Ashlynn sat alone at a table for six in a busy pizza parlor. She anxiously watched the doors and glanced at anyone who passed by. A young, bubbly girl in a sorority sweatshirt came up to her and whispered, “If you’re getting stood up, you should move to a smaller table. This big, empty table makes it super obvious that you’re all alone!”
“I’m waiting for my friends, not a date!” Ashlynn could tell she sounded harsher than she meant to portray.
The girl looked slightly offended and went back to her table, which had a bunch of college students. Ashlynn heard her say, “God, I hope I’m not that cranky when I’m that age!” Her friends all laughed. Ashlynn rolled her eyes, but it made her think-was she really that far apart from the new generation?
She got so distracted by her train of thought that she did not notice Lavena had arrived. She sat down, looking lost. “I got here so quick! It feels a little weird to come where without the kids!”
Ashlynn laughed. Feliz tapped Lavena’s shoulder. Lavena let out an excited little shrie and they hugged. Ashlynn forgot that she met up with everyone this week, but they hadn’t seen each other in twelve years. Cera arrived next and looked a little intimidated to be ambushed by Lavena and Feliz. While they reacquainted, Ashlynn turned to the sorority girl and said indignantly, “See! I have friends!” The girl rolled her eyes and whispered to her friends, who all laughed. Ashlynn said to herself, “Young people are so rude!”
Lavena, Cera, and Feliz sat down, chatting excitedly. When Will arrived, he hopped in front of the table with his hands in the air showing the “rock on” sign. Lavena, Cera, and Feliz all joyfully got up and gave him a hug. Cera exclaimed, “This is awesome! I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in over a decade!”
Lavena responded, “Well, I didn’t go to the reunion…”
“I don’t think I got the ten year reunion thing in the mail,” Will commented. “Don’t they usually mail it to you?”
Feliz replied, “Our parents got it in the mail. We got an event invite on Facebook. I went and was rather bored. The only person that recognized me was Tadd. Well, Brie did too, but she thought I was Enrique Iglesias.”
Ashlynn piped in, “Speaking of Tadd, he should be here soon. I gotta warn ya, he’s beyond hot mess status. Don’t expect him to be super excited, but let’s stay excited. Maybe it’ll be infectious. At least, I hope it prevents any kind of screaming fits…”
“If he’s such a killjoy, why’s he gonna help plan a party?” Will inquired.
Cera answered, “I think it’s a great idea. After twelve years, we don’t know what he likes and doesn’t like. But how do you know he’s even gonna show up?”
Ashlynn smiled mischievously. “I forced his aunt to bring him here. She’s also paying for dinner for everyone. Now we’ll be even for five hours of babysitting!”
Feliz asked, “Aren’t her kids all adults?”
“Yup,” she answered.
Lavena put in, “Don’t ask.”
Feliz looked confused but he decided to change the subject. “Well, while we’re here to get to the new us and catch up on how things changed, I should start with an important discovery that I made about myself. Guys, this is difficult to tell you, but…”
Will interrupted, “You’re gay. We know.”
Feliz gave Ashlynn a look. “You told them?”
Ashlynn bemusedly informed him, “No. We all knew. We figured it out ages ago!” Cera, Will, and Lavena all nodded in agreement.
Feliz looked a little confused. “But I dated women in high school! I never revealed my secret feelings!”
“Look,” Will said to him, “You were in closet, but that closet was covered in sparkles and rainbows!”
Lavena added, “Yeah, you were in the closet…with a naked man!”
Everyone laughed heartily. Tadd arrived with a very somber look. his posture was somewhat slumped as he moped over to the table. Cera, Will, and Feliz had not seen him in the state yet, so they had a horrified look on their face. Lavena’s motherly instincts prompted her to wrap an arm around him and guide him to his chair. Ashlynn evaluated him. So far, he didn’t seem like he would rave like a lunatic. She wasn’t sure what to expect from him and kept an eye on his every move. Tadd forced himself to look at the group and say, “Hi.”
No one could respond for a second. Clearly, like Ashlynn, they were stunned to see their once happy-go-lucky friend in a state like this. Eventually, Will chimed, “Hey Tadd! How ya doin’, buddy?”
Tadd looked at an empty plate on the table as he responded listlessly, “I am only half here because my other half is gone. I gave her my heart, but she didn’t want it. So now I’m left with is a life a pain!”
Again, no one knew had to respond. Feliz decided to joke, “You sound like a bad country song!”
Everyone but Tadd laughed. At this point, the waiter came over with a large, New York style pizza. He put it on the table and left. Everyone but Tadd picked up a slice and put it on their plate. Automatically, Lavena picked up a fork and knife and attempted to use them on her pizza. Ashlynn, Will, Cera, and Feliz all stop her by saying, “Woah, woah, woah!”
Will probed, “You’ve lived in New York for how long?”
Lavena just realized what she almost did and tossed away her utensils. “Sorry, force of habit! I’m used to splitting a slice for the kids.”
Ashlynn asked, “You don’t get out without the kids much, do you?”
Lavena admitted, “I really don’t! No wonder I can’t find a man! How am I supposed to get married before thirty at this rate?”
Cera unexpectedly interjected, “I don’t care if I ever get married…I just wanna find a guy to screw!” Feliz, Lavena, Ashlynn, and Will looked at her in disbelief. Cera looked shocked at her bravery and burried her head in her hands.
Tadd, who still stared at his plate, bemoaned, “Brie found a guy to screw! Several actually. And a girl.”
Tadd started to bawl, making everyone immediately uncomfortable. Once again, no one knew how to react. Ashlynn knew that this behavior could be ignored and held her pizza up, “Here’s to our old friends!”
Will exclaimed, “Here, here!” Ashlynn, Will, Lavena, Cera, and Feliz clinked their pizzas together like a toast. Everyone then began to eat.
After a moment of eating, it felt awkward again. Feliz cut the tension with, “So, Tadd, where do you work nowadays?”
Tadd wiped away some tears and stopped crying momentarily. “I own a catering business.”
Everyone looked impressed. Lavena complimented, “That’s great!”
Tadd woefully said, “I wish I never learned to cook! It was what brought us together one fateful day. She tempted me to her evil love with a kind word about my cooking. How can I be so fucking stupid!”
Tadd stared blankly ahead. Everyone else just looked surprised that he didn’t start crying again, but they did stare at him in a stunned silence. Will reacted, “Jesus Christ, Tadd!”
Cera scolded him, “Don’t say the Lord’s name in…” She paused. “Wait, that’s not me anymore. If I’m committed to breaking the rules, I gotta start now. Time for freedom…dammit!”
Everyone but Tadd smiled at her awkward courage. Ashlynn conversed, “My idea of freedom is to start making enough money to support myself. My parents are kind for for helping me out like this, but I can tell living with them again is gonna drive me insane! Earlier today, they found my box of liquor and now they think I have a drinking problem!”
Lavena asked, “Do you?”
Ashlynn blushed. “I don’t think it’s a problem!”
Lavena, Feliz, Cera, and Will laughed heartily again. At that moment, a frat boy walked past their table, clearly lost and looking for his friends’ table. One of the sorority girl’s friends stood up and shouted, “Hey Tony!” He gave him a wolf whistle, and Tadd immediately went into tantrum mode.
Ashlynn’s heart dropped, but she took action right away. “Shit! Well, time to go!” She grabbed his flailing his arms and turned to her friends. “Remember how Brie used to constantly whistle? Every time he hears a whistle…well, you can probably guess.” He fought her grip, but Ashlynn gained control. As she pushed him towards the exit, she told her friends, “We need to take turns trying to cheer him up, ‘kay?” She pushed him out the door.
Cera, Feliz, and Lavena all gave each other a a look that said non-verbally how impossible they thought the task would be. They hear chewing, and they turn to see Will eating the pizza. They gave him a “how could you?” look, and he responded with his mouthful, “What? Am I supposed to waste a perfectly good pie?” They all agreed that he had a point and grabbed another slice.