It's awkward enough to make you cringe. You don't even realize that you are clenching your teeth or that your face is drawn into an expression of pain. It's quite humorous really how you are standing in a room full of people you supposedly used to know once upon a time and now expect to see those same fresh young faces you remember from those crisp white pages that bore corny quotes below.
Those days are left so far in the past that all you can feel is a slight bubble of nostalgia and a bit of regret. You were all ignorant youth then, and life had made some hard impressions since those careless days. You can see those very impressions as you pass people and smile in that awkward way you do at people you think you recognize.
You take careful steps over to the punch bowl, mentally grinning at the realization that the image of you standing awkwardly next to the buffet table is like every awful prom movie on the planet. That's such a silly notion, because you never even went to any proms when you were that age. And then you remind yourself that you aren't at prom; you're in the same place, but an event much more embarrassing.
Your High School Reunion.
You are startled and jump at the voice. With a thump of your heart, you spin on one heel and look up at the slightly aged face looming closer to yours, with a silly grin painted on, and blue eyes crinkled in amusement. You remember that face so well even though this one is older and has a few more wrinkles around the eyes and mouth.
"Hello," you say with a smile and a tremor you hope he can't hear.
"I don't know if you remember me..." he starts.
You smile slightly and glance down at your feet. Oh yeah, you remember him. He used to haunt your dreams when you were in High School, and he's shown up a few times since those days, although it was always the younger version of him that you were used to seeing in your mind. "I do. I remember you." You two used to be friends once upon a time, and you feel a rush that he even remembers you exist.
He breathes out and smiles, lifting a hand to the back of his neck where he rubs and nods at you. "It's been a long time."
You smile, and suddenly the nostalgia becomes a little painful in your chest. "That old hourglass isn't very forgiving, is it?"
His expression changes to a far away one, almost as if he was remembering a piece of his past, retrieving a memory stored safely somewhere in the depths of his thoughts. "No, I guess it isn't." He glances around at the groups of people all chatting animatedly with one another. "You look different."
You can't help but grin as his eyes snap wide open at the realization that his comment could be taken as an insult.
"That's not what I meant," he quickly amended with an uncomfortable chuckle as he shifts from one foot to another. "You look great."
You actually laugh at that, because it's so endearing watching him stutter at you. You offhandedly wondered what happened to the smooth talking kid that could make girls swoon. But none the less, you are internally grateful that it is him making a fool out of himself instead of you. Two awkward souls trying to make conversation can be quite a messy ordeal.
"Did I say something funny?"
You catch the underlying tone of trepidation in his deep voice. It almost sounds as if he has thought about you too. "No," you supply with a smile, picking up a plastic cup filled to the brim with bright red punch. "This all just seems very surreal."
"I know," he says reclaiming his previous shit eating grin. "It feels like another lifetime I was here."
You flash back and can see boys running up and down this very same gymnasium with basketballs, screaming like harpies and cracking vulgar jokes with one another. "Another life indeed," you agree.
He walks beside you as you move around the groups of people and toward the gymnasium doors.
"Are you leaving already?"
Now your curiousness pricks your consciousness. He sounds a little alarmed. "No," you assure him with the single syllable. "I need some fresh air. This place still smells like old gym socks when it gets hot."
"You mind if I join you?"
Spock would have been proud at how high your eyebrow managed to raise and arch at his soft question. The poor man must have seen the horrified and confused expression on your face, because his own crumbles a little bit. "Unless you want to be alone."
"Of course you can," you quickly tell him, anything to wipe that awful expression from his face. "You just caught me off guard," you sputter. "This is just really weird. It doesn't seem real to me."
"I know what you mean," he confides.
You grimace. He doesn't know what you mean. This place was a host of bad memories, you couldn't even think of one good one. All you can remember are vague pictures of people who you never really knew and who certainly didn't know you. People who would happily prance about like mindless puppets. Too many regrets floated in these halls, too many what if's and could have's. If only you knew then, what you know now. This place was a painful reminder of all those people you had to leave behind to pursue the person hiding behind the mask you wore.
The only reason you were even here was for some pathetic attempt at validation, and perhaps a little more secretly, you hoped he would find you and see how you'd changed and grown up.
"Maybe," you say with little enthusiasm. You didn't want to be rude after all and point out that you hadn't been friends for what seems now like eons. He didn't have the right to say such things, or take such liberties.
He tilts his head, and looks at you strangely. "It sounds like we have a lot to catch up on."
You breathe out while mentally thinking, 'honey that would take years'. "Too much."
He grins as you reach those glass doors that brought back so many memories. "The best part about his school," he comments, speaking to you softly as if he's telling you a secret, "was leaving it."
You are surprised, but keep an emotionless face as you both step out into the evening breeze. Your legs keep moving, and he keeps up until you find that familiar spot in front of the school on the bright green grass, plopping down with a small delighted noise. You let out a lofty sigh and smile contentedly as wisps of your hair are tugged up by the wind to float momentarily around your face.
This very spot brought back a flood of memories. You read and wrote, thought and spoke here while watching the bustle of people coming and going. This was the favorite spot of the outcasts known fondly as your friends. The no-name group of people because you were truly too absent from the experience to be given a stereotype.
So maybe they weren't all bad memories... just most of them. You could almost see your best friend rolling her eyes at you. That pang of sadness rolled through you as you wondered where she was at this very moment.
You shake those thoughts from your mind and remember that you aren't alone. Turning your head a bit, you see him staring intently at you and you crinkle your forehead and nose at him in some sort of emotion you cannot identify. Why was he being so odd? But neither of you say a word, just engage in a staring contest.
You lose. And he grins his victory.
"You want to get out of here?" he asks suddenly.
You know you are frowning at him, but you can't manage to do anything else. Surprise roils through you and a nervous knot has formed in your rib cage. "What?" you managed to spit out.
"You can't really be wanting to go back in there with those people." He's now looking at you with a very serious expression. "You want to go get something to drink? A cup of tea, maybe?"
Laughter bursts from your mouth at the ridiculous notion. "You drink tea?"
He looks slightly offended.
"I'm sorry," you say with a giggle. "I just can't picture you drinking tea."
He rolls his eyes at you. "I'll have you know that tea is one of my favorite beverages. And I don't appreciate the stereotype of former jocks being too dumb to appreciate little things like drinking tea. Besides, you're a writer, and don't writers like to drink tea?"
You giggle again and find it hard to try stopping. "Wasn't that a stereotype?" You clap his knee and nod around your giggling fit. "But I do love tea."
"Good, then it's settled," he's smiling again and climbs to his feet. He reaches his hand down to you and you take it, expelling the last of your laughter. And you note then that he doesn't seem to be bothered by the sound at all. "Besides, we have many things to talk about, lots of dusty memories and stuff to catch up on."
You have no idea how you got into this situation but can't find a reason to decline. "I suppose we do." You remind yourself that you are getting a cup of tea out of the deal, and maybe, just maybe you will find where it was you both got on different trains, heading in opposite directions.
"Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us." ~Oscar Wilde