Brenda & Eddie
A Story by Lea Sheryn
Memories shared after a class reunion
Languidly she stood in the doorway of the crowded Italian Restaurant we agreed to meet in. Surveying the scene, her sultry glance missed my presence twice as her dark eyes roamed across the table-filled room. The red tea-length designer gown she wore to our class reunion stood out like a beacon in the shadows between the outside lamplight and the flickering candles on the inside red-checkered tabletops. I was just about to stand up to wave her in my direction when she recognized my face amongst the many who turned to ogle at her perfect hour-glass figure.
As a room full of eyes traveled from door to table as she approached, I began to feel trepidation regarding my choice of eatery. This wasn’t her type of place any more than I would have fit in with a location of her choosing. After all, it had been years since we traveled in the same circles. Still, this small but popular place was the only one that came to mind, when, as the class reunion we had both attended broke up, I found myself inviting her to meet me for a drink and perhaps a bite to eat.
“Joel.” The way her deep voice sounded my name reminded me of dark bedrooms where low seductive music played in the background. Had she spoken like that when we were youths hanging out at the parkway diner after school? I couldn’t recall. Instead, I stood to pull the second chair out so she could seat herself. Cool and competent, she leaned back, crossed her long shapely legs and draped her left arm across the back of her chair.
“Joannie,” I heard my voice croak out. No, not Joannie. She hadn’t been little Joannie Smith in years. The teenager with the freckled face and dishwater colored brown hair I knew in high school was long gone. The only one in our group to really find success, she was now known as Juanita Smythe: Supermodel. Inclining back abruptly until I felt the rear of the seat touch my spine, I glanced at her behind hooded eyes wondering if this date were real or if I were going to wake up to find it was all a dream.
“It’s been a long time, Joel,” the girl from my past stated as she placed her elbows on the table, forcing our eyes to meet. “Everyone seems so different now. I can’t believe Charlie is bald. Remember that big head of hair he used to have? And Stella? Hard to believe she has five kids and another one on the way. That husband of hers, what’s his name? picked a fine time to walk out.”
“Time goes by,” I heard myself mutter from what seemed a long distance. Suddenly coming back to myself, I remembered the wine, a bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, because I didn’t know what she would like or what she would order off the extensive menu. She chose the Chardonnay, so I poured out two glasses. It was something to do while I untied my tongue.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to remove the knot from my tongue. Swirling her glass of white wine before taking her first sip, the woman in front of me inquired: “So where were the King and Queen of the Prom? Surely they wouldn’t have missed the twentieth-class reunion.”
Feeling as though I were about to let my date into the midst of a conspiracy, I leaned my elbows on the table as I leaned toward her. “Brenda and Eddie?” I asked, keeping my voice low as she drew closer to hear the secret. “They’re splitsville.”
“I thought wild horses couldn’t tear those two apart. What happened to them?” Unable to hold onto her cool sophistication, Juanita elbowed the table and eagerly bent closer in order to capture my unexpected story. In that moment, I was able to catch a glimpse of the old Joannie Smith in the eyes of the woman she had become. Never had she been able to miss a juicy story. “Tell me everything.”
As the story began to spill out, vivid pictures of the old gang hanging out at the village green filled my mind. Those were the days when we thought we had the world captured in our hands. Just a bunch of local kids who found each other in the schoolyard and continued in a loose form of friendship even after graduation days were behind us. In the end, the only ones who really held us together were Brenda and Eddie.
“For the most part, we all stuck together that summer between high school and college. There was always the Parkway Diner. Day or night, you could always find someone there but, in the end, we all seemed to drift away,” I explained as I dug deeper into my dialogue. “As the summer began to peak, you disappeared with no explanation.”
“I had to get out, Joel. Father was drunk all the time and couldn’t keep his hands to himself,” my date confessed as she refilled her glass of Chardonnay. “I went to Paris and reinvented myself.”
Yes, she certainly had reinvented herself, I thought to myself as the conversation lulled. The appearance of the waiter with the platter of antipasto I had preordered caused the momentary pause. As he fussed around with the appetizer plates, Juanita continued to sip while I continued to study the perfections of her every movement. I was most interested in the times when the deliberately poised supermodel became the Joannie I recalled from those long-ago days of our past.
With the dinner order placed and the waiter out of the way, I moved back into the conversation. “Brenda and Eddie decided to marry in the end of July of ’75. They’d been going steady all through high school so it seemed obvious to the rest of us that they would tie the knot. They went all in with their apartment. Pile carpet and a waterbed, would you believe it? It was always all or nothing for the two of them. Winner take all. But, of course, you remember. You were there with the rest of us.”
“Especially Brenda.” This time it was definitely Joannie who spoke. How well I recalled the little giggle that would show up in her voice when she spoke of something that amused her. “Remember when we went to Coney Island that summer. Brenda wanted that huge Scooby Doo and Eddie spent his last nickel trying to get it for her. “How she raved on the way home when he couldn’t pull it off. I was in the front seat with them, Brenda in the middle, of course. She gave him a whack in the arm that caused him to swerve across the road. We both screamed, thinking we were goners. Boy, those were the days.”
Addressing the waiter as he placed a plate of lasagna in front of her, my dinner companion asked him to uncork the bottle of red and to replace her used glass with a clean one. She was Juanita again: cool, confident and sophisticated. How I wished Joannie would hang around. As beautiful as she had become, it was the old hometown girl I longed for. I could hold Juanita in awe, but I could spend the rest of my lonely divorced life with Joannie.
“Well, go on. What happened next?” The impatience in her voice sent a thrill up my spine. Was she captivated by me or was it only the past remembrances that caused her excitement?
“They got a divorce. It was a matter of course, and parted the closest of friends.” My statement was an anticlimax. “And that was the last I heard of Brenda and Eddie.”
Dessert was the true anticlimax. We could have skipped it, for all it was worth, but who skips Tiramisu? The silence that lay between us could have been cut with a knife. My old friend, Joannie, had disappeared behind the public mask she called Juanita. It was obvious the setting wasn’t within the scope of the life she had created for herself. An old Italian Restaurant that had stood on the same corner for time out of mind, it was shabby without the chic, just like I was.
The thoughts I had about taking her back to the little studio apartment I had rented after the divorce three years ago fled my mind. How could I allow her into my world when she was used to so much better? The reality of the evening was as fleeting as the personal history I had just recounted to her. She had her world; I had mine.
I continued to sit at our table long after she had said her good-bye. The scent of her expensive perfume was all that lingered. Like Joannie, the old gang was long gone. Perhaps some of us would come together in ten years for the next reunion. We would remember old times, promise to keep in touch, then wave good-bye just as we had waved Brenda and Eddie good-bye all those many years ago.
Slowly I tipped the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon into my glass. The Chardonnay remained. A bottle of red; a bottle of white. It was all that was left of a last remnant of past reminiscences. We couldn’t go back to the past; we could only keep going forward. But those memories would always remain in the far back corners of our minds.
*Story inspired by “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel