Driving home from work was always a pleasure for Kevin. It meant that he had survived another day and lived to tell about it. Thus was the life of a police officer. His main objectives every morning was to be safe and to survive his shift, all the while doing his job to the best of his ability. It hadn't been a busy day for him; two domestic violence calls, three traffic stops, one DUI, and one criminal trespass. All in all, it had been pretty easy for a Monday and he would be getting home on time for once.
He pulled into his driveway and parked in front of the garage knowing that he wanted to go grocery shopping that evening. Absently, he grabbed the mail from the box near the door as he let himself in. Kevin was now used to the quiet that greeted him every day. Except for his cat, Blaze, who was almost always disinterested in his master's arrival, there were no sounds except for the tick, tick, tick of the grandfather clock. He thought that he would never get used to her not being around and would always be listening for her greeting, but it had been four long years since he heard her voice and sometimes he just forgot what it was like. Sometimes, it still hurt.
Kevin put the mail on the table with his keys before he bent over and removed his gun and his ankle holster. He always dressed into his uniform at the district, but he was careful to have his gun with him going and coming. He had learned his lesson years before when an unarmed fellow officer was ambushed outside the district as he was coming in from the parking lot. Kevin never went anywhere without it, knowing full well that he was always on duty. He hung them inside his closet where other guns and holsters were kept.
He picked through the mail, mostly bills and advertisements, until he came across two identical envelopes. One was addressed to him and the other to Annie. It's been four years, he thought, and she still gets mail. He opened the envelope addressed to him. It was an invitation and at first, he thought it was for a wedding, but he knew of no one who was getting married. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was for a class reunion.
"Welcome Fairview Class of 1979", it began. "It's time, once again, to meet all of your classmates for our 25th class reunion." It went on about details for the event; a sit down dinner on a Saturday, and a family picnic the next day. Kevin thought it might be a good time, except for the fact of going alone. Kevin didn't date and he would sometimes ask his sister or a cousin to accompany him to police functions or awards banquets, but he wasn't going to ask them to a class reunion. Kevin had been to every reunion except for the 20th. Taking care of Annie had been more important to him.
He opened Annie's invitation and took out his pen. At the bottom of the RSVP, he carefully wrote, "Deceased 2000." He placed the response card in the envelope provided and put it on the table to go out in the next day's mail. After it was mailed, Kevin promptly forgot about it.
A couple of months later, while watching a baseball game in the evening, the phone rang. Kevin debated about answering it. He had a long, difficult day and had tons of paperwork to complete. He was tired, cranky, and had just settled down to watch the game. Kevin had played baseball in high school and college and he really enjoyed watching any baseball game. It usually didn't matter who was playing. Grudgingly, Kevin answered it on the fifth ring before the answering machine kicked in.
"Hello," he said, not too enthusiastically.
"May I speak to Kevin Simons, please?" a pleasant female voice said to him.
"Hi Kevin, my name is Rachel McMichael and I'm on the committee for our 25th class reunion. I was Rachel Jorgenson in school. I was just wondering, we received the response card for Annie." She paused for a second. "I'm really sorry to hear that she died, Kevin. She was in a few of my classes senior year. She was always really nice."
"Thank you," he replied as he began to miss her again.
"We didn't receive a response from you," she continued, "and we were hoping that you'd come."
"I guess I hadn't really thought about it," Kevin replied. "It must have slipped my mind." Kevin remembered Rachel as being a tall, thin girl who played volleyball and basketball, but he couldn't recall seeing her at any of the previous reunions.
"Well, we'd really like for you to come. We've only a handful who aren't able to make it and we'd like to get as many as possible to make this a very special reunion."
Kevin mentally checked his calendar and couldn't think of anything that would interfere with it. Even if he went alone, it was better than sitting at home doing nothing. "Okay," he said, "you've convinced me. Mark me down."
"Great," she said happily, "it'll be good to see you again. Should I mark down a guest, too?" There was a moment of silence on the other end.
"No," he replied painfully, "there'll be no guest."
"Okay," she said, sensing that she had made a mistake by asking. "Anyway, it's next Saturday at the Gorman Banquet Center at six o'clock, and Sunday at Riverside Park at noon."
"Got it," Kevin said. "Oh, by the way, should I send you the money or should I just bring it along?"
"You can pay at the banquet, Kevin. That'll be fine."
"Okay, fine. Is there anything else?"
"No," she replied, "I think that's it."
"Great. Well, thanks for calling. It should be a great time," Kevin said, trying to convince himself.
"It was good talking to you, Kevin. I'll see you Saturday."
"I'll see you there. Thanks again, Rachel. Bye."
Kevin put the receiver down and sank back in his chair. He sighed and was already starting to regret his decision to go. He had rarely gone out since Annie died, feeling that it was wrong to be happy and have a good time after all of the pain and suffering that she went through over those two years of hell. His sister, Jackie, had been after him to get out more and he always politely declined her suggestions to go out with some of her co-workers. He always said that it was too soon or that the time wasn't right.
"When will the time be right?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied truthfully.
"Annie would slap the crap out of you if she were here."
"You're so right," Kevin managed a soft laugh.
He thought back to her last days when she made him promise to be happy for her when she was gone. And he was happy for her only because she was no longer suffering. But when she made him promise to marry again, he could only say the words, not believe them. He would have said anything to ease her mind at that point in time. How could he think about marrying again? How could he be happy with another woman? Annie was simply irreplaceable and it wouldn't be fair for anyone to be compared to her.
Well, he thought to himself, I'm not getting married. I'm just going to a class reunion. Kevin picked up the phone again and dialed. He waited two rings before it was answered.
"Hello," Jackie said.
"Hey, sis, you got a minute?"
"I don't know Kev. Those dishes really want to be washed and my hair is a mess, but I guess I can squeeze you in for a few minutes."
"You're all heart, Jackie."
"That's why you keep calling me. It's what sisters are for. What's up?"
"I guess I just need to talk."
"I'm all ears."
"Well, I'm going to my 25th class reunion and..."
"No, I'm not going with you," she interrupted. "Police banquets, yes, class reunions, no."
"I'm not asking you to go," he said softly.
"I'm not asking Carol, either." Carol was their cousin. "I'm going by myself."
"It's just that I'm having second thoughts about going. I don't know."
"We've been through this before Kev."
"I know," he sighed.
"It's been four years. It's okay to have fun and be happy now."
"I know, but..."
"I don't know."
"Okay, just listen to me for a second. I mean really listen."
"Let's reverse the roles. If you had died instead of Annie, would you want her to still be miserable and hanging onto you years later, or would you want to kick her in her ass and tell her to move on with her life?"
"I wouldn't want her to be unhappy."
"I'm sure that she feels the same way about you right now, Kevin. She would want you to be happy, too, as you would for her."
"Kevin," Jackie sighed, "it's time to move on. It really is. I was best friends with her long before you even noticed her. She'd be ripping you up one side and down the other if she were here. I know that and you know that. No one ever said that you have to forget her. No one expects that or wants that. But, it's time to let go and live, Kev. Believe me, you are allowed to be happy and Annie would want you to be happy."
Kevin stayed silent for a while as it began to sink in. He didn't know what the difference was now as to other times when Jackie had tried to talk to him. Maybe it just made sense to him now or maybe he was tired of feeling sad and alone. He wasn't sure.
"Thanks Jackie, I really needed that," he said. "I feel better now."
"Glad I could help."
"Lord knows you've tried."
"Yeah, well, you can be stubborn, Kevin."
"What? Me?" he asked in mock surprise.
"Yes, Kevin, believe it or not."
"Wow, I never imagined."
"So, you're going to go?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'll go. I couldn't waste this wonderful conversation that I've had with you."
"Good. I'm glad you're going."
"Me too. Thanks."
Kevin walked into the banquet center with butterflies dancing in his stomach. He felt odd and out of place without having Annie or anyone at his side. He knew that when he saw some of his old friends, his fears would ease. There were two tables near the entrance of the ballroom with three people seated behind them, so he headed in that direction. He recognized the first woman seated at the table immediately. Even seated, he could tell that she was over six feet tall. It had to be Rachel, the woman who called him about the reunion. She had wavy, dark brown hair and very light blue eyes which matched the blue dress that she was wearing. Kevin glanced at the name tag and it was indeed her.
"Hi, Rachel," he said. Kevin always remembered her as being plain and unremarkable, but twenty five years had been very good to her. Her eyes looked up at Kevin as she searched her mind for recognition of the tall, rugged, nicely built classmate standing in front of her. Almost all of the males who had passed through had been paunchy, out of shape, and balding. Kevin looked as if he could pass for thirty. She quickly glanced down at the name tags in front of her that had their graduation photo attached. Rachel saw his immediately, but didn't pick it out.
"Kevin," she said looking back at him, flashing a beautiful smile, "I'm so glad you came." She extended her hand to him and he took it.
"How could I not come after you called me personally?" he said smiling back. Her long, slender hand fit nicely in his before he released it.
Rachel felt a bit guilty after remembering that he was a widower. Still smiling, she said, "There's some goodies at the next table and you can pick them up as you go in." Rachel pointed to her left. She picked up his name tag and handed it to him. "Here you go, so everyone will know you. But I must say, you don't look that much different from your photo. How do you men do it?"
"Just lucky, I guess. You could say the same thing about yourself." Rachel smiled at the compliment. He added, "Do you still play volleyball?"
"Oh, I gave that up years ago," she laughed. How did he remember that?
"Well, you must be doing something right." Kevin glanced behind him and saw several people approaching the tables. "I guess I better get going," he said as he started to affix the name tag to the pocket of his navy blue suit jacket.
"See you inside," she said as he moved away.
"Sure," he said looking back. "I'd like that."
He felt a twinge of guilt after he said it, but remembered what Jackie said. He pushed the guilt aside and collected his program and the other items from the second table. Just as he was about to enter the ballroom, he remembered that he hadn't paid for the event. He turned around and went back to Rachel, who was giving out a badge to the last person in line. Her eyes brightened as she saw Kevin in line once again.
"Well, what brings you back?" she asked.
"I forgot to pay for the festivities." Kevin took out his wallet and handed her the money. She took it from him and placed it in the till to her right. She then marked "Paid" next to his name on her checklist.
"There you go," she said, "you're all set. Have a good time."
"I'm sure I will," he replied. Once again, he left her table and passed through the entrance to the ballroom.
To his left was the cash bar and in front of him and to his right were round tables, each seating eight. At the very front was a stage and a dance floor. A DJ was playing songs from the seventies and eighties, but no one was dancing at that particular time. For the next hour, Kevin mingled and found old friends from his baseball team, former girl friends (before Annie came into the picture), and made new acquaintances with classmates that he didn't know or didn't associate with in high school. Kevin found that he was enjoying himself and he was glad that he came.
It became time for the dinner to begin and they were asked to take their seats. Kevin sat at a table with two other couples, both baseball buddies and their wives. Rachel and the other committee members came in as well. Rachel searched for a friendly face with whom to sit since she was divorced and didn't bring a date.
Kevin saw her immediately, her tall figure gliding around the room, eyes searching for someone. She appeared even taller than Kevin remembered, guessing her to be at least 6'3". Rachel was trim, but not skinny, and you couldn't say that she had a model's body either. Her weight fit her frame very well. However, it was the way that she carried herself, the utmost confidence that she exuded that set her apart from most women. She seemed very proud of her height and her legs looked as if they would never end until they stopped at her shapely hips that flared out from her trim waist. Her dress fit her beautifully and Kevin figured it must have cost her a pretty penny. The slit up the left leg was particularly enticing and Kevin knew that the other women would be quite envious of her. She was quite pretty and Kevin enjoyed watching her. As one of his buddies asked him a question, Kevin reluctantly turned his attention away from her.
Rachel scanned the room in search of Kevin. She was more than just a little interested in him, but she couldn't pinpoint why she found him so fascinating. She just knew that she wanted to get to know him better. Just when she was about to give up, she spotted him sitting near the dance floor with two other couples. His attention was focused on his companions when she touched him on the shoulder. Kevin jumped slightly and looked quickly to his left and up. Ice blue eyes were staring at him that were attached to the smiling face of Rachel.
"May I sit with you?" she asked softly, politely.
"Of course, Rachel," Kevin said quickly. He scooted back his chair, got up, and helped her to the seat to his right.
"It's starting to get crowded," she said as she adjusted her chair. "I'm glad I found an empty spot."
"Me too," he replied.
Kevin introduced her to his friends and their wives and their conversation soon turned to their school days; teachers, classes, funny stories and the like. Rachel and Kevin's eyes met briefly numerous times when speaking to each other and Rachel liked it. His dark brown eyes were expressive and lively. His facial features pleased her as well and she was finding herself drawn even more to him.
Meanwhile, the class president gave a short speech and then started to give out prizes for furthest destination, most children, etc.
Rachel leaned over and said, "Tell me how you've stayed so young and fit when everyone here looks so old and out of shape." She knew that she was being a bit forward, but she had always spoke her mind before and she saw no reason to stop now. Besides, she was really enjoying talking to him.
"Probably not anything different than what you're doing," he laughed. "I keep busy with my job and I work out two or three times a week at the gym. Other than that, nothing much. And you?"
"Me?" she asked, quite surprised at the compliment, yet loving it.
"Yes, you. You still look like you're in terrific shape. You must work out, too."
"Oh, nothing like you. I don't have the time nor the discipline, but I do try to watch my diet. I'm just lucky, I guess."
The class president had stopped speaking by then and the meal was served. Kevin and Rachel chatted about various subjects, including their jobs. Rachel had a doctorate in plant physiology and did research for a chemical company. She ran tests of their pesticides against various plants to see the short term and long term effects of it. Rachel was not surprised to learn that Kevin was a police officer. He looked like one, being tall and well built, but it was his quiet confidence that she noticed the most.
"So, do you like donuts?" she asked teasingly.
Kevin's eyes narrowed for just a split second and then returned. Rachel noticed the change and knew she had said the wrong thing.
"Of course, they're the breakfast of cops, aren't they?" he joked back, but underneath, he resented the stereotype. He was proud of his profession and he didn't like to be made fun of. He smiled anyway and let it go. It really wasn't worth getting upset about.
Rachel, for her part, understood immediately and debated within herself about an apology. She didn't like it when her profession was degraded and she couldn't understand why she said such a stupid thing. She just wasn't thinking. Kevin seemed to brush it off so she let it drop, too.
The meal was excellent and dessert came and went. The rest of the evening would be devoted to mingling and dancing. Kevin continued to chat with Rachel and his friends and felt no need to leave the table. Rachel felt the same way, but for different reasons. She had no friends, close or otherwise, from her high school years. She would have agreed with Kevin's remembrance of her, plain and unremarkable. She was an average basketball and volleyball player, not good enough for college, and she was never close to any of her teammates. No boy gave her a second look except maybe to gawk at her height, so there were no fond memories there.
Rachel remembered Kevin from their school days, but she couldn't place him in any of her classes, although she really did have some classes with Annie. Kevin gravitated toward math and business, whereas Rachel's only interest was in the sciences. She was quite comfortable sitting with Kevin and his friends because they made her feel welcome. She couldn't say the same about the 20th reunion, when hardly anyone said a word to her. Rachel had thought about not attending this one, but she decided to give it another shot, especially when she was asked to be on the committee. She couldn't figure out that one, but she didn't question it. She had missed all of the other reunions because she had lived in Canada with her husband and she didn't feel like traveling that great distance to see people with whom she never associated. That all changed after her divorce and her move back to Missouri shortly thereafter. That had been seven years ago and she didn't regret coming home. She never truly liked Quebec and she could never fully master the French language, which irritated her to no end. The calmer Midwest climate suited her better.
There were several couples on the dance floor as the DJ played a slow ballad. It had been one of Rachel's favorites and she still knew the words to it. She hummed softly to herself and her foot happily tapped unnoticed on the floor in time with the music.