The Road To Somewhere

My high school pal Duncan and I still got together for the occasional beer to catch up and hangout. Dunc was a married father of two so we didn't get a whole lot of guy time but The Bullpen Tavern remained one of our favorite joints since we're both washed up ex-jocks and former Serguci League players.

On this particular evening, we were seated at the bar watching the Red Sox game on the multiple screens spread throughout the tavern while nursing our beers when we were interrupted by a couple of yells.

"Hey, Guys!"

We turned to see two former high school classmates seated in a booth – Cierra Roberts and Marcie Adams, still looking good in their early thirties. I hadn't seen either of them in years - maybe Marcie's and Bruce's wedding or Cierra's and Lou's wedding – I forget who married first. I heard that Cierra's marriage had fallen apart a couple of years ago.

"Come join us!" Cierra called, waving her arm like she was a third base coach.

Dunc and I exchanged glances and we figured what the hell. We took our beers and joined our friends, Dunc sitting with Marcie and me plopping down next to Cierra, the only girl I truly loved.

"Well, isn't this special!" Cierra laughed, giving my arm a hug.

"Imagine meeting the two of you here," Dunc grinned.

"Girl's Night Out," Marcie explained.

We had the waitress bring a couple of pitchers of beer to the table and it almost felt as though we were in high school again being reunited like this. We were all part of the same clique back then – Dunc, Bruce, Lou, me, Marcie, and of course Cierra among others. There seemed to be a fair competition for the girls' affections – Dunc was always sweet on Marcie but she liked Bruce and of course I was crazy for Cierra but she was memorized by Lou, so we pretty much pretended we were equal friends playing our own little mind games with each other in hopes of somehow cracking the code.

I remember one night we were out in Dunc's car – him and Marcie in the front, me and Cierra in the back and I made it a point of purposely pressing against Cierra whenever Dunc rounded a corner!

Marcie and Cierra were best friends, neighbors in the affluent Hilltop section of town. They were dancers at Step Up! Dance Studio and high school cheerleaders which worked out well since all us guys were on the football team. We hung out a lot at Marcie and Cierra's houses because their parents were welcoming and accepting and everything was cool. Plus they could keep an eye on us!

One night we were all at Marcie's and she insisted on showing us about twelve years worth of her dance costumes which she had saved for some reason. She had a slight buzz on and she was full of giggles as she led us up the stairs to her bedroom on the third floor of the huge Victorian she lived in.

Cierra was bored with the whole walk down memory lane thing with the costumes so she and I were the last one up the stairs. She leaned in close and whispered something silly in protest but I loved the smell of her breath – the hint of the rum we had been drinking earlier, mixed with coca-cola of course.

"This is like looking at baby pictures," Cierra complained as Marcie dragged the costumes out of her large closet.

"Only Marcie isn't naked!" Bruce joked, stretched out on Marcie's bed with his shoes kicked off.

Marcie's huge room was over decorated and full of expensive clothes and accessories. It smelled like a perfume factory. Cierra and I sat on the guest bed while Dunc collapsed onto the couch in the corner of the room, all of us watching with complete boredom as Marcie held up each costume and told us what number it was from and what year. I wanted to lie down on the bed and go to sleep with Cierra at my side.

"Do you still have your costumes?" I teased Cierra as we sat on the bed watching Marcie's show and tell.

"I gave them to the needy," she deadpanned.

"Hey, Marcie, do you still have your dance costumes?" I asked as we sat in the booth, causing Cierra and Dunc both to laugh.

"As a matter of fact, yes," Marcie said defensively. "My girls like to play dress up with them."

We made small talk while stealing glances at the ball game on the screens, happy to be back together again. It reminded me of our days at Hillsboro High, especially in the cafeteria during lunch. It was a magical time and I was surprised to realize how much I missed those experiences and those people. I glanced at Cierra and smiled.

"It's good to see you again," I let her know with sincerity.

Cierra smiled with contentment but she didn't say anything. Marcie was always the talkative one. She had a way of practically interviewing people by asking them irrelevant and unimportant questions while being quick to offer her own opinion and advice, even when it wasn't asked.

"So, what's Bruce up to these days?" Dunc asked Marcie.

"Oh, still running the bakery business with his Dad," Marcie reported. "It's going well."

Bannister Bakeries was the largest local bakery outfit in Blue County.

"Bruce, Marcie and the kids live up on the hill too," Cierra volunteered.

Dunc nodded his head in acknowledgement. I knew he was happy in his marriage to Brenda who he met in college and had no regrets about Marcie picking Bruce over him. He talked briefly about the small computer business he ran and he and Marcie exchanged quick notes about their respective kids.

I wondered how different Dunc's life might have turned out if he had ended up with Marcie instead of Brenda, who was much more grass roots and down to earth than the more spoiled and pampered Marcie. Dunc waited for Marcie for a long time but Marcie was going for Bruce even though Dunc featured the more athletic, humorous and charismatic personality. But Bruce was well off and Marcie was attracted to that promise for the future. Dunc lived in a small ranch in the flats section of town back then with his widower father, Dunc's mom dying of cancer when he was ten.

"I'm not sure if I could ever completely trust someone who didn't have a mother," I remember Marcie remarking one time which was ironic given that Bruce's mom walked around with a stick up her ass.

Of course, I was pining for Cierra during those memorable high school years while she was stuck on Lou, the dark, handsome, poetic, cool mysterious guy who had access to drugs the rest of us were afraid of. He also came from a good family although he was rebel-rouser who could be temperamental and explosive in his demeanor.

I never understood what Cierra saw in the guy. He went to the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys because he was basically a genius so he wasn't around as much, which was okay with me!

I really didn't have anyone waiting for or pining after me. Unlike Dunc, who decided to hang out with other girls while waiting for Marcie, I (foolishly) decided to stay true to Cierra even though she was head over heels for Lou. Cierra had dark black hair that looked perpetually wet because it was so silky and smooth. Her face was round and attractive and she was well liked and popular at school, mostly because she got along with anybody.

Although she lived up on the hill (her Dad was a doctor, her mom a social worker), Cierra had little pretense or airs about her. If anything, she was daring and I think part of her attraction to Lou was the thrill and excitement of pushing the envelope and taking risks. One night, when Marcie had too much to drink, she told me that Lou snorted lines of Coke off of Cierra's bare butt which was not something I really wanted to know.

All of us had known each other since elementary school so there were few secrets. The guys had the bonding experience of sports as our connection and the girls were happy to cheer us on when they weren't involved in their dancing and other interests.

It was easy to get booze – either stealing it from our parents' stock or letting Bruce's older brother buy it for us. I didn't drink as much as the others. My father had a drinking problem and I also didn't want to get busted as a student athlete so I was cautious when it came to the partying. Cierra liked to drink and Marcie could easily get buzzed back in the day so it wasn't all that strange to be sitting in The Bullpen Tavern all these years later emptying a couple pitchers of beer with those two.

Cierra excused herself to use the ladies room. She was wearing skin tight jeans and a puffy flowery blouse with sandals. Her hair was still jet black and as smooth as silk.

"So, what happened with her and Lou?" I asked Marcie.

"He's a heroin addict," Marcie answered bluntly. "She couldn't take it anymore, especially with the kids. He was driving them broke and her crazy."

"Wow," Dunc said with a whistle. "He's the smartest guy I've ever known."

"Yeah, well he's pretty stupid when it comes to addiction," Marcie said. "Such a waste, but his parents always enabled and babied him."

Lou could always sweet talk Cierra. He called her Beautiful most of the time. We were aware of his drug usage even back then but Cierra seemed to think it was just a passing fad and that once they married and started their lives together he's clean up his act. I felt sorry for Cierra that things didn't work out the way she envisioned.

Cierra returned from the ladies room and the rest of us pretended we hadn't been talking about her while she was gone.

Lou was looking at Harvard, Yale or Princeton for college while the most of us assumed Green College would be our ticket, if not Blue County Community College. Cierra was torn about her choices, debating as to whether or not she should attend a college close to Lou instead of doing the long distance relationship thing.

I was happy to hang out with Cierra when Lou wasn't available and it was always annoying when he called her when I was around.

"Hey, Beautiful," I'd hear his voice say through the phone.

Cierra melted whenever Lou called or showed up and at that point I was usually the odd man out. Sometimes Cierra would walk into the other room to finish the call and I usually left when Lou showed up. Cierra happily floated whenever she was in Lou's presence. He had long blond hair and he was undoubtedly handsome and inarguably smart but there was something fake about him that kept me at a distance. We were friends in our younger days but once he went marching off to Sun Rise Lake School for Boys and stole Cierra's heart (from me), I didn't like him much and we didn't hang out anymore.

I knew Cierra was snorting cocaine with Lou and I didn't like that nasty habit. What would happen if she got busted? Or if she OD'ed? I knew I was losing her forever when she started doing the white stuff. Lou had stolen her away and there was nothing I could do about it.

I probably should have avoided Cierra with that stuff going on but I felt like I owed it to her to stand by in case something bad happened. I probably shouldn't have gone to one of Lou's parties that fall either. I was roaming through the house trying to avoid the partiers – many from Sun Rise Lake School for Boys who I didn't know – and I came across an open doorway. It was dark but I could see Cierra kneeling in front of Leo who was sitting on a bed.

My stomach fell when I realized she was giving him head and I had to stop myself from letting out a yell or cursing. I suddenly understand that Cierra had a boyfriend and it wasn't me. I stumbled into another darkened bedroom in dazed disgust and defeat and I fell face first onto the bed. My entire body felt like I fallen into a cement mixer.

After a while someone else came into the room and laid down next to me. I knew it was Cierra but I didn't say anything. We laid there side by side in the dark.

"You should've told me," I finally said, trying not to cry.

"Told you what?" She asked.

"Never mind," I realized.

"There's so much going on and I feel like something is ending, right here at this moment," Cierra admitted, her voice breaking.

"Between us, you mean," I sighed, sliding off the bed without looking at her and shutting the door behind me when I left the room.

Downstairs in the living room, Dunc was sitting with Marcie, her arm wrapped around his neck, her face next to his. Dunc's eyes were closed with contentment and I wondered what Bruce would think if he saw them like that. I looked around but I didn't see him amongst the crowd.

Lynn was there that night. She was a member of our clique – a cheerleader with Marcie and Cierra and she was often with us during various group activities. She was looking at me kind of hesitantly and I debated whether I should default to her on this night to make me feel better knowing I had lost Cierra for good.

But instead of pursing Lynn, I went onto the outside deck behind the house. For some reason, Lynn decided to follow me. She was a tall girl with long strawberry hair and the hips of a linebacker. She was a nice person but I never paid all that much attention to her being hooked on Cierra.

"You okay?" Lynn asked. "You don't look so good. You drink too much or something?"

"Nothing like that," I assured her, taking a seat in one of the deck chairs.

She crossed the deck and sat in the chair next to me. "We're growing up," Lynn observed.

"Yeah," I agreed sadly, realizing I had lost my last semblance of innocence that night.

"You going to be okay?" Lynn asked.

"It's too late for that, Lynn," I admitted.

"Well, don't let it change you," Lynn advised. "Stay the way you've always been."

"Maybe that's been my problem all along," I sighed. "I never changed."

"Some lucky girl is going to be very happy with who you are," Lynn predicted.

I started to cry. I didn't even try to hide it.

"Hey," Lynn said with kindness. She leaned in so our faces were together and she looked right into my eyes. "The world is full of assholes, Albert," she said. "Don't let them get to you."

"Earth to Albert!" It was the present day Cierra calling me out of my thoughts.

"Anybody know what became of Lynn Damon?" I asked.

"I think she's out in Arizona or something," Marcie volunteered.