She was the cotton candy and carousels of county fairs. Her friends were the horses—energetic and grateful to be part of the inner circle. I daydreamed about horses going lame so there would be room for me. Understandable for a ten-year old boy. Sad for a thirty-eight-year-old lighting designer.
Thoughts of her spin into Hallmark Romances. I hear angels, see shafts of light breaking through night fog, while her name floats through the air like a song— Ezrabet. She listened to you as if the rest of the world had evaporated. All a boy could do was fall in love. That was the problem. Too many boys in fifth grade.
She’s probably gone wide in the hips from childbirth, traded in her attentive charms for the distractive qualities that come from years of juggling PTA meetings with afterschool activities, and the husband I don’t want to think about. I imagine her auburn hair woven with so much grey her face emits a pasty quality no amount of blush will disguise.
These are the images I conjure to squash her hold on me in order to date with a modicum of hope. Then today— a post card in the mail.
Post cards: the spam of snail mail. I normally toss them with the supermarket flyers. But I notice the Trojan Tower of my high school amidst a hodgepodge of yearbook photos and read the bold caption.
Class of 1998…20 Years
My eyes roll. God, save me. I’m ready to pitch the card into the waste basket when I spot red ink. It starts at the end of the “s” and travels down to the bottom right corner where it fans into an arrow pointing to the back of the card.
On the back, in the same red ink, is a short missive.
Hey Simon, Hope you’ll join us, Ezrabet.
Twenty years of nothing, then bam. I plop onto the stool in front of the drafting table in my studio apartment and reexamine the front and back of the card. No hallucination, no wishful thinking, no disappearing ink. A personal invitation to me, from Ezrabet.
Adult me says it’s a gimmick to get more people to attend, in order to cover the cost of renting the room at the Hyatt in Sizemore, while my smitten fifth grader revs up. There were 1132 kids in our graduating class. Ezrabet thrived on school spirit, but she wasn’t rah-rah enough to inscribe that many postcards. Still, she might’ve written to her friends.
Am I a friend?
Through fourth grade my answer would’ve been yes. Thanks to our surnames we sat next to each other. We rode the same school bus, and although she always sat with her girlfriends, she never missed saying hello to me. Fifth grade was more of the same, until I mailed her my heart on Valentine’s Day.
I read the Reunion details on the back. 373 alumni are all in. Don’t miss out. Ticket price includes cocktail hour, dinner and entertainment by Styx. Jeez, they were old when they played for our junior prom. The Reunion date, February 14th, a month away. Only two weeks left to RSVP. Who schedules a reunion on Valentine’s? Nerve endings fire, a rush of heat follows and my mouth goes dry. If Ezrabet wants me to attend on Cupid’s day, maybe she isn’t married with children.
I check my iPhone calendar. The show I’m designing loads into the theatre for technical rehearsals on February 1st. The reunion falls on the first weekend of previews. My stomach drops. Is that, disappointment? My fingers move across Ezrabet’s handwriting. Bold yet feminine. Calm yet enticing.
I shove the card into the pages of my notepad, pound over to the refrigerator, drink a Guinness in front of the open door, and contemplate leftover chili. A second Guinness fortifies me to hunt through storage boxes for the yearbooks I never wanted.
“One day you’ll want to look back,” my mom said.
“Wanna bet? I hate school. The teachers suck. Nobody likes me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Sometime in the future, when I’m dead and gone.” Mom loved to reference her death when making a point. “One of your friends from high school is going to contact you, and you’ll remember all the good times and none of the bad. Well, the bad will be there, but it won’t matter. You’ll be grateful for the yearbooks because they’ll spark your memory.” Ever the optimist.
I start with senior year. Fewer traumas. Actually the last three years of high school were fairly decent socially. Mom was thrilled. But none of the girls interested in me were Ezrabet. No matter what I did, she stayed clear. Why the fuck am I still pining?
I shove the yearbooks off the drafting table. My light plot is only half done. I lower the high-intensity lamp until it hovers over my right shoulder. Computer generated design has taken over the theatre, but nothing compares to hand drafting. The time needed to plot with my lighting template and mechanical pencil calms me— a reminder that the past is a waste of time.
By the time The Merchant of Venice loads into the theatre, my mind is set. No reunion. The only reason to go would be to see Ezrabet, and if she’s married, or engaged or hogtied to a significant other, I’ll be out a hundred dollars for no reason. Plus, I have a show to cue.
I love tech week. Two rehearsals a day that might as well be four because of all the starting and stopping. It’s a royal pain, or heaven if you want to avoid your personal life. I’m at the light board by eight in the morning. My assistant, Sienna, keeps me fortified with bagels and coffee, and talks me down whenever the director is being a dick about front light. If she wasn’t ten years younger, I’d let her take me into the light booth and let her have her way with me. At least, that’s probably what would happen if it wasn’t 2018. That #Metoo movement has done no favors for me in the personal relationship department of life. Makes my high school dating scene seem like an orgy.
The afternoon of the first preview, Sienna and I are sitting left of center in the first row of the Mezzanine with headsets on so I can talk to the lightboard operator and stage manager in the booth. We need to tweak cues based on my notes from last night. The cue on the stage is for Act V, Scene 1—one of the most beautiful love scenes written by the Bard for Jessica and Lorenzo. The cue, with twinkling stars and a full moon, lights the young lovers through a delicate lace of gobo leaves without a drop of front light. The moment so tender and luscious. I’ve told the booth to hold.
“How did she shatter your heart?”
I turn off my headset. She repeats the question.
It lands like a dare. My heart thuds. “Excuse me?”
Sienna removes her headset, but her eyes never leave the stage. “Ezrabet.” The musicality of the name richer with Sienna’s articulation.
I nix it away. “What are you talking about?”
She reaches into her backpack and pulls out the Reunion postcard.
My shoulders stiffen. “Where did you get that?”
“It fell out of your legal pad last week.” Sienna looks me in the eye. “She wrote you a personal note.”
I snatch the card. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“Did you clean your suit after the last opening night, or do we need to send it to the cleaners?”
“I’m not going. We’re in previews.”
“Of course you’re going. You’re still smitten, and I’m here to hold the director’s hand. I ordered the salmon for your entrée.”
My need to protest is overpowered by the Hallmark montages that implode across my mind. Then I turn to Sienna. “How do you know smitten?”
Valentine’s Day at the Hyatt is chaos squared. Wedding receptions, anniversary parties, romantic dinners for two, and the Reunion of 1998 make parking impossible. By the time I find a spot, six blocks away, cocktail hour is over. No loss. The salad is iceberg lettuce with a tomato and cucumber slice. I add the olives from my Bombay martini and splash on a bit of gin to liven it up. The salmon is dry. The potato under baked. I’m seated with guys who majored in Votech. Two mechanics, an X-ray technician, their wives, and a girl who remembers me from a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. I do not remember her rendition of Cecily.
I pretend to follow sports and watch The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us. Cecily isn’t fooled.
“Ezrabet’s at table seven.”
“I saw her in the ladies,” Cecily says. “She lit up when I told her you were here.” Cecily leans back for the waitress to slide a piece of pie in front of her. “Pecan. My favorite.” She turns over her cup. “I’d like coffee, too, please. Thanks.”
The chandeliers flicker on and off like the end of intermission. I wonder how Merchant is going. A drum roll silences the room.
Our class president takes a stab at stand-up and talks like our years at Sizemore ended last week. The regurgitation of inside jokes and phrases like “the best years of our lives” jab me like a bad shutter cut.
What am I doing here? I escaped to New York to forget Sizemore and the hell I’d endured from dickheads like our class president. As for Ezrabet…if I’d really wanted to reconnect, I could’ve tracked her down via the Internet like the rest of the social media junkies of my generation.
I offer my pie to Cecily. She squeals. I’ve made her night. She’s here alone and stuck at a table with Votechs whose wives might’ve been the prototype for Jim Croce’s Roller Derby Queen. Styx begins to play. I stand to ask Cecily if she’d like to dance.
“Simon Park. Are you running out on me?”
Her voice caresses my spine. I suck down the last few drops of my martini, then pop a couple of ice cubes from my water glass into my mouth. Turn. Ezrabet.
I swallow the ice.
She’s wrapped in rainbow colors and sparkles like the night sky until I realize it’s only the mirror ball spinning in the center of the dance floor. She’s taller than I remember, or maybe she’s wearing heels. “Ezrabet.”
She offers her hand. “Would you like to dance?”
I accept and lead her onto the dance floor. Styx sounds great, not too loud, vocal’s solid. But my heart dances to the rhythm of the colored lights. We hold each other close, and I pray the song will never end. Funny how you never really get what you wish for.
The band goes up beat and Ezrabet leads me off the floor. We walk hand in hand as if we’ve done so all our lives. We sweep by table seven. She scoops up a silver handbag. “Let’s go somewhere so we can hear ourselves talk.”
We settle in at the Hyatt’s bar, where Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr. are taking turns romancing the patrons.
I order another Martini. A glass of champagne for Ezrabet. We fill in the gaps and facts of our lives, smile, laugh, and avoided anything too personal. I’m about to ask her about her missive when she opens her purse.
“Look what I found in one of my old yearbooks.” She hands me an envelope.
My Valentine envelope. After I wrote my heart out I got scared. But mom said, “If you don’t risk, you regret.” I mailed the card.
“Go ahead. Read it.”
I pull the heart-shaped letter out and smooth it against the bar. The writing is small and as precise as the lettering on one of my light plots. I scan the lines.
“No. I’d like you to read it out loud.”
Our eyes meet. Hers as green as the olives in my glass.
I swivel right to face her, lift the letter like a script, then angle the page until it catches the light of the candle on the bar in front of us.
I can’t go another day without telling you how much you mean to me. I’ve loved you from the first day you sat next to me on the rug in Mrs. Shaw’s kindergarten class. You’re happiness and everything in life that is good. I don’t want to have any regrets, so I want you to know that I love you. You’ll always be my Valentine.
Damn impressive for a fifth-grade geek.
“It’s the most beautiful valentine, I’ve ever received.”
It’s the Hallmark response dreams are made of, but clunks like a stage weight. “That why you showed it to our entire class?” I shove an olive into my mouth.
“You’re wrong. I never showed the letter to anyone.”
“Which perfectly explains why me and my valentine were the school joke for the rest of the year.” I pop the second olive into my mouth.
Ezrabet presses her lips together and reaches for a breath of courage. “Okay, I told Brittany about it, but she swore she wouldn’t say anything.”
“Sure she did.”
She rolls her eyes. “I know. Big mistake. But hand to god, none of those jokes had anything to do with me.”
“Then why didn’t you ever talk to me after that?”
She nudges my elbow. “Aw, come on, Simon it’s been twenty years. I’m talking to you now.”
My cell pings with a text. Act V, Scene I.
In such a night, Did Sienna dream of Simon.
The candle on the bar snuffs out as if Sienna hit Go on the lightboard.
“Excuse me. The Bard awaits.”
I text back.
In such a night, did Simon swear he loved her well.