A Schoolboy’s Nostalgia

By Jacky Lui

It was 6pm at the Northwell hotel. A large 19th century stone building shrouded in the rain. Golden light streamed outside onto the wet bitumen creating shimmering reflections that danced like little ghostly mischievous sprites. Dressed in thick wooly coats hidden underneath large umbrellas, people ran through the chilly rain to the front door of the building. They glanced both ways for the sign that told them they were in the right place before making their way into the tavern.

Occasionally, they would wander around in a little circle before they entered. Some of them came alone, others came with partners, but they all noticed the glittery streamers and found the little laminated handwritten sign outside the door.

“10 year Northwell High School reunion”

I watched all these people I once knew from the darkness of my car. I took a deep breath, my heart filled with trepidation, fumbled my way through the parking lot and also entered the building.

I put my umbrella down in the rack, but left my jacket on. I didn’t want anything that would hinder my exit if I needed to leave in a hurry. It was a sea of strangers. I tried to look for that someone that I was familiar with. People were all huddled around in small groups in private conversation. All of a sudden I felt like I was a teenager again filled with angst, heartbreak and the painful feelings of uncertainty. I shook my head, I’d left it all behind. I hobbled over to the bar to buy a drink.

“Hey Joe! It’s been such a long time! How are you doing man? Did you come with Susie tonight?” Fred Cambridge gave a big slap on my back.

“Hey Fred, it’s so good to see you too. Um yeah we broke up the day after graduation. Do you know if she is here?”

“She RSVPed so she should be here. I’m so sorry man, I just assumed… You two were such a good couple… How are you doing? What have you been up to?”

We talked for a while before he led me to a group of old schoolmates.

“So Joe said.. Principal Hugh… if you give us that bullshit detention, I’m going to tell your wife you’ve been cheating on her!” Fred roared with laughter. The entire group was transfixed.

“You were the most ballsy mate I had growing up.” He yelled and chugged down a mug of beer.

“I actually forgot that happened.” I laughed. “My life isn’t as crazy anymore, I own a medical practice now.”

I noticed an incredibly attractive woman sitting close to me on my left side.

“Oooh so it’s Doctor Jones now!” She gave me a tiny salute. “What was the craziest doctor-y thing you ever did?”

“Well, I once stayed up for three nights in a row existing only on energy drinks. I know. I know. I’m a doctor and I should be the one dishing out advice tonight right?” I jokingly shrugged.

As I was telling the story, I noticed her inching closer and closer to me. Pulled in by every word.

But I also noticed a familiar face over at the bar nervously scanning the room. She was as beautiful as the first time I’d met her.

“Hey do you guys want refills? Let me go get them for you?” I took the group’s orders and went to the bar.

I ordered the drinks and crept up next to the girl.

“Hey…” I said to the woman that I once knew better than the back of my hand.

“Hey Joe. I’m so happy to see you.” She smiled wearily.

“How’s California going? I can’t believe that we haven’t spoke since graduation.” I said to her.

“Well, I’ve moved to New York now. Working for one of the big investment banks. It’s been hectic… Graduation… I’m really sorry about how things turned out between us. I wrote you so many emails but I just thought that it wasn’t right for me to send them.” She sat down on a barstool.

“I feel so different now; everyone here probably doesn’t recognise me.” She took a sip from her drink.

“I spent a long time reflecting on our breakup.” I said to her. “It was wrong for me to ask you to stay in Australia just to be with me. I would have held you down from living your best life.”

“I met a really nice man in my third year of college. We were married for two years. Last week, I finalised our divorce. He said that I was working too much. Am I making the same mistake that I made with you?”

I held her hand. “I messed up. Not you. Why don’t we just pretend for tonight that the last ten years never happened? Just for tonight?”

“That we’re still together? Like how we used to do things on our own and nobody knew what we were on about?” She poked her tongue out at me mischievously.

I smiled at her. “I missed you. I really thought that I’d be your first husband.”

“Oh stop it!” She playfully slapped my shoulder.

“I really like your ducky tie.” She said to me. “I’m happy that you still have it from 10th grade. I remember when I saw it on the store in Paris; I absolutely knew you’d love it for your birthday. Geez it was such a long time ago. Must have been twelve years ago.”

“It was just two years ago. I don’t know what kind of time travel you have going there.” I tapped my nose.

We sat together in silence for a moment.

“Ooooooh the lovebirds are at it again. Joseph Jones and Susie Suzuki. Power couple!” Jordan Fields cooed.

“Well, I better go see everyone. I haven’t spoken to Annie Green or anyone in years.” She got up. “Do you think they’ll accept me?”

“You’ll be fine. Go get them tiger.” I gave her hand another squeeze before letting go.

As I waited for the bartender to make the drinks, the attractive woman from before walked up to me.

“Hey Joseph.” She said to me as she brushed her hair behind her ears.

“Hey… um you look really familiar? I’m sorry I don’t remember your name. This is really embarrassing.” I smiled like an idiot.

“That’s okay, I’ve gotten that a lot tonight. I’ve kind of got into mountain climbing a few years ago and changed a lot. I’m Lucy… Lucy Miller we sat next to each other in senior biology?”

“Oh yeah! You… Wow you changed so much! I remember you were so bookish and sweet back in the day. You had those really thick glasses. What’s been happening? How did you get into mountain climbing?”

“After reading all these books about heroines that went out and did amazing things, I realised that I could do the same so I decided to start off with the Snowy Mountains and then pretty soon I was jetting off everywhere to climb up every mountain I’d heard of.”

We chatted for a while. After a moment, she went quiet.

“I never stopped thinking about you Joseph. You were so nice to me back then. You lent me your umbrella and got sick for a week.” Lucy stood up from her stool and cleared her throat.

“I just wanted to say… Wowsies… My heart feels like it’s bursting.” She fanned her face.

“I just wanted to say that I really liked you back then. I still really like you. Would we be able to go out tomorrow?”

I stood up taken aback. The tension between us was so strong. This sweet quiet girl was declaring her love for me after ten long years. Another guy wandered over and commented on how hot Lucy was now.

“Get lost Frank!” We both yelled.

“Hey Lucy! Joe, we’re going to sing the school song!” Fred ran over to us breaking through the atmosphere. “Here, let me help with the drinks.”

I stole a quick worried glance as we made our way back to our area.

“Alright, we are going to sing the unofficial school song now. We’ve been waiting for it. Everybody hush! We, your fabulous school captains, are going to start off just to make y’all sound good. Words are on the card that you were given.” Fred leapt onto a table with Rianne Campbell.

I went over to Susie, and hugged her.

Northwell High, Northwell High! We’re the most fly! Nobody does it like the infamous Northwell Highers. Where ever we go, and where ever we may be, we got each other’s backs. We stick together like Mrs Reed’s tuna salad. We cheat like Principal Hugh. On Friday arvos, we smell like Mr Parker’s breath!

I grew so spirited that I grabbed Susie and we jumped onto a table as well. All around us drunk Northwell High alumnus were climbing onto tables and swinging off chandeliers while angry hotel staff were pulling us back to the ground.

“… we will always be together. We will be forever be young! No matter what happens, things will never change. You can count on that. We’re the Northwell Highers! We are the Northwell Highers!!!

Jack Carter slipped off a table and landed in a heap.

We all laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m a doctor! Let me through!” I laughed.

“He’s been waiting to say that for ten years now.” Susie rolled her eyes.

As the evening aged, we hugged each other. We cried. We talked about the good old days, and we forgot all the pain, anguish, and the fights we had when we were growing up.

Fred pulled me aside when people started leaving.

“Joe, you spoke to Lucy tonight. Do you know if she’s in a relationship or something?” He asked.

“Why?” I asked bemused.

“I… I’ve had a big crush on her since high school. I just never had the courage to say anything to her. You know she’s always had this look where she thinks you’re an idiot?” He stammered.

“Fred Cambridge. School Captain. Rock and Roll hero of 2013. Voted Ladies Man of the Year is scared of asking a girl out on a date? I’d never believe it.” I shook my head in disbelief.

“She’s changed a lot. She wants to live a big adventurous life. You are a big adventurous guy. I think it’s a match made in heaven. Go talk to her.” I said to him.

“Thank you Joe.” He punched me in the shoulder. “I owe you one.”

He ran over to Lucy and went down on one knee. That guy was the definition of dramatic.

I walked Susie to her cab.

“How long will you be in Melbourne for?” I asked her.

“Just tonight, I’m flying back to New York tomorrow at noon.” She gripped my hands tightly.

“I really missed you Joe. We should keep in touch. You were my best friend in high school, and I missed being able to talk to someone as easily as I do with you.”

“I missed you too. Just send me your crazy lover emails.” I joked.

“We’ve never been that close.” She laughed.

“But I’ll write regularly.” She promised.

“I promise that we won’t need to wait ten years again to see each other.” I vowed.

“I’ll come find you.” I kissed her cheek.

“Hey, how are you getting home?” She suddenly asked me. “Lucy and I are sharing a cab to go to the hotel at the Airport. She’s heading off to New Zealand on tomorrow night.”

“Um I’m heading in the opposite direction to the airport so I’ll get a cab for myself, I think Fred is going my way. Thanks for the offer.”

“Hey Loverbirds!” Susie shouted at Lucy and Fred. “I need to steal Lucy!”

“I’m going, I’m going.” A flushed Lucy rushed over. “I love you Fred Cambridge!”

“I love you too LucyBee!” Fred shouted back.

We waved them off and very soon after Fred and I were the last ones left. I noticed a purse next to Fred.

“Hey, that’s Lucy’s bag.” Fred murmured.

“You got a reason now to see her tomorrow.” I teased him.

We talked shit until the early hours of the morning.

“Life hasn’t changed a single bit. We get together and it’s like we all just came back from the summer holidays. Everyone was there. It was so good. So good.” Fred gurgled. “I loved that Lucy girl for so long. I just felt so pressured by everyone in high school to date Cassidy Sullivan.”

“Well, you do you.” I laughed. The world was rolling into one hazy stupor. I could no longer differentiate what was real or not. Fred joked about Cassidy making him watch at least three romcoms every weekend. I told him about how I accidentally wrote happy birthday on my valentines card to Susie and she didn’t let me forget it for the entire year. We talked about football and the good times.

I spied two nice police gentlemen heading over to our spot.

“Hey officers, I hope we’re not in any trouble. Just having a school reunion.” I pointed to the sign at the front door.

“Hello, is one of you Joe Jones?” He asked me.

“That’s me.” I gingerly raised my hand. “Present. What can I do for you?”

“Do you know a woman called Susie Suzuki? She had you as an emergency contact?”

“Yes? What happened?” I tensed up.

“She was in a car accident with two other people. One woman and the cab driver.”

“Is she alright?” I jumped up and grabbed the police officer.

He gently pried me off.

“She’s unconscious but in stable condition. She and the cab driver were saved by the other woman who pulled them out of the wreckage.”

I felt a breath of relief run down my body. I felt chills as beads of sweat flowed from every pore of my body.

“The other woman suffered a severe head injury, we are working to identify her. Unfortunately, she passed away on the way to the hospital.”

It was Fred’s turn to grow pale.

“Her name was Lucy. Lucy Miller. She lived and died a hero.” He said. “I have her contact details. Is there anything more that I can do?”

“You’ve done more than enough. We’ll take care of the rest. You guys should head home now.”

“We’ll see Susie in the hospital.” I demanded. They booked us a cab and left.

Fred started shaking uncontrollably. He trembled and whimpered. Tears rolled down his face. I suddenly was transported back to my memories of high school. I was the bullied lonely kid sitting on his own at lunch in 8th grade. Until Fred Cambridge had reached his hand out and declared to all the popular kids that he was now my best friend and that he would always look out for me.

I could feel his pain as his dreams of a wonderful future were dashed in an instant. All the happy memories that he had in high school were gone.

“It’ll be okay Fred. It’ll be okay. Things will be okay.” I said to him unsure that I even believed in my own words.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I promised him. “I will always look out for you.”

When I finally got back home, I slipped my wedding ring back on, and snuggled into bed next to my wife.

“Honey, did you have a fun time?” She asked.

“For a beautiful moment… it felt like I never left school.”

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Jacky

I've had this idea for Ausmerica, a country 300kms north of Hawaii since I was a child. Nowadays, I'm trying to get it out of my head and into the world.