“It’s going to fall,” I said.
Dominique very carefully pressed her pointer finger against a Jenga block in an attempt to push it through the opening. “I’ve got this,” she replied, her attention fixed on the teetering tower.
“No, it’s going to fall,” I insisted. I watched as she continued to push the block, in a vain attempt to free it from its place. The blocks tumbled in a heap. “I told you.”
She let out a classic, Dominique-style laugh, cackling good-naturedly at her error.
I shook my head and smiled. “You’re so stubborn sometimes. I guess some things never change.”
We had already begun to rebuild the tower. Dominique took a bite of her free oatmeal cookie, courtesy of the hotel lobby. “You know me too well,” she said, still chuckling at herself.
“Why don’t we see each other more often? It’s not like we live very far away,” I mused.
“Yeah, but you’ve got your big career and all. I don’t make it to Manhattan much anyway.”
“But Queens is right around the corner. I’m just a bad friend,” I muttered.
Dominique laughed. “We may as well be across the country. I’ve got the husband and the kids, and you’ve got all those books to edit. You seeing anyone these days?”
I made a face.
Everyone asks me this question.
“I see people everyday,” I replied.
Dominique shook her head at me. “What was it you said about things not changing? You’re gorgeous Samantha. Why haven’t you found a nice guy yet?”
“You assume I’m interested in finding ‘a nice guy.’ Maybe hooligans are more my speed,” I retorted with a smirk. “Or homeless men. A little unpredictability adds spice to a relationship.”
Dominique was losing it. She laughed loudly at my silly joke and I couldn’t help but join in this time.
“How’s Paul?” I asked her.
“He’s alright. Sort of in a slump with the job right now, but that’s how construction is. Little Hector is going into kindergarten now.” She shook her head. “Time sure passes quickly.”
You’re telling me.
It had been five years since we graduated from Lloyd Hastings University. I hadn’t particularly wanted to come to the five-year reunion, because it didn’t feel like much time had passed since I’d left the place. Although I enjoyed the freedom and social life from my undergrad years, I’d been through some unpleasantness as well, and I’d found five years insufficient to erase the sting of it all. I was also currently very much focused on my Manhattan editing career, even if I hadn’t yet climbed very far up the publishing ladder.
“Do you have any idea who’s coming this weekend?” I asked casually, while I pushed a block on one side and grabbed the other end.
Dominique found herself another block to remove as she replied, “You mean Richard?” She shrugged. “You would know better than me.” She listed several other people she had heard were coming.
“Mark should be coming too,” I told her. “He texted me last week.”
“Isn’t he a lawyer now or something?”
“Yeah. He works in Westchester. I never see him either though,” I said. I let out a quiet sigh.
“I always thought you and he would hook up,” she commented. Her dark eyes traveled from the wooden tower to my face as she pulled another block and leaned back in her chair.
“Yeah, a lot of people thought that. We were only ever friends,” I said.
“You were always too busy chasing after Richard,” she remarked a bit wryly. “You nervous about seeing him this weekend?”
“I don’t know. It’s not like anything is going to happen. It’s only two nights. Then we all go back to our grown-up lives.” I turned my paper coffee cup absently. “I think I heard he’s engaged or something.”
“Oh yeah. I saw he posted about that online.” Dominique had taken a break to finish her cookie. She turned her attention back to the Jenga tower and said sympathetically, “He was never right for you Sammy. Any other guy would have loved to have you pay attention to him. Richard was an idiot, plain and simple. You don’t want someone who doesn’t appreciate you.”
Something about her sympathy almost made it feel more humiliating. I had spent most of my undergrad years pursuing Richard, only to find that he could never make up his mind about me. Since graduating, I lamented this wasted time and agonized over what I’d done wrong. The worst of it was that there was never any closure. I knew Richard had been attracted to me – he’d told me so more than once. I thought we had great chemistry together, but then I made the mistake of telling him my feelings before graduation. He was awkward after that, and I had little contact with him since.
Dominique knew all this and had, on more than one occasion, reassured me Richard wasn’t worth the effort. I was getting tired of hearing it. Even though I brushed off the upcoming encounter with him, I secretly hoped something would reignite. But I was too ashamed to share this with Dominique.
“Let’s go for a walk,” she suggested. “I have to pee.”
We scooted our chairs out from under the table and exited the hotel’s conference room. It was a four-star hotel, the type of place fancy enough to make you feel like you got your money’s worth, but easy on the budget. The halls were carpeted in a deep shade of green and the walls were decorated with typical hotel-artwork. I could smell chlorine from the pool. We wandered back toward the hotel lobby where we’d met earlier that day. The lobby had one of those gas-lit fireplaces and a few stuffed leather chairs. In the corner of the room there was a bookshelf with games, which is where we’d picked up Jenga.
Dominique and I seemed to be the first ones to have arrived; at least, I hadn’t seen anyone else from our university yet. We’d arranged ahead of time to share a room together. I remembered how messy of a roommate she’d been in college, but after five years, I sort of missed those days. Things were so much simpler back then, before taking on more adult responsibilities.
I’d always been rather studious, so I didn’t really struggle with class assignments and papers. By contrast, Dominique was usually catching up or barely passing class. She had a tendency to procrastinate and get caught up in social things. More than once I helped her edit through her papers late at night to meet an early morning deadline.
Cleanliness and study habits weren’t the only things that differed between myself and Dominique. I’m innately quiet and reserved with people I don’t know well, unless of course, I’m interested enough to get to know someone. I was often believed to be rather stuck-up in college, merely because I didn’t mix in many social scenarios. I kept to myself and had a small group of good friends.
Dominique was rather loud and would sometimes burst into rants in Spanish when she was excited or upset. She liked to talk to people, even those she didn’t know, and genuinely cared about your family or whatever it was you were going through. Somehow these distinctions in our personalities made for a great friendship.
“My hair is crazy. The rain always does this,” Dominique said as she untied her frizzy, black hair in front of the bathroom mirror. She quickly swept it all in a big bunch on the top of her head and wrapped a hair band around it so it sat in a loose, messy bun. “I’m such a mess,” she laughed.
We left the bathroom and wandered aimlessly down the hall together, catching up on the mundane details of our lives. We ended up at the indoor pool, and each grabbed a towel from the wall to sit on as we stuck our bare feet in the Jacuzzi tub. The pool area was empty.
“Do you still think about Hector?” I asked her quietly.
Dominique sighed and lifted her eyebrows as she moved her feet back and forth in the warm water. “Yeah. It’s difficult not to with little Hector around everyday. He looks more like his dad all the time. Paul’s been great with him though. He seems to understand him.”
Dominique had spent most of our four years at college dating Hector Reyes. The two of them had a rather intense relationship. He was a muscular guy, a little intimidating if you didn’t know him. His tattoos suggested that he may have at one time belonged to a gang, but he was conscious of keeping them covered on most occasions. Dominique and Hector were prone to argue in Spanish, especially in public or when the situation least warranted it.
I liked Hector, yet I sometimes wondered how suited he and Dominique were for each other. I sort of assumed most of the relationship was based on pure attraction rather than compatibility. Sure enough, halfway through our senior year at Hastings, Dominique was pregnant with Hector’s son. It was right around that time in late March that Hector was found dead. He had gone to a friend’s funeral back home and gotten hold of some narcotics. Detectives discovered his body in an abandoned building, not far from the funeral home. We were told the cause of death was drug overdose.
I remember how shocked I was when I heard the news. It was the first time in my life I had been good friends with someone who died. Sure, I’d lost older relatives, but it’s different when the person is in your circle of friends.
Dominique nearly fell apart afterward. She was barely three months pregnant and felt crushed at losing her baby’s father, not to mention she had been fiercely loyal to Hector. She didn’t finish the year, although we were close to graduation. I knew she would have probably had to retake some of her classes anyway, since she had failed a few of them. None of that mattered to her anymore when Hector died.
If not for meeting Paul, I’m not sure how Dominique would be now. Paul was a calm, steady man with kind eyes. I was happy she had found someone to help her raise Hector’s son.
“Do you ever see Hector’s family?” I asked her.
“I visit his mom sometimes in Harlem. She likes to see her grandson now and then. Paul doesn’t come though.” She kicked her left foot and made a small splash. Dominique became thoughtful. “It’s strange. Sometimes when I try to remember things about Hector, I feel like they’re gone. It’s almost like it was just taken from my memory. I guess the culprit is time really.” She shrugged.
I found this statement somewhat intriguing, but couldn’t really relate to it. My memories of the things Richard had said to me and the times we’d shared together were all too fresh in my mind. But I knew one of the reasons for this was that I had replayed the memories over and over for a long time. Dominique had moved on in a sense. She now had a husband and children to think of and probably didn’t have as much time to dwell on the past.
“Lately I’ve been thinking about the last time I saw Hector,” she said. “I drove him to the train station. We had a long, serious conversation in the car that day. I remember he said something sort of odd then but…” Dominique frowned and looked at me. “I feel like it was about something important, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was.”