Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Jessica sat in the corner booth at the back of O’Tooles with the best sight line to the door. She wanted to see him when he arrived, Taylor Jacobs, highschool sweetheart.
Well, he might have been. He’d always been polite, and they grew up on the same street, so that was to be expected, but she never fit in with his crowd. He played quarterback, she hated the cheerleaders. He bowled on Friday nights with the ‘in’ crowd, and she spent most Friday’s at the library, or jogging laps around the outskirts of a town she wished she could feel at home in. She went to watch him play hockey one night, and his team mates pointed and made jokes that she couldn’t hear. She toughed it out for a while just to spite them, but she left at second intermission and never went back. She always thought one day she’d be interesting enough, or ‘in’ enough for him to see her.
But that was highschool. That was years ago.
He walked through the door just like he’d done a hundred times before, blonde gelled hair combed over neatly to one side, faded and worn varsity letterman jacket open over a plain white t-shirt, stretched out in the belly more than she’d remembered, but still handsome, and he still walked like he owned the place.
“Hi, ” he smiled as he sat down, “sorry I’m late. You look great.”
He was exactly as she remembered him.
The waiter arrived and announced the specials, and as she opened her mouth to order he spoke first.
“Budweiser,” he said, “I don’t need a glass.”
It was ten o’clock in the morning.
“I’ll have a coffee, with milk. In a mug please.”
He didn’t catch the sarcasm.
As she worked her way through a second and then third cup of coffee, Taylor polished off five bottles of Budweiser while listening intently.
“…and after the academy graduation, I spent a year flying research crews between Starlight Station and Io. On one flight, we almost got blown into orbit when Prometheus, a really large volcano, erupted without any warning. I was hovering over top of the crater so the imaging team could get a better vantage point, and we almost got too close a look!” She laughed, remembering the exhilaration of the moment and the flood of relief when she was sure they were safely clear of the blast zone.
Taylor peeled absently at the label on his most recently emptied bottle, and smiled. “That sounds really exciting.”
“Yes,” Jessica sat back and regarded the fattening, mildly inebriated former football hero as he scraped bits of the beer bottle label from under his fingernails.
“Hey,” he perked up, “why don’t you come to our hockey game later? Me and the guys usually bowl afterwards, you could come have a drink and maybe keep me company for a few frames.”
“That sounds like fun, but I don’t think so.” She motioned for the waiter as she reached for her pay-card. “There’s a shuttle leaving at eighteen hundred, and I’d like to get back home.”
He slumped back into his seat, but the pretty boy pout that might have worked at one time merely served to cement her decision.
They said goodbye, and he gave her a hug that he held for a little too long after she let go. The smell of beer and sweat lingered as she walked towards the exit.
“Don’t be a stranger, Jess,” he called after her as she pushed open the door.
Jessica turned and smiled across the dimly lit bar, struck with the nostalgia of the moment played out in reverse. She’d heard a familiar and hopeful wanting in his voice, something she remembered from her youth.
But that was highschool.
That was years ago.