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If You Ever Come Back
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“If you ever come back—”
“What do you mean ‘ever?’”
Craig set his gin and tonic on the picnic table and regarded me as though trying to determine my self-awareness. “Ever. Rhymes with never.”
I sat opposite him, across the table, across from the mayonnaise-smeared paper plates, a few corn cobs teeth marks apparent, pieces of bun. Shouts and splashes from Bobbie and Rick’s pool suddenly stopped, all at once, and Craig and I both turned. A new dive and cheers and laughter erupted immediately, the pause only for the sudden moment. I turned back to him. “I can’t imagine not returning. I can’t imagine leaving, actually. I seem to be watching myself.”
“Well, welcome to the club. We’ve all been watching you.”
Craig was a colleague – such an elegant word. He was a bachelor, loved by everyone, and we were never sure whether he was cautious or gay. He remained unattached and sought after. I’d always, in my years teaching down the hall from him, felt honored by any conversation with him. We loved his humor, his confidence. I guess we loved his aloofness, too, impenetrable. Now here he was making predictions about a self of me I was still trying to know.
“Who gives up everything and goes across the country to nothing?” he said, resuming his drink, watching the bathers and not me this time. “Well, I assume you haven’t ‘given it up’ entirely. You have taken a leave, is that right?”
“Well, yes, I told you that.” I stared at the detritus of the table. “I ought to clean this up for Bobbie.”
He gestured, go right ahead. He watched as I gathered the messy plates and carried them to the trash barrel near the patio. I waved to Brad, in the pool. He was having a good time; he was fitting into my friends so well. I was leaving with Brad in the morning.
Craig was still at the table, and I returned. “You’re not swimming?” he asked.
“Well, I might wade in. I’m not much of a swimmer. I hate getting my head wet, plunging in.”
He laughed. “And yet you plunge in other ways.”
When he didn’t answer, I justified the implication. “It seems radical, I guess, giving up my job. And suddenly I see—it’s giving up all of you.”
“The school will miss you.”
“Are you kidding?” I thought of the principal always criticizing my overspending budgets, my not being at every performance. I was the chair. “I feel I can’t keep up there anyway.”
“You do everything. You’ve been amazing.”
My eyes widened and the splashes orchestrated my wonder. Did Craig really feel this way? Did they all? “I can’t imagine,” I said. “I can’t imagine not being part of all of you. It’s just a year’s hiatus – Brad wants us to try it.” Brad – I’d known him for eight months and we were taking off, moving across the country, to another coast. “I’ll be back.”
Craig nodded. Then he got up, waved to me briefly, a sort of salute, and joined the others at the poolside.

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