Other Plans

leaves

Photo by johnturck.tumblr.com/

John H. Dywers

            Jack flicked the edge of the card, while he sat at the bar, waiting for somebody to walk over. He flipped the faux business card over.

Pine View High School Invites You to Celebrate the Class of 1997

To be held at the Pearl Garden Catering Hall

Saturday, July 21st, 2017

Casual Dress | Adults Only

            He dug the corner of the card in between his teeth and flushed out a piece of soggy dough from his gumline. A check of his watch revealed that it was already 5:45. The bartender refilled his scotch, and only after losing himself for a moment did Jack feel the slap on his shoulder.

“There you are, Jackie.” Chris pulled out a stool, and knocked on the bar to get the server’s attention. “One of that. He looked back to Jack. “What are we drinking?”

“Mid-level scotch. How are things?”

“Good, man. Surprised you called.”

Jack shrugged. “I’ve been kind of fading out.”

Chris shifted in his seat. “You mean like, health wise?”

Jack waved him off and took a sip. ‘Nothing like that.” He knocked against the bar top. “Knock wood.” He noticed the worried look that hadn’t left his friend’s face. “I’m fine. I’ve just been holed up in the office. And then I was boiling ziti the other night, and I realized that I can’t remember the last time I went out and didn’t give myself a curfew.” He cleared his throat. “You heard from Sam?”

The bartender walked over and slid a glass over to Chris.

“Thank you. Um, yeah, actually. About a week ago.”

“He still got the kids?”

Chris stared at Jack for a moment. “Yeah. He’s still a parent. You know, most people try to go into that with the mindset that they’re always gonna be parents.”

Jack bit his bottom lip and shook his head. “Yeah, that was dumb. Sorry.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. This is my fourth or fifth of these. It’s just kind of hitting me all at once.”

Chris smiled a little. “You going retro tonight, Jackie?”

Jack sipped and finished his scotch. “Turning back the clock.” He flagged the bartender and pointed at his empty glass. “Do you want to go fishing sometime?”

Chris waited for a moment before he answered. “I don’t know. I never knew you liked to fish.”

“I hate it. I’m not talking about driving out to some creek or standing around in the cold with our rods out.” He laughed, which made Chris laugh. “I was thinking more like three months from now, in the summer. We get the gang back together, and I charter a boat. Fully stocked fridge, a day out on the water, just having everybody catch up.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

The bartender returned with a drink, and Jack immediately began sipping, without breaking eye contact. “All right, forget about it.”

“I mean I’ll have to check my schedule.”

“I got it. Don’t worry about it.”

Chris stopped and stared at Jack for a moment with his arms out. He thought about saying something, but shook his head and turned back to the bar. “Everything doesn’t’ have to be so dramatic. I’m not saying don’t book it. I just wanted to figure out what dates are open. I don’t know what I’ve got going on in three months. One of Carly’s friends might have a wedding or something, and I don’t want to say yes, then have you put money down on something I end up bailing on. Capiche?”

Jack nodded and smiled. “Sorry. You’re right.”

“Buddy, I’ve gotta tell you, I’m picking up a really funky energy coming off you right now.”

“I don’t see you guys much anymore.” He caught himself. “Hey, that’s the way it is. I can barely get out of the office anymore. Sam and Carlos have their kids. You’re probably moving out to the suburbs with Carly, and you’re gonna pump a few out. I figured it’d be nice to get one last weekend.”

“Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. Caught me off guard, is all.”

Chris leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. He finished his scotch and ordered another.

“You know, when I was in high school there were these kids that gave me shit.” Jack realized he was slurring, but had to finish his thought. “A lot of people gave me shit, but that’s not the point. Anyway, one day I’m crossing the street and I hear somebody call my name. Like an idiot I urn around and get nailed with a water balloon.” He started chuckling. “Only it wasn’t water.”

Chris stared at him without a smile. “Piss?”

“Yeah. It was piss. Most people guess beer, by the way.”

“Kids wouldn’t waste the beer.”

“Good point. I didn’t notice it at first, but I can smell it on my shirt. They must have been eating asparagus. And I remember standing there, wishing those fuckers would just die. Right there and then. 16 year old angst. I walk home, and about a half hour later my mom gets a call from work. She works in the hospital. Turns out that 15 minutes after the balloon incident, their car flipped off this country road and killed one of the kids.”

Chris tried to offer a reassuring smile. “Listen, you had no way of-”

Jack cut him off. “Not what this is about. After that the whole town came together to cry over him. They had a big memorial. One of those pricks from the car started crying.”

Chris shrugged. “Look, he died.”

“It’s a tragedy. I know. The town did what they were supposed to do. I mean, he didn’t go around tossing piss balloons at everybody. Just me. Most of the people called him a really great kid, and you know what? He probably was, to everybody else. But I couldn’t even grieve, because the guy had acted like a shit to me. I couldn’t even feel empathy. It was like he found one last way to make me feel like an outsider.”

“You got to let go of that small town shit.”

“A year later the driver killed himself. Caught everybody by surprise, and once again, the whole town came together. Tears. People talking about cancelling graduation. People saying what a bright future the kid had. Yadda, yadda, yadda. About 11 or 12 years later, a third kid from that car dies. Heart attack, I think. He was living out in Texas, and we hadn’t been in high school in forever, but he still gets this huge funeral. I think three quarters of my graduating class came back for the thing. About six months ago the fourth one goes. Cancer. Same story.”

“Wow.” Chris took a sip and wiped his mustache. “So I guess the lesson here is don’t mess with Jack Dywers.”

“Nah. If I had that kind of power, there’d be dead bodies all over the place. I’m not special. Just a witness to a moment that nobody else got to see. But I watched what happened when they went into the ground. Four big funerals. I think about that kid who died in the crash after high fiving his buddies for nailing me with a piss balloon, and realize that he’s still lived a more fulfilling life than I have.”

“Is that what you want? A big funeral?”

“I want to think that people will miss me when I’m gone.”

Chris sat there and patted his friend on the shoulder. He lifted a disposable cardboard coaster and laid it on top of his half full glass. “I’m gonna go outside for a smoke.”

Jack waited until Chris walked out the side door, and looked down at the invitation, now creased and worn out with beaten corners that rounded into dull nubs. He put the card back into his wallet and ordered another drink.

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