The dinner lasted much longer than seemed necessary. Unfortunately, I was stuck on campus, since I had taken the shuttle bus over. I grew restless and found myself wandering out of the banquet hall onto the terrace. The evening was relatively warm for a spring night in Western New York.
I leaned against the terrace rail and rested my chin in my hands. There was no moon, but the sky was clear, so the stars shone especially bright that evening. I closed my eyes for a moment and recalled a random memory from my undergraduate days at Lloyd Hastings. My friends and I used to sometimes get in someone’s car on the weekends and go for a nighttime drive on a country road. We’d stop by a field and get out of the car and run through the night. Or sometimes we’d play tag or man hunt in a cornfield.
Richard came up beside me and leaned against the rail. “I haven’t thought about this place much since I left. I guess I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” he said contemplatively.
He stood rather close to me so that I could feel warmth coming from him. I was struck by how much more attractive he had become. His face had developed a manlier look and his eyes possessed more depth.
“I don’t think I’ve missed it exactly. Just the people,” I told him.
Richard nodded. “Yeah. I feel like I don’t really talk to anyone from here much anymore.” He paused and then asked, “Why don’t I ever hear from you?”
It took me a moment to process his words.
Does he seriously not understand or is he just playing dumb?
I honestly couldn’t tell.
I decided to play dumb too, assuming that’s what was happening here. I shrugged and sipped my wine. “I’ve never been good with long distance.”
Richard laughed. “Yeah, that does fit your personality.”
I smiled. “Anyway, there’s that saying: ‘it’s a two-way street.’”
Richard nodded in agreement. “Fair enough.” He grew thoughtful for a moment before saying, “It’s just that…I didn’t know if I could contact you…after graduation.”
We stared at each other, as if analyzing our current situation and trying to convey our thoughts without saying them aloud.
I wanted him to know how much I’d agonized over the break in our friendship over the past five years – how many times I almost reached out to him – but pride prevented me from doing so.
Now, to hear that he had been uncertain all along…
Then again, he might be lying.
As much as I wanted to believe he spoke the truth, I was much too cautious to dive back in to the way it had been. In fact, I thought it impossible to re-enter the past. We had both moved on. Life had moved us on.
“Well, there’s always the present. It would be great to hear from you…” he started to say.
I gave Richard a small smile, but didn’t say anything. I knew we wouldn’t be in touch. After all, he was getting married soon.
He changed the subject. “Have you heard about the scavenger hunt tomorrow?”
I nodded. “Mark told me.”
Richard took a sip of his drink. “I’m going back in for a refill. Want anything?”
“I’m fine. Thanks.”
He strolled back into the banquet hall, leaving me to my thoughts once again.
The music inside could be heard faintly in the background, but I began to hear voices murmuring in conversation. They seemed to be coming from below the terrace. I didn’t take much notice until I heard Hector’s name.
“Hector left it here. We got it wrong the first time,” I heard a voice say.
Another voice replied, “Maybe someone else got to it by now. It’s been too long.”
The voices stopped momentarily. I held my breath and tried not to move. Something else was said that I didn’t hear, but then: “We need to find it. Maybe we have the wrong location.”
The voices moved farther off until they could no longer be heard. My heart pounded. It was evident that I had overheard something significant – something that wasn’t meant to be overheard. I spent some time meditating on what was said and who could have possibly been involved in the conversation. I thought of the strange message scrawled in Hector’s memorial journal. Unfortunately, I was so full of alcohol that my thoughts were rather vague and I had difficulty piecing anything coherent together.
I wandered back inside to find that the party seemed to be winding down. The music had ceased and everyone was milling around, using the restroom and gathering their things. It was close to midnight.
Dominique came up beside me. “They’re getting on the bus. Come on. You look a little out of it.” She took my arm and led me into the foyer. I saw Richard briefly in the crowd, but allowed Dominique to pull me away. I don’t even remember getting on the bus. Before I knew it, we were back at the hotel.
My ears were ringing when I finally settled into the quiet of my room. I felt like I was sleepwalking. Dominique was talking, but I didn’t really hear what she said.
“How did it go with Richard?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said.
I pulled off my dress and slipped into shorts and a t-shirt.
“That’s it? You don’t want to give me more details?” She was brushing her hair in the mirror. She stopped to remove her earrings.
I shrugged. “There wasn’t much to say I guess.”
Dominique nodded as she finished brushing her hair.
“I did overhear something odd thought,” I said. “It was about Hector.”
“Oh yeah? What was it?” She came around and stretched out on the bed next to mine.
“I’m not even really sure myself. Did he ever talk about hiding something on campus?”
“Like what?” She gazed at me expectantly.
“I have no idea, that’s the thing. They just said, ‘Hector left it here.’ It was weird.” I flopped onto my bed and pulled the covers up under my arms.
“Who said it?” Dominique looked like she was getting tired.
“I don’t know. But did you see the memorial journal? Someone wrote ‘I will avenge you’ on one of the pages.
Dominique let out a laugh. “Sounds like a regular mystery to me. You sure do have an active imagination. Maybe you should write books instead of editing them.”
I laughed too. “I guess. I’m also kind of drunk. Remind me we had this conversation tomorrow and I’ll decide how seriously to take myself then.”
We turned out the light. Soon after, I could hear Dominique’s slow, deep breathing. I couldn’t sleep. I really wasn’t drunk anyway. My mind was too preoccupied with the conversation I’d overheard. I thought a lot about Hector that night. Why couldn’t I remember more about him? Five years shouldn’t have felt like so long ago, but for some reason it did when I tried to recall any memory of Hector. I’d forgotten about him really. That bothered me.
After some time, I could no longer follow a consistent pattern of thought. I gave up and fell asleep.
My dreams were a jumbled mess that night. I was restless and frustrated as I searched for something I couldn’t find. I was at the banquet again, but the people were featureless and the room kept changing. I passed through hallways and rooms that didn’t seem to belong. The colors were dull and objects blurred together. Richard came up beside me and tried to tell me something I couldn’t understand. Although I tried not to lose sight of him, he did at last disappear.
Abruptly my sleep ended and I was wide-awake. The clock informed me it was much too early to venture out of bed, but my bladder begged to differ. I reluctantly dragged myself to the bathroom, my head still a bit cloudy from exhaustion and alcohol.
As I was preparing to go back to bed, I heard a shuffling noise coming from the hallway. I peeked through the eyehole in the door, but the hall appeared empty. The noise could have been any number of things naturally, but I felt rather restless and decided to go for a walk of my own.
After dressing quickly, I scribbled a quick note to Dominique in case she woke, and opened the door to the hall. There was no sound now. I meandered from hall to hall and found myself near a sort of glass atrium toward the back of the hotel. It showcased an attractive stone garden and sitting area. Two people sat serenely on one of the benches. They looked like they were praying.
I recognized the couple as Greg and Mary Platt. They had started dated each other almost as soon as they arrived at Lloyd Hastings and were known for being rather eccentrically religious. I hadn’t really spent much time getting to know them, as we socialized in different circles.
It wasn’t my intention to disturb them then, but Mary caught my eye and smiled at me. She said something to Greg and stood up, making her way to the atrium door.
“Samantha Fields?” she said softly, as she poked her head around the corner.
“Hi Mary. Sorry for disturbing you,” I replied.
She shook her head. “Not at all. Want to come in? It’s a beautiful little garden.” She motioned with her hand for me to follow her inside.
I hesitated a moment, as she looked at me expectantly. Then I followed her through the glass door.
Greg sat on the bench, scrolling on his phone.
“Greg, remember Samantha?” Greg nodded and stood to greet me. “You were in the English program, right?” she asked me.
I nodded. “And you two were…” I paused.
“Cultural Studies,” Greg finished for me.
“Right,” I said.
“We’ve been in Tibet these last few years as missionaries,” Mary explained.
They were both sort of small and tan and looked as if they lived on vegetables and granola. I could tell they didn’t have much money, based on their clothing and hair, but they seemed content. Oddly, I felt a twinge of envy when I thought about their life together.
Mary sat on the bench beside her husband and I perched on a chair nearby. The garden was quite peaceful. Water gently trickled from a small fountain in the center and various plants and rocks decorated the circular area. The sky could be seen through the glass skylight above, creating a soft aura around us.
Despite the hour, I felt very awake and suddenly conversational. “How did you enjoy the dinner last night?” I asked them.
The two of them looked at each other. Mary replied, “We didn’t stay long. We’re sort of in a different time zone right now. I guess it wasn’t really our kind of party.”
“Oh, I see. Well, you didn’t miss anything. It went on a bit long,” I told them. They both smiled and Greg chuckled. “There was a table for Hector Reyes set up in the corner. Did you see it?”
Mary nodded. “We signed the book. Hector was a good friend of ours.”
I was surprised.
“Biggest shock ever when we heard about his death,” Greg commented, shaking his head. “We knew he struggled with substance abuse, even during his time at Lloyd Hastings. But once Dominique got pregnant, he swore off narcotics. He was serious about it too.” He shook his head again.
Mary nodded sympathetically, but gave me a look, as if she wasn’t shocked by Hector’s cause of death. Then she said, “Hector was acting weird those last weeks before his death. He must have been under a lot of stress.”
“How was he acting weird?” I asked, intrigued.
“Well…” Mary hesitated, glancing at Greg.
“He wasn’t himself, that’s all. I think he was stressed about becoming a father,” Greg suggested.
Mary nodded in agreement. I thought I detected a slight sigh of relief on her part for Greg’s explanation. I really wanted to continue discussing Hector, but the two of them quickly turned the conversation to me, and my career as an editor. Their questions came almost too quickly, as if they wanted to erase any chance for me to bring up the subject of Hector again. It was baffling and rather frustrating, but I decided to let it go for now.
As soon as I could, I excused myself from the Platts and returned to my hotel room. The hour was somewhat later and Dominique was in the bathroom. My stomach had started growling.
“Samantha?” Dominique said from the bathroom. “Can you get my little purple make up bag for me?”
I found it atop her nightstand and stretched my arm into the bathroom so she could grab it.
“Thanks love,” she said. “How long have you been awake? I just got up like two minutes ago.”
“I don’t know. Almost an hour maybe. Remember the Platts?”
A pause. “The hippie couple that went to live in India?”
“Tibet. Yeah. I had a conversation with them,” I told her.
“They were pretty tight with Hector,” she said, sort of absently.
“They told me. I had no idea. One thing they said I found sort of interesting: they said Hector was acting weird before he died. What do you think about that? Was he?” I had intended to be a little less direct when asking her about it, but it all just sort of tumbled out at once. My curiosity got the better of me.
Dominique didn’t reply. I waited for a moment, until she finished fixing herself up. Then she came out of the bathroom. “Why don’t you get ready and we’ll get some breakfast. I’m too hungry to talk just yet.”
I didn’t argue. I knew she’d heard me, but maybe she needed time to think over Hector’s behavior before answering. I grabbed my things and stepped into the bathroom to take a shower.
We headed toward the dining room a little while later, but Dominique still hadn’t commented on what I’d heard about Hector. She didn’t say much of anything really.
We found a table in the corner of the dining room, after we’d selected from the breakfast buffet. I poured cream into my coffee and sipped it while Dominique spread jam on a piece of toast. We ate in silence for several minutes.
“You know, Hector was nuts toward the end,” Dominique stated, breaking the silence between us. “He used to call me crying. I could hardly understand him. Then he would call back later, screaming at me in Spanish. I thought he was losing it.” She looked into my eyes, her expression serious. “I was relieved when he died Sammy,” she practically whispered.
“You never told me this. I thought you were devastated when he died,” I said, a bit taken aback.
She nodded. “Yeah, but I was still relieved. Something happened to him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. He acted paranoid sometimes. I think he started using again.” She stopped and drank some of her orange juice.
Our conversation was interrupted then as Mark and Richard approached our table with trays of food. “Good morning.” They said. We smiled as they sat with us, Mark next to me, and Richard across, next to Dominique. We all chatted for a few minutes, but then Dominique excused herself and left the room.
“Have you looked at the activities list?” Mark asked me as he stirred his coffee.
“Yeah. Lots to do today I guess. I haven’t really settled on anything quite yet though,” I replied.
The reunion gathering had been set up like something of a convention. Our class’s student council had planned a variety of activities, including team sports, hiking, and several artistic and musical events, all of which took place on the university campus. It wasn’t like any reunion I’d ever heard of, but then our class was unique. We were given a brochure where we could select and sign up for those events we found interesting.
“They set up some exhibits in the art wing you should see,” Richard told me. “I snuck a peek last night.”
Richard had been in the art program for his first two years at Lloyd Hastings, but he switched over to business early in his third year. I’d heard he had started his own real estate company and was doing rather well for himself now.
“Yeah. I’ll check it out. Are you guys signing up for any of the team sports events?” I asked.
Mark looked at Richard. “He was thinking football,” Mark said, nodding to Richard. “I’m probably going to sign up for the hike.”
“He doesn’t want to hurt that pretty lawyer face of his,” Richard smirked.
Mark grinned. “Nah, I just can’t stand to see you make a fool of yourself,” he countered.
I laughed at that comment. Richard did have an unusual way of running when he played football, but he was good at the game.
Richard good-naturedly brushed off Mark’s dig. The two of them often bantered this way. “I suppose you’re going to read poetry in the gazebo or something,” Richard shot at me, in response to my laugh.
“Alone of course. That’s the only way to truly enjoy it,” Mark added.
“That’s the reason she likes to give, but we know it’s really because no one will read their work to her,” Richard laughed.
They were referring to my reputation in the English program of ripping my peers’ writing apart. We had this one editing class in which all we did was read each other’s writing and give feedback. I guess I was kind of merciless; I had little tolerance for poor sentence structure and clichés.
“I’ve already reserved the gazebo for several hours, naturally,” I returned. “Oh, but I will most certainly make time to watch you fumble during football,” I said, to Richard, with a grin.
He met my eyes with a shining look. I held his gaze for a moment. This had often happened with Richard before. That look he gave me led me to believe he felt more for me than he would ever actually admit. I made myself break eye contact and the three of us continued to tease each other as we brought up fond memories of our days at Lloyd Hastings.
The dining room was beginning to empty. Mark and Richard were engaged in a debate over something that had happened years ago. They couldn’t seem to agree on some of the details. I listened and laughed with them now and then, but then my phone buzzed with a text message. The number was unknown and the message read: “Forget what you heard about Hector.”