Reunion The man who walks into the Flamingo Lounge is somewhere in his late fifties, or perhaps his sixties, at least six feet tall, and ruddy and big- boned in sort of a congenial way. He inspects his surroundings - a combination restaurant/bar on the second floor of his hometown hotel. Usually, the wood-paneled walls, black marble floor tiles, and ersatz leather seats give it all an air of classiness, but today its faux elegance is temporarily marred by the addition of several brightly-colored paper banners, each reading "Happy 35th Reunion, Graduates of Vista Springs Community College!". The man reads one of them and gives a small sigh of satisfaction that he's made it to the right place - although the hotel is barely a mile from his house; he hasn't moved since college.

As he makes his way in, some old classmates who can be bothered to look up from minding their own business say hello, and he replies in kind. They are hearty, real hellos - not the suspicious, evaluating kinds that the women might be exchanging as they meet downstairs for coffee. They are all genuinely glad to see one another, see how life has treated all of them. Most of them haven't seen the others since graduation day. Frank Barnes is a decent sort of man, not terribly refined or bright. He's easy-going. He's an auto mechanic by trade, a family man at heart. He works part-time now, from nine to three in his shop, and then he leaves it to the care of his ambitious twenty-three year old trainee and picks up the grandkids from the local public school. His son tolerates him, but his daughter-in-law Maria thinks he is an angel, and tells him so, and the kids adore him. They all call him Frankie. Frankie, Mom needs bouillon and lipstick from the supermarket. Frankie, will you take me to soccer practice? In any case, Frankie the family man is just as separate from what he plans to be today as he is from Franklin Barnes Jr., (it's what his business card reads in ostentatiously raised gold lettering - the Jr. is part of his birth name, the Franklin is not). When he's at this reunion, he'll be the man he thinks he remembers being in college - loud, jokey, and a little crude. He liked to talk about sports. He saunters breezily up to the bar. But when, in the process of ordering his beer, he trips over a chair seating another classmate, Maximillian Patterson Cook, all of his bravado shoots out of him about as fast as an Olympic runner darts out from the starting line. He spills his beer all over Max's pressed chinos. Rivulets of Heineken run into the creases of the pants and trickle onto the floor - a few of the guys turn to look. Max looks up too, and Frank groans inwardly. What a person to run into. Besides, what is Max doing here? He never graduated from Vista. And was living in New York City, last thing Frank heard, and that's on the other side of the country. The onlookers turn away, back to whatever they're doing. There's not going to be a fight. Frank slaps his hand against Max's shoulder, and laughs like he's drunk when he hasn't had a sip yet. What else is he supposed to do? He and Max used to be best friends. "Max!" he roars, face contorted into good will. "Long time and no see! How 'ya been doing?" Max wipes beer off his pants with a paper napkin one of the waitresses brought him. It's getting soaked, but he waves off Frank's awkward attempts to help. "That's all right, Frank. I'm doing very well, really. And you?" "I'm doing very well," Frank says also. And he is. Not compared to Max, maybe, but Max is the exception. "Oh, that's wonderful. It's nice to see you again, Frank. It's been too long. What field are you in again, now?"

"Still a mechanic," Frank grunts. "Ah. So you had to go ahead with that?" His tone could be interpreted as condescending. Frank bristles. He likes his job, always has, but some people don't understand blue-collar work. If work's hands on, they think it's not worth doing. Well, who do the intellectuals think is going to fix their cars for them? Besides, Frank could have been an intellectual too. He could have gone to business school.but Max won the business scholarship and went to Harvard, and Frank stayed at Vista Springs Community College and got his degree. Apparently Max won't let him forget it, even though it could have happened that Frank had left, and Max had stayed working at the local department store. "Yes, I had to." Too late, he realizes what that implies. "I wanted to." "I'm still in the same field," Max replies, though Frank pointedly didn't ask, not really wanting to know. "I've just been promoted to CEO of my company, in fact. According to the papers, we're doing fairly well." He is shuffling his shiny brown loafers on the dark marble, looking nervous, but sounding as absurdly proud of himself as a kindergartner. Frank, not skilled in reading body language, doesn't notice, but he thinks that Max has changed. He's always been business-oriented, that's not new. He was always after work - Frank and the gang used to joke that he'd probably tried to baby-sit himself as a child for the money. But he was different somehow now. Or was he? "And how is Janet doing?" Janet is Frank's wife, of course, and she's a dear little woman who doesn't color her gray hair, and who reads to her grandkids and shops in bulk for bargains. "She's doing great. We're both doing great." And this is true, as well. He loves her, and they are happy. Frank has always been pleased with his life - at least, he thinks he is. But somehow Max's friendly questions, the same questions anyone might ask, feel like taunts. "And how is Kelly?" "Just lovely, of course." But Max's face, inexplicably, tightens a little. He answers a few more questions from Frank - yes, we're still in New York. - No, no children. But he doesn't want to talk about Kelly, for whatever reason. He turns to Andrew Riviera, on the left, and engages him in conversation. Frank hears the word "CEO" again. He, still standing and carrying a dripping beer glass, tunes Max out. He wants to think about Kelly. He hasn't seen her in - what? Thirty- three years, probably. But he's sure she's aged splendidly. She was tall, in college, and slim, with a nice face, and that wouldn't have changed much. She was blonde, too. Was she at the reunion, right downstairs? Her images flashed through his mind. Kelly in class, her hand one of the only raised. Kelly and him at the dance, her leading him ever-so-slightly. Kelly cheering him on at football tryouts, consoling him when he didn't make it. And then Kelly and Max standing on the auditorium stage, smiling as they were awarded the scholarships. Kelly and Max at the wedding and him the best man, after which drank so much he could barely see. It was the first time he'd gotten drunk. And then he'd met Janet, who was petite and eager and in Home Ec, and he'd married her instead. He loved her, of course - she was fun and optimistic and sweet, but he couldn't help thinking sometimes that he'd married her on the rebound, even if it had turned out all right. But she was a friend, and Kelly had never been anything but a distant vision to aspire to. She was better than him, in the same way that Max was better. Max is still talking to Andrew, and Frank joins the conversation. He catches a couple of words - "investment", "business procedures", "successful". Foreign words to him; he has a more humble vocabulary. Max pauses for breath and Frank realizes belatedly he has been asked a question - he gives a perfunctory answer. Business is good, of course. His customers give him good word-of-mouth. But the taxes - those can kill a man. Max apparently isn't above those either. He talks away on that subject for a while. Frank goes to refill his drink - takes a long sip. Max follows him, and returns to his chair when Frank does. Frank sinks down in the chair next to Andrew - it's not comfortable, but his muscles ache from standing too long. His head aches too - he can barely think, and it's not from the alcohol, of which he's only had a sip. He's so insecure all of a sudden - why? Because he wanted that scholarship, and he loved Kelly. His life is just fine, but he can't shake the treacherous feeling that he's somehow settled for second best. Or been handed it, whichever. Doesn't he deserve better? "We're living in a new house," Max is saying. "It's a wonderful place by the ocean - two stories tall, and so cozy. The furniture." Words blur in Frank's mind. He suddenly wants to smack Max in the face, shut him up, though he's not an aggressive man. He's angry - though he's not sure whether his fury is directed at Max or himself, or even why he's angry. He stands up, shifts his weight. "Listen," he says. "I've got to go - I'll see you at the party." Max nods, but does not say goodbye. Frank stands outside in the hallway, leaning against the corner of the two walls farthest from the doorway. He shivers in his black jacket, which is the best he owns. What's wrong with him? Is he having a mid-life crisis, which he read about in the paper this morning? But he was fine that morning. It's Max who has unsettled him, with just a few casual remarks. Why? Because Frank could have been Max. He could see himself standing in Max's shoes, smart and debonair, talking about his fabulous career and lovely wife to poor Frank, who never really made it in life. Suddenly he hates who he's become - just another congenial old fool like everybody else. It's too late, he'll never be anyone now. Suddenly, he darts over to the elevator - it's a fancy glass-walled one with loads of buttons. It takes him three tries to bring his finger to punch the button for the lobby. Yet, when the doors swing open, and he sees her, he has no hesitation. All the other women are sitting together, whooping over some old memory, but Kelly is standing a little apart, facing away from the group, head bent. As he walks towards her, he sees that she looks mostly the same. She's still the prettiest of them all, and now she's wearing by far the nicest clothes. She looks great, even though her mascara is smeared badly. What does she have to cry about? He walks boldly up to her. "Hey, Kelly. How's it going?" "Hi." She sounds uncertain. She doesn't know why the heck he's over here, when he's supposed to be up at the lounge. Neither does he, really. "I just saw Max. I heard you two are doing very well." She doesn't answer, and he tries again. "I'm still in the same business, but I'll guess he'll tell you that. We had a nice chat. He told me everything." He's lying for her benefit, but he ruins the deception when a few tears run down his face. He wipes them away quickly, and no more come. But maybe Kelly sees his eyes, maybe she knows how he feels. Maybe she feels like that too. "Did he tell you that we're getting a divorce?" she asks, a little acrimoniously. But Frank can tell the hatred is not directed in his direction. "We're a couple tonight," she continues, pouring out words as if he is her psychiatrist. "But just for show. Max can't admit that our life won't work out. And it won't. We're not happy." She sighs. "You're lucky, you know? You have a wife, and kids, and grandkids. You've done something with your life. I've had a career, and I've messed up a relationship. That's all." All the shadows have swept away from him, and sunlight is streaming in the window. Kelly's words flow through his mind, washing away his insecurities. Just for show. We're not happy. You're lucky. You've done something with your life. And this Frank knows to be true - he's happy, more than anyone else. It's Kelly who has had it rough. He wants to comfort her, but doesn't know how. "It's been nice seeing you," he says, and leaves her standing there, on the verge of tears. "I'll see you later." He drives home. He does not come back for the party.