This is clearly a fictional story, and all names have been entirely fictionalized.
Howard wasn’t really the high-school reunion type. In his mind, the whole thing reeked of desperation. But a unique desperation: one full of people who thought that a fresh shave and some car wax would hide the fact that they had spent the last 10 years slowly going down hill before giving up their dreams and getting into real-estate.
He wasn’t really the high school type either for that matter. He didn’t have many fond memories of the Sampson City High class of 2042, as he had spent most of the experience trying to go unnoticed. It was a delicate balancing act for him really. He was always smart enough to breeze through most classes, but he couldn’t look too smart, lest some teacher with a dream of helping an underprivileged child might jump up and get him enrolled in “gifted” classes in order to satisfy their own ego. He was sure he could have excelled in these too, but couldn’t sit with the idea of being part of a group that advertised genius as part of their identity while most of their IQ’s still fell within one standard deviation of the mean.
As he had matured, he realized that this was just a subconscious defense mechanism for an unhealthy jealousy rooted in the fact that he didn’t know his own identity. He played football, but he wasn’t a jock. He smoked, but wasn’t a stoner. He played music, but wasn’t a band geek. And if you’re imagining that smooth Fonzi character that could bounce from group to group and be loved by all, well he wasn’t that either. Imagine the opposite of that. Somehow he managed to have common interests with people everywhere, but never really found a way to fit in. Socializing was almost a necessary evil to partake in the activities that he enjoyed. So why would he choose to revisit four years of what could only be described as an awkward and isolating experience?
His friend, Ted Davis, had talked him into it. By some happenstance they were paired together in their psychiatric residency and hit it off after not having much of a relationship with each other in school. Howard recalled the conversation that got him here as he sat against the bar alone. He was initially pretty obstinate about the whole thing, but Ted had made some good points. For one, there was an open bar, which Howard was currently taking advantage of. Secondly, he was essentially what everyone wanted to be for their high school reunion.
By most objective measures he had grown more attractive with age. He wasn’t bad looking back then either, but he had gotten into weightlifting after a break up five years ago, and his previously awkward stubble had grown into a full, thick beard. This, coupled with a vast improvement in his previously closed off personality and a budding career in an extremely lucrative profession, had made him quite a catch. As Ted had put it, “While everyone else is holding on to what they used to be, you’re being what you never were!”
As things were playing out though, it seemed like no one recognized him well enough to congratulate him on his successes in post secondary life. He couldn’t blame them either. He wasn’t outgoing to begin with, and even if someone did remember him, he looked like a whole different person. He imagined that people figured he was someone’s plus-one.
Meanwhile, Ted had broken off with a group of old friends to visit the ‘Way Back Machine’ — a relatively new party attraction that was somewhat akin to a photo booth from out of a science fiction movie. Howard had never been in one personally, but the general concept was that it tapped into your neural pathways and allowed you to vividly relive memories of times you shared with anyone else in the booth. From the looks of things, it seemed to be the highlight of the affair.
Having developed into a psychiatric nerd in his adulthood, Howard personally thought it a bit of a waste that something so groundbreaking would be primarily marketed as a party favor. With a few tweaks and advancements, he could see serious implications for the technology in trauma,relational therapy, dementia…the possibilities were endless. Regardless of the current uses, it would be an understatement to say that he was interested in the device. It was half the reason that Ted had gotten him to come. The only problem with this was that he couldn’t readily identify anyone that he had shared any positive memories with.
If anything, the familiar faces around him did nothing but bring back awkward interaction after awkward interaction, which had the effect of melting away the confidence and positive self-esteem that he had built up over the past several years. And what did this, more than anything, were the women that he had dropped the ball with.
In keeping with the rest of his personality at the time, he did not so much as go on a date or share a kiss with a girl during his years at Sampson City High. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity either. As mentioned before, he wasn’t a half bad looking guy, even in the awkward post pubescent phase. It’s just that something bursa escort about the ‘guy’s make the first move’ thing didn’t click until later in life.
He spent most of his teenage years thinking he might have some personality or anxiety disorder, but it turned out that, as in most other areas of his life, the pressure of high school just wasn’t good for his dating life. He had later come to learn that he was more suited to getting to know a woman over time. In keeping with his profession, he enjoyed a long meaningful conversation about the inter-workings of someone’s personality just as much, if not more, than a night in bed together. This didn’t serve him well in his adolescent years, as any hesitation generally left way for 10 other guys with piranha like pick up lines to scoop in, which left him with a pervasive feeling of inferiority. Fortunately, he found that his adult partners enjoyed the mindful attention that he brought to their conversations, and he didn’t lack for intimate relationships in recent years.
Still, he sometimes felt that he had missed out on the fast and careless flings of the American bildungsroman. He mentally kicked himself as he looked around the room at the women that had taken a clear interest in him only for him to clam up in response. Natalia Bennett….Laura Freeman….Jaime Rollinger….He tried not to be too shallow about the whole thing, but it did ease his mind a bit that most of them seemed to have gained a few pounds and lost a step or two. Just about the time that he found some solace in this thought, he looked across the way to see Macy Taylor.
He wouldn’t have quite described Macy as a high school crush, but this was mostly just because he had considered her out of his league. It wasn’t until she started unexpectedly dropping hints towards him that he developed a certain infatuation. Unfortunately, this eventually turned to a sense of shame after he lacked any ability to appropriately express interest in her even after the most obvious advances on her part.
At the time, she was known for her Zumba and cardio classes at the local gym. They were programmed for women, but other the other guys in school had been known to sign up before the gym administration started screening them out. Apparently she was a decent instructor, but her body alone would have been enough to fill the spots even if she was a bumbling idiot. During a locker-room like conversation between he and Ted that he was not personally the most proud of, Howard had remarked that she had an hourglass figure that was otherwise reserved for women in magazines. Ted had responded by informing him that she was now working as a fitness model. It showed.
She was wearing a tight blue dress that dipped low in the chest and showed off her curves beautifully. Howard watched her hips sway as she walked almost directly towards him, but with no acknowledgement of him in her face. He hated to admit it to himself, but he had almost forgotten that, apart from her incredible body, she had deep blue eyes and distinguished facial features that were even more striking now as she had grown into them.
He was expecting her to change course at some point or another, but she just kept walking towards him, blankly staring past him at the same time, until she eventually pulled up to an open space right next to him at the bar. He heard her order a vodka tonic and a white wine as he considered saying something to her. It was an odd experience for him. He’d been casually enjoying single life since his last breakup about a year ago, and despite his early-adolescent shyness, in this point in his life he would usually take this opportunity to strike up a conversation almost as a reflex. For some reason though, he found himself almost catapulted back into the social anxiety of his 16 year old self. Finally mustering up the courage, he lightly touched her on the shoulder.
“Macy? Macy Taylor right?”
Macy stared at him for a second, and just as he started to see a hint of embarrassment in her face, telling him that she did not remember him, she snapped into recognition. “Howard? Howard Perkins!”
She hugged him and pulled back, leaving her hands on his shoulders and smiling naturally at him as she studied his face for a second. “I would have never recognized you if you hadn’t said anything! You just look so….different.”
He could tell that she appreciated the way that early adulthood had affected his physical appearance, and loosened up a bit having received a much needed hint of validation.
“Well if I’m being honest, it took me a while to get the nerve up. Somehow you look even better than you did 10 years ago.”
She leaned forward, touching him on the shoulder as she looked away and let out a bright, flattered laugh. “Awww well thank you. But really I better look at least okay now, seeing as it’s my full time job.”
“Yea, Ted Davis told me you were a fitness model now? From the looks of things, I take it business is going pretty good.”
“Oh my god, stop with that.” She laughed again in the bursa escort same somewhat embarrassed fashion. “I mean it’s alright. We’ll see what happens when ten more years go by and I have to rely on my brains though. What about you!? How are you doing?”
He completely ignored the question. “Oh don’t sell yourself short. I remember you in class. You always picked up on things without making a big fuss about it. Honestly when Ted told me, one of the first things I said was that I knew you’d have the business savvy to make it work.”
She paused her nervous laughter and gave him a genuine look of appreciation. “Howard, that’s the sweetest thing anyone has said to me tonight.”
They both enjoyed catching up for a few minutes before she looked at the drink in her right hand and snapped out of it. “Oh my god. I completely forgot that my fiancee sent me over here for a drink. Let me go run this to him before he starts wondering where the hell I am.” As she took her first steps away from him, she turned back and pointed at him. “Don’t run away though! I’m coming right back.”
He hoped she was telling the truth. Although it was only a 5 minute back and forth, the conversation had already almost made the night for him. He had realized that she had an engagement ring on her finger after only 30 seconds of talking, so he wasn’t put off by this. He was happy enough with the fact that the conversation had left her smiling, and it had left him with the sad sense that she wasn’t appreciated for her smarts as much as she deserved.
As much as he recognized the peace that she seemed to get from being seen for more than her beauty, he couldn’t take his eyes off Macy as she walked away. In his defense, she wasn’t doing anything to have people look past her most obvious assets. As she moved further away and more people entered his periphery, he noticed that she caused a ripple effect of sideways glances from the men in the room as they turned to see how wonderfully the dress hugged her lower half.
She eventually landed in a circle of men that all seemed to be centering their conversation on a muscular, athletically built man in a tight polo. Before she even reached them, Howard figured that this must be her fiancée. Sure enough, he saw her hand him the glass of white wine.
As previously mentioned, Howard had been into weightlifting for a few years now and was built well in his own right, but his physique didn’t hold a candle to Macy’s partner. This man was clearly a professional. Far from the jealous type though, his immediate reaction was that he hoped he’d get the chance to talk to him at some point. He’d recently hit several months in which he had not achieved the constant progression that he enjoyed throughout the first two years of lifting. He’d hoped to get some person-to-person pointers before realizing that everyone in the circle was likely talking to him about the same thing that Howard had in mind.
He decided to turn his attention elsewhere, not trying to put too much hope in the idea that Macy would rush right back to him. He got a shot of tequila and another beer, and was content to go back to zoning out at the bar again before the bartender chimed in.
“Never let a girl like that walk away. She won’t get 10 feet before someone’s feeding her the same lines.” He was maybe a few years older than Howard, and the look on his face told him that the statement came from a place of experience.
“No it’s not like that my man. We’re just friends, if you could even say that.” Howard looked back in the direction of the circle of men briefly. “I mean, you might have heard me throw some compliments her way, but it was just teasing really. Seems like she’s happy with who she’s got.”
“Hmmmm….” The bartender responded, “Could have fooled me. That’s mighty respectful of you though.” He walked away to serve someone else, and Howard turned to find that Macy was, as a matter of fact, walking back his way. This time she had a little more light in her face and waved at him as he turned back around to see her.
“Didn’t think to get anything for me?” She joked, seeing the fresh beer and shot on the bar next to him.
“I didn’t expect you’d really be back so soon. Take your pick though,” Howard said, motioning towards his beer and tequila.
Macy looked at the Tequila shot and laughed excitedly. “Oh God Howard I didn’t know it was gonna be that kinda night! Hold on to that.” She motioned towards the bartender, who attended to her almost instantly. “I’ll have another shot of whatever he’s having!”
The bartender confirmed, then gave Howard a subtle shrug and look of approval as he started pouring her shot. Howard just smiled lightly back. Clearly he and the bartender had different intentions for Macy, but he had to admit that her spending a little time with him was the highlight of his night so far.
Macy, completely oblivious to this interaction, turned to Howard as the bartender slid her shot towards her. “What do you mean you didn’t think I’d be back so soon. You’re, like, bursa eskort the last person I thought I’d see here.
She tapped her shot to his and they both threw it back before Howard responded. “Well honestly Ted sold me on it with the fact that they had a Way-Back Machine, but then he disappeared and I’ve been waiting to find someone to use it with.”
“Oh my god you’ve never used one? That thing is amazing.”
“Really? I’m a bit of a nerd for anything that has to do with the brain, so I was interested in them before they even officially came out. Problem is I couldn’t find anyone here that I wanted to share memories with.” They both laughed lightly at the all too true joke.
Macy excitedly and playfully grabbed his hands. “Well come on, we have to go do it now! I’m sure it’ll come up with something fun between us.”
For some reason Howard felt the slightest bit of nerves as she went to lead him towards it. “Well wait, you don’t think your fiancée will mind?”
“Who him?” She gestured towards him and began mocking him in a deep manly voice as he spoke, still standing in the circle of men across the room. “Oh yea, weights, protein, creatine, raw eggs…..He could carry on like that for another hour before he even realizes I’m gone. Now come on.” Howard was hunched over in laughter as she led him away.
As they approached the still significant line waiting for the machine, Macy just kept strolling right past it. Howard went to correct her, “Wait, Macy, the line starts back there.”
“Oh shush. All of these people have already used it.” She looked back at him and could tell that he was a little put off at the idea morally speaking, so she turned to the line and found someone she knew. “Katie, John, listen…I’m cuttin’ all yall motherfuckers.”
Somehow she did this in a way that was almost endearing, and the couple just laughed at her bold statement. “See, it’s fine.” Howard couldn’t argue with that logic, and he enjoyed the contrast to his more reserved personality.
As they got to the front, there was a teenager manning a rope to the machine. She turned to him and the couple next in line and put her puppy-dog eyes on full display.
“Hi y’all…Oh hey…James! Good to see you honey. I’m sorry, but he has to go soon and he came just to try this out. Can you believe he’s never used one before!?”
James Johnson, who Howard recognized from the football team, was an absolute pushover along with the high school kid who was gawking too hard at Macy to care about fairness at a moment like this. Luckily James’s partner, who neither of them recognized, turned out to be a sweetheart. “Oh no, you’ve got to try it then! We’ve done it twice already.
“Oh thank you so much,” Macy responded. “We’re just gonna get a memory or two in real quick and we’ll be out your way.”
The kid lifted the rope and they went inside. It was a tight space that was made to look like a retro photo booth. They pulled a curtain closed and squeezed in on the bench next to each other. There were two sleek headbands hanging on hooks, which they both placed on their heads before Macy starting explaining things to Howard.
Howard had looked into the neuroscience of the whole thing, but had previously given no attention to the actual user interface. It had an option for a full holographic display, which had been the norm for most devices for the past 10 years or so, but they also took the time to really commit to the vintage look by wiring in analog push buttons for different types of memories. As she explained everything, Macy placed her hand on Howard’s leg in a way that felt almost too comfortable considering she was engaged.
“Okay, so this side is for your memories of me and my side does my memories for you. And like, this button can do a romantic memory, this one can do a fun one, this one does….” Howard went in and out of attentiveness as he realized how aroused he was by being squeezed in next to her. It was the first time in their interaction that he had even entertained the thought. Sure, he was observant of her beauty, but was thoroughly accepting of the fact that she was shacked up, and was content just to enjoy a conversation with someone that he had always found fun and intelligent. Suddenly though, the feeling of their hips pushed up against each other and her hand on his knee had him focusing on how smooth her own legs looked.
His left arm was awkwardly bunched up next to her, and as she leaned forward and started pushing buttons, and he moved it around her back and let it rest on her waist in a spot where her dress left some skin exposed. His hand took in how soft she felt, and to his delight, she didn’t even acknowledge the move, as if it was entirely natural to her.
He quieted his second mind and focused back on her. “See I’ll go first.” Having powered everything else on, she chose the button. “Most Meaningful.”
After a few seconds of nothing, Howard felt his world go dark and he was transported back to a school desk where Macy sat a few rows up and to the left wearing a colorful sun dress. It was as if he could feel his adolescent self build up inside of him. The angst and insecurity came right back, but at the same time he could separate it from his current primary emotion of curiosity, as if he were an outside observer of his whole self.