When the phone rang I was wrapped in a towel from the shower, thinking it was my mother calling.

“I’m Janice, committee chair of the 1959 class reunion. We finally tracked you down. And now that I have you,” she said in a cryptic tone, “I know someone who would be really happy if you came to the 50th. I’m friends with T_ and know all about your breakup in ninth grade. He still thinks about you.”

“Really,” After all these years. Oh, what the hell. It could be interesting, maybe a chapter for the work-in-progress memoir.

At the cocktail party I was rattled: the approach of a new person while the one you hadn’t recognized was still talking to you, the quick visual cues—current face, first name (old name) new name, high school face, back up to their face, and finally, “Hi, great to see you.”

Only a few of the men looked anything like their scrawny teenage selves, especially the cluster of the football team whose brawn had spread horizontally through the years. The women, well what does it matter? We’d all aged, no matter the various attempts not to.

When someone mentioned the “dead wall” and pointed toward a room off to the side, I shivered. There were the faces of all of the dear and departed looking out at us. It was sad and creepy at the same time. I was ready to call it a day. And—no T_ appeared at the party.

The last event of the weekend started at five o’clock with several group photos and finally, the banquet. I still hadn’t seen T_ and thought maybe he hadn’t come. Or wasn’t that interested in seeing me again.

Then, not the skinny kid whose heart I’d evidently broken, but a grown man with graying hair, walked toward me. I knew by the look on his face, friendly but determined, that this had to be T_. By the time he reached me, it felt like friends had parted a sea to let us come together and hug. I saw his wedding ring and wondered if there was a wife trailing behind him. He smiled and pulled two squares out of his suit pocket and held them out to me.

“Bunny,” he said and then corrected himself. “Sorry. Janice warned me, but I lost it seeing you. Barbara, I’ve had these for a long time and think you should take custody of them.” He handed me two slightly faded photos that my mother must have taken of the two of us dressed for a high-school dance. T_ in an ill-fitting suit, from his older brother no doubt, barely filling out the shoulders. And me in a pink, strapless formal of net over satin my mother had found in the discount department of a downtown department store. We looked so incredibly young at the starting gate of our lives, not quite adults. Such a contrast to the most likely last quarter of our lives now, with most of our history behind us.

“I have to say that after all these years I still wonder why you broke up with me. I thought we were . . . such a good couple.” T_’s eyes held mine looking for an answer.

“My mother made me break up with you,” I said feeling tears forming that I hadn’t expected. I’d told myself it wasn’t a big deal and then here it was—a very big deal.

“What? Your mother?”

“Yep. My mother. She thought we were getting too serious and might run off to get married, maybe Arkansas where it was legal at our age.” I started to laugh at the picture in my mind. “I’ve often wondered given your Schwinn how I would have fit on the handlebars and how far we would have gotten.” The absurdity and the pain of that parting wrapped us up together in one of the most tender moments of my life.

Hollywood stars and my teenage boyfriend chose a Schwinn.

T_ started with a chuckle and then moved to a full-on belly laugh. “You’re kidding me.”

I couldn’t help but join him in the absurdity. He took my hand in his and I had a sensory memory that was so strong my legs felt rubbery. I looked into his eyes and found the boy I’d loved, with his persistence and gentleness.

We tried to say it all in a few minutes that felt wholly illicit, even hot like the old days, as his body was bending toward mine. For a second or two, with a pulse thumping in my neck, I was having a hard time focusing on what he was saying.

“I’m a NASCAR, throw down some beer, take the boat out on the lake, and kick back kind of guy. I gather from Janice that we were impossibly mismatched, you being a writer and all. But I do want to thank you for getting me through English, and god, probably history too. I’m not sure I’d have made it out of high school without you.”

The “without you” almost flattened me. A man who kept my picture all this time—and now here he was—a NASCAR guy.

“Well, that sure feels better to me after all this wondering. I couldn’t believe that the sweetest girl I’ve ever known could do something so mean.” He gently took my other hand and put the two photos in it. “I don’t know if we’ll get to talk more tonight so I just want to say it was really great seeing you again.”

I kept looking at him, wanting to hold him there, screw the wife, and felt myself melt like in the old days. I wanted him, married or not. Or did I just want my first love experience back?

“Well, great to see you and to hear it was your mom who busted us up.” T_ let go of my hand, but not before giving it one more squeeze, and a last look into my eyes.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly aware that we were being observed.

“See you next year,” he said, but I was not up for next year or any year thereafter. One reunion was enough for me.

In my hotel room I tossed and turned until after midnight imagining T_ tapping on my door, me pulling him into my room, our clothes scattered on the floor like in the movies. But he was still the nicest boy I knew and loved his wife. Maybe even cuddled up with her, grateful that they’d been married all those years.

Photo credits: Opening hearts – rinck content studio, Toasting – helena-yankovska, Valentine hearts candy – laura-ockel.