Good Job Growing Up

It was homecoming weekend at my high school, and there were celebrations for alumni from Friday through Sunday. I hadn’t attended a homecoming event since I was in college, but some of my old HS friends had been on my case about going to the football game on Saturday, so I figured why not show up and brag about my cool job in the city. JK, most of my classmates have jobs way cooler than mine in New York.

I was in this tight knit clique in high school with four other girls, but by the end of senior year, we had come apart at the seams. Two of the girls, Alex and Casey, got themselves boyfriends and basically dropped off the face of the earth, which of course pissed the other three off (I remember some very dramatic, tearful “Hoes before bros!” fights over the phone. Oh, high school.). Then the third girl, Andrea, who always had issues with food (as in, never ate it and when she did locked herself in the bathroom and turned the water on for twenty minutes), was sent off to some kind of eating disorder clinic for the summer where she wasn’t allowed contact with friends from home. I was one of the remaining two, along with my friend, Nicole. My favorite summer was that summer before freshman year of college. We had comically bad fake IDs, but there was this one bar in the city that just didn’t care, so there we were almost every night, making out with cute college intern boys who at the time seemed so worldly and wise to me because they wore suits. In reality, they were just a bunch of fratastic boneheads who didn’t know what a clitoris was or where it was located, but when I was eighteen years old I didn’t have the gift of retrospect, okay?

At the end of the summer,  Nicole and I went our respective ways for college, and midway through freshman year her parents moved to Charlotte, NC. I never saw her when I came home for holidays and summers in NJ, and we lost touch. I still talk to Andrea, Casey and Alex occasionally, but we’ll never be as close as we once were, and that’s okay.

So that’s how the ole gang broke up! It was Andrea who had really been on my case about homecoming. So and so got a boob job and so and so created some app and owns an island now, and I wouldn’t regret making a trip out to Jerz to see her rack and his Maserati with my own two eyes.

“Is the app guy single?” I asked. “I have a friend for him.”

“He’s gay,” Andrea said. “Such a shame.”

I had invited Ashley, Nina, and Kate to go with me, but only Kate and Ashley took me up on the offer. Nina said she’d done a lot of thinking with this whole Ashley situation and she just didn’t feel comfortable pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t.

“I wrote her a letter,” Nina said.

“You wrote her a letter?” I repeated. “Is this The Notebook?”

“I told her I love her and I will always be there for her but I won’t pretend like everything is normal when it isn’t.”

I sighed. “Nina, it’s just going to push her away and that’s exactly what Tom wants. To isolate her.”

“I don’t give a fuck what Tom wants,” Nina seethed. Well, then.

I never thought I would have to play peacemaker between Ashley and Nina. I could see Nina’s point—I didn’t like pretending like everything was hunky-dory when it wasn’t, but I didn’t know what the alternative was other than shutting Ashley out, which I wouldn’t do.

But then it didn’t even matter because on Saturday morning, Ashley texted me that she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to make it. That smelled fishy to me, and I’m a regular Nancy Drew, so I called her back instead of texting.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing, my throat is just bothering me,” Ashley said. “I don’t want to get you sick.”

I paused. I wasn’t buying that. “Do you want me to just come over instead?”

“Josie,” Ashley laughed. “Stop.”

I heard a voice in the background—Tom’s voice.

“I’ll call you later,” Ashley said. “Have fun.” Then she hung up.

So in the end only Kate and I made the trek out to New Jersey. Kate had her sister’s car, and as we made our way through the Holland Tunnel, Kate asked me if I’d heard from Peter.

“Nope,” I said. “Not that I expected to.”

“Oh, I liked Peter,” Kate said.

“I like Peter too,” I said. “But our timing is never good. I’m just not in the right place to be in a serious relationship, and it would be serious with Peter. The thought of having to be a good girlfriend when work is as demanding as it is is just overwhelming to me.” Kate and I had both been in the office well past our bedtimes the last two nights. I felt guilty that I wasn’t in the office at the moment,  but I promised myself I would spend a few hours in my little cubicle on Sunday. Our bosses had promised us they were getting some interns to help out, but that promise had yet to be fulfilled.

“I would be willing to be overwhelmed for that,” Kate said, snapping her fingers like she was a sassy character in Bring It On.

“Ew,” I said.

“I know, sorry, that was gross,” Kate said.

Half an hour later we pulled into the parking lot of my school. It was packed, so I texted Andrea and asked where they were sitting.

‘Third row of bleachers,’ she wrote. ‘Prime view of McKaden’s tits.’

As Kate and I made our way through the crowd, I kept my eyes peeled for my ex boyfriend, Luke, who had also dated Ashley and had been a real asshole to her. But compared to Tom, Luke seemed like a dreamboat.

Kate and I found Andrea, Casey, and Alex, and I introduced Kate.

“Are we winning?” I asked.

Andrea snorted. “No. It’s already 23 to zero.”

“That’s embarrassing.”

Not like we were really paying attention to the game. Andrea was too busy pointing out all of our former classmates and listing their respective accomplishments, failures, new body parts, and drug problems. When it was finally half time, Andrea and Casey volunteered to save our seats so that Kate, Alex, and I could pillage the concession stand. I was waiting in line, trying to decide between Twizzlers and a soft baked pretzel, when someone said my name.

I turned around. Behind me was a tall guy—really tall, like 6’5—tan, tats on his forearms, and bright blue eyes. I shielded my eyes and gave him another look. I still had no idea who he was.

“Josie,” he said again.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t…do we know each other?”

He touched his chest. He was wearing a black t-shirt and black skinny jeans. He stuck out like a sore thumb from all the guys in their pastel button downs and sensible dark wash jeans. “It’s Ian,” he said. When he saw that still wasn’t ringing a bell, he said, “Ian Whitmore.”

That jogged the ole brain. “Ian?!” I said. “Oh my God, I didn’t even recognize you.” I didn’t know if we should hug or not, but Ian stepped forward and then we were going in for the real thing.

Ian Whitmore transferred to my high school school when he was a sophomore, and while he had always been a giant, he’d been more awkward and gangly beanpole than tall drink of water. He had acne, he wore glasses, and he was so soft spoken teachers always had to ask him to repeat himself in class, a request that made him turn the color of a beet without fail. Ian also happened to be a sick swimmer, and swimming was my ‘sport’ in high school. I say ‘sport’ lightly, because I was not a very good swimmer, and I only joined the team because they sucked and they would have me, and it got me out of P.E. Ian and I had struck up a friendship riding the bus to all of our away meets, and during the long waits in between our events (mine was 100 backstroke, his 100 butterfly). I’d always suspected that Ian had a little crush on me, but I had a boyfriend and Ian was the quintessential class nerd. A sweet guy, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

I could not even believe it was him standing before me now. He had filled out, and his skin had cleared up. He looked so different…so…hot. And when I hugged him, he smelled like a man—aftershave and a little sweaty from sitting underneath the hot sun because apparently the tri-state area has not gotten the memo that it is Fall.

“You look amazing,” I said.

Ian dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck. He squinted and looked up at me and he could have been a poster that teenage girls hang in their bedrooms. “Thanks. So do you.”

“Jos, what do you want?” Kate asked. The mom working the concession stand was waiting on us, and I quickly placed my order and stepped aside.

“So, what are you doing now?” I asked Ian. “Where do you live?”

“LA,” Ian said. So that explains the tan. “I’m in the music industry.” And the tattoos and skinny jeans.

“That’s so great,” I said.

“What about you?” he asked.

“New York,” I said, which suddenly didn’t seem so impressive because everyone we went to high school with lived in New York. “I’m in book publishing.”

Kate and Alex were signaling at me, like we had to get back to our seats. “Are you going to the cocktail thing at Kelly’s after this?” I asked Ian. Our school always does a ‘cocktail hour’ at this local bar after homecoming for alumni. I’ve never once seen someone drink a cocktail at Kelly’s, only beer and shots. It inevitably turns into a total shitshow, and it’s always so much fun.

“I’ll see you there.” He smiled and I noticed that he had dimples. Had he always had those?

“Who was that?” Alex asked as we made our way back to the stands.

“Ian Whitmore,” I said.

“The swimmer?” Alex asked. I nodded and Alex whistled. “Good job growing up, Ian.”

We lost the game—by a lot. But it didn’t seem to dampen the celebratory mood of the crowd. When we arrived at Kelly’s, everyone was dancing, singing, and drinking. I spotted Ian at the bar, talking to Mr. Davis, who had been our biology teacher, and made my way over to him.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey!” Ian put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I didn’t even come up to his armpit.

I said hello to Mr. Davis. “I’ve got to go find my wife,” Mr. Davis said. “Good seeing you kids.”

“I don’t think he even remembered me,” I said.

“How could anyone not remember you?” Ian said. He winked at me and I almost fell off the bar stool.

“So did you come back for homecoming?” I asked, trying to steer us into neutral territory so I could reclaim my cool.

“Yes,” Ian said. “Because you know me, Mr. Prom King.”

I laughed.

“No, I’m in New York for the week for work. I thought, why not stop by?” He took a sip of his beer. “I was hoping I would see you here.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “You were the only person from high school who ever really gave me the time of day.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “What about Charlie? And Joe?” Ian, Charlie, and Joe had been inseparable in high school.

“I meant the only person from the cool crowd who ever gave me the time of day,” Ian said. “Guys like Charlie and Joe wouldn’t come back for homecoming. They hated high school.” It’s funny, the way your high school identity can vary from person to person, depending on where that person stood in the chain of popularity. I never saw myself as popular. In fact, there was a group of older girls who were really the epicenter of the popular crowd who took every opportunity they had to cut me down. I always felt like Gretchen Weiners or something.

“I didn’t love-love high school either,” I said. “But I like stuff like this because I like seeing where everyone ended up. Like you—I never would have guessed you would be in LA, in the music industry. What do you do exactly?”

“Producing,” he said.

“Any one I know?” I asked.

Ian leaned in closer to me and I smelled his delicious man smell again. “Everyone you know.”

“Wait, seriously…any one who has a story to tell and would want to write a book?”

Ian laughed. “So what are we, networking now?”

“Isn’t that what these things are for?”

“I thought these things were for finally making a move on the girl you always had a crush on, because you were too afraid to her ask out when you had the chance.”

Whoa. Ian had moves on top of the muscles and the baby blues.

“I’m only in New York for a week,” Ian continued. “So tell me you don’t have a boyfriend so I can take you on a date.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said, quietly.

“Good.” Ian smiled. It was a cocky smile, any trace of the shy, awkward kid he had been totally gone.

We made plans to meet up that week and exchanged numbers. I left pretty soon after—it was getting dark and Kate doesn’t like driving in the dark!

“Okay grandma,” I laughed. But I agreed because it couldn’t be much fun being at a bar with a bunch of drunk people when you couldn’t really drink. I said goodbye to Andrea, Alex, and Casey, and we piled into Kate’s sister’s car. Another thing I love about high school events—they are either a reminder of how much you love the life you’ve built for yourself since high school, or they’re a wake up call to make a change because you realize you’re not very happy with where you are in life. I was fortunate enough to identify with the former sentiment, and that was a good feeling.