Pendulum — chapter eight

“Going nowhere”

Standing in a line he was pretty sure had not moved in the last ten minutes, Bailey began to question if having a night on the town was quite the brilliant suggestion Ethan thought it was.

The pub was packed from one side to the other with people, and consisted almost exclusively of the usual drunken fraternity all attempting to outdo each other in the hope of attracting attention from the opposite sex. It was a scene Bailey never really enjoyed, but there was just something he couldn’t quite put his finger on that was making him more uncomfortable than usual.

Everywhere he looked he was recognising people, but in every instance he couldn’t quite remember from where. Avoiding people he didn’t want to talk to was not a rare phenomenon, but tonight there just seemed to be more to avoid.

As he finally left the bar with beer in hand, it occurred to him he’d forgotten to get Ethan’s drink. Looking back, Bailey saw that the swarm had already descended over the spot he’d left vacant, and he decided that, in his state, Ethan probably wouldn’t even notice if he didn’t have another drink in his hand.

Turning back to rejoin his mate, Bailey was hit by a wall of blond hair, too much make-up, and an instant realisation.

“Hi, Bailey!” she announced in a painfully shrill voice, “You weren’t at the reunion?” She was Emily … something. Her surname escaped him, but the shrieking voice from the past he remembered all too well. As it sent shivers up his spine, Bailey surmised he was in the middle of some sort of high school reunion he hadn’t been invited to.

“Um, no, I guess I wasn’t,” he stuttered in reply. Bailey paused for a second to try and comprehend the situation. School had been finished for three years. Did people really have reunions so soon? He thought for a moment about the kind of people he went to school with and it definitely seemed plausible. And that he hadn’t been invited? Again, seemed plausible. It was not that he was at all upset about this; the only thing that bothered him was that he was now stuck in the middle of it without any prior warning.

“So what are you doing with yourself these days?” Bailey forced himself to ask of Emily, slipping back into his comfort zone of excessive politeness.

“Well, I’ve been married a few years now,” Emily proudly announced as she shoved her finger into his face, brandishing the tackiest ring he’d ever seen.

“So … you got married pretty much straight out of school?” he asked, tightening the grip on his drink she had nearly knocked from his grasp.

“Yeah. I couldn’t wait,” she replied, “I had it all worked out before I even left school. Well … except for the life partner part. But minor details, you know?” She laughed again; Bailey unsure which bit he was supposed to be laughing at, but smiled anyway. “I’m amazed I remembered to show up for my exams,” she continued. “I sometimes joke that I used my free classes to plan the seating arrangement.”

“Good thinking,” Bailey answered, deadpan. “I know in mine I planned my mid-life crisis, which way I’ll part my comb-over, and where I want to be buried.”

Some of the former school jocks seemed to be getting uncomfortably close to him, so he opted for a quick exit.

“Hey, I’ll catch you later. Say hello to the hubby for me.”

“Oh, I totally will!” she giggled. Finally making his escape, Emily’s voice stopped Bailey in his tracks one more time. He was beginning to think it had the power to strip paint.

“By the way.” She hesitated for a moment, momentarily piquing his interest. “I was sorry to hear about your sister.” Bailey was taken aback, unsure what to reply.

How did she know? There had been a brief report in the paper, but no names mentioned. All the legal stuff was done very discreetly. But it was such a small town, and gossip travelled here like nothing else. If she knew, how many other people did? Bailey was about to probe further when Emily suddenly disappeared in a group of girls who had just walked in and spotted her gleaming monstrosity of a hairdo. The scream was deafening, and about four other people were nearly knocked over as the flailing arms of drunkenly ecstatic girls embraced one another. Bailey, trying to put it all out of his mind, ducked away in search of Ethan.

“We had a school reunion tonight?” Bailey enquired of Ethan, finding him outside blowing smoke rings towards a pretty girl. “A three-year reunion? Who does that?”

“Yeah,” came Ethan’s slurred response, “apparently so. And neither of us knew about it? Maybe we didn’t have quite the social status in school that I thought we did!”

Ethan took another drag of his cigarette, followed immediately by a swig of what was left of his bourbon — a combination that seemed to cause him a certain level of discomfort. A quick belch and he seemed fine again — his wandering eyes were now back half-focused on Bailey and half on the brunette standing behind him.

“Are they that keen to swap wedding photos?” Bailey asked. “I think I’ve walked into my very idea of hell. Do you have any idea how unsettling it is talking to the biggest bitch of year-twelve about her ‘life partner’?”

“Well, I just spent the last twenty minutes trying to chat up Lisa,” Ethan replied. “Before finding out she’s expecting … wait for it … twins! I shudder to think how her level of intelligence is going to be distributed over two people.”

Bailey was slightly jealous of Ethan right then. None of it seemed to bother him. No matter what life threw at Ethan he never took anything too seriously. Bailey couldn’t help but think about the big picture: he had all these hopes and dreams of doing great things when he finished school. Now, five years on, his life was just one mistake after another. He wondered if he’d ever have anything to talk about at a reunion.

“I knew everyone from school was insane, but this is too weird,” Bailey said, taking a substantial helping from his beer. “How many of them are tying the knot?” he asked, “Not to mention the procreating,” he joked.

“Yeah,” Ethan agreed, “I think there’s other things they should be tying. But … life moves on I guess.” Ethan had now settled into a drunken, philosophical tone.

“I guess it does,” Bailey replied sullenly.

“Either that, or they’re all on some serious shit,” Ethan joked in response, demonstrating his prowess at effortlessly progressing from deep thought back to stupid jokes.

“Well, I guess you’d know,” Bailey quipped. “Are we wasting our lives? Maybe there’s something wrong with us?”

“Bay, the only thing wrong with me is I don’t have a drink in my hand.”

With that, Ethan stubbed out his cigarette on a nearby plant and was off again, running into a group of people and almost starting an all-in brawl. He left Bailey to the rest of his beer and to ponder two things: if his friend would survive the night, and if he could handle where he’d suddenly found himself — in a life seemingly going nowhere.

Copyright © 2017 Nick Duhigg