Ernesto B. Reyes

Posted on August 7, 2017

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The Good Old Days

It was early in the afternoon. Henry and George, two former high school friends, had run into each other last week and decided to catch up. They agreed to meet for coffee and soft bread at the small diner across the street from the university. When they saw each other again, they gave the other a bear hug, which had formed them into a tight knot. Some of the people who were already eating had stopped and turned their heads.

Midway in their conversation, George had gotten up to use the restroom. Henry nibbled at the crumbs left over from the bread, but began to wipe his hands clean when he saw George coming back.

‘You still with Clarissa?’

George laughed. ‘No, that was a long time ago.’

‘Shame. She had a nice ass.’

Henry was a stocky man with thick hands and stubby fingers; he proved a perfect contrast to George, who had a slick and slender way about him. Before George was able to make his reply, the waitress, a petite woman named Alice, had come to refill the two gentlemen’s cups of coffee: ‘Is there anything else I can get you two?’

‘No, that’s good, thanks,’Henry said. ‘No, but thank you,’George added. The waitress smiled and left. This brief interruption, though appreciated by George, didn’t detract Henry’s focus:

‘She was the hottest cheerleader, man. Her ass would always jiggle after she kicked her leg up. She had this jump—’

‘I remember,’George said, opening a sugar packet. He stirred his coffee and had taken no more than a sip, but he lifted the cup so high that it covered his entire face for a moment. Henry, on the other hand, only blew and stared at the black liquid in his small cup.

‘Remember that time we went to Jerry’s and got blacked-out drunk?’

‘I remember going with you and Trevor,’George said.

‘Yeah, right, right. It was me and Trevor that got wasted.’

‘I was the designated driver.’

‘Yes. You were always the designated driver,’Henry said with a hint of bitterness.

‘Because I hardly drank.’George shrugged as he went back stirring his spoon.

‘That’s right. You were the only guy on the team that didn’t go out and have fun. You were that guy,’Henry blurted.

‘I remember. I was that guy.’

‘You always said you had to write or some shit like that.’

‘Yes. Some shit like that.’

Henry hunched forward, as if he was about to tell or ask for something personal: ‘What was the real reason for that, huh? Why’d you never come out and have some fun? The guys always thought of you as smug. Come on, you can tell me. High school was, what?’

‘Almost nine years ago,’George said, taking another sip.

‘Yeah, nine years ago. Fuck, nine years ago,’Henry told himself.

‘I was busy being a writer.’

Henry scuffed and rolled his eyes: ‘Yeah, yeah. Mr Big-Writer over here,’he murmured.

George’s face had gotten pink. ‘That feels like centuries ago,’he said, changing the subject. ‘High school, I mean.’

‘It feels like yesterday.’

‘For me it feels so long ago. Do you still talk to Trevor?’

‘I see him every weekend. We go to Jerry’s still every now and then.’

‘That’s good.’

Alice interrupted again by turning on the television. She got to the sport’s channel and a rerun of last week’s local football game was on. ‘My boyfriend made a touchdown,’she said. Henry lost focus of his earthly surroundings as he stared into the television screen. George assumed he had forgotten he was even having a conversation.

 
‘You had a good time in high school,’he said, waking Henry. ‘You were on Varsity all four years.’

 
‘That’s right, George.’

 
‘You knew everyone and everyone knew you.’

 
Henry smiled hearing this. ‘I won the Homecoming King junior year. Don’t forget that.’

 
‘That’s right. No non-senior won Homecoming King, but you somehow did. That was impressive. Who won Queen, do you remember? Again, this is all ages ago.’George already knew, but he still asked to move the conversation forward and to make Harry feel good.

 
‘Ashley Cerna,’Henry said matter-of-factly. ‘Boy, she was hot. Great boobs. Perfect ass.’

 
George shaked his head: ‘Did you ever date her?’

 

‘Did we date? No. She was nothing more than a booty-call. She said I was her first. I broke her in,’Henry said proudly.

‘She was known as many things: promiscuous was one of them.’

Henry now took a drink of his coffee: ‘Yeah. You heard anything about her? Haven’t talked to her in a few years.’

‘Last I heard she graduated from law school.’

Henry turned the other way, as if he had been exposed to something unpleasant; he acted as if he didn’t hear this, but his facial expressions were able to tell of his amazement over hearing this information.

‘I always thought Victoria was prettier,’George said, trying to make some connection. ‘Yes! She had a nice, round, fat ass,’Henry said with notable enthusiasm. He’s overly obsessed, George thought, with buttocks: ‘Are you still with her?’

 
‘We’re on and off. I mean, we have a kid together.’He said this with the casual air of someone with hardly any responsibility, strangely enough.

‘Oh, that’s wonderful.’

‘Eh, the kid’s a punk. A loud mouth. Always talking shit.’

George wanted to laugh at this, but prevented himself. Instead, rather genuinely, he smiled, and asked, ‘You ever think about marriage?’

‘When I’m drunk, sure. Why not?’

‘That’s wise.’

‘Are you married, George?’

‘Engaged. She’s an adjunct. Teaches North American and French literature.’

Henry, with a hollow gaze in his eyes, only nodded. Alice came again, but this time had another waitress with her, putting on her apron: ‘I’m going on my lunch break now, but if you two need anything, Lorrie here will gladly help you.’She turned to Lorrie, who endeavored to smile, forcing her lips back from her teeth. The two gentlemen shook their heads and smiled at the two young ladies. Henry kept looking as they left, scrutinizing their round behinds and admiring the outline of their figures. He felt them walking away and rocking their hips was a subtle show just for him. George, already knowing what he was going to say, hurriedly asked Henry what he felt to be a safe topic and something he considered customary in the circumstance of catching up with old friends:
‘Where do you work now, Henry?’

‘I’m still at the car-wash,’he said. ‘I got promoted to manager a few months ago.’

‘That’s great news,’George said, his finger wrapped around the handle of his coffee cup. He checked his watch. ‘You’re moving up.’

‘I suppose.’

There was a stretch of silence. But it came and gone too quickly, George thought, before Henry spoke again, redirecting the tide of the conversation:

‘Sophomore year: remember that game we went to in Albuquerque, we tied in the final quarter, 27-27, and I made the scoring touchdown in the last minute?’Henry said, trying not to gloat but visibly showing his interest in discussing this once incredible feat. ‘Remember I caught it with one hand?’

‘Yeah, I remember,’George said. ‘The crowd went wild.’

‘When we re-watched the tape, Coach kept rewinding that one part. The guys kept on cheering. As soon as you saw me stick out my hand, the guys shouted. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I know we won because of that, but we had to move on.’

‘Sometimes it’s good to savor in the moment,’George said. The irony, he thought, was too great. He let out a rumbustious laugh, which surprised both him and Henry. He was somehow able to turn this obnoxious gesture into a gracious nod.

‘It was a highlight of our four years,’he said. ‘The good old days.’

Hearing this, Henry’s arrogant smile returned. He cocked his chin as he usually did when receiving praise, which was unreasonably frequent in high school.

Because he’d cock his chin and look down on others, and also because the school’s colors were red, black, and white, and the athletic uniforms at the time being predominantly red, he was nicknamed The Crimson Chin. Henry had remembered this and let out a rumbustious laugh of his own in his characteristic raucous manner. Suddenly he realized he hadn’t cocked or even lifted his head in sometime, and his age became apparent to him.

George looked at his watch once more and took one last sip of his coffee. He said he had a class to teach, Advanced Fiction Writing, in twenty minutes. He then took out a ten dollar-bill and placed it neatly on the table, next to his cup. This provoked Henry, who rushed to get out his wallet as if he had been ordered by law or by gunpoint, but George stopped him:

‘You can get it next time.’

****

Ernesto B. Reyes is currently an undergrad at California State University, Fresno. He has been published in The San Joaquin Review and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets. When not writing, he enjoys reading the ‘descendants’ of Chekhov, such as Ray Carver, John Cheever, Alice Munro, William Trevor—and, of course, Chekhov himself.

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