Getting past the past…

Jeffrey Wold was shocked when he walked into a McDonald’s and a woman he didn’t recognize came running across the restaurant, yelling his name. ‘’Jeff, Jeff, I can’t believe it’s you, Jeff, Jeff.’’ He was trying to figure out who she was when she was finally standing in front of him. ‘’It has been years, I think about you all the time. How are you? What are you doing here? Are you married?’’

Jeff tried for facial recognition and then it hit him, it was his old High School girlfriend, Janice. Janice Keogh had been a very energetic and fun girl. He had asked him out in their last year of High School and they had dated for about four months. Things ended after Prom when Jeff went off to University in Southern California and she stayed home and went to a local College. She had always wanted to be a nurse and that’s where her career path took her.

‘’Janice Keogh, I didn’t recognize you at first. How is it that you look younger than when we went to school together? Can I buy you a bite?’’ Janice thanked him for the offer but declined. ‘’I’ve already had breakfast and I’m on the way to the hospital. Are you back here to stay?’’

‘’My parents are selling their place after almost fifty years and moving to Santa Barbara to join me there. That’s where I live. I’m here to give them a hand, I’m staying with them for the next two weeks. I’d love to get together with you if you’re available, I’m sure it would be fun.’’

‘’I would Love to go out, can you give me your phone and I’ll put my number in it.’’ Jeff handed over his Iphone and within seconds Janice handed it back. ‘’I have to run, I don’t want to be late. Why don’t you call or text tonight and we can figure out where to go. So good to see you, I am really happy we’ve reconnected.’’

She ran out of McDonald’s and Jeff ordered an Egg McMuffin and headed off to his parent’s place. His Mom and Dad weren’t one hundred percent certain about moving to California, but Jeff had done a good job of selling them on the weather and the lifestyle. His Dad would be able to golf every day and meet new friends. Santa Barbara had a very good scene for older Jewish women and his Mom would be able to get involved with a group like Hadassah very easily.

Jeff had done well in California, he had sold two screenplays that went on to become Academy Award-winning films, which he had points on, and he had created three television shows that had made it into syndication. He was writing Whodunnits and enjoying life. He had always hated being separated from his parents, and it would be wonderful to have them around. His marriage had gone down in flames. His wife had started working with the Chief Executive Officer of a mega-corporation and that had led to business trips, which led to them both leaving their spouses for each other. There was no acrimony between him and his ex, but he still felt like he should have been a better husband. He could create solid characters on paper who doted on their wives, why hadn’t he done it in real life. When he asked his wife of twelve years why she had decided to leave him for another man, she said ‘’You’re great but your predictable and kind of boring. You're decent and good, but I need excitement. Jorge gives me that. We will travel the world together. I hope you understand, it was just one of those things that happen in life. The good news is we can have a very quiet settlement. As a gift for leaving you, Jorge has promised that I will suffer no financial loss. He intends to give me the money you would’ve had to pay in the divorce, so there is no financial pressure on you. You and I just sign the divorce papers and move on with our lives.’’

Jeff had hired a divorce lawyer who went over the settlement papers and was satisfied with the deal that was offered. She suggested Jeff sign off on it. He kept his house, cars, royalties, and assets. It was an unusual deal but in his lawyer’s words a generous and spectacular settlement. Macey was leaving with nothing, it was a big, calculated gamble on her part, but it was wonderful for Jeff.

Janice answered on the second ring when Jeff called that night. ‘’Jeff, I have been so looking forward to talking with you. Seeing you this morning made my day.’’ Jeff thanked her. ‘’Do you remember the El Secoroo Steak House? They were bought out and the new place is called Au Casual and it’s great. Would you like to go there for dinner on Thursday night? Do you remember Nancy Wistville from High School. She was a year behind us, she’s running the place. I know she’ll be glad to see you. I’ll call and book the reservation for eight o’clock. You can pick me up. I live at ninety-three Oakside. My house is in a new subdivision in the north end. It’s casual dining at the restaurant so jeans are okay. I am really looking forward to spending time and catching up. Have a Great night.’’

Thursday night came and Jeff was at Janice’s at a quarter to eight. He went to the door and a tall teenager answered. He asked for Janice and she came up behind the kid. ‘’Tommy, remember you have to pick your Sister up after her game. Don’t forget ! Oh, and this is my friend Jeff, he’s here from California. Do you remember me telling you about him?’’ Tommy looked bored and completely uninterested in the conversation. ‘’Yeah,Yeah the TV guy you dated back in the day.’’ Janice smiled, ‘’Good Memory Tommy, this is Jeff.’’ Jeff was going to say Hello but before he could, Tommy turned and walked away.

Jeff was driving his Father’s Cadillac Escalade. ‘’Nice car, are your parents excited about moving to California. They won’t have to worry about snow.’’ Before Jeff could answer Janice pulled a picture out of her purse. ‘’I was going to wait to show you this when we got to the restaurant, it’s our prom picture, I always held on to it. I missed you so much when you left, and I never heard a word from you. It was kind of heartbreaking.’’

Jeff was looking straight ahead and trying to think about how to best answer. He didn’t have to, Janice answered for him. ‘’So, since I never heard from you I started going out with Peter Freiland and he asked me to marry him. He was working at the Steel plant. He said he always had a crush on me. I accepted we got married, I became a nurse and had three kids with him. After about seven years of marriage, I walk into the living room one day and he’s rubbing one out to porn. We had little kids around. I yelled at him and asked him to stop, but he became a pornaholic. Every day he was watching porn. He then started hanging out at strip clubs and one of my friends, you might remember her, Sandy Lotta told me she saw him with another woman at Dirty McGraws. I confronted him, he admitted to cheating on me and I threw his ass out. We divorced, and he remarried but not me. Then one day you walk back into my life. How crazy a story is this?’’

Jeff pulled into the parking lot of Au Casual and Janice grabbed his hand. ‘’If you play your cards right, who knows how this night is going to end for you. I still find you kind of cute.’’

The restaurant was busy and there was a constant buzz. Good music was playing in the background and they were shown to a table right away. Two minutes after sitting down Nancy Wistville was at the table. ‘’Jeff, welcome back. Janice told me you were back. I’m sending over a couple of glasses of wine for you on the house. Do you remember your friend Ray Timson. I married him. I use my maiden name for work. Ray asked me to say Hello for him to you. Maybe you guys will get together before you disappear again. I have to run, I like to make sure they don’t slump off in the kitchen.’’

Janice took Alan’s hand and held it across the table. ‘’Do you remember Earnie Anderson? He’s the Mayor now. He used to be a good football player in High School and everyone thought he was kind of dumb but now he’s the Mayor. Would you believe it?’’

It was hard to look at the menu as Janice kept throwing up names from High School at him. He realized after ordering that Janice was stuck in a time warp. He really didn’t care that Harold Baines was working at the bank or that Mary Calbra had a Real Estate company. He didn’t care about the High School reunions he had missed or that Tom McPhail and Angela White who had married in Grade thirteen were also now divorced. It was like a steady stream of drivel. It was nice to know that Janice kept in touch with all these people, but it was also on the disconcerting side that she hadn’t seemed to move forward.

‘’What about your kids? Tommy seemed very nice.’’ Janice sighed. ‘’Tommy’s the oldest, he works at Salpa Steel. He’s making a good dollar but I wish he was doing more with his life. My daughter’s name is Melinda and she’s in Grade 12 and she wants to be a Nurse like me. My youngest is eight and he’s named after his Dad, Peter, which I regret. I wanted my children to be superstars but look at the Dad. I’m hoping they will be successful in life but I think they need a good strong male role model. You know I heard they hire a lot of Canadian nurses in California. Is there a big hospital in Santa Barbara?’’

The food they ordered arrived and Jeff Wold was feeling guilty. He shouldn’t have taken Janice out. She seemed interested in firing up a romance between them and seemed to be looking for something long-term. He just wanted a night out. After his divorce was finalized with his wife, he had met Sarah Stein. She was a very successful LA Producer and they had hit it off. It had only been a few dates but there had been real chemistry. He was feeling nothing similar with Janice.

Nancy returned to the table to check on the meal and the wine. She suggested a slice of double chocolate fudge cake for dessert and Janice and Jeff agreed that would be lovely and also ordered a couple of cappuccinos.

Janice looked at Jeff as Nancy walked away and whispered something he could hardly hear. ‘’I want you to kiss me. I want you to kiss me now.’’ She leaned forward and tried to reach his lips across the table. It was awkward. Jeff didn’t want to hurt her feelings or lead her on, but her lips were close, so he leaned forward and they kissed. He was surprised at how smooth her lips were and she stood there with her eyes closed for a few seconds. She sat back down with a smile on her face. ‘’That was nice, really nice. I needed it.’’

After dessert and the cappuccinos Nancy was back at the table. ‘’I told you that chocolate cake was great. That’s Ray’s favourite. I took fifteen percent off the bill for family and friends. I am really happy to see you and Janice together again, you make a nice couple. Maybe the four of us can go out before you head back to Santa Barbara. I know you want to spend most of your free time with Janice, but that would be great if we can arrange it. Maybe you could come over to our place for a Barbeque. Whoops, I’ve gotta run, I see a waitress having problems with a customer.’’

As they headed out to the parking lot, Janice grabbed Jeff’s hand and pulled him into her. ‘’I want you. I don’t know what to say, it’s been a long time and I feel like I want you. Do you want me?’’

Jeff had a natural sexual response. The lower extremities always wanted action, but having sex with Janice when he wasn’t that interested would be using her for his own sexual gratification and what about Sarah Stein? He had to admit that Janice’s lips were soft and felt great.

‘’Here’s the deal Janice. I would love to make love to you, but there’s a problem. I’m heading back to California soon and who knows how long it will be before I see you again. It would be prom all over.’’

Janice kept pulling him tighter into her. ‘’You have it all wrong, I could move to California with the kids to be with you. You could become their Father.’’ It was like cold water had just been thrown in his face. Father, he didn’t want to be the new Father. He loved his life, he wasn’t ready for that scene. He tried to disentangle and she laughed. ‘’I checked it out, the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is a teaching hospital, I could probably get a job there. I talked to the kids and they are all ready to move to California. Tommy said he could get a job there or go back to school. That’s exciting. So let’s get crazy and get married and I can help your parents move their stuff, and then we can move mine. I can sell my house, pay off the mortgage and move on. We were good in High School, we can be good now.’’

Jeff felt dizzy, this was much more than he bargained for. They walked to the car with him barely breathing let alone saying anything. He opened the door for her and she got in. She looked at the backseat. ‘’If you want to screw I know a pretty quiet place we can go. The backseat looks comfortable.’’ Jeff was all of a sudden having flashbacks to High School. It was all a bad dream. Screwing in the back seat? No way, he was way past that.

As they drove Janice was talking but Jeff had checked out. He knew this would be his last date with his old High School girlfriend. He was sorry he had somehow given her the wrong impression. He had just wanted to go out for a nice dinner, not to inherit a family. As they got closer to her place, Jeff tried to listen to what she was saying. ‘’So, if you want we can be more prepared on Saturday night and I’ll tell the kids I’ll be at the hospital working an overnight shift and we can sneak away to my friend John’s cabin. Do you remember John from our High School? He owns a garage. Anyways, we dated and we’re still friends and he said I could use his cottage anytime, so what do you think? Does Saturday night work for you?’’

The Cadillac was pulled in front of Janice’s house. ‘’I am so flattered. You are a beautiful, intelligent woman and any guy would want to be with you. The thing is I’m not ready for a commitment. I don’t want to mislead you or hurt your feelings. I think you’re great but I’m heading back to California in a couple of days, and I need to focus on getting my parent’s place cleaned out. That’s why I came back, seeing you has been a big bonus. You’re wonderful Janice, and I think the fact you’re a nurse is beyond fantastic, but I’m just not ready for a serious relationship. You deserve more and better. I’m sorry I don’t want to hurt your feelings, I just want to be honest.’’

Janice sat in stunned silence. ‘’I feel like an idiot, I thought you were still into me all these years later. I thought we had something special in High School. I’m embarrassed. I thought you might have great memories of High School and want to see people from back then, but I don’t think you do. I think you’ve become more of a California-type person. I get it. I understand. I shouldn’t have said anything about the back seat except it probably would have been fun. Anyways.’’ Before she could finish Tommy was knocking on the driver's side window. Jeff rolled it down. ‘’Dude, can you move your car, I have to get out of the driveway and you're blocking me in.’’

Almost on cue, Janice opened her door and stepped out. She looked at Jeff and shook her head. Tommy walked away and Janice took a long look inside the car at Jeff ‘’That could have been your son, he could have done things with you. I have to go, goodbye Jeff, I wish you a good life.’’ She then slammed the door shut and walked up the driveway. Jeff slowly backed the car out onto the road and drove off.

When he was almost home he kept thinking how happy he was that Tommy wasn’t almost his son, and how happy he would be to get back to his house and California. He had firmly placed the past in the past and had no desire, unlike Janice to relive it. He doubted once his parents had moved that he would ever come back, and that was more than fine with him. He believed in living his life looking forward not in the rearview mirror. As far as Janice went, running into her was great, leaving and moving on was even better. He wished her and her family the best life could offer. He was counting the minutes to get to the airport and back to California and seeing Sarah Stein. He couldn’t wait to share the story about what happened when he returned to his hometown with her. In LA speak it was like a bad episode of a sitcom. He laughed just thinking about what it would have been like trying to be Tommy’s Dad.

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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