After the show was over we would revert to our regular cliques until we were thrown together for another round of high school show biz. I had sports girlfriends, brainiac girlfriends, singing group girlfriends, student council girlfriends, and motorcycle/muscle car girlfriends who were actually boys that thought I was funny, but not fast enough to date. Okay, too flat-chested.
Junior year there was a senior boy I had a crush on. His name was John and that's about all I can remember about him. He ran track and I started loitering around at his home meets, something I could do unobtrusively for the most part, since I was not on his radar at all. At a huge multi school competition, I ran into Alice, an acquaintance in my class who had just started going out with a sprinter named Herb. She was complaining because she had to sneak out to see him. Her mother was old school about dating. She didn't approve. Dating was something for bad girls who had lost their virginity.
We got to talking about the lies Alice had to tell to get out of the house to see Herb. So we hatched a plan. I would become her beard. I would arrive at her place on the pretext that we were going to go shopping together. Then we'd go to his track meets instead. Fine by me. I got to watch lots of boys in short shorts, especially one in particular, and she got to spend some quality time with her guy. Unfortunately, it also meant I had to be willing to sit in the back seat alone on the way home. Like I wasn't there.
Alice was bright and bouncy and always smiling. Herb was taciturn most of the time. But he would sure light up when he saw her. They'd talk and kiss and who knows what else in the front seat as we rode home, so lathered up in hormones that they were oblivious to my presence. In the end, I was happy I had helped to get them together. This arrangement lasted until my crush on John finally faded away, primarily because he was just not that into me. Also I was this close to becoming a stalker.
We went our separate ways. I went to college and moved downtown. Herb and Alice got married, had kids, bought a house. He became a police officer and eventually the police chief of the town where I grew up. From time to time I would see him at one of the restaurants in our little village. "Hey, Herbie, how are ya?" Yep, he loved running into me. He would just grin and bear my greetings. He even enjoyed some national acclaim when there was shooting at a local elementary school. He was one of the first suburban law enforcement officials who had to deal with crazy people who walk unchallenged into a previously safe environment for children and start shooting.
Over the years when I've run into him, I notice he's gotten a little heavier, but not fat. After retiring from the police force here, he took a different top cop job in another suburb, but he didn't move, he just commuted. Alice still looks as pretty as she did in high school -- a major accomplishment for someone over sixty, but I have to say she sure looked good when I saw her last at the local Chinese/Korean/Thai/sushi place.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was riding the NuStep machine during my afternoon rehab when I saw some guy about my age walking into the gym with a death grip on his walker. I could see he'd just had knee surgery, judging by his bandages. He sat down to rest while his therapist set something up, just as I was getting off my machine to toddle over to the parallel bars next to him. As I got closer, I suddenly realized that the old guy I'd seen on the walker was Herb.
"Is that you?"
"Hi, Mrs. Linklater." Apparently he had already recognized me, but hadn't said anything, probably hoping I was now blind and couldn't see him. There was that old smile of his again with a look on his face that begged, "Please oh please don't embarrass me by talking loudly or saying Hiya Herbie, okay?"
"Funny meeting you here, Herb." We both smiled.
"Sure is." End of conversation.
Oh, Lord, this whole circle of life thing is getting repetitious. Herb is the second person from my long ago past that I've run into, here at the facility-for-people-who-need-to-have-new-body-parts. Creeps me out.
But part of me thinks that things like this aren't just a coincidence. There's some higher purpose involved.
Like, say, a discussion about wellness checks.