Max Martin thought it was ironic that he ended up at Blue County Community College six years after graduating high school. He had enlisted in the Army senior year, thinking that was something he was more interested in doing but three tours in war zones witnessing the horrors of battle had changed him at the core and he was glad to have made it home in one piece – at least physically.
Max's parents were more than welcoming, allowing him live at home while enrolled in the criminal justice program at the college. Max also worked part time with the Blue County Sherriff's Department in hopes of joining its candidate training program once he was done with his college courses.
Of course, with a six year delay in his schooling, Max didn't know anybody at the college. Most of his peers were college graduates now, long since having moved on with their lives. Mature and seasoned at 24, the Army veteran found the younger college students to be clueless and naïve and he was more likely to strike up a conversation with an older student, some military veteran like himself taking classes, or a laid off middle aged worker getting a delayed re-education, or some retired grandfather rediscovering life.
Mostly, however, Max kept to himself, working diligently in his classes but not socializing much with his fellow students. He was a bit more jaded and cynical than most because of his war service and he really didn't have time for foolishness or irrelevance, serious about his studies and his goals. He knew he would make a good Sherriff's deputy given his Army experience and he wanted to ace his courses at Blue County Community College. His drive, military discipline and focus kept Max from mingling and socializing to much with his peers and he spent most of his down time at the college either in the library or cafeteria when he wasn't heading to the work at the county jail.
Max was walking through the lobby of the main campus building one day when he noticed a woman walking on the next higher level. She looked familiar to him though he couldn't place her and he didn't think but about it until a few days later when he saw her again, this time in the cafeteria where he had more time to observe her. She had long dirty blonde hair to her shoulders and a round face and even though Max hadn't seen her in a good ten years he realized that it was Bryn Bernard from the old neighborhood.
Bryn was six years older than Max so he didn't know her all that well. She was the sister of Shawn Bernard who was Max's pal growing up. Like most adolescent boys, Max was smitten with Bryn who was so much more experienced, wiser and prettier than the girls Max knew and he was tickled when she even said hello to him.
Bryn served as a youth group counselor one year when Max was fourteen and he was pretty sure that was the last interaction he had with her. He remembered that she married Pete O'Hara from her high school class around that time, one of Hillsboro's more popular high school athletes of that era. Max wasn't sure why Bryn would be attending community college – she had to be about thirty-one years old now – but he was amused to finally see someone on campus that he had a connection to.
He didn't have to worry about being an awkward, goofy, immature dufus around her now – he was an adult war veteran with a world of experience so he didn't think twice about walking to her table and saying hello.
Bryn glanced up from her salad, surprised to be recognized and she squinted as she tried to place the person grinning at her as he slipped into the chair across from her with his food tray.
"Max Martin," he said with amusement. "From the neighborhood."
"Oh My God!" Bryn said with disbelief. "Hi, Max! You're all grown up!"
"You were always grown up," Max smirked.
Bryn laughed. "Now I'm just old," she said with a self-depreciating grin.
"You look great," Max assured her.
"Thanks," she said with genuine appreciation. "It's good to see you."
"What are you doing at Blue County Community College?" He asked.
"At my age, you mean?" She smiled.
Max blushed. "I didn't mean that way."
"I never went to college," she explained. "And now, as a divorced woman, I figure I need to get my life back on track."
"You're divorced?" Max asked with surprise. "Gee, sorry."
"Life happens," she shrugged.
Max took a bite from his tuna casserole while giving Bryn the eye. He hadn't been the most social of people of late and it had been a while since he enjoyed a real romance though he wasn't sure why that thought even crossed his mind right now. Still, thinking about Bryn brought a smile to his face. There was always something likeable and interesting even about her even from Max's former adolescent perspective. What he remembered most was how cheerful, positive, enthusiastic and outgoing she always was. She was definitely the best youth group counselor ever and Max recalled feeling as though she really cared about him (as a person) during that year when she co-led the group with Sharon McDermott. She was spiritual and insightful and kind and it always felt like she was talking right into his soul.
Seeing her now – after so much time – had sparked a new interest within him. Suddenly, his college experience took on a whole new outlook.
"So, what are you doing at Blue County Community College – at your age?" She asked slyly.
"I was in the Army for a while," he explained.
"Thank you for your service," Bryn said with meaning.
"Now I'm back, studying criminal justice."
"Oh, wow," she laughed. "I'm studying social justice!"
"You're the first person I've recognized since I got here," Max admitted.
"Yeah, I've felt a little lonely around here," Bryn concurred. "But I've met some nice people."
"What's your schedule like?" Max asked with interest.
"Three classes on Monday's, Wednesday's and Fridays," she reported. "I'm generally here from nine to three on those days. Two Classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm usually here from about ten to two on those days. I'm waitressing at Johnny C's Diner most nights."
Bryn's college schedule wasn't that much different from Max's full tilt. "We should meet up when we're here," he suggested.
"Sure," she agreed. "I like the library. Or I'm here."
"Okay," Max replied. "It will be nice to know you're around."
"What's your phone number?" Bryn asked, lifting her phone from the table. "I'll text you when I'm free."
He told her the number and she punched it into her phone.
Max told her about the job at the jail and that he was living at home again. Bryn told him that she and her ex sold their house and she was living in an apartment in a downtown Hillsboro. He asked after her brother Shawn (living in Idaho) and she asked after his family.
"Well," Bryn said, her salad finished. "I gotta get going." She stood and gathered her belongings. "But I'm really glad we ran into each other, Max. I'll be seeing you around!"
Max nodded happily and watched her walk toward the disposal window, her hips shaking as she went. Wow, Bryn Bernard! This was the best thing to happen to him in years!