I plan on enjoying myself until I discover his picture on the back table with the label "The Departed." In disbelief, I take hold of his picture frame to get a better view of the image in the photograph. Again my hands become clammy and cold as tears saturate my eyes. I realize the man in the picture is my old friend Renny. I should have told him how much I always appreciated his love and friendship. I am unable to find words to express the mountain of regret that swells in my memories of him. I whisper to myself, " Renny, I'm sorry I never told you what you wanted to hear."
In the fall of 2014, I attend my high school class reunion. It is the evening I learn I lost a dear friend to an unexpected illness. His name was Rene, but I remember him as Renny. He came into my life in junior high school back in the late eighties.
It is the first day of the seventh grade. Our teacher, Mr. Gregory, articulates each name in alphabetical order with ease as he takes roll. The students answer with either a sweet or husky voice to match their gender. A deep voice answers from the back of the room to the name Miss. Rene. The students burst into uncontrollable laughter. Mr. Gregory's face turns a cherry-red along with his nose. He announces sheeple, "Mr. Rene, I apologize for my mistake. Please forgive me. Class, you need to settle down."
I turn around in curiosity with the rest of the class, only to behold a hazel-eyed boy glancing back. His jet black hair shines against his sandy dark tan. I am sure I even blush when our eyes meet. My heart stands still. I know I am in love with the boy with a froggy voice.
As time would have it, my puppy love soon fades into friendship. My fickle young heart shortly moves on to other conquests. However, for the next two years, we sometimes have long talks on our three-mile walk back home after school. We live in the same neighborhood. I walk as he rides his bike alongside me. Over our junior high years, we become good pals.
By high school, I move on to other relationships. Then the hand of fate finally steps in, and he falls in love with me. I keep him at a distance in the realm of brotherly friendship, while he engages in a three-year pursuit. He and I appear to miss the mark in taking our relationship to the next level, as they say.
Later in college, he even dates my best girlfriend, Maryanne, but it does not last. During the college years, he manages to make the Dean's List every semester.
However, he lacks the drive to finish college. Early in his career, he speaks of being a brain surgeon, but he quits college to become the manager of a toy store. As for myself, I graduate in the field of engineering and work for a prestigious firm in town. I take off to pursue a life in a world of money and influence.
Although our paths go in different directions, for the next thirty years, Renny drifts in and out of my life.
Twenty years ago, he and his girlfriend, Prunella, attend my wedding. During my extravagant wedding, she approaches me and comments, "I'm happy for you. Now maybe he will finally get you out of his system." However, Renny and I continue to see each other for an occasional lunch. My husband is aware of our friendship and has no objections.
We last met, about two years ago for my birthday breakfast, he orders buttermilk biscuits with sausage with strawberry jam. "I have never had that before, is it any good?" I respond to his order after he requests two. With his usual boyish charm, he says, "You'll love it! You need to give it a try for me, okay?" I nod in compliance.
To this day, I can not eat a biscuit without thinking about him. "Oh, yes, it must be pile high with sausage and strawberry jam."
During our meals, we talk about old times and our dreams for the future. I am unable to recall the details of our conversation. I only remember, at the end of that meal, he stops dead still for a moment and takes my hand into his. He gazes into my eyes and says, "This is all I ever wanted. I just wanted to spend time with you and talk." A chill runs down my spine, I flashback to high school and the lunchroom. I am that eighteen-year-old girl who is desperate to escape his advances. Yes, I'm flattered, but I do not feel that way toward him.
I detect a sincere humbleness in his voice and gaze. I pull my hand back, taking a look at my watch. My hands feel cold and clammy, and I know I need to flee before I hurt him with my rejection again. I am married, and my life is moving forward, while he is still that high school boy who loves me.
"It is almost 10. I need to get going. Thank you so much for the lovely breakfast. I'm meeting my husband at 10:30. I'll call you soon. Goodbye!" I wave goodbye, with a lingering smile.
"I understand. Happy birthday!" He responds as I rush to go out of the front door. I see his reflection in a mirror as he waves goodbye and throws me a kiss. I find it hard to believe that happened only two years ago.
That would be our last meal together.
It seems odd that he's been on my mind for the last few months. I even contemplate seeing him at the reunion.
Over the years, I often think of him. It seems that sometimes I do not cherish the people in my life who love me unconditionally despite my faults. Looking back, I should have been braver and spoke my mind.
I find his death makes me see how important living in the moment is. I also realize that I should never hesitate to tell someone I care. Furthermore, his passing brings me to the understanding that love and friendship are the most precious things in life.
Somehow when my life's focus was on getting ahead, I neglected to cherish the people around me. I married the wrong man. I married my husband, Patrick, for what he could give me and not on how much he loved me.
"I noticed you looking at Renny's picture on the table. He was my best friend."
I turn around to look at the man who spoke, I put Renny's picture back on the table.
"I'm guilty, in more than one way."
"You are Natasha, right?"
I nod my head in response as I say, "Yes, I am. Aren't you, Tommy?"
He points to his name badge and nods his head, "You have not changed much since high school."
"But, I have. I have changed a good deal."
"He and I were in the band together. We both had a crush on you. I must confess that I still do."
"That is so sweet of you to tell me. Do you know what happened to him?"
"He had been ill for over a year, and then he had a heart attack last December and died in his sleep. Are you okay? Do you need a tissue?"
"He was a good person. I was hoping to see him here tonight." I wipe my tears with the napkin he gave me.
"Let me get you something to drink, while you sit at my table over here with some of my friends. Or are you with someone?"
"No, just me."
He leads me to his friends and pulls a chair for me to sit.
"Hey, everyone do you remember this cheer-leader gal?"
"Natasha it's Maggie. I'm Tommy's cousin. We had a history class together."
"Hi, Maggie. I do remember you."
He introduces his other friends and walks over to the bar to get us some drinks. The
two other couples move to the dance floor after he leaves.
"Are you here with anyone?"
"No, I'm here alone. My husband, Patrick, died last year in a boating accident."
"I'm so sorry to hear that."
"We were remarkably different. We were in the middle of a divorce."
"In that case, Tommy is not married. He still has a major crush on you. He's never been married either, but he came close one time a few years back. The most interesting thing about her is that she looked a lot like you. Also, the main reason he came tonight is he was hoping to run into you again."
Across the dance floor, Tommy stops to look over at the table to wave and smile. Instinctively, I wave and smile back.
"He seems like a nice guy, just like Renny. I remember how he and Renny were always fooling around in band." I wipe my eyes one more time.
"Here's your drink."
"I hear, you still have a crush on me."
Tommy smiles at his cousin and says, "You promised not to tell anyone."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" I say as I look at him and point to the dance floor.
Tommy put out his hand as he says, "Shall we dance? Come on, let me make up for not asking for dance at our prom."
I take his hand. He leads us into the flashing lights of the dance floor. He puts his arms around me as I say, "You can thank your old friend Renny for this dance."