Tabitha–we used to call her Tabby–sat to my right amongst a table of 6 other strangers. It had been years since I’d last seen her and I’d hoped she would show up to Greg's wedding fat or ugly or pregnant with an unwanted baby, but of course she was none of these things.
She’d set her golden hair up in a delicate, swirling braid save for a few strands that brushed along her cheek like willow branches in a painting you admired but couldn’t afford. A single diamond, braced in a silver mount shaped like a star, twinkled on her ear. When she'd arrived and stepped out of a two-door white Audi, she’d stood for a moment to smooth a small wrinkle from her dress before walking over to greet Greg. His eyes lit up when he saw her and he turned from entertaining a cluster of babbling aunts and clinically disinterested teenage cousins, opened the arms of his tuxedo wide in welcome. Her velocity had increased so rapidly, I’d thought maybe she’d trip on the uneven pavement like I had, but of course she didn’t. Her feet seemed indifferent to those three inch heels as if they were the same beat-up sneakers she always used to wear. As she and Greg embraced, I headed back to the bar and ordered another whiskey sour.
After dinner I remained at the table while most of the guests attempted their best impression of dancing. A warm breeze twisted around the gnarled oaks surrounding the clearing where the temporary dance floor had been installed, carrying with it whoops of laugher set in time with The Village People’s Y.M.C.A. It occurred to me than half the people here, myself included, wouldn’t have been allowed in this country club under normal circumstances. Greg, by his usual dumb luck, had wooed the daughter of the club’s president and for an evening at least, the town’s normal social strata had broken down under the intense diplomatic pressure of inoffensive danceable pop.
When we were kids, June nights like this were always when it was easiest to find trouble. The heat of the day lingered until well after midnight, giving us plenty of time to carry out our little insurrections. We’d often snuck onto the grounds of the club after hours to joy ride golf carts and shank glow-in-the-dark golf balls under the cover of darkness. Though we were neither, we’d called our neighborhood gang “The Quiet Professionals” after a story Greg’s dad had told us about a unit he’d served with in Vietnam. Tabitha had been the only girl who’d orbited our group with any regularity, though it became clear as we entered high school that she was headed for a life that measured success beyond sneaking tallboys out of the Seven-Eleven without getting caught.
Tabitha spun slowly in the middle of the floor under the open sky with her eyes closed, snapping her fingers with the beat. Greg, his bride, their families, their friends, all twirled chaotically around her, obscuring the blue light reflecting off her dress so that I only saw her in brief flashes. Barefoot catching frogs in the pond behind her house in the summer. Football games that I attended only to watch her bounce in her cheerleading uniform. The night she got wasted at Ken Meyer’s house party and pecked me on the cheek after I walked her home. Her gleaming white teeth set in a radiant crescent moon as she thrust her Yale acceptance letter in my face while I leaned on my mop in the dinning area of the Pizza Hut. I’d hoped she’d fuck it up somehow, drop out and come crawling back home to wade in the shallows of small town desperation with me. But of course she didn’t.
She had come back some years later when her father passed unexpectedly at 47. Aneurysm, they said. The silent killer. At the wake she stood next to her mother, looking elegant somehow, despite the tears. I’d briefly considered telling her everything. How I’d loved her since we were nine years old. How I’d stayed up nights crafting ways to assassinate her boyfriends. How every girl I’d ever screwed was just a rag doll with her face taped to it. How she’d been my life’s biggest victory and tragedy all wrapped in a single, flawless body. But funerals are sad enough as they are.
As the evening came to a close and the party thinned, aunts with wilting perms leaving with uncles too drunk to drive but too stubborn to spend the money on a cab, Tabitha returned to the table and sat next to me. Her fingers clinging to the thin stem of a plastic champagne flute, she smiled as her body convulsed, birthing the universe’s most delicate and lovely burp.
“Things never really change around here, do they Skidd-o?” she said as she watched the parade of rented suits and baggy dresses stagger toward the parking lot.
“Nobody calls me that anymore.”
“That’s because nobody’s got as good a memory as I do,” the crescent moon broke free from the darkness and stabbed at my chest.
“Greg really married up, huh?”
“I figured he would. He always thought he was too good for this town. My guess was that he’d get hitched his first year of college and we’d never hear from him again. She seems nice, though. I’m sure they’ll be real happy.” Tabitha swayed a bit in her chair and brushed a willow branch from her cheek. “How about you, Skid? I thought I’d be introduced to some fine little thing on your arm tonight, but you came here alone and sat in the corner all night scowling at the dance floor.”
“I guess the right girl just hasn’t gotten lucky yet.”
Tabitha took a sip of champagne and as she pulled the glass away, her lip clung to the rim for the briefest moment like a goodnight kiss.
“I could say the same for you,” I pointed toward the parking lot, “That’s an awful nice car to be driving alone.”
“It’s leased. Got to keep up appearances, right?”
“Say, you remember the party we threw out in the woods on the other side of the golf course junior year?” Tabitha said with wide, smiling eyes. “When Kate Bollin swore she could do a keg stand longer than any of the boys, then threw up in Greg’s truck? God, he was so mad I thought his head was going to explode. The cab stunk for months!”
The strap of her dress had been slowly edging its way off the slope of her shoulder and when it finally wilted over her arm, she made no effort to return it.
“I swear I do miss it here sometimes. I’ve grown to love Seattle but damn, you just can’t beat these summer nights.”
“No, you sure can’t.”
As I walked her to her car I offered to give her a ride back to her parent’s place. It was on the way after all and there wasn’t any sense in ruining a nice trip home with a D.U.I., but Tabitha declined with a flick of her silver bracelet as she sunk into the firm, tan leather of the driver’s seat. Her dress rode up revealing the firm, tan skin of her thighs and as she fumbled through her purse I briefly considered pulling her back out and pressing her gently against the car. Lingering there in her sour-sweet breath and cupping her hand between the rough skin of mine. Telling her that she wasn’t too good for this place and that I needed her to be here, if for nothing else than to let a little light shine off her dress as she danced in the middle of a crowd of happy, smiling, stupid small town nobodies. To give her a kiss on the god damned mouth this time and not look away and not feel ashamed and not regret another second as long as I lived. But of course, well, you know how these things go.