John Phillips had never missed a class reunion. He graduated in 1980, and every five years he’d be there wearing his letter sweater. Even after he and his wife and two kids moved to St. Louis, John would make the trek to Linesville, Pennsylvania, a farm town on the Pennsylvania – Ohio border. He had to fly into Pittsburgh then rent a car and drive to Linesville where there was a choice of the Motel Six or the Pymatuning Lake Motel, which were virtually indistinguishable from each other except that the Motel Six sheets smelled like fake lemons and the Pymatuning Lake Motel sheets smelled like fake oranges.
Like everywhere else, attendance dropped off after the fifth and tenth year, then picked up on the twentieth, and dropped off more and more as the decades passed. But John never missed. When it looked like enthusiasm for the reunions was dropping off, he joined the planning committee to make sure the events had great food, great swag and great activities as well as the prerequisite large quantities of alcohol. Even at the fifteenth year, when the reunion was on June 1 and his second child was born on May 15 he arranged for his mother to stay at the house and help his wife, and he showed up in Linesville.
This year was the fortieth.
The only other person who attended so religiously was Eric Miller. Both John and Eric had been on the basketball team, and at the reunions they spent most of their time drinking and bullshitting with the other players and their families. They all talked about the championship game that they won and the two that they lost. They talked about the other players and speculated on whatever happened to them, and where were they now. Bob King suggested they hold a moment of silence for the two players on their team who had passed on, Henry Milsap, a point guard, and Ernie Thompson, their six-and-a-half-foot center, who had made the winning three pointer that gave them the championship. It started to drizzle about eight o’clock and drunk and a little weepy, they said their goodbyes.
John and Eric found themselves alone in the parking lot.
“You look good,” John said to Eric. “Except you gained weight.”
“Yea, well what happened to all your hair?” Eric replied. “You were all curly in high school.”
“Three kids, work, moving around,” John said, touching his head. “I’m glad I still have enough to need a comb in the morning.” He put his hand on Eric’s stomach. “But not too much weight. You carry it well.”
They looked at each other. Old friends, they’d been looking at each other’s faces since their teens.
“You up for a nightcap?” John asked.
“Absolutely,” Eric said. “If you can handle it.”
“Fuck you,” said John affectionately. “What do you feel like, orange or lemon?”
“I’m staying at the Motel Six,” Eric said.
They smiled anxiously at each other.
“Well then,” John said, lemon it is. I’ve had a yen for lemon since high school.”
“Room 403,” Eric said. “I’ll leave the light on for you.”
“Cute,” John said. “You always were cute.”
They got into their respective rental cars. On the way John called home.
“You’re probably a little tipsy,” his wife said. “I know how you guys drink. Be careful on those country roads.” John was following Eric closely, keeping his tail lights right in front of him.
“I’m being careful,” John said. He told her he loved her, which, in fact, he did. They hung up just before the two cars pulled into the motel parking lot and turned off their headlights.
By Catherine Tripp
On July 23, 2021
Wow – strangely suspenseful. And then?