Short Story Sunday: Reunion

October 2, 2022

The invitation came in the mail on lovely buttery stationary adorned with drawings of seashells and sand pipers.

40th Reunion

Johnson’s Beach House

October 1, 2022

A weekend of catching up and down and dirty fun.

Just bring yourself.

I was tempted not to go. I hadn’t heard from any of those people in 40 years, since we’d graduated from college and gone off into the great wide cruel world. Sure, I’d looked a few of them up when the Internet happened. I’d thought of one of them more than once. The idea of seeing anyone from that group from my college days made me feel a bit sick. 

It wasn’t as if anything bad had happened. I’m just not the kind of person to go back down memory lane with anyone, except maybe my kids. 

But I went. 

Jack Johnson greeted me at the door with a big smile, and a bigger hug. “Arabella, you look great,” he said. “Wow.”

Sure, I had gray hair, but what did he expect? An old woman wearing flowered top and comfortable pull pants in a complimentary color and ugly sensible shoes, with a short easy haircut and an inspirational quote in script like Live, Love, Laugh tattooed on my forearm?

I wore a long black cardigan over a white button down tailored shirt, dark jeans, and black low heeled boots, and silver jewelry a friend had made for me. I was keeping it classic.

Jack had less hair, and a bit more at his waist, but he still had those dazzling blue eyes, and that adorable dimple all the girls went nuts over. 

Waiting behind him was Laura, who still looked lovely, but rather overbaked. Her once black hair was now white and tipped with pink. She was in jeans and a pink sweatshirt. She’d once broken Jack’s heart but now they’d been married for 31 years and had two grown sons. 

Most of the old gang, if you could call them that, was out on the deck that overlooked a marsh, dunes, and a view of the Pacific Ocean. Everyone was happy, and friendly, and surprised I was there. There were a lot of question. They all knew of my success. They all sent their regrets about my husband Wayne who’d passed away during the first wave of Covid-19.

The thing was…Wayne didn’t pass away from Covid-19.

I’d always been an outsider in this group. I’d come in late. I left without a word. I’d never given a thought to what anyone else thought. I had demons to deal with. Literal demons. 

My parents had made a pact with the Devil for some undisclosed reason. I suspected it was success and unlimited creativity and fun. They were all about fun.

As a consequence, when my brother and I went off to college we were frequently visited by weird friends who would just drop in without calling. Only these guys were not college students. They were demons from Hell checking in on us. They wanted to make sure we were on the straight and narrow. They didn’t want us to have successful relationships, or long term friendships, or fun. It was all work with us. My brother Theo and I didn’t go to the same school, but we had similar experiences. 

The demons would leave our homes with me feeling perplexed and violated, and my roommates feeling amused at the weird guys I couldn’t get rid of fast enough.

College was difficult for both Theo and me. It was a lonely time. Theo’s girlfriend, a wonderful girl named Barb laughed in his face when he told her that he loved her. She wasn’t a demon, but I know she was influenced by them. I dated a lot but only made one connection with someone who was like a ship that passed in the night. I don’t know how else to describe it.  

There was another guy I thought I could fall in love with, but the asshole tried to get me to join a cult. I’ve always been a skeptic so there was no chance of that. I feel creepy and used even thinking about it now. 

But in all fairness to everyone we knew, Theo and I were always feeling out of sorts, and not like everyone else due to our parents, and the demons who were always around. These demons appeared to be classy, sophisticated folks who impressed everyone with their stories of adventure and fortune. Unfortunately, Theo and I were not taken in by the charms of the demons or our parents, so we paid the consequences with teen years full of distrust, bullies, and depression. 

My brother and I had both seen college as an escape. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.

So here I was at the Jack Johnson’s beach house, out on the porch, happily catching up with everyone. It was fun. I was laughing at everyone’s stories, sharing photos of my kids, ohhhhing and ahhhing over grandkid photos, and telling dog and cat stories. Nobody really said much about their work or careers. Go figure. We’d all been successful at our chosen professions but now we’d rather talk about travel, and our kids, and what was ahead of us in life. 

I scanned the group of sixteen and recognized everyone. No demons. Looking out towards the ocean I saw two men coming up the trail to the beach, back towards the house. I immediately recognized them as Raul and Ellis.

Raul was still the tallest guy in the room. Ellis was, well, Ellis.

I almost ran down the trail to meet them. The plan was to be calm and collected, but I couldn’t help myself. If I’d ever had close friends it was these two guys. They both, of course, looked older, but they looked good. We hugged, and laughed, and started talking as if we’d only been apart a few months.

Then as we walked together back to the house I could feel a cold touch on my back. I turned around to see a woman standing back on the trail. She had a smile on her pretty face. Then a barbed tail whipped around, then out of sight again. She waved at me. I turned my back on her. Would the demons never stop following me. 

After dinner Ellis and I walked out to the beach. I put my hands in his hair, which was still thick and dark with only a few well placed streaks of gray. He kissed me, just like the last time 40 years ago. I told him I wasn’t as beautiful as I once was. I had stretch marks, and scars. He said that was a sign of honor from being a mom. The scars were from survival and most of us had them. Old feelings came back. Old fears came, and immediately left.

Ellis told me how he’d thought about me and missed me. He’d seen I was married and never contacted me. He’d been divorced for years and just playing the field.

A few hours later, back in his room in the next beach house over, I lay in his arms. He stroked my back and then said, “I’m sorry about your husband.”

“I’m happy for the time we had,” I said. It was true and my standard answer.

“Covid. It must have been horrible,” Ellis said.

Then as the weirdo I was, I went out on a limb to tell him the truth. “Jeff didn’t die of Covid-19.”

“What happened then?”

“You won’t believe me. In fact you’ll think I’m crazy. He became…never mind…” I couldn’t say anything else.

“Did he kill himself?”

“In a way,” I said.

“What happened? Arabella tell me.”

How could I tell a man I once loved that my life had been plagued by demons and that my wildly successful and loving husband had become a werewolf and left me to join a pack who lived in lake front mansions up on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. 

“My life is weird. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me. I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve just about heard it all.”

“My parents sold their souls to the Devil, and so I am plagued by demons. They made a deal with my husband and in exchange for youth and luxury and whatever he lusted after, he became a werewolf.”

At that point I thought he’d kick me out of his bed thinking I was crazy. 

“Our last year of college, I went home for Passover at my grandmother’s house. I told her about the weird people who’d stop by to visit and pester you. She asked me a lot of questions, then she told me your visitors were probably demons.”

“You knew?”

“Sort of. It scared me. On the other hand, I couldn’t stay away from you.”

“You couldn’t keep your hands off of me,” I said.

“Obviously. I still can’t. But a werewolf?”

“That is what Jeff told me. Saying he was dead would be easier than a divorce and he wouldn’t have to explain anything to the kids. You know, when demons take over one loses all interest in their children, unless the children also embrace that lifestyle. My children did not. Fuck him. He hurt me. He hurt our kids. And I’m glad he’ll rot in hell, or at least I hope he will.”

This morning Ellis and I took our coffee out to the beach. I saw other members of our group walking along the beach. A few had brought their dogs who jumped in the waves and dug in the sand. As I scanned the beach I saw birds, our friends, the dogs, and nobody else. No demons. No forked tails. Nobody interfering with my life. I hope it lasts. I don’t pray, but this morning I did silently pray, to anyone who would listen, that it would last.

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