Bill checked his appearance in the mirror: tie straight, hair combed, jacket collar down as he headed out the door to attend his first high school class reunion ten years after graduating. The organizers had held previous reunions that he didn’t attend for a variety of reasons, away serving in the military being the most prominent. Truth be known, he was anxious about seeing his former classmates and rationalized many excuses to avoid attending. It was not as if there was any requirement to attend these gatherings and like most people he liked a party; it was just that he felt uncomfortable being in the company of these people.
High school is for many a difficult, traumatic and torturous experience, perhaps because it happens during those growing-up years where you become more culturally aware and are moving toward independence. For others, to hear them tell it and tell it, those years were the pinnacle of their lives where attitudes take shape along with solidifying lifelong relationships. For Bill, however, these lifelong relationships were a foreign concept.
Growing up in a military family, Bill moved around the country frequently, sometimes finding himself in a new location every year. His parents tried to time these moves around the school year to minimize the disruptions, but that was not always possible.
When his family finally moved back to his birth city, as he referred to it because the term home had lost all meaning, he found himself in the last year of high school with strangers and he was an outsider, a situation he knew all too well.
The reunion was held in a rather drab rented suburban fire hall, but the organizers did a good job decorating the hall with pictures from their high school years and from the history and entertainment that happened in that era.
After picking up his name badge at the registration table with his yearbook picture on it, he made his way to the bar for a much needed drink.
Over in one corner he recognized the much lauded football captain/quarterback, Jake, holding court surrounded as he always was by his many admirers. Why people have this propensity to fawn over anyone was a mystery Bill didn’t understand.
On the opposite side of the room the quarterback’s wife, Ellen, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen, was holding her own court.
Standing around the hall were various other bouquets of people clustered in conversation while some couples were shuffling around the dance floor to the rhythms of 50s and 60s music coming from the jukebox.
Leaning against the bar, the guy to Bill’s right strained his neck to look around him so he could see Bill’s name tag above his left pocket. “Hey Bill,” the guy said. “Long time no see. How have you been?”
Bill saw the guy’s name tag that said his name was Ed, but he didn’t recognize his picture even though he had reviewed all 368 mates in his yearbook before coming to this event.
“Hi Ed,” Bill said as he extended his hand. “What have you been up to these many years?”
Bill listened to Ed go on and on about the difficulties of his career and of his loves both lost and gained. This would be a familiar story repeated often with different people throughout the evening.
The dinner was a catered buffet style affair and after filling his plate he made his way to one of the many round tables of eight and took the only single seat available. It was fortunate that he found himself seated next to Janet, a woman he had talked to earlier who told him she worked as a parole officer and he wanted to know more.
Bill was taking his first bite of food when he looked up, and there he was. Sitting across the table was his archenemy, his provocateur, and all around bully, Peter “Bruiser” Badcock. He was so shocked that he nearly dropped his fork of food.
After making eye contact, Peter pointed his fork at Bill and said, “I remember you. You’re the wuss. Right?”
Bill ignored Peter’s taunting, not wanting to cause a scene and ruin the evening for everyone he refused to take the bait, but Peter kept at it saying, “Yeah, I remember you. You’re the weak four eyed wuss who was afraid of sports. You were the know-it-all in class that made the rest of us look bad.”
Perhaps Peter had had too much to drink. The woman seated next to him kept patting his arm and telling him to calm down but he would have no part of it and pulled his arm away so abruptly that he nearly knocked over his water glass then continued with his taunts.
Bill thought it strange that after ten years guys like Peter never seemed to have matured. This brought to mind an episode in class where he once threw a book across the room at Peter in frustration and to retaliate against his bullying. This got him into trouble and the teacher sent him to the principal’s office, who punished him with a week’s detention. The lesson Bill learned from this was that bullies like Peter never get punished, they somehow got a pass from the administration, and it was only people who commit an aggressive act against them no matter the inciting event that pays the price.
Finally, Peter calmed enough that Bill could have a nice dinner conversation with Janet, who Bill remembered as being studious and not among the bevy of beauties that fell into cliques like those that hovered around Ellen.
After dinner Bill went back to the bar and found himself talking to Dan, who worked in the State Department as a diplomat. Bill was enjoying his discussion with Dan when he was grabbed on the shoulder. When he turned around, there was Peter.
Peter resumed his taunting remarks, accompanied this time by aggressively pushing Bill in the chest much as he had done in high school. This time Bill, who having served several tours of duty as a special forces Marine, was having no parts of a physical assault and caught Peter’s hand. Then in one swift, smooth move twisted Peter’s arm up and behind his back until he felt his shoulder break. Finishing up with a couple of kicks behind his knees, Peter collapsed to the floor.
In a way, Bill felt sorry for Peter who appeared to have let himself turn to flab in the past ten years complete with an overhanging paunch, but not that bad. Peter got what he long deserved.
Remembering the many hallway shoulder checks Peter administered in high school, the broken shoulder was only fitting.
Bill turned his back on Peter who was crying out in pain and walked out of the fire hall with a smile thinking, “revenge is sweet.”
This story was submitted to a contest in response to the prompt “Write about a character who goes to — or purposefully avoids — their high school reunion.” on Reedsy.com There were 166 entries for this category. This story didn’t win.