by Baloney Bill
Some people keep to themselves just out of survival instinct. Critics are everywhere.
"You Still Doing that Writing Stuff?!?"
"I love your poems. They are so simple," Jerome said. "I used to write poetry, but I just don't have the time to spend on such a whimsical waste of time anymore. Yes, in high school, I wrote poems to the girls I dated. They really seemed to like them. I'll bet they kept them. I'd like to see them again. The poems, not the girls. Well, both really." He laughed and continued talking as he turned away, "Enjoy the party. I'm so glad you could come."
He moved through the crowd, smiling and patting shoulders all the way, to meet the couple at the door.
I swirled the ice around in my glass of Pepsi. My wife wanted to come to this unofficial high school reunion. Despite my reluctance, I came along. When your instincts tell you not to do something, listen to your heart and don't do it! How many times do I have to tell myself that? I checked my watch. We'd only been here for fifteen minutes. I was sure Jenny would not be persuaded to leave until we had stayed at least an hour. She was across the room among a growing and pretty loud circle of her friends. Why she ever hooked up with a quiet guy like me, I'll never know.
I looked around the room in hopes of spotting someone I had been agreeable acquaintances with in school. Looking for a friend would be a stretch. I had three people in high school I considered friends, not counting Jenny, and all three of them had scattered across the country. So far my search for somebody to talk to had been in vain.
Jenny saw me standing alone and beckoned me to join her group. I just smiled. The only thing worse than standing against the wall by myself would be trying to blend in with the pretty girls from high school who in those old days I was afraid to even glance at. I was fine right here sipping Pepsi.
How much Pepsi would I be able to sip? I've been dry now for six years. Times like these, well lots of times, but times like these especially, the booze, like the bottles out in Jerome's kitchen, call out pretty loudly.
Oh, no. Jerome's wife, Sharon, spotted me standing by myself and is heading over.
"Hi Ben," she said, "Can I get you another drink? What are you having rum and Coke?"
"No, thanks, Sharon. I'm good."
"Well, don't be shy. It's so good to see you. Do you still have that creative writing hobby? That was so cute back in high school. What was that story you wrote? Something about an alien?"
"Oh," I said, lightening up a bit, "I wonder if you're talking about 'Grachet and Intergalactic Warfare'."
"Hmm. That sounds like it might be it. People said it was so funny. I never did get a chance to read it."
"Well," I said, "It wasn't meant to be funny. I..."
"Oh, sorry, Ben. Rose and Adam just arrived. I need to go welcome them." She touched my wrist and said over her shoulder on the way to the door, "I'm so glad you came."
Having nowhere to go, but needing to go somewhere, I wandered out to the kitchen and dropped a few ice cubes into my glass and unscrewed the two-liter bottle of Pepsi, all the while looking at the cool guys elbowing around the booze table. I looked up then and saw Jenny watching me pretty closely, still keeping a smile on her face, but looking pretty worried at the same time. I screwed the cap very tightly on the bottle and headed back to my spot along the living room wall. Looked at my watch. Thirty-five more minutes and I could make my first plea for evacuation to Jenny.
Somebody wandered over, heading right toward me. I know him. What's his name? What's his name?
"Hi Ben," the recognized stranger said. "What're you doin' these days?"
His words were slurred. Sure, rub it in, buddy.
"Oh, not much. This and that."
He gave me a funny look, then smirked and said, "You ain't still tryin' to be some great writer, are you? You kiddin' me? Would've thought you'd have grown outta that." He shook his head and wandered off.
That's it. I've got to get out of here, I thought.
Just then the phone in my pocket vibrated. I went down into the hallway and answered it.
"Hello?" A deep, unrecognized voice said. "Is this Ben? ... Ben this is Robert Van de Venter of Clover Ridge Books. I've been reviewing the manuscript you sent in, and I'd really like to get together with you and talk about it."
I staggered blissfully through the pylons of people and made it out the front door. The cool Autumn air outside felt like a welcome caress.
"Yeah," I said, "I mean yes, I'm still here,"