Time Flies

Claire Cook

A To uc h s ton e B oo k Publi sh e d b y S i m on & S c h u s t e r Ne w Yo r k  Lon d o n   Toro n to  S y d n e y  N e w D e l h i

To my high school classmates, and yours.

I I am I am writing I am writing this I am writing this in I am writing this in the I am writing this in the corner I am writing this in the corner of I am writing this in the corner of your I am writing this in the corner of your old I am writing this in the corner of your old yearbook

C ha pt e r 1

When my cell phone rang, I’d just finished cutting up my marriage mattress. I put down my chain saw carefully so it wouldn’t scratch the

hardwood floor. Then I slid my safety glasses up to the top of my head like a headband and reached for my phone. “Hello-oh,” I said. “Hey,” B.J. said. “It’s me. What’s up?” Same old, same old.”

I puffed a sprinkling of sawdust from the phone. “Not much. “So, check your email—the invitation just went out. You are “No way.” When I shook my head for emphasis, more saw-

coming up for our reunion, right?”

dust flaked from my hair like dandruff. “Come on, B.J., we’ve been over this at least eight times already.”

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an acceptable answer. You’re going. No excuses. You’re not still mooning around about Kurt, are you?” card for Almost Ex-Wife’s Day?” “You mean like counting the days till he sends me a Hallmark B.J. still laughed exactly like she had in high school, a series of “Ha,” I said.

B.J. blew a raspberry into the phone line. “No way is not

sharp staccato barks. “See, your sense of humor is back.”

there aren’t nearly enough opportunities to act like a teenager

“What you need is some fun in the sun. Plus, if you ask me,

once you get to be our age, so we’ve got to grab any chance we “Great,” I said, “but I’m still not going.” “Jan who?”

get. And the good news is we can drink legally this time around.” “Jan wants all of us to stay at her beach house for the week—” “Don’t give me Jan who. Jan Siskin. Actually, I think it’s

Reeves now. Or maybe it was Reeves but it’s now Schroff. Or

maybe it’s Siskin again. Who cares. Anyway, as you well rememAnd now she has a beach house.”

ber, we kind of hung out with her all four years in high school. “I don’t think she really even liked me,” I said.

“Hey, you haven’t heard from Veronica, have you?” I sighed. “You mean in this millennium?”

B.J. aimed a blast of air across seven states and into my ear.

“She’s not returning my phone calls or emails. But. She. Will.” down, I saw that my non-cell-phone-holding palm was open, face­ up, as if to emphasize my own uncertainty. B.J. was still talking. “So, you know how I’m on the comI let B.J.’s tenacity wash over me like a wave. When I looked

time flies  ·  3

mittee, right? Well, we’ve decided we’re not going to mention either the year we graduated or how many years it’s been. We’re Reunion Evah.” just going to call it The Marshbury High School Best Class/Best “That’s ridiculous.” I opened one of the French doors to the

deck off the master bedroom to get rid of the gasoline smell. I seriously needed to upgrade to a battery-operated chain saw. “The committee consensus is that the actual numbers might

be a turnoff. It’s a lot of years to wrap your brain around, and none

of us feels that old, and most of us don’t look that old, especially the women, so we just thought it would be more fun if we focused on the positive.” “Which would be?”

B.J. let out a little snort. “That we’re still alive?” years has it been anyway?”

I took a quick stab at the math, then gave up. “How many “Don’t even think about it,” B.J. said. “It’s way too depressing. “Okay, so how about you go to the reunion, and then you can “Mel, I’m serious.”

Come on, we haven’t seen each other in forever.” fly down here and tell me all about it.”

“Me, too. I’m seriously not going, B.J., so drop it. Please.” “Give me one good reason you shouldn’t go.” I sighed. “Everyone else will dress better, look better, be better

cess and I’ll slide right off the bell curve. I’m not famous, I didn’t turn into a knockout, my husband left me. And I stopped wearing flip-flops.”

than I am. High school reunions are like a test for personal suc-

heels years ago and now my feet will only tolerate work boots and

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“One good reason,” B.J. said. “I’m still waiting.”

plated the savaged chunks of king-size bed before me.

After we hung up, I put my cell phone down and contem-

It’s not that I was bitter. I mostly just wanted the springs.

Okay, maybe I was a teensy bit bitter. Our two sons, Trevor and Troy, were seven and six when Kurt

had dragged me kicking and screaming to the suburbs of At-

lanta. They were thriving on sandy summers boogie-boarding at the beach and snowy winters sledding down the biggest hill in our little seaside Massachusetts town. We lived a tree-lined walk

away from the best local elementary school. I had a boring but comfortable part-time job answering phones for a nearby art gallery that let me work my hours around my kids. Mothers’ hours. Life was good.

luck. Or destiny. Kismet. Serendipity. His old boss had taken a job at ing up ever since. And now he wanted Kurt to come work for him.

Kurt said his job offer had come out of the blue. As if it were

a big Atlanta corporation a few years before, where he’d been mov“Out of the blue,” I repeated as I stirred a pot of homemade

chicken alphabet soup with a wooden spoon. “He just called you away from everything they’ve ever loved because I have a job for you. Even though you already have a perfectly good job.” it back,” Troy yelled as he ran after him. “Dinner,” I yelled. “Ten minutes.” Trevor ran through the kitchen and out the back door. “Give

out of the blue and said uproot your whole family and take them

time flies  ·  5

because it reminded me of the way his eyes changed shades in Long-sleeved. Extra starch.

Kurt shrugged. He loosened the blue-striped tie I’d bought

different lights. He unbuttoned the top button of his white shirt. I stared him down. In the fading light of the early evening, He looked away first.

his eyes were a dark navy, almost black.

to the soup.

I flicked on the kitchen lights and turned my attention back “Smells good,” he said as I stirred. I kept stirring. “Okay, I put out a few feelers,” he finally said. “It’s time to For a quick, crazy second I thought he was talking about the

move on. I think I’ve taken things as far as I can here.” boys and me.

After I loaded the bed chunks into heavy-duty black plastic conbedroom. Then I hauled my mattress-flecked self into the bathtractor bags and dragged them out to the garage, I vacuumed the room and turned on the water. It sputtered like it always did, then burst forth in a ferocious battle of brushed-nickel showerheads and body jets. I peeled off my clothes and let the wet needles pummel me like a bad marriage.

the kind that zipped and buttoned at the waist and everything. This seemed extreme, so I went with my regular uniform: yoga pants, baggy T-shirt, flip-flops.

I towel dried while I contemplated putting on actual pants,

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North Georgia sunshine. The sun rose later here, and eventually I’d found out that it was because we were so close to the central time zone line. And just south of the foothills of the Blue Ridge steamy semi-tropical afternoons that stretched into long cook-

I stood on my stone front steps and blinked against the bright

Mountains. Coolish, evergreen-scented mornings gave way to out-on-the-back-patio evenings. An enormous magnolia held

court in the front yard, surrounded by camellias and Lenten roses, But I’d also planted windmill palms and banana trees, plants I’d they’d thrived here.

as well as a solitary blue hydrangea that reminded me of home. thought would only grow as far north as Florida. Surprisingly, As soon as I opened the barn doors on one side of my Honda

Element, I leaned in and flipped one of the two backseats forward

at the waist. Then I lifted the whole seat up and hooked it to the

side of the car with the carabiner that dangled from the ceiling. I circled the car and repeated the steps on the other side. An amazing amount of empty space materialized, anchored by the Eledown for easy cleaning. I wanted a house like that.

ment’s black nonslip rubber-matted floor, which actually hosed “All aboard,” I said in my cheeriest talking-out-loud-to-

yourself voice. “Next stop, Ikea.” I’d done my online research. You couldn’t beat the design for the price. After all the years of compromise—Kurt’s traditional taste trumping my own—I wanted a

clean-lined, ultramodern bed. The latex mattress I’d decided on even came rolled, so I’d just get someone at the store to help me out how to get it inside once I got home. shove everything into the back of my Element and then figure I was fine as I backed out of my driveway. I rolled down the

time flies  ·  7

hill in my safe little neighborhood and pretended I was just going

to Publix or Whole Foods, or to get my hair done. I was still fine with lanes that mysteriously disappeared and tried to trick you into turning right when you didn’t want to.

as I navigated the interminable crush of traffic on Roswell Road,

islands in the center of the road, flanked by mounds of cheery

Long rows of burgundy and pink crepe myrtle graced the

yellow Stella d’Oro daylilies. Enclaves of new brick and stone neighborhoods peeked out between clumps of chain stores and a three-mile radius of my house. Except for Ikea. restaurants. If you could shop it or eat it, you could find it within The instant I saw the sign for the highway, my mouth went

dry. I’d stay to the right, drive as slowly as I needed to. Anybody who didn’t like it could just go around me. I could do this. My hand shook as I clicked on my blinker. I willed my foot to stay on the accelerator. I wound my way

up the on-ramp slowly, pretending I didn’t see the car behind me getting right on my butt.

behind me screeched past and catapulted into the maze of speedlane stretched out to my left, cars flying downhill at terrifying speeds.

The feeder lane dumped me out onto the highway. The car

ing steel as if it were hurling itself off a cliff. Lane after lane after

arms prickled, closing me in, walling off any hope of escape. ImMy right leg started to shake from working so hard to keep

Anxiety sat on my chest like a baby elephant. The skin on my

pending doom climbed in and took the passenger seat beside me. my foot on the gas pedal. I crept along in the slow lane, trying

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not to feel the angry force of the mammoth vehicles that whizzed SUV. I risked a quick peek at the speedometer and made myself you could drive fifty-five miles per hour, you were perfectly normal, right? I just had to drive past four highway exits, take the fifth, and Breathe.

by my left shoulder—SUV, tractor-trailer, SUV, car, SUV, SUV, push it up to fifty-five. That was respectable, wasn’t it? I mean, if

then it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to Ikea.

coming up in three miles. I tried to picture driving past it, but white-knuckled it.

A sign came into view announcing that the first exit was

I couldn’t even imagine reaching it. For three endless miles I By the time the first exit finally appeared, I knew I had to get

off the highway. But it felt as though fear had frozen my arms in place. I had to get off. I couldn’t get off.

I had Parkinson’s, and managed to turn the wheel and escape the fast-food parking lot just down the road from the off-ramp. my heartbeat returned almost to normal.

I forced myself to lunge for my blinker, my hand shaking as if

highway four exits too soon. I crawled my way to a semi-deserted I leaned back against the headrest until my sweat chilled and Maybe I’d just sleep in the guest room.

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