The Very Small World of Toby Cavanaugh
Most days Toby walked to and from work. On this windy afternoon on his walk home he noticed his friend Serge standing in front of Johnny C's Diner talking very affectionately to a woman who was not his wife but still looked vaguely familiar to Toby. Serge pretended he didn't see Toby and ordinarily Toby would have avoided the awkward moment but for some reason he stopped to say hello anyway.
The woman looked his way and her eyes went wide with recognition.
"Oh my God, Toby!" She exclaimed, breaking from Serge and nearly jumping into Toby's arms.
"Hello, Nicole," Toby said, having confirmed her identify from the sound of her voice.
"I had no idea you were still around here!" Nicole said.
"You two know each other?" Serge asked with disbelief.
"We do," Toby confirmed.
"We went to college together," Nicole explained, breaking from the embrace and giving Toby a steady and penetrating look.
"It's been a while," Toby said. "I thought you went back to Boston."
"I did," she said, suddenly looking nervous as she gave him a wry smile. "I returned!"
Toby noticed her long auburn hair as the wind billowed it behind her. Her checks were rosy and her features strong and confident. It would have been true love at first sight if he hadn't first caught sight of her eight years earlier as Freshmen at Green College.
Maple Hill Dorm was coed and Nicole was in the room across the hall from him and Dennis. Dennis hit it off with Nicole's roommate Gail and it was understandably natural that the four began hanging out together right from the beginning. Dennis came from White River Junction, Vermont, Gail was from Waterbury, Connecticut, and Nicole hailed from Winchester, Massachusetts, an upper middle class bedroom community of Boston.
Toby was from the small central Massachusetts working class town of Webster. The four were strangers when they first stepped into Maple Hill that first day of Freshman year and they most likely would not have become friends had the circumstances been different.
Nicole let it be known from the start that she had a "serious" boyfriend back home – "Anthony" - and that her future was with him. Toby wasn't emotionally capable of embarking on a relationship anyway, arriving on campus with a silent grief he didn't talk about so it was easy to develop a safe, non-threatening friendship with Nicole from the start. She went home most weekends to be with "her Anthony" but Toby enjoyed her companionship during the week.
The four roomies often ate their meals together when schedules allowed, they hung out in the library together, and they accompanied each other to the various campus events and activities as well as ventures around Blue County.
It was easy to remember those times now that Nicole was standing in front of him for the first time in the four years that had passed since they graduated from Green College..
"How do you two know each other? Toby asked, gesturing back and forth between Serge and Nicole.
"I teach with Serge at Greenville High," Nicole explained in a rushed tone and she didn't notice that Toby's face went white.
"Oh, so you know Serge's wife Rosie then," Toby said. "She teaches there too."
"Sure, of course, I know Rosie," the embarrassed Nicole acknowledged.
"I work over there," Toby said, pointing to an older building across the street with a first floor storefront and office spaces on the higher levels.
Nicole saw "Tobias Cavanagh, LICSW, Counseling Services" etched across a second floor bay window.
"Social work?" She asked, impressed. "That's a noble calling."
"I got my Masters' from Green," Toby explained. "I specialize in adolescents, teens, and young adults."
"That's why he won't see me professionally," Serge joked.
"Wait, how do you two know each other?" Nicole asked.
"We're both from Webster," Serge said. "Small world, huh?"
"Rosie too," Toby added.
"Very small world," Nicole groaned.
"What are you doing over here in Hillsboro?" Toby asked Serge.
Nicole's face turned beat red.
"Well, I should get going," Serge said, throwing Nicole a strange look. "Call me," he told her before disappearing down the street even though Toby could see that his car was parked in Johnny C's lot.
"So, you live here too?" Nicole asked, appearing flustered as she watched Serge leave.
"I have an apartment a couple blocks away," Toby said. "You live in Greenville?"
She nodded yes.
"What are you doing over here in Hillsboro?" Toby asked, even though he already knew the answer.
"We should get together," Nicole said, clearly wanting to change the subject. "Catch up."
"How 'bout Friday night?" Toby suggested. "Duffy's Tavern is right over there."
"Okay," she agreed. "I'll meet you there at seven." She looked very uncomfortable but she squeezed his arm affectionately before heading for her car parked in the diner parking lot.
Toby watched until the car drove out of the lot before glancing in the direction Serge had gone. He walked home thinking about his college friend Nicole. He hadn't dated much since finishing grad school, starting his practice, and settling down in Hillsboro, across the Blue River from Greenville and his alma mater Green College.
Returning to Webster was never an option, still traumatized and haunted by the tragedy and his parents agreed that it was best to start over somewhere else, which is why he went to Green College in the first place.
It really was a small world when Toby bumped into Serge at the Greenville Stop and Save one afternoon shortly after graduating from Green. What were the chances that the three hometown high school friends would end up in the same town fifty miles from home?
Toby didn't want to think about what Nicole was doing with his married friend Serge but he was interested in renewing his friendship with her all these years later.
Serge startled Toby by appearing from nowhere out of Johnson's Book Store.
"You're not going to tell Rosie are you?" Serge asked with concern torched into his face.
"Your marriage is your business, Serge," Toby told him.
"Thanks," he said with obvious relief. "I appreciate it." He gave Toby a punch on the arm before heading back toward Johnny C's where he left his car.