The coffee shop smells sophisticated, expensive, distant. During high school, I spent many weekend mornings here with friends, sipping coffee that technically my parents had paid for, and talking when we were supposed to be studying. It’s weird to be back now, hiding at a corner table with the least pricey drink on the menu and panicking at the thought of seeing someone I know. Ironic, since I am in fact here to see someone I know… knew?
I fiddle with the the edge of my t-shirt, a They Might Be Giants shirt of Deanna’s. I’m barely familiar with They Might Be Giants, and it suddenly occurs to me that Gabrielle might ask me if I went to one of their concerts, or what my favorite song of theirs is, and I’ll have to say I’ve never listened to them, that I borrowed this shirt from my roommate because the two t-shirts I own are dirty because I spent my freetime yesterday figuring out if you could date the grim reaper in Sims.
Gabby’s late. Gabby’s always late. This is a fact I remember about her from high school, where apparently we were friends. I have memories that would seem to confirm this–going to see movies and staying up late playing videos games while she studied. Those memories are definitely there, but so foreign that I wonder if they’re actually mine, if they’re not from a me that doesn’t exist anymore. I think that might be right.
It’s only been a year, but the separation seems insurmountable. High school Kip had friends and homework and a future. It was a trade school future, according to several of my teachers, but still a future. Current Kip has one friend and a job at a gas station.
The voice is loud. I remember that, too. She’s loud.
“Kip the Kid!” Gabrielle is standing in front of me, bouncing with the kind of glee and energy looks like it needs an outlet, so I stand up and give her a hug.
“Kip, Kip, Kip.” She says my name like it’s sharp and bright. “How are you, man? Oh my god I can’t wait to hear everything about what’s been going on with you, holy shit it’s been forever. Let me go get a coffee really quick, I’ll be right back.” She squeezes my arm and gives me a kiss on the cheek. That’s another thing she does, isn’t it? I forgot about that one. It always makes me feel like she’s one of those aunts who’s overly affectionate despite the fact that you only see them every other Christmas.
She comes back a couple minutes later with a big cup of something that smells amazing and has a pile of whipped cream on top. My milk-drenched dark roast looks anemic in comparison.
“Soooo, tell me everything that’s been happening. Did you end up doing the aviation maintenance program thing?”
“Uh, no. I uh, decided to take a gap year, you know?” Yes, good lie. Believable. “What about you? How’s college life treating you?”
“Oh my god it’s great. Like, hard, obviously, but awesome.” She sounds like she’s telling the truth.
I feel a pang of bitterness, jealousy. Don’t be like that, Kip.
Gabby wiggles in her seat and takes a sip of her fancy drink. “Tell me more about this gap year. Been doing anything fun? Traveling? You always said you wanted to travel.”
Travel. Ha. High school Kip really was a horse of a different color. “No, uh. I’ve mostly just been working? I moved out of my parent’s house, got a roommate.”
“Moved out? Aww, Lucy must miss you. How old is she now?”
“She’s uh, she’s…” There’s a half a second where I don’t know. I’ve been trying not to think about Lucy, about home in general, but to not know how old my baby sister is? The realization sends guilt coursing through my veins. “She’s two and a half.”
“Wow. I remember when she was born. God, you loved her. Remember when you told your parents we had a snow day so that you could stay with her while she was still in the hospital? That was the cutest fucking thing.”
I smile. “Yeah. Good times.” Too good. “Tell me about your classes; have you decided on a major?”
Gabby takes off like a thoroughbred from the starting gate, well, I was thinking about psychology, it’s so interesting, you know, but something practical like business might be good too. It’s so hard to know… I let the words wash over me, imagine if my path had been similar, if I hadn’t fucked up so bad that I was sitting here, a year having passed, no plan, no money, not even a clean t-shirt to call my own. If I could have just kept it a secret a little longer. Stupid, stupid.
I make it about an hour before my lies begin to run out, before my heart is beating too fast and my hands begin to sweat. I tell her I need to get going, get ready for work.
“Sounds good! I’m gonna be home all summer, so we’ve definitely got to hang out some more. I wanna see your apartment!”
“It’s a dump, but you’re welcome anytime.”
She’s bouncing again as we stand up, and I wonder if I used to have that much energy. She gives me a parting hug, another kiss on the cheek. “Seriously, Kip. It’s great to see you. I’ve missed you.” So genuine. She’s always been so genuine.
“I’ve missed you too, Gabs. Let me know when you’re free, you can come over we can play some Mario Kart like old times.” My panicky side says, what are you doing, Kip? My lonely side replies, shut up.
“Only if you’re ready to have your ass kicked.”
“Mm, that’s not how I remember it.” Teasing, really? Like you’re actually friends.
“I guess we’ll have to find out.”
“Guess we will.”
She salutes me. “May the best man win.” Walks out.
And then I’m standing there, hyper-aware of what I’ve just done. This was supposed to be in-and-out, a weird intersection with my past, and then a permanent goodbye. Not a re-introduction to it. Fuck.