By Lori Cramer
Hallie scans the semi-familiar faces of former classmates while her old chemistry lab partner drones on about his meteoric rise in the car-sales industry. What had made her think that a high school reunion could be anything other than mind-numbingly boring?
The answer appears a moment later as Ben breezes into the banquet hall in a wrinkled sports coat much too baggy for his slim frame. His once-shoulder-length hair has been buzzed close to his scalp, and a fuzzy beard belies his pretty-boy face. Long-dormant emotions bubbling to the surface, Hallie interrupts the self-important salesman to excuse herself. She crosses the room, eager for a closer view of her ex-boyfriend.
Ben smirks. “Took you long enough.”
She allows herself a moment to breathe in his Aramis cologne, the scent she always associates with him, then she smacks him on the shoulder.
“Took you long enough. Where’ve you been? I haven’t heard from you in years.”
“Let’s get out of here and go to Rosie’s.”
The expensive meal she’s paid for has yet to be served, and she’s barely spoken with any of her classmates, but who would she rather spend the evening with—100 acquaintances or her first love? She reaches into her purse and pulls out her keys. “I’ll drive.”
The menu at Rosie’s Diner hasn’t changed much in fifteen years, so Hallie and Ben order their old standbys: chocolate-chip pancakes for her, western omelet for him.
Once the waitress brings their food, they take turns interrogating each other. When Ben inquires about Hallie’s love life, she summarizes a decade and a half of doomed entanglements in a few well-chosen words, purposely omitting the part about the man she’s promised to call when she returns from the reunion. Ben confirms her suspicions that he hasn’t married, but admits he’d given the idea some serious thought. Hallie rolls her eyes. Ben as somebody’s husband? No, he’d never settle down.
Later, in Hallie’s Volvo in the dark diner parking lot, the secrets come pouring out: Ben’s failed minor-league career and multiple stints in rehab, Hallie’s hospitalization for an eating disorder and the therapy sessions she still attends on Tuesdays.
Hallie would’ve bet that she’d be the first to say “I miss you,” but to her astonishment Ben admits it first. “Not that often, though, right?” she asks. “Once a year? Twice?”
“Every single day.”
His answer dumbfounds her, but as soon as her brain starts working again she chastises herself for being so naïve. Thirty-three’s too old to still be falling for Ben’s lines. Way too old.
How ’bout you?” he asks. “You think about me much?”
“More than I should.” Much more. But thoughts of Ben always lead to the same place. Nowhere. Determined to protect herself from wandering down that dead-end path yet again, she says, “It’s getting late. We should probably call it a night.” She jams her key in the ignition before she has a chance to lose her nerve. Ben removes the key.
“Remember when I told you I seriously considered getting married?”
How could she forget? The idea of Ben settling down! Preposterous.
“I wrote out everything I wanted to say, rehearsed the words over and over until I had them memorized. Then I did three or four shots for courage and dialed your number.”
“My number?” What was he talking about? Shame on him for playing around with her emotions. She shakes her head. “I never got that call.”
“I hung up before the lines connected. We hadn’t seen each other in years. For all I knew you were already married.” He pauses. “What do you think you would’ve said?”
Who but Ben would expect someone to respond to a hypothetical marriage proposal? He’d never change. She should know that better than anyone. Blinking back angry tears, she turns away from him.
A rustling sound makes her turn back.
He’s on one knee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lori Cramer lives in Pennsylvania. Her short prose has appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, FlashFlood the National Flash-Fiction Day Journal, Riggwelter, Unbroken Journal, and Whale Road Review, among others. Links to her work can be found at https://loricramerfiction.wordpress.com. Her twitter is @LCramer29.