Saturday, April 15, 2017

Memory Lane: A short story by Cyrus Alderwood

Memory Lane
A short story by Cyrus Alderwood

Sammy Johnson stood alone outside of his old high school, fond memories of his younger years flooding into his mind. It had been twenty years since he had been back for a visit. He wouldn’t have been standing here now had it not been for overhearing a couple of people talking in line at a Shell station while he was waiting to pay for gas. Sammy had never even given a second thought about returning to Richlands High School until then.
Was it ironic that there were a couple of folks far from home talking about the upcoming high school reunion? Was it fate that he was there to hear it? He had not received an invitation to the reunion. That wasn’t a surprise, though. He hadn’t been back to his hometown or spoken to anyone from high school since graduation day.
Sammy stood at the end of the parking lot and took a long drag from his cigarette, dropping it and grinding it out under his shoe. He wasn’t sure if he was glad to have come back. He felt nervous about seeing old friends after all these years. He dreaded being asked why he never bothered to keep in touch. He knew that question would come up a dozen times. In his own defense, however, he never recalled anyone stopping by to visit him. After twenty years, no one came around with a friendly word or to talk about the good ole’ days. And they were just that, the best years of his life. Although Sammy never bothered to look anyone up and stay in touch, he certainly was not hard to find.
He made his way inside and stood nervously in front of the gymnasium doors. Spread out in front of him were old high school yearbooks, as well as photos from football and baseball games, including one of him standing on third base after he hit a triple in the state championship game his junior year. He loved playing baseball, and he was rather popular in high school. He found it sad that the popularity you have as a kid ends the moment you leave school and enter into the real world.
Sammy looked down at the name tags on the table waiting to be claimed, but he couldn’t find his. He grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled his name on one of the blank name tags. He said hello to the woman working the table greeting people as they arrived for their twenty year reunion. Leslie Murray, at least that was her name back then, looked in his direction but said nothing. Instead, she turned back to talk to the two other women from their graduating class, two women that he thought he recognized, but they had put on a few pounds since then and he couldn’t be sure.
“Wow,” Sammy mumbled. “She was a stuck up bitch in high school. She’s a stuck up bitch twenty years later. Some people never grow up,” he said to himself as he strolled into the gymnasium.
Sammy chose to show up fashionably late, partially because he was never on time for anything in his life, but mostly because he was nervous to see how everyone else turned out after so many years. He was especially anxious about how he would be judged in the eyes of his peers. When they remembered him last, he was known to be a bit wild. He was popular, the star of the baseball team, and seemed to have a great future ahead of him. He gave up his baseball dream after graduation and drifted around ever since.
The dance floor was nearly full with old friends and old flames gathered together, attempting to dance like they were still seventeen. Sammy laughed at the sight. He looked around wondering if he was the only person in the gym who hadn’t gained seventy pounds. Women were dancing in groups, giggling uncontrollably to Baby’s Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot and tossing some of their sizable asses around when the song suddenly change to I’m Too Sexy. Another roar of cackling and laughter rose from the crowd that rivaled the volume of the music.
“What the hell did I get myself into?” Sammy asked aloud. He looked around to see if anyone heard him but he realized that no one was paying attention to him anyway.
“Baby’s Got Back, alright. A whole hell of a lot of it!” Chris Redman said laughing out loud as he walked up behind Sammy and slapped him jovially on the shoulder.
“Quick! Man, I haven’t seen you in years! You haven’t changed a bit,” Sammy admired.
“Neither have you, buddy, but from the looks of things I think we’re in the minority,” he said as he nodded to Christie Blevins, the homecoming queen their senior year.
“Remember how smoking hot that girl used to be?” Sammy asked. “Now just look at her. You can’t blame those hips just on kids. I find that hard to believe.”
“No, but I bet you can blame it on donuts, and cake, and every other snack she probably claims she doesn’t touch. Seriously, I’d bet my bile duct that her ass looks like fifty pounds of chewed bubble gum,” Quick said laughing.
Chris Redman, also known as “Quick”, earned his nickname at a young age. Chris was called “Quick” in the same vein of irony that one would call a fat guy “Slim.” Chris was well known for always being late for class…every class. If dragging your ass was a lifestyle, then Chris had mastered it by the ripe old age of five. Whenever someone would tell him to do something, be it his father, his mother, a teacher, or occasionally a local police officer, they would follow their plea with the word “quick!” The nickname stuck.
“Whew, they looked better when they danced back in high school!” Timmy DeLong said as he and Rick Malone slid up beside Sammy and Quick to survey the ladies on the dance floor.
“Some of them still look good, aged gracefully, but some…well, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself in an attempt not to be rude,” Rick said as he handed a couple of beers to his friends.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I ran into these two salty bastards out in the parking lot,” Quick said. Sammy took a drink from the bottle and shook hands with his two old buddies.
“So what’s the deal with everyone here?” Timmy asked. “I said hello to a dozen people on the way in here and all I get are blank stares. Did twenty years turn everyone into an asshole?”
“I got the same attitude at the check in table, and was outside for at least ten minutes before I came in. Of all the people that walked by, only one of them looked my way and nodded. I thought we were friends with most of these guys,” Sammy added.
“Well, I thought this was supposed to be a party,” Quick said as he chugged his beer. “Where did you get this?” he asked.
Timmy pointed to the open bar on the other side of the dance floor. There were four giant plastic tubs filled with ice and beer in both cans and bottles.
“Hold this,” he said as he handed the empty bottle to Sammy. “I’m going to work my way through this crowd and get us another round.”
Quick began to snap his fingers and prance onto the dance floor in the most foolish sight that Sammy and the boys had seen since high school. He stopped by a crowd of giggling women and mimicked their “rump shake” as best he could without hurting himself while trying not to look too feminine. Sammy laughed so hard that he thought his sides were going to split.
Quick then moved over toward Trent Belcher, a guy they used to all goof off with in Biology. The guy did not have a squeamish bone in his body. He was the first one to volunteer to dissect anything. In fact, Sammy had predicted at the end of their sophomore year that Trent would either be a surgeon or a serial killer. That comment on the last day of class got a laugh from everyone except Trent.
Trent was a chubby guy in high school, but since working behind a desk pushing insurance since dropping out of college, he had really let himself go. He was dancing with a woman that none of them could remember and the three of them began to wonder out loud which button was going to pop first. Would it be one from his tight shirt or the one on his slacks?
It only took a couple of seconds for them to realize that the buttons were not what Trent needed to worry about. He danced like someone out of a bad comedy movie, squatting lower every few moves. Quick grabbed his shoulders from behind and pushed Trent down into a full squat before he spun off him and disappeared through the crowd of dancing women. Trent had split his pants down the crease in the back all the way underneath to the inseam. His pink boxers were enough to turn the giggling crowd of their female classmates into a cackling group of women tripping all over themselves.
Trent stood up as straight as an arrow and quickly left the dance floor. Sammy and the boys couldn’t stop laughing and wondered if Trent would actually come back.
Quick gently worked his way between two women dancing on the other side of the floor with his best cabbage patch move. He recognized one woman as the quiet girl in homeroom during their senior year. Her name was Rachel, but he couldn’t remember her last name. She wore a giant rock next to her wedding band, which did not surprise him. She was nice the few times they spoke, and after twenty years was easily the best looking woman in the room. They locked eyes for a brief second, each with a big smile on their face and having fun, before he gave her a wink and high stepped on over to the tubs of beer.
When he got back to the other side of the gym he found his friends nearly doubled over and laughing hysterically. They grabbed a table and sat down with a fresh round of beers as Rick wiped the tears from his eyes, a big goofy grin plastered on his face.
“You guys think that was funny?” Quick asked. “You haven’t seen anything yet. If these stuck up bastards keep ignoring me then I’m going to have to get really nasty and see how many other people can literally split their pants before I leave this party.”
The four of them sat there for nearly an hour paying no attention to the crowd at hand except to point out random moments of ridiculous dancing or assorted silliness. They took turns going on beer runs between telling stories of old times.
Sammy thought back to graduation day. It was a sore subject with the group so he didn’t bring it up, but it was one of the happiest days of his life. He was turning eighteen the day after and was anxious to get away from home. His pals knew that he didn’t have the best home life and needed out. Living there was a drain on his confidence and he had been battling depression because of the situation.
He had left home early that morning to go hang out with his best friends. By late afternoon they had already managed to use some of their graduation money to have a huge meal, watch the afternoon showing of Wayne’s World, and then jumped into Sammy’s Grand Am and hurried on toward graduation and the various parties that were going on all night.
For some reason that day, Quick had a real need to be on time for once. His mother said she would kill him if he was late for his own graduation. As they sped across curvy Kents Ridge Road, Quick continued to bitch because they were already late for lining up for the march into the gymnasium for graduation. Sammy tried to push it, but he realized he’d taken the curve by the old cemetery a bit too fast and lost control of the car.
When the car finally stopped rolling, the only sound in the ravine was the sound of air coming out of his tires, a constant clicking sound of metal on metal, and the sound of Quick blurting out a string of curse words and insults that were so impressive that it remained legendary to this day.
The four of them gathered their graduation gowns from the trunk of the car and walked to their graduation about a mile and a half away. They managed to sneak into the back of the gym and take the final empty seats unnoticed.
Tim noticed that the atmosphere of the reunion had changed as the music became a bit less fun and took on a more serious tone when it slowed down to Arrested Development and Marky Mark’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side. A couple of their classmates had made their way to the microphone to make random statements of congratulations for someone that just had their third kid, another guy grabbed the microphone, half-bombed, and slurred out how nice it was to see everyone since their ten year reunion.
That’s when they noticed Brad Franklin strolling past them, the cocky bastard. He was the football coach’s son and was treated like royalty by some of the folks in this room despite being the biggest horse’s ass in school history! If there was such a thing as a part-time bully, Brad was that guy. For no reason at all he would flip out and torture some poor kid that he knew wouldn’t fight back, or someone that he knew he could beat up. If you were a kid that could kick Brad’s ass, and you actually did, you had several other members of the football team that suddenly decided to make your life hell when they passed you in the hall or had a class with you.
“That pile of monkey crap walked right by me and didn’t even acknowledge that I exist,” Tim said, obviously offended. “After twenty years!”
Tim and Brad had a ‘history.’ Brad didn’t like Tim the least bit. He decided back in the fifth grade, when Tim got him out in a game of dodge ball during gym class, that he didn’t like the way he looked. So he picked on Tim nearly every chance he got, especially when he had his friends around to back him up. Tim played little league with all of us, but quit because Brad’s dad was coaching the team back then. The coach took his son’s grudge as his own and seldom played Tim, except during mop up duty at the end of a game. Tim decided that baseball wasn’t for him after sixth grade.
Tim got up from the table when Brad disappeared around the corner.
“Where are you going?” Sammy asked, almost worried.
“I’m going to wait until the big oaf is taking a piss and then I’m going to turn the lights out on him and run,” he said laughing. “You didn’t think I was going to pick a fight, did you? I’m not in the mood to have my butt kicked anymore tonight than I did in high school. But nonetheless, I will be right back,” he said as he jogged happily out of the gymnasium.
Tim crept down the hall of his old high school until he stood outside the door with the sign “BOYS” above it. Two guys walked out and he placed his finger over his lips to let them know to be quiet. He didn’t want Brad to know he was there.
Before he walked in the bathroom he noticed another one of his classmates, Brenda Tanner, standing at the end of the hall, looking out the window. She noticed him and turned and gave him a quick wave and a smile, probably realizing that he was up to no good. He hadn’t talked to Brenda since they were juniors. He kissed her once at a party after they had both had a couple drinks too many. He thought about walking down the hall to talk to her but she quickly turned her back to him and continued to stare out the window, as if she were lost in deep thought and didn’t want to be bothered. He noticed that her reflection in the glass showed a very different picture than the pretty girl that just waved at him. He paused looking at her for a moment but then pushed it from his mind to focus on the task at hand.
Tim slowly opened the door to avoid making any noise and walked into the bathroom. He must have made a noise because Brad took a look over his shoulder and looked directly at him and then went back to zipping up. Puzzled, Tim walked into the bathroom as if to take a leak while Brad was at the sink washing his hands. It was only then that Brad acknowledged him. Tim turned and met his stare as he stood behind him, Brad locked onto him as he looked in the mirror to see Tim standing there.
His expression went from one of calm to a sudden unexplained look of panic. Brad bolted from the bathroom, not even bothering to turn the water off.
“Hell, so much for playing a joke on the guy,” Tim quipped before rejoining his friends back at their table.
“What the hell did you to do that guy?” Rick asked when Tim sat down with a fresh round of beers for his friends.
“Nothing, I swear! He spotted me and then freaked out and ran out there like I was going to get medieval on his ass or something. I have no idea what freaked him out.”
“Well, whatever it was he was spooked about, he tore out of here like the seat of his pants was on fire,” Rick added.
Just then, their senior class president, Allan Dalton, took the podium and got everyone’s attention with a spoon to the side of his wine glass. “May I have everyone’s attention, please?”
The crowd grew quiet although there was the constant chatter of the non-sober from the back of the gym and the gaggle of ladies huddled up on the dance floor. Allan gave a heartfelt speech about their high school years, but made mention that he was glad to see that so many had realized and lived their lives like the best was still yet to come. Allan, although a bit of an arrogant guy growing up, seemed more down to earth and a bit like a motivational speaker.
“And now for a toast,” he said. Everyone raised their glasses and bottles in unison.
To health and happiness,
To days gone by;
To fond memories of friends,
And to a tear in our eye.
To good fortune and cheer,
And to our class song;
To that place in our hearts,
For our friends who have long gone.”
Allan reminded the group of the photos of their high school years posted up along the wall, along with a section dedicated to their classmates who had passed away too early in life. He then called the entire group over to a set of bleachers pulled out from the wall for a group photo. Lynna, the local newspaper operator, had made herself available to photograph the group and make the pictures available for everyone online. As the crowd squeezed together, Sammy and his friends each took a knee on the floor in front of the group.
After the group photo, Sammy, Rick, Tim and Quick took a stroll down memory lane, laughing as they pointed out where they were in photos and reminisced of those fun days. Then they made their way to the wall where photos hung of their friends that had died too early in life.
A gorgeous photo of Brenda Tanner hung on the wall. It was a picture of her in a evening gown competing for Miss RHS. She was stunning. Tim touched her photo, remembering seeing her with a sad look and a forced smile earlier in the hallway. She had developed bone cancer shortly after her college graduation. She died before she could even experience the excitement of her first job.
Next was a photo of Glen Stuart and Ashley Reynolds. They dated off and on in high school but got engaged a few years later. They died in a water skiing accident at South Holston Lake a month before they were to be married. They found Glen floating on top of the water, but her body was never recovered. She was wearing a life jacket, but it must have come off at some point during the accident.
Sammy reached out and touched the last photo hanging. It was a picture he remembered posing for. That image burned in his memory for the past twenty years. Quick’s mother took that photo the day of their graduation. The day of the accident. It was of the four of them laughing on the back deck at Quick’s house at Hidden Valley. One of the best days of his life.
Sammy turned and looked at his friends, his eyes glazed over. “It was good seeing you fella’s again,” he said softly before turning around and disappearing through the gymnasium door. Quick, Timmy and Rick all looked at each other, gave an understanding nod, and vanished just as he did.
“Hey Allan,” Lynna called across the gym as the crowd was beginning to thin out. He came over and thanked her for helping out and taking photos.
“I just have a quick question,” she said. She pulled up the digital group photo and enlarged it on the screen of her camera. “Would you take a look at this? Who are these four guys taking a knee on the floor? I don’t remember seeing them at all when I took the picture.”
Allan stared at the photo, his face turning abruptly pale.
“What’s wrong, Allan? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

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