THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
It will be serialized over the next several days…the ending will be marked in the classic styling…
Standing pigeon-toed in her pair of men’s boxers and Turkey Day 5K t-shirt, Gail sipped the last of her piping hot coffee as she looked out to her pool deck. She scoffed and smiled, like she did every morning. She found her undying hot coffee addiction, despite waking up to over sixty degrees with substantial moisture in the air at six a.m. in early February, ridiculous. Perhaps her transplanted location explained why all her vacations were to snowy mountaintops, or at least more temperate, if not drier climates. Seattle, for instance, was a great town. Coffee everywhere.
She changed into her workout gear, put in her ear buds, and called up her ‘go’ playlist, to take off into the still dark morning for her daily run. It was still novel, running outside in the dark winter mornings, but the heat demanded this was her run time if she didn’t want to use a treadmill in the central air everyday. She did want to run in tight temperature control, but it didn’t prepare her for her charity race habit. If she ran only in the cool, dry indoors, she’d be unacceptably unprepared on race days. Her soft heart, not her love for competition, kept her signing up for them, but she still didn’t like performing poorly.
She reentered her house after her regular four miles, dripping with sweat and contemplating the absurdity of oppressive humidity so early in the morning and so early in the year, and of her compulsion to run outside in it. She guzzled a half bottle of lukewarm water and headed to the shower. She stood under the steady stream, a much lower temperature than she previously took her showers, and hoped for a sufficient cool down effect, but of course, like every shower she’d taken in her current house, the bathroom mirror was fogged over when she stepped from behind the shower curtain. She wrapped herself in her robe and wound her towel around her hair, still feeling generally damp, and wiped the condensation from the glass with her terry-cloth sleeve, but it just fogged up again, only with slightly less density at a slightly slower speed. She sighed. She wondered if she’d ever be able to see her reflection clearly here. It took almost a half an hour for the mist to dissipate enough for total clarity, and Gail never had that kind of patience getting ready. She was always off to work or off to lounge or socialize well before the required passed time, and she never was much for vanity. Right after a shower was the only time she really cared to look in a mirror. She could swear she remembered seeing herself clearly after showers back home though. She thought she used to see herself with accuracy; no fuzzy halos or obstructed features.
She internally laughed at herself again after that fleeting thought, for still considering Florida ‘new’ after nearly seven years there. She loved swimming year round, and her career, but she still didn’t consider Florida ‘home.’ Home remained the Midwest, where she grew up, where her non-work contacts were. She felt a pang of nostalgia, and dragged her high school yearbooks from her hall closet shelf to peruse them again. She did this at random intervals about twice a year since she landed on the southern Gulf coast, partly to remember long lost old friends, and partly to remind herself how much her life had improved since high school. Both reasons had equal positive value. ‘I should look Ursula and Eli up online,‘ she thought to herself, pausing at Eli’s photo for longer than she did the other familiar faces from her past.
Eli was The Boy in youth Gail couldn’t move past. They’d attended a couple of dances together, and she attended one with his younger brother when he already had a date. Eli seemed to be ‘in demand’ despite his nerdy pedigree, penchant for platonic relationships, and his unconventional look (think Blond Jesus…full strawberry tinted beard and hair past his shoulders). Gail loved his hair. She was actually periodically jealous of Ursula. Ursula sat behind Eli in Honors Biology, and casually ran her fingers through it, occasionally even braiding it during lecture. These gestures seemed intimate, but they weren’t really. Ursula and Eli were good friends, but there was no romance in that action…Ursula used his hair as an anxiety calming mechanism and Eli let her. Eli was permissive with his friends that way. He was a hugger, and a joke cracker when you looked sad, and a ‘I’ll help you get it,’ when the advanced math got over your head kind of guy. Gail was sure that easy manner was the catalyst for all the seemingly inexplicable attraction to him, and she told herself those qualities were why she fancied him so much, but there was also just something about that long hair. She wanted to run her fingers though it. She wanted to braid it.
Once she’d gulped the last of her now lukewarm second cup of coffee down, she stacked the books back up and put them away. She didn’t have any plans for the rest of the day, except to plan her next trip a couple months down the calendar. Gail usually traveled alone, which everyone in her life found either brave, strange, or pitiable. She didn’t feel brave, but she preferred people who viewed her solo vacations that way as friends, to those who placed her in the other two categories. She did sometimes feel strange. Mostly because people told her routinely traveling alone as a woman and for fun, not business, was strange, but a little because she definitely didn’t consider herself pitiable because of that independence. In spite of her common friendliness and gregarious nature, she liked going by herself, which she guessed, did kind of make her strange. Maybe what she liked was that the time away seemed to renew her appreciation for other people. Solitude, while never uncomfortable, made her genuinely miss good company, and maybe she got a bit of melancholy pleasure out of highlighting what was lacking, knowing she’d return to it. Being away made her eager to return. Unlike all of her friends, who never traveled, except as part of a couple, or family, or group of friends on their time off work, Gail always came back rested and thankful. They all seemed to come back stressed, aggravated, and intolerable of one another, longing for the separation duty and work would provide when they returned home. For them, travel was too much togetherness, and for Gail, it was a chance to practice gratitude for it.
Traveling alone turned her thoughts inevitably to being single. She was nearing thirty now, and while she had both personal fulfillment and modest financial success (hey…she owned her own home with a pool in the back yard, right?) in her work, she attended what felt like a wedding a weekend lately, and she didn’t actively date. She went on dates occasionally, and was always attracted to the men she saw on some aesthetic level, but never really felt connected to anyone. She hadn’t for a long time, really. Not since Eli. Curiosity and a rare wave of loneliness drew her to social media to look him up. She typed his name into the search box, and was immediately rewarded with current photos of him (shaved and shorn) with his wife (relationship status: married) and news of a baby on the way. Clicking through the rest of his publicly viewable profile, she found out it was baby number two.
She smiled. A satisfied smile. ‘Eli looks so happy. Look how adorable his kid is…’ It surprised her that there wasn’t even a small twinge of jealousy or regret. The connection was still there (she friend requested him), but all the perceived attraction from high school was gone. She assumed her natural leaning toward monogamy destroyed it upon finding out he was no longer available. She looked up Ursula, too. She felt a subconscious need to see her as well. She was also now happily married, it seemed. Ursula’s husband looked very stereotypically…manly. She’d always been attracted to ‘ruggedly handsome,’ which is why Gail supposed things never went beyond friendship with Eli. Although Gail knew they’d never been romantic together in youth, she was still kind of surprised Ursula and Eli hadn’t married one another for some reason. Maybe it was because, when Gail saw herself marrying a man, it was always the kind of man she imagined Eli grew up to be. He did become that man, but he cut his hair, which strangely had become important to Gail. She ran through a set of mental snapshots of the men she’d found attractive since high school, and most of them had long hair, or had some hint of androgyny about them. She never did like the classically masculine men Ursula favored. Maybe the organic connection Eli and Ursula had was why them not marrying each other was a minor shock. That connection was really important. Gail friend requested Ursula too, and got an immediate ‘accept,’ which brightened her day. She saw Eli and Ursula were already ‘friends,’ and that filled her with cheer too. She started daydreaming about some reunion among them that involved their families but not the rest of the class of 1995.