“Emory?” he looks at me quizzically.
“Yeah?” I respond nearly as puzzled.
“Derek,” he answers my unasked question. “From high school.”
“Derek…from…high…school,” I repeat slowly, buying myself time to place him. “And you’re…” my voice trails off.
“Yes,” he looks down at the gear covering his uniform. “And you’re,” he looks at the business card on my reception’s desk.
“Yes,” I confirm.
“We should catch up some time,” he snatches a card and turns, “see ya.”
“Bye,” I blurt, “thanks again.”
His only response is a makeshift salute as he passes over the office threshold.
“You know him?” my assistant inquires with a smile.
“I guess I used to,” I offer with a shrug, heading back into my office.
She can’t let it go. “He’s,” she starts but notices my desire to end the discussion before it starts. She pouts, takes two steps away and then turns, “he’s gorgeous.”
I look her in the eye and chuckle, not wanting to agree with her and what I feel are immature and unprofessional antics. “I guess.” I turn to face my computer’s screen, placing hands on all of the wrong spots on the keyboard.
You’d never know it from looking at me, talking to me or sharing any kind of time with me, but I guess I am a bit of a romantic. The Elizabeth and Darcy scenario has ruined many a young lady into believing in the no-so-easily gotten, eventually, happily ever after.
I’ve dreamt of the meet-cute, even experienced a few, but reality rarely matches my fictional mind. “Interesting,” I say to myself with a blush and a smile.
“What?” my colleague inquires.
“Nothing,” I dismiss my own thoughts.
My dismissal lasted only a few hours until later that night when my phone alerted me to a social media notification. Social media provides an excellent deep dive outside of reality and fuels many a fantasy. I know there are disclaimers, but I kind of wish we could all have a repetitive reminder, in bold print, of the dreaded filter. “Everything single word, picture and video is filtered. Run away! Even the emojis are hiding things from you! Check this box if you wish to continue along this destructive path.”
“Do I accept his request?” I ask myself. “I don’t know, do I?” I continue to cross-examine myself. “Sure, why not,” I decide. My approval of the so-called friendship opens the door to his profile, background information and choice of postings. “Interesting indeed. Were we even friends in high school?” I wonder. I mean, I remember high school, mostly the good parts, but I was busy and probably a little selfish. Who wasn’t, really? I check the source material, an old and dusty yearbook. It’s hidden from the more important literature housed above, with such prominent spaces reserved for my present on the home office bookshelves. The past belongs behind closed doors in the cabinets below.
Flipping the pages to the index, I find my name and fourteen referenced page numbers. As I said, I was busy. I flip to find his and the, er uh, two pages? Really? It was his senior picture and then the picture of the marching band. I was in that one too, although I didn’t play an instrument. “Were we in band together?” I try to recover cloudy memories. “I guess we were. What did he play?” I run my finger across the enormous group of musical practitioners with their instruments of choice and finally find it, “percussion, really?”
Despite enjoying my conversation with self, as I often do, I’m interrupted by another notification. “We really should catch up,” his message reads. I opt not to respond.
Two days later. “We really should catch up,” his message repeats.
“It’s a busy time,” I decide to respond.
“But I saved your life,” he responds promptly.
“You saved my office paperwork,” I correct him.
“True. But, and I know I only spent about five minutes in your office, it seems like work may be your life.”
I’m irritated that he pegged me inside of five minutes, maybe less. “When?”
“When what?” he asks.
“When should we catch up?” I have no idea why I am agreeing to this. Intrigue, maybe. Boredom, more likely. I can still get out of it if I want to. I’ll just blame work, no surprise.
“Breakfast tomorrow?” he asks.
“Breakfast?” I respond.
“My shift will be ending and your day won’t have started yet. Makes sense. The Café?”
“Sure. See you there at 8:00 a.m.?”
“Looking forward to it.” Well, that makes one of us, I roll my eyes at nothing and everything all at once.
When I arrive, he is already seated and drinking a glass of orange juice.
“Hey there,” I greet a man I don’t actually know and never did. The waitress approaches with a pot of coffee before he can utter a word and I quickly turn over the mug in front of me, “yes, please.”
“Ah, coffee drinker,” are his first words.
“Yep. You?” I’m regretting this and start developing excuses to leave promptly.
“Not for a while.” If this was supposed to cure me of boredom, it’s failing, miserably. I hate small talk and sitting here, I feel like when I agree to yet another professional event I do not want to attend and then immediately pray for a work emergency that will get me out of it. “So, you’re a lawyer.”
“Allegedly,” is all I think to respond. “And you’re a firefighter.”
“It’s what I do, but not who I am.” I’m a little surprised by his response as usually I am the one in any discussion throwing a wrench in prosaic, misused, truly uncommunicative conversation and demanding more clarity.
“Who are you?” I’ll play the game.
“I’m the guy you breezed right past on your way to the front of the band.”
I nearly choke on my coffee, “what?”
He opts not to respond, instead placing an embroidered patch on the table between us. I look closely at the item before grabbing it off of the table and pulling it closer to my face. “Where did you-“
“It fell on the field right in front of me. I picked it up and figured I’d get it back to you at some point, but you know, we didn’t actually talk in high school, didn’t run in the same circles. I didn’t run in any circles.”
“Why did you-”
“Why did I keep it all of this time?” I nod at his answer to my thoughts. I’m rarely surprised but at this moment I am absolutely and completely freaked out. “I hoped I’d run into you one day.”
“And now that you have?” I take another sip of coffee although it’s still too hot for a comfortable gulp. I swallow hard.
“It’s nice to finally see you again,” he smiles.
I reciprocate and change my mind about finding an excuse to leave this little excursion. We talk for almost two hours before I do actually have to excuse myself to walk the two blocks to my office for a meeting.
“This was fun,” I offer as he holds the door to the restaurant open for me.
“You sound surprised,” he smirks.
“I am,” I respond. “Thank you for breakfast.”
“Until we meet again, Emory.”
I look down at the patch in my hand, a little piece of nostalgia representing my so-called co-captain status on the dance team. “Maybe it won’t be another twenty-five years.”
“It won’t,” he shouted in my direction from nearly half a block away.
And it wasn’t. We spent the next two months getting to know each other, which mostly involved outdoor excursions: sitting, walking and cycling. It was a welcome reprieve from my office setting and even our opposing schedules did not seriously impact our ability to find time together. There was food and wine. There was better conversation than I had with the last few people I’d dated. Was this dating? There was simplicity and easiness, no complications here. It might be dating.
Yeah, it is dating. He is quite a romantic, quite charming, although it typically presents with an indescribable awkwardness that I can only attribute to him having memories of high school when he deemed us as running in those foolish, different circles. I wonder how much of who we all are as adults is complicated by those glorious days as teenagers when we have no earthly idea what we are doing to each other.
In addition to his handsome features, and obvious physical skill, he’s an artist. He impresses me with a new drawing each time we meet up. I create quite a collection over many weeks and can recall simple yet pleasant feelings attached to each memory of time together by the art he presents. It is better than a meet-cute, it is a series of meet-cutes. Perhaps my cynical and jaded armor is fading, at least a bit, and I am having fun.
It feels like just a beginning of something, but then, one night, on maybe our twentieth meeting, it abruptly comes to an end. “I’m a little surprised,” he says.
“About what?” I inquire as we sit comfortably on the deck he built, sipping wine and indulging in a nasty habit we both claimed to have given up several times.
“Well, in high school, you know, dance team, I just figured…” his voice trails off as a plume of smoke fills the air above him.
“You figured what?” I prod staring at the stars above and figuring looking him in the eye may prevent his apparent nerves over this part of the conversation.
“You’re not exactly a prude, but also not nearly as promiscuous as I presumed,” his words, all of them, cut across the bare skin of my arms. Okay. Not nervous. Just a jerk.
Elevating myself from the relaxed position, I blurt “wait, what?”
“I mean, I’m sorry, but you know?”
“I don’t actually know.”
“Look, this is fun. I’m having fun. I always wanted to know what it would be like. But I think it’s run its course.”
“Hmmm. Okay. I guess it has. What do you mean what it would be like?”
“Look, don’t be mad. Tell me you’re not mad. It’s just, I just, you know, I just wanted to know. I always wondered. Damn childish fantasies. They never really go away.”
“Are you talking about high school?”
“Yeah. You know. I never could’ve gotten a girl like you in high school.”
“Okay,” I take a final sip from my wine glass and put out the cigarette on the ashtray between us, apparently, the one thing that really exists between us. “This was fun, but I hope one day soon, you leave that high school you behind,” are my final words to him.
Two days later, my best friend sends me a text message asking if I’ve seen his social media page.
“Nope. Working,” I respond.
“You should check it out,” she suggests, “and then call me.”
Knowing she’s no alarmist, nor gossip, nor melodramatic anything, I obey her suggestion and open my phone, clicking on an application that I barely use.
“What the-” I cannot even finish my own thought, although in my mind the next several words include much more cursing and crude language than I could audibly offer in mixed company.
There it was, plain as, well, me apparently: his wedding announcement. He ended our, I don’t know what to call it, dating, forty-eight hours before the start of his marriage. That makes me what, a fling? No, not with the lack of promiscuity he mentioned? “What the-” is all I keep saying to myself, never finishing the thought.
Two months later I see him at our high school reunion. My best friend and I assume the possibility and, not wishing to fall prey to an embarrassing encounter, plan a bit. An hour into the event, he strolls across a crowded ballroom, no date for the evening, and tries to offer me a hug.
“So nice to see you,” he greets me. My best friend takes a sip of her cocktail, looks him up and down, turns, squeezes my hand, and walks away.
“You too,” I take a sip of my own liquid courage.
“So, how’ve you been?”
“Good. Back to all work and no play. Safer that way, don’t you think?”
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Me too. I guess we never did actually know each other. Not even a little bit.” I take another sip. “Which reminds me, do you still have my business card?”
“Yeah, why? Want me to lose it?”
“No need for that. Did you ever turn it over?”
“Just wondering,” I take the final sip in my glass, turn and walk away.
I don’t know when, or if, he will remove that card from his wallet and turn to the other side. Maybe never, but for all that I don’t know, I know a lot about human nature basics. He won’t be able to help it. He’s likely more interested in what that card reads than he ever was in getting to know me.
He only ever saw one side of me and it wasn’t a real one at that. It was his high school fantasy, his twenty-five-year-old filter of a girl he once thought he knew, or maybe just thought wanted to know.
But I wish I could be there, at that time, in that moment, when he sees in bold print that phrase I never like to advertise on the front of my business card: DIVORCE LITIGATOR.