at me. I had to be special to be so awe inspiring to the person I most loved. I offered my hand, you took it and we walked into the water together. We held each other so close. Two people were one."

"Then I ruined it. I tried to take advantage of the moment. I raped you." Chris looked up and yelled, "Did you hear? I confess. I raped her."

"Quiet down. You did not rape me. And I did not rape you. We were two clumsy virgins under the control of our emotions of the moment. Chris, please quit kicking yourself for that night. You've spent your entire personal life punishing yourself for 'our' actions. Nothing went on that night I didn't let happen. Nothing happened I did not want to happen. Except of course, the abrupt ending. You grabbed your trunks and ran. When I could not find you during the following month, I decided to head north. Never saw you again. I held no grudge, but did regret our awkward attempt to consummate our feelings. With more practice, we could have gotten it right."

Chris thought he heard a giggle. "You don't talk like an angel."

"I never said I was an angel." Louise was firm.

"Well, you were my angel.... made unattainable by my stupidity."

"You would think a man of your age and experiences would listen. I wrote you a letter prior to my scheduled holiday trip home. You threw it away without opening it. It was important."

"So, you're going to tell me now what it said? Go ahead." Chris stopped walking at the wooden steps that lead up to Don's place.

"It began with an apology about the year I separated us. I wrote how much I loved you and my desire to share life with you. Also, it had a plea for your company when I told my parents about us. As for our bumbling memorable night in the ocean, I offered Thomas Hardy's explanation "It was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity." "

"Fitting quote. Louise, we shared a lot of sweetness that summer together and were quite human during and after that year apart."

"Not quite the way I meant it. I wrote something else in that letter. Something you deserve to know. The true sweetness of that night was the child that we created. Our baby grew inside of me for five months. We were to be mother and father. But I ruined that."

"You can't blame yourself for the accident." Chris tried comforting.

"It was my fault. I was looking for a different station on the radio, not paying attention to the surroundings and swerved into the oncoming traffic. The truck driver had no time to avoid my car. Please forgive me."

"My God. You've suffered as long as I have. My adult life was always without you. And your afterlife was not only without me, it was without us as a family. We both have been missing our complements. Like the poets have written, true love is eternal. Of course, I forgive you dear."

"I needed to hear you say it. Thank you. But, I must go now."

"One last question. Whenever I leave terra firma, will we see each other?"

"Out of my hands. But don't worry. If it does happen, I won't let wrinkles and gray hair keep me away from you." A promise Louise hoped to keep.

"And Louise don't worry. I'm pretty sure your beauty will not scare me off." Chris chuckled as he started to climb the steps.

"Like many of those same poets have written, true love conquers all." Louise had the last word.
.





What If? contest entry


Not all lives go as planned. This painfully is shown at most reunions ... even the unconventional ones
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Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com

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