A dull thud against my kitchen door rouses me from my crossword puzzle.
Rising from the sunny seat at my kitchen table, I refill my coffee mug from the pot on the stove. My morning paper, the one thing in my daily routine which gives me pleasure, has arrived.
“Hometown Evangelist Returns” the banner screams. Underneath is a photo that surprises me so much I spill some of my coffee. “R. W. Colter and family in town for revival services” the caption reads. Five smiling children stand in ascending order beside their parents, a bespectacled man and his wheelchair-bound wife.
R. W. was someone to whom I hadn’t given a thought since we graduated. I doubt if anyone had.
Thirty years ago, the class of ‘76 marched off the graduation platform and out the high school doors to achieve fame and fortune wherever they would be found. Unlike preceding generations of Jessamin High graduates, war did not decrease our numbers. Over the years, some had succumbed to illness or to alcohol and drug abuse. A few had become permanent residents of the state penitentiary. Most had simply settled into a life of mind-numbing daily sameness. Very few had achieved what could be called ‘greatness’.
Of the one hundred graduates in our class, R. W. was the least likely candidate for ‘greatness’.
As I settle into my chair, my mind drifts back to those high school days. R. W. Colter.
Back then, he wore his short brown hair slicked back. His black plastic eyeglass frames were held together at the nose bridge by a permanent piece of white medical tape. The lenses were thick, making his eyes appear an enormous watery blue. Current fashion was unimportant to him. His favorite apparel was plaid polyester slacks and a striped cotton shirt in blaring colors. His shirt pocket overflowed with pens and pencils.
He was the stereotypical overachiever in math and science. He and I were both in the top of our class. His male peers snickered behind his back in Phy. Ed., but were hushed by his correct answers in physics, calculus, and chemistry. He was smart, no doubt about it, and he knew it.
R. W.’s problem was a lack of education in social graces, especially as regards members of the opposite sex. He tried so hard to fit in, and failed so miserably.
At one point in our senior year, R. W. decided that I was the girl for him.
During one geometry class Rob poked me on the shoulder and shoved a crumpled piece of paper into my hand. He smirked and glanced back at R. W.
My heart beat rapidly and my breath slowed as I read, “I have watched you for months and want you to be my own. Can we go out this Friday?”
Had Rob sent this note of devotion? All of my hopes were crushed when I spied the signature at the bottom. R. W. I felt my cheeks redden and blaze, then heard Rob’s snicker. R. W. was staring at me and trying to smile. Other classmates were beginning to watch the comedy.
Furious and embarrassed, I shook my head “No!” and tore the note into pieces. For days afterwards, R. W. looked so dejected and our classmates ridiculed him so much, that I felt sympathy for him.
We went on that Friday night date. I even consented to let him kiss me because he begged for permission.
If I had known what he would do with that moment of triumph, I might never have gone out with him. Most of the school knew within days who R. W. had been with on Friday, and R. W. invented his own version of what happened that night. No one believed my denials.
I remember my last words to him.
“You liar! How dare you tell everyone about Friday! Don’t ever speak to me again!” I spat the words at him, drawing a crowd of jeering spectators.
Before turning away, I stabbed him with some final wounding words. “I only went out with you because I felt sorry for you, you loser!”
And now, he, a well-known evangelist, has returned. He married a girl he loved and cared for through sickness and health; I remained alone and bitter. He fathered five beautiful children; I have none. He knows His Lord, and I am empty inside. R. W. has achieved much. I wish I had his secret to success.
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