Entry for the LGBT Writing Contest
|Prompt - Your character goes to their 10 year high-school reunion. How does the night unfold?|
Word count: 1650
I was nervous. Yeah, I know it's a cliche - who isn't nervous going to their first high-school reunion - but I don't care. What perhaps sets it apart is this was more than just a little nervous. This was 'oh my god I'm going to need a clean shirt if I keep sweating like this' panic that I was staving off with only the most tenuous threads of willpower.
It started a few months ago when I'd first seen the invite and had an 'oh my god has it been ten years already' revelation. The stomach fluttering grew as the days passed. It rose a giant leap when I actually committed to going. Until then it was just this thing that was happening. Now it was this thing I had to go to. The rest of the usual thoughts rushed through my mind. Would I seem a big loser? I had an OK job, but nothing special. I lived in just a one-bed flat, but least it was mine and not rented. I was alone, no partner, no family.
Then of course came the outfit planning panic. Did I splash out on something I couldn't afford, or just go with something smart-casual from my wardrobe? As far as my classmates memories would expect I'll be the grown-up version of the geek I was in high school. Just having pants that weren't two sizes too big, and glasses without duct tape around the frame, would be a huge step up. Plus guys aren't supposed to worry too much about that stuff. Except with that whole metro-sexual thing.
My old school bullies would probably be there. They bought a whole host of other worries along with them. They'd ironically bullied me by declaring I was gay. Various songs and taunts had followed me around for months. Whenever I walked past they'd all jump and turn their ass away from me just in case I couldn't hold back my urges. Ridiculous. But kids.
Ten years on and I'm now an out-gay man. At the time I had no idea I was gay, and their taunting drove such a fear of 'gayness' into me that my true desires were buried in the closet even deeper. It was several years into college before I even admitted it to myself. Whether the bullies had inside information I hadn't seen, or it was just a strange coincidence, I don't know. What would seeing them again be like? What would they do? As the day came closer, the voice of the closet, one I thought I'd banished years ago, became increasingly persistent again. Would being out just provoke them? Give them a sense of right?
So yeah, I was nervous. Hopefully now you feel I'm a little more justified opening with that.
A large banner, welcoming the class of 2005, greeted me outside the school. I'd seen similar before whilst attending, but none had seemed this ominous. The expected bunting decorated the main path, a riot of color. I made the walk up to the doors in lead boots. Not literally of course, I had gone with some tasteful loafers; a good label but nothing to cause raised eyebrows. That was actually the theme of my entire ensemble. Pride in my clothes, without being lavish.
There were others making their way up too. None yet I could recognize at a glance in the evening gloom. I did notice the lady ushering people inside though. Miss Walkers. She looked the same as I remembered. A few extra lines, a touch of gray, and a plain but pretty face. She'd taught English Lit and, despite her firm demeanor, I'd always liked her.
"Edwards, Mr Edwards is that you?" She'd spotted me, her face lit up with an unfamiliar smile.
"Yes, Miss," I replied in meek imitation of my old responses during class registration. I grinned too, and she embraced me fondly.
"Well, I say. Look at you! I just knew God would fill you out eventually, just a bit slower than the other boys, but no harm done. Aren't you quite the handsome man."
Her gushing, and my blushing, continued for a few minutes more. A small queue had formed behind me, and my blush deepened as I pictured all those who had witnessed. I didn't look back and made my escape into the main hall. So much for not being noticed.
The bar was the first destination. Without a glass to hide behind I had no ammunition for awkward silences. This led to another series of worries. What would my drink say about me? I could have just gone for a 'manly' beer, but I really didn't like the taste. I wanted a cocktail, yet I knew that was just asking for trouble. I settled for a vodka and coke and surveyed the room from the safety of a bar stool. Some cheesy music was playing, and the bunting had continued inside and exploded. Or so it seemed. I guess it matched the music. Little circles of people were clustered around the room, perhaps forty or so in total. The dance floor was empty so early in the night. Several long trestle tables offered nibbles, but nothing substantial. I had made the right decision to eat earlier.
I started looking closer at the groups, starting on the smaller, less intimidating ones. One trio stood out. It was all guys, and one certainly looked familiar. I headed over. Yes, it was Gary. He'd been my friend, a geek too and was still sporting the look. His glasses were thick milk bottles. And yet there were differences. His shyness was gone, he was talking animatedly and appeared to be mid-joke, telling it with confidence and charisma.
"... he'd booted up the mainframe and had forgotten to disengage the diagnostic override. It executed a system restore... ha haha ...to 1998! Hahaha."
The two other guys started laughing along with him as I did the awkward sidle up to join them. I half smiled, trying to look as if I had gotten the joke.
"Yeah? Oh wow, little Mikey!"
I hated being called little Mikey. "Mike, yeah."
"You remember Paul, and Johnny."
The names rang a bell, but no I didn't. I looked at them both, hoping for some memory to trigger but it didn't help.
"We were in the same science class." Paul chipped in. Apparently I'd left too long a silence.
"And I was in the debating club with you."
"Aah yes, of course. Paul, Johnny. Great to see you." Astute readers among you I'm sure recognize the lie.
"We both work with Gary now," Paul offered.
"Erm, for me." Gary clarified.
"Wow you own your own business?" I said.
"Sure do. $3 million gross revenue last quarter. Perhaps you've heard of G.S Electronics." The obnoxious arrogance in his voice made me desperately want to say no, but my surprise and jealousy must have been plain as day on my face.
"Very impressive." I dreaded the question I knew was coming.
"And how about you?"
I mumbled something about my job, and asked several polite questions before excusing myself. So my old school friend was now an asshole. Not a great start.
The room was filling up. There was already double the number of before. The bar was busy, and the nibbles were under attack. A flash of blonde hair caught my attention and there she was. My unrequited, high school love, Rebecca. The passing decade had done no harm to her, and indeed a lot of right. The few lines on her face came from the easy way she smiled and laughed. The touch of weight on hips and bum lent her a shapely figure. So deep had been my denial, and so fixated my crush, even now I couldn't help the lingering feelings. I knew now she wasn't for me, but I let my imagination run with it for a few seconds. The house in the burbs, the 2.4 children, the winter skiing and the summer beaches. A vestigial longing for what might have been.
More and more faces were recognizable. Not old friends, just vague memories from various classes. I glanced at the few other people lurking around the edges alone, eyes darting from person to person. I hoped I didn't look as uncomfortable as they did.
The hairs pricking up on the back of my neck was my warning. My subconscious had noticed something. I looked around, trying to find the source. Turns out it was coming straight at me. Simon Pritchard, all six-foot-two of him. I tried to hide most of my nervous tics behind taking a sip of drink. The chief bully.
He looked good. It was an admission so far from the thoughts of my youth it was hard to imagine, but one I couldn't deny. Where time had softened Rebecca, it had sculpted Simon. Grab a thesaurus, look up chiseled, and you can manage the rest of the description without me. I noticed his face. He was smiling. His eyes looked happy and the familiar frown of disgust was missing.
"Mike! I was hoping I'd see you here."
My instincts were finely tuned. I searched tone, pitch, timbre for mockery. I inspected each word for carefully buried insult. I found nothing and my instincts floundered.
"This is Mike? The kid you bullied?"
The second voice was unfamiliar, and my flailing senses struggled to focus on it. My eyes locked on to the figure stood next to Simon but I still wasn't caught up.
"Ok, I'm going to leave you two alone, you've clearly done a number on him. I'll be by the bar."
The figure kissed him on the cheek and left. Finally I found my voice.
"Oh that's Kevin, my partner. Listen man, I own you an apology..."
“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt