Déjà vu was a feeling Sean had never had before – but he recognized it instantly. He had seen enough movies and had heard enough friends describe it that as soon as the sensation swept over him, he heard himself say, “whoa, déjà vu.”
Of course he knew he had never lived this moment before. He was doing number thirty-seven on the list of things he swore he would never do: Attend alumni weekend. It had only been six years since he escaped high school. He had absolutely no business attending alumni weekend. Yet here he was.
It was exactly what he thought it was going to be: Insincere smiles followed by insincere hugs and people pretending to be interested in the answer to the question, “so what have you been up to?”
Yet here he was: Sitting in an over-crowded, hot and humid indoor pool – not in the pool, mind you. That would have been much more comfortable. No, he was sitting on the top row of a set of bleachers overlooking the pool, waiting for one of many races to begin. It was an evening of “alumni versus current students,” the sort of event that no matter how poorly someone did, they still walked away a winner. It was for prosperity, it was for meager bragging rights, it was to assuage the aging egos of men and women who graduated twenty years ago. Sean counted it as a grave life failure on his part that he didn’t have anything better to do on a Saturday night than watch winners lose and losers win.
I had this dream. Sean suddenly realized. The night the air conditioner crapped out.
Sean wished he was dreaming now. The dream had begun with him fumbling with a pack of cigarettes, having “decided to take up smoking,” and it with him making out with Hailey Tucker – well, not quite. The dream had ended with him and her in an abandoned class room. His lips had just barely touched hers when he had inexplicably woken up. Try as he might, he had not been able to return to that dream.
“In Lane Number One,” said a plump little man Sean recognized as the new principal of the high school, “swimming for the students, is Craig Wilkins!”
Polite applause. One of Craig’s friends sounds an air horn.
“In Lane Number Two,” said the plump little principal, “swimming for the alumni, is Hailey Tucker!”
Sean sat up. No way. But there she was, waving politely to the polite applause and smiling that radiant smile that Sean had fallen in love with their senior year. She looked different than she had in his dream. In his dream, she had still been a high school senior. Here, now, she was six years older. She was older, leaner. She looked good.
Knowing there was no way this night was going to end the same way his dream had promised to end, Sean climbed down the bleachers and exited the gym. The night was balmy, but cool in comparison to the greenhouse where the pool was located. Having made his daring escape, Sean was confronted by the grim reality that he still had no plans for the evening. Happy Valley had a lot of things – “options” was not one of them.
The gym exploded with excitement and Sean knew the race had begun. He momentarily thought about going back inside – but for what purpose? To watch his past race his future? To listen to his future tell his past condescending jokes? No. Thank-you. The nothing outside was better than the something inside.
A door opened and out bounded Hailey Tucker. Sean froze. Hailey looked up at him with her big blue eyes. She smiled at him as she wrung her out her hair. Her hair wasn’t as curly as Sean remembered it. It was just as blond, though.
“Sean Iles, is that you?” her voice was uniquely strong and soft at the same time. It was the kind of voice that never prepared you for what was coming next. In the next breath she could just as easily joke with you, mock you, compliment you, scold you, or dismiss you.
Sean smiled back at her. “It is,” is all he could think to say.
She shook her feet like a cat, sending raindrops everywhere. “What are you doing out here?”
Sean shook his head, wishing he had an answer. “Waiting for you?”
Hailey stopped as she tried to decipher what Sean had meant. Realizing she had no idea, she laughed.
“And what are you doing out here?” Sean countered. His heart skipped a beat as he remembered asking the same question three nights ago.
“Having a victory smoke.” Hailey said, reaching into a purse Sean had not noticed. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Sean.
Sean shook his head, stopped, reconsidered, and then nodded. “I’ve been thinking about taking up smoking, actually.”
“Oh yeah?” Hailey plucked a cigarette out of the pack with her lips. “You really shouldn’t,” she said as she lit her cigarette and then passed the lighter to Sean. “They’re awful for you.”
“Oh yeah?” Sean said, trying to remember how Brad Pitt lit his cigarette in Fight Club. “What about you? Miss Olympic Swimmer?”
“That’s Misses Olympic Swimmer, and I’ve been smoking since eighth grade.”
“Misses?” Sean repeated.
Hailey held up her left hand and thumbed her ring finger. There was no ring there. Realizing this, Hailey shrugged, “well I don’t want to lose it in the pool.”
Sean’s head was buzzing. He was light-headed and his heart was racing. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
“So you’re Hailey Moore now.”
“Did you know John?”
Sean shook his head.
“He graduated a couple years before us.”
Sean shook his head again. “I think I’ve heard the name, though.”
“What about you?” Hailey nodded. “What have you been up to?”
She crossed one arm over her waist and propped her other arm on it. She tucked one of her feet behind the other and stood there, more or less balancing on one foot as she smoked. Standing there, still dripping and only wearing her blue Olympic one-piece, Sean wondered if she was cold. She was gorgeous, he knew that. But he wondered if she was cold.
Sean coughed. “Nothing.”
“Must be nice.” Hailey said to the stars as she flicked ash away.
“Meh,” Sean shrugged. “Took a year of generals and realized ‘I have no idea what I want to do or who I want to be. So why waste thousands of dollars trying to figure it out? Once I have some answers, I’ll go back – if I need to.”
“Shit!” Hailey jumped. “What time is it?”
Sean pulled out his cell phone. “Nine-thirty.”
“Shit!” Hailey flicked her cigarette. “I’m supposed to meet Chris. You wanna come?”
“To meet Chris.”
“Just in the gym. C’mon.” Hailey grabbed Sean’s hand, causing his heart to skip another beat. He flicked his cigarette away and let himself be led back up the stairs, through the indoor pool, and to the rest room door. Hailey pointed to the men’s door as she nodded towards the women’s. “I’ll meet you on the other side.”
The other side of the restrooms dumped you into the gymnasium. Sean was a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by gymnasts tumbling this way and that. He never felt right inside a gym. He always felt awkward, obvious, and overly aware of all his body’s movement. He imagined the jocks and other trained athletes could spot him from across the gym by just the way he walked. He could hear them laughing at him.
Hailey was already there, standing in the middle of one of the tumbling mats, talking to a six feet of muscle named Chris. Chris, Sean knew.
Chris had been the captain of the basketball team and had been the school’s star gymnast. “Cirque Du Soleil” everyone had said until graduation weekend, when Chris thought he’d do one last slam dunk while everyone was setting up in the gym. He slipped, dislocated his shoulder, and broke his forearm in two places. Now he only has seventy-five percent mobility in his right arm and changes old ladies’ oil at Express Oil – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Sean wondered what Chris was doing with the gymnasts. Perhaps reliving former glories. Sean didn’t care. He just wanted Hailey’s attention back. But she was moving around the gym now, smiling, laughing, and hugging people. With every hug, Sean felt a little more forgotten. He saw the fun she was having and was about to turn to go when Hailey bounced over to him.
“Don’t you love gym mats?” She bounced in place. “They’re squishy.”
“Well,” said Sean, “it was nice seeing you again . . .”
Hailey stopped bouncing. “Are you leaving?”
Sean shrugged, looking over Hailey’s shoulder to the gymnasts.
“Oh,” Hailey understood, “I just needed to say ‘hi,’ we can go now.”
Hailey seemed to think about it for a moment. Then, summoning up her courage, she took Sean by the hand and led him out of the gym. Sean didn’t ask any questions. There was something strange in the air. Something about Hailey had changed. He didn’t dare even think the word, for fear that if he assigned an adjective to it, it would break the spell.
Sean remembered this hall. It connected classrooms and at the end of it was the coach’s office. He was used to seeing it bathed in fluorescent light. Tonight the only light came from three windows and the moon that shone through them.
“Do you remember the Warm Fuzzy Board?” Hailey asked, walking through a splash of moonlight. Sean stared at the blue X on Hailey’s back and the skin that poked through it. The moon highlighted teeny-tiny hairs on her back.
“Uh,” Sean swallowed saliva to wet his tongue. “Yeah.”
“You sent me a note once,” she said, checking a door and finding it locked. “It said, ‘your smile could melt an iceberg.’”
The voice inside Sean’s head groaned. He remembered writing that and he remembered how amazing it had sounded in his head when he had written it. He had wanted to flirt with her in a non-committal sort of way. If she had taken it in a bad way, he could have shrugged it off as a compliment meant solely to brighten her day.
“Do you remember writing that?”
Another splash of moonlight found Sean staring at Hailey’s legs. She had strong swimmer’s legs. They were toned and smooth, like a marble goddess’. A few stubborn drops of water still clung to them and Sean could not fault those drops of water.
“Yeah,” Sean had to admit.
Hailey twisted a doorknob and the door it belonged to swung away from her. Even in the darkness, Sean could tell Hailey was smiling. She led him into the empty classroom and Sean knew he was dreaming. He head the door click shut behind him and he turned around to see Hailey slowly walking towards him, an elfish smile across her lips.
“That’s not why we’re here. Well, sorta. I mean, that little note . . . I had hoped it was going to be the first of many instead of . . . well, the only. Instead, I never got another note from you. You wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.”
This was a dream. Sean knew it. He was going to wake up now.
“Why?” Hailey whispered. She was standing so close to Sean he could feel her warmth.
Knowing he was going to wake up now, Sean admitted, “because I liked you way too much.”
Somehow, she stepped closer. Sean prepared himself to wake up from what was going to become the most aggravating reoccurring dream of his life. Hailey’s small, soft hand touched Sean’s cheek and he didn’t wake up. He felt himself wrap his arm around her waist and pull her in tight. Her wet swimsuit began soaking through Sean’s t-shirt.
Sean didn’t wake up and so he stopped caring. He smiled and she smiled. He pinched her lips with his. He could taste her. He could smell her. He could feel her heartbeat in his own chest. One hand was on the small of her back and the other was caressing her cheek.
He knew she was married. But they were alone and she wanted him.
And he wasn’t dreaming.