“Yeah, Jacob…Adams?” he began, squinting at me as he spoke my last name, cueing me for a nod. I helped him out, “Yeah, Adams. He was in Mrs. Johnson’s class, too. You remember, Jacob, right?”
“Ohhh, yeah….sure! Jacob Adams. Ohhhhhh…wait” she leaned in and lowered her voice, “Did we make out at the P.C. North game? Under the bleachers? O.M.G. I was SO WASTED.” Then she looked quickly around the room and put a “shhhh” finger to her lips. “I am a little bit right now, too!” And she began to giggle.
I was frozen in the face of this unprecedented circumstance. I was no longer a friend of the family. My anonymity was shattered and not in a way that aligned with reality. They did not know that I was Everest Clutterbuck, a freelance appliance manual writer, but I wasn’t exactly nobody anymore. I was Jacob Adams, who made out with popular girls in high school. They were staring at me, waiting for some sort of response, but I had nothing! A hot chill of panic rolled through my body and my hands and neck began to sweat. This was beyond my skill of improvisation. What happened next was swift and the beginning of something new in life.
“Jacob? Can I speak to you for a sec?” came a voice that turned Kayla’s and Michael’s heads, and then an arm was tugging me away from them. I raised a finger at them and blurted, “Just one second!”
She pulled me well away from them into a corner of the hall occupied by church trustees one and two examining a crack in the wall. I was breathing and sweating heavily. The trustees moved on. She whipped out her Lillian Rose hanky and handed it to me, “Here. You look like a mess.”
“Nevermind that now,” she said, grabbing the hankie and quickly dabbing my forehead with it for me.
“You’re…the…” I sputtered. “Lillian Rose?”
She tucked the hankie into her clutch and said, “Pleased to meet you.”
“Yes…um…pleased to meet you, too. Jacob Adams.”
“Jacob Adams? Are you sure?” she said, with a crooked smile and a single raised eyebrow. “Are you sure it’s not Michael Jacobs? Orrrr Daryll Clark? Tim Miller, Brian Evans?”
How could I have been so careless? I rapidly sifted through my last three funerals. Had she been at them? How had she figured me out? I took a slow, inconspicuous breath to compose myself, and I scanned the room. The focus was on the family now. The receiving line had formed and the family had begun the difficult task of shaking hands, nodding, thanking, and at times, tending to the emotional needs of well-wishers.
Normally, I would be joining them, having formed the perfect words or sometimes mere gestures of comfort to the bereaved and respect for the deceased.
“I’d like to join the receiving line,” I said. “Would you care to join me?”
Her face softened—transformed. She tilted her head sympathetically, touched my arm nodding to it and then to me. I offered it to her.
“But first we need to make a stop. We are Jacob and Ashley Adams and we did attend high school with Kayla and Michael.”
Kayla and Michael were not in the receiving line and had been joined by the rest of their crew. I glanced at Lillian. She smiled and nodded as if we had just settled something amicably.
“I’m so sorry to have taken this guy away,” she said, leaning into me and patting my chest. I wrapped my arm around her and gave her a squeeze. She said “Soooo ‘high school’ of me to get a little jealous like that. Those days of making out under bleachers are in the past, Kayla. I’ve reformed him!”
“Ohmagod. I am so sorry, umm….” said Kayla, cocking her head and knitting her eyebrows quizzically.
Lillian extended her hand, “Oh no worries! You know. Ashley? I was the girl with braces? The one that never said a word in Mrs. Johnson’s class? I was so shy, then.”
“Ohhhhh…toooottally. Yeah, didn’t you, like, get really good grades and wear plaid skirts and leggings all the time?”
“Oh my God, Kaylal!” said Lillian, rolling her eyes, “Like…every day! So basic.”
“Nooo, no. I thought you were cute,” she said, batting her hand at Lillian and then turning to Michael, “Didn’t you think she was cute?”
Michael nodded as if he were slowly remembering, “Oh, yeah. Very cute. Just really quiet. I don’t think you said two words to me all year.”
“If that!” said Lillian, turning back to me, smiling and patting my chest again. She addressed the whole clique and said, “Oh my God, it was so cool seeing you all. That is so sweet of you to come. We totally have to catch up sometime. See you at the ten year reunion? Oh my God, we are getting so old!”
“Right? Hey, we’ll see you guys then, ok?” said Kayla.
Lillian took my arm once more and began to extract me from the nearly disastrous encounter. “Yeah, it was great seeing you guys again,” I said, turning back briefly.
“How you made it this long, I’ll never know,” she said through a sweet smile. “Now, let’s comfort some family.”