Luke Tresh was surprised to find the Greenville Cinema relatively empty when he purchased his ticket for the 9:15 showing of Space Story IX (Yesterday's Tomorrow). But then again the film was in its second week, it was a pleasant summer Monday night, the Olympics were on television, and perhaps the Space Story franchise was finally running out of warp drive after nearly thirty years.
Luke purchased his large popcorn and coke and stepped into empty Theater One, feeling awkward being the only movie goer in the theater. He had a choice of seats and once he was comfortable he pulled out his smart phone and posted on his Facebook status: "Luke Tresh is at Greenville Cinemas - "Still a kid watching Space Story 9 - but the theater is empty - I guess that makes me a VIP!"
He watched the endless advertisements and coming attractions and just as the movie was about to start he felt a presence in the center aisle just over his right shoulder.
"Is this seat taken?" It was a woman's voice but the lights had gone down and Luke couldn't make out her face when he glanced up.
"No," he said, unsure why a stranger would want to sit next to him in an otherwise empty theater.
"Good." The woman shimmied in front of him with her ass nearly poking him in the nose and she plunked herself into the next seat. She stuck her hand into his popcorn bucket and scooped out a handful of kernels.
Luke would have been outraged if he wasn't trying to focus on the opening scene of the film that began without credits.
"Oh, it's the same music," the woman said with approval as the film's sound track played under the scene.
Her voice was soft yet distinctive and there was something strangely familiar about it. Luke didn't want to make her uncomfortable by staring but he kept looking at his unexpected companion out of the corner of his eye even though he was trying to concentrate on the Space Story.
"Watch the movie," the woman said, patting him on his knee which was not what Luke was expecting.
He thought about changing seats in case this was some sort of psychopath but the woman smelled good and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. He watched the movie as she suggested while hoping somebody else would come into the theater - but nobody did.
"It's weird how so many of the original cast is dead already," the woman commented when some of the newer ship crew additions appeared on the screen. "I miss Captain Bassett, Commander Davis, and Lieutenant Bonds."
"Admiral Bassett," Luke corrected. "He was Admiral Bassett when he died."
"Of course," the woman said.
"Captain North is just as good a Captain," Luke said.
"I liked him better when he was the First Officer/Helmsman," the woman said. "And I wish he and Lieutenant Commander Garman were still together."
"At least she's still the Communications Officer," Luke said.
"True," the woman agreed. "But she should be the Captain by now."
"Actually, they all should be retired by now," Luke said and that made the woman laugh.
"They can't quit as long as fools like us keep buying tickets to these movies!" She pointed out.
"They've been transitioning to the new guys for about four movies now," Luke said. "Bonds Junior and DJD-2 and Lieutenant Sanderson and Krug."
"Fitzie is about 50 pounds overweight," the woman observed with the Assistant Engineer appeared on screen for the first time. "He'll probably be the next of the original cast to croak."
"Dr. Shawn says he wants out soon," Luke said.
"He's been saying that for ten years now," the woman laughed.
So she was obviously a fan, this much was clear and Luke decided the woman couldn't be that bad after all even if she had no sense of boundaries. They continued to watch the movie with only an occasional comment, remark or reaction, usually along the same lines as the other.
The story line was typical Space Story stuff – great special effects, humorous banter between the characters, moral dilemmas and decisions, and a huge climatic finish.
"Wow, so I suppose Bonds Jr. and Sanderson end up back in time somewhere and that will be the next movie's story line," the woman said after their escape pod disappeared inside a large Nebulous.
"And of course the cliffhanger makes us wonder if the rest of the crew just died in that apparent ship explosion," Luke noted.
"We'll have to wait two years to find out!" the woman laughed.
The lights slowly came up as the movie credits began to roll and Luke was finally able to get a look at the woman who had been sitting next to him for the past two hours. She laughed when she saw that he was peering at him.
"Hiya, Luke," she said happily.
Luke was momentarily blank on the recognition but then he saw the familiar mole on her left cheek. "Oh My God, Regina!" He said with amazement.
"Surprise!" She giggled.
"What in the hell are you doing here?" He asked.
"I was at the Coffee Roasters just down the block," she grinned. "I saw your Facebook post. I figured what the hell!?"
"But what are you doing in Blue County?" He asked.
"Oh, they threw a surprise fortieth birthday party for Mary-Ellen Hayden. I flew in for that. And to visit family for a few days."
"It's really great to see you!" Luke marveled. "It's been forever."
"Ah, did you miss me?" Regina teased as she stood from the movie seat.
She was as pretty as ever, still slender at forty, her hair still brown although not as long as in the past with just a hint of crows' feet around her eyes. She was wearing an attractive white summer dress with a flower print.
Luke stood too and he smiled.
"Come on," Regina said, giving him a slight push. "Let's go have a drink."
She took his hand in hers as they walked up the aisle to the exit, Luke dumping off the empty popcorn bucket and coke cup in the trash can on their way out.
"We saw the first Space Story movie together, you know," Luke reminded her.
"We were fifteen," Regina recalled. "This was still one theater before they ruined it by cutting it into cinemas." She gave him a glance. "We saw the second one together too."
"We were eighteen," Luke acknowledged.
"I think that was the last movie we ever saw together," Regina remarked.
"Until tonight," Luke smiled as they left the theater lobby and stepped into the warm summer night still holding hands. The bank clock across the street read 11:33.
"How 'bout Gibby's Tavern?" Regina suggested.
"They really fixed that place up," Luke said.
"We can walk from here," Regina said, tugging him by the hand and they strolled the few blocks to the side street where Gibby's was located.
They slipped into a corner booth. Luke ordered a draft beer and Regina went with a Long Island Ice Tea.
"You're never on Facebook," Luke observed. "I'm surprised you saw my post."
"I'm a Facebook stalker," Regina laughed. "I rarely post but I'm always spying on others."
"How's Iowa?" Luke wanted to know.
"Plenty of corn," she grinned. "How's the architect business going?
"Hope to make partner one of these days," Luke said. "I liked your Facebook boutique page. How's that going for you?"
"Impossible not to be successful in a college town," she smiled.
"And your husband?"
"We don't have to talk about him, Luke," Regina said. "You still dating the stewardess?"
"We don't have to talk about her," Luke deadpanned.
"She out of town tonight?"
Luke nodded affirmatively and Regina smiled.
"I guess you're out of town too," he noted.
"That I am," she smirked. She rubbed her finger along the top edge of her glass. "My husband's fifteen years older than me," she said.
"I know," Luke replied. "That's what happens when you fall in love with your graduate professor."
"You're still mad," she said, raising her eyebrows as she stared at him.
"We made no promises to each other, Regina," Luke said. "Hell, we weren't even going out."
"We were friends."
"Platonic friends," Luke sighed.
"You assumed I'd be coming back."
"I was wrong."
Regina looked sad all of a sudden. "Things aren't going well in my marriage," she admitted.
"I'm sorry," Luke said sincerely.
"Being home this weekend made me nostalgic for the good old days," she said. "We used to have fun together, Luke."
"Yeah," he agreed.
"I was sitting in the coffee shop feeling sorry for myself staring at my stupid phone and all of a sudden – poof – your Facebook post appeared. I took it as a sign."
"You just wanted to see Space Story," he joked.
"With you," she agreed.
"Strange how Space Story has been such a big part of my life all these years," Luke said. "The television show when I was a preteen – how I had to watch it every Wednesday night."
"I liked it when I watched it with you," she smiled. "Usually the summer reruns when I could stay out late."
"And then we saw the first two movies together," he smiled.
"Movie nights," she said with approval.
"But then our story together ended," Luke sighed. "You went off to college and never came back and I had to watch the next seven movies alone or with other people."
"Until tonight," Regina said candidly.
"I always wished I had seen all of them with you," he confessed.
"I know," she said quietly.
"What's wrong with your marriage?" Luke bluntly asked.
"Fifteen years difference was no big deal when I was twenty-five and he was forty," Regina commented. "Now I'm forty and he's fifty five and it just doesn't feel the same. He's still relaxed and easy going, a pot smoker and intellect but I'm not sure if we really have anything in common anymore."
"Your daughter," Luke said.
"Yeah, she's at camp this summer or she'd be here too."
"You miss her."
Regina smiled. "I do," she agreed. "But I'm not really missing my husband. I'm not missing being told what to do and how to feel." She sucked in her breath and looked at him. "Things are okay with the stewardess?"
"It's a weird relationship," Luke replied. "She's always flying off somewhere. We don't live together. But we have whatever it is we have."
"So, we've both made this commitment to our significant other," Regina said sadly.
"Because we couldn't commit to each other when we were in high school," Luke complained.
"You mean I couldn't," Regina said openly. "Because of Dennis."
"Doesn't matter now," Luke shrugged.
"It matters to me," Regina sighed. "I used you. Strung you along so you'd be there for me when I needed you. I was a jerk."
"It's okay," Luke said. "I let you."
"Now I'm just a sexually frustrated unhappily married middle aged wife," she pouted. "I guess it serves me right. I should have been with you, not Dennis."
Luke stared at her sadly but he didn't reply. They finished their second round of drinks. The Tavern was emptying out – it was late, almost closing time now.
"I guess that's our cue," Regina sighed.
"I'll walk you back to your car," Luke offered, throwing some bills on the table to cover the drinks.
"Thanks," she smiled, taking his arm in hers as they left the Tavern.