With renewed determination, I wove through the crush looking for Brad. The whole point of bringing him was so I wouldn’t have to stand around alone. I’d brought him to be my arm candy. Men did it all the time, so I refused to feel bad about wanting the same. I craned my neck, looking for him. There he was, taking a group pic with some guys using the telescoping selfie-stick he kept in his jacket pocket like a ballpoint pen. The pocket-protector of the modern era—that fashion statement telegraphed social media aficionado. The guys held up their signature cocktails, identical smiles of white and even teeth, the flash strobing from flattering shadows to glaring bright reveal.
“Amy.” Jon Ahearn appeared in front of me, a serious smile on his stubbly face. And not stubbly in a hip statement way, but in an “I forgot to shave” way. Or maybe an “I didn’t bother to buy new razor blades” way. He, for one, had barely changed since our teens. I’d know him anywhere, though we only ever saw each other anymore at this party.
“Jon. Merry Christmas.” I gave him a light hug with lots of air in it, trying to look past him unobtrusively. They were trying another pose.
“How’ve you been?” Jon asked. “I mean,” he added, “you look fantastic. But then, you always do.”
“Thanks.” I gave up keeping an eye on Brad and focused a smile on Jon. I would not be like our ruder classmates, forever scanning for someone more important to talk to. Jon had been a scholarship student, too, only he’d been defiantly uncaring about it, wearing whatever and refusing to play any of the polite games. He was at Wildwood, he’d once told me, to get into MIT, and that was all he cared about. He’d done it, too, then went for graduate school at University of Chicago. “How’s grad school?” I asked politely. Then jumped as my phone chimed with notifications. I sipped more from my drink.
“A gauntlet from hell,” Jon confided, adding a rueful grimace. “Which is exactly how they intend it to be. Semester ended today, so I at least have teaching over with, except for the grading. I’m hoping to get some substantial work done on my dissertation over the break.”
“Hmm,” I said. He’d told me at a previous reunion party what he was working on. Last year or the one before. He worked on an intersection of math, physics, and engineering, something esoteric enough that I’d retained little of it. Perpetual motion and entropy… Nope. Wasn’t in my head, so I shouldn’t try or I’d butcher it. “That will be good.”
“How’s your job—ready for world domination yet?”
I smiled. “World domination through silk and cashmere, anyway, but yeah—working at Exposition Way is amazing and Adelina is even looking at my designs.”
“She’s smart then, because you’re really talented.”
“Thanks.” We gazed at each other and I was thinking up something else to ask when my phone chimed again. At least I didn’t jump that time.
“Do you need to get that?” Jon pointed his chin at my clutch, hanging from its silver chain against my hip. “Your phone.”
“No.” I should have silenced the damn thing. Flicking open the purse catch, I reached in and flipped the side switch to mute. “It’s just tags—Instagram, Facebook. You know.”
“Tags. Yeah. No.” He shook his head and I had to laugh.
“You’re still not doing social media? I can’t believe you’ve escaped its clutches entirely.”
“The secret is never looking at the stuff.” Then he tilted his head slightly and added a significant lift to his dark brows. “I never heard from you.”
Quite the transition, there. I searched my mind. Had I promised to call him or something? People ask me for job leads sometimes—fashion is all about who you know—but that wouldn’t be Jon. Besides, we didn’t have any contact outside of these semi-awkward annual reunions. Jon was part of a past I didn’t like to think about, and I’d thought he, if not delighted about that, at least had not objected.
He watched me flailing, not giving any more hints, a kind of benign resignation settling over his expression. Jon wasn’t unhandsome, once you got past the scruffiness, with curly black hair that tended toward unruly—especially as he never bothered to get a good haircut—and dark brown eyes, intense with intelligence. I felt a bit like a lab rat that failed to escape the maze. No cheese for you, I thought to myself grimly, and awarded myself a healthy swallow of the cocktail.
“You don’t remember,” he said. Not accusing, but stating a fact. He shook his head a little, as annoyed with himself as I’d been about my phone. Then he met my gaze again and, to my surprise—and you know I don’t like surprises—I saw anger in them. Jon was pissed at me and I had no idea why.
“So, what is it?” he asked in a measured tone that didn’t fool me. “Do you have some special pit in your head where you toss everything that has to do with me?”
Need those buy links again?
(ho ho ho!)
And all of you have a wonderful holiday season, whatever and however you celebrate!