by Douglas Young
The dinner invitation was totally unexpected since Josiah Gorgas had not heard from his high school and college buddy Austin Ervin in well over a decade. They had always been somewhat unlikely friends. While Josiah was a popular athlete in high school, Austin excelled in the arts and was a standout performer on stage. Whereas Josiah majored in business in college, Austin pursued a degree in theater. Though good friends growing up, their lives diverged sharply after graduating from the local university when Austin went to New York City to try to break into Broadway. Two years later, with his big stage dreams dashed, he came home to earn an English degree before teaching at a high school out of state. Over the years Austin and Josiah gradually lost touch.
Upon getting his business degree, Josiah remained in town to work full-time at his father’s department store, marry his college sweetheart Clarissa, and start a family that would produce two daughters and two sons. He had put in long hours at the family store and, at 38, was now making most of the decisions there since his father’s semi-retirement.
Though Josiah’s devoted wife Clarissa’s college degree was in journalism, she soon grew tired of being a newspaper reporter and was eager to create a family. So she became a full-time housewife and mother looking after their four children and home-schooling two of them. She, Josiah, and the children enjoyed living in the comfortably middle class, pine tree-sheltered neighborhood of Leafy Meadows. Clarissa and Josiah’s lives had long been defined by their family, his business, and their church.
Austin Ervin was absent from their tenth high school reunion where Clarissa and Josiah were stunned to hear he had recently lost his job after eloping with a student. The story was that school administrators learned Mr. Ervin had begun a romantic relationship with the girl while she was in his class and not yet 18. A couple of years later Josiah heard Austin had gotten another teaching job up north but that was a long time ago. So it was a complete surprise when Josiah’s boyhood buddy rang early one evening as the Gorgas family was cleaning up the dinner table and washing dishes.
“After so many years teaching high school, I want to teach college,” Austin told Josiah over the phone. “I just long for more in-depth class discussions and not having to worry about some constipated, pushy parent complaining to the educrats about something supposedly said in class and typically totally distorted at that. So I’ve moved back to town to get a master’s degree at the university and maybe a Ph D. We’ll see. But I have to get at least a master’s to teach college.
“Anyway, I want you and Clarissa to come over for dinner and see my new digs. It’s been way too long since we last met and we’ve got a whole heap of catching up to do, my old friend.”
While touched by the call and especially the invitation, Josiah could not recall when he and the wife had last gone out without the whole family in tow. He also dreaded having to find a baby-sitter for the four children aged thirteen, eleven, seven, and five.
But the eldest, Zoryana, insisted she was now old enough to baby sit – and be paid for it. So, upon getting the thumbs up sign and a big smile from Clarissa, along with cheers from the children, Josiah told Austin they would be delighted to come over for dinner that Friday.
When Friday arrived, Josiah went to the store extra early so he would hopefully not need to work late, and Clarissa sped up all her normal routines as well. Her day was a blur of getting everyone ready for school and work, teaching two children at home, running errands, grocery shopping, preparing supper for the children, and providing strict baby-sitting instructions to Zoryana while warning her three younger siblings to mind her authority while Momma and Daddy were out. Then Zoryana and the other daughter, eleven-year-old Adelia, enjoyed helping their mother choose just the right dress, jewelry, makeup, and shoes for the big dinner.
At last Mr. and Mrs. Gorgas drove to Mr. Ervin’s home. Josiah was in his best Sunday suit and tie while Clarissa wore her most recently bought green dress, pearl necklace, and high heels. Though they loved their children dearly and were a little trepidatious about leaving them on their own for a few hours, both were enthused about their first evening out as a couple in a very long time.
“Now whatever we do, let’s be sure and not say a word about his first teaching job that ended with Austin getting fired for marrying that gal,” Clarissa cautioned as Josiah drove.
“Good Lord, no,” Josiah agreed. “Gosh, that was really unfortunate. Remember how at our tenth-class reunion Lobelia Langtree said the gal’s parents were so livid – understandably – that they were ready to sue the school if Austin wasn’t fired?”
“And he was fired and they even got the marriage annulled,” Clarissa noted with a sigh.
“Yeah, and I recall how Miss Lobelia wore a mighty big grin the whole time she shared all that too.” Josiah looked at Clarissa and rolled his eyes.
“And proceeded to spread the news to everyone.” Clarissa chuckled.
“In ever greater detail,” her husband added.
“I ’spect she may have still been a little bit bitter about his dumping her in 10th grade for Dorena Tanner.” Clarissa smiled.
“Right,” confirmed Josiah. “And I recall the scuttlebutt was that he had already been dating Dorena on the sly.”
“Regardless, if there had been a vote for class gossip, my money would have been on Miss Lobelia winning in a landslide.” Clarissa laughed.
“She certainly woulda’ got my vote.” Josiah agreed. “A year or so after the reunion I heard Austin ended up teaching at some Yankee all-boys or all-girls school, but I can’t rightly recollect which,” Josiah replied.
“Hopefully all-boys,” Clarissa remarked and they chuckled.
Both were glad their old classmate was back in town and hoped he had found happiness. They also looked forward to seeing him since Austin had always been kind, good humored, and fun. Each spouse smiled as many warm memories starring Austin scrolled through their minds.
When they arrived at the address Austin provided, Josiah double-checked it before parking the car. The home was in a neighborhood formerly dominated by middle class families but now mostly rental properties occupied by university students. The house appeared somewhat ramshackle, desperately needing a paint job and