“The best I can remember? That’s tough.”
“I hear you. It was a long time ago, but come on—you know those memories are indelible.”
“I suppose so. You want the best worst memory I have or the best best memory?”
“Your choice. Just tell me the best memory you have from high school aside from getting out of there.”
“I actually liked it. Though not the time Mary Lavender told Brad Murphy I’d said I wanted to fuck the whole football team.”
“I remember that. You were so pissed. All the guys were hitting on you and none of the girls would talk to you. Even the teachers heard about it and treated you differently.”
“It was horrible. You say one thing and it gets retold. By the time it made the rounds it’s something else entirely.”
“Yeah, you just wanted to fuck the backfield.”
“Only the first string.”
“Right. My worst nightmare occurred away from school. It completely changed my life.”
I was curious about what that might be but the hotel check-in line was moving quickly and I’d probably miss out. I remembered that rumor going around, but not being a football player I hadn’t paid much attention.
Rumors and reputation had been a big thing back in high school. I’d had some damage had been done to my reputation before graduation, and that was a good part of why I’d decided to come to my twentieth reunion.
I was here to clean up.
Thursday, June 20, 1985
I don’t consider myself a reunion kind of guy, so when a couple of months ago I’d gotten the first invitation to the Pacific Palisades Class of 1965 20th Reunion, I’d ignored it. Then one night I had nothing to do and I filled out the RSVP. It had too many annoying, invasive questions that I answered less than truthfully.
When the second invitation arrived yesterday, I’d thought about throwing it away but hesitated. I’m trying to hesitate more. It saves me a lot of time and energy mending the messes I make when I open my mouth and act without thinking. If you’ve read any of my other books, you know I tend to push things. I’m not good at foreplay. When I’m not good at something I try to avoid it.
You might say that if I spent more time focusing on foreplay I’d get better at it. And you’d be right, which is why I’m trying slow down, be in the moment, look before I leap.
So why was I hesitating this time?
I wasn’t in contact with anyone from Pali. There’s a reason for that which I’ll share later; for now, let’s just say there was one guy I didn’t want to see, a few more I’d prefer not to see, a woman I’d quite enjoy seeing, and another I very much wanted to see. I could do all those things without going to a reunion, but bigger forces seemed to be in play. Perhaps this was the time and the place.
This second invitation was exclusively for members of our former Bridge Club and excluded friends and partners. Three events were on offer: a pre-party on Thursday night, a meetup on Saturday at 5:00 p.m., and a Sunday brunch. The pre-party was being hosted by the guy I didn’t want to see.
Yes, you heard the ringing of the nerd alert—I’d been a member of the Bridge Club. I’m guilty, but I have an explanation. I was fifteen when my family moved from New York to Los Angeles and I spent many a night playing bridge at the dining-room table with my parents and sister. Then I started to meet people at my new school. One of the guys invited me over to his house to play cards with him and his friends. And thus the Bridge Club was born.
By the time we graduated, there were thirteen of us. A group of teenagers who got together on the weekend so we wouldn’t be home alone, although two of us our number were in a serious relationship. We moved the games from house to house, yet but mostly we played at Alex’s because his parents owned a deli and there was always plenty of food.
We didn’t get our picture in the yearbook—we weren’t that nerdy. But we weren’t that rowdy either. We didn’t drink. We didn’t smoke. We played cards, watched sports, and bonded.
Until I fucked things up.
The invitation had come direct from Alex—the guy I didn’t want to see, and who doubtlessly felt the same about me. We hadn’t spoken since before graduation. If he wanted to taunt me with his success, it was working. I couldn’t view his house from the street, just the gate. At the top of the drive was a large mansion.
There’s something you ought to know about me. I’m competitive, although I try to act like I’m not. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let Alex know that his financial good fortune bothered me. I wanted him to think I was happy for him. And I would be. Almost.
We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness. Just a big house and all that goes with it. Guys are taught that the one with the most money gets the best girl. It’s not true, but not entirely untrue either, especially if you’re the kind of person who goes on appearances. And in LA, appearances are a big deal. Alex appeared to be living the good life.
When it comes to reunions, we all want to check out who looks good and who doesn’t, who made it big and who didn’t, and what kind of changes time has brought.
The invitation had said to come any time after 8:00 p.m. I’d procrastinated about leaving home and got stuck in traffic, and by the time I opened the door to the Beach Boys blaring “I Get Around,” it was 8:45. The door was open, I didn’t see anyone and made a beeline for a bathroom. The door was locked. I made my way upstairs up to find another and to take a look around.
I didn’t really need to go. Since I was there I did, but really I was hiding. I like to think I’ve built up my communication skills, and I was anxious to revisit what had happened all those years ago. I, but I suspected those conversations would be challenging. Everyone had gone sour on me and I, in turn, on them. The small talk—something I have little interest in at the best of times—would was going to be awkward.
I took a few deep breaths, had a brief talk with myself in the mirror, and stepped into the hallway. I peeked in some of the rooms. One was the study.
That’s where I found the dead body.
It could have been Colonel Mustard slumped over the desk with his head in a pool of blood. But this wasn’t Clue. This was Frank. And while I’d never liked him all that much, he’d been an accurate card-counter and a reliable bridge partner, even if his reliability hadn’t extended to other matters.
He appeared pretty dead to me. I knew not to touch him. I deliberated whether to announce the news or let someone else be the bearer of bad tidings. In other circumstances, I’d have gone for the bonus points that come with knowing something before others, but Frank was one of the guys I’d have preferred not to see, and me discovering him slumped over like that might not be in my best interests.
Some might say I’d held a grudge and evened an old score. I wouldn’t say that, but why not slip downstairs, join the throng, and pretend surprise when someone else discovered him?
Big fancy mansions often come with a front and back staircase. I hurried out of the study and deeper into the house in search of a less obvious route down to the party.